Jim Fraser's Thoughts on Alternative Propulsion

After reading Al Schönborn's e-mail regarding a favourite cruise column, I re-read the log of a Cape Breton cruise from 1993.  I noticed that I still had an outboard motor on my Wayfarer then.  The following year I sold the motor and have since used sails and oars only.  Here are a few idle thoughts on my experiences with outboard motors and oars for Wayfarers.

I owned a 1987, 4 HP Johnson longshaft with an external tank.  It never failed to start and always ran smoothly.  The external tank, lashed to the cockpit floor, rarely needed filling.  I thus avoided an awkward balancing act kneeling on the lazarette when trying to fill the tiny internal tank on a sloppy sea.  When the children were young, or on a cruise, I found it reassuring to know the motor was there to take us home when the wind failed.  In gusty afternoon sea breezes we often preferred to remove the snapping main and swinging boom - then motor sedately back to the wharf.  The Johnson was a trade-off though.

I was concerned about the motor's weight over the stern and times when the mainsheet caught on the motor head as I gybed Naomi.  A snagged mainsheet could easily result in a capsize.  The Johnson weighed 30-35 lb. and hanging all that weight over the stern didn't seem a good plan in a dinghy.  Perhaps a lighter, smaller motor would have been a compromise, but that was the motor I owned.  I often leave my Wayfarer unattended at public wharves along the coast.  I've never had anything stolen but I still worried about the motor disappearing.  As well, I knew I was using the motor at times when sails or oars were sufficient. 

Not having a motor to rely on creates a subtle but significant change in attitude.  Whether to leave harbour in fluky weather, what time to enter a narrow tidal inlet, or when to round an exposed headland - these decisions become more important without an outboard motor available as a backup.  I find the increased uncertainty makes coastal cruising more interesting and challenging.  Ultimately cruising is more satisfying without a motor along. 

Rowing a dinghy becomes a means to meet people.  In Nova Scotian fishing communities, older people are from an age when small boats were still sailed and rowed.  Often these locals show an interest in someone who handles a boat under oars and will come over to chat and examine the boat.   Another example occurred near Gagetown on the Saint John River (photo below)

I was quietly rowing along in an early morning mist when I met a couple rowing a tender to their moored sailboat.  They offered to tow Naomi through the narrow tree-sheltered Jemseg River to Grand Lake.  As I sat in the cockpit of their boat, the couple enthusiastically pointed out the varied marsh birds and explained the natural history of the islands and river while we travelled into Grand Lake.  With a motor, these opportunities for conversations don't arise.

A word of caution though - if your plans include bringing a few bails of contraband ashore from the mother ship lurking in that offshore fog bank - rowing is a bad idea.  Fisheries and Coast Guard patrol craft will always change course for a closer inspection of a small boat being rowed at sea.  An intimate conversation with their crews may not be in your best interest.

I use 9-foot spruce oars, which stow easily above the thwarts and along the side decks of my MK3 Abbott Wayfarer.  Apparently other marks of Wayfarers can be more constrained for stowing oars.  I've rowed with 8-foot oars but the longer, larger oars are far more suited to a Wayfarer.  Oars a few inches longer than 9 feet would be even better but the 10-foot oars available here are overkill, being much thicker and requiring rowlocks and sockets larger than I'd care to install.  You would also have to overlap the oars somewhat while rowing.  With a saw, sander, and spoke shave you could do a custom job and reduce 10 footers in length and diameter.  It would take some skill and be a tedious chore though. 

Naomi's rowlocks are raised about half an inch above the side decks; otherwise the oars rub along the side deck when rowing in a swell or chop.  The plastic collars on my oars are a sloppy fit and worn by the rough, galvanized rowlocks.  Dick Harrington has a much smoother rig with leather collars and brass rowlocks.  I figure his set-up would be worth any additional cost and search for these items.  Proper oars and rowlocks are essential - but so are stretchers (foot braces) in a big dinghy like a Wayfarer.

I brace my spread feet solidly against stretchers on the floor of the dinghy.  My home-built stretcher is a wide shallow box supported against the lazarette bulkhead so it won't shift.  At anchor, I use the same box to hold the camp stove, coffee pot, etc. while I cook.  With your legs adequately braced and proper oars, a Wayfarer can be rowed like a dory.  Using your body muscles, body weight and thighs, lean back and then lean forward to the oars with your whole body rather than just pulling and pushing with your arms. 

Develop a slow, steady cadence and watch that you are not grabbing with your arms to increase speed or compensate for the dinghy yawing to the sea.  I don't bother feathering the oars either.  It is easy to stress wrist, elbow and shoulder joints and tendons doing these actions.  This spring, Allan Parry and I rowed my fully laden cruiser, in sometimes lumpy seas, for 10-12 mile stints along the coast of Cape Breton without difficulties.

I prefer to remove the rudder instead of lashing it amidships while rowing.  The dinghy responds much better with the rudder removed.  I leave the centreboard about a third down to start with but adjust it when I like.  With someone else onboard, I believe the dinghy handles better if they sit up by the mast inside the washboard rather than sitting on the lazarette. Scandalizing the main by hauling in on the clew reef line and raising the boom is okay for a short time but I would rather lower the main and boom into the cockpit and roll the sail up.  This is usually enough to cause the wind to return on its own. 

In a fog or on a featureless sea, I like to have a spare compass sitting on the floor between my feet.  The steering compass is mounted on the backside of the thwart over the centreboard casing.  I find it distracting and lose my rhythm by looking down at this compass while rowing.  The second compass is a dumb compass.  After looking over my shoulder for a landmark or viewing the steering compass, I use whatever figure is reading on the second compass as my course to steer. 

Because the thwart is hard and slippery, a non-slipping pad to sit on while rowing is pleasant.   At one time my cushion was an old piece of rug.  Since then I have scavenged from Ralph Roberts a fine production foam pad which bungees to the thwart.  With your Wayfarer properly equipped for rowing, a longish passage under oars doesn't have to leave you feeling like a Roman galley slave doing an overtime shift.  The routine cadence becomes mesmerizing and now is time to daydream and enjoy the surroundings.

I've left the motor mount on my Wayfarer.  When the children graduate from school and leave home, I hope to have more time to cruise.  My favourite cruising area is the Saint John River in New Brunswick.  Twice I've sailed Naomi from Fredericton to Saint John and other times journeyed into Grand Lake and Portobello Stream.  Many years we have family camped above the dam at Mactaquac Park and day-sailed there.  An outboard motor would be better suited for the Saint John River and its reaches.   I may purchase an outboard motor again.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Logs index