A load of old rowlocks

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Before - not enough room to swing the oarEvery so often on the boat forums, someone asks how to position the rowlocks on a rowing boat correctly.

They inevitably want the spacing between the seat and the rowlocks, but I have discovered the hard way that the vertical adjustment of the rowlocks is just as important for comfortable rowing, especially with a sliding seat.

My sliding seat skiff Snarleyow (Andrew Wolstenholme’s lovely Sprite design) has always felt a bit cramped. I am average height (6ft 5in), and getting my knees up between my arms as I moved forward was a tight squeeze – I almost had to scrape the oar handles down over my shins to keep the blades out of the water.

Recently, matters got even worse, which may be something to do with my waistline getting even more average. I would have to breath out to allow room for my knees, so breathing had to be strictly coordinated with rowing. I could only take a dozen or so strokes before stopping for a quick gasp.

After - handles high enough to clear the kneesWhen I started rowing Nessy, my Sandpiper dinghy designed by Conrad Natzio, I was amazed at how relaxed it was. I could row steadily for ages without stopping for breath.

It was partly because the seat was fixed, of course, but I soon realised that the higher position of the rowlocks also made things a lot easier. I decided to raise the rowlocks on Snarleyow too, by putting a spacer blocks under each rigger and a new hole through the hull for the supporting strut underneath.

A rootle round the shed produced an offcut of Douglas fir of exactly the right dimensions (and the domestic authorities said I hoard stuff!). I cut it into four, drilled a hole through each one and bought four long bolts to secure the riggers in their new positions.

Snarleyow was transformed. My wrists no longer tried to bash my knees, and rowing became relaxed and flowing. Suddenly, I could row for long periods without having to take a breather.

The next step was to make the job permanent by shaping and sanding the blocks and gluing them in position with Balcotan. A spot of varnish and she was ready to go.

Chris Partridge

Rowing at HBBR 2007

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