All boat designs are a result of trade offs. The primary drivers for the Adirondack guideboat were that it had to be as light as possible yet hold as much as possible. The early builders achieved these goals with their design of a 16 foot wooden rowboat that weighs 55 pounds yet can carry up to 1000 pounds in a pinch. A perhaps unexpected result of their conception was an exceeding fast rowboat said to be the fastest non-sliding seat rowboat in the world.
The boat has a flat bottom that enables it to be easily dragged up on a beach. There is an upward sweep (snye) at bow and stern that makes it seaworthy in rough water. However these two attributes lead to drawbacks.
The flat bottom causes the boat not track very well. Someone new to rowing the boat finds it hard to maintain a straight line course. A slightly stronger tug on one oar causes it to veer off course. Rowing a guideboat has been likened by some to flying an airplane. One must be attentive to the craft to stay on course. This is an exaggeration because, with a little practice, a guideboat can be made to mind its manners.
Not so in a strong cross wind. Here that flat bottom and snye cause havoc. In sailor’s terms, the boat wants to “come about” and point into the wind. John encountered this in a windy 90 Miler when he came out of Brown’s Tract into Raquette Lake. He needed to cross a wide expanse of open water to reach the relative shelter of the Marion River. He was headed from east to west and the wind was coming out of the northwest. He said the boat wanted to “go in circles” and his arms became worn out from the effort to stay on course. If he has a partner then the partner can use his paddle as a rudder and make things much easier.
I often go out in my guideboat when there is a stiff northwest wind blowing. In my part of Long Lake the wind comes down off Owl’s Head Mountain from the northwest and enters a large bay. Then it is funneled in a more northerly direction as it heads down the lake. As I come out of our bay and head south it is easy rowing at first but then becomes a harder and harder row. The sight of white caps is a sure sign that my forward progress will soon slow to a crawl. I often wonder how the old timers managed with their pinned oars. Their oars can not be feathered, or turned so the blades are parallel to the water, on the recovery stroke. My oars have buttons and leathers which allow them to be feathered. I have tried rowing into a stiff breeze with pinned oars. Forward progress is next to impossible in a stiff breeze with them.
Once I get into Owl’s Head Bay I can turn more into the wind and continue to make some headway. But I soon grow tired and it is time to head back to where I came from. As I turn and head back now the boat takes over. Any let up on the oars and the boat is broadside into the wind. Here we have John’s “going around in circles” playing out.
The way I conquer this tendency is to drag the leeward (downwind) oar to act as a rudder and row like crazy with the other, windward oar. The craft takes wings and like a bird tears down the lake. I’m back at my dock in no time.
I’ve thought about this tendency of a guideboat to be so unruly in a crosswind. It occurred to me that other watercraft have solved this problem in a rather simple manner. Wind surfers, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards use a skeg, a small rudder-like appendage, fastened underneath the craft and near its stern.
Would a skeg work with a guideboat to make it more manageable in a crosswind? It wouldn’t have to be permanent but could be removed when not needed. I think I’ll make several different designs and try them out on my guideboat next summer.