Adjusting Rowlocks Vertically
By Chris Partridge - Tallahassee, Florida - USA

Hi Chuck - here is a piece about an adjustment I made to my rowing skiff that has proved very successful.
On Monday (a holiday here in England) I rowed the entire navigable length of the mighty River Hamble (6 miles) and back. I felt just like Lewis (or possibly Clark).
Best wishes,

Every 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.

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Before: not enough room under the oar handles

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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.

When 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.

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After: oar handles higher for comfortable rowing

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 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.

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Arundel on a grey day

To give the new rig a proper test, I rowed the five miles up the River Arun from Littlehampton to Arundel, taking the flowing tide up and waiting at Arundel’s lovely tea rooms under the castle walls for the tide to turn and come down effortlessly on the ebb. A great trip, even though the weather was grey and forbidding, and the new higher rowlock position made it possible without too much pain.

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