Category Archives: Rowing

A boat for winter’s dreaming

Over the last few years I have indulged in a semi-annual winter project of building a dinghy in my basement.  Lacking a garage I have been limited to what I can get up the basement stairs and so my builds have been modest in scale. Those who have followed this site have seen my step-by-step adventures with constructing a 7 1/2 foot Greenshank pram as a tender for my Halman 20, Ebony, and an 11 foot Medway skiff for rowing.  Both were from plans from Paul Fisher of Selway-Fisher design whose website of boat plans is a delight for dreamers.   His boats are both buildable and sailable for those of us with modest skills in both areas.


Westray 9 – Selway-Fisher Design

He has recently posted a new plan for a 9 foot sailing dinghy which I like very much.  The plan is actually an old one as he drew it some years ago for a boat-building company which is no longer with us and he has just added the plan to his extensive catalogue.

It is called the Westray 9 and has a 4-plank stitch and glue construction and a very “boaty” shape. At the same width, and about 1 1/2 feet longer than my Greenshank pram, it probably has about the same carrying capacity but with a pointed stem which would make for easier rowing.

What is of more interest to me is the fact that the increased length leaves lots of room for an un-stayed gaff rig mounted in the bow in the catboat style.  The plans also give the sail plan for a balanced lug sail. The idea of a “gaffer” is quite appealing as it would give me a few extra strings to pull and is a very traditional rig not usually associated with a boat this small. Paul has also indicated he could supply design for a gunter rig if desired. The design has variations for either a drop centre board (as shown in the sketch) or a dagger board.


Sailing Today April 1998 p.18

The design was produced commercially in fibreglass for a few years in the late 1990s and received a very  favourable review in the English yachting magazine Sailing Today.  The review gave the sailing dinghy its highest marks 5/5 and noted “she sails well and rows exceptionable well.”

Much as I like rowing, the idea of having a small sail to set when the wind is right is very appealing. There are a number of rivers on the Island blocked from access by sailboats owing to low bridges and the idea of having to row the 15 or so miles up the Hillsborough River is a challenge for me. But to be able to set a sail for the same day-trip has merit.  Add to the fact that I can throw it on a trailer and take it to places difficult to access with the Halman 20.


Photo courtesy Paul Fisher

Although unlikely to be built this spring (I would have to dispose of at least one of the boats in the existing fleet first) the Westray 9 is my current dream dinghy.  Today, with snow up to the window sills and one dinghy buried beneath the snow and another tucked up a shed dreaming is about all that can be done.

Winter is a dangerous time for sailors and it has become even more so since the internet made it easy to find “things.” It used to be that the greatest danger was the boat show where vendors would prey on the vulnerable water-starved yachtsmen to provide all sorts of “essentials” which would render the upcoming season both easier and more pleasurable. Now the assault on our spirits and wallets is unrelenting. For builders, web sites with boat plans hold the same threat.   However there are no drawbacks to dreaming. Even if I never build a Westray I have already spent profitable hours aboard her gazing up as the gentle breeze tugs on the sail and imagining a summer’s day on the West River.

Charlottetown Regatta Rules 1856

Regatta001In a previous posting I noted the existence of the Charlottetown Regatta Club in 1843 – perhaps the first notice of yachting organization in the Colony.  By 1846 the event held by the Club  had been extended to two days (some recent Charlottetown Race Weeks have lasted no longer) with a total of fifteen races; seven sailboat races, four rowing events and four canoe races.  As in previous years it was a gala event and as Haszard’s Gazette pointed out it was a right and proper thing to do –  Our insular situation will necessarily force us to be a commercial community whether we wish it or not and it is therefore but natural, that we should take pride in fostering a taste for a pursuit which is essential to our well-being and comfort. We have need of good sailors and good ships and these annual contests will do much towards creating and keeping up such a taste. 

The 1856 notices contained a listing of the regulations for the regatta. It is an interesting combination of the procedural and the competitive. Some instructions such as the requirement that sails be hoisted only at the start are strange to us today. Others, such as the starboard tack rule have survived into present-day racing.

Regulations of the Charlottetown Regatta

1. Subscribers of Twenty Shillings, and upwards will be entitled to all the privileges of Members of the Regatta Club.

2. Boats, not owned on the Island, will be allowed to compete for the Club Plates., by the owners subscribing twenty shillings to the fund of the Club, and also the entrance money.

3. The Boats places at starting will be decided by lot; all sails will be lowered previously to starting.

4. No 2nd prize will be given unless three boats start.

5. Boats on the Larboard Tack must invariably give way to those on the Starboard; and in all cases where a doubt of the possibility of the Boat on the larboard Tack weathering  the Boat on the Starboard Tack must give way; or if the other Boat keeps her course, and run into her the owners of the Boat on the Larboard Tack shall pay all damages, and forfeit its claim to the prize.

6. Any Boat throwing out Ballast after starting, will forfeit the race.

7. Extra sail to be used before the wind to any extent.

8. To prevent collisions during the Races, any entered Boat found sailing in the Harbour during the progress of the other sailing matches, will forfeit her chance in the race she is entered for.

9. Any Sail-boat using an Oar, Pole or Boat hook, during the race, unless for the purposes of booming out her sails, will forfeit her chance of the prize.

10. All boats intending to compete must be at Peake’s Wharf by 9 o’clock

11. Printed directions for the course of the different races may be obtained from the Secretary on the morning of the Regatta.

12. All disputes to be decided by the Umpires.

13. First class club Yachts to carry a flag at their masthead, red ground, with any device thereon.

14. Country boats to be distinguished by their private flags – any ground but red.

15. All entrances to be made on or before the 13th of August.

16. All boats considered country boats, where owners are not members of the club.

These rules appear to have been used for many years but by the 1880s Regatta notices included the information that the races would be run under the rules of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.  With increasing competition balancing the ratings of different sized and rigged boats became an issue. When the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Straits was formed in 1937 classes unique to the area were developed. Today races which include different models of boats are run under the Performance Racing Handicap Fleet system (PHRF).   The current Charlottetown Yacht Club is maintaining a tradition of competitive sailing which dates back over 170 years and is one of the oldest sporting activities on the Island.


Closely-fought sculling race in 1879

Although rowing  was a feature of life in Charlottetown Harbour from the time of the establishment of the community it did not become a popular recreational activity until the 1870s. Even the regattas of the 1840 were most often contests between working  crews of visiting vessels or local watermen, perhaps supplemented by the odd gentleman.

Toronto rower Ned Hanlan

Toronto rower Ned Hanlan

However in the early 1870s interest in the sport increased dramatically . Beginning in the east in ports such as Halifax and Saint John the interest quickly spread across the Dominion and in the United States. Charlottetown newspapers carried extensive reports of competitive rowing with local, national and international competitions appearing frequently. In Canada, Toronto sculler Ned Hanlan, soon to become world champion, was a national celebrity, accorded the recognition that would be given to hockey stars and Olympians a century later.

Hillsboro Boating Club about 1910. A few racing sculls can be seen on the ramp.

Hillsboro Boating Club about 1910. A few racing sculls can be seen on the ramp.

Increased interest on the Island led to the establishment of the Hillsboro Boating Club which held its first Charlottetown Regatta in 1878. Although there were sailing races most attention at the regatta was on the rowing – five of the seven events were either sculls, canoes or multi-oared boats with the single scull being the premiere event.

Rivalries soon developed among the scullers and, emulating contests in Halifax and Toronto, money was soon riding on the outcome. In August of 1879 John Joy jr. the 15-year-old son of a Charlottetown publican and oyster seller put up $25 against George Morris and Fred McKay for a five-mile single scull race in Charlottetown Harbour. It appears that neither challenger was successful and the interest simply increased. The Semi-Weekly Patriot of 13 September 1879 carried a stroke-by-stroke account of the next race:

JOY vs. DUCHEMAN – The long talked of sculling match between Joh Joy and Geo. Duchemin came off on the harbour on Thursday morning. The water was in splendid condition for rowing, its surface being undisturbed by a ripple. A large number of spectators assembled on Pownal and Connolly’s wharves to witness the race. Mr. Thomas Robins acted as referee. The course was from a Pownal wharf to a stake-0boat moored up the West River. It was intended that it should be three miles in length – mile and a half with turn – but owing to a mis-understanding on the part of those who moored the stake-boat it was placed for a three mile strait-away race this making the course a six mile one. This was not, however, discovered until the race was over, and there was much surprise at the men being away so long.

The start took place shortly before noon. Joy drew the outside position. They both pulled a very rapid stroke for the first fifty lengths or so, but slackened down as they were going out of sight behind the store on Connolly’s wharf. The race was now invisible from Pownal wharf until the boats were near the stake-boat, when it was seen that Joy was ahead. On the home stretch Joy pulled very leisurely, occasionally stopping to rest, and came in about ten lengths  ahead of Duchemin. At the finish Joy indulged in a good deal of “blow” which was entirely uncalled for, as the boat he rowed in was a far better one than the only one Duchemin was able to obtain. It is the opinion of many that had the latter been even passably boated the result might have been very different.