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Preview: Ladybug Wheelbarrow Boat

August 9, 2013

Seeing Harry Bryan’s wheelbarrow boat in action across a couple of hundred yards of rock ledge and clam flats on the way to deep water made believers of us all.  This handy little boat may be the game-changer you need.

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– This wheelbarrow boat was something that I’d seen the concept, anyway, in How Chappel’s book. Apparently John Gardner built one, in this area, but this area can be a long way to low tide. This cove is not something you want to drag a boat on, and I don’t know how far it is, what’s it, three or four hundred yards to low water, and it’s absolutely perfect. You can throw grandchildren in it, or gear, and take it to low water, whereas before, we always had to plan way ahead to go boating at low water. Now I hardly ever even check the tide chart, because I know I can just wheel the boat down to where the water is. Looks like a great breeze, one of the first of the summer. The tide’s about an hour, an hour and a half after low now. Put it back up to the boat house. Even though it is theoretically uphill, it’s so slight that it’s just as easy to push it back as it is to launch it. This was designed to be just about as easy a boat to build as I could design. For instance, the lapped straight sides here have no bevel at all on them. They are all in the same direction, one just lapped outside the other. The garboard plank is a little thicker than the sheer plank, the sheer plank being thin to save weight, the garboard plank being thick enough to take the fastenings from the bottom. And unlike a lot of boats, at least in North America, the lap straight planks do not gain into each other as they reach the stern. So the transoms themselves are notched in the same way that the frames are notched. And a third feature, which makes it fairly easy, is this lap is designed to be a straight line, which makes it very easy for the plans to say “every six inches.” We can measure from the straight edge to a certain distance, to define the curve of the garboard, or the curve of the shear. The fore and aft bench seat, because this is only a seven foot boat, allows the rower to shift his weight back and forth, or her weight back and forth to accommodate different loads in the boat. If I was going to row just myself, I’d put the oar locks in the aft position, even though it’s the real closest. If I put them here, then I can sit up against the wheel well, and have a passenger in the stern of the boat. And you can carry someone lighter on the forward seat, formed by the wheel well, and someone can push with the oar locks in this position here to get the boat around. On the bottom is two layers of cedar, 3/8 inch thick, total of 3/4. The inner layer of side to side, the outer layer, fore and aft, and they’re glued together. And the nice thing about it is, like plywood, it will not leak. Now the heart of it, of course, is the wheel. This one is sold by Seitech Engineering, that makes launching dollies for lasers. And it’s a beautiful wheel, both in its ruggedness of the rubber itself, but of the plastic wheel, and plastic roller bearings are in it, are absolutely impervious to rust, of course. And this boat is, oh, I think it’s four years old now. I’ve done nothing to it, the bearings are very easily replaceable at home, very little cost. And it’s held into the boat with two angle plates here, that are held on with two big wood screws. So if I take one, two, three, four wood screws out, the whole axle assembly and wheel come out for repairing the wheel, or refinishing the inside of the wheel well. It’s got hardwood strips on the bottom, to protect it from wear, and they don’t need to go the whole length of the boat. They only go out to this far, where the skeg takes over, for wear from that point on. And the skeg does help it to row in a straight line, and it also adds strength to the bottom, which has no framing to it. Other than that, if there was no skeg, it might be a little easier to beach, which I normally do by backing up to the shoreline. And just before the boat hits the shore, I lean forward and lift up the skeg, so I can step off the stern dry-shod. To use this thing, the oars are modified with cleats, which seem to make no difference at all, that I can tell, in whether they face fore or aft when you’re rowing. They obviously would be a little impediment, but I can’t measure what it is. So they, the oars go through the holes in the transom. There are rubber flaps, which are not in any way waterproof, but if there was a big powerboat wake coming up the stern, giving a low free back board at that point, very little water comes through. And the strips key on the support at the center floor here. I at first tried this out without it, and it was okay until you went up a steep hill. Then they are absolutely necessary that they be there. Mike O’Brien wrote this boat up in his great little publication, Boat Design Quarterly, and wondered whether the designer had figured ahead of time that the leathers for the oars would end up in just the right place to protect them from the transom. And I sheepishly admit, that is a happy coincidence that they land in this place. I have a ramp here, with a little hook, it’s specifically made for this launching gear on this ramp. But it’s, the wheel would happily jump up to the two inches of plank, if I didn’t have these, and overlap the two. And if you could see this go down, you realize how easy it would be for one person to put it into a, a pickup truck as well, just push it right up, so. Just lift it up and roll it back down here. And even in this simple little demonstration, you can see the advantage of the wheel, compared to trying to do that without abusing the boat, by yourself. And normally, without this other skiff here, I’d just turn it around at this point, because I like to push it rather than, rather than draw it behind me, but it works just as well.



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