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Rowing and Sculling boats

Ancient and modern craft propelled by oars or sculls.


Best boat

As the name implies this was a superior type of racing sculling craft. A development from the wager boat (so called because heavy wagers were often made on the results of their races). Both types were made from the lightest possible materials with the minimum space for the single sculler. Usually of semicircular section, lacking proper keel but with a type of fin placed aft of the sculler. The best boat had a sliding seat and full outriggers and the interior was lined with waterproofed silk.


Captains gig

A gig, or small boat, known as a captains gig was carried by many sea-going and estuarine craft for the private use of the master. It was an open rowing boat of clinker build with a straight sheer or sides below the gunwales.


Clinker eight oared boat

Dating from the middle of the nineteenth century this popular racing boat was similar to the modern eight-oared shell, although heavier, having the overlapping planks of clinker build. This craft was seldom over 60 feet long and could be as short as 56 feet. The beam or width was from 24 to 27 inches and the depth 8 to 9 inches.


Clinker four

Like the Clinker Eight this boat was similar to the modern eight-oared shell, but heavier, with overlapping planks of clinker build. It had four oars and a length of 38 to 42 feet, a beam of 23 to 24 inches and a depth of 8 to 9 inches.


Coaching gig

An open clinker built rowing boat at one time popular on rivers and in harbours, especially on the Thames. It was used for exercise and training purposes, having straight sheer or sides below the gunwales. The coaching gig was about 26 to 28 feet in length, with a 3 foot 4 inch beam, and 10 to 14 inches deep.


Dinghy

Originally a small open boat, also known as a 'pram' or 'punt', towed by a yacht or launch to be used as a tender. Although originally clinker-built, recent versions are smooth-sided. constructed of fibreglass, marine plywood or any other suitable materials. Dingies have a wide range of designs but are typically of strong but squat appearance, sometimes flat-bottomed and blunt - or swim-ended. In recent years many have been fitted with outboard motors, while others are rigged for sailing and racing. The modern sailing dinghy appears in over two hundred types found in different parts of the world, all under 20 feet in length.


Eight-oared shell (modern rowing boat)

Dating back to 1855 when this keelless eight-oared racing boat made its appearance at Henley on Thames. Designed by Matthew Taylor, for the Royal Rowing Club, it was built, with an outer skin of bent or moulded cedar wood, bottom side upwards on the moulds. Ribs were fitted inside the skin after the boat had been reversed. Oxford University launched a similar craft of their own, at Putney in 1857, 63 feet in length and 25 inches in beam. Over the years the dimensions and fittings varied but these were prototypes for most racing boats into the 20th century and is used in the University Boat Race crewed by a coxed eight. Hulls were made of cedar wood imported from Central America which although only three sixteenths of an inch thick could withstand pressures of 8,000 pounds below the waterline. During the 1970s experiments were made with fibreglass, and other materials, which has led to the modern rowing eight and the four which now dominate the sport..Cambridgeshire: Ely Rowing coxed four on the Great Ouse - 13 October 1994
Cambridgeshire: Ely Rowing coxed four on the Great Ouse - 13 October 1994

Eton skiff

With a length of 27 feet, beam of 2 feet 3 inches and depth of 9 inches this was a longer and narrower variation of the Thames skiff .


Funny

A narrow clinker-built boat that had full outriggers and double ends and was well pointed at bow and stern. It was fairly deep for its length and accommodated a single person either for sculling matches or for training purposes. Mainly used on the upper reaches of the Thames.


Gig

Was an open rowing boat at one time popular in harbours, on inland waterways and especially on the River Thames. It was of clinker build with a straight sheer or sides below the gunwales. It declined in popularity from the 1860s, but on the Thames it was used for for exercise and training purposes well into the twentieth century, long after it had outlived its usefulness as a working craft.


Hoy

Can be either a small boat acting as a tender, especially in rivers or estuaries, or a small coasting vessel under sail. The first type was a large rowing boat that ferried passengers to sea-going and estuarine vessels, especially where there were inadequate docking facilities. Small river or harbour lighters were also called hoys and lightermen working and owning their own craft were often known as 'hoymen'.


Long boat

The long boat was usually the longest and largest of several boats carried by a sea-going ship. It could be used, however, on tidal rivers and estuaries, propelled by ten oars, often doubled-banked. This meant that two rowers shared the same thwart or bench, 'bank' being a corruption of the French word for 'bench', banc. Long boat is also a West Country name for a canal narrowboat.


Outrigger pair

This was either of clinker build or a shell and had its oars supported by full steel outriggers, so that the rowlocks were some distance from the sides of the boat. It was 30 to 34 feet long, with a beam of 14 to 16 inches and a depth of 7 to 8 inches.


Outrigger scull

A craft sculled by a man using two sculls or short oars, one in each hand. Where two 'oars' are used the correct term is sculling whereas A person using a longer or true oar uses both hands on the same oar, there being alternately one oar on each side, a minimum of two oars being required to row any of craft. The outrigger affords better leverage than the inrigger, which has rowlocks above the gunwales. Outrigger sculls are normally 25 to 30 feet long, with a 10 to 13 inch beam, and 5 to 6 inches deep.


Oyster skiff

This large clinker-built boat was used on the Essex rivers and estuaries. It was frequently pointed at both ends or double-ended and might step a short mast, to be used either for rowing or sailing. As the name implies it was used in the oyster fisheries but it was also used for other purposes.


Randan

This craft developed from the Thames wherry and was propelled by a unique combination of rowing and sculling which was also called Randan. Stroke and bow were oarsmen (i.e. had one oar each which they rowed with both hands) while the second man sculled (i.e. had two smaller 'oars' or sculls which he used one in each hand). There was also a cox. From the mid nineteenth century this Randan method was widely used, by customs officials, river police, members of the Thames Conservancy Board and others. The pleasure randan was later introduced to the rivers. This was between 27 and 30 feet long, 4 to 4 feet in the beam and 13 inches deep from keel to the top of the stempost.


Rum-tum

The rum-tum originated on the Thames so that rowers unable to afford their own boats could take part in rum-tum racing, which was introduced during the second half of the nineteenth century. Rum-tums were the property of a club and although fairly light and of standard design they were not first class racers and could not match the more expensive wager or best boats. They were a form of whiff, with roughly the same dimensions, fitted with sliding seats and full outriggers.


Skiff

A popular pleasure boat, sometimes also used for ferry work. It was fairly light and eventually replaced the slower, heavier gig.


Thames skiff

The Thames skiff, used on the upper reaches of the river, had a pointed stem and what were termed high or "extended" sides. The design varied slightly on different parts of the river, mainly in the angle of stem-rake, but dimensions averaged between 24 and 26 feet in length, between 3 feet 9 inches and 4 feet in beam and about 12 inches in depth.


Wager boat

This craft was used for sculling matches and was and forerunner of the best boat. Its name derives from the heavy wagers that were often laid on the races . Wager boats were made from the lightest possible materials with just-sufficient room for a single occupant. Most of them were of semicircular section, without a proper keel but with a type of fin placed aft of the sculler.


Whiff

The whiff was a narrow sculling boat used for racing or training, fitted with outriggers. Usually of clinker build, but light and handy, the average whiff was 20 to 23 feet long, 16 to 18 inches wide and 6 inches deep from keel to the top of the stem. It replaced the older wager boat and was itself superseded by the best boat and modern shell.


Whiff gig

The whiff gig was a narrow sculling boat used for racing or training, fitted with outriggers. Usually of clinker build, but light and handy, the average whiff it was only 19 feet long but at least 2 feet 8 inches in the beam and 12 inches deep. from keel to the top of the stem. It replaced the older wager boat and was itself superseded by the best boat and modern shell.


 

Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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