Single Shell Racing Boats




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By Dan Beard

Where there are oarsmen and boat clubs there you will find beautiful shell boats of paper or cedar, shaped like darning needles, so slight in structure that a child can knock a hole in them, and yet very seaworthy boats for those who understand how to handle them. The expensive material and skilled labor necessary to build a racing shell puts the price of one so high that few boys can afford to buy one; but where new shells are to be found there are also old ones, and when they are too old to sell they are thrown away. Many an old shell rots on the meadows near the boathouses or rests among the rafters forgotten and unused, which with a little work would make a boat capable of furnishing no end of fun to a boy. 

Checks or Cracks 

can be pasted over with common manila wrapping paper by first covering the crack with a coat of paint, or, better still, of varnish, then fitting the paper smoothly over the spot and varnishing the paper. Give the paper several coats of varnish, allowing it to dry after each application, and the paper will become impervious to water. The deck of a shell is made of thin muslin or paper, treated with a liberal coat of varnish, and can be patched with similar material. 

There are always plenty of slightly damaged oars which have been discarded by the oarsmen. The use of a saw and jack-knife in the hands of a smart boy can transform these wrecks into serviceable oars for his patched up old shell, and if the work is neatly done, the boy will be the proud owner of a real shell boat, and the envy of his comrades. 

The Cause of Upsets.

 A single shell that is very cranky with a man in it is comparatively steady when a small boy occupies the seat. Put on your bathing clothes when you wish to try a shell, so that you may be ready for the inevitable upset. Everyone knows, when he looks at one of these long, narrow boats, that as long as the oars are held extended on the water it cannot upset. But, in spite of that knowledge, every one, when he first gets into a shell, endeavors to balance himself by lifting the oars, and, of course, goes over in a jiffy. 

The Delights of a Shell.

 It is an error to suppose that the frail-looking, needlelike boat is only fit for racing purposes. For a day on the water, in calm weather, there is perhaps nothing more enjoyable than a single shell. The exertion required to send it on its way is so slight, and the speed so great, that many miles can be covered with small fatigue. Upon referring to the log-book of the Nereus Club, where the distances are all taken from the United States chart, the author finds that twenty and thirty miles are not uncommon records for single-shell rows. 

During the fifteen or sixteen seasons that the author has devoted his spare time to the sport he has often planned a heavy cruising shell, but owing to the expense of having such a boat built, he has used the ordinary racing boat, and found it remarkably well adapted for such purposes. Often he has been caught miles away from home in a blow, and only once does he remember of being compelled to seek assistance. 

He was on a lee shore and the waves were so high that after once being swamped he was unable to launch his boat again, for it would fill before he could embark. So a heavy rowboat and a coachman were borrowed from a gentleman living on the bay, and while the author rowed, the coachman towed the little craft back to the creek where the Nereus Club-house is situated. 

In the creek, however, the water was calmer, and rather than stand the jeers of his comrades, the writer embarked in his shell and rowed up to the boat-house float. He was very wet and his boat was full of water, but to the inquiry of "Rough out in the bay?" he confined himself to the simple answer, "Yes." Then dumping the water from his shell and placing it upon the rack, he put on his dry clothes and walked home, none the worse for the accident. 

After ordinary skill and confidence are acquired it is really astonishing what feats can be accomplished in a frail racing boat. 

It is not difficult to 

Stand Upright in a Shell, 

if you first take one of your long stockings and tie the handles of your oars together where they cross each other in front of you. The ends will work slightly and the blades will keep their positions on the water, acting as two long balances. Now slide your seat as far forward as it will go, slip your feet from the straps and grasp the straps with your hand, moving the feet back to a comfortable position. When all ready raise yourself by pulling on the footstrap, and with ordinary care you can stand upright in the needle-shaped boat, an apparently impossible thing to do when you look at the narrow craft. 

How to Land Where there is no Float.

When for any reason you wish to land where there is no float, row into shallow water and put one foot overboard until it touches bottom. Then follow with the other foot, rise and you are standing astride of your boat. 

How to Embark Where there is no Float. 

Wade out and slide the shell between your extended legs until the seat is underneath you. Sit down, and, with the feet still in the water, grasp your oars. With these in your hands it is an easy task to balance the boat until you can lift your feet into it. Dodge's Umbrella Canoe. 







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Last modified: October 15, 2016.