Twenty-three years ago, Hargy Heap, of Yarmouth, who was then in the paint business in Massachusetts, decided to sell the beloved family catboat, a twenty-two-foot Crocker keel model. Two growing Heaps were disenchanted with the cruising scene and Hargy and his wife, Judy, decided their cruising days were over. No sooner was the boat's sale accomplished, however, than Hargy panicked. "I just had to get out on the water," he recalls.
A sailing friend suggested that Heap go see Arthur Martin, the Boston naval architect and sculling enthusiast who was just then moving to Maine to manufacture ocean rowing shells in a labor of love that was to make him widely revered as the father of modern recreational rowing. After delivering his old catboat to Rye, New Hampshire, Heap took off on a four-mile row in Martin's wake.
"Like a lot of others who went rowing with Arthur," Heap reports, "I was hooked!" Within a couple of months, he had purchased one of Martin's Alden shells and had become sufficiently accomplished to enter Martin's annual, seven-mile, open-ocean Isles of Shoals race. He's been rowing Alden shells and participating in the race, which he has won four times, ever since.
In 1975, Heap transferred his rowing full time to Maine after he bought a decoy-making business in Freeport, later moving it to Bowdoinham. He sold that business in 1990, and the following year combined avocation with vocation when he took over an Alden dealership, selling shells from the top of his car and taking them to the Yarmouth Town Landing for demonstrations. Car-top selling proved frustrating, however, he reports, so the next year he made a deal to install a float and a runway in a shallow portion of Ralph Stevens' Yankee Marina in Yarmouth, creating the Casco Bay Rowing center. The center, now with two floats and room to stow a growing fleet of shells, fulfills a longtime dream of rowers in the Portland area, making it easier for scullers to launch their boats. From May through October, Heap offered rowing lessons, rentals, and sales at the center to a growing clientele of rowing enthusiasts of both sexes and all ages. For many, he says, rowing has become an important part of their fitness regimen as well as a relaxing pleasure.
A couple of years ago, Heap tried taking his shells south to Florida for the winter, but he has decided to discontinue the practice. "I'm a cross-country skier," he says, "and I missed skiing and the Maine winter," This past winter in Maine suited him just fine, but Hargy and a lot of his clients are getting itchy right now for those first mild days of May.
Adapting to rough seas is largely a matter of attunement and sensitivity that can require as much time and cultivation as learning to scull in the first place. Often those who have developed a rigid sculling stroke on smooth water tend to ship excessive water and experience unnecessary difficulty clearing their blades when rowing in even moderate seas. Therefore, they may not realize the extraordinary sea-keeping ability inherent in a well-designed and properly adjusted shell.
A flexible stroke is the key to speed and grace in rough water. Let the sculls follow the contour of the waves during both the drive and recovery. Let the waves determine which hand will cross over. As often as not, a left-over-right drive, for example, will be followed by a right-over-left recovery. To allow greater vertical motion of the blades and to faciliate variable crossing of the handles, the riggers should be set high and to an equal height. The catch and the release should occur in a nearly level spot, not when ones scull is stuck in a wave. Therefore, let the stroke vary in length and timing as you slide for the catch, be anticipating the next level spot, even if it means a shortened stroke in one instance, and in a long slow recovery in the next. Likewise, as you pull toward the finish, release whenever the sculls become level. Be at one with the waves, and they will not turn their full force against you.
A shell under positive control can withstand substantial breaking whitecaps from any direction without capsizing, even if the crest should dump into the cockpit. a suction bailer mounted within easy reach is highly recommended for rowing on unprotected waters and is manditory for winning ocean races.
If a long downwind leg in heavy seas is anticipated, the boat will surf under better control if the stretcher is moved back a notch and a shorter stroke with an incomplete leg drive is used to keep weight aft.