Adirondack Guide Boat

-- Last Updated: Dec-01-14 9:12 AM EST --

A friend of mine has an Adirondack Guide Boat and is fairly new to rowing. So far, he has limited himself to calm waters, but he is interested in taking the boat into bigger water where the waves can be somewhat daunting at times. My question is, does anyone have experience in this type of boat in wind and power boat waves up to maybe 5' from crest to trough. Some of these waves are from tug boats and can be quite steep and close together.

I have no doubt that the boat is made to handle rough conditions, but is that with the boat left open, or should it be covered, or have float bags strapped in?

Guideboatguy should be along shortly.

I have never encountered any 5’ waves in the Adirondacks perhaps on Lake George. You may want to check out the Adirondack forum. There are quite a few Guideboat users there.

I believe the OP
is from the Maritimes where five foot waves are not uncommon.

I know I kayak in them. But I have only use a guideboat in the Adirondacks

Blackburn Challenge

– Last Updated: Nov-30-14 7:35 PM EST –

Read the article below about guideboats in the Blackburn Challenge. The race circumnavigates in open ocean water around Cape Anne, MA. My friend (and fellow Yukon River race paddler) Gerhard is mentioned in the article as having won, and indeed he has won this race multiple times with some wild stories of extremely rough ocean rowing conditions in an open Adirondack guideboat.

Rough Conditions

– Last Updated: Nov-30-14 11:10 PM EST –

It's pretty amazing how easily these boats handle wind and waves. Most amazing of all is that there is very little freeboard in the center, and the ends are two feet high, yet when the boat sinks into a wave "almost" up to the gunwales, the clearance will be about the same no matter where along the length of the boat it happens. It's almost as if the height were perfectly designed to be the minimum allowable amount according to the width and amount of flare at any given location. In reality, it appears that the dimensions come about as a way of maintaining a consistent number of wood strips between the bottom board (which itself has variable width) and the gunwale (composite models have pretty much the same shape as traditional wood models).

I have rowed a lot in conditions which around here would be considered rough. Losing sight of the horizon when in the trough between waves isn't too unusual for me, but I've never been out in five-foot waves. I've never felt insecure or concerned about the boat's ability to easily handle the waves I've been out in, and for the most part, I don't think five-foot waves would be much worse than three-footers, except maybe on account of curling tops. All this talk you hear on here about how one should avoid taking big waves abeam, or how difficult it is to maintain control with a strong rear-quartering wind, none of that applies with a guide-boat. They are incredibly forgiving, but not in a way that is at all barge-like. The very rounded bottom has no strong tendency to match the tilt of the water (much less so than any canoe I've paddled), so choppiness never translates to a rough ride, even taking waves abeam.

I wouldn't feel invincible on the ocean though. I could see the wisdom in installing float bags for extended forays far from shore in rough waves, but in rough waves I'd wonder about emptying a swamped boat, even with float bags. How much I pushed my luck would depend on how "alone" I am out there.

Incidentally, all this talk of seaworthiness applies to solo rowing. With two people on board, a rower at the bow and a paddler at the stern, the boat may go more than gunwale-deep into the face of a steep approaching wave. There's not much volume in the ends. For most lake conditions that would not be a problem, but with two people on board, it can get too rough for safety.

Ever seen lifeguard competitions?
I saw races between the Atlantic City and Ventnor lifeguard crews. They launched two man rowed dories in heavy surf, raced to a marker, recovered a dummy, and returned to shore. Those boats could handle 5 foot waves.


I am not familiar with the differences between those boats and Adirondack guide boats, someone more knowledgeable will have to comment.

What ever you do, have fun!

The differences

– Last Updated: Nov-30-14 11:31 PM EST –

Adirondack guide-boats were designed to be a compromise between load-carrying, speed, and light weight, with lightweight and speed getting most of the emphasis. They were made light by keeping dimensions (including height) to a minimum, and by using very light materials. On the original boats, experienced users would step only on the ribs, as stepping directly on the planking carried the risk of breaking it.

Lifeguard boats are designed to handle surf and usually multiple rowers. With no restrictions in the area of portability, they can be as big as practical for handling extreme conditions with several big guys on board. Lifeguard boats weigh hundreds of pounds. Few guide-boats weigh more than 70.

Beyond all that, the hull shape of an Adirondack guide-boat is unique.

Self draining
Those surf boats are self draining so can handle being swamped, it’s like comparing a SOT with a canoe.

Personally I would be comfortable taking my Guideboat out in any waves that aren’t breaking if the wind is under 20 knots. It has a lot more windage than a sea kayak and the rowlocks being behind the center of the boat makes it harder to turn upwind, need to get the oar blade well forward and hold it while the wind blows the stern around. They surf quite well if the wave is just starting to crumble but not really breaking, the curve of the sheer matches the curve of the wave so it doesn’t take on water and trailing the oars acts as rudders. When I have experimented in wind and waves I’ve only done it where I could swim to safety if need be.

Turning Upwind

– Last Updated: Dec-01-14 8:51 AM EST –

I find that the only time I can't turn upwind is when I'm stationary and a very strong wind (I think greater than 35 mph) is blowing the boat sideways. Just about any boat gets "pinned against the water" by the wind in that situation and can be hard to un-pin. Very little of that effect is due to the position of the oarlocks. It's mostly due to the fact that the boat is moving sideways through the water quite quickly and any attempt to "unbalance" the resulting forces is difficult. As proof of the fact that the oarlocks are "close enough" to center, note that the boat spins around a point that's essentially its center when pivoting in a low-wind situation.

One trick for getting turned when pinned in that way, besides the one you mention, is to build up a good bit of speed crosswise to the wind. Once you have some speed built up, there's much less water pressure alongside the stern as compared to the bow so that turning into the wind is a whole lot easier. In fact, any turn is easier in this situation, but turning upwind is quite natural because the effect of wind pinning the boat against the water is now unbalanced (one end versus the other) in a way that favors an upwind turn (this principle is also the driving force behind weather-cocking). There's probably a limit on the strength of broadside wind where you can escape from a sideways-moving pin in this way, but I've not been out when it's that strong. Still, another trick is to do as described above (or any other method of initiating an upwind turn, but building up some speed ahead of time is the most effective way), and once even slightly away from that full-crosswise position, force the boat to pivot suddenly while it's on the crest of a wave. If you've already gotten it even a tiny bit away from being straight crosswise to the wind by the time the wave arrives, the ends will be free (probably one end at a time - first the bow and then the stern) while the crest passes and the boat will pivot quite sharply at that moment. I've read here that sea kayakers use that same trick.

All of the comments are helpful; I think I will be cautious about the conditions I take my friend out in and we’ll see how it goes. We’ll probably wait until warmer weather to take on the slop.