Twin-hull ocean rowing boats : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

Some years ago, like the mid 80's, I saw a catamaran type open ocean rowing boat in Popular Mechanics, I believe. In the years since that single mention, the most I've been able to find out was that it was a West Coast thing, it was built for a few years, and the price tag killed it. I am so intrigued by the idea I would like to build one. Soliciting inputs as to why the dual-hull idea has never taken off again. Is the potentially higher speed not worth the structural problems in a heavy sea? Were they in fact no faster than mono-hull designs?

-- Bob Johnson (rwj9313@Pilot.infinet), April 26, 2000


Dear Bob,

During the 1980s there was a company selling rowing catamarans. The boats were called RowCats. I'm not aware if the company is still around. The catamaran concept appealled to people who had special concerns about stability. I know of some rowing clubs which used them for adaptive rowing, an area where they held real promise. At one club where they were used for this purpose the participants invariably chose single hulled boats whenever it was feasible. The cats were heavier than the more conventional craft and they weren't as fast. They also didn't give the same "boaty" experience. Rowing a cat isn't the same as sailing one. Two non-planing hulls of moderate length don't have any more speed potential than a single hull of equal length. What's more, they're likely to have more drag as a result of the additional wetted surface and turbulence of the second hull. I don't know of any particular structural problems related to these craft but I do know that Catarafts are being rowed with great success in extreme whitewater.


Andre de Bardelaben

-- Andre de Bardelaben (, April 26, 2000.

Hi Bob,

You are referring to the Skimmer which went out of business when the owner died of a heart attack. Goes to show you, rowing can't eliminate everything. Having rowed the RowCat (previous mention) I would tell you that the having a one person boat that needs two to carry from cartop to launch puts a damper on it. I've thought about designing a stich n glue version but conclude that the market may not be there and that it will be difficult to keep the weight down. Cats have awesome stability but wetted surface and weight mean more!


-- Ron Mueller (, April 26, 2000.

Dear Ron and Bob,

I remember the Skimmer now. I had no personal experience with the craft, but I recall that it appeared to be a neater, more finished craft than the RowCat, with the hulls and rowing platform more smoothly blended together. Though I think the Skimmer's presentation was superior I agree it probably had all the advantages and suffered the same functional limitations as any cat. Along with excessive weight and wetted surface another problem with multihulls is the expense of building a second hull.

Yours again,

Andre de Bardelaben

-- Andre de Bardelaben (, April 26, 2000.

Dear Bob,

There's another disadvantage to human-powered catamarans. If they're made long enough to have real speed potential they tend to be extremely dificult to turn. Instead of turning one hull you're turning two. Many people underestimate the importance of maneuverability in openwater and in an anchorage. A stiff tracking boat is cumbersome in a crowded marina and can't be quickly positioned for best presentation to oncoming waves. The more I contemplate the concept more convinced I am that, for most of us, human-powered multi-hulls are not the way to go.



-- Andre de Bardelaben (, April 28, 2000.

Rum International, in Longboat Key, FL has just begun stocking the Virus Cataram. This boat is fast, light, and affordable ($1,700). It's only serious drawback is that the seat is only 4" above the water. So you will get your fanny wet in choppy water.

-- Torrance Eddy (, July 04, 2000.

having inquired recently & having the skimmer brochure & vhs/tape right here in front of me i'd still like to have one. true i thought at the time the cost was exorbitant, sorry to here the owner/founder died of a heart attack. still i'd like to have one complete in good to excellent condition. i'm not collecting or anything like that, i really feel that it would best suit my needs. i'v seen the virus/cat & i may have to make do. but if there is someone that has one, has'nt used it in a while, lifestyle has changed, moved on to other things, please get in touch.thanks ever so much.

-- edgar d adams (, July 09, 2001.

I'm pleased to report that Skimmer boats are back in production. We are building both the original fiberglass model and the lightweight carbon fiber version. I'm in the process of setting up a website. In the mean time, feel free to contact me via email or telephone. My contact information is as follows: Skimmer, Inc. Tel (310) 377-2722 Fax (310) 377-3870 Email:

Regards, Mark Thomas President Skimmer, Inc.

-- Mark Thomas (, March 02, 2002.

I'm a happy owner of a Row Cat that I row at sea with my non-rowing wife, or row in the harbor with my non-rowing big Belgian Malinois Shepherd and Golden Retriever on board. Obviously, there are trade offs but I don't miss them. Read my earlier post at the message chain titled "Rowing With Two Hulls, Seek for Information" To reply to some of the above comments, it is a boat to trailer and not to car top although when I bought it I made a rig from lumber to bring it home on the roof of my Plymouth Voyager van. I had a trailer made right a way after that experience. Launching it off the trailer and retrieving it back on is easy for one man. The other comment I have about sea worthiness and turning to cut into wakes is that the hulls are covered and water tight! The bow extends at least four feet beyond my butt as the front rower. I am rarely splashed even when the bow submerges under waves which it does quite often. When hit broadside by a boat wake, we sometimes get water on the deck but most of the time it just washes over the top of the hull without flooding the deck. I am amused by the comment that it won't turn on a dime. I guess that's true compared to lighter shorter boats, but so what? I row it by myself but with my wife and gear and the dogs,... the boat's top hull seam is only a couple inches above the water line. Even so, I still manage to manuver it around the amateur student sailers that go recklessly zig zagging through the marina's channel to the sea. A word of caution to those buying a used Row Cat especially if used in the ocean. Check your bolts for rust. You don't want the structure holding it together to fall apart a mile or so out to sea. Even though I maintain my boat well, I still drag along an inflatable kayak that snuggles between the twin hulls in the rear. It's also a "trailer" for camping gear if you want to do a long coastal excursion and sleep on the beach with the walruses...

See my other post on how I rigged it.

-- Keith Dager (, September 16, 2002.

The great thing about discussion databases is that all contributors seem to have an opinion, but few seem to have any DIRECT experience with the subject under discussion!

Few people also seem to be aware that the Skimmer was actually built by Maas Boat Company (in the early-mid 1990's) under contract with the owner of the design. The Skimmer is 16 feet long, about 26" center to center of the hulls, fits easily (fully assembled) on an automobile roof rack; weighs 35 pounds (rigged!) and can easily be taken on and off the car roof (fully assembled)by ONE average size person. It is light and FAST on the water, can be rowed in ANY conditions--including mild surf launches-- and turns on a dime with absolutely NO difficulty!

I just returned from a wonderful row on my Skimmer Ultralight on Sydney Harbour in Australia! I live in the US (during the summer months) but specifically shipped my Skimmer here to Australia because there is nothing else made like it--anywhere on the planet!

I will be happy to supply any additional infornmation, gathered from actual experience with the craft!

G'day, from Down Under Row Wood

P.S.: The manufacturing license for the Skimmer is now owned by a company in North or South Carolina.

-- Row Wood (, December 28, 2002.

If anyone needs a picture of a Skimmer contact me. I also have one for sale. E-mail me if your are interested. They are a lot of fun.

-- Russell Neil Gates (, July 24, 2003.

a friend and i here in La Punta, Callao Peru are searching for kit or do-it-yourself info on rowing catamarans, like the Virus Katamaran or a modify on a Rowcat or Skimmers. Gracias.

-- bob conant (, December 17, 2003.

Aloha all.....first post, interesting thread! if anyone is interested in the granddaddy of the family... research bucky fullers "needles". a flatwater rowing cat which he considered his most elegant design (out of a lifetime of inspired work!). modular and expandable for more than one rower. has anyone ANY direct experience with this boat? i've often wondered if a scaled up version wouldn't work as a swath boat in open water....

-- neil callahan (, March 15, 2005.

Even granddaddy Fuller had a daddy! I own a postcard captioned "The Life Saver" that's about a hundred years old (dates to the era when messages had to be written on the picture, not the address, side). The photo shows a man crashing through a breaking wave on a fixed seat rowing catamaran. The oarsman sits well above the water on a plank seat that spans the hulls. The oarlocks appear to be simple iron rings, and these rings are mounted on iron tripods that extend up, rather than out, from the hulls. Thus the geometry is that of a "rowboat" rather than a shell.

I have no idea where or in what service such craft were used. Does anyone?

-- Kinley Gregg (, March 15, 2005.

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