Whitehall average rowing speed

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Last year I purchased a Whitehall Spirit (sailing model) from Whitehall Reproductions in Victoria BC. I use it for trips in the San Juans and Gulf Islands. Recently, I returned from a trip to the Discovery Islands. My question is, "what can I expect for an average speed while rowing in flat water?". (The boat is a fixed seat model.) I'm in pretty good shape and have been a serious sea kayaker for about 16 years. I also am wondering if this type of hull would be considered a displacement hull and is therefore limited to a theoretical top speed.

-- Charlie Brown (kayakjane@hotmail.com), July 02, 2002


All rowing shells are displacement hulls. Flatwater singles at around 27 feet long get into what is termed "slender body theory." The typical rules about maximum hull speed break down for really skinny boats. A wise man (John Mullen in Dallas) once stated a rule of thumb which is that there is no point in going to a sliding seat for a boat less than about 18 feet long as you're simply not going to drive it any faster with the additional power.

So, in general, a longer boat will be faster than a shorter boat. There is a limit to all this of course, which is the wetted surface of the boat. A 30' long flatwater single would be generally slower than a 27' long single as it would have more wetted surface. Flat bottoms are also generally slower as they have more wetted surface and some undesirable wave-making characteristics. Their virtue is in their rock-like stability.

So, what should your average speed be? The approximate formula for the hull speed (theoretical top speed) of a displacement hull in knots is 1.2 times the square root of the waterline length in feet. So for a 16 foot boat, expect a top speed just under 5 knots. However, recognize that you will expend perhaps twice as much energy making the boat go 5 knots as you will making it go 4 knots. Your level of conditioning will clearly have an impact, but it won't turn the boat into a lightning-fast hotrod.

If you want a longer explanation of all this feel free to drop me an e-mail directly.


-- Doug Kidder (doug@openwater.com), July 02, 2002.

Charlie - You'll get some very experienced resonses to this question, but I'll just chime in with my very recent experience with my own whitehall. I've owned and rowed a Catalina Wherry for 17 years - a 14'smooth hulled slender whitehall type with sliding seat and 8' oars, wt about 120#, waterline beam about 36". After rowing a 12' traditional Amesbury skiff (flat bottomed, 200#+) for my boyhood on the Annisquam River in Gloucester, the Wherry seemed like a greyhound - until I rowed shells. Now the whitehall is referred to as our "station wagon" - good for recreation, picnics with ALL the family, etc, but definitely with a top speed - that's not too high. Very recently I got a 16', 27" WL beam, 40# Flatbottomed skiff that, in comparison to the wherry, flies! Much faster, less wake. Of course much less carrying capacity too. Going back to the wherry last week I was struck at just how soon I hit her max speed - not very fast, but I had my wife, dog & a full picnic basket. And it's still faster than I ever went with that old Amesbury skiff - even though my muscles were much younger then. Every boat has its purpose; that's how I justify owning so many small boats - just like women with their shoes.

-- Bruce Osborn (bosborn@mentorcorp.com), July 02, 2002.

I've been rowing my 16' whitehall for several years, and have been able to maintain a strong 4 knot cruising speed all day long in reasonable conditions. I've recorded 8 knots surfing down large waves. My boat is a "Boston Ship Chandler's Whitehall" replicated from plans from the mid 1800's by Shew and Burnham from S. Bristol, Maine. It is cedar lapstrake on white oak, and besides being very fast and seaworthy, is esthetically very pleasing to row.

-- Kurt Breuer (BREUER@CYBRZN.COM), August 16, 2002.

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