The Vogalonga at Last

Andraes is the most recent frontrower owner in Switzerland. He sent this report in last May, but I just got around to posting it. I promise I’ll try to do better in the future. Andreas has sent me many emails about his adventures.  I think you can tell from this story that he is a fun loving guy and is having a blast with his frontrower.  Be sure to watch the video, it will give you an idea of the festive nature of the event.

Hi Ron,

During the Whitsunday week-end, from Friday to Tuesday, my wife and I were in Venice for the Vogalonga (, and the experience was overwhelming (I don’t mean the weather…). The wife and a few rowing collegues from her club had been there last year with two skulling boats, and hearing their enthusiastic tales I decided that I wanted to share that experience.

And with the Wenonah Prism equipped with the FrontRower I had the perfect boat for that, one that would let me see where I’m going, a crucial feature for avoiding crashes when entering the melee on the return leg – see further down. I’m very glad I did take part in this wonderful event, especially since everything went fine and the boat and I got through without a scratch.

IMG_0421_websize_clip_alza-remi_CanareggioAnd in spite of the exertion I thoroughly enjoyed the day.
Thus the course:
•starting at Canale di San Marco,
•past the islands La Certosa and Le Vignole,
•across to and along Sant’Erasmo,
•crossing westwards at the northern end of the island towards Burano,
•rounding Burano,
•passing between Burano and Mazzorbo and
•across the open Laguna back in the direction of Murano,
•traversing Murano on it’s main canale,
•past the last bit of open water to Venice’s northwestern side,
•through the habitual constipation of the first part of the Canale di Canareggio… This year, Canareggio was constipated even outside the canale proper, before even entering it… At the same time, two inexperienced crews of coxed fours managed to steer their vessels across Tre Archi’s main passage simultaneously (see pic). At least by the time I got there the problem was solved. They had posted divers there who manually sorted the boats and sent them on their right way…,
IMG_0418_websize_clip_ingorgo-tre-archi•down along Canareggio and the Canal Grande to it’s end, the Punta de la Salute (the end), and then
•back again to the parking on Tronchetto via the Rio Novo……was a very varied experience for me. It was enriched…
•with many little friendly chats with total strangers,
•with cramps in my right thigh and upper arm,
•with hunger and thirst
•and correspondingly with a supply of bananas and ice tea, free handouts at a catering station in Burano –not to mention the food I had brought–,
•with rain on my glasses, alternating with fog, and no dry wipes along,
•with applause from people on their balconies or from their windows, sitting at restaurant tables on the quais or standing on bridges,
•and with the congratulations from Paula (my wife) and Regula (a friend) after the takeout at the Tronchetto (next pic).IMG_0435_websize_clip_geschafftThe fact that the weather remained gruff during the entire course was not really negative. You don’t register the rain very much once you’re afloat and rowing, and the clouds on the sky kept my from getting sunburned. Only the westerly wind during the passage from Burano back to Venice was inconvenient, in as far as it constantly turned my canoe’s nose into a direction that I absolutely had no intention of following. But I prevailed! Having a canoe that is a treat to use, well behaved and travelling with little effort, having a rowing installation that transformed my efforts into forward motion as naturally as the Front Rower, made the entire 37 kilometers (~30 km course, plus 7 km between input/outtake and start/end) an enjoyment more than a strain.
I had more or less missed out on the departure reunion in the basin of San Marco, because it took longer than expected to put the boat to water at the Tronchetto. We had to lower it over a piece of jetty, I had to stand in the water and adjust everything, climb in and get going… And on the way to San Marco I came up on the first jam of the day and had to take the long way along the entire Canal Grande – one more delay. So when I heard the starting cannon I was still far from the basin…Well, that’s not that bad, I thought, now I won’t have to row in the midst of the entire fleet of about 1400 boats, all rowed or paddled. When I arrived there were still lots of boats around, but I could easily join in and row along. I took about two hours to the northern end of Sant’Erasmo, which was quite an encouragement for me because I had started to get cramps on my right thigh and right upper arm only about an hour into the course. Taking it easy and not engaging in any short bursts allowed me to avoid them, but you can’t always avoid having to give all you have if you don’t want to be speared by a Dragon Boat or jostled by a Caorlina (big type of Venetian boat). Eating more bananas made me hope they had some engredients that would stop the cramps, but even if «hope dies last», it does die eventually. So I was relieved to hear from the speaker when I approached Punta de la Salute that the Vogalonga had been going on then for five hours – it had felt like much longer.
A school kid gave me my finisher’s document and the medallion, then I had to get lost quickly, as from the corner of my eye I saw a huge galley approaching from behind, a Gondolone (another type of big Venetian boat) with at least two dozen rowers – in reality an ordinary coxed four, but after the experiences of the day an equally dangerous appearance.
During the return leg to the Tronchetto the infamous Venetian water taxis were again operating —they had had to lay low during the Vogalonga— and I felt like they were doing so twice as aggressively as usual, as if frustrated with all the missed business from all those unwelcome manual laborers.
Since entering the Canale di Canareggio, the rain had gone away, and the sun had come out, and it was high time for a cool beer with my supporting team Paula and Regula (Paula busy with the camera, handbag her placeholder).
Post-vogalongistic greetings


California Dreaming


My name is Leland Sheppard.  I was born in Hutchinson, Minnesota in 1938 and raised there.  In 1963, I moved to California and that is where I reside today.  I have been employed in the computer field since January of 1966 and I have been riding motorcycles since June of 1964.  I love my work which is computer programming and I love motorcycling.


I also love rowing.  I have been rowing boats most of my life.  Rowing is a wonderful, peaceful way to get good exercise.  Thanks to Ron Rantilla’s wonderful invention, for the first time in over 60 years I am able to see where I’m going.  No more cricks in the neck.

I bought an Old Town Discovery 158 canoe from a local man, removed a couple of thwarts, dropped Ron’s Front Rower into it and have been have a great time ever since.  My rowing venue, Lake Natomas in Folsom, California is 29 miles from my home so I can only go rowing once a week.  Better than a sharp stick.  The lake is quiet, narrow, 7 miles long with almost no wave action.  No power boats allowed.  Perfect for my rowing.


I combine two of my loves by pulling my canoe/front rower behind my Honda Goldwing motorcycle to get to my rowing venue.

Sunday mornings are my time for peace and quiet and exercise on a lovely quiet lake.

Owner Built Odyssey 18

Nick's Odyssey 18 Rowboat

Nick’s Odyssey 18 rowboat

Nick sent in this picture of his Odyssey 18 touring rowboat that he recently built from one of our kits. “It turned out just perfect and everywhere I go it gets great comments”. Nick lives in Windsor, CT.

I like this picture, because it really shows off some of the best features of the design (click on the photo above to view a larger copy).

The Odyssey 18 is designed as a doubles touring rowboat that will also work well as a single.

It has a narrow flat bottom and two planks per side.  The chine line (where the upper and lower planks meet) has an unusual reverse curve where it bends down toward the bow.  This significantly reduces the twist in the lower side plank, which is a vexing problem with most boats built with wide planks.  The reduced twist makes it go together very easily.

The reverse curve in the chine also narrows the waterline beam at just the point where the bow wave forms.  This could make it move through the water more efficiently.  And it really looks a lot more interesting (at least to my eye).

The bottom is built from two layers of thin plywood with a layer of closed cell foam in between.  This makes an extremely strong and lightweight bottom, and adds floatation right where it will do the most good.  It also stiffens the whole boat and eliminates the need for frames.  This leaves a smooth easy-to-keep-clean interior.

The Odyssey 18 is the evolution of my earlier Harbor Cruiser 18 design (see Rowzilla sets new course record).  The Harbor Cruiser had a single (heavier) layer of plywood for the bottom, had internal frames and used poured in foam floatation in boxed-in plywood tanks in the ends of the boat.  The new Odyssey design is 10 pounds lighter, and takes 30% less building time.

We still row Rowzilla,  the original prototype for the HC 18, but I’m looking forward to replacing her one of these days with a spanking new Odyssey 18.

Odyssey 18 specs:

Overall length: 18′-2″; Max. beam: 35-1/2″; center depth: 12-1/2″ hull weight: 70 lbs.

You can read more about the Odyssey 18 rowboat and building kits on my web site here:



Texas Water Safari 2012

At the finish line.

Race participant Bill Siersdorfer and team captain Gerald Kennedy at the finish line of 260 mile race.

The Texas Water Safari is an annual 260 mile human powered boat race on the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers from the central Texas town of San Marcos to the coastal village of Seadrift, TX.  It is billed as “The World’s Toughest Boat Race”.

The course includes rapids, blistering heat, portages, log jams, and open coastal water. Everything you need for the race must be brought with you.  This includes food, clothing, spare parts, and required safety equipment.  Water may be picked up along the way. Every boat must have a “team captain” who provides ground support, getting the boat in and out of check points, and who is the only one allowed to give water to the contestants.

Log jam.

Bill navigating a log jam in the Texas Water Safari.

The main race (260 miles) is held annually on the 2nd Saturday in June. There is a 40 mile preliminary “qualification” race held in May.

The first race was organized in 1963. Only two boats out of 58 starters finished that first race. At that time, sail power was allowed, and the winning boat was a two man oar and sail powered canoe with a time of 110:35.

Since then the rules have been revised so that only boats powered by human muscle are allowed.  But the rules do not specify which muscles must be used or what direction the contestants must face.  Therefore, a forward-facing rowing system like the FrontRower is considered legal. This year was Bill’s first time in the race, and it is the first time that anyone has used a FrontRower rowing system.

Full body rowing.

Bill rowing in the full body mode (using arms and legs for power) in the Texas Water Safari.

To be competitive, teams must be prepared to travel day and night, nonstop. Teams who occasionally stop for sleep must reach mandatory checkpoint cutoff times and cross the finish line by the 100 hour deadline. Many participants enter the race with no intention of winning, but with the goal of joining the elite group of finishers and earning the coveted Texas Water Safari finisher’s patch.

Portage, Texas Water Safari.

Portage during the Texas Water Safari.

Bill raced in the Men’s Solo classification. Other classifications include tandem and up to six person teams. Using his FrontRower powered 16-1/2 foot Wenonah Prism canoe, Bill completed the race in 85 hours and 2 minutes, finishing 70 out of 139 starters.

Here’s Bill’s email message recounting the race:

Hi Ron,
Hope all is well with you.
Just wanted to let you know I finished the Texas Water Safari and so did the FrontRower.
I single bladed the first 80 miles and rowed the final 180. The race was tough, definitely the toughest physical challenge I have done.  Results not final, but I finished in about 85 hours, +/- 70th boat out of 139 starters, 93 which made it to the finish.  Sadly, there was a fatality this year, the first in the 50 year history of the event, and another racer in ICU who should pull through.  The unfortunate tragedy cast a shadow on the last day of what otherwise was an extraordinary epic adventure.
All of the boats entered this year were fairly standard water safari type craft, either canoes or kayaks, except for mine and a stand up paddelboarder.  The FrontRower recieved a lot of attention and was photographed quite a bit.  A professional photographer, Eric Schlegel, took many pictures of the boat as well at different places along the course.  After the race he said he had some great shots of the boat being rowed thorugh some of the rapids on the lower section.  I am looking forward to getting the pics and will forward them on to you, along with a write-up on the preparation for the race, the race and performance of the FrontRower.  A link to Erics site is below.
I learned a lot on how to row through whitewater, narrow cuts, shallow water etc. and will share my thoughts on that as well as on a few minor mods I made to the FrontRower to make it easier to set up and install on the boat.  I used the FrontRower seat to single blade, with the FrontRower packed beneath my stern flotation bag.  When it came time to install the FrontRower, I assembled it in about 10 minutes, with no tools.  I want to check the splits when they are released, but I beleive I gained 30 places after I switched to rowing.  I had no sore muscles (although a very sore butt!!) after the race.  I alternated between legs only, arms only, and legs and arms rowing with about a 30/20/50 split resepctively.  For spares I took along 2 oars, 2 return springs and 20′ of StaSet rope and never needed any of them.
Gerald Kennedy, a fellow racer and boat builder, was my team captain and ground support, and without his encouragement and advice I probably would not have finished.
So now I guess you can say the FrontRower is “Texas Water Safari Tough” and proven!
All for now,

Geodesic FrontRower

Richard in his 16 foot geodesic Snowshoe canoe.

I’ve seen and admired the late Platt Monfort’s geodesic boats at boat shows many times, but until a couple of weeks ago I never had the opportunity to try one out on the water.   So I was pretty excited when Richard said he had a 16 foot Showshoe that he’d built a few years ago and wanted to set it up with a FrontRower.  I was even more excited when he said he was bringing it up to Rhode Island so I could try it out when he picked his FrontRower up.

Richard had the boat all set up and the the mounting pads installed, so when he arrived it just took just a few seconds to install the rig.  I was given the honor of trying it first, followed by Richard and then his daughter who also brought her kayak along.  I brought one of my boats out too, so we had a three boat fleet for a nice row in the unseasonably warm weather.

According to the specs, this boat weighs 32 pounds (making it great for cartopping). It is 16 feet overall length, 36 inches beam and 14 inches deep at midpoint. It is probably not as fragile as it looks. Richard built this boat from plans several years ago.  He told me that he and his wife gave it some rough treatment, often dragging it over rocks and logs.  It stood up to years of punishment, but eventually it fell into disrepair with many of the glued joints where the ribs meet the stringers coming apart.  He was considering getting rid of it, but his wife wouldn’t let him.  So last winter he completely rebuilt it with re-glued joints and new skin.

An interesting side effect with this boat is that you can see through the translucient fabric and watch the changing wave patterns along the waterline as you row.

I didn’t try paddling the boat, but I give it a thumbs up for rowing.

The plans for Platt’s geodesic boats are available online at

Richard’s boat showing FrontRower mounting. Unit mounts to existing floorboards.

The Interesting Lifestyle of Mick Mallon

Under the category of “interesting people who love boats” and happen to have discovered the FrontRower, Mick Mallon is one of the first to come to mind.

Mick rowing in Van Couver, BC.

Mick rowing in Vancouver, BC.

For the past several years, Mick has been spending his summers living on a boat in what he calls the “south” (Vancouver, British Columbia) and spends his winters in the “north” on Baffin Island (which is in northern Canada near Greenland) in a land known as Nunavik.

Canada Map

Canada Map

In case you are wondering what Mick does in the “north” in the middle of winter, he is a linguist who has spent many years studying the native Inuit language, called Inuktitut.  He lives in Nunavik with his second wife and teaches at the Nunavik Arctic College.

Mick with three of his boats.

Mick with his three boats: his live-a-aboard “Slow Loris”, his Arch Davis Penobscot 14, and his FrontRower equipped Harbor Cruiser 18. (Note the tee-shirt “Look where you’re going”).

Born in Ireland, Mick migrated to Borneo before settling in Canada.  He has had an adventurous life and always seemed to involve boats and women in some way.  Fortunately for us, Mick has his own a blog  Belfast, Baffin, Borneo … boats which includes many stories and illustrations about boats and life in exotic places.  It’s a good read, don’t miss it.

"Look where you're going"

“Go where you’re looking”

A while back Mick had an accident in the north that almost took his life.  At 21 below zero, he fell down an icy slope, breaking several bones and puncturing a lung.  He suffered severe frostbite before being found by a search-and-rescue party.  In spite of frostbite damage to his hands and feet, he still has his sense of humor and claims that a missing finger is a “chick magnet”.  And he is still able to enjoy rowing.

Follow this link to an interesting article about Mick published by “Up Here” (the Magazine of Canada’s Far North):

Ron Rantilla makes forward facing rowing systems and touring rowboats in Warren, RI.  Click here to visit his web site

“Rowzilla” sets new course record

"Rowzilla" (3rd from front) at race launching area.

"Rowzilla" (4th from front) at race launching area.

For any touring boat, comfort trumps speed.  But efficiency is always a good thing, and the ability to maintain speed over longer distances is the best measure of efficiency.

With this in mind, I wanted to know how fast we could go for a couple of miles in “Rowzilla”, our 18 foot touring rowboat.  So I talked Elizabeth into entering a two-mile race with me so our doubles rowing speed could be documented.  Elizabeth is opposed to racing on principals, so training was out of the question, but we regularly row a fair amount for fun, so we were already in good shape.  I told her that all she had to do was row a little harder than normal for about 20 minutes, and she agreed to do this.

The race was the 2010 Slocum River Regatta, near Dartmouth, Mass.  This is a two mile measured course (one mile up the Slocum River and back down to the starting line).  This is good for documenting speed because variables such as current and wind tend to cancel themselves out. It’s the kind of race where you start one boat at a time, so you don’t know how well you’ve done until you get your times.  We were classified as “mixed masters double fixed-seat” which means male and female over 50 (our combined age is 126 years) two rowers.

At the awards ceremony, we were rewarded with gold medals and found that we had set a new class record, with an average speed of over 6 mph.  Our time was 19:48.

This made us happy, because this is just the speed for which our boat was optimized, and we hit the target.  We bettered all the mixed boats in the race of any age group (except for one elite double racing shell).  This included all the multi-oared boats including the 6-oared pilot gigs.  So Rowzilla proved herself to be very efficient for a touring boat, and I think Elizabeth and I proved ourselves pretty efficient, too.

By the way, I can solo sprint Rowzilla at 7-1/2 mph.  To put this in perspective: my top walking speed is under 4 mph, and 7-1/2 mph is faster than I can run.

Rowzilla at Mystic

Rowzilla in solo touring mode.

Ron Rantilla makes forward facing rowing systems and touring rowboats in Warren, RI.  Click here to visit his web site

30″ Scale Model Rowboat

Picture of scale model rowboat.

Scale model row boat from kit.

Here’s an authentic scale model of the Odyssey 18 touring rowboat.

If you have ever thought about building your own rowboat, building this scale model first shows you how it’s done, and will give you a good look at the design inside and out.

You can build this model in a couple of hours.  You will be able to study the design better than with any set of study plans, and you will have an interesting piece that will be almost as much fun to look at as the full sized version.

You can order this scale model kit from Ron Rantilla Rowing Systems

Unconventional rowboat design from Switzerland

FrontRower owner Axel rowing new kayak trimarian.

FrontRower owner Axel rowing his new kayak trimaran.

FrontRower owner Axel Ziegler wanted a kayak-like rowing boat that he could also sail on Lake Constance near his home in Switzerland.  His solution, working with German boatbuilder Jurgen Volker, was this innovative kayak hull with repositionable amas. With the amas (pontoons) in the inboard position, there is room for the oars to swing.  For sailing, the amas can be extended to give additional stability.

Even when retracted, the amas give added stability.

Even when retracted, the amas give added stability.

We really like the paint job, which reminds us of the old “woody” station wagons.  Rowing or sailing (or even on car top), this boat will be an attention-getter.

Kayak trimaran.

Kayak trimaran.

Axel’s boat is based on Jurgen’s “Razor” wooden kayak design, modified to accept the FrontRower and the amas.  Jergen’s web site is .

Ron Rantilla makes forward facing rowing systems and touring rowboats in Warren, RI.  Click here to visit his web site

It Works! Chester Yawl with Frontrower.

Chester Yawl with FrontRower installed.

Chester Yawl with FrontRower installed.


The boat handles great.  I was surprised at how little effort it requires with the frontrower to get it moving along.  The seat is very comfortable.

Despite the 42″ beam I did not have any issues.

It is set up for conventional rowing as well. I wanted that for when I take a passenger out for a short trip so that they could occupy the rear seat and I could row from the forward position. I did not put risers under the front row lock sockets as this might have caused interference with the frontrower.

I will be taking my wife and daughter out in it. My 2 dogs will be going as well as soon as I clip their nails!

Lynda and I just got done putting the name on the transom in gold leaf. I named at after my daughter, Paige.

Feel free to use the picture. If you need any more just let me know.


Frontrower equipped Chester Yawl.

Frontrower equipped Chester Yawl.

Ron Rantilla makes forward facing rowing systems and touring rowboats in Warren, RI.  Click here to visit his web site