A new rowboat showed up on the Warren, Rhode Island waterfront this winter. It’s a 6-oared Cornish gig built in Warren by Don Betts and friends. This is the third gig in the casual community of rowboats currently plying the Warren River. The other two gigs are 4-oared Whitehalls, which were brought here from New York City two years ago.
The Cornish gig is 31 feet long and has it’s roots in the Scilly Isalnds, Cornwall, England, where they were used as pilot boats. It has 6 rowers and a steersperson. The Whitehalls are 27 feet long and have their roots in New York City where boats of this type were originally built at the foot of Whitehall Street. They have 4 rowers and a steersperson.
Don and friends row their gigs several time a week, and invite others to join them. They are a casual group, so if you want to join them, just show up on the Warren town dock (at the foot of State Street) at 4:00PM on Tuesdays. The group has some planned excursions on the weekends, including racing the Cornish gig, named Cady (after local marine artist Henry Newel Cady). The mostly female racing team they have put together is called the Whirligigs. They entered their first race, The Snow Row in Hull, MA on March 6, 2010. This was also the maiden voyage for the Cady, and they turned in a very respectable time of 39:52 for 3rd place in the 3 3/4 mile race. Not too shabby for the first time out.
The Warren River has always been one of our favorite places to row, and was one of the reasons I located my business here. The river is visually interesting because it has a working waterfront on the Warren side and some beautiful residences on the Barrington side. The town wharf is only about 1/2 mile up the Warren River from Narragansett Bay.
Out in the Bay, Hog Island and Prudence Island are within easy rowing distance. The river is tidal and reverses its flow four times a day, which keeps things interesting. Sometimes it’s dead calm and other times it’s flowing at 2 or 3 miles an hour in one direction or the other. Farther upstream you have the Barrington Yacht Club, with hundreds of moored boats which can be surrealistic to row through, especially on a calm night. There are several bridges to row under, and that can really be fun when the tide is running fast. However, I should warn that this can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Another thing that makes the Warren River interesting is that there are several restaurants that you can row to for breakfast, lunch or dinner. One of our favorite outings is to row up to Tyler Point (restaurant) for dinner out on the porch and then row back after dark. We used to bring our golden retriever Zak along and he was allowed on the porch. We had to cover his ears with our hands at sunset when the yacht club shot off their cannon. We miss Zak, (he passed away 2 years ago at the ripe old age of 17 1/2). We took him everywhere with us, and only went to restaurants that would allow him, which usually meant eating outdoors. We have come to prefer dining outdoors in nice weather, and sometimes feel sorry for those who are inside. Thank you, Zak.
Another favorite outing involves rowing up river to the bike path just past the first bridge, where we beach the boats and walk along the path about a mile to Starbucks for coffee. This stretch of bike path is completely shaded with trees, so its really nice on a hot day.
We are really happy to see other rowers enjoying the river. For many years we were the only human powered boaters we saw out there. I guess the tides and afternoon winds discourage most canoe and kayak paddlers. But with rowing you have much more power and control, and winds and tides are not that much of an issue. The rear facing direction of conventional rowing makes navigating the Warren River difficult, but the multi-oared gigs always have a steersman who faces forward so it is not a problem for them.
There are at least 26 gigs in use in New England. Plus there are whale boats and other seaworthy multi-oared boats around. Rowing them all is increasing in popularity.
For more information you can contact Don Betts firstname.lastname@example.org.