The Yale/Harvard rowing race of 1870 marked a turning point in rowing boat technology. The Yale oarsmen appeared wearing greased leather pants! Upon boarding their craft they locked their feet in place and slid back and forth on smooth wooden planks, incorporating leg power into their rowing stroke and increasing the arc of the oars.
They won handsomely. The following year the sliding (rolling) seat was introduced and still used exclusively by all racing sculling boats.
The first Whitehall to utilize the sliding seat is not documented. But the Mystic Seaport Museum in its' collections of small rowing boats has a beautiful 16'9" model built in Boston in 1879 with a sliding seat for the oarsman on a set of runners extending over the dagger board case.
Sliding seat rowing differs from traditional oars-on-the-gunnel rowing in many ways. The length of the oars (called "sculls" on a sliding seat setup), distance between the oarlocks and height of the seat have become fixed measurements.
A sliding seat enables leg power to be maximized. The power of both legs greatly increases the force of the stroke and bring the rowing boat up to speed while the back and arms are used for the follow through. A brief description of a complete stroke is as follows.
The scull enters the water at the "catch" and the legs smoothly begin to open up, arms straight, back forward. When the legs are halfway extended the back begins to straighten. Finally just as the legs fully extend the arms pull the last of the stroke, and lift the blades clear of the water, called the "release". The rower uses his fingers to roll the "grip" and the blade is flattened or "feathered", arms straightened and the return slide is commenced.
The shaft of a sculling oar is "D" shaped. During the pull the flat side lies against the oarlock's post. It readily feathers flat as the grip is rolled for the return stroke. By adjusting the angle of the oarlock post, called the "pitch", the blade entry angle can be adjusted between 4 to 8 degrees. This individually fine tunes the stroke to the sculls use and the rowers' body size.
The benefits from sliding seat rowing are many but the greatest is in the area of health and exercise. Almost all of the body's muscles are utilized but without the high impact on specific joints. For example excessive knee strain is eliminated because both legs are used simultaneously. The calorie burn is also double that of jogging with a fraction of the stress. Rowing is a meditative activity greatly relaxing the mind and refreshing one's mental perspectives. Recommended reading in this area is "Open Water Rowing" by Bruce Brown (published by McGraw Hill).
Sliding seats when properly installed and rigged with outriggers and a pair of 9'9" sculls are a delight to row. The Whitehall Spirit 14 rowing boat will accommodate one sliding seat unit. The Whitehall Spirit 17 rowing boat, easily handled by one rower, accommodates two sliding seat stations with room for two or three passengers as well.
Our Whitehalls feature cast silicon bronze outriggers that are hinged so as to be inboard when dockside. The sculls can be left in the locks as the outriggers are hinged inboard and are thus secured neatly and conveniently in place inside the boat.