1. What is a whaleboat?
Our whaleboat is a style called a Monomoy, also called a lifeboat. It is 26 feet long, pointed at both ends, and weighs roughly 2,000 pounds (when empty and dry, which it usually isn’t). It is powered by eight rowers who sit in four pairs on stationary bench-like seats. Each rower operates a single 12-foot oar through an oarlock. A coxswain stands at the stern and steers the boat with a long (16-foot) sweep oar. Occasionally, a person (called a bowhook) sits in the bow to assist in launching and docking, and also for safety purposes (such as directing the coxswain during swimmer rescues.) Whaleboats are generally used as lifeboats, but historically were used by whalers when harpooning.
Another style of whaleboat that is used for racing in New England is called a Beetle Boat, named after the designer, James Beetle, a New Bedford boat designer who pioneered a pre-fabrication process for whaleboats in the 1800s. During the whaling era he was credited with building over 1,000 whaleboats. These boats are powered by five rowers who are staggered (three starboard, two port) on stationary bench-like seats. A Beetle Boat weighs about 900 pounds. The oars are 18 foot long resin oars.
Photo Below: Beetle Boat in New Bedford
2. When and where do you practice?
We practice in the Mare Island Strait. Our boats are docked behind the Sardine Can restaurant, and we park in the parking lot between Zio Fraedo’s restaurant, and the Vallejo Boat Works. Here’s a link to our practice schedule:
3. When and where do you race?
We participate in whaleboat races all around the San Francisco Bay Area. Most often the races are coordinated by the Bay Area Whaleboat Racing Association (BAWRA) and include Men’s, Women’s, and Mixed racing events. The racing season extends from March through November. We also host the annual Skipper Whipper Whaleboat Race, held in mid-April on the Vallejo waterfront.
4. Where and when do you have meetings?
We have general membership meetings monthly, usually held on the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m, at the Mira Theater, located at 51 Daniels Ave, Vallejo, CA 94591
5. Do I have to know how to swim?
Actually, swimming is discouraged both during practices and especially during races… Some of our current crew do not consider themselves strong swimmers. A full complement of life vests are required in the boat, and you may wear yours or keep it near you at all times. Only the coxswain and bowhook are required to wear a life vest, and most rowers decide that wearing one interferes with their stroke. A whaleboat is extremely stable – it may rock, but it will not tip over.
6. Do I have to be in shape?
If you are not “in shape”, you will experience some difficulty on your first few outings. Rowing is aerobic, and when you do it right it involves your leg, stomach, back, shoulder, and wrist muscles. Rowing in unison (which is best) also requires coordination. Until you get the hang of it, the coxswain will seat you in the boat so that you have the least opportunity to interfere with the other rowers. If you get tired and need to stop rowing, this seating also allows you to lift your oars out of the other rowers’ stroke paths. Keep in mind that you are the best judge of your physical limits – and you’re ultimately responsible for how hard you push yourself. On race day, you’ll want to make an honest self-evaluation of your readiness to go all out; but if your spirit is in it, you’re welcome to practice with us even if you need to take “rests”. We need rowers to make the practices happen, and the focus is on enjoying the activity together rather than demonstrating our physiques.
7. Can I get hurt?
Well, of course you can. You can get blisters on your hands and your rear. You can strain an elbow or shoulder or knee or hip. If your oar slips out of the oarlock, you can fall backwards and bump your head. If you catch a crab and your oar drags in the water, you can get smacked by the oar handle. You’ll probably get poked in the back by the rower behind you, just as you’ll probably poke the rower in front of you. You can fall off the dock and get wet, get mugged walking from your car, get hit by a truck… and all that sun can give you a sunburn, a headache, or melanoma. If you’re really worried about these things, you should probably stay in bed. If you do come out (and we hope that you do), you can prepare yourself and avoid the most common bad things. Before you get into the boat, you’ll have to sign a standard form testifying to your responsibility for your well-being. If you like, you can read the release now, at your leisure.
RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY – PDF VERSION
8. How do I try out?
You don’t so much “try out” as just come out to a practice and start rowing. If you’re interested in joining us for a practice, email us and we’ll respond with the time and location of the next event. Coming to a practice does not obligate you to attend other practices or meetings or races.
9. How do I join SOMIRA?
The best way to start is to come to a practice and see if you enjoy the activity and can stand our jokes. You can sit in 4 times to see if you like it, and then if you want to join you’d have to pay your dues ($20.00 a month). The only thing that’s required before trying it out is that you sign our waiver.
10. Who can join SOMIRA?
Anyone interested in being an active participant in the organization’s activities can join. We are involved in many community-oriented activities besides rowing and encourage everyone to participate in them, but the level of commitment is up to each individual person.
11. How do I make donations to or help sponsor SOMIRA?
SOMIRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which means that your donation to SOMIRA is tax-deductible.
Donated funds are used in the following ways:
Raising awareness of local maritime history among the general populace
Fostering local, regional, national, and international amateur rowing competition
Maintaining and berthing our wooden and fiberglass whaleboats
Organizing and participating in events that further the organization’s goals
If you would like to make a donation to SOMIRA, or wish to discuss becoming a sponsor, please email your request and we will respond promptly. You can also write or send donations to:
P.O. Box 5892
Vallejo, CA 94590
12. Why do you do this?
Our interest in whaleboat racing grew from personal water sports interests and annual participation in the Vallejo Whaleboat Regatta. The spirit of competition that drew our rowers together was enhanced by the sense that our activities reflected a part of maritime history that we wished to preserve.
As far as “Why do we row”… That’s a question we all ask ourselves after about 5 minutes of rowing…
13. What kind of equipment do I need?
Fortunately, the boats, oars, and life jackets are provided for you. We also have some spare seat cushions and gloves for beginners.
We suggest that you bring the following:
- If needed, additional hand protection to avoid blisters. Some of us use fingerless gloves (such as for weightlifting or bicycling); some simply wrap waterproof adhesive tape around their palms and fingers. Even thin gardening gloves will do.
- Sunscreen and whatever other sun protection you like (sunglasses, hat, long sleeves)
- Athletic-style rubber-soled footwear
- Short pants (if it’s hot), long pants (if it’s breezy)
14. Why are the left and right sides of a ship called port and starboard?
Ancient ships had their rudders, or steering boards, on the right side of the stern of the ship. This gave rise to the Anglo-Saxon word steorbord, which means, “steer side.” When ships came into port to load and unload, they were tied up with their left sides closest to the dock to prevent damage to the rudder. Thus, the left side became known as the port side. Port used to be called larboard, from the Middle English ladeborde, which referred to the loading side of a ship. (Excerpt from the Grolier’s New Book of Knowledge, copyright 1968!)