Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of stories about local craft that are in a different class than the average boat. The series will continue on Mondays through the summer.
Nick Schade’s new Noank Pulling Boat is indeed so very new and innovative, parts of it as yet remain unidentified.
“I haven’t named the central beam for the sliding seat rowing rig yet. I guess I’ll just call it the central beam,” he shrugs.
As the boat’s sole designer, builder, and owner of the only one of its kind — so far — Schade has dibs, we suppose, on christening any feature of the wooden rower as he sees fit.
Part kayak, part sculling boat, the Noank Pulling Boat is Schade’s latest commercial creation, handcrafted from western red cedar and aircraft birch plywood in the workshop of his home-based business, Guillemot Kayaks, overlooking the Poquonnock River in Groton.
Though tough as nails, Schade’s boats — mainly wooden canoes and kayaks — are not your average weekend-warrior knockabouts, but true works of art. Literally. His elegant Night Heron kayak, inspired by those of the Greenland Inuit, inventors of the kayak, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Not bad for a guy who builds boats in his garage and learned how out of a book as a teenager in Glastonbury, Conn., in 1983. Granted, it was a book by a master.
“It was ‘Building a Strip Canoe,’ a classic by Gil Gilpatrick, a master Maine guide,” Schade recalled. That first canoe, which he built with his brother, is still afloat at his parents’ home in Gouldsboro, Maine. He built his first kayak, launched at Barn Island in Stonington, in 1986, for the same reason that necessity bore a child named invention.
“I wanted a sea kayak and couldn’t afford to buy one,” he said.
Plans for the Noank Pulling Boat had been knocking around in his head for the past five years or so, but it wasn’t until last fall that he finally got them down on paper, and just this spring when he put the final coat of marine varnish on her robust, two-toned hull.
“I wanted to build something that was an efficient rowing boat and could handle the chop of Fishers Island Sound,” said Schade, who named his creation a Noank rower after memories of visiting and sailing out of the coastal village with his uncle, an amateur boat-builder and serious sailor.
What Schade came up with, as he describes it, is a vessel that falls “somewhere between an Alden rowing shell and a wherry.” The Alden is a popular, name-brand sculling boat, and the wherry, which dates to the canals and rivers of Elizabethan England, is a beefy passenger-cargo rowing boat.
Eighteen feet in length, the Noank’s 34-inch width and 14-inch depth live up to its wherry heritage, when compared with the average rowing shell, which can be little more than a matchstick with a pair of oars and gliding wooden seat. Curved decks and a bit of coaming around her cockpit help deflect errant wave-water, while a self-bailing Venturi drain in the center of the hull draws water out as the boat skims along. Meanwhile, Schade’s kayak-building know-how are evident in the boat’s stern and prow, both of which feature storage compartments behind bulkheads – enough room for camping equipment or a picnic lunch, as Schade points out. But despite her utility, she is still a “fast rower,” he said.
“I’ve let some people take her out, and they say she has a lot of glide, and does well in the Sound, even in choppy water,” he said.
But the opinion he values most is that of his father, Gerhard Schade. Nearing 80, the elder Schade rowed as a teenager at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. He received a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2012 and has been undergoing successful treatment for the disease. While the younger Schade said the Noank Pulling Boat falls short of a testament, he nonetheless bore his father in mind when building it.
“I knew rowing was something he valued, and it was nice to be able to have him come down here and try it out,” said Shade. “He enjoyed it. He didn’t have the energy to go for a long time, but you could tell he still had the technique, a lot better than I do.”
Next week: a Herreshoff competitor in Groton Long Point.