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How to Handle a Driftboat

On June 2, 2020, in Human Powered, by Gayle Brantuk

One of our Driftboat builders posted this issue he had with handling this boat on our Boatbuilder Forum and then subsequently was able to remedy the situation as he details below. We thought this would be good information to all who are unfamiliar with handling a driftboat…

Glen-L 12 foot Driftboat
Glen-L Driftboat built by “Jasper” (Raymond Baulch)

I have just recently completed a 12’ Driftboat that has taken me about 5 months to complete. It seems I have taken 5 months to build it and 5 minutes to almost destroy it. Five minutes into the first trip down the river I have hit a rock and smacked a hole in the floor between the batten and keel under the front seat. I had covered the bottom with fiberglass weave in two layers and several coats of resin on top but still the ply has cracked quite badly. I have followed the plans and not undersized the materials.

Anyway that is not the real question I am fairly sure I can repair the hole. The issue I have is the handling of the boat. It always seems to run downstream at an angle of 45 – 60 degrees and it never wants to run bow first. It is extremely difficult to control the boat in the river current as it wants to skip and slide across the current (not unlike a water spider!!!!) It always pulls sideways down a running current of water. This has also caused me to come into contact with several trees and a rock resulting to two holes in the side of the boat as well. First question is should I install a small keel to the outside of the hull?

Second question is what would be the recommended oar to use on a 12’ drift boat? I currently have an oar 8’ long with a blade 16” x 4-¾”. I feel most of the control issues I am experiencing is the performance of the oars to control the boat. I am inexperienced in rowing a boat or using oars but my companion is quite experienced in small boats and canoeing. It was his suggestion I get some advice on what the proper oars should be. I live in Australia and have been using the upper Murray River at Khancoban to trial the boat. I would not consider the flow to be anything like the some of the rivers I have seen videos of in the US.

I am very happy with the way the boat has turned out and the ease in using and following the plans along with the pictures found on the Glen – L website of other builders and their projects. I have taken quite a large amount of pictures of my own along the building journey. Again it has been a pleasant project to build but I am alarmed at the handling issues I have experienced in my first voyage and the damage to the boat resulting from this.

The Solution: I have done some research on the issue with the oars with the help of a rowing coach from a nearby club. Through him I have swapped out the oars to a racing scull type style and the change to the handling of the driftboat is unbelievable–it makes so much difference. The boat now behaves as it was designed to–I cannot believe it is the same boat. I have repaired the damage to the boat and reinforced the forward third of the hull with another layer of resin and glass mat.

I have also found some tutorial videos online on how to handle a driftboat which has been very helpful in my understanding of the problems
I was having. But lighter oars and an extra 6″ in length with a larger scooped blade has made an incredible improvement.

Glen-L Driftboat
12 foot Glen-L Driftboat built by Raymond Baulch, Australia
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