Rowing Kachemak Bay




The text of my book, Moved By A Mountain, describes me finding my land above Alaska’s Kachemak Bay and building my cabin with a view of the majestic Throneroom. It does not mention the fact that I built the cabin to have a small living space on the first floor (more space above), and that most of the footprint of the timber frame was a woodworking shop. The shop was 20′ long and 16′ wide; big enough for me to build a 16′ two-man rowing dory.

As mentioned below in the post titled “Big Water,” I was an oarsman. I began rowing as a kid when I was a mascot to the lifeguards on the beach of my small home town on the southern tip of Absecon Island in Southern New Jersey. Later I joined the rowing crew and rowed for 4 years at Holy Spirit High School, winning several championships in 8-man shells, and culminating in an undefeated senior year (1974) that brought us the National Championship as well as the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England.


At the age of 16 I began working as a lifeguard in the summers, and began competing in rowing races. My rowing partner was the Virginia state wrestling champion who’s parents had a summer house in my town; Kevin McFadden. We had a few years as our town’s champs, which earned us the right to represent the town (Longport) in the big inter-city races. Kevin became an exceptional oarsman and we loved our daily evening workouts on the ocean. He was such a fine person, that it was pure joy to be in his company, and we became like brothers. Rowing was at the core of our brotherhood, and I associated rowing with a feeling of being vibrantly alive.


So, when I was first looking at beautiful Kachemak Bay, I had a yearning to row on it, which was the reason for the large workshop. I built a dory to resemble the South Jersey surf boat, but with a flat bottom and hard-chines. It would not need to go through surf, just be seaworthy in rough water. It was built for two oarsmen, but I rarely had someone in the stern, as most people have no rowing experience, and think of it is what you have to do when your outboard breaks down. The boat was not easy to to row because it has a narrow bottom, and traditional thole pins instead of oarlocks. There are no collars on the oars, so the oarsman has to maintain balance with feet and center, not with hands. The dory was named “Itality” which was a play on the Jamaican Patois word “Ital” — “vital”, so Itality meant Vitality–what you needed to row this boat on Kachemak Bay.

Itality was launched from the tip of the Homer Spit one late spring afternoon in the mid 80’s, after a bottle of stout was poured over the bow. I rowed it solo across the bay and up Sadie Cove, a fjord, to another boat launching celebration (about 10 miles). A boatbuilder in the fjord had just finished the hull of a wooden fishing boat, and was going to let it slide down greased rails into the water, so it was a good way for me to celebrate my wooden boat’s launch. On the way up the fjord I was followed by a curious bull orca and three cows; an experience I will never forget.


I rowed around Kachemak Bay to camp on the beaches and continued to have several wonderful experiences for a few years, then the boat got stored in my pole shed and hung there for decades until it was recently splashed. The occasion: Kevin McFadden, still a great athlete at the age of 60, came to row it on the bay with me. We spent 4 days rowing around Kachemak Bay (about 25 miles total distance) and camping on beaches, cooking on campfires and drinking beer. The weather was less than fair, but the bay was calm and the rowing good. We did get to negotiate the choppy shoals outside of Peterson Bay, but once past that, we were riding a small swell entering the bay from the gulf of Alaska, speeding by otters floating on their backs and sitting up to see a rowing dory for the first time in their lives.

It was an event that made the building of a 2-man rowing dory worthwhile, or “vale la pena” as they say in Spanish–worth the trouble. Its only now that I realize that I built that boat for Kevin and I to row, so the trip was the boat’s coming to fruition. The trip was a landmark event for us, and deeply satisfying.





3 Responses to “Rowing Kachemak Bay”

  1. 1 laurynax
    June 24, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    Terrific post. Must have been a great trip. So glad you and a Kevin got to share it.

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