Tim Murfitt of Norwich, England, has been puttering with small boats, mostly power boats, for more than 40 years and grew weary of their speed and noise. He thought taking to the water with a pair of oars would be a good change of direction for his boating, and although his only experience with rowing was on dry ground with a rowing machine, he felt confident that he’d enjoy rowing. He wasn’t so sure that his wife would. Walking was Wendy’s preferred exercise and she wasn’t comfortable around boats or water.
Tim wanted the option of rowing with someone as well as by himself, and it wasn’t likely that whomever he rowed with would have much experience, so the boat had to be stable and forgiving, and easy for novices to adapt to. And while he had turned away from fast powerboats, he still wanted his rowing boat to be fast and easily driven. Narrow racing shells and trainers were out—they’d restrict his rowing to protected waters and he’d miss touring nearby coastal estuaries, which can get a bit choppy when the easterlies hit England’s east coast. The boat had to have some sea-keeping abilities and still be light enough to car-top.
Tim didn’t find any ready-made boats on the market that met his practical requirements and standards of beauty, so he expanded his search to kit boats. Most of the offerings were hard-chine, stitch-and-glue boats, and not to his liking.
His meandering search led him to the Puuvenepiste web site. When he saw the Savo 650 he knew instantly it was what he had been seeking. The 21’4” lapstrake boat, designed by Ruud van Veelen, had performed well in races on Finland’s inland waters.
Unfortunately, Puuvenepiste didn’t offer the Savo 650 as a kit, so Tim kept daydreaming and visited the web site often. He went to the site one day and saw that a kit was now being offered. He got on the phone to Finland and ordered it. He’d be the first amateur builder to produce a Savo 650.
His garage wasn’t long enough for the boat, and after the kit arrived he added a temporary 10’ extension to his garage. The boat is built over molds on a strongback, as opposed to assembling pieces by the stitch-and-glue method. The result is a truly fair hull lighter than a stitch-and-glue equivalent that requires filets and fiberglass tape. Like many first-time builders, Tim thought putting the hull together would be the hardest and most time-consuming part of the job, but when he got to the painting and varnishing he discovered that the work was challenging and perfection was unattainable. Varnish ran and paint collected dust. He had to find a level of finish that was good enough and leave it at that.
After six months of work he had the boat, a cart, and a cover ready to go. The side of the garage extension was removed and, with the help of a few friends, the boat emerged. Tim launched the boat at the beginning of this summer and christened it SULKAVA, after the town in Finland that hosts the country’s biggest rowing race. Over the summer and fall Tim rowed 90 miles on his own, 20 with rowing partners, and to his delight, 130 miles with Wendy. Switching SULKAVA from solo to double takes just a few minutes.
He has done all of his rowing to date on the waters of the Norfolk Broads, a network of lakes and streams that flow into the North Sea on England’s easternmost point of land. There is a speed limit for power boats of 4 mph on the rivers and 6 mph on the lakes. The good side of that is that the powerboats keep their wakes down, but the bad side is that they often block SULKAVA’s way and slow her down. She cruises easily at 5 mph, and Tim, a 160-pound, 59-year-old, can keep up a good 6 mph rowing solo if he goes at it hard and steady. SULKAVA has hit 8 mph when rowed flat-out.
The Murfitts’ car can carry the 100-lb boat on its roof racks, but it takes the help of another strong back to get it loaded and unloaded. A trailer is in the works this winter and next year Tim and Wendy will head for more distant horizons.