The origin of the project

In 2009 I was invited by FISA ( to run a Level 1 Coaching Course in Uganda. The Uganda Rowing Federation had been supplied with a shipping container containing 14 boats, sets of blades (oars) and two rowing machines. 

During my first visit it was obvious to me that there was enormous enthusiasm and government support for the development of rowing - and a talented pool of athletes. One of the athletes on that course rowed this year at the World Championships in Korea.  Also a team of Ugandan athletes will compete in the African Rowing Championships to be held in Tunisia in October 2013.

Since that first visit I have been back to Uganda four times and have also done similar work in Kenya.  One of the problems restricting the growth of rowing is the cost of equipment. Not only is it expensive at source but there is the cost of transport, 25% import duty and 16% sales tax.  One obvious solution is for basic training boats to be made locally, not only will it help the local economy but also widen opportunities for participation. Specialist racing boats will, for some time, need to be imported for use by national teams, but basic training boats can be used to grow the sport and to identify potential talent.

After designing the Openergo I turned my attention to designing a boat. For a long time I worked on a plywood design, even though it is an expensive product in Africa. Using a local design of boat was one option but for the athletes, it can feel like 'second best'. See

I began experimenting with closed cell foam after working with my friend (and fellow rower) Roger Vaughan, on the construction of a plywood boat from a flat sheet. The design was strongly influenced by this experience
The design began to evolve after experimenting with one third scale models using camping mats (we now have none left in the house!). 

With help from Allport Packaging ( I was able to find the right specification of Plastazote to make the first prototype.

Since then, Zotefoams ( the manufacturer have been extremely supportive by supplying foam for more prototypes (Mark 2) and also technical information. They have a range of Plastazote foams that are much more rigid than the LD45 I have used so far. These have the potential to make sculling boats and canoes very similar to those currently used for racing.

This photograph fascinates me (I've been unable to change the orientation) because it shows a similar type of construction to the Plastazote models on this website. These however where made by a group of young boys in Brisbane in 1932. They hammered corrugated iron flat then pulled the ends together with some nuts and bolts and sealed the joints with tar. The person sitting in the rear of the canoe on the left of the picture in Donald McKee, age 93 and still living in Brisbane. He gave me permission to use this photograph after hearing about the project from my daughter.

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