Row, row, row the channel

New Juneau Rowing Club brings local oarspeople together for recreation

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

Thirteen months ago Toy Campbell called up a complete stranger about his newspaper advertisement, urging him not to sell his rowing boat. The result, roughly a year later, is the Juneau Rowing Club, an active organization with a new float dock and nearly 90 people on its mailing list.

In May of 2001, Matt Kirchhoff placed an advertisement in the Empire, intending to sell his wooden double scull rowing boat. Campbell replied, the two struck up a conversation about their mutual hobby and the idea of a rowing club was conceived.

The two proceeded to track down another stranger, outdoor enthusiast and rower Ron Flint, after they read an article about him in the Capital City Weekly. Kirchhoff contacted Karla Hart, a colleague at the state Department of Fish and Game, and the nucleus of the Juneau Rowing Club was formed.

"My hope was to have someone to row with," said Campbell, who now can enjoy her favorite pastime with dozens of people.

The purpose of the club is to encourage people to share boats and to help them find others to row with. The boats used are of varied styles and sizes and some are expensive and difficult to maintain.

"We know there's a lot of rowers out there, it's just getting them together to make it happen," said Hart.

"There's definitely interest (in rowing) in Juneau," said Kirchhoff. "One function is to serve as a matchmaker, to put people together who have a similar interest."

A major obstacle for the new club was finding a place near the water where members could store their boats. Through research, Flint found that purchasing a float dock would cost upwards of $5,000, so he set out to design the club's own dock.

Oar locks on rowing boats are often too low to the water to use standard-sized docks. So Flint drew up the blueprints, had them checked by an engineer, and with 10 to 15 club members, built what he calls "backyard craftsmanship at its finest."

"It was like a barn raising," said Hart.

The total cost of the dock was around $1,500, thanks to hours of work by volunteers and generous discounts from Don Abel Building Supplies.

"I hope from this dock, rowing becomes a part of Juneau," Flint said of the 12-by-23-foot dock that floats about 4 inches off the water.

Kirchhoff said the dock works well for a variety of reasons. "Cartopping," or transporting a boat on top of a car, isn't practical, so the dock was designed with storage space for boats. He said it's awkward to get boats in and out of the water, and the boats are not designed to be stored in the water. There are four boats stored on the racks, which provides club members with more time to row since they can take less time moving boats.

The club christened its new dock at Aurora Harbor on June 23.

"I'm so thrilled we've accomplished building that dock," said Campbell.

With this goal accomplished the club is looking forward to its next goals. If it can get enough people to share boats, members will start up a Web site with general club information and a sign-up sheet for reserving boats. They also are planning to organize several events in the near future to keep and spark interest for rowing in Juneau. They plan on having guest speakers and possibly clinics on rowing.

About twice a year the club will meet formally, "meetings with purpose, not meetings just to meet," Hart said.

The club is made up of individual boat owners for a variety of reasons, mainly for liability purposes.

"We're more interested in rowing than paperwork," said Hart.

The club is looking for Juneau residents of all ages who are interested in boat sharing and finding rowing partners. Inexperienced rowers are encouraged to team up with veteran club members so they can get a firm understanding of boat safety.

"I am proof that you're never too old to learn a new trick. I'm in the best shape of my life," said Campbell, who said she is on the verge of legal senior citizenship. "It's so beautiful in Juneau that it's such a thrill to be on the water."

People of all experience levels are encouraged to participate in club activities. Members encourage all boat lovers to join them to experience a different type of vessel.

"It's like dump trucks to formula one cars," said Flint. "There's a great feeling when you feel the bite of the water on the oars."

For more information on the club, call Campbell at 586-3388 or Kirchhoff at 586-5816.

Eric Morrison can be reached at

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