Buying your own shell is a big step, and most scullers understandably give their choice a lot of thought. It’s normal to be concerned about making the right choice, so folks weigh the relative importance of:
- stability versus high performance,
- weight versus cost,
- a boat that’s fine tuned for them versus a boat that is suitable for many to use, or
- a boat that’s great for rough water versus a boat that is intended for glassy waters and sprint racing.
- For many, it is increasingly important to buy a boat made in the United States, and
- to select a company (like Maas) that exceeds rigorous environmental and labor standards.
The bottom line is that you should consider which boat you are most likely to use often given your water and weather conditions, daily calendar/schedule, water access and storage options, desire to race or desire for a rewarding aerobic workout that’s easy on your joints, and finally your sculling skills.
Open water versus Flat Water Shells
There are several approaches to making a decision and some information that I feel is useful to consider. First, let’s consider the difference between boats designed for sprinting on perfectly calm water versus boats designed for rougher waters. I feel there are three basic categories of sliding seat rowing shells: flat water racing boats, recreational boats, and open water racing boats. Maas primarily makes open water racing boats. These are high end, high quality, premium boats designed to be among the fastest boats raced in open or rough water conditions (Maas boats took the first four places in the 2019 running of the Seventy 48 race from Tacoma to Port Townsend!). Open water racing requires stability, safety, sturdy construction and speed. If you are seeking these characteristics (even if you have no expectation of racing), you’d be very pleased with a Maas boat. As Evan Jacobs has said, “the world isn’t flat and neither are some of its best rowing races.”
There is a second category of what I call “open water” shells. and these are the European-style “coastal rowing” boats. These boats are built to specifications defined by FISA (the international rowing governing body), and those specs require that shells are relatively quite heavy and short compared to the North American-style shells (like Maas and others). The coastal boats are very challenging to transport due to their weight. The coastal single must weigh at least 72 lbs. They are stable and robust, but when rowed, they feel as if you’re towing a coffee can and strapping a bungee cord around the hull. That said, there’s no such thing as a boat that can’t be fun. We’ll see if they catch on in the US.
What features are unique to open water shells?
There are several features of Maas boats that make them among the fastest and safest open water boats. They have a low center of gravity due to the placement of their seat deck. They have minimal cockpit volume so not much water can accumulate when waves come aboard. They have no top stays on their riggers so it’s very easy to re-enter the boat and continue rowing. They have positive flotation fore and aft. They are sturdy due to the use of a centerline stringer and a rolled edge connecting the deck and the hull, so there is no decal saying “step here”. They have a foot stretcher that enables quick release of your feet if you fall out of the boat. And they are a little wider and shorter than flat water racing boats. All of these mean that Maas boats are not as fast in flat water conditions as are the beautiful boats made by Empacher, Hudson, Fluidesign, Pocock, Vespoli and other builders of premium sculling boats. Unless, of course, you are so much more comfortable in your Maas boat that you are able to apply more force with better technique than you can generate in the potentially faster boat! And this isn’t to say that Maas boats are slouches, either. In addition to the medal won by the Flyweight in Sacramento at Nationals, the Maas Double took a gold in the men’s A race and a bronze in the men’s C race.
Can I resell my Maas shell?
I remind clients that there is strong demand for used Maas boats and limited supply. This means that used boats in good condition retain much of their value over time. I maintain a list of scullers seeking to buy a used boat, and when I learn of a boat for sale, I notify these buyers and boats often sell within a day. After deducting initial depreciation, the value of used Maas boats decays slowly, and the days of finding a perfect boat for less than $1500 seem long gone. Good news for sellers and less good for buyers, unless the buyer is also a seller.
Therefore, one strategy well suited to novice scullers is to buy an Aero, use it for a year or two, and then sell the boat so that your funds can be applied to a higher performance boat such as a Flyweight or 24. In effect, the sculler is “renting” the Aero for a year or two at a very reasonable rate. The downside to this strategy seems to be that you have to sell a boat you’ve grown to love! In those cases, I’ve had many decide to keep their Aero “for my kids, spouse and guests”! Others who’d rather be in a boat than on an ergometer keep their Aero knowing there are few stormy days they can’t safely go out on the water.
Should I buy a carbon shell?
Carbon fiber boats are stiffer, stronger and about 10% lighter than fiberglass boats. They also cost $700 more (due in large part to the cost of materials). Few of us are rowing so hard and with such intensity that we feel the difference between the boats once you get underway. Clearly the lighter boat is more responsive at the start. But the main justification for spending the additional money on a carbon boat seems to be that it makes a difference in getting the boat from its storage rack into the water and back again when you’re tired. Perhaps you have to carry it a ways to launch, or perhaps you have to lift it onto your vehicle. In either case, if you want to be independent and able to go sculling without having to recruit assistance, then having a lighter boat might make all the difference between using your boat often and not using it at all.
Would the Flyweight be the right boat for me?
The Flyweight is a wonderful boat, but it is intended for smaller scullers. Maas says the upper weight limit is 140 lbs. There are many scullers who weigh between 140 and 150 lbs and who wonder if they’re too big for the Flyweight or too small for the 24. Other Maas dealers agree with me that the Maas limitation is conservative. We’ve had many people who weigh up to 150 successfully and happily rowing the Flyweight. They may get a little wetter on bouncy water days, because their boat is riding a little lower in the water. But they love the feel of their boat. They own a boat that, for them, is very flexible in use. It is a true open-water boat suited to handling rough water conditions with safety and superb performance. And they have a boat that has recently won a gold medal at Masters Nationals in a 1000 meter sprint
Should I buy the optional electronics?
Many Maas boats are used for fitness training and racing, and for those purposes it is very useful to know how fast you are going, your stroke rate, how far you’ve gone and your heart rate. These data can be produced by adding the electronics made by Nielsen Kellerman, often called simply “NK”. Even if you never plan to race, the data produced by these tools tell you the effect on speed of simple changes to your technique. For that reason, the NK devices are very powerful substitutes for a coach’s feedback.
Toxic materials and making an informed choice:
The Maas Boat Company understands that their boats are built using toxic materials, and the employees of Maas Boat Company are exceptionally well-protected while in the work place. Maas complies with the rigorous environmental standards in California. Maas also believes in taking very good care of its employees. These commitments add to the cost of building Maas boats, and when you buy a Maas boat you are endorsing by your actions the high standards of the Maas Boat Company. We’re all proud to be doing the right thing for the Earth and the craftsmen who hand build these beautiful shells.
There are many other considerations in choosing the right boat, and I’m always eager to share my thoughts and experience. You will find other thoughts at the FAQ on this site. Also, feel free to give me a call, and feel very welcome to ask for a chance to try the demo boats here in Tacoma.