By Wojtek Baginski - Warsaw, Poland

Hello, Chuck. Do you remember that message from April 2003?

I didn’t know it would take so long, and that I would build another boat to go back there. Here is the story.

In 2005 I decided to enroll in a one year post graduate architectural program in Gdansk City, the old Hanseatic port located 360 km north of Warsaw, my current location. It took sixteen weekend sessions, full of discussion on architecture, philosophy, sociology, and design experiments. One of the exercises was to design our own studio apartment, for a one year long accommodation during the course run. The goal was to base the designing process on personal needs and originality. The cross section of the room was restricted to  3(width) x 5(height)  meters, but the length of the studio was unlimited. I mean by that that students had to limit it themselves – finding the reason first.


After arriving in Gdansk for the first time, I was struck by how closely the city is connected to water. I decided to use this circumstance during my design process: if I lived in Gdansk, I would row a lot to explore mysterious places in the area, and keep myself in good shape during the intensive education.  So my model studio, beyond the overall accommodation area (excluding a kitchen to show it’s not my actual home), got a room for building and storing a boat. It is just 5 meters long, located between the door and the stairways leading to my “living platform”. My choice – to refer the model situation to reality – was the JM designed Robote. I was always impressed with Frank Kahr’s report on ocean rowing, and already owned Robote plans, found inside Jim Michalak’s  book on Boatbuilding.

My model studio interior

Flying to Gdansk twice a month during that year, I had an opportunity to look at the beautiful delta. I started making photos through commercial jet liner window and studying maps as well. Finally, I started to think about rowing there seriously.

Some of the people in my archetureral program.

In the second semester of my architectural course, we directed our attention to the exterior area of our model studios. We founded a model settlement on the Motlawa river bank, and our studios became first floor rooms of narrow buildings. This time my Robote became a part of the external architecture. She is hanging on the external wall of my home, ready to be first launched to the ground, and next carried on my arm to the river only ten meters away.  Another point was that the community would be aware every time I went boating – a kind of architectural communication.

Robote hanging on the exterior of my model studio.

Anyway, the rowing expedition from Gdansk city had been decided. I spent the summer of 2006, after graduation, building Robote in my garage in Warsaw city. There is really not much to it.  The first launch and heavy winter training upstream convinced me that I liked rowing. Eventually I decided to arrange a cruise across the Wisla delta. The river's arms running parallel to the seaside are actually currentless – I was very curious how Robote runs  on a curentless water. The only thing I was scared of was the strong current in the 5 km long leg between navigation locks, upstream of the huge manmade Wisla outlet. It was looking like hours of  rowing! My extreme Warsaw (middle Wisla) experience told me that I was able to row 8 km upstream in the big river in 3.5 hours but at the cost of almost all my energy.  Would I be forced to give up the cruise after rowing that 5 m long leg?  Seven days before the cruise it struck me: go opposite way!  Don’t start from Gdansk city but go to Gdansk city and use the current instead of fighting against it.

Robote being built in my garage

Finally, I put Robote on my car’s roof in Sept 2007 and headed north. I had a short and nice morning christening ceremony with my Gdansk friends (we named her “Flaneuse” after the term flâneur which comes from the French verb flâner, which means "to stroll". A flâneur is thus a person who walks the city in order to experience it. We used that character during our course) I set off from the little fishing port Katy Rybackie into the froggy Wisla lagoon. The trip was fantastic. The boat is fantastic.  I had very emotional moments when I saw the sea in a gap made by river banks, twice. I think pictures can tell it all better than words, anyway.

On the Wisla River

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All I can add to these images is that my distance was 59.6 km, and I made it in eleven hours thirty minutes. I wasn't tired, actually. And a funny thing happened to me at the end. I planned to tie Robote on the Motlawa river in Gdansk next to a former merchant ship which is a museum ship nowadays. I even rented a cabin on board for overnight accommodation there. My intention was to take a nice morning photo of my “Flaneuse” after the trip. But the chief said that he’s not responsible for this part of a waterfront, so I would be leaving the boat uncontrolled at my own risk. So I rowed to the Gdansk marina a few meters from the ship, moored and went to the marina captain's house to tell him about it. It was already dark. “At what quay have you moored your cruiser?” he asked. “The first one” I said.  “Sorry, it’s a place for a fifty footer which ought to be back here  after midnight. Please take another quay”. “OK” I said, being very happy with the way he has imagined my boat. I started to look for another good place for a morning shot, getting more and more tired. Mooring after the trip eventually took me one and half hours. The next day I took my photo walking along the opposite bank of the Motlawa river.  I hope you can see that little yellow point clearly.

I hope you can see that little yellow point clearly.

Best regards from Poland. Wojtek.

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