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Row, row, row your scull ... or rowboat or canoe; here's where to go to start, to rent.

Row, row, row your scull . . . or rowboat or canoe

It's a charming picture--rowing lazily around a sun-dappled lake, pulling gently at the oars, maybe dropping a fishing line or nosing into shore for a picnic. And if you don't get blisters on your hands or sunburn on your nose, your rowboat outing should prove just as charming.

Rowing is a timeless sport. It's an easily accessible, inexpensive activity that takes you out on some lovely, quiet waterways.

At eight Bay Area lakes, you can rent big, friendly (read stable) rowboats for family outings; at a handful of places, you can also watch and even climb into the sleeker rowing shells. Rentals cost $3 to $7 per hour. At some lakes, you can also rent pedal boats, electric boats, canoes, even sailboats. Several lakes have fishing; in a few cases, it's a major draw.

Calm fall days offer good weather and less chance of having to work against a stiff breeze. Before renting, check out your boat by rowing it around a bit next to the dock (at one lake, we got a boat with a cockeyed oar that rowed us in circles). To find out more about shell rowing, you can watch from a number of lookouts, and clubs will give you information, help, and perhaps a trial run or two.

San Francisco: two urban lakes

Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park (see photograph, page 43). This lake's tree-lined 1-mile shore is one of the Bay Area's prettiest places to row. You pass cascading Huntington Falls, nip under two arched bridges. The boathouse (open 9 to 4 daily except Mondays) rents rowboats, pedal boats, canoes, and electric boats; and there's snack bar. On Sundays, the east end of John F. Kennedy Drive through the park is closed to autos, and the park is jammed by noon. Arrive before 10 to get a good parking spot; try parking on King Drive east of Crossover Drive.

Lake Merced, Harding Road off Skyline Boulevard (State Highway 35). With its 4 1/2-mile reedy shoreline, Lake Merced provides plenty of room for solitude. You can fish for bass, catfish, rainbow trout. The boathouse (6:30 to 5:30 daily) rents rowboats, canoes, and pedal boats. Three clubs use the lake; in the early morning and late afternoon, you may see their rapier-thin craft go slicing by. For club information, ask in the boathouse.

East Bay: five big lakes

Lafayette Reservoir, Lafayette. This mile-long lake is ringed now by golden grassy hills; temperatures on late-summer days can rise into the 90s. Winds may pick up in the afternoon, usually blowing from the northwest; if you row to the dam, return early or you may find yourself fighting winds all the way back. Rent a rowboat or pedal boats from the boathouse (dawn to dusk daily). Park entry costs $2, $3 on weekends. Picnicking is allowed in the 774-acre park; fish for black bass, blue-gill, catfish, crappie and trout.

From State Highway 24, take the Acalanes Road/Mount Diablo Boulevard exit south, and continue on Mount Diablo Boulevard 3/4 mile to the lake.

Lake Merritt, Bellevue Avenue off Grand Avenue, Oakland. Rowboat rental rates here are the Bay Area's lowest. Rowboats, pedal boats, canoes, and sailboats are available daily; call for fall hours. Weekend parking costs $1.25 a day. Each Wednesday from 10 to 11, you can watch and applaud the blue-kerchiefed ladies of the Oakland Women's Rowing Club as they glide by in their whaleboat (see page 42). This private club has been active for 71 years and nary an oarswoman is younger than 60.

Lake Chabot, San Leandro. This peaceful 315-acre lake, set in a forested bowl in 4,684-acre Anthony Chabot Regional Park, makes you feel as if you're in the country and not an urban area. Row up into two quiet lake arms, dock the boat, and picnic on shore. The boathouse (6 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. daily) rents rowboats, canoes, pedal boats, and electric boats. If you like biking, a paved 4 1/2-mile path runs along the lake's east side; you can also camp, hike, or go trout fishing (state fresh-water license, $18.50 annually, and regional park fishing permit, $1 per day, are required). Park entry fee is $1 to $2 per car. From the MacArthur Freeway (Interstate 580), take the Castro Valley Boulevard exit, and turn north onto Lake Chabot Road to the park.

Del Valle Reservoir, Livermore. The biggest lake on our list, 750-acre Del Valle Reservoir has everything: fishing, boating, two swimming beaches, and more than 110 campsites, all part of a 3,868-acre regional park. Many fishermen row to the dam and cast their lines, but along Del Valle's 16-mile shoreline you'll find many secluded coves. The black bass, catfish, and trout are jumping (again, state license and regional park permit required). The boathouse is open 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. daily. Pedal and electric boat renters must be age 16 or older. Park entry costs $3 per car. From Interstate 580, take N. Livermore Avenue south. Soon after N. Livermore turns into Tesla Road, turn right on Mines Road, then follow signs to the park.

Shadow Cliffs Lake, Pleasanton. This 90-acre lake, once a rock quarry, sports a sand beach and picnic area. Fish for bass, catfish, crappie, or trout (state license and regional park permit required). Rowboats, pedal boats, electric boats are available; renters age 15 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. Entry fee to Shadow Cliffs Regional Park is $3 per car. From Interstate 580, take Tassajara /Santa Rita Road south (Santa Rita turns into Main Street). Turn east (left) on Stanley Boulevard to the park.

South Bay: one busy, one quiet

Vasona Reservoir, Los Gatos. Crew teams from San Jose State and the University of Santa Clara practice in this 85-acre reservoir; they're often here weekdays after 5 P.M. Rowboats, canoes, and sailboats are rented; boaters under age 12 must be accompanied by an adult. In the fall, the boathouse is open 8 to 6 weekends only. Vasona Lake County Park is popular and busy with water traffic (especially windsurfers); you can picnic, launch a small boat ($2 fee), fish for bass or trout. Park entry charge is $2 per car on weekends. From State Highway 17, take Saratoga Avenue (State Highway 9) west; turn right on Winchester Boulevard, then right on Blossom Hill Road to the park.

Rowing clubs, lessons

In San Francisco, open-membership rowing clubs include Dolphin Swim and Boat Club, (415) 441-9329 and South End Rowing Club, 441-9523. For membership information about the private Lake Merritt Rowing Club in Oakland, telephone 524-8181.

Open Water Rowing, foot of Spring Street at Schoonmaker Point Marina, Sausalito; (415) 332-1091. You can take a lesson (a lesson or prior experience is necessary to rent) for $30 per hour, or $40 for two, including use of shell. Or rent a shell for $8 per hour on weekdays, $10 per hour weekends. Membership includes use of beginner, intermediate, or advanced shell; basic fee is $40 monthly. Open from 7 to 7 weekdays, 8 to 5 weekends.

Photo: It takes two to life two-person shell; Lake Merced is popular with rowing club members. Up an arm of quiet Lake Chabot (above), rowers guide wide, flat-bottomed boat past tree-covered hills

Photo: On Lake Merritt, Oakland Women's Rowing Club sets off in a 26-foot whaleboat

Photo: Near Chinese pagoda in Golden Gate Park, rowers pause to toss bread to ducks floating off the banks of Stow Lake
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Date:Oct 1, 1987
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