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To the office on time by the row less traveled

Commuter broke own record to Boston; he might have even beaten you

Just yards from his journey's end last Thursday morning, Peter Detwiler maneuvering his shell between two yachts at Rowes Wharf in Boston. Just yards from his journey's end last Thursday morning, Peter Detwiler maneuvering his shell between two yachts at Rowes Wharf in Boston. (PHOTOS BY George Rizer/globe staff)

If you were commuting by boat from Hingham to Boston last Thursday morning, you might have noticed an odd sight in the water -- a man rowing to work.

Once each summer for the past seven years, Scituate resident Peter Detwiler has commuted to Boston in his 1981 Alden Ocean Shell. Why forgo coffee and the morning paper aboard the ferry for a vigorous 11-mile row? "If you're a climber and you look up at a mountain, you wonder if you can make it to the top," Detwiler said. "That's what rowers do with water; you wonder if you can row in it."

Detwiler, 46, said he first assessed the water along his commute from his vantage point on the back deck of the ferry. Then, one afternoon he stopped a worker at the dock in front of the Boston Harbor Hotel at Rowes Wharf and said, " 'Hey, I'm thinking of rowing in from Hingham. Do you think I could dock my shell here for the day?' "

"Anybody stupid enough to try that can keep their boat here," was the reply.

So the annual row, to and from Boston, began in 2000.

"Once I made it, I knew I could do the round-trip every time," he said.

That's 22 miles of rowing in one day.

Detwiler said he rows 4 to 6 miles once or twice a week in the spring, summer, and fall, and once a month in the winter if the temperature is above freezing. His mileage goes down if the fishing is good. He said he started rowing boats in Norwell and rowed crew for Williams College from 1979 to 1983. His longest single row without stopping was 20 miles around Monomoy Island off Chatham -- ocean on one side and Nantucket Sound on the way home.

John Cotter, head girls' coach of the Hingham High School Rowing Association and a former rower for the University of Washington, said that 22 miles in one day is a lot.

"I do 44 miles in six days, and this guy is doing half that in one day," Cotter said. "That's a lot of mileage."

Last Thursday morning provided perfect conditions for Detwiler, who, before launching, had completed his standard checklist, which included a call to the Coast Guard for weather and marine conditions. He also made sure he had a secured dock space at the Boston Harbor Hotel.

As commuters boarded the 6 a.m. ferry nearby, Detwiler set his shell in the water off a boat ramp behind South Shore Lobster at the Hingham Shipyard; packed in his dry sack, which contained business clothes and a cellphone; put on gloves; and tossed in a bottle of Gatorade. The commuter ferry pulled away from the dock at 6 sharp; seven minutes later, Detwiler was following in its wake.

At 7:06 a.m., he phoned from Thompson Island: "I'm on a record pace. The water is beautiful and flat, perfect conditions."

The trip took him about an hour and 40 minutes, the fastest he had ever done it.

He docked in Boston at 7:47 a.m. and, with his first meeting scheduled for 9 a.m., Detwiler had more than enough time for a quick shower, compliments of the hotel.

Then it was a 2-mile walk to his office at the Prudential Center, where Detwiler works as a director of an energy firm.

Carrie Cullen-Hitt, a colleague of Detwiler's and a fellow Scituate resident, was impressed with the feat.

"It takes me an hour-40 to get to our office in Back Bay and Peter rowed there in that time," she said. "I don't know many people who could do that."

Things have not always gone smoothly for the rower over the years.

"I broke down off of Spectacle Island once: The rigger broke and the oarlock fell in the water," Detwiler said. "I rowed past the sewage treatment plant in Weymouth and flagged down a fisherman who helped me load the rig onto his boat [after sundown] and brought me to the dock in Hingham."

So, what does his wife think about all of this?

"She doesn't like me out in the harbor quite so far away, but, you know, I do a lot of stuff in the shell that she doesn't necessarily like," said Detwiler, the father of two teenage boys.

Thursday's return trip proved to be in stark contrast to the morning's row.

At 3 p.m., Detwiler checked the marine forecast.

"It showed 10 to 15 knots [of wind], shifting from south to southwest, trending up to 20 knots," he said. At that point, Detwiler cut his workday short, and set off for the harbor.

"I expect to beat the 20-knot nonsense, but extra headwind and some tidal resistance suggests an arrival time just after 6 p.m.," he texted by cellphone.

It was 4:20 p.m. when he began the outbound trip. At 5:47 p.m., Detwiler pulled over to Hangman Island to bail out the shell, something he would do three times on his trip home.

"45 mins from dock. Windy. Behind schedule," he typed.

At 6:15 p.m., there was no sight of him in Hingham Harbor. Thirty minutes later, Detwiler's shell came into view. He pulled his shell onto the shore at 6:45 p.m. and promptly went for a swim. The return trip took him two hours and 20 minutes.

All told, the day's events included a 22-mile row, a 4-mile walk, and $12 saved -- the round-trip ferry fare to Boston.