I've been asked by several people about the extent of oar/sail powered ships' boats in service with the US Navy. Our website claims that both the Launch and Monomoy are appropriate for time periods from the 18th century through the early 20th century. And indeed their service life is far greater in scope than most people realize. But the questions continually arise - were these isolated instances? Did the Navy prefer oar and sail to early engines? How long did the holdouts last?
Attached is a photo from 1925 of a boat from the USS Raleigh (CL-7), coming alongside off the coast of France. According to her official records, Raleigh was carrying a 26-foot Motor Whaleboat, a 25-foot Launch, a 24-foot cutter and a 26-foot Monomoy Pulling Boat at the time. An interesting balance, considering that many different options of powered craft were available at the time. Pictured is undoubtedly her 24-foot cutter, rowing back to the ship where the stanchion of the lower accommodation platform is visible in the foreground. The boat hook in use is of a very interesting shape, with wide throat probably for hooking the ship's mooring lines or possibly even her anchor cable. References in Capt. Crenshaw's Naval Shiphandling suggest a much greater use of kedging and warping by many ships, as "The use of tugs to compensate for poorly handed mooring lines or judicious use of the anchors is a stain on an otherwise perfectly smart ship." (p. 38, 1955 edition) The Raleigh's boats undoubtedly helped with such evolutions.
The 1917 US Navy Deck and Boat Book, which has been adopted as our principle guidance here at NHS, gives evidence that Raleigh was not unique in her equipments with respect to boats. Of all the different types of boats given, it gives equal deference to rowing, sailing, motor and steam boats. It also lists several duties specifically assigned to oar/sail powered boats. For example, "whaleboats, sometimes called Monomoys, are habitually used by the commanding officer as his gig and are referred to as such. Their excellent sea-keeping abilities and speed under oars make them ideal lifeboats." Of course, lifeboats in the navy usage of the day means 'fast rescue boat' in today's parlance.
I have no idea if the Navy preferred oar and sail to machine, but the continued use of both simultaneously clearly illustrates the perception of necessity for each.
As far as longevity, I think the case of our own Monomoy Pulling Boat makes the case quite adequately. Hull number 4344671-M was employed aboard USS Gridley DLG-21 as late as 1981, listed as her "rescue and assistance boat".