Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Rowing to Heaven

I was brought up at the Low end of the Church of England, but in those days the Low Church did not mean rock bands and light shows but a rejection of finery, bells, incense and anything that even faintly smelled of Popery. Services were strictly Book of Common Prayer and lessons were read from the King James Bible. The singing was from Hymns A&M, lead by a first-rate all-male choir accompanied by a real three-manual pipe organ.
The rot was beginning to set in, however. Just before I moved away, a new vicar had taken to conducting services in a lounge suit of a deplorable lilac shade.
Nowadays it is impossible to find prayer book services at all. Morning Prayer and Evensong, two of the loveliest poems in the English language, are fading sunlit memories. The only thing on offer in most churches is the modern Eucharist involving that toe-curling embarrassment, 'The Peace', featuring physical contact abhorrent to all Englishmen. One of my few hopes for a good outcome for Brexit is the abolition of this vile Continental practice.
But I digress.
Wandering round Hotwells, that beautiful suburb of Bristol, I took a peek in the Hope Chapel, a lovely Gothick confection dating from the late 18th century. It is used by an evangelical church these days, and the altar has been covered over by this hanging.
I suppose I should disapprove, but its vigour and gaiety are completely disarming. And, of course, the subject, which is a row to heaven. Everyone has piled into a fleet of lovely traditional wooden boats, realistically drawn so the artist must have been a boatie, and have gathered on the beach for food, music and dancing with the angels. Utterly beguiling.
Pity about the projection screen. I do hope it can be removed.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Sweet Thames Run Softly

In 1939 the wood engraver, printer and naturalist Robert Gibbings found himself locked out of the second world war on the very understandable grounds that he had taken a bullet in the neck at Gallipoli in the first one. Chafing in his job teaching book design at Reading University, he did a very extraordinary thing. He designed and built a boat capable of carrying his artists tools, his scientific instruments and his camping gear and set out to explore the River Thames.
He rowed in a leisurely way downriver from the source near Cricklade to the botanical gardens at Kew (by then further progress was impossible because of the war). On the way he observed the birds, the plants and fish, using a glass-bottomed bucket. He put water samples under his microscope. And he talked to anyone who passed (especially the girls - he was keen on girls). And, of course, he drew the scenes, including this charming cut of the boat itself and the one below of Shillingford Bridge with a sculler just visible under the main arch.
Then he produced a book of bucolic charm, Sweet Thames Run Softly, which was a surprise success in a Britain locked in a desperate fight for survival. Escapism, perhaps.
In the preface, Gibbings explains the boat creation process: "I wanted a boat in which there was plenty of room to sleep, and one which would not turn over when I turned over. She would have to be flat-bottomed in order to negotiate the shallower reaches of the river, and I hoped that she might be propelled by sculls, for I was brought up by the sea and have an instinctive scorn of 'prodding the mud'. But wherever I inquired I was given one of two answers: either that such boats were not in demand and therefore not made, or that they were in such demand they were impossible to procure."
So he designed it himself with advice from a local boatbuilder, and had it built in the woodwork department of Reading University, Gibbings and his son providing 'unskilled assistance'. It took a couple of weeks to build. Finished in eau-de-nil green, he called her Willow.
Gibbings is one of my favourite book artists, but I had never read Sweet Thames Run Softly until I noticed a new reproduction published by Toller Books at the bargain price of a tenner. The photo is from a website devoted to his life and work.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Sailing again

Went sailing again on Saturday, with fellow Dinghy Cruising Association and Home Built Boat Rally members Graham Neal, Paul Hadley and Chris Waite.
We breezed up with the tide to the Crown and Anchor at Dell Quay, where we sat on the terrace keeping an eye on our boats as we drank beer.
Every time we meet it feels more Last of the Summer Wine than ever.
Life is good.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Rowing Razorbill

Went to Beale Park Boat Show on Saturday and got to row David Evans's Atlantic Beachboat, a sail and oar craft I have mentioned before.
To get a crew together, I commandeered rowers from the Bristol-based St Ayles Skiff Hannah More.
We all agreed the Atlantic Beachboat rows satisfactorily fast, even with the straight sea oars David made. It is my belief that with a good set of carbon fibre Macons she would go like a train.
I really liked the way David had provided slots for the oars to stow in, neatly against the side of the hull, and special slots for the rowlocks beneath the gunwales so they can't drop in the oggin when under sail. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

A Better Look

Apologies for another picture of me, but I just like it. A lovely composition by Lorraine Grant of Solent galley Bembridge heading back down the Hamble in the rain last Saturday. Note perfect timing.
Apologies also for the late publication of the previous post - I really must return to blogging on my proper PC in my garden office instead of my iPad on my living room sofa, comfy though that might be. The Blogger app is crap, and it often says it has published a post when it secretly hasn't. 

Racing - Not a Good Look

To the Hamble on Saturday to race in the Hamble River Raid, one of my favouritest events. 
The top end of the course is a hairpin bend round a big red marker post, where stroke side holds water and bow side rows like hell. 
Lorraine Grant caught the moment Bembridge made the turn from the luxury pontoon of the Jolly Sailor.
But it was worth it - we held on to the trophy for fastest Solent galley.
And our juniors did amazingly well again - Claudia and Annika retained Bernie's Bollard for the fastest boat in the 'Classics and Spirit of Tradition' class (formerly known as Odds'n'Sods. It was particularly encouraging that we had another junior crew racing this year, Molly and Ayesha, who put in a great performance. 
To the bottom left of the picture is Cordelia, rowed by Mr and Mrs Hand. They had been evicted from Mistress, their Bursledon Gig, by their children who won a pot in it, the ingrates.
Despite the rain, enormous fun.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

An Even Blusterier Day

If that's a word.
Anyhoo, Saturday was a sailing day that turned into a fairly brutal row.
Not wishing to turn this blog into a 'why can't the Met Office ever see it coming' rant, but the local hour-by-hour forecast showed the breeze sharpening to F3 gusting F5 in the afternoon, but in the event a squall came in like a train registering 25kn at Cambermet. That's mid F6 and it lasted for over an hour which doesn't count as a gust in my book.
All in all, I learned a lot yesterday.
First lesson was: remember to put on my lifejacket. I launched at 8 o'clock just as the tide was leaving the slipway (because I didn't want to get out of bed any earlier than I had to) and it was half an hour before I realised I wasn't wearing the bloody thing, by which time the slip was inaccessible behind a hundred yards of deep Havant mud, which is not a nice place to lose a boot.
The moment was captured by Andy Cunningham (there to inspect Snarleyow to gain info for his conversion of a similar hull). Note acres of Havant mud in the foreground.
I dropped in on the friendly kiosk at the mouth of Langstone Harbour for coffee and to consider if I was brave enough to go out on the Solent without one, mentioned my predicament to owner John and he very kindly offered to lend me his. Top man! Onwards!
I was, however, still a bit concerned about the wind so I took a reef in. Then, out in the Solent, the wind more or less died so I had to shake it out again. Another bit of useful experience gained.
On returning to the harbour to give John his bouyancy aid back I noticed nasty clouds circling the area, as you can see in the photo. This gave me a nice smug feeling that loads of people were getting rained on but not me. But it was clearly time to head back.
With the wind right on the nose and sharpening, I decided to get a bit of exercise and row, so down came the masts. Just as well, as shortly after the squall came through and it took me for ever to reach the slipway, inch by inch. If I had still had the rig up I would have gone backwards. Lesson: watch the real weather rather that rely on the Met Office.
To cap it all the slipway was infested by jet skis illegally buzzing about damn them to hell, and in the evening a massive filling dropped out into my dry martini.