Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Flashboats (cont'd)

Vicky at The Rowing Company in Falmouth, who imports Heritage rowing boats from the US, writes:
"Delighted to see flash boats on the front page - I used to row flash boats! They are wonderful! Strangely though, my boats are more stable - flash boats are very tippy. I used to race them when I was about 12 - 14yrs old (a little while ago now!). I gave up because even at that age I really disliked racing of any sort. That's my problem with gig rowing too, unless you want to race, no-one's interested. Same with the local sliding seat club. I went up there for some training and explained that I wanted a boat to row on my own, when I wanted, to go where I wanted, and they just kept asking 'why???' it was as if I was speaking some strange foreign language!"
I so agree. It is a shame when clubs can't accept that some people just want to enjoy messing about in boats, though the Globe Rowing Club at Greenwich, where I was a member for some years, seemed perfectly happy for me to borrow a tub and go for a paddle, as long as I at least made the effort to join a four for club races every so often. It can be a problem if recreational rowers hog boats that could be used for training serious competitors though - perhaps clubs should consider setting up recreational sections with suitable boats.
Vicky's boats, the Heritage range made by Little River Marine in Florida, are traditionally styled skiffs in modern materials, and seem ideal for fun rowing. The picture shows the Heritage 12, with a guy doing something you can't do in a shell! Though I am sure that if a club bought two of them, they would start racing before the first day was out....

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Cornish Flashboats

5h- flashboat mens four oars
Originally uploaded by Brave Tales
The Cornish race these light, slim boats and it looks like Grade A fun, despite my natural aversion to exertion or competition in any form. Flashboats are apparently so-called because an old fashioned builder of the heavy traditional workboats that used to be raced until the latter part of the 19th century were losing to specially-built, lightweight racing boats. "Bloody flash boats," he called them, and the name stuck.
This great pic of mens fours racing in Cornwall last year was taken by Brave Tales on Flickr.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

British Olympic rowers get high-tech aid

BAe Systems, suppliers of things that go BANG!, has announced that Olympic contenders including rowers will be able to access its engineers for help in designing new kit to help them in their quest for glory. The shining example here is Chris Boardman, who gained Britain's first cycling gold for 72 years back in 1992 with his carbon-fibre, computer-optimised wonderbike designed by Lotus engineers.
The most intriguing possibility for using military tech in sport is claimed to be the helmet-mounted displays worn by fighter pilots. Instruments and maps are placed right in front of the pilots' eyes, so they don't have to take their eyes off the enemy for a second. The system could be used in cycling helmets to show the rider the terrain, speed, heart rate and the position of other racers. Very useful.
For single scullers, of course, it would eliminate that tedious necessity to take a quick shufty over your shoulder every so often.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Rowing the Viking way

The Gokstad ship with her upswept ends is one of the world's icons. She still has an air of speed and menace that sends a thrill down the spine, giving some inkling of the effect she must have had on plump city folk round the coastline of Europe from Colchester to Constantinople.
Less well known are the boats such as this one that were found inside the Gokstad burial, but they have the same characteristic shape and just the same type of construction.
I've always hankered after a Viking style boat. Not a 'reconstruction using authentic tools', with all the accompanying leaks, mess and need to share the boat with hairy Viking re-enactor types who can bore you to Valhalla and back about 10th century battle-axe technique. No, what I want is a boat with the upturned ends that is easy to row single handed and has lots of room inside for camp cruising. A small rig for downwind, an oar to steer her by, and a Viking boat would be the ideal weekender.
Which is exactly what Canadian boatbuilder Mark Wallace has achieved. His Gokstad Skiff is an attempt to recreate the boat using modern glued lapstrake or clinker plywood. It is smaller than the original at only 14ft long by 4ft 2in beam, and has a flat bottom for easy beaching. If she is trimmed down slightly by the bow when rowing into the wind, she can be made to 'weathercock' - the raised stern catches the wind and automatically keeps you on track.
Mark reports that she is a delight to row, and has been used for cruises around the islands of the west coast where he lives.
He is not so pleased with the appearence, however, and feels that the beautiful feel of the original was not carried over into the skiff. That, I suspect, is a matter of opinion. He also thinks that a bit of extra length, perhaps 16ft, would improve performance.
I would love to build the larger version, perhaps even stretching it to 18ft with a 5ft beam, to swing a beefy pair of oars. Add a small standing lug for downwind, and you could really go places. A lot of fun, even though sack, rape and pillage are no longer absolutely legal in these degenerate days.
Unfortunately, Mark has no time and I have no money, so the project is on hold for a while. But it is definitely at the back of my mind, festering. One day....
(Thanks to Mark for the pictures).

Sunday, 20 January 2008

A disturbing thought

Went out in Snarleyow, my sliding-seat skiff, from Dell Quay, the ancient port of Chichester that now consists of a pub, a couple of houses and the old quay which now houses sailing and fishing clubs. A brisk row in a force 4-5 which got a bit choppy when the tide turned but shipped no water at all, which always surprises me in such a small boat. It is so light it rides above the swell, I think.
Upchannel of Dell Quay, I rowed past the Apuldram sewage works, noting the large new building housing an ultra-violet treatment system that now protects us harbour users from infection by Chichester's hamburgers and curries.
Driving home, I saw an enormous 4x4 crew-cabin pickup truck of the type used by emergency engineers parked outside the sewage works, marked "Specialists in Water Analysis". Perhaps I am getting paranoid, but I had a good shower when I got home.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Thames Skiffs

An earlier post on skiffs prompted David to comment "Nice post! It is a fond wish of mine to recreate the trip from "Three Men in a Boat" one day.. and here's where to get the boat: Thames Skiff Hire."
Which reminds me that I wrote about Thames Skiff Hire in a short piece I did for a travel supplement in The Times (London) last year. Here is the opening part - the rest was about narrowboating and 'coasteering' and such, so I won't bore you with it:
"Britain is blessed with an abundance of water for playing on, in and around. Nowhere is far from a coast, river or lake offering every kind of boating from laid-back cruising on the canals to the exhilaration of white water rafting.
But nothing is more ingrained in the British psyche than rowing on the Thames, implanted as small children by reading Wind in the Willows and later by Three Men in a Boat. Not to mention the Eton Boating Song.
Tom Balm of Thames Skiff Hire in Walton on Thames takes old rowing skiffs and restores them into symphonies of varnished mahogany, bronze and canvas. Then he rather generously allows us to play at being Ratty or Jerome K Jerome in them.
You can start and finish anywhere along the river - he will deliver the boat to one of 30 and collect from another one so you can row downstream only if you feel lazy.
Four people can fit in a boat, but only three can sleep so one will have to put a tent up on the bank. Cooking equipment is provided, including that essential tin opener."

Here are the boats, in an image on Tom's website, and lovely things they are. Note the iron hoops that support the canvas boat cover used for camping and to keep the rain off. Rain is actually much less prevalent than is usually believed (far less than Seattle, for example) but Jerome K Jerome himself had to call off his trip at Pangbourne and head for the station because they were drowned out.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright designs from the grave

A boathouse originally designed in 1905 by the celebrated Frank Lloyd Wright has finally been built.
Wright produced the design on spec for the University of Wisconsin but they declined to finance construction. For some reason, however, Wright was particularly fond of it and included it in a number of collections of his designs. In 1930 he even revamped it for concrete rather than the original stuccoed block.
Now the West Side Rowing Club of Buffalo NY has made the design a reality, on the banks of the Niagara River. Its powerful curtain wall and sweeping 'prairie' roof certainly make a statement.
No corners have been cut, with red cedar doors and diamond window panes. No wonder it cost over $5 million.
Unfortunately, Wright didn't worry about practicality too much. One client who complained that his new roof leaked was told: "That's how you know it's a roof." Which is memorable but unhelpful.
In this design, the doors are not wide enough for the riggers, so crews have to tilt the boats as they carry them in. Not a major problem really, but it says something about the people who carry the flame for FLW that they refused permission to widen the door frames even a tad. Some Lloyd Wright fanboyz even complained that it should not have been built anywhere except in the setting the old man designed it for in Wisconsin.More on the Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse here.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

More on eBay

A resplendent article of rowing bibliographia here.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Langstone Harbour

The slipway at Bedhampton is one of the most alarming I know - just look at all those health warnings. It is also huge - someone told me once it was built for the D Day landings and never removed. The surroundings are uninspiring too, with a gravel wharf and Havant's sewage works on the other side of the inlet. So I got in and rowed off sharpish.
Langstone Harbour is big so waves can be quite large. Today, with a Force 4 blowing from the west, there were a few white horses. Well, not large enough to be horses, more white my-little-ponies really, enough to make rowing harder work than I would have liked.
Kept close to Hayling Island on the way out, with a little detour into a lake in the lee of the harbour mouth spit called the Kench. Some very attractive houseboats there.
Caught up with the DCA at Milton Lock, the only remains of the military canal that linked Portsmouth Dockyard with London via Chichester and the rivers Arun and Wey.
Headed straight across the harbour on the way back and golly it feels lonely in a very small boat right in the middle. A moment of alarm was caused coming back to Bedhampton when I cast a look forward to see this approaching:


It has been brought to my attention (thanks David!) that only Blogger account holders could comment on posts. I have now opened it up, so please feel free, though I will be moderating comments at least at the start so please be patient if your words don't appear right away.
Like today. Right now the sky looks like this >>>--------->
So I'm off to Langstone Harbour to join the Dinghy Cruising Association for an outing, so comments may be delayed a bit.
Have a great day, all.

Friday, 11 January 2008

More rowing stuff on eBay

This is about as much use to a rower as one sock.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Currach on eBay

A 'traditional Irish currach' has been put up for auction on eBay here. At 11ft it is very short for a currach - only the tiny Tory Island currachs are that small and they don't have the exaggerated upturn on the bow. But it looks fun and can be cartopped, according to the vendor. The starting bid is £250, but there have been no takers yet. The auction ends January 15th.
Thanks to Brian Pearson for the tip.
Also on eBay here is this Tasteful 18x24 Art Print. A snip at $22 including shipping. I only wish I'd seen it before Christmas.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Funny business in Victorian Germany

Reading extracts from E.F.Knight's description of his 1887 cruise "The Falcon on the Baltic" on Gavin Atkin's blog inspired me to buy it, and last night I came across this remarkable passage. The Falcon has arrived at Kiel via the River Eider and the old Schleswig-Holstein canal (the Keil ship canal was not yet complete), and Knight raves about the lovely lakes called brednings, what we would call broads. However, Knight is surprised at the lack of boating activity on what he describes as 'the most glorious facilities for yachting'. However, moored up in Kiel Fiord:
"On the morning after our arrival I was reading an English paper in the cabin, when I was startled by a sound that was very familiar, but the last I should have expected to hear in Kiel Fiord. Had I been dreaming, or was I still lying off the Doves at Hammersmith? It was a human voice screaming and cursing in the purest Thames tow-path dialect, reckless of aspirates, rich in horrible invective. It was a Cockney addressing men whom he called respectively Five, Four, Three and so on as if they were so many convicts. He was urging them in impassioned language not to feather under water, to keep their something eyes in the boat, not to sugar, and to do or avoid doing several other things. How often I had been bullied in a similar fashion by a similar tyrant on the Cam! I leapt on deck and lo! There was a genuine racing four pulling by! There were several other fours and funnies on the bay, and it was evident that the “Wasser-sport” was much patronized at Kiel.
I afterwards learnt that the rowing regatta was soon coming off, so all the rowing men were in training, and this particular crew of young Germans had imported a professional coach from the Thames to teach them how to row. They were very enthusiastic and plodding, but the coach with all his skill and blasphemy could not drive any real style into them. It seems strange that the North Germans, well set-up as they are physically, can never approach the English in any athletic sport.
“It’s all that d----d lager they drink,” said a professional oarsman, who had been to Hamburg, to me; “it swells them out till they’re all wool and flabbiness.”
The Kiel rowing men made a good deal of their tutor, admired him greatly, and bore his fearful language with patience. They wanted to row at any cost, and they had been led to understand that it was quite impossible to become a true English wassersportsman unless one has been well cursed through one’s apprenticeship."
The Germans have certainly caught up with the English in sports since then, and over the same period the English have taken up lager. Coincidence? I think not.
I was struck by the use of the term 'funny' for a double scull or pair, which I haven't heard used since I was a kid. Funnies were usually clinker built, so I suppose the word died when shells came in for racing boats and fibreglass displaced wood for leisure boats. I think this charming nomenclature should be revived instantly.
Here is a modern funny featured in Wikipedia, being rowed on the Amstel. The picture was taken by Paul Vlaar.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Viking rowing

I went out in slightly choppy conditions this morning, with a stiffish westerly behind a neap tide. Lots of birds. I surprised myself by a fairly rapid progress from Itchenor to Dell Quay and back.
That statement is probably of no real interest but is there to rectify the impression that I have sitting on the sofa watching TV for the last fortnight.
Tonight it was the BBC's great Timewatch programme, which followed the maiden voyage of the first big Viking ship built in 800 years or something.
The ship, Sea Stallion, is a reproduction of one of the famous Viking ships at the Danish Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde. She is 30m long and has a crew of 60, all of whom can row at the same time but apparently only half the crew would usually row at one time, allowing the other half to rest.
The original ship was built in Dublin in about 1070, according to analysis of the timbers. So the reproduction was sailed and rowed from Denmark to Dublin via Orkney to celebrate.
The oars work in keyholes in the hull, with a rectangular slot for the blade to slide through and a round hole in the middle to hold the loom. The holes are blocked with wooden plugs while sailing, a rather less than watertight arrangement.
The crew rowed with a staccato beat, allowing the boat to glide forwards for a good few seconds between strokes, which looked a bit odd but was presumably easier to keep up for hours at a stretch.
The Sea Stallion was put through a load of tests when stopping at the island of Islay, including comparing upwind performance under sail and oar. Interestingly, she was twice as fast upwind under oar than sail, because of the need to tack.
The other revelation was that they could not row in heavy weather, presumably because of the danger of the handles being pulled out of the rowers' hands by wave action. This meant that when the rudder mounting failed, the ship was helpless and was in danger of broaching.
The BBC has a comprehensive website with lots of video and tracks of the voyage, and the Sea Stallion has her own website as well.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Henley Whalers New Year Row

On New Year's Day, while I was stuck at home with my car off on family business, the Henley Whalers trailed the 27ft new-tech Montagu Whaler Molly to Lymington and rowed her to Yarmouth IoW on a calm, grey day - just the sort of weather that favours rowing. It looks like they had a blast.
The boat has traditional lines but up-to-the-minute technology - a foam sandwich hull with and carbon fibre spar and oars - that would undoubtedly have been used by Admiral Montagu had he been designing boats for today's Navy. Her standing lug rig is very impressive - at any rate, it scares the whillies out of me.

A rudder for row/sailing

A very interesting article on Duckworks Magazine this morning about John Hitchcock's St Lawrence River skiff that he rows and sails around New Zealand.
John sails his boat off the wind, using a small balanced lug.
He used to steer with an oar over the quarter, but found this unsatisfactory. He also wanted to improve tracking.
So he designed a neat 'clasp-knife' rudder that folds up when not needed. Control is by lines running from the rowing seat to a short tiller at the stern.
I am fiddling about with row/sailing arrangements and had come to the tentative conclusion that a rudder is more trouble than it is worth, but I may have to revise that opinion.
And I now want want want a St Lawrence River skiff, said to be one of the most seaworthy and rowable boats in the world, as well as being one of the loveliest. John designed and built his based on lines provided by a Canadian museum.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

New Year rowing

I try and get out for a row on New Year's Day simply to say that I did, although here on the south coast of England it never gets really cold because of the Gulf Stream. In New England, considerably south of here, Malcolm on the Openboats Yahoo! group (one of my favourites) reported on his New Year row:
"About 9:00 today I headed off to Kittery, Maine, to go for a New Year's Day row to join nine other people in six boats in a traditional way to start the new year. The temp was about 24°F (-4.4°C) when I left home but had warmed to near freezing in Kittery.
We set off at 11:00 and because of a sharp (& cold) headwind, we headed off into Chauncey Creek for about a mile, where we rafted to a buoy, and spent some time just talking. The forecast was for snow to start at noon; at 12:20 it began to snow, not heavily but there it was. So we "upped anchor" and headed back to the launch ramp.
On the way back I bumped a moored fishing boat and snapped off one of my oar locks. I had to improvise with a piece of line making rowing difficult. The darned of it was that if I stopped to adjust it better, there was enough set to push me into the dock pilings. Lesson learned - bring a spare. The snow was mixed with rain, heavy, wet and wind driven so a trip to the local Weathervane restaurant for warmth, a plate of fried clams and a mug of beer seemed the best idea in the world. Inland it was colder and the snow was deeper, but not as wet and heavy. By the time I got back home there were some four inches of fresh snow in my driveway."

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Curraghs on Coast

Number One Son had a party at the back of the house last night and I did the middle aged Dad thing and watched the telly in the front room. The best thing on, apart from Life of Brian of course, was an episode of the excellent BBC/Open University series Coast, in which the amiable Neil Oliver learned to row a currach on the west coast of Ireland. As he had just talked to surfers about the truly terrifying waves that crash into that rocky coast, this was actually rather a courageous thing to do. And by the magic of BBC iPlayer, you can view the whole thing on your computer for the next seven days, here.
To cope with the swell, curraghs use thin oars with barely any blade at all so catching to tops of waves on the return stroke will not cause problems. I think they grip the water because of the length. The oars swivel on thole pins rather than oarlocks so to keep the correct angle to the water.
Curraghs have an amazing seakeeping ability partly because of their flexible canvas-on-frame construction. There was a super example for sale at the Thames Beale Park Boat Show a couple of years back. Coracle maker supreme Peter Faulkner was selling it - you can see him building a currach out of twigs and cowhide here.