Sunday, 28 September 2008

Hayling Island circumnavigation

Boating right round islands seems to be an atavistic urge, and I've long wanted to circumnavigate Hayling Island.
Hayling is only a small island, four miles across at the most, set between Chichester and Langstone harbours and facing the English Channel on the south.
It took a while to wind myself up to do it, because the Channel is a big place for a small boat like Snarleyow. And I would have to row and through two harbour entrances with fast-flowing tidal currents.
So I formed a cunning plan, which was to start on the sea front at about two hours before high tide, head for Langstone Harbour mouth and take the tide up to the north of the island. At that point, the tide would turn and I would be wafted down to Chichester Harbour mouth on the ebb. Then back to the start point.
But the weather had to be very calm to risk a launch off the beach, so when Saturday dawned with a lovely clear sky, practically no wind and a nice patch of high pressure promising more of the same all day, plus high tide at 11 o'clock, it was now or never.
Getting in the boat was the first problem. I have never boarded the boat in surf before, even though it was only a foot or so high. The first attempt was a disaster, taking in a good few gallons of water. I had to lift the boat bodily and tip her out. And I got water in my boots, something I really, really hate.
Second time was better and I started off westward. To the east, a huge dredger had rammed itself up the beach and was pumping an arc of water and pebbles onto an area of the beach, an operation I had never witnessed before.Approaching Langstone Harbour, the bar had a nasty chop on it that Snarleyow simply bobbed over, remarkable boat that she is. The channel itself was easy peasy and once inside the harbour the wind dropped to nothing and the water became glassy smooth. I got this shot of a cormorant from hundreds of yards away courtesy of my new telephoto.
At the top of the harbour I spotted Steve in his Virus boat, and Langstone Cutters out again. A brief rest stop was accidentally next to some huge blackberry bushes covered in luscious ripe fruit. Just the thing for a little lift as I set off down Emsworth Channel.Oddly, although I was already rowing against the tide through the bridge that links Hayling to civilization, all the boats in Emsworth seemed to be pointing down channel indicating the tide was still flowing. Possibly the tide was slack and the southerly wind was keeping the boats pointing in the 'wrong' direction.Chichester Harbour mouth was no problem either, but again the bar to the side of the channel was very choppy and rather alarming, and had just been stirred up by a whacking great motor yacht flying the Royal Yacht Squadron's ensign that had just swanned in looking superior.
I got out just under three hours after I had got in. No drama this time. I just felt completely, utterly knackered. And I had a blister the size of a tuppenny bit on my little finger. Ow.

Friday, 26 September 2008

More from Life in the Slow Lane

Newly-qualified as a naval architect just before WWII, Arthur Martin spent the summer at his family's holiday home on the island of Appledore on the coast of Maine. Of an evening he would row across to the next island, Star, and go to dances at the Oceanic Hotel:
"The only activity other than dancing was known as rocking. To participate, a young man would go to a wood building known as 'the shack' to the south of the hotel and whistle. By prearrangement, one of the waitresses, who all lived there, would appear at the head of the outside stairs, carrying a blanket. It was very romantic on a high rocky ledge, looking at the shimmering path of the moonlight on the dark water below.
Despite the pleasures of the evening, I always enjoyed the row back to Appledore in the peapod, all by myself. I am constantly surprised to hear of a rowing enthusiast who has never rowed at night. There is nothing in this world quite like it. The boat seems to go much faster, with less effort. The phosphorescence is like a string of pearls, far more brilliant than anything one could buy, suspended from each side of a well-designed bow. The oar blades make swirls of fire, and a chain of platinum streams from the sharp stern. It is very peaceful and quiet, and I often pity all those who choose instead a noisy, smoky nightclub."
I have never rowed by night. Will soon.
Photo from Kate and Jeroen's photostream on Flickr

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Lego Technics rowing boat

Very nice, but the oars need to be longer.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

In search of the ideal rowing boat

Committed sailor Brian Pearson of Keyhaven seems to have had something of a road-to-Damascus moment when he tried out my Chippendale Sprite at the HBBR a few weeks back, as pictured above. He writes:

Hi Chris, I will explain. The nice picture you sent of me trying to row your Sprite is currently sitting as the background to my computer screen. My elder son is home this weekend sorting out money to pay for a house he is just buying in France. It's actually on the lake side of Lake Geneva no less. Sounds good yes? So James sees this picture and says that's just what he wants - a recreational sliding seat rower for popping down to Evian and back, not far about 10 minute walk I think. If possible able to carry his fiancé and her little dog as well. My other son also likes rowing at the gym, and he has a girlfriend with a young daughter, so similar requirements when he is staying there. Me, I found it very special when I enjoyed my first go in a sliding seat last weekend. Thus I would love to use it too. So James would like me to sort out a boat which would be kept there for anyone to use. There will be a small boathouse but not sure yet of how long the boat can be to store in it. I am thinking Virus Yole, Merry Wherry II type of boats, that is: single recreational sliding seat rowing with inexperienced water rowers carrying a passenger - guess you have to move the seat/rowing thing to rebalance the boat. Possibly a passenger and a small extra passenger say a small dog or small child? As a sailor I will really value your advice, Brian
I had a bit of a think and replied:

Hi Brian - you lucky chap, having a son with a house on Lake Geneva!
The problem with a lot of sportier boats of the type with sliding seats is that they are long and thin, so passengers are a problem. Not only is the buoyancy a bit low, but passengers feel rather nervous in the tender hull. It's ok for the rower - he's got his hands on the oars and is in control.
The Virus Yole has the facility for a passenger seat. Because the rails the seats slide on extend the entire length of the boat, the rower can move forward simply by using an alternative place for the stretcher (footrest). But there is no backrest on the passenger seat and the cockpit is self-bailing so I suspect the passenger will be uncomfortable and wet.
Take a look at The Rowing Company's Heritage 15, imported from the US. I tried one at Beale and they are good to row, and there are passenger seats fore and aft. I didn't try it with a passenger though.
If passengers are likely to be a frequent occurrence, perhaps a traditional fixed-seat skiff such as Paul Fisher's 15ft Mandarin or Iain Oughtred's Mole would hit the spot.
Francois Vivier does some very nice, mainly fixed seat rowing boats.
Of course, the ideal thing would be to have a Sprite (available as a kit or complete) for an individual workout and a Mandarin or Mole as well, for those 'girl with a parasol' afternoons.
Hope this helps. All best,

Hi Chris, Thanks for your considered response. In summary then - sliding seat designs best for just the rower. Non sliding seat options are Thames Skiff types. Sliding seats not really used in the slightly wider design needed for a passenger? The other group are the oar and small sail designs we both like. [Iain Oughtred's] Acorn 15, [Paul Gartside's] Bob, and such. I am correct in thinking that the pleasure of sliding seat rowing is the greater pleasure and since the ladies probably will not come along very often, then concentrate on that? I have just remembered the Appledore Pod which can be rowed single, double and single with a passenger. It even has small sail rig and dagger board as extras. Video here. Although GRP is not your thing, it would suit for James, since he is not going to be there often. This video seems to illustrate it is possible to combine single sliding seat with a passenger. Can you think of any home build design with similar features? Perhaps we could go to Andrew Wolstenholme and spec a clinker ply boat, he does draw the most wonderful shear lines and he already has Sprite and Otter in his design history. Brian

Hi Brian,
I almost bought a 19ft version of the Appledore Pod once - the version you can see here. It was much too heavy and expensive. When negotiations had clearly broken down, the guy I was buying from said, 'would you be interested in this then?' and pointed to a small hull slung under his garage roof. It was the Chippendale Sprite. I bought it on the spot and have been using it relentlessly ever since.
I think it depends on whether your son wants to build it himself or buy off the shelf. The Appledore is a lovely shape and not too expensive, but there doesn't seem to be any passenger seat so presumably they would have to squat on the bottom of the boat. Have you seen the Chester Yawl? A drop-in sliding seat unit could be easily fitted and it has a nice big wineglass transom providing lots of extra buoyancy at the back if a passenger is sitting on that nice stern seat.
Ted Bird did a version of the Sprite with a seat at the back (below) that he had at Beale a few years back, but he said he installed it because the customer wanted it - he didn't think it would be very practical. So I am sure he would build you a single rower + passenger + dog version of the Otter with pleasure.
All best,
Anyone got any better ideas?

Sunday, 21 September 2008


To Warblington for an afternoon's paddle. Everyone was out on the harbour, taking advantage of what may well be the only decent weather since the wettest August on record and the onset of winter.
Steve was rowing his Virus Yole off Langstone, and stopped for a coffee. It's very handy the way the riggers fold up so you can tie up to a pontoon safely or to someone's yacht without risking the paintwork. No such facility on Snarleyow, so he had to hang on to my blade when I took this snap.Langstone Cutters were out in a Clayton Skiff (the four) and a Salter Skiff (the double) and were clearly having fun. Click on the image above to see the smiles on their faces.If any of you guys want a hi res image, email me and I will send it over.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Soton Boat Show - a pendant

I went to the Southampton Boat Show ten days ago and I wasn't going to report on it because it has no rowing interest whatsoever (except for the Swallow Boats stand, where I had a jolly interesting conversation with Matt Newland that may result in my handing over a substantial amount of cash - more on this later).
Anyway, the highlight for me was Spirit of Mystery, the Mounts Bay Lugger that Pete Goss is planning to sail to Australia. Double-parked alongside her was Ocean Pearl, a restored zulu (or possibly fifie) that is usually on a buoy in Prinsted channel, Chichester Harbour.
Today, I rowed to Prinsted and was rewarded by the sight of Ocean Pearl under sail. My new camera (a Fujifilm Finepix S8100) has a telephoto lens and anti-shake. I swear it is impossible to take a duff shot with this thing unless you point it at your feet.

Friday, 19 September 2008

More on rowing canoes

One of the great things about the internet is you never know who is reading. Jake Millar was surprised to find two of his own creations featured in the recent post on adapting canoes for rowing. He writes with more information:

Hi Chris,
I was checking out your Rowing For Pleasure page earlier. I was surprised to see my friend Rob's rowing canoe included and then as I scrolled a bit further down my own Barnegat Light Skiff, "Flaie".
I'm the builder of both of these boats - Rob's boat was a 12'8" "fisherman's canoe" extra beamy - I had intended to fix it up to use as a fishing skiff on a local pond at our vacation cabin in the Catskill Mts. - then I realized I had (once again) acquired too many boats - so I offered it to Rob and we slapped together a nice little skiff in short order. The seat that you admired (same seat used in my BLS) is called a "tractor seat" available from the Wenonah Canoe Company, they also make a fitted gel pad seat cover that is super comfortable.
My Barnegat Light Skiff is not a canoe - actually a turn of the century Norwegian rowing skiff reproduced in fiberglass. The drop in rig you mentioned was adapted from a set of plans available from Glen-L boat plans. The rig per their plans was intended to be a sliding seat rig but I adapted it to fixed seat rowing. The riggers are not laminated wood but rather hand laid fiberglass. My thought was that it would make them stronger and stiffer (no flex), unfortunately they'd load up and flex a bit. This was solved by installing oarlock sockets on the gunnel directly under the rigger, I drilled a hole through the rigger above the socked and using stainless steel threaded rod and nuts / washers braced the riggers to the hull. Now, five years of steady use later I can say that it has worked perfectly. The fixed seat rig and riggers remain rock solid and a joy to row. I should also mention that my fixed seat rig fits on the same footprint as my Piantedosi Row Wing unit, making them interchangeable as my intended use dictates.
I enjoy your web site very much - keep up the great work you're doing.
Jake Millar
PS - I agree with you that the rowing rig in the canoe (bottom photo on you rowing canoes piece) is beautiful!

Great to hear from you, Jake. Please keep us up to date with future boatbuilding projects!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A NEW corrugated iron boat

Owen Sinclair writes with news of a very unusual boat:
Hi Chris,
In July you posted an item about corrugated iron boats. I finally found this photo of a corrugated iron canoe built by Sam Atkinson. Made of Coloursteel, so the green (in this case) colour is applied at time of manufacture.
Sam used recycled rough-sawn timber for inner and outer gunwales, touched with a sander here and there to show the original wood colour through the grey, and through-fastened with copper rivets and roves. Truly artistic. I wish I had taken more photos of the details.
Sam paddled around the 2001 Classic Boat Show at Lake Rotoiti, lying back in the canoe, wearing what looked like a pith helmet.
Owen Sinclair

Brilliant! The use of new materials that should be much more resistant to corrosion is particularly impressive. I'm wondering if clear plastic corrugated roofing material sealed with silicone mastic would work. Hmmmm....

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Hymn to the Adirondack Guide Boat

The legendary Adirondack guide boat is a thing of beauty. It seems to inspire awe in people. Here's a homage, almost a love letter, by Willem Lange, a man who has spent most of his life in the Adirondacks doing most things from labouring, carpentry, teaching and managing an outward bound school. These days he talks on local radio and writes books, and for the first time rows his own guide boat.

I have always wondered how such a narrow boat is rowed, and the video makes it clear - simply a matter of moving one oar well before the other to avoid clashing the highly-overlapped handles. Feathering is not a problem because they can't - the looms are mounted in a sort of gimballed oarlock. The oars look too long for the beam of the boat, but the looms are square and heavy and the shafts are long and thin, which means they are properly balanced and nicely flexible.
Willem's guide boat was made by the Adirondack Guide Boat Company of Vermont, who make a range in various sizes in both kevlar and traditional cedar. They also make kits.
Paul Fisher of Selway Fisher has designed a 15ft Adirondack guide boat for stitch and tape or clinker ply construction. This one is by Colin Wragg.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Arthur Martin: 'Life in the slow lane'

Arthur Martin, the designer of the Alden Shell, did not invent recreational rowing - Ratty and Mole did that - but he invented a new class of rowing by designing shells for fun rather than racing. For the first time, recreational rowers could row at speeds unattainable in a traditional skiff or whitehall, while being able to get out in conditions that would keep fine boats imprisoned in the boathouse.
I picked up a copy of Arthur Martin's autobiography a few weeks back - the picture shows him rowing an Alden Shell past his family home on Seal Island, Maine. When I read this in the introduction, I knew I was going to like it:
"I had nothing but contempt for the new fangled outboard motors and used to delight in racing against them while rowing at full power in a Maine peapod.....I grant that there are many good uses for readily portable power, but I do not consider such a use aimlessly speeding about, to the danger of swimmers, canoes and small sailboats, by young children who would be better off doing something more mentally and physically challenging. One spoiled kid in an outboard can shatter the very tranquility of a quiet lake or creek that the adjacent homeowners have paid so dearly to enjoy. Perhaps I hate outboards because they remind me of mosquitos. On the other hand, perhaps I hate mosquitos because they remind me of outboards."

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Rowing against strokes

Rowers can support the Stroke Association by getting sponsored for a 10km row during Stroke for Stroke week, 27th October to 2nd November. All you have to do is register at the Stroke for Stroke website, get sponsored and do the distance. You will help sufferers from a dreadful and debilitating condition that can strike at any age, and you will help protect yourself from strokes too by getting that little bit fitter.
Sadly, it seems that most people will be 'rowing' in the unhealthy fug of the gym, but I will be rowing up the Hamble from Swanwick to the Horse and Jockey at Curbridge, a distance of almost exactly 5km, and back. Because rowing is supposed to be fun, there will be a short break for beer and a sandwich at the pub.
The row will take place on Saturday 1st November, starting at about 11 am at Swanwick Hard, Swanwick Shore Road, Hampshire ( 50.880897°N, 1.297419°W). The date may shift if the weather is truly goddawful.
All rowers wanting to support this great cause are welcome to join me - just register, blackmail all your friends into sponsoring you, and turn up with your boat. If you can't make it, you can sponsor me here.
And just to demonstrate that age, flabbiness and balditude are no bar to rowing 10km, here's a pic of me at the Home Built Boat Rally last weekend, taken by Tim O'Connor:

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A rower in bronze

I got taken to tea at One Aldwych the other day. The cavernous foyer is dominated by this bronze rower by André Wallace, made in 1998.
The oarsman is crammed in a tiny, water-filled boat clutching absurdly long oars. He is alert and ready, his toes curled round the transom. Is he poised to abandon ship? Or just embarrassed at being caught in the bath in this public place?
Wallace has an obsession with fitting bodies into boat shapes. He feels they project feelings of departures and arrivals, the passage of time and our own mortalities.
It's a very powerful image. Even if all I wanted was a nice cup of tea....

Monday, 8 September 2008

HBBR at the Cotswold Water Park

The Home Built Boat Rally (HBBR) over the weekend was rainy but fun, a pattern that seems to have emerged for these events.
Chris Perkins launched his latest work of art, Stangarra, a little canoe designed by Iain Oughtred. She is well up to Chris's exacting standards, complete with gold leaf name and a stylised stangarra (Scots for stickleback) on the side. For pics of her maiden voyage in the rather apprehensive hands of a middle aged baldy who is more used to rowing, see Chris's Flickr page. His informative and entertaining blog is here.
Noted sailor Brian Pearson discovered sliding-seat rowing in Snarleyow - here he is looking a bit nervous, just like me in Stangarra really. Long thin boats are very much an acquired taste.
John Lockwood's unusual new rowing/outboard tender/utility/fishing boat also got its first wetting at the show. She's almost a catamaran, perhaps a tunnel hull. Anyway, she looks rather ungainly though stable, but goes surprisingly fast under oars. John's oars are rather short for the boat - with a longer pair she could go quite quickly I think. The design was taken from an old copy of Motor Boat and Yachting, John said, adapted for the materials he happened to have around.The Keynes Country Park where the event was held seems to be getting busier and busier - a triathlon happened on Sunday morning and the boats of the new Cotwold Rowing Club are conspicuously racked up in the boat park. Among them was a Virus Yole with sliding riggers, an arrangement I have been wanting to try for a long time.
Unfortunately nobody from the club was around on the Sunday, so I didn't get a chance to go out in it, but the rigger is impressively engineered and shows no sign of rust despite being left outside in all weathers. Virus sell the sliding rigger as a bolt-in unit. I'm very tempted by the idea of fitting one in a Selway-Fisher Windrush. At 18ft long and 2ft 9in across, it should go like the clappers while being stable enough for Chichester Harbour and perhaps, with suitable built-in buoyancy, off the beach.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Cotswold Water Park

Last week I stayed for a couple of days at The Lakes by Yoo, a ritzy holiday homes development on the Cotswold Water Park near Swindon. Swindon is an unlovely town, noted for railways, factories and roundabouts, and the Cotswold Water Park is a bunch of gravel pits. But...they are rapidly being transformed into a chain of magical waters, some devoted to holiday homes, some to wildlife, others to fishing and boating. I woke up one morning to the sight of a guy casually paddling over the lake with an oar. It is a transformation from the moonscape that was there only a few years ago when it was an active extraction pit.
Tomorrow I will be back, this time at Keynes Country Park for the annual Home Built Boats Rally. As has become traditional with the HBBR, incessant rain is forecast. But we will have fun.
Chris Perkins draws my attention to a 'start to row' day being organised by the new Cotswold Rowing Club the following weekend.
The Cotswold Rowing Club is being established in advance of the creation of a new rowing course at Cleveland Lakes, on the CWP near Ashton Keynes. The course will eventually extend to 2km, and the creators hope they will be able to achieve Olympic standard.
So if you are in the area, go along and try rowing. You'll enjoy it. Go for gold! Details are here.

Traditional boats at the Soton Boat Show

Today's Times has a pullout supplement on the Southampton Boat Show which starts next week, featuring articles by Gavin Atkin of and me. This is the first time we have landed on the same page, as he normally writes about medical matters and I cover computers and property and stuff.
I tried to insert a bit of traddy boat and rowing interest into my piece on Pete Goss and his wonderful new Spirit of Mystery, a reconstruction of a Cornish fishing boat that made an epic voyage to Australia in 1854, but it was spiked dagnabit. So, not to waste it, here it is:

Jeanie Johnston
The tall ship Jeanie Johnston is a faithful replica of one of the last sailing ships on the transatlantic passenger trade before steam took over. The original took 2,500 Irish emigrants to America to escape the potato famine, and the new Jeanie Johnston was built using traditional methods by the people of Tralee to mark the 150th anniversary.
The three-masted barque now acts as a sail training vessel and floating museum of the famine, dramatically illustrating as no room in a building can the privations that were endured by the 200 emigrants on each voyage. Food was basic, facilities virtually non-existent and privacy a dream. But still the original Jeanie Johnston never lost a passenger in her 16 crossings. (pic by sliabh, via Flickr)
When Mike Bell visited the steamboat museum at Windermere, he fell in love with the style, the elegance, the varnish and brass, and the sounds and smells of steam. He had to have one. “I wanted as near a replica as possible of a gentleman’s tender from Edwardian times,” he says. Over the next few years he built Annabelle, a 30ft river cruiser to a design by naval architect Paul Fisher, powered by a twin-cylinder steam engine built by Roger Mallinson.
A big open cockpit forward is ideal for picnics or just lazing on a summer’s day as the scenery floats past. To the stern is a big saloon with galley and heads – there are none of the privations often associated with small boats.
Mike and wife Liz now trail Annabelle to take the water from Bristol to Windermere, and next year they will be joining a steamboat rally on the Ammersee in Bavaria to celebrate the twinning of Windermere with lakeside community Diessen.
Watermen’s Cutter
For hundreds of years, every London Livery Company had its own barge to take the Master and Wardens to festivities and ceremonies such as the Lord Mayor’s Show, but by the 1980s all had been lost or relegated to museums.
But then it was decided to revive these lovely craft as recreational rowing boats, according to Colin Middlemiss, clerk of the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen. The new boats are small versions of shallops of yore, known as Watermen’s Cutters.
“There are 27 now, built by Mark Edwards at Richmond, first in wood but more recently in fibreglass to keep the costs down,” says Middlemiss.
The new cutters are usually rowed by six oarsmen and a cox, but the boats are designed to be rigged with four oarsmen and a ceremonial canopy for passengers at the stern. They make a great show at the annual Great River Race on the Thames. Earlier this year, two were rowed from London to Paris in a record time of just over 95 hours.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Rowing canoes

Frank Ladd has sent a big bunch o' links to sites with ingenious methods for adapting canoes for rowing.
Top of the list is Gavin Atkin's Cinderella made by Martin Welby, who designed a pair of wooden outriggers that just about anyone can make - no stainless steel welding required.
Next, from the excellent Roughstuffrowing forum, is an admirably simple rowing seat for Rob's boat, a plastic seat secured to a box shaped to sit on the bottom of the boat.

Also at Roughstuffrowing, Ihwyllis created a simple and rather dramatic outrigger using a thick plank of wood.

This Barnegat Bay boat has a drop-in rig with outriggers made of laminated ply, something I have seen done but never dared try to make.

And finally, from the Ferwerda company in Canada, makers of traditional wood and canvas canoes, possibly the most aesthetically pleasing riggers I have ever seen.
Well Stuart, I hope that something there shows you the way forward. They certainly got me thinking. Thanks, Frank.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Racing eight sold on eBay

The sad remains of a Sims racing eight has just been sold on eBay. It has no riggers and the hull has been punctured in several places, but it could look good hanging from a clubhouse ceiling, though it would have to be quite a large clubhouse.
The boat is called Piggy Eyre, after WH Eyre, a noted oarsman in the 1880s to 1900s, rowing for Thames RC.
He was a stalwart of the club until his death in 1939, by which time he was very deaf. A story still circulates in the club that at a TRC annual dinner, when the Chairman called for the Loyal Toast the room fell silent except for Piggy's bellowing tones: "...and we rowed like lions, and won by 20 lengths!"
The boat sold for £155.