Monday, 30 March 2009

Rowing the Virus Yole

After the Boat Blessing yesterday I had an opportunity to try a Virus Yole, something I have wanted to do for a while, when Steve kindly let me have a bash round the harbour in his.
The Yole is a really robust, stable, unsinkable boat, made of polyethylene which is tough but heavy at 55kg.
The design extremely cleverly thought out - the rails the sliding seat runs on extend the full length of the boat, for example, so it can instantly be converted into a double simply by adding another seat and moving the outriggers forward so an extra pair can be mounted. The outriggers swing inboard when not in use.
The hull is self-draining.
The only thing I really disliked was the seat, which is viciously concave and highly uncomfortable, though perhaps it was just the size of my bum. I also found the long rails encouraged me to move forward too far, but this could be corrected with practice.
The square stern throws up a lot of turbulence, which must slow the boat down a lot.
The flotation and self-bailing features must be very handy when rowing offshore, especially when launching into surf, and Yoles have been rowed for long distances offshore. One was rowed 800km from Dakar to the Islands of Cape Verde in 11 days. Apparently, he capsized three times, and both he and his monkey survived.
I personally prefer a lighter double-ended hull for higher speed with less effort in the sheltered waters I usually go out in, but the Virus Yole is certainly a practical boat for offshore.
Here's a pic of Steve in his Yole taken last summer.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Boat Blessing at Langstone

A day of blessings and cursings. Went to the Langstone Cutters' Boat Blessing service, and as we waited a huge GRP boat thing across the harbour was smitten by fire. A huge plume of smoke rose into the sky as firefighters pumped water over it from a rib, standing well away in case the fuel tank or gas canisters went up. I don't know whether the boat was cursed or not, but I suspect there will be mighty cursings when the owner's insurance company is informed.
The Langstone Cutters had polished their boats till they shone. Ribbons and flags fluttered in the breeze. The service started, appropriately enough, with that lugubrious hymn Those in Peril on the Sea. The vicar sprinkled the boats with holy water and we all got in and paddled round the harbour.
It is good to start the season by getting together for a ceremony, whether you are religious or not.

DIY racing shells in wood

Nearly a year ago, Duncan in Melbourne wrote to enquire about plans for racing shells in wood. Now Kev writes from Melbourne to ask if Duncan has succeeded in his quest:
Duncan - I am in a similar situation in that I would like to build something out of wood from scratch. I have found it difficult to get information as well so I have started designing my own shell. What have you managed to find, have you started anything?

Duncan, due to an email wipeout I have lost your address - did you locate suitable plans? Are you building anything?
And did you notice this rather fast-looking wooden shell design by Graeme King at the Wooden Boat Store site?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

All at sea at the College of Arms

Wandering round the website of the College of Arms for another purpose entirely, I discover that Lloyd Grossman has received a Grant of Arms. Rather charmingly, Lloyd pays tribute to his Marblehead birthplace by adopting as his badge a silver New England lobster buoy on a rope of gold (in heraldspeak "Buoy Argent the rope rising on either side and there looped outwards Or").
Other recent grants of arms include such maritime fancies as a merelephant (for Professor S.W. Haines) and lions holding lymphads, a word in Scottish heraldry for a galley with a single mast (for Lord Butler of Brockwell).
Heralds are unrepentant punsters, though they call them rebuses. Lord Butler of Brockwell's coat of arms has a badger emerging from a well, for example, and Sir George Martin, who is most famous as the Beatles' producer, has three golden beetles on his shield.

Putney views

By an amazing coincidence, boatbuilder and former railway manager Chris Perkins at Strathkanchris's Little World recognised the vista of the Thames from the boathouses at Putney as shown in Google Street View from an old carriage poster in his possession. The artist was A.J. Wilson, who seems to have specialised in pictures for the travel trade and did a lot of work for British Railways. It was painted in 1954, according to the Travelling Art Gallery.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Google Street View

Google Street View is proving to be a major time-waster. I've been wandering the country looking for boats on screen. Here is the Embankment at Putney on the Thames, home to so many top rowing clubs. Chichester has yet to be 'done' so no embarrassing pictures of Snarleyow with flaking paintwork and rotting gunwales thank heavens. I really must get the spring refit under way.
View Larger Map

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Isabella de Franca is rowed by night

Isabella travels by boat from Funchal at 4 in the morning:
"There lay our four-oared boat, into which all our traps were soon packed, and then two of the men holding the rudder by the ends, I stepped upon it, and was lifted to the height of the boat's side, from whence I descended at once into my seat. Jose followed, with two of the men, the other two gave two or three heavy pushes to loosen the boat from the stones, and as she floated out jumped on, took their oars and seats, and in a moment, as if by magic, we were dancing upon the starlit sea. Never shall I forget the beauty of that night!"

Friday, 20 March 2009

Handel's Water Music

At the risk of sounding like that famous 'review' of Lady Chatterley's Lover that is said to have appeared in The Field many years ago (... this pictorial account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is full of considerable interest to outdoor minded readers...unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour those sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate...) there is a prog tonight on BBC4 about a recreation of Handel's Water Music that I thought would be of rowing interest as well as a musical treat. After all, that was the only power available in 1717, wasn't it?
Unfortunately it seems that the barge was stationary, and we won't be getting any 18th century oarsmen or a full performance of the famous music either. What a rip. It's on at 8 o'clock.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Scullmatix now available at Duckworks

Guy Capra, inventor of the Scullmatix automatic sculling oar, has proudly emailed the good news that the device is now on sale at Duckworks, and here is a video of Chuck Leinweber using it. The price is $47.50 plus shipping, and in the interests of science I have ordered one and will report on performance in due course.
Talking of Duckworks, the Magazine today has a fascinating article by Eric Staggs in the Pacific North West on his construction of a recreational shell for his rower wife. He took the CLC Oxford Rowing Shell design and built it light, using 3mm ply instead of 4mm and lighter glass mat for sheathing etc. It made for a trickier build (ply that light in pieces that long tend to flop about uncontrollably) but the result is fabulous. Here is Mrs Staggs rowing it with style.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Isabella arrives in Funchal

When they arrived at Funchal, Madeira in 1853, Isabella de Franca and her husband had to land by boat. They were swung from the ship to the boat in a chair, which Isabella found alarming but exciting:
"I was very much scared at being hoisted out of the ship, to hang over the sea, and then be swung back again and dropped into the boat; but when the Captain had packed me up safe, wrapping a Union Jack round my legs and fee, I shut my eyes and before I was aware of having moved, felt a hand and heard a voice in the boat, into which I had thus rapidly and silently descended. In a minute were were both comfortably seated, with our friend and a Custom House Officer in charge of our luggage; and a beautiful row we had..."

Her watercolour doesn't show the chair: presumably it was used only to load the outermost of the wherries which are moored three abreast against the ship. One lady is being carried on the shoulders of a beefy sailor, stepping from boat to boat with casual confidence, despite the nasty chop that is sending waves almost to the gunwales of the boats.
Dangling in a chair over the ocean, even when draped in a Union Jack, is not exactly a stylish arrival but much more memorable than staggering into the airport terminal from the EasyJet plane.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Rowing to heaven

Midhurst is hidden in the South Downs, miles from the coast, but it has two splendid stained glass windows with marine themes.
This one shows Christ calming the waters. He stands in the stern of the boat, with St Peter and St Andrew, who is either rowing or steering (in which case he is looking the wrong way).
The ship's rigging makes no sense except as an artistic background for the main figure. Even the ratlines that the Lord is holding on to rise to a point entirely unconnected with the masts. But it is a striking image.
Another window, in memory of Lt Cmdr Henry Biggs Warren RN, has as its background a twilit harbour, the final haven that Cmdr Warren has reached, guided by the lighthouse of the Scriptures. Interestingly, every one of the ships is a sailing vessel despite the window having been made after his death in 1926.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Victorian travel

In 1853 Isabella de Franca, the English wife of a landowner on Madeira, visited the island and recorded her trip in minute detail in her journal. She was also an extremely talented watercolour artist (as so many ladies were, including Queen Victoria herself).
They sailed to Madeira from Gravesend in the brig Eclipse, and one of her first pictures is of a group of women disembarking. She wrote:
As the vessel kept moving on, the boat bobbed up and down so that it was rather difficult to drop into it. Captain Davis got over the side, and took the ladies down one by one as he could, every one of them screaming, kicking, laughing and struggling not to show her legs, till she was landed with a shout in the last it was accomplished and the boat rowed off. I waved my handkerchief as they left the ship, and in an instant a sea of white handkerchiefs rose from the boat...

It is not clear how Isabella got this sketch from the ship's deck, but it is completely convincing in its vivacity and humour.
The boat Will Pattison is a typical Thames working skiff, with a small lugsail and a single oarsman providing all the power.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Chamberlain Gunning Dory

The gunning dories of Marblehead were designed to get duck hunters and their gear out to the offshore islands, where they would set their decoys and wait. The poet Ogden Nash had no time for the pursuit:
The hunter crouches in his blind
'Neath camouflage of every kind,
And conjures up a quacking noise

To lend allure to his decoys.

This grown-up man, with pluck and luck,

Is hoping to outwit a duck.

He just didn't get it. But James Rockefeller does. He lyrically describes the joy of hunting from the ledges of the Maine Islands in a wonderful article he wrote for Island Journal in 2007, entitled Old Ducker (available in pdf form here), after the lobster boat he used to go out to the islands, carrying his gunning dory on the stern:

"Someone asked me once what made one get up before the dawn, with ice on the puddles outside and a keening wind, just to encase oneself in clothes of many layers, haul all that sundry gear aboard the “Old Ducker” in the dark before dawn, steam out to the offshore ledges for two hours, set out tollers in that frigid water, row one’s ass off for four or five hours chasing crippled birds, slip on slippery rocks and weed, risk one’s neck on a tidal ledge, and then repeat the process in reverse, all for a few fishy-tasting ducks.
“It extends the yachting season,” I would say facetiously, to shunt away the conversation, for there are few souls with whom you feel comfortable sharing your personal religion. To me those days from dark to dark with the quiet harbor before the dawn, the sea and the wind and the frozen weed on the barnacled rocks, the unspeakable beauty of the eider duck, and the boat, were the essence of living on coastal Maine. The Old Ducker, linking them all together, was a church of my own choosing. The physical exertion, the sights and sounds and smells, the moments of terror, the reverence to the god of weather, the multifaceted path from safe harbor out and home again, were a spiritual experience akin to the aborigine walking his Dream Line in the Outback, or the Bushman trekking his beloved Kalahari."
The dory in question, shown with Rockefeller at the oars, has become a classic. It was designed for him back in the 1960s by John Gardner, based on lines he took from a derelict example made by William Chamberlain in the early years of the 20th century. It appears in Building Small Classic Craft.
The hull is double-ended, unlike most dories which have a 'tombstone' transom, and has a strong sheer so the ends throw off waves but the middle is the correct height for the rowlocks.
Gardner fiddled with the lines to improve the sailing characteristics, and added a centreboard and rudder.
One of the problems with double-enders is that the rudder is a mile away from the helmsman, and it is crucial to keep to the middle of the boat for balance. With the original downwind rig, the hunter steered with one of the oars, which has the advantages of simplicity and robustness but must be tiring over a long distance. Gardner's solution is to mount the rudder post through the hull, with a drop blade to avoid damage when grounding.
Whether a rudder is really necessary at all in a boat designed primarily to be rowed is moot. Gardner says: "Even with meagre canvas and the relatively clumsy steering oar, the new gunning dory sails surprisingly well."

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Rowing in Poland

Boatbuilder and rower Wojtek Baginski started the rowing season on Sunday by rowing down the Vistula from the marina to the south of Warsaw to the centre of the city where he met his friend Wojtek Holnicki, who took the photos. Then he hoiked the boat out of the water on a dolly, and pushed it round to Mr Holnicki's house where he stowed it in the garden.
The Vistula is a wide and fast-flowing, especially when the snows are melting, but it is built up only on one bank which makes it an attractive river to navigate.Wojtek built the boat to Jim Michalak's Robote design, a very simple and light stitch and glue hull that is easy to propel and to cartop. It is called Flaneuse. A flaneur is a 'gentleman stroller of city streets', according to Beaudelaire, but a boat is feminine so this one is a Flaneuse of course.
Wojtek writes:
I keep my boat at the small river marina next to the most southern Warsaw bridge, about 20 or 30 minutes drive from my home. My usual practice is to launch the boat in 3 minutes and row upstream leaving Warsaw city. The river is beautiful there. Usually I'm able to row about 8-10km, depending onthe water level which generates faster or slower current. Next, being tired, I row downstream to the marina.
Last Sunday it was the first time I decided to row downstream, and I arranged the place in my friend's garden first. I probably will row back again, but I will wait for a bit lower water level. Or I will cartop my boat back, to practice rowing upstream out of the city as usually. The rule is that a trip upstream takes three times more than a trip downstream at average water level.
More excellent pictures here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Snow Row

The annual Snow Row in Hull, Massachusetts, was held on Saturday, organised by the Hull Lifesaving Museum. It starts 'Le Mans' style, with all the crews rushing to the boats and getting going in a confused bunch. Then the kayakers carry their boats to the water, followed by the ocean shells. It is very impressive by all accounts, and perishing cold.
There were no fewer than ten pilot gigs in the race - I had no idea they were so popular on the other side of the pond.
This picture was taken by Samantha Panek, who was on the ferry while Ray Panek was on the water winning the ocean shell category. Some vivid reports on the Irow forum here, more great pictures by Samantha here, and a report from a journalist who had little idea what she was watching here, but it has an excellent slideshow.
More pics here, with some particularly good ones of the mayhem at the start.