Sunday, 31 May 2009

From Lechlade to Beale

I am off to Lechlade today to join an epic journey of ten or so home-built boats down the Thames to the boat show at Beale Park, near Pangbourne. Reports will be posted as technology permits. And if I survive living for nearly a week in this:(Picture by Graham Neil, who will be paddling down the river in his canoe Polythene Pam, a very smart boat made entirely of stuff from B&Q)

Friday, 29 May 2009

C'est fou, les rameurs

Sculling the Scullmatix way

The HBBR at Barton Broad was a brilliant opportunity to give the new Scullmatix a proper workout in calm, non-tidal waters (thanks to Ian Rushton for the picture). This time, Nessy was also fitted with a crutch on the transom to grip the shaft of the oar properly, unlike the sculling notch which allowed the oar to pop out far too readily in my first experiment.
The Scullmatix was fixed to a long oar I happen to have around, plus a bit of round fence post from our local garden centre.
It balances quite nicely on the crutch, with the handle close to my hand when standing in the middle of the boat. I suspect this may hold the oar at too shallow an angle to the water for greatest efficiency but I will play around with this in the next few weeks.
One thing that is abundantly clear is that Nessy is too short and light for sculling to be really effective. The boat tends to swing from side to side wildly, and is difficult to steer without pulling the blade right out of the water and moving it to a new position. The device is probably much more effective in shifting a heavier boat. It would be handy for propelling a yacht out of a crowded harbour, for example.
But it was very much easier to get the hang of it than using a regular sculling oar, and much easier on the wrists too. Here's a video taken by Chris Perkins of me swanning about at Barton Staithe.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Octavia's paint dries

Chris Waite's much-anticipated rowing skiff Octavia is nearing completion for launch at Lechlade and rowing down to the Thames Boat Show at Beale Park next week. She is looking very good, with wooden outriggers, a particularly stylish aft seat for girl+parasol, and Chris's trademark paint scheme. I'm really looking forward to rowing her.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Something new, something old at Barton Broad

A highlight of the Home Built Boat Rally at Barton Broad was the launch of Ardilla, Tim O'Connor's newly completed Thames skiff. Beautifully built to Iain Oughtred's classic Acorn design, she is primarily intended for rowing but Tim looks hugely happy sailing her. Ardilla will be at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show the weekend after next.
Another highlight was watching the incredible Norfolk punts racing. Derived from gun punts of yore, these long, slim, purposeful-looking boats go like stink.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Barton Broad, bonkers o'clock

The new camping arrangements on my Sandpiper Nessy got their first use over the weekend. I slept aboard on Saturday and Sunday nights at Barton Broad, venue of the first Home Built Boat Rally of 2009.
The rally was based at the Barton Turf Adventure Centre, and what a great place it is with everything you need for a boaty weekend - slipway, staithe and showers. And the weather, uniquely for an HBBR, was brilliant - sunny and with just enough wind to keep the sailors happy.
Nessy's tent worked well except for the entrance being only exactly the right size for a big bloke who isn't quite as limber as he used to be. I had the tent down round my ears a couple of times.
But the big mistake was leaving my mobile in the car. So when I woke on Sunday morning to a noise I originally put down to the Red Arrows doing low level aerobatics but was in fact the dawn chorus, I had no way of telling what time it was without dressing and trudging up to the car park. To my horror I found it was 5am, but I was well awake so there was nought for it but to strike the tent and head off for an early morning row up the River Ant to Stalham (two miles). I haven't rowed that early since Dad used to drag us out on the Thames at bonkers o'clock back in the Fifties.
The sun was burning the mist off the river. Everything was peaceful and still. Ducks with flotillas of chicks foraged among the lilypads.
I had vaguely hoped that Stalham would have a greasy spoon cafe offering the sort of breakfast I am banned from having at home, but it was dead to the world when I arrived. I had four Hobnobs and a swig of water. Until I got back to BTAC and found that I was just in time for one of Simon and Sheila Fishwick's monster plates of egg, fried slice, beans, sausages, hash browns and more sausages. Bliss.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Great Race on the Tyne

On April 19, 1859, a sculling race was rowed on the Tyne that passed into legend and song. Local man Robert Chambers (right) took on the London waterman Tom White over a course from the High Level Bridge to Scotswood Suspension Bridge, a distance of some three miles.
Just before the half way mark Chambers ran into a moored keel (a trading barge) and was turned completely round. By the time he got back on course he was 100 yards behind. For any other oarsman, this would have effectively been the end of the race, but by sheer willpower Chambers not only made up the distance but won 60 yards.
Many of the heavy-betting spectators had walked away from their vantage points on the bank in disgust, only to miss the most exciting finish of any sculling race ever, probably.
The great Geordie music hall comedian Ned Corvan wrote a song about it. Note the allegation that White ran Chambers onto the keel, a very libellous accusation that would doubtless have had him hauled through the courts these days.

The Tyne wi' fame is ringin' on heroes old and young,
Fresh lawrels daily bringin', but noo awl men hez sung
In praise o' honest Chambers, ov Tyneside men the pride.
Who defeated White ov London for one hundred pund a side.

Chorus: Singin' pull away, pull away, pull away, boys,
Pull away, boys, se cliver;
Pull away, pull away, pull away, boys,
Chambers for iver!

They're off, they're off, the cry is, then cheers suin rend the air,
Like leetnin' they pass by us, the game an' plucky pair;
Greek meets Greek, then faster an' faster grows the pace.
Gan on, Chambers! gan on, White! may the best man win the race.

Singin' pull away, etc.

Stroke for stroke contendin, they sweep on wi' the tide,
Fortune seems impendin the victor te decide;
At last the Cockney losin' strength, the fowlin gam' did steal,
He leaves his wetter ivery length, an' runs Chambers iv a keel

Spoken-- What a hulla baloo! Hoo the Cockney speeled away; ivery yen thowt the race was ower. Some said it was a deed robbery, others a worry, an' wawked hyem before the finish o' the race. There was a chep stannin' aside me wiv his hands iv his pockets--aw'm sartin thor wis nowt else in--luikin' on te river wiv a feyce like a fiddle stick. He sung the following lament, efter the style of "There's nae luck" :

Ten lengths aheed! Fareweel, bedsteed! maw achin' byens nee mair
On thou mun rowl; No, this poor sowl mun rest on deep despair.
Wor Nannie, tee, she'll curse an' flee, an' belt me like a Tork,
For aw've lost me money, time, an' spree, an' mebbies lost maw work.

Chorus: For oh! dismay upon that da in ornist did begin,
On ivery feyce a chep might trace-- (Spoken) Whe's forst-- Bob?
(Sings) Oh! the Cockney's sure te win.

Says one poor sowl aw've sell'd my pigs, my clock, my drawers an' bed,
An' doon te Walker aw mun wark, when aw might a rode I'stead.
Gox! there's wor Jim an' a' the crews pawned ivery stich o' claes,
An' they say thor's two cheps sell'd thor wives, the six te fower te raise.

For oh, dismay, etc.

Spoken -- Comin' doon efter awl wis ower, aw meets one i' wor cheps, an Irishman; they cawd him Patrick, but aw cawd him Mick for shortness. He waden't wait for the finish, altho' he backed Bob; so aw hailed him, "Hie, Mick, whe's forst?" "Go to blazes!" says he. "Nonsense, Mick; whe's forst?" "Och, sure," says he, "the Londin man was forst half-way before the race was quarther over." "Had on, Mick, that's a bull. Did ye lay owt on tiv him -- aw mean Bob?" "By my sowl, I did! an' I'd like to lay this lump ov a stick on his dhirty cocoa-nut. The next time I speculate on floatin' praporty may I be sthruck wid a button on my upper lip as big as a clock face." "But, Chambers is forst!" says aw. "Arrah! de ye mane to say that?" says he, "Didn't aw tell ye he'd win afore iver he started?" "Hurroo! more power! fire away!"

Chorus: Pull away, pull away, pull away, boys,
Pull away, boys, se cliver;
Pull away, pull away, pull away, boys.
Chambers for iver!

It is said that Chambers offered to rerun the race because of the foul but Tom White understandably declined. Thereafter, Chambers was universally known as 'Honest Bob'.

(Words from Conrad Bladey's Beuk o' Newcassel Sangs)

Monday, 18 May 2009

Michalak on rowing

I like Jim Michalak's designs. He is the Delia Smith of boats - they just work. His craft are easy to build, effective and unconcerned with style, but also thought through. There is a reason for every feature.
Michalak runs an essay twice a month, often reruns but none the worse for that. The current essay is about rowing, and it is a treat.
Jim is a fan of Pete Culler's rowing boats, and he has designed oars and boats on Culler's principles but using modern glues, mainly epoxy.
The oars are cut out of single planks to form a long, slender, straight blade with square looms for strength and balance. Michalak points out that big hatchet blades might be great for racing but for cruising they are heavy to swing and catch both wind and water.
Michalak has designed a neat seat that doubles as a ditty box for all that stuff that otherwise rolls about in the bottom of the boat - sun block, water, knife, whistle, that sort of thing. The advantage of a box is that you can adjust the seat position simply by moving it up and down the boat.
I must confess I don't like his oarlocks very much, even though they are based on an idea of Phil Bolger's. They have a steel pin with a curved metal strap running round the oar to keep it against the pin. I don't think they will be nearly as effective or robust as the traditional thole pin and rope, such as the Catalan estrop that Ben Crawshaw pictured in The Invisible Workshop recently.
Michalak ends with a description of his Roar2, a 14ft skiff, which has Mickalak's trademark long bow, but I personally prefer his Batto, an 18ft by 3ft double ender based on a Pete Culler design but updated for modern construction methods (ie stitch'n'glue).

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Shipwright's Trade

Marine artist James Dodds originally trained as a shipwright in a traditional yard in Maldon, so Kipling's poem The Shipwright's Trade has a special resonance for him. He illustrated the poem with a series of woodcuts and linocuts in a delightful little book, published by his own imprint, the Jardine Press.
Here's the poem, but to get the pictures you will have to buy the book, tremendous value at £9.95 - it is available online here.
I tell this tale, which is stricter true,
Just by way of convincing you
How very little, since things was made,
Things have altered in the shipwrights trade.

In Blackwall Basin yesterday
A China barque re-fitting lay;
When a fat old man with snow-white hair
Came up to watch us working there.

Now there wasn't a knot which the riggers knew
But the old man made it - and better too;
Nor there wasn't a sheet, or a lift, or a brace,
But the old man knew its lead and place.

Then up and spoke the caulkyers bold,
Which was packing the pump in the afterhold:
"Since you with us have made so free,
Will you kindly tell what your name might be ?"

The old man kindly answered them:
"It might be Japheth, it might be Shem,
Or it might be Ham (though his skin was dark),
Whereas it is Noah, commanding the Ark.

"Your wheel is new and your pumps are strange,
But otherwise I perceive no change;
And in less than a week, if she did not ground,
I'd sail this hooker the wide world round !"

Jardine Press will be publishing River Colne Shipbuilders in September.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

More on the Bursledon Gig

Boats get labeled in some odd ways. The Bursledon gig started life as a Falmouth workboat that ended its days donating its body as a plug for Cygnus Marine's CY15, made for years on the Fal.
Then the Bursledon Regatta committee got concerned about the lack of rowing on the Hamble. Jim Chadwick-Williams takes up the story:
"When the Regatta discovered that rowing was dying, about 10 years ago somebody bought four shells from Cygnus Marine. On the back of enthusiasm generated by re-fighting Trafalgar with 45 three-masted Mirrors under oars in 2005, I was Regatta Chairman and got fed up with people saying there weren't enough Gigs. So I was Cygnus's biggest customer for their CY15, before they went into liquidation. Its advantages to us were that it is manoeuvrable in the river, can be used for family picnics and is good for Sea Scouts because you can put up to seven in a boat and only have one safety boat. With fast sailing dinghies you need almost as many adults as Scouts.
There are fourteen on the river now and we are thinking of doing another batch as there is new interest, and we might get Sea Scouts interested as part of their curriculum is to learn about 'pulling'."

The next Bursledon Regatta is in August - see here for details. A pirate theme - I suspect that dinghies up and down the Hamble are being converted into miniature Hispaniolas and Black Pigs.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A Maine rowboat

Our local newsagent mainly stocks mags of agricultural interest, including six (count them - six!) devoted to antique farm machinery from Old Tractor to The Mangol Wurzler, so it was a pleasant surprise when the June issue of WoodenBoat suddenly appeared today. For me, the boat that jumped off the Launchings page was Drake, a rowing boat designed and made by Clint Chase of Portland, Maine.
Clint says the design is a combination of a traditional faering, Joel White's Shearwater and one of this blog's favourite designs, Paul Gartside's Bob. She is 18ft long by 4ft 1in, so should go fairly fast. Flotation is provided by bags in the bow and stern.
Clint aims to make plans available this winter. Take a look here for construction photos and details of his other designs.

Rowing in stone

The New Adelphi is a hideous 1930s office block in London, but it has some top-quality carving on it including this panel in the main entrance by sculptor Newbury Trent, showing watermen on the Thames possibly on some sort of rescue mission. The bloke rowing a skiff at the top has a swimmer hanging over his gunwale, a chap is diving in and another is throwing a life preserver. But everyone seems cool, calm and collected. Perhaps it is just a regatta on a hot day, with the usual collective immersion.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Essex River Race

Essex, Massachusetts, is a lovely New England town which had an excellent second-hand bookshop when I passed through some ten years ago. It stands on the Essex River, which leads out into some lovely coastal waters. The annual Essex River Race for boats from kayaks to gigs starts and finishes in the town, passing round Cross Island in Essex Bay. It is only about 6 miles but gets close to the Atlantic so conditions can be fairly brisk.
David Jones, a member of the Irow forum, has posted a bunch of pics here. Race details with a map are here.

Rowing for Pain

The World Gig Championships 2009 were held at the Scilly Isles the weekend before last, and BBC Cornwall has a lovely picture gallery here.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Small rowing boats on the Hamble

These exceptionally attractive boats raced in the odds'n'sods class at the Hamble River Raid on Saturday. I got pics but failed to follow up finding out what they are and who they belong to. Anybody got any more details?
Also, there are some great pics from the official photographer here, and Max Taylor has posted on the event at Bursledon Blog.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Hamble River Raid

Langstone Cutters put up two crews for the Hamble River Raid organised by the Sea Scouts today. We borrowed a couple of Bursledon gigs, which have three rowing positions and can be rowed by three scullers, six or four rowers, or randan, with rowers at either end and a sculler in the middle.
The boats started at two minute intervals off the beach, heading upstream to the Jolly Sailor and back.
Here is the Langstone A crew (Steve, Nigel and Steve) setting out for a quick practice. They elected to scull uncoxed, using the lightweight oars from the Cutters' Teifi skiffs. The B crew (Dawn, me, Mark, with Julia coxing) went randan.
This may have been a mistake as the oars we were supplied with were much smaller than the crutches on the boat, and the plastic buttons were extremely floppy so blades were continually falling through and having to be retrieved.
I was struggling at the sculling position, because you can't keep an eye on both rowlocks at once. At the end of the race my wrists were aching because the oars never stayed in the same part of the crutch and had to be corrected all the time.
The winners were Exocet, with four rowers, a crew that had youth, skill and training on their side. And carbon fibre blades in the correct size swivels with gates so they could put pressure on, which they were certainly doing as they passed us in style.
The winner of the 'odds and sods' race for non-gigs was Max Taylor in his single skiff.And here are the Cutters with the trophy for fielding the oldest crew, with a combined age of 205.
The sun was out (I am pink as a lobster), the hog roast was superb and the ale just right. We all had a great time.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Harry Clasper, champion oarsman

Tynesider Harry Clasper (1812-1870) was one of the great innovators of rowing and well as a great champion. He started his working life as a miner, but after an explosion at the pit decided he preferred working on the surface and became apprenticed to a ship's carpenter, which provided him with a valuable insight into boat design and construction.
His family then moved to Gateshead and Harry became a wherryman, developing his rowing skills. With two of his brothers, he raced a coxed four with considerable success.
He earned enough prize money to take over a pub, the Skiff Inn on the Tyne, combining the pub with a boatbuilding business. He began to experiment with lightweight construction and the newly-introduced outrigger.
Clasper's insight was that light boats displace less than heavy boats, reducing the wetted area of the hull and therefore the friction. He placed the keel inside the hull to cut out the drag from that source, and the hull was French-polished for the ultimate smooth finish.
Harry also saw that adding outriggers did not just allow the rower to swing a longer oar - it also enabled the boat to be really, really thin. The 'floating toothpick' was born.
The first boat to incorporate these innovations was the Five Brothers, which he rowed with an all-Clasper crew. With this boat, Clasper was unbeatable on the Tyne and began to have success on the Thames, coming second in the Thames Regatta in 1844. His next boat, the Lord Ravensworth, made the Claspers World Champions at the Thames Regatta in 1845 against a boat led by the legendary Robert Coombes.
Clasper was an instant celebrity in Newcastle. Local music hall artist J.P. Robson even wrote a song in his honour:
Ov a' your grand rowers in skiff or in scull,
There's nyen wi' wor Harry has chance for to pull.
Man, he sits like a duke an' he fetches so free,
Oh! Harry's the lad, Harry Clasper for me!
Haud away, Harry! Canny lad Harry!
Harry's the king of the tyems an' the Tyne.*

Clasper was also champion sculler on the Tyne, using sculling boats he designed on similar principles, but somehow he never managed to win on the Thames. He died in 1870 and so great was the crowd at the funeral the cortege got stuck and his coffin had to be transferred to a barge and, appropriately, rowed up the Tyne one last time to the church at Whickham where he was interred beneath a splendid tomb.
More on Harry Clasper can be found here, here and here.

*If you are having trouble working out what this means, see

Monday, 4 May 2009

Sam Devlin's gun punt

Sam Devlin is famous for his Oarling, a 17ft sliding seat dory, and he has designed a lot of practical but stylish cabin cruisers that I lust after as well.
He is also a wildfowler and has designed a couple of duck punts even though the market for this sort of boat must be tiny.
His Sculldugery design is aimed at the tiny number of wildfowlers who still like to sneak up to their prey with a sculling oar in the old-fashioned way - look carefully at the photo above and you will see the oar protruding through the transom. Devlin describes how it is used thus:
The boat is moved slowly and smoothly through the water towards raft of waterfowl with the hunter lying in prone position in the bottom of the boat. Propulsion is a single oar that extends out through the stern (transom) of the boat and thru a waggling motion the boat moves silently and smoothly forward. When the raft of ducks is closed to a shooting distance the hunter then sits upright in the boat, ostensibly at this time the ducks take off in flight and with some fine shooting a limit of ducks can be paddled or sculled out to and picked up. If you haven't limited out with the first batch of shooting then the whole process starts all over, first the sneak-up, then the shooting. It is a slow and methodical process, and I must state here that it is not the kind of hunting for everybody, you must be patient and careful, but when the success ratio is good this is the closest thing to market shooting that exists in today's hunting world.

Typical - hunting strategy is now designed to bag your legal limit in a reasonably short time and then go home. Though I suppose this is preferable to the olden days when hunting strategy was to use a bloody great cannon with a couple of pounds of black powder behind a load of scrap iron to create carnage with one shot.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Rowing the Petaluma River

Until today I knew less about Petaluma than Snoopy. But it seems it really exists, in California north of San Francisco. The Petaluma River flows south through a delta into the wide and shallow San Pablo Bay, which opens into San Francisco Bay (thank you, Wikipedia!).
The Sacramento Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association rowed the Petaluma River recently for an open house at a new Heritage Centre run by the Friends of the Petaluma River.
David 'Thorne' Luckhardt (who took the shot above) posted pictures of the event here, and Rick Thompson (whose picture below captures someone having a lot of fun) has more here.