Saturday, 31 October 2009

From Dell Quay to Bosham

A grey day but flat calm and great for rowing. At Dell Quay I met with two friends who designed and built their own boats, Max Taylor brought Gato Negro, his 15ft 4in skiff, and Chris Waite brought Octavia.

We rowed up to Fishbourne Mill and down again to Itchenor, where got out for a leg-stretch and bum-unclench.
Then on to Bosham where we turned at the jetty just before the village.

For an alternative account of this event, see Max's Bursledon Blog.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Finnish church boats

Church boats are still raced extremely aggressively all over Finland. The big event these days is the regatta at Sulkava, where up to 10,000 rowers converge to thunder over a 60km course round an island.
The boats are still made of wood, but are not as aesthetically attractive as the traditional church boats. They use plywood, for a start, and the gunwales are parallel all down the centre section so the rowing positions are all the same, which forces a nasty kink in the sheerline. The oars are not things of beauty either, usually hatchet shaped but in wood to comply with the rules.
Oddly, despite the insistence on traditional Finnish design features, sliding seats are allowed.
But taking part in a long race with a crew of 14 plus cox and 10,000 other people must be an incredible experience. Next year, the organisers are inviting crews from round the world to participate - for details of the World Masters Race in Sulkava on July 11, 2010, download the brochure.
The picture is from Villoks' Flickr photostream.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Finnish church boats

In the old days, farmers in remote areas of Finland had to row to get to church. Communities would get together to build a boat, each person contributing either money or work to hire a boatbuilder, fell a load of spruce, pine and larch and get the boat together in the spring for use in the summer.
The average church boat was 12m long with 14 rowers, but some were monsters and carried 40 rowers.
On the return trip, boats would race, a tradition still carried on today. Mind you, I have read that the women would row on the way back, because the men would be too drunk to swing an oar.
This picture of an old Finnish church boat at Lappajarvi comes from Barbara Yarusso's Flickr photostream.
There is an excellent history of church boats here.

Monday, 26 October 2009

St Ayles skiff trial

The prototype St Ayles Skiff hit the water for the first time on Saturday, at Methil No3 Dock in Fife. She was lowered in by crane, but builder Alec Jordan (who sent the pics) says he can lift the end of the boat by himself without a problem so it should not be difficult for a crew to carry the boat to the water.

Rowers from Methil Sea Cadets and from various interested parties took her round the dock.
"She rowed like a bloody dream," Alec said. She looks a dream too - another classic from Iain Oughtred.
The official launch is next Saturday at the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther - there may be a chance to try her out for yourself at the event. Email Alec for details.

Committee boat: (from bow) Topher Dawson of the Ullapool syndicate that has already ordered a Skiff, Tam Christie from E Wemyss who has helped build the boat, Alec Jordan (and his flat cap), and Robbie Wightman, Steering Group Secretary; David Aitken of Methil SCC coxing.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Up the Arun

Today I rowed up the River Arun with Chris Waite, he in his self-designed and self-built skiff Octavia and me rather apologetically in my boughten skiff Snarleyow. Mind, I have done so much work on her over the years she feels self-built. Today I took out for the first time a pair of blades that I had taken back to the bare wood, glued where it had split and repainted. They looked very good but I suspect the paint is not as good as the price would have indicated.
I have rowed up the Arun from Littlehampton to Arundel before, but never beyond Arundel. The town seems to have turned its back on the river, and there are no easy places to launch.
Chris Waite took me to a point just south of the town where we could slide our boats down a rather alarmingly steep bank and into the water. There was a flat space just wide enough to plant a boot next to the water, so getting in the boat was a bit iffy, but I managed it without falling in (this time).
We rowed gently upstream, swept up by the tide. The picture above shows Chris shooting the rather narrow bridge at Arundel stern-first, so he could see where he was going.
The river north of Arundel is lovely, in contrast to the dull line of flood defences to the south. The banks are reedy, and tree-lined hills sweep down to the river.
At the Black Rabbit pub, Chris asked the punters sitting on the bank for some butter to anoint his rowlocks.
We turned at the bridge at Amberley, where Chris met a friend of his who lives on a cabin cruiser. They park it at Amberley for the summer and retreat to the marina at Littlehampton for the winter, to avoid the floods.
We had miscalculated the tides, so instead of hitting Amberley Bridge at the top and being lazily swept back down on the ebb, we had to fight our way back against both tide and wind. Good exercise, but we were back later than we expected after our round trip of about 12 miles. The sun was sinking on the horizon when we got back to Arundel Castle, owned by the same family since 1138.
We took the boats out on the new pontoon just below Arundel Bridge just after five, and the bloke who runs it came out to admire the boats and say he was not going to charge us. What a nice guy.

The scandalous lack of any place to launch a boat in Arundel may be supplied soon. The Duke may be making a site for a slipway available close to the castle car park. If it comes to pass, it will be absolutely wonderful to be able to row this lovely river without risking an involuntary bath.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Ben Rows the Med

Ben at The Invisible Workshop has put together a screamingly funny video that says it all about long distance rowing.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A new design of swivel

The current issue of Messing About in Boats has a very interesting article by Tom Fulk outlining a swivel he has designed for the rowing boat he uses for trips round Puget Sound off Seattle.
The boat is Phil Bolger's Spur II, a 15ft 4in pulling boat that features in Boats with an Open Mind.
Bolger designed an ingenious new swivel (being American, he calls it an oarlock) for the boat, as in the drawing on the left. It consists of a fixed steel pin and a brass strap that is bent round the loom of the oar to hold it on.
Very simple and robust, and Tom made it even simpler by replacing the brass strip with a stainless steel wire.
However, in use Tom found it irritating not being able to take the oar out of the swivel easily when docking, so he developed a new version with a brass retaining horn that slides up and down the fixed steel pin, as shown in the photo above.
In normal use, the oar is securely held against the pin. When you want to ship the oar, you simply raise it and the brass horn rises over the end of the pin and the oar pops out, sweet as a nut.
A split pin or rivet stops the horn coming off the pin entirely.
Tom clearly enjoys his rowing. He concludes the article by writing: "My wife always knows where I am going and when to expect me home. Sometimes she can see my smile with binoculars from home."
Thanks to Joe Deslauriers for the headsup.

Monday, 19 October 2009

A new rowing boat design in Water Craft magazine

Water Craft dropped through the door today, bringing with it a particular treat - a new design for a rowing boat by Paul Gartside, the Cornish-born Canadian designer who has created some highly-regarded rowing boat designs including the 'tortured ply' Flashboat (drawn from the famous Cornish racing boats) and the open water cruising skiff 'Bob'.
The sweet-looking double ender is only 12ft long so it won't be suitable for long expeditions or racing, but it would be lovely for just pottering about in.
I lust after it, but it would have to be made for me as the traditional carvel construction would be completely beyond my basic bodging skill level. Paul goes into some detail about the challenges of building a carvel hull with thin planks, which are essential in a boat as small as this to keep the weight down, and it sounds like a professional job to me.
There are a lot of builders who would be capable of doing it, however. Must start saving...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

St Ayles Skiff prototype almost ready for launch

Alec Jordan has sent some pics of St Ayles Skiff, fitted out and nearing readiness for an unofficial launch next Saturday to make sure everything works as expected, and its official launch at Anstruther the following weekend. She looks spiffing. I particularly like the offset tiller, though the cox's seat looks a bit cramped for those of us with average size lower ends. Probably a detail designed to ensure that only tiny coxes that won't slow the boat down too much are able to get on board.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A Norwegian style boat from the US

Paul Butler of Port Angeles in Washington State has a wide range of rowing boat designs including a Montana Guide Boat (which looks rather like a duck punt) and the Maxi Mac drift boat, which looks great for river fishing.
His latest design, the Norwegian Gunning Dory, is a stitch'n'glue restatement of the Norwegian faering. Bow and stern are flared upward in a very confident way. I asked Paul if the prominent ends catch the wind, and he replied:
"I have two prototypes in the water, and I will still make a few changes in the building plans but only very small adjustments. The ends of the bow will undoubtedly catch a bit of wind, but possibly because both ends are almost identical they seem a bit more balanced than previous versions. I think most of the people who have rowed the boats just like the look of that sweeping sheer, and quite possibly they are willing to sacrifice a bit of windage for style. I'm not really sure, but I've no particular problem with the boat in moderate open water wind chop. I'm an advocate for skegs in open water rowing boats rather than longer keel structures, as I feel they are safer in preventing the boat "tripping" if caught sideways on a wave. My second prototype also has a different interior layout with port and starboard compartments to support adjustable seating for one or two people."

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Friday, 9 October 2009

St Ayles skiff prototype nears completion

Chris Perkins reports on his final week at Alec Jordan's shop in Fife, working on the prototype St Ayles Skiff:
"My last week on the project was spent cleaning up the inwales, building a temporary cox perch and generally helping fit the furniture and titivating. Each time this stage is reached in a build I am amazed at how much time is absorbed removing material. Work that will never be appreciated by anyone who has not got that particular T shirt but is immediately apparent if it is neglected. The route to a respectable finish always lies in the preparation - a truism that can never be said often enough in my view. The snaps include a couple of high level shots showing the almost structurally completed boat, just the breasthooks to fit at that stage (now done), obtained by some precarious ladder work by Alec in the upper reaches of his workshop. The cox's seat is a temporary affair until the positioning of feet and seats are proven on the water after which the buoyancy compartments will be retrofitted - space is pretty tight and it would be easy to get positioning wrong in a static environment, we really need to see the dynamics of the interaction of the various bodies to establish best position. The week passed all too quickly and my time on the build was over - altogether a fascinating few weeks which has transformed my view of kit boats - I am extremely grateful for Alec's invitation to join in the build which I hugely enjoyed. So much so that I have put my name down for the Ullapool group aiming to build the first West Coast St Ayles Skiff, not sure I have the spine to be an oarsman though. Alec has now started applying the finish, varnished gunnels and thwarts with the rest of the hull painted so it shouldn't be too long before I head down to the other end of Scotland to see how she looks on the water."
Chris - you can do it! The only downside to rowing is that it is as addictive as crack cocaine. There is nothing like being part of a crew on song, and you don't even have to be particularly strong or athletic. And there is the joy of getting fit out on the water, without having to endure the prison ship conditions in the average gym or do your knees in running.

What I want for Christmas.... amphibious bike.

amphibian velomobile from Jan Jan on Vimeo.
Unfortunately, the maker of this amazing machine is not building them commercially. Apparently the hand-made hull is too expensive to be commercial darnit. Click here for more on the designer, Czech engineer David Buchwaldek.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Great River Race Video

Clayton skiff Mabel's progress in the Great River Race was recorded on a Flip Video left in the bow for the passenger to use. The picture waves about a bit, as you would expect, but there is some good footage of Gladys being propelled past to victory by its super vet crew, and of the Solent galley Bembridge doing a rather slick change of cox.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Hunting the Great White Whale

NorseBoats, based in the pretty town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, have just completed an interesting commission - six reproduction 19th century whale boats for the remake of Moby Dick, now filming.The boats were built by lead boat builder Scott Dagley of spruce strip planking and epoxy, with one layer of glass cloth on the outside of the hull and ash frames and a partial second layer of spruce planking on the inside of the hull. They were then 'distressed' by the movie props people to look as though they had been used daily for hunting whales.
The whale boats are currently in the Mediterranean, near Malta, where the sea scenes will be filmed, which is probably cheaper than going to the Antarctic.
Moby Dick contains more detail about life on a Victorian whaling ship than you could conceivably want to know (which is why it is so long), including this wonderful description of Stubb, the second mate, taking one of the boats out. His coxing technique is eccentric to say the least. The illustration is Rockwell Kent's famous woodcut from the 1930s:
"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little ones," drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew..... "So, so; there you are now; that's the stroke for a thousand pounds; that's the stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes! Three cheers, men--all hearts alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry - don't be in a hurry. Why don't you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so, then: - softly, softly! That's it - that's it! long and strong. Give way there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull, can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes don't ye pull? - pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out! Here," whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; "every mother's son of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That's it - that's it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits. Start her - start her, my silverspoons! Start her, marling-spikes!"

Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large, because he had rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially in inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions with his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief peculiarity. He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing. Besides he all the time looked so easy and indolent himself, so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly gaped - open-mouthed at times - that the mere sight of such a yawning commander, by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew. Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them.

NorseBoats are proving very popular for raiding, as they sail and row well, but a version aimed more at rowing is on the way, according to founder Kevin Jeffrey who writes:
"These boats have great hull shapes for rowing, and any of them can be set up primarily for rowing, with the sail kit a less sophisticated affair. In addition, we are creating a recreational rowing version of the 17.5, with lower profile lightweight hull and double sliding seat rowing. I'll send you more info as this product gets developed."
That should be a very interesting development.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Thames skiff restored in Scotland

A lovely Thames double skiff made by Salters in the 1890s has been saved from the flames and restored for display and, one hopes, use.
Boatbuilder Adrian Morgan was called to give his expert opinion on the skiff, which had been stored in the roof of the Marquess of Aberdeen's sawmill at Haddo, near Aberdeen. It was almost beyond repair, he says, but they decided to restore her anyway. Now, after six months work, new oak ribs and 10 litres of Varnol, she gleams with life. What a triumph.
The whole story is on Adrian's website.