Sunday, 29 November 2009

Mirrors Down Under

I was going to give the ongoing 'front-view mirrors' thread a rest, but Peter Miller in Sydney has had such a startlingly original idea I simply can't resist. He writes:

I too have been experimenting with mirrors for the 17 foot Dory I row on Sydney Harbour. I tried some caravan towing mirrors on either side of a plank going across my boat but found they would often shift out of position and not be of much use. I tried a small cycling mirror attached to my cap but found it a bit small for my liking.
Then I tried a 12 inch circular acrylic convex mirror like those fixed in car parks on blind corners. I attached it near the stern of my boat and found it worked really well. But sometimes more is more so I supersized to an 18 inch diameter mirror (see pic). The result is a panoramic view of myself rowing (a plus for any narcissist rower) but also a view of most of what is around and behind me.
I still need to turn around occasionally to get my bearings but all in all it makes the rowing experience more pleasant. It also makes weaving in and out of moored yachts a breeze.
At the end of the trip I unscrew the bolt holding it to the boat and store it in the cardboard box it arrived in covered with a soft cloth to keep down the scratches.
Keep up the good work with the blog.
Kind regards
Peter Miller
Sydney Australia
The only drawback is the cost - 18in exterior mirrors seem to cost about £60 here in the UK, though a quick search revealed a garage mirror for £32.50. Because recreational rowers never go out in the rain, using an interior security mirror might save a bit of money too.
FYI I bought my mirror from ebay. Being in Australia I had to pay postage but it would probably not cost to much to be sent from the US to the UK.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

A Grim Warning....

...about outboard motors, the invention of the Devil, from the always-entertaining-and-informative Invisible Workshop.
Key quote: "To conclude: you’re much better off rowing."

Friday, 27 November 2009

Boats as street furniture

The Albert Embankment runs along the south bank of the Thames in Lambeth. When it was built by the famous engineer Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s, a line of wharves was swept away but local rights to a slipway at the end of Black Prince Road, known as the White Hart Draw Dock, forced Bazalgette to build a new one, accessed through a tunnel under the road.

Right up until the middle of the last century there were boatbuilders here, but as industry left the dock was forgotten, filling and emptying unnoticed with every tide, hidden behind the high walls and flood gates that prevent it from flooding Lambeth on spring tides.
However, when Berkeley Homes wanted to build a block of flats next to the dock, part of the planning deal was to put money towards prettifying it. and now it has several imitation Thames wherries propped up on the wall for park benches and the dock has a line of pointed timber arches over it. It looks very good - congratulations to Handspring Design of Sheffield.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Mirror, mirror...

Robert Bells in British Columbia has also been messing about with mirrors. First, he attached a mirror to a metal stalk that carries a running light and is attached to the transom, but eventually replaced it with ingenious plastic one that appeals very much to my bodgemania, being assembled out of plastic pipe and a spring clamp. He writes:
I was a bit uneasy with the running light stalk, as the stalk is metal. Where I row, in the mostly wilderness lakes and the inlets just east of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (the eastern reaches of the Salish Sea), the weather very quickly jams itself into the little fiords and mountain valleys, and can stack up some good lightning and thunder without very much warning. (And not many places to haul out in an emergency.) As a solution, I put together the current rig which is just about metal free.

I modified a 3" plastic spring clamp (cheap!!), re-contoured the jaws a bit, attached rubber padding cut from a doorstop with goop, bolted on a foot section of 3/4 inch plastic plumbing tube (more marine-goop), and a mirror from an auto supply store. Total cost about $20 Canadian.
I clamp it on my starboard gunwale a couple feet astern of my outrigger.
I also put together a boat hook pole with the same 3/4 inch plastic plumbing pipe, stiffening it with small wooden dowels inserted into uncured spray-foam insulation, to keep it completely metal free. I really do not want to be swinging around one of the commercial aluminium poles when the weather turns dangerous.
The "Front View Mirror" is best for lining up sight-lines for rowing in openish water, one landmark over the transom, one land mark in the mirror. I still have to twist around to check bearings and make sure I am not going to run over canoeists and kayakers. The best solution, have a pretty passenger in the stern seat (who has a clue) to point to clear water.
I really enjoy your blog, especially your commentary and photos of your adventures of Britain's rivers and inlets. I would like to try out some of your rivers and canals someday myself.
Thanks for that, Robert. I must say, the lake looks fabulous.
Just to provoke thoughts, here are a couple of alternative ideas from the Web. First, a 'wrist mirror' invented by Carl Ribeca (US Patent 4054375). You could make one by attaching a velcro strap to a powder puff.

And what about this, eh?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Boating on the Box

You can tell the weather has been horrible - both this blog and have been watching the telly. Gavin links to a very splendid Channel 4 series that I missed, called Classic Ships, available to watch on 4oD. This episode focuses on pleasure craft, including the Thames skiffs and slipper boats that my grandparents used to have when I was a kid.

One clip stood out - a Thames bargee rowing a huge dumb barge with a pair of giant sweeps at Rotherhythe. He wasn't really powering it, of course, as the tide would have been doing most of the work, but using the sweeps to keep the thing going in the right direction would have been hard enough. I was standing on London Bridge once, watching a barge practicing for the barge races. Two blokes were rowing and another was steering. The tide was flowing very fast and they were swept against one of the piers of Cannon Street railway bridge. Being empty, the barge sounded a mighty DOINGGGGG that must have been heard in Croydon. You can see the dent it made in the bridge to this day.

I don't normally watch An Island Parish. the BBC's reality show about the Scilly Isles, but last night's episode featured the launch of a new pilot gig for a Dutch club. It is available on iPlayer, which has the big advantage that you can fast forward over the stuff about the lovelorn vet and the visiting bishop.
The local Methodist minister blessed the boat with a lovely Celtic benediction, and even spoke it in Dutch, one of the world's least pronouncable languages.
There was a thoughtful discussion of whether a religious ceremony is necessary in these secular times. I think it is purely because every community, including rowing clubs, needs ritual at certain points and a religious service fits the bill whether you believe in it or not. As the scientist Lord May said on Desert Island Discs when asked why he goes to church despite being an atheist: "I believe in following the rituals of my tribe."

Monday, 23 November 2009

Noah oop North

Here's a tale of true Lancashire grit and determination from Stanley Holloway. If your Lancashire geography is a bit vague, Bury is on the River Irwell in the north of Greater Manchester. Blackpool is about 50 miles to the west.
The clip was put up by Hawkmoon - lots more lovely stuff on his YouTube channel.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Not lovely boating weather

A small group of cockeyed optimists shivered in the lee of the Royal Oak this lunchtime as a sharp shower blew over, propelled by a brisk F8 wind. Then a lovely double rainbow appeared over the old mill, but whitecaps still covered the harbour so we called it a day and headed for the warmth of the bar.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Lovely boating weather?

This time of year, the weather is a total lottery and I have won most weekends recently. All week, the weather forecasters have been predicting high winds and rain for today, but although it was blowing F5 the rain held off, so out we went. It was hard work but great, although it was one of those days when it looked as though the dinghy racers were having most fun. A few RS speed machines stormed past, spinnakers bulging like Jordan's washing line on underwear day.
All the houses in Langstone had their storm boards fitted. Everyone has clearly spent time over the summer painting them, so they look very smart. This is my favourite.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Ralph Bird, 1942-2009

Ralph Bird, the man who almost single-handedly revived pilot gig rowing in the West Country, has died.

His coffin was drawn to the service in Truro Cathedral in one of his own creations, the pilot gig William Peters, built for Roseland in 1987. An honour guard of rowers raised oars at the doors of the cathedral.

But perhaps his greatest tribute was in 2007 when he finally retired. All 29 pilot gigs he had built over the decades assembled in Newquay for the launch of his last gig - named Ralph Bird. It was a remarkable tribute to a remarkable man.
I interviewed Ralph for The Times shortly after he reitired. This is the article:
Ralph Bird saved pilot gig racing from terminal decline in the most practical way possible: he built the boats for clubs to race.
And they are things of beauty, graceful 32ft boats with elegant sheer lines copied from the pilot gig Treffry, built in 1838 and still raced by the Newquay Rowing Club.
Bird has built 29 of them in his long career, each traditionally constructed from solid elm. No plywood or fibreglass is allowed if the boat is to compete.
“Sticking to tradition is one reason why the sport has been so successful,” Mr Bird believes. “Boats have been raced for 200 or 300 years.”
He chaired the meeting that set up the Cornish Pilot Gig Association back in 1986, when it was realised that gigs had to be standardised if racing was to be put on a proper footing. His simple specification has governed pilot gig building ever since.
The resurgence of pilot gig racing has been spectacular, with 125 gigs registered and regularly competing.
Last year, Ralph Bird finally retired from building, but still acts as president of the CPGA. He sees the sport as strong for the future despite the general decline in craft skills and the uncertain future of wood stocks.
“There are a few builders still,” Mr Bird says. “Four or five new gigs are being built this winter, and although Dutch elm disease wiped out Cornish stocks of the wood, we can still get supplies from Denmark.”
Its openness is one of the attractions, he believes: “It is not a male dominated sport, anyone can race, men and women, children and veterans.”
And there is the social side. He is looking forward keenly to the Scilly Isles in May.
“I’ll be at the World Championships,” he says. “It is a great social event as well as great racing.”
 Photos from Boating Cornwall.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

More Myth Busting

Remember the old joke about the Roman galley? One morning, the bloke with the leather pants and the whip struts onto the catwalk and shouts: "OK slaves, listen up! I have good news and bad news! The good news is, you have the morning off. The bad news is, this afternoon the Captain's going water skiing."
Well, Rick Thompson writes:
Great clip of the duct tape boat. Have you seen the water skiing behind a rowboat episode? It's also on YouTube. OK, so it took the Stanford crew to do it - how about we try it with one of our rowing skiffs?
All the best,

It seems to me that the main problem was not the crew keeping up the speed, but the waterskiier staying upright through the recovery, when the boat slows down suddenly. We need to find a midget with elastic arms.

Boatbuilding with Duct Tape

Greg Chapman at the Home Built Boat Rally forum has posted a link to a clip of the Myth Busters building a boat out of duct tape. Take a look - it is hilarious and actually rather interesting.

It took 23 rolls to build the boat. Screwfix is offering six-packs of the stuff at £20.94, so that's just over eighty quid to cover a whole boat, including centreboard and sail. So a nice little rowing boat should be buildable in a weekend for a lot less. Still more expensive than polytarp though.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Swimming in the Tyne in 1901

The British Film Institute is putting a lot of fabulous early film online on their website and YouTube, including this lovely clip of a swimming gala in Tynemouth in 1901. The novelty obstacle race, swum in full evening dress, is followed by diving.
The event was filmed by Mitchell and Kenyon, who showed the results that evening with other footage to an enthusiastic audience.
Two things of note:
1) All the boats are rowed, and all the men (no women allowed) step from boat to boat with the easy confidence of a lifetime's practice; and
2) Nobody is being taken off to hospital with acute poisoning - the Tyne was already one of the most heavily polluted rivers in the world.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Building a boat in 1min 41sec

Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis (named after our own dear Queen) makes a rather enticing Northeaster Dory, a remake of the classic fishing vessel for recreational rowing. They rightly point out that the dories described in classics such as Captains Courageous were designed to be cheap, stackable and easy to deploy, and only acquired their legendary seaworthiness when you had a ton or so of cod in the scuppers.
So dories have evolved to cater for recreational rowers, and the Northeaster Dory is intended to be light, easy to row and seaworthy without all that fish.
CLC run boatbuilding classes and have produced a great time-lapse film of one of them, in which you can see a line of Northeaster Dories taking shape before your very eyes.
And here is a picture of Antone Konst proudly rowing the boat he built at a similar class in Rhode Island, on the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Halloween rowing

Every year the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Hull, Massachusetts hosts a Head of the Weir race in the estuary of the Weir River, one of the rivers that empties into Boston Harbour.
This year the race was on Halloween, so fancy dress was the order of the day - lots of great pictures taken by Beth, including shots of the many pilot gigs taking part, here.

Thanks to Kathy Martell of IROW for the heads up.

Monday, 9 November 2009

All done by Mirrors

Chris Waite, who is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity like the Shipwrecked Mariner, was sporting a self-designed rear-view mirror at the Amble up the Hamble on Saturday. It was knocked up from an old belt, an old TV aerial and an old wing mirror. However, Chris was disappointed with performance as he reported on the HBBR forum:
"Despite the proximity of the mirror to my eye, the view is still quite limited, so it is necessary to move your head around to check the wider view of approaching impediments. The added problem is that everything is back to front, so all your head movements need to be reversed to obtain the necessary information. This then has to be translated to pulling on the oar that will move the bow of the boat the other way to the way you are seeing it as you are not only sitting the wrong way round, but looking backwards as well and having to move your head rather than your eyes as they need to stay fixed on the mirror and ingnore the oscillating view astern, in order to scan the scene ahead.
My ageing grey matter could not cope.
Not even slightly."
I have never really liked mirrors. They don't give a good enough idea of what is ahead so you have to look round fairly frequently anyway. The closest thing to a useful mirror is on the Clovelly Scull, where it is mounted on a bipod mast so it is just above your head, so you get a good view straight in front which is handy for both navigation and spotting immediate peril. The mast is also a good place to mount a GPS.
This is Paul Zink demonstrating it.
More on this in the upcoming issue of Water Craft, so subscribe now!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Up the Hamble with the HBBR

It's so wonderful to get another sunsoaked Saturday in a generally rainy week. A squadron of the Home Built Boat Rabble (as Chris Waite unkindly called us) set out from Swanwick hard midmorning and headed up the Hamble.
To the left is Chris Adeney in his Woods-designed Linnet skiff Pelly, the sister of the Bee that I have under construction (well, I have the plywood stacked up in the shed). Following on are Dr Waite in Octavia, Max Taylor in Gato Negro and Tim O'Connor in his Chesapeake kayak Wot Four.

Tim and Chris A exchange banter passing under the A27 bridge.
I put on a bit of pressure after the bridge and to my alarm the port side rigger broke away from the gunwale. A wing nut holding it to the hull had worked off on the road, leaving one arm of the rigger virtually waving in the wind. I had to ease off to avoid the whole thing coming apart.

We arrived a bit early at the creek up to the Horse and Jockey in Curbridge, so we floated gently up on the tide until the mud was covered (note traditional British car tyre).
Then we hung around outside the pub door, which remained sternly closed despite being past noon on a sunny Saturday. Eventually a bloke came round to announce that due to blah blah they would not be opening until one, and that due to blah blah blah the kitchen would not be open until the evening.
That was inexcusable. They knew we were coming, and while we were waiting several people arrived and left again. Is the landlord just lazy or was the entire staff crippled by hangovers? Avoid the Horse and Jockey, Curbridge, Hampshire, is my advice. I won't be going back.

We re-embarked and paddled off to Botley, where there is a lovely green at the old quay. Up to Victorian times this was a bustling port but now it is a quiet backwater and a lovely place for a picnic. Expeditions to the town secured supplies of sandwiches, beer, wine and double chocolate cookies (thanks, Chris A!).
I even managed to get a wing nut and washers to keep the rigger in one piece.

On the way down I paused to watch Hampshire firefighters practicing shallow-water rescue drill, for rivers and floods. They were using this interesting little inflatable, fitted with a skirt behind so rescuees can be hauled aboard easily and without causing more injuries.

Back down, the tide was still standing due to the famous Southampton double high tide. We got back at 4 and the light was going fast. Here are Graham Neil packing up his kayak Polythene Pam, with Snarleyow, Octavia and Steve and Marg Brown's nice little Petite Brise Penny.
Also present were Phil Oxborrow and Gem with their Prospector canoe Tonawanda and Al Law in his 8ft pram Newt.

Tailpiece: Comments were made on the Hamble's general muddiness. They weren't wrong.

More on this event on Max Taylor's Burseldon Blog.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A new Whitehall

Famed American oar and paddle makers Shaw & Tenney are celebrating 150 years in business by creating the first boat they have ever sold - a beautiful Whitehall skiff.
The firm was founded in Orono, Maine in 1858 and has been making wood oars and paddles with their trademark burned-in name on the blade ever since. But this is their first boat.

The hull is nearly 18ft long with a beam of only 3ft 8in, so she should go lickertispit especially with a pair of long oars in the rather stylish folding outrigger rowlocks.
It looks fab, with lots of varnish and brass, but it is definitely a what-the-hell-I-deserve-it purchase: the 'fancy rowing boat' version pictured is listed at $19,000. The vanilla version will cost $14,000, plus sliding seat option, sailing rig option and trailer option. And UK buyers will have to add import tax, VAT and shipping.....

Sunday, 1 November 2009

St Ayles Skiff is officially launched

The St Ayles Skiff has been officially launched at Anstruther, where the harbour was sunny and still yesterday, as it was down here in the South. Methil Sea Cadets took her out again (above), with builder Alec Jordan in the bow.
Chris Perkins came over from Scotland's left coast to take the pictures (he is a rather good snapper) and the designer, Iain Oughtred, put hand to oar (at number 3, below) and was, says Alec, very pleased with how it came out.

Several groups who have ordered or are interested in kits for the St Ayles Skiff also came along, including one of the groups from Portobello, in Edinburgh, pictured below. Two international orders, from Germany and the Netherlands, are already in the pipeline, showing how fast the idea has spread.

The only substantial modification being considered is a wider spacing between the thwarts to reduce the amount of oar-handle-banging-person-in-front-syndrome (I'm sure the Germans have a word for this). Alec says the length of the boat will not be increased because at least two strakes would need to have three scarfs instead of two as a result, which would violate the 'keep it simple' principle. Still, speaking as a larger than average rower, more leg room is always better, I feel.