Thursday, 31 December 2009

Japanese Oars

This picture on Indigenous Boats gave me pause. What on earth are those oars with handles all about?
The picture was provided by Douglas Brooks, who is researching traditional Japanese boats or wasen in the finest possible way, by getting apprenticed to boatbuilders and making a few.
Douglas writes to say that the boat is probably a kaidenma, a fishing boat that was used to pull a net round a school of fish, like seine fishing over here. According to Douglas:
That is a photo from Akita Prefecture way up north, where they do use a large clunky paddle like an oar. Interesting in some ways because they have more western style oars up there, but I suspect that in a narrow boat those short things have advantages.
As far as how they work, its used just like an oar, with a rope oarlock and sometimes a thole pin. I have also seen these used hanging in a rope loop and used like a steering oar. In fact the shimaihagi that I built in that region in 2003 was so equipped.
You tend to see these in boats with many rowers, yes they have to take a short, abbreviated stroke, but what these guys are doing is pulling a net around in a circle to close it, so its not intended for long distance travel - they may have even been towed out to sea by partner fishing boat. In a few places in Japan these are called kaidenma and are now used in festival races. It may look terribly inefficient, but these boats really fly when you have twenty or so guys rowing.
Douglas has two fascinating sites, his blog chronicling the construction of a traditional sabani on the island of Okinawa, currently under way, and his website which is a huge source of information on the Japanese and American ways of boatbuilding.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Curse this wind! No more curried eggs for me!

It was westerly F5 gusting F6 and close to low tide as I went to Itchenor to meet up with Martin, Cliff and Len of the Dinghy Cruising Association. Cliff's plan was to go with the ebb to East Head, have lunch and come back up with the flood, but the wind would have meant a long beat for the sailors and a long hard slog, so we headed up the relatively sheltered Bosham channel.
I usually go out at or near high tide so the water seemed unnaturally cramped and the banks of mud on either side were less than inviting. On the other hand, there were flocks and flocks of wildfowl feeding.
Curiously, the wind was not a big problem until I got Snarleyow on her dolly for the long trudge up the ferry causeway, which at high tide is a short stroll. The wind kept blowing her off her wheels, so I had to hold the bow with one hand and the windward gunwale with the other to keep her from flying off into the mud. Very uncomfortable and backbreaking.
When I got back I looked up Cambermet, the weather station inside the harbour mouth, and discovered there was a 35kt gust at the time. I took the picture with my phone - you would never believe that was midday.
Anybody recognise the quote in the title?

Saturday, 26 December 2009

"Lively water"

One of the most interesting  boats in the Shipyard School Raid in British Columbia this year was Bus Bailey, a traditional handliner built in the 1930s to fish for salmon around the islands off Vancouver. Owner Colin Masson won a leg of the Raid under oars alone, and he reveals the secret in his new blog, Colin's Rowing and Sailing Stories.
It's very simple - he rows a lot. In the summer he commutes from Gabriola Island to his work at the Pacific Biological Station in Departure Bay.
Colin's first post is a long one but well worth reading right through. He covers his childhood exploring his local bay with his kid brother, the joys of fishing when he was finally deemed experienced enough to venture out of the bay, how Bus Bailey came into his possession, the history of handlining and the types of water he experiences:
Waves and wind, or the lack of them, dominate the daily conditions. As with snow to the Inuit, they come to me in a myriad of forms and shapes, many of which I’ve come to describe with words and names of my own. Often in the early morning, the waves are short, slurppy and choppy as the north-west wind resists the tide moving along Gabriola’s exposed shore. Sometimes they make for what I call “lively water,” with following waves on the starboard quarter - slightly countered from a pressing south-east breeze. Just occasionally, there is a flat calm, with no discernable movement showing on the slick and glimmering surface, save the inevitable wash from a distant boat or a ghosting zepher-breath.

I like the lively water best as I slowly work my body and the Bus into an intuitive all-connected movement through the water. It’s the ‘magic zone’ that I search for. The one that has me smiling – even breaking out in laughter between gasps for air.
 It's great stuff.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Fame at last!

Paul Zink of Clovelly Sculls entered a picture of me rowing a Clovelly off Clovelly back in September in British Rowing's Winter Rowing picture contest, and it is featured on their website (it's a slideshow - you may have to wait a while for it to come round).

So, tit for tat, here is a picture of Paul and John Rous, co-owner of Clovelly Sculls, out on their boats on that occasion.
Paul tells me that some final technical details have been ironed out and production starts in the New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Boston Jingle Row

We've been whining about how cold it is here in England but in Boston the IROW crew had to crack the ice on the Charles River for their annual Jingle Row. More photos by Kathy Martell here. Congratulations, chaps! It looks as if you had a ball despite, or perhaps even because of, the arctic conditions.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Snow Row

No snow visible here, but there was a lot about, honest. We rowed the Solent Galley Bembridge from Langstone to Emsworth, where we stopped for a nice cup of tea. But luckily the tea shop was closed so we went to the pub and had a nice pint of beer instead. Yum.
And when we got back, lovely Elaine (centre in picture) produced a flask of mulled wine for that festive touch.
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Monday, 14 December 2009

Rowing in Water Craft magazine.

The January 2010 issue of Water Craft has dropped through my letter box and it is a bumper rowing issue!
I'll mention first Pete Greenfield's affectionate farewell to Ralph Bird, boatbuilder and the prime mover in the revival of Cornish Pilot Gig racing.
As Pete writes, it is an odd coincidence that the obituary comes in the same issue that highlights the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project, which aims to do for Scotland what Ralph did for the West Country - revive a formerly robust rowing tradition.
Three articles cover the St Ayles Skiff. Alec Jordan, who makes the kit, describes how the project came together. Iain Oughtred describes the philosophy and aims of his design, and Chris Perkins relates the tale of the construction of the prototype. Chris's picture shows Alec marking out something technical with a very professional air of concentration.
I was fascinated by the origin of pleasure rowing in Fife - apparently it was the miners rather than the fishermen who built and raced rowing skiffs. Prominent were the Davidson brothers, who were so good the mine owner, the Earl of Wemyss (pronounced Weems) brought crack university oarsmen up from the south to learn their technique. I suspect that most of the secret was to become a miner and swing a pick six days a week, thus building up enormous muscles.
In the 'Workshop' section of the magazine, Nick Coppin describes a neat adjustable heel rest so a dinghy can be effectively rowed while not being in the way while sailing. A pair of rests can be slid up two of the floorboards and automatically lock in position. Very clever.
And there is a spiffing article by me about the Clovelly Skiff. Here's a bonus picture:

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Winter Morning Rows

The low slanting morning sun in December produces some lovely photos. And now the autumn gales have died down it is a fabulous time for getting out on the harbour. On Saturday I had a brisk row in Snarleyow from Itchenor to Dell Quay (the picture is at Itchenor) and on Sunday I went out in one of Langstone Cutters' Teifi skiffs with Mr and Mrs Rooke, who squabbled over where we were in the middle of the harbour just like my mum and dad trying to navigate round Watford on a wet Bank Holiday. The photo shows Gladys on the buoy as a seagull flies overhead.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

New Frontrower Boat

Ron Rantilla, inventor of the Frontrower system for...err...rowing to the front...has announced another boat specially designed to take it. And it looks rather good.
The Odyssey 165 is a 16ft 6in version of the Odyssey 180 that Ron has been selling for a while now. It is a long thin boat with a pronounced tumblehome to allow the oar as much swing room as possible.
The Frontrower is an odd sort of thing. Very complex, with levers and cables all over the place, but watch the video and see how the oars nicely catch, pull and feather on the recovery. The ability to steer by putting extra pressure on one side or the other is impressive, and it must be very nice to use just the legs so you can keep going while taking photos or having a swig from your flask.
The big drawback is the cost - the thick end of two thousand bucks, and for us in the UK that would be plus shipping, taxes and any highway robbery schemes Gordon Brown is plotting for the election runup.
However, I can recommend without qualification Ron's blog, which has some lovely rowing anecdotes including the story of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who rowed 30 miles in a day to debate with the founder of the Quakers, George Fox (who failed to show). Williams was 70, and said that God helped his old bones over the distance.
And then there was Howard Blackburn, a doryman sailing out of Gloucester, Mass, in 1883. He lost his ship in a snowstorm. He lost his gloves, and knowing his hands would be useless without them, hooked them round the handles of his oars and struck out for land. His companion died, but he rowed for five days before hitting Newfoundland. He lost all his fingers and most of his toes but lived. An amazing tale of endurance.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Rowing Supplement in Wooden Boat

Well hallaylloo, Wooden Boat has added a volume on Oars, Oarlocks and Rowing to its cut out n'keep series, Getting Started in Boats.
It's in the current issue which I have only just got because our local farm shop has been taken over by the Coop and they have axed the wonderful selection of magazines they used to stock and now hold only Heat, OK, Yeah! and Celebrity Bonking. Bloody Coop. So I had to get my Washington-based sister to pop one in the post. Thanks, Sis!
Anyhoo, the supplement is very handy. Karen Wales explains oars and rowlocks in simple terms with lovely clear illustrations by Jan Adkins. There is a great explanation of an approved rowing style (I won't say 'correct' - ain't no such thing) by the great Peter Spectre.
One thing I would respectfully disagree with, however. Wales recommends positioning the rowlocks by measuring 14in diagonally from the rear face of the thward, whereas the best method is to attach G clamps on the gunwale, get in the boat and swing the oars on the clamps, as in the picture below taken during construction of my Sandpiper, Nessy. Then move the clamps back and forth until you get the perfect action.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Perfect Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

When will I ever learn?
I had a choice of outings today. One was to join the Dinghy Cruising Association in Langstone Harbour, the other to tag along with Langstone Cutters who were, paradoxically, going out in Chichester Harbour.
I hadn't met up with the DCA for a while, so I headed for the D-Day slipway at Bedhampton. But I failed to look up the weather forecast. Dammit, it looked OK and it wasn't raining. What could go wrong?
Langstone Harbour is a big expanse of water, and Bedhampton slip is at the windward and shallow end so the water tends to be very choppy in any sort of blow. But the slipway is sheltered from the stormy blast.
So it looked fine to me. I launched and rowed into the harbour, only to find it was, let us say, interesting. Not dangerous, not threatening, but not fun. Once again, I had failed to do a proper recce.
So I turned back, put Snarleyow back on the trailer and drove round to Chichester Harbour where conditions were much calmer, and had a brisk row for an hour or so.
I hoped to link up with the Langstone Cutters boat Gladys, but couldn't see her anywhere. Turned out they had rowed to nearby Emsworth and had a nice cup of tea. Damn. Here they are, returning, full of tea and buns.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Surf dory from Life Magazine's archive

Kelvin linked to this picture in a comment to my last post.The caption reads "Men riding waves in a canoe" which is wrong in almost all important particulars.
OK they are men (well spotted!) but they are not 'riding waves' but riding surf, and they are not in a canoe but a surf dory.
Kelvin also says it may not count as Rowing for Pleasure, with which I agree, but it sure as looks like Rowing for Fun.
The picture was taken by John Florea at Hermosa Beach, California, in the summer of 1948, but the boat is pretty well identical with the surf dories built by Simeon Lowell in his boatshop in Massachusetts in the 1790s.It seems the surf or 'Swampscott' dory was round-bilged, which gave extra buoyancy amidships when returning through the surf.
They are still building surf dories at Lowell's, and the type is still a popular type for amateur boatbuilders - designs are available from Selway Fisher. Actual surf riding is done mostly by boats made of super-elasto-bollockase or something in which surfers can do this:

(I have blogged this before but what the hell).

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

From the Web

It's been raining again and there's bugger all not a lot worth watching on the telly so here's some rowing from the Wonderful World Wide Web. Goran Buckhorn at the eclectic Hear the Boat Sing links to a great new resource, an archive of vintage pictures from Life magazine. Just enter 'rowing' as the search term and you get a load of pictures of rowing of yesteryear, mainly, it has to be said, the Boat Race. My favourite is this, which shows the great Canadian oarsman Ned Hanlan racing for the World Championship at Putney. Note how the race officials have to be carried in the front of eights to keep up with the scullers in those days before small marine engines.

But if you enter 'rowboat' you get a whole lot more, including this delightful picture of American teenagers going boating in 1945.

It reminds me of the poet Timothy Shy:
"Hip Hip Hooray,
The First of May!
Outdoor sex
Begins today!"

Next stop on the web is Chris Perkins' site where he reveals that construction of the first Ullapool St Ayles Skiff has begun, using Balcotan instead of epoxy because the vicious Scottish winter is closing in. Sooner you than me, Chris - it is cold enough down here in the soft South.
Finally, YouTube. This clip from Sesame Street should be in every rowing coach's training material:

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A tiny bit more boating on the box

Last night's episode of An Island Parish featured yet more agonising by both Methodist and CofE ministers and too much detail on the lovelorn and now tragically dog-bereft vet, so film of the Dutch pilot gig crew's performance in the Pilot Gig World Championship was sadly short. Only the women's race was recorded, but they did well. There is some nice footage of gigs sailing too. British viewers can catch it on BBC iPlayer. It's all between 10 and 14 minutes in - don't bother about the rest.
The Scheveningsche Roeivereeniging rowing club website has some good pics of the boat under construction, but no snaps of the races unfortunately.