Sunday, 28 February 2010

From the Bloggersphere

Gonna rain ALL day today, with an hour off for lunch, so I'm surfin'.
O Dock speculates about the return of sailing merchant ships when the oil runs out. This would be a very good thing for cargo, but travellers need a reliable schedule, so the future of intercontinental travel is:
Fast, reliable and the passengers do most of the work. At the end of a transatlantic passage they will be fit as fleas. This could cure the obesity epidemic at a stroke. Bring back the galleys!
Which brings me to The Invisible Workshop, where Ben outlines the training schedule for the Spanish National Regatta. Weights Mon and Weds, Running Tues, Rowing Fri and Sun. I assume that Sat is wasted schlepping round the house doing odd jobs. They are going to be fit as very fit fleas.
Ben also posts a picture of a traditional Catalan oar, which he says is so well balanced it is a delight to swing despite its enormous weight. The blade is thin but its length gets a good grip on the water, apparently. Very interesting.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

A sharp lesson in coxing

I learned a lot today. Langstone Cutters took Bembridge out with the aim of circumnavigating Hayling Island. The first stop was Hayling Island Sailing Club at Chichester harbour mouth. I was coxing on our approach.
Now I'm not a tremendously experienced cox, largely because I feel guilty about forcing everyone to haul an exceptionally large amount of useless fat at the back end of the boat. And I am not particularly familiar with HISC, although I have been there a couple of times in Snarleyow.
We were heading for the pontoon. After a quick consultation I headed for the upwind (right hand) side of the pontoon, which is the track heading down on the right hand side of the Google Earth image above. But then everyone said we should tie up to the end of the pontoon, but of course I was now in the wrong position. I tried going upwind a bit and drifting down, but failed to make my intentions clear. That knot of tracks is the result. Of course, everyone began to give conflicting advice.
At that stage I knew that I should stand off, turn round, get in the right position and try again, but I had lost it. We drifted backwards onto the pontoon, which lurched upward at exactly the wrong moment and broke the yoke off the rudder. We managed to hold on to the pontoon and get off, luckily.
We continued without the rudder, steering by shouted command, which Mike and Ian did extremely well. And we didn't get round Hayling either - it was too rough.
Actually, steering by shouted command worked rather well. Everyone concentrated more, I think.
Lesson learned: When coxing, if you have cocked it up, get out of the danger area before trying again. And stick to your guns.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Angus amphibious rowing boat on sale

The Canadian Angus Expedition rowing boat that I blogged about last year is finally nearing production and a great video demonstrating its features has been posted at their website here.
The boats are 18ft long and at 35in much broader in the beam than a racing shell, but that gives them a lot of stability and huge carrying capacity - when Julie and Colin Angus rowed their prototypes from Scotland to Syria they stored not only their camping gear but their bicycles and trailers in the lockers.
Despite the dimensions and the weight, they crossed the Channel in under five hours when James Cracknell could only manage six hours in a fine boat. Julie puts this down to the stability, meaning they could put on the power instead of concentrating on staying upright. The record is held by Guin Batten at 3hr 14min, done in flat calm conditions.
The shop is open, and boats can be boat in kit form or built from detailed plans. Here in the UK, it is probably uneconomic to ship a kit - it would be much better to buy the plans at $149 (including a comprehensive build manual). I am told that a European distributor is in the offing who may make boats and kits available over here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

St Ayles Skiff Thames outing cancelled

Faced with the prospect of towing a 22ft boat 450 miles through snow and rain, Alec Jordan has been forced to cancel Saturday's Thames demo of the St Ayles Skiff. Especially understandable as the boat has no cover - I towed Nessy back from the Broads through torrential rain a couple of years back and ended up with a mobile swimming pool behind the car - awkward at best and potentially very dangerous.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Rowing in Heraldry

This coat of arms is on Norway House in Trafalgar Square. OK so heraldic achievements are not supposed to be totally realistic but they might have had the crew rowing in the same direction - that barque of commerce ain't goin' noplace.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Why Rowing is Better than Sailing

Don't get me wrong, I love sailing and I aim to do a lot more of it when I finally get my sail-assisted Bee rowboat under construction. But look at the picture above. See those tiny little sails? If you can't, click for an enlargement.
They are fellow-members of the Dinghy Cruising Association, and though we all set out from Bedhampton at the same time, I took this picture from the Kench, a
over a mile ahead.
Here they are, arriving. Finally! And waving me off when I discovered I was so cold I would not be able to bend my knees enough to get back in the boat if I didn't go right away.
I had the advantage of the field, of course. The wind was light and right on the nose, ideal for rowing but not so good for the dinghies which had to tack, rather slowly. They were a lot faster on the way back, but still not as fast as me.
Of course, I will get my comeuppance when we go out in a good F5 with the wind against the tide, when they will go jolly fast and I will go home. But today, rowing was better than sailing. Also warmer.
Martin Corrick has been trying to establish the right length of oars for his Topper Cruz, so I lent him a pair of 10ft Plastimos. They are obviously too long. Martin said they were much better than the 7ft ones he got with the boat, but very tiring because of the outboard length. So he is now in the market for a pair of 8ft 6in-ish oars at a reasonable price.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Notice to Rowers

The St Ayles Skiff is visiting London next weekend and will be available for test rowing at Richmond Bridge (Surrey side) from 11am on Saturday 27 February. Alec Jordan, who makes the kits, will be on hand to answer questions and take cheques. I will be there to take pictures. Come along and give the boat some welly!
Chris O'Kinnaird was launched on the Clyde last weekend so a crew from Royal West Amateur BC in Greenock could try her out. Alec tells me rowers from Lough Foyle also turned up and he had to go out with them. "They go out once a week and I was completely knackered," he says.
Here is a great video of the Irish getting an impressive speed up. Note the almost complete absence of wake.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Boats pour out of Ullapool

 It's all go at Ullapool on the shores of Loch Broom in Scotland. It is a hive of boatbuilding activity, reports that artist in clinker ply, Chris Perkins. These are his pictures of the unofficial 'let's just check she doesn't leak or capsize' pre-launch of the latest creation of traditional 'real wood' boatbuilder Adrian Morgan.
The 15ft sailing sjekte rides a bit high because the rig and in particular the water ballast has not been fitted. When complete and down to her marks the oar handles will lie much lower and she will be easier to row, I suspect.
Here is Adrian finding out how tender the boat is, and below Charlotte (the illustrator of Adrian's column in Classic Boat) rows and Dan steers. The boat looks absolutely lovely.
No fewer than three St Ayles Skiffs are under construction in Ullapool, a tremendous thing that should inspire intense competition this summer. Here is Ulla under construction by Mike Connors (in green) and Topher Dawson (in blue).
Chris writes:
"Too darned cold up here for much boatbuilding - although we are finding that West Poxy is going off in unbelievably low temperatures - we should be gluing the sheerstrake on Friday and turning over sometime next week. Topher Dawson is doing the bulk of the work, learning a very great deal from him, watching him in action is pure magic. His bearding line gauge idea is brilliant and will transform my stem accuracy. All three Ullapool Skiffs are beginning to shape up nicely. Has really taken off well up here."

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Serpentine rowing

More nostalgia from Pathe News, this time from sunsoaked summer days in 1950. These clips were rejects from a documentary called This is Britain, and show rowers on the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park. The boats look much the same today, but the film also shows hordes of swimmers and a diving platform, which is definitely no longer there. Far too dangerous (if you are a council apparatchik, that is).
Notice how the girl does what girls always do when being rowed on a sunny day by a pleasant young chap - she trails her finger in the water. Must mean something....

Monday, 15 February 2010

Looking forward to Summer

This wonderfully nostalgic picture dating from the 1960s is of Beccles on the Norfolk Broads from the lovely Broadlands Memories website. The colour palette is redolent of railway posters, Janet and John books and childhood happiness.
The Home Built Boat Rally is plotting a return visit in June and I can't wait.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Another non-rowing ancient ship 're-enactment'

I have been riveted by the Phoenicia expedition, a re-enactment of the fabled circumnavigation of Africa by the Biblical voyagers who sailed as far as Cornwall to trade for tin. They have now reached Beira, and their blog is a wonderful evocation of the way sailors on long passages become obsessed with food.
But from a rowing perspective it has been a bit of a disappointment. The replica ship has 20 rowing positions, but the crew is too small to row her at all. And they have an engine, which is an invitation to idleness. As a result, the ship has been becalmed for months at a time. It can't be called an accurate re-enactment because they are operating in an entirely different way to the Phoenician mariners who would have rowed out of any difficulty.
It is just as academically worthless as the recent re-enactment of the Hatshepsut's ship that brought myrhh trees back from the land of Punt.
And the project has become mired in the madness of Levantine politics, of course. The Lebanese, who regard the Phoenicians as their personal heritage, are insensed that the Phoenicia was built in Arwad in Syria, despite the fact that Arwad (Aynook) was just as Phoenician as Tyre or Sidon. They have a rival project, the Europa, which they hope will tour the Med this summer.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

How to teach kids to row

I was overcome by a wave of weapons-grade nostalgia watching this clip from the British Pathe archive. These prewar kids just got stuck in, both boys and girls, despite having to row lumpy great hire boats instead of proper educational shells and without the benefit of 'personal flotation devices' or the oversight of highly trained busybodies in overpowered ribs. There was, however, a safety skiff being gently sculled by a teacher.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Science Report

Object: To discover whether heavy boats 'carry their way' or just slow you down.
Method: A boat was rowed over a course in Portsmouth Harbour, starting at Hardway and rounding a massive buoy that usually has a dead frigate attached to it. The first run was with no ballast, then with two bags of sand, then with four bags. Speed and course were recorded on a Nokia E71 mobile phone using Sports Tracker software.
First Lap (No ballast): Distance 0.71km, Ave speed 6.98km/h, Top speed 10.9km/h
Second Lap (Two bags of sand): Distance 0.72km, Ave speed 6.60km/hr, Top speed 11.5km/hr
Third Lap (Four bags of sand): No results due to operator error (I think I pressed the wrong button. Sorry, Sir, honest it won't happen again).
All the tracks can be seen here.
Impressions: The ballast definitely held me back when getting going, and seemed to be harder work. Also, turning seemed to be more difficult. But the extra weight really did seem to carry the boat forward during the return.
Conclusion: Adding ballast clearly slowed the boat up, but not by much. The boat sat significantly lower in the water, which was slightly alarming. All in all, the conclusion is that the extra momentum of the ballast is more than compensated for by the extra work propelling it, but more research is necessary (SRI grant please!).
After the science stuff, Martin Corrick took me round Portsmouth Harbour in his spiffy Topper Cruz:
And just to warm up after an hour sitting still sailing, I rowed all the way round the former HMS Southampton, sitting on her buoys awaiting her ultimate end.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Worst Sailing Innovation Ever

Tillerman at Proper Course asks what is the Worst Sailing Innovation Ever?
No controversy about that, of course. The worst sailing innovation ever is the sail.
In those halcyon days before the sail, boating was simple and pleasurable. People paddled their own canoes using short bits of wood or rowed gently down the stream with longer bits of wood. Boats went in direct lines from A to B and windless days were joyful.
Then the Laziest Boater, Oh Best Beloved, worked out that he could get the wind to do the work. He took his best toga from his wife's washing line, hoisted it on a stick mounted in the bow of his dugout, pushed out from the bank and capsized. But that didn't deter him. He bailed out the boat, hoisted the cloth again and ran into the bank.
And ever since then, men have spent all their spare time fiddling with uphauls, downhauls, vangs, preventers, lugsails, squaresails, foresails, trysails, genoas, spinnakers, gennickers, monikers and all get out to squeeze that extra ounce of performance from the rig. Then they run into the bank and capsize. On windless days they sit motionless in the middle of the lake, cursing, and when the wind is up they tack endlessly from bank to bank, cursing. No wonder the sail is universally regarded as the worst innovation ever.
Pic by Alexander Beetle

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Rowing on Telly (cont)

By popular demand, here's a still of Dan Snow from Empire of the Seas on the Beeb earlier this week. He is rowing down the Medway past Upnor Castle, where Nelson was rowed to his ship as a new midshipman. Except that Snow is rowing a plastic repro lugger with the usual stump things that sailors buy from the chandlers and never use (I have seen pairs of Plastimos in mint condition in the bottom of many a hard-sailed dinghy). They are far too short to be of any use whatsoever and as a result he is thrashing away like a good 'un but going nowhere.
Upnor is a lovely place - I played bat and trap in the Kings Arms there once. My team won convincingly, but at the end of the evening I still had no idea how the score was calculated. I think they went out the back and sacrificed chickens.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Rowing on Telly

I wasn't going to watch David Dimbleby's Seven Ages of Britain because most of his last series was wasted in endless sequences of the great man lecturing from the wheel of his Land Rover instead of showing us interesting stuff. But I caught the begining of the new series in the course of looking for something else and bugger me if he wasn't rowing a skiff on London River, dark and foggy. He pushed onto the foreshore, got out and dug into the gravel to reveal...a bit of plastic looking just like a Roman bronze head of Hadrian!
It was all too artful for words. Even the fog must have been generated by special effects.
But at least Dimbleby was really rowing, and he took to the oars again later in the programme, in a currach recreating St Cuthbert's voyage from Ireland to Iona.
The currach was built by the Causeway Coast Maritime Heritage Group, and has been rowed not only across the Irish sea but also to festivals in Brittany to meet with skin-on-frame traditional boats there.
Dimbleby asked the steersman, Ivor Neill, if they were religious or did the voyage for fun. He cheerily replied that even the religious people did it for fun too. Well said, that man.