Thursday, 29 April 2010

Olympic rowing?

This very odd animation reminds me of the apocryphal quote from the 19th century novelist Ouida, who was much mocked for her lack of knowledge of male sports: "All rowed fast, but none as fast as stroke."

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Forward Facing Rowing in Victorian Times

This extraordinary mechanism is a fine example of a Victorian bow-facing rowing system that John Blondell has in his shed. They have a lever in the middle that reverses the direction the oar moves, so when you pull it pushes, if you see what I mean. Bow-facing rowing was popular with duck hunters who needed to look forward as they moved in on their prey, but did not need a huge amount of speed.
John writes:
I am in possession of a set of F.A. Allen bow-facing oars that I received from my father many years ago.  They are stored in the rafters of my shed. My father acquired them probably in the mid 1930's. I remember as a small child being in a rowboat and my father using these oars. This was at Colville Park in Red Wing, Minnesota.  Do these have any value as I may be interested in finding a new home for them. I would think that these oars are quite rare.   
John Blondell
If anyone is interested in the unit, email me using the link on the right ------->
and I will pass your message on to John.
F.A. Allen patented his system in 1894 and it seems to have been quite popular, but it was not the first. One W. Lyman patented this similar mechanism in 1875, but it is pivoted at different points:
 Articulated forward-facing rowing devices are still available today, mostly in the US. Gig Harbor Boats offer this gadget, that seems to operate in almost exactly the same way as Allen's but made in modern stainless steel:
Interestingly, the system was developed by creating a prototype in aluminium, which obviously quickly wore and broke but in ways that showed up the weaknesses of the design. Computer software was then used to create a better mechanism that would transmit the power more efficiently and feel easier to row. Here it is in action:
EZ-Row make drop-in unit complete with riggers and seat that can be installed in a canoe or any suitable hull, and RowRite have an updated mechanism using gears that folds up neatly on the gunwale when not in use.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The end of an idyll

 Went out from Itchenor to East Head at 6.30 this morning. It was lovely of course, but the clear cloudless sky of the past week or so had been replaced by a cat's cradle of vapour trails. They are clearly visible even on pics taken with my mobile phone. Sigh...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Rowing Down Under

Peter Miller, inventor of the Huge Rear View Mirror for Rowers, writes from Australia, where he has just been for what must be one of the world's great rows, including an iconic photo opportunity. It looks truly fabulous:
It was early last Saturday I launched from a small beach (if that is not to grand a description) on Mort Bay in Sydney Harbour. My vessel of choice was the famed Swift Dory by the boat builder John Murray. ( The Dory is 5.5 metres (17 feet) and only 51kg (112 lbs) so it is ideal for long journeys and is able to be rowed at speed. The Swift Dory is also the main boat featured in the Dangar Island Dory Derby which deserves a whole post of its own.
The Colgate-Palmolive factory on Mort Bay has been converted to luxury apartments (grey buildings in pictures) with the larger apartments going for AUD$1.1 million. The Bay is now also the home to Sydney's tug and ferry / rivercat fleet.
In my experience dodging the rivercats as they quickly and quietly sneak up on you is one of the keys to avoiding disaster on the Harbour.
Heading east I rounded Goat Island (at one time a convict stockade) and took a snap of the Bridge and a self portrait in the acrylic convex mirror fixed to the stern of the dory. Under the middle of the Bridge (also known as the coat hanger) one can just make out the profile of Fort Denison which was originally just a small island called Pinchgut on which misbehaving convicts were marooned.
In 1839, two American warships entered the harbour at night and circled Pinchgut Island. Concern with the threat of foreign attack caused the government to review the harbour's inner defences and establish a fort on the Island to help protect Sydney Harbour from attack by foreign vessels. Fortification of the island began in 1841 but was not completed. Construction resumed in 1855 because of fear of a Russian naval attack during the Crimean War, and was completed on 14 November 1857. (source Wikipedia)
After rounding Goat Island I put in the hard yards to make it to Cockatoo Island, another former convict site [Is there a theme developing here??] and subsequently Australia's biggest shipyard last century. I was particularly motivated to land at Cockatoo as the island now caters to day tourists and campers and has a cafe with knockout views were I can sit mid-trip and get my cappuccino fix. Arriving at the Island is easy as a slipway has been dedicated for kayaks and rowboats to land at. It has become even easier since after a request was made they cleaned off the slime that had made it rather slippery.
On my return journey I passed the "Dolphin Berths" were the Aquashell was tied-up. The Aquashell is a floating stage that is moored against the shore around the harbour for various events and it appears to have the remains of a large seahorse still on-stage.
Arriving back at Mort Bay I felt like I had had a workout especially since I did a big trip on Newcastle Harbour only 2 days before - but that is another story.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Hamble River Rowing launched

Hamble River Rowing launched on Saturday beneath cloudless and blissfully planeless skies. The club's home, the Jolly Sailor pub in Bursledon, teemed with people interested in rowing the pair of gigs that will be based on the pub's pontoon.
I am always in awe of people who can scull properly like this guy. He managed to get quite a speed up, though to do it he seems to have to face the wrong way, which rather detracts from sculling's main advantage which is that you can see where you are going.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


American whaleboats were not the same as British whalers. British whalers were pulling boats carried by Royal Navy warships for training and general use, whereas American whaleboats were actually designed for hunting whales. Both are practically legendary these days, but if the truth be told they are a bit too beamy for club rowing. Too much like hard work.
But they are very stylish and their history has a tremendous allure. So it's great that they are being revived in the US. The video describes the construction of the Nantucket whaleboat, and Craig Hohm is building another for use in the Finger Lakes of New York State.
Inspired by the St Ayles skiff project in Scotland, he hopes that other whaleboats will be built and aims to pass on the moulds to the next builder. His description of the boat is on Duckworks Magazine.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Victorian Outriggers

This is a neat rigger design that I noticed on a skiff made by Salters of Oxford in 1887, now under the hammer at the Turks aution.
The fore and aft stays are hinged so the rigger can be swung inboard for ease of storage and transport. The middle stay is simply bolted in position when the rigger is extended.
Bidding is getting serious ahead of the end of the sale tomorrow. This skiff, lot 10, has reached £250, and all the other pretty boats are attracting competition. The star of the show, Dame Nelly Melba's pleasure boat Verity, stands at £27,000 and the iron-hulled steam launch Cygnet at £12,000.
Buyers are competing for boats with a ready market on the super-rich Thames, and to my surprise both Viking longboats and the repro-medieval Peterboat were snapped up right at the start. Apparently re-enactment groups were fighting each other for them.
The oddities are, by and large, sticking. My favourite, the Hallstatterseeboot, languishes at £10, and no, I won't be buying it either because I cannot think what I would do with it. But someone has offered to pay £110 for this Crocodile Canoe. Mad.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Hallstattersee Platten (or Zillen) at the Turks Auction

When I met Michael Turk in Chatham on Saturday, he told me that he bought the Hallstattersee Platten (or Zillen) and the various Danube lake boats on a trip to Austria. It was cut in half to bring it back, and subsequently shortened as the original was too long to be practical on the Thames. It is still 25ft long, however.
It comes with two oars, which are interesting. The shaft is bent, with a T-piece at the top so the rower can feel which way the blade is pointing and turn it easily. The blade is attached at an angle so it enters the water vertically while keeping the shaft conveniently in front of the rower.
I think it would make an ideal canal cruising boat. The rower or rowers (up to four in this boat) face forward so they can see where they are going on narrow, windy cuts and the oars don't stick out the side impeding oncoming narrowboats. And the wide flat bottom is ideal for camping.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Turks Auction Viewing

This blog visited the Turks auction of boats used as film props in Chatham today, in the company of Mr and the ever-charming Mrs It was a grand day out looking at some fabulous boats and, as an unexpected bonus, ferreting through one of the finest collections of boat junk maritime memorabilia in the world.
The collection includes some luscious examples of Victorian craftsmanship that will be posted in the next few days but first I want to alert boat nuts to the fact that Turks is clearing a vast quantity of fittings from binnacles to fairleads, and the Turk family is open to offers on the lot.
The biggest collection is rowing gear. There is an incredible variety of oars on racks, from huge sweeps for barges to little paddles for miniature canoes. Condition varies from a bundle of about a doz unused Plastimos to some shards of wood that must have been oars at some time in the distant past. There is even a rubber oar that must have been made as a background item for a film set but would make a superb prop for a jape.
As you see, Mr bought a pair of nice blades and I acquired two pairs of short oars, one for Simbo and the other because they will probably come in handy some time. The lot put me back 25 quid.
Other rowing stuff includes riggers from old shells, brass rowlocks, sliding seats, stretchers and even a selection of coach's megaphones. There is a rich choice of presentation oars for forgotten bumps races, and a few bows from defunct eights with mounting plates ready for hanging on the clubhouse wall.
Turks are moving out of the shed because they have received 'an offer they can't refuse' from a riverboat operator who needs a place to service their fleet, so the whole lot must go. Get down there now!
Footnote, Lot 114:
There is a fine stuffed chavender, a chavender or chub,
Hangs in our local pavender, the pavender or pub,
Wherein I eat my gravender, my gravender or grub.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A damp lesson learned

The main modification to Simbo was a pair of rowlock brackets to take them up by about three inches. More wood from the Bracklesham Bay haul was used, nailed and glued with Balcotan. I also wanted to experiment with the thwart position so I left it loose on the brackets instead of screwing it in place.
Then it was off to Bosham to try it out. Weather was gorgeous and you can't imagine a prettier place to go boating than the old home of King Canute and Harold Godwinson.
The new rowlock position makes it much easier to row, though the oars are too thin for the rowlocks and were difficult to control.
Then one oar slipped clean out of the rowlock. The shock dislodged the thwart and I fell into the bottom of the boat to one side, dipping the gunwale and shipping a load of water before I recovered equilibrium. In the meantime I had lost hold of both oars, which slipped out into the harbour.
There I was, oarless and sitting in the bottom of the boat in an inch of water. Blast. Urgh. Damn.
I pulled my sleeves up and hand-paddled to the oars, set them in the rowlocks and rowed for the shore cursing gently and hoping none of the onlookers had videoed the event for YouTube.
Lesson learned - make sure your seat is secure before you go out.
Now I need a pair of 5ft to 6ft oars that fit my rowlocks properly. Anybody got a spare pair?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cave rowing in NZ

 Owen Sinclair and John Hitchcock have been rowing where only kayakers usually go - through the caves of Pepin Island, near Nelson at the top end of the South Island of New Zealand.
John rowed his St Lawrence River skiff and Owen took his John Welsford-designed Light Dory.
It looks like a tremendous experience!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Modifying Simbo

It is a bank holiday here in England, when the banks are compelled to shut up shop so commerce is impossible and everyone can go to play. That is the theory anyway - there does seem to be an awful lot of commerce going on.
But not at chez Partridge, because today Simbo gets finished. The rush to get on the water meant that the interior only got a couple of coats of primer/undercoat and the gunwale got no finish at all.
I am also making a few changes in the light of lessons learnt at the launch.
Firstly, something needs to be done about that tummy, but that is a more long term aim. Can you see how I am having to hold my legs uncomfortably straight to swing the oars back? So the main mod today is to move the rowlocks upwards and backwards to give a more comfortable rowing action. If all goes well Simbo may get wet again this afternoon.

Friday, 2 April 2010

A Whitehall in Singapore

Roberto Mancuso runs a boatbuilding business in Java, and is currently in Singapore exhibiting at their boat show. He is also taking the opportunity to supply a tender he has built to John Gardner's 14ft Whitehall design copied from an original in Mystic Seaport. "It's a very interesting boat with a long long story.I just loved it from the first look at Mystic," Roberto writes. If you happen to be in Singapore from the 15th to 18th April, she will be on Roberto's stand on the Waterfront Promenade.
She looks lovely, and the sliding seat should enable the owner to get some serious exercise in before getting back aboard the yacht. But what is the hand doing on the gunwale? Is there a stowaway?

April Fool's Retrospective

My favourite posts from yesterday:
Bursledon Blogger had some spiffy nav lights that I really really want on my boat.
Captain JP showed an interesting new development in Laser sails.
Chesapeake Light Craft launched the ultimate kit boat:

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Building Simbo - finishing the structural bits

With the inside fillets well hard, the hull was turned over and lain on two carefully levelled and aligned workmates. The duct tape came off with a deeply satisfying ripping noise (almost as good as popping bubble wrap).
The seams were then taped over, a messy process comprising splashing on a coat of resin, applying the tape, folding the tape over the angle and swearing mightily when it popped back up again. Patience and firm pressure is needed. Finally, another application of resin to fill the weave as much as possible. Leave to harden.
When hard, I pasted on another coat of resin+filler to fill the weave completely and fair the edge of the tape. Again, returning periodically as it hardened allowed runs to be swiped off and sags to be corrected, at least partially.
The seams finished, it was time to add the little decks. The original design has breasthooks, but I happened to have some timber liberated from Bracklesham Beach when a container ship went down a few years back. It was a very simple matter to cut a couple of pieces to size, securing them with epoxy and a few leftover gripfasts.
The original design also has no gunwales, but the thin ply I used meant gunwales were essential. They were glued in place and nailed at the ends. This is where every builder traditionally says "you can never have too many clamps". So there - I've said it.
Then it was sanding, sanding and sanding until I swore a mighty oath of ENOUGH!
I have become a great fan of water based exterior paint for boats, It is so much cheaper than two-pot epoxy paint and you can touch up dings with ease. It dries so quickly you can get three coats on in a day. And washing the brush out in water is such a joy compared with horrible white spirit. Better for the environment too. The only minus is that it only comes in silk finish, so you can't get a yotty sheen.
I just had time (one hour before launch!) to add a thwart in the middle and a pair of rowlocks (both leftover kit from my previous boat Nessy) and it was off to Pulborough.
Tomorrow: lessons learned.