Tuesday, 29 June 2010

St Ayles skiffs at Portsoy

At last year's Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival, Scotland's biggest gathering of lovely old boats, the Scottish Coastal Rowing project was just a project. Iain Oughtred hadn't even finished designing the boat.
Last weekend, no fewer than six St Ayles skiffs were raced at Portsoy, with the prizes being dished out by Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond.
The sun shone and everyone had a brilliant time, apparently. I only wish I could have been there, but luckily Chris Perkins was, taking a gazillion great snaps which can be viewed here. Chris reports:
"Portsoy was fantastic - the skiff racing put a real buzz into the event.
I learned a lot about effective oars and steering - the most consistently good were Port Seton with shorter oars and an appreciably higher stroke rate - the Saturday final was between two Port Seton crews, so to even up the odds they were put in borrowed boats, a scratch crew took out the Port Seton boat for a recreational row. Even with a 50 yard handicap and an extended trip round both competing teams marker buoys the Port Seton boat came in shortly after the winners, handsomely beating the team in borrowed 'Ulla' - Port Seton have a seriously fast and efficient set up. Ullapool didn't do well, winning only one heat - the constant reworking of the oars and the steerboard are going to need further thought."
Viv Perkins videoed the races, and here is one of the clips. Note the accompanying sound track, which records the sort of audience participation that wins races.

More on the Port Seton flyer Boatie Rows here. The name, incidentally, comes from a traditional Port Seton ballad:
O weel may the boatie row and better may she speed,
And leesome may the boatie row that wins the bairns' bread.
The boatie rows, the boatie rows, the boatie rows indeed,
And weel may the boatie row that wins my bairns' bread.
O weel may the boatie row and better may she speed,
And leesome may the boatie row that wins my bairns' bread.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Thames Barge Driving Race

The barges arrive. It takes nearly 2 hours to drive them over the course.
The annual Barge Driving Race is fought between a dozen or so 30 ton dumb barges rowed by Thames Lightermen and Watermen using 26ft sweeps. Two row at the bow and another steers at the stern, also using a sweep.
The rowers do not so much power the boat as position it to take maximum benefit from the tide, which is flowing up from the start in Greenwich to the finish at Westminster, a distance of seven miles. This takes incredible strength and skill, and only qualified lightermen and watermen can take part (this is one of the few professions that still requires an apprenticeship to be served).
Mike Russell's boat, last 3 years' winner is in blue. We are supporting him.
Langstone Cutters chairman Mike Gilbert was on a boat following the race, with other members of the London2Paris winning crew, Gravesend. He took these pictures with his BlackBerry and posted them on his Twitter feed. The captions are Mike's.
For my top anecdote about one of these barges causing a still-visible dent in Cannon Street Railway Bridge, click here.
Mike's team about to cross the finish line first!      

Friday, 25 June 2010

Slow boats in China

What a lovely picture - exotic and familiar at the same time. As blog reader Kim Apel says, a Chinese equivalent of the gondola.
He writes:
Chris: From my recent visit to the Shanghai Museum, a display of models (about 1:3 scale was my guess) of native fishing craft of the Gaoshan ethnic group of Lanyu Island, Taiwan. Looks like rowing craft to me, which, though working craft, show at least as much artistic care and sensibility as any Thames skiff.
Also, above, the Chinese equivalent of the Venetian gondola ride, at the Tiger Hill Garden in Suzhou.
Kim Apel
San Clemente, CA, USA

Lanyu Island, also known as Orchid Island, has an amazing tradition of boat construction. The entire village turns out to launch a new one, passing it literally overhead to launch it, as related here. Must get there sometime....

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Admiral of the Port's Challenge

T'was the Admiral of the Port's Challenge this evening, a race for Thames Waterman's Cutters. It started at the Houses of Parliament and ran 1.7 miles to the Westminster Boating Base in Grosvenor Road. Captain JP was there at the instigation of this blog, and kindly sent these pictures.
The Admiral of the Port is the Lord Mayor - bet you didn't know that. Neither did I until I looked the race up. The Cutters have to be in full ceremonial mode for the race, rigged for four oars, with a canopy for two passengers and a flag. They certainly add colour to the river scene.
Water Forget-me-not, Worshipful Company of Water Conservators
Many of the Thames Waterman's Cutters are owned or sponsored by City livery companies and other London institutions such as Trinity House and the Port of London Authority.
No results yet - more on that later.
Belle Founder, Worshipful Company of Founders

Lego Simbo

I'm so proud. My one-sheet ship Simbo has been modelled in Lego. It is clearly only a matter of time before a special edition is for sale in toy shops round the world, perhaps with a marker pen so builders can create their own custom beard'n'eyebrows effects. I am particularly impressed by the realistic baldy look.
The modeller is Ben Crawshaw of The Invisible Workshop, who emails:
Hi Chris,
Some time ago while playing Lego with my son I decided to try and make a rowing boat. The result, I think, is a striking resemblance to you and Simbo. I was going to use the photo for a tongue in cheek post ('Chrisp action figure and Simbo available from Lego' or some such) but then my health dived (I'm still in hospital) and well, I haven't been up for blogging since.
I've just come across the photos again and send them on to you to use as you please.
Like the new look at Rowing for Pleasure.
All the best,
Get well soon, Ben. We miss you a lot.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

New Socks Under Test

I got some spiffy new kit yesterday - a pair of knee-length SealSkinz waterproof socks, modeled elegantly by me with the Solent Galley Bembridge at Emsworth, whence we had rowed in search of beer. Sorry about the dismal mobile phone picture quality.
The socks have an inside layer of GoreTex or something that keeps liquid water out but lets water vapour through, so you can leap out of the boat confident of keeping your feet dry but not get into a massive sweat when rowing, as you can wearing wellie boots. Hi-tech indeed, but also the most expensive socks I have ever bought - the thick end of £30.
Combined with a cheapo pair of sandals they worked brilliantly, though I was surprised by the amount of gravel that got trapped under my feet.
In fact I got overconfident and stepped out of the boat too early when we got back to Langstone. I went in up to my knees and immediately discovered that the sock tops do not seal. Drove home with soggy feet. Damn.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Tasmanian skiff

Here's Alan Witt's Derwent skiff under oars on the Derwent - the Derwent in Tasmania, that is. It is an attractive 5.5m sliding seat design available in kit form or as plans from Witt Design Wooden Boats
Alan is keen to make the most of the moulds the hull is built on, and circulates details of used moulds to potential builders so they can be re-used. Very environmental.
One is now available from Michael Charlton, pictured here sitting in the hull he has just taken off the mould you can just see inside the house. He writes:
Hi Chris,
While I have yet to fit out the buoyancy tanks and out-riggers I couldn’t believe how light the hull is to lift; this, its length and shallow draft suggest a super-fast vessel. Now I am more eager than ever to get the thing afloat!
Allan has been hugely supportive throughout this project and is naturally keen to encourage other interested builders; as I intend to build only one Derwent I have no further use for the mould, which will be stored near Sutton in Surrey. For a modest fee, the next builder may have a head-start – might any of your UK readers be interested?
More information and pictures are available on Allan’s website; www.wittdesignwoodenboats.com
Best wishes.
Michael Charlton.
If you are interested in the mould, drop me an email and I will pass it on to Michael.
And Michael - keep us up to date on the build. It is looking good!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

How to get there

How to get the boat down without doing your back in?
Peter Miller in Australia has sent a few pics of the roof rack system he uses get his skiff to the water. It's a problem I will need to look at soon so I am very grateful for the info. He writes:
One of the major hurdles to going for a row is actually getting your boat to the water.  Some rowers are lucky enough to live on the water or have their boat moored but even so they might want to start their trips from different locations.
First extend the side rack...
This leads to either using a trailer or perhaps putting the craft on top of your car.  The size and weight of the average boat makes car topping generally difficult but due to the Rack and Roll System and the lightness of my boat I am able to load and unload the dory on to the roof racks by myself.
...then slide the boat onto it.
The dory and oars weigh about 55 kg (120 pounds). The boat can be easily shifted so that its stern is resting on the arm that attaches to the roof racks off the side of the car.  The bow is then brought down to the ground and then the stern is lifted down.
Bow comes down...
The system can cope with loads up to 65 kg (143 pounds) so it won't suit all boats but it has allowed me to go out in the morning without calling on a second person to help shift the dory on and off the car.
...and onto the launching dolly.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Flax boat at Beale Park

It was a bit of a shock to discover at the Flaxland stand that nobody processes flax in Britain any more. It used to be a major industry, producing the linen ropes and sailcloth that drove British ships round the world. Now - nothing. Flaxland hopes to change this, promoting flax as a crop that could provide sustainable alternatives to oil-derived fibres and resins for many purposes including food (linseed is an excellent source of short-chain Omega 3 oils), fibres (I love my linen jacket) and even resins. This nice little canoe was made of a linen cloth on an ash frame. The linen was impregnated with flax resin and left in the sun for a few days - the resin cross-links and hardens in the ultraviolet rays.
It looks lovely, is totally sustainable and works well, as you can see from this video.

The skiff on the International Boatbuilding Training College stand was less sustainable (that's a plastic film on the frame) but looks a whole lot of fun.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Captain Bligh at Beale Park

Captain Bligh and some mutton bint made their appearance at Beale Park with a reproduction of the boat in which Bligh made one of the most remarkable voyages of all time, 4,000 miles from Tofua to Timor. The display was from the last exhibition at the Eyemouth Maritime Centre, now home to the former Exeter collection.
On the lake, the Portsmouth-based Historical Maritime Society (HMS - geddit?) rowed their Selway-Fisher-designed frigate's boat around. The stroke rate is geological and the timing is distinctly octopusoidal, and would benefit from a sharp lash of 19th century Naval discipline. The video clip starts with the incredible steam-powered Henley umpire's boat Consuta in the foreground.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Water Craft competition at Beale Park

One of the stars of Water Craft magazine's boatbuilding competition was Norfolk Skies, a stunning little boat by Nick Coppin. It is a smaller version of a traditional 18ft Sheringham crab boat, a little (12ft 4in) double-ended beach boat from the North Norfolk coast. Nick copied the lines from a book and made a half model before building her of ply, Douglas fir and oak.
Norfolk Skies has an inwale with thole pins, but the original Sheringham boats had an interesting local type of rowlock called an 'orruck'. The top plank or sheer strake had no inwale and was very wide and thick, and holes were pierced through it to hold the shafts of the oars.
When the boat was beached, the oars would be slid into the boat and used as handles to carry the boat to safety above the high water line, as shown in this picture from about 1893.
OGA Holyhead has a nice video of the launch at the Old Gaffers event at Lechlade previously.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

River Bank Boats at Beale Park

GRP rowing skiffs tend to be big, heavy and tub-like because they are usually designed as hire boats, but the new 16ft skiff from River Bank Boats on display at Beale Park is slim and elegant. The hull shape was copied from a 1936 original, updated with flotation fore and aft, and it is nicely finished in hardwoods. It cries out to be rowed by a chap wearing flannels and a boater, steered by a gel under a parasol. At £2800 plus VAT it is not particularly expensive given all that varnish.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Nestaway Boats at Beale Park

Ian Thomson of Nestaway Boats is bucking the recession - he has so much work that he has even lost business because of extended lead times. He can envisage worse problems, he says.
The latest Nestaway boat is a carbon fibre and kevlar version of the Trio, the boat that splits into three and can fit into the back of a Focus estate. It is about a third of the weight of the standard GRP model, making it easier to get on the water and she handles better too, Ian says. The shiny black finish looks incredibly cool as well. Apparently it is selling well despite costing the thick end of £3,500.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Man, dog and new boat at Beale Park

HBBR regular Dave brought a new boat to Beale Park and Mary Dog was in the bow, of course. The boat is a Whisp skiff from the board of Steve Redmond.

Monday, 7 June 2010

St Ayles skiff rows the Thames

 One more note on the St Ayles skiff. Here is a pic of the boat on the stand at Beale Park, with builder and kit supplier Alec Jordan (r) and builder and photographer Chris Perkins.
The Scottish Coastal Rowing project was on Scottish telly last Friday and by the magic of iPlayer us sassanachs can catch it too by clicking BBC2 Landward - the segment is 10 minutes into the programme.
The cameras visited the Eyemouth skiff at the critical moment when the boat was turned over for the first time, and interviewed former fisherman and harbourmaster Johnny Johnstone MBE who memorably summed up the project:
"This is a brilliant exercise, this is a brilliant sport, not costing you in a fitness suite hauling a dumb rowing machine, this is getting fresh air on the open sea."

Sunday, 6 June 2010

St Ayles skiff rows the Thames

The prototype Scottish Coastal Rowing boat Chris O'Kanaird was a star performer at the Beale Park Thames Boat show yesterday, appearing on the Water Craft stand with the new Cornish pilot gig Black Ven.
The UK Home Built Boat Rally was also at the show in force, so it made sense to put together a crew. Alec Jordan, founder of the UK-HBBR and devisor of the Scottish Coastal Rowing project, coxed and a fellow Scot whose name I am ashamed to say I have forgotten went stroke. Richard Rooth and Tim O'Connor were 3 and 2 respectively, and that's me in the bow.
It is a tribute to the kindly qualities of the boat that we managed to get a good beat up right from the start. The close spacing of the thwarts (lengthened in production boats) imposes a short, choppy rowing style but we soon got the hang of it and the hull slips quickly along. In fact, we got filled with enough hubris to line up against Black Ven and her experienced Lyme Regis crew.
This was absurd on all fronts, of course. They were twice as long and half as old as us, and many of them had visible waists. But the light boat meant we had a slight advantage of power-to-weight ratio and we started well. It took Black Ven all of 10 or 15 seconds to overhaul us and disappear downriver.
Anyway it was huge fun and that is what rowing a St Ayles skiff is all about. She is at the show again today and apparently many people have travelled to Pangbourne specifically to see her.
Thanks to Chris Perkins for the picture - more from him here.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Disturbing news

This is ridiculous.


Went out for a fabulous row in the evening yesterday. The sky was blue, the wind light but warm, both of which facts should have alerted you to the fact that this pic of me and (from front to back) Nigel, Jenny, Peter and Dawn of Langstone Cutters, was taken last winter. But I include it now to illustrate the need to make the most of your pectoral girdle when rowing. See how my shoulders are hunched up as I lean forward for the catch? Apparently this is all wrong.
This came to light when I was rowing a skiff a couple of weeks back with qualified rowing coach Julia Rooke. Initially I thought the pectoral girdle was something you got from Victoria's Secret, but she explained it is a set of muscles that hold the shoulders together. I mentioned it in passing, but Micheal Bogoger, legendary in cyberspace as Doryman, wanted further and better particulars, as lawyers say.
Are you going to share this new rowing technique with us? We want to go fast too!
Well, Michael, here is the griff from Julia and husband Steve, who knows all there is to know about technique:
The muscle that lifts the shoulders to the ears is the 'trapezius' - this acts as a fixator for the 'latissimus dorsii' (agonist) and 'anterior deltoid' (synergist) in the work phase of the stroke.
The reason for not lifting the shoulders up (in vertical motion towards ears) at the beginning of the stroke is, that it restricts the range of movement and does not allow the elbows and shoulders to pass behind the bodyline at the finish of the stroke, ending up with a 'hunched' body position over the handles. More relaxed shoulders also improve use of body weight while working the blade in the water.
Since then I have been trying to lower the shoulders at the catch and it really does work - it feels as if you are doing much less work.
And doing less work has been my life's objective.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Simbo at Barton Turf

Simbo the One Sheet Wonder went to the HBBR event on Barton Broad on the top of the car. I took her round the island formed by the channels to Barton Staithe to test out the new, higher rowlock position and it worked really well. I had also bought a pair of 6ft straight oars on eBay the week before and they were perfect for the little boat.
I left Simbo on the staithe with an open invitation for anyone to use her, and here is Gavin Atkin giving her a workout. Gavin's son Ewan is rowing the new Ella skiff in the background.
Thanks to Chris Perkins for the picture - and there are lots more at the HBBR website.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

First Ella hits the water

Ella, Gavin and Norman with Ella.
It's not often you get the chance to snap a boat with its builder, designer and the girl it's named after all in one shot, but here is Norman Fuller, Gavin Atkin and his daughter Ella with Ella, the latest rowing skiff from Gavin's drawing board.
Norman puts a bit of power on.
Ella is a simple flattie, 12ft long and slim, with flotation chambers at both ends and in the middle, which doubles as a rowing thwart. She is Norman's first boat and won't be the last, he says.
Ella was launched at Barton Turf with the HBBR, and proved to be a nice little mover despite the characteristic turbulence behind the big flat transom. On the other hand, the big flat transom gives a lot of buoyancy at the stern which was very handy when I was sitting in it.  Bet the bow went up a good deal, though.
The bow is very fine to minimise the slapping of waves on the flat bottom. The combination of the upright stem and nice sheer makes for an attractive boat. And the plans are FREE - click here to download.
 Easy does it....Ella rows out.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

HBBR in the Broads

The most perilous part of small boating isn't facing mountainous seas or screaming tornadoes, it's getting in and out of the boat. In the Broads, where all the staithes are designed for cabin cruisers and are about a mile high, it is particularly difficult for small boats. How kayakers do it at all I cannot imagine.
Tim O'Connor found this to his cost when he tried to leap athletically off the bow of his Acorn skiff Ardilla at Neatishead Staithe on Sunday. The staithe was rather high and the deck is rather small, and he ended up between boats.
Did we drop everything and go to the assistance of a distressed mariner and friend? You must be joking - those of us who weren't doubled over laughing reached for our cameras:
Which is why the next bit is a deadly secret. Don't tell this to anybody, least of all a member of the HBBR and especially not Tim.
On the Monday I rowed down the River Ant to How Hill, where there is a great nature reserve and a small preserved marshman's cottage. Here, the staithe is like the great north face of the Eiger. Getting out was no problem, but getting in....oh dear. I did the classic clinging to bank thing as the boat headed for midstream. Golly it was cold.
Luckily for me, the boats either side consisted of the Broads yacht Hiawatha and a family on a cruiser who proved to be most of the crew of the Tynemouth lifeboat.
They hauled me onto Hiawatha's elegant counter stern where I oozed horribly, then took me to the cruiser where they gave me a cup of coffee, a shower and the opportunity to squeeze my clothes out. They even microwaved my socks. They were wonderfully hospitable and my sincere thanks go to them.
I rowed back briskly to avoid freezing up, and even got a bit of a sweat on.
So hooray for Tynemouth RNLI, and if you would like to make a generous contribution to their sterling work even when off duty and on their hols, click here. After all, if you make a habit of stepping into and out of small boats, you never know when you might need them.