Sunday, 30 January 2011


One of the annoying things about GPS and satellite tracking software such as Sports Tracker is that they insist on recording the height above sea level, and most GPS units are crap at recording height. You might as well take a barometer.
The track of our row down the Arun yesterday, recorded on a Nokia E71 phone, shows us going up and down like a fiddler's elbow, as John Lockwood wrote to point out:
Good afternoon Chris,              
As a regular browser of "Rowing for Pleasure" I was intrigued by the technical device recording your trip.  As you know technology and John are rarely seen in the same paragraph so please treat the following with the disdain it deserves!
It was  the remarkable changes in altitude which caught my imagination particularly on a river. Just after mile 10 you appear to have met a 40-odd foot "Stopper Hole". I bet you were pleased to have those wash boards on the bow, just like the beach launched double enders from Staithes & Redcar (except they often have them on the stern to deal with  following waves but why let accuracy spoil a good story?). 
A little later the speed dropped right off, was that exhaustion from rowing `uphill` to get out of the afore-mentioned 40 ft hole?
Enough of my silliness, I do envy you the opportunities you get to go afloat.  I am going to be lucky to make close acquaintance with water much before Barton Turf.
Keep up the reports, they make interesting diversions for the `landlocked`. I do, at times follow other blogs including Doryman and Alex & Taru The World Tour.  Now some of the photography is special:


One of the clever things about Sports Tracker is that it links the photos to the track, so if you put your cursor on the graph at the point where the speed drops to zero, you will discover where we were.
I'm a big fan of Doryman, too. His latest post is about a community project for a boat shed - lovely.
I'm going to be following Alex and Taru now. I have never seen the point of ocean cruising before, but suddenly......

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Row down the River Arun

A brilliant row down the River Arun today, covering a stretch I haven't been on before. Chris Waite and his self-designed skiff Octavia were waiting at the bridge at Pulborough when Damian Grounds and I arrived towing 15 Seconds, a GRP Salter Skiff kindly lent by Mike Gilbert and Ian Maclennan, who keep it at the Langstone Cutters boat park.
We started off as a double scull, but with me at the front the bow was practically underwater so we changed over to one sculling in the bow seat and the other steering at the stern. 15 Seconds has a superbly comfortable passenger seat. If it had a heater and a bar it would be the perfectest cox's accommodation ever.
The Arun is tidal for most of its navigable length, about 18 miles, and the top of the tide at Pulborough is about five hours behind high tide at Littlehampton where it debouches into the Channel. The current can be strong on the ebb, up to 5 knots, so it is a good idea to set out before the current builds up.
Close to Arundel we stopped at the famous Black Rabbit pub with its lovely view of Arundel Castle, seat of the Duke of Norfolk.
Then we pulled out at the new slipway of the Arundel Boat Club, funded rather generously by the Duke.
The satellite track and more pics are here.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Moonlight rowing in Argentina

Alberto Villa of the Tigre City Rowing Club in Argentina has sent a video showing a moonlight row on the delta. It looks idyllic.
In England, we rarely get the chance to row in the dark. In summer, sundown is so late that any evening row is always in the dusk. In winter, it is too cold to row after dark. In the tropics, the night falls so early and it is so hot, a moonlit row becomes a very practical and attractive proposition.
The video is on Alberto's blog Remo de travesía. For those of you whose Spanish is 'rusty', like me, I attach a rough translation (thanks, Google Translate!).

The members of the Tigre City Rowing Club, Buenos Aires, Argentina, have continued the local tradition of paddling in the light of the moon, especially the full moon, and a couple of witnesses who documented the ride sent us pictures to share with you.
Here is a short video that one of the guests shot at the launch [Thanks Alex!] and a prior photo [thanks AAV]. The images show the launch of a boat and waiting for another off the ramp on the Rio Tigre club on Friday January 21, 2011.
In the picture the moments before the launch of some boats and the preparation of others, safety is always important but the risk increases at night, but the moon is full and the sky is clear, and the river is smooth.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Rowing in a cross chop

 Lots of advice has come in for Richard Raskin, who wants to get the best boat for rowing through the cross chop of Long Island Sound. Of course, there are as many opinions as there are rowers and no absolute conclusion can be reached. My advice, for what it's worth, is to borrow as many boats as you can and row them out. Eventually, one will stand out as the right one for you.
The photo above is the Chester Yawl from Chesapeake Light Craft, whose products get several mentions. I chose it simply because I love pictures of families on the water. And that dog is just great.
First to write was Bill Meier:
I've been enjoying your blog immensely. Thank you for showing us the wonderful variety of rowing craft and clubs around the world. It's especially welcome on these snowy, wintry New England days.
Richard Raskin's note struck a chord with me. I've also been thinking about open water rowing design alternatives and I would love to have a more extended discussion with him.
I grew up boating on LI Sound but now I row in the Mystic, CT area in both sliding seat craft and traditional fixed seat boats. In less protected waters I row a 14ft peapod that I built last winter. It's heavy and rather slow but it powers through a considerable chop with ease and, as you say, it allows me to move around the boat without fear of going for an unexpected swim. It also tracks well unless there is a strong crosswind. With a 20kt crosswind, you basically row with one oar. The additional freeboard of a traditional boat is welcome in that it keeps me dry on a rough day but it does come at a price when the wind kicks up. I feel comfortable going almost anywhere along the coast in this boat but, at an average speed of 3kts, my range is limited. I'm also fortunate that I can keep it at my rowing club. It's too heavy and beamy to transport easily.
Maas Aero (pic from Adirondack Rowing)
In protected waters I row a Maas 24. The boat can handle open water conditions but I can't. I find that the 39-lb hull bounces around in a chop and the relatively narrow (20-in) beam is a somewhat precarious platform when a large boat wake comes at me from the side. Having said that, a number of the more experienced scullers I know have rowed this boat in open water and have loved it. I hope to improve my open water rowing technique this season in both the Maas 24 and the more stable Maas Aero. I prefer both of these boats to the Alden ocean shells because of the reduced freeboard (windage) and the improved tracking. They are also considerably faster, which is fun! One downside is that you can't take them out until the water warms up. Aldens can be rowed all year around if you pick your days.
I also love the look of a Whitehall design and during this off-season I've been looking at the pulling boat Liz (modified for glued-lap construction) and the Chesapeake Small Craft Annapolis Wherry as possibilities for both fixed-seat and sliding-seat rowing here in Fishers Island Sound. I would be inclined to build rather than buy but Richard might want to check out the RowableClassics website and in the Row2k classifieds to see what's available.
Best Regards,
Bill Meier
Peter is another CLC fan, and invites Richard to have a go:
Howdy - I recently built a Chester Yawl (from a CLC kit) and row it regularly in Raritan Bay. She is sturdy, handsome, quick and can handle some serious chop with aplomb. I row it both as a fixed ( 7.5' oars on gunwale) and as a sliding seat (Piantedosi row wing w/9.5' sculls). 15' x 42" & about 100 lbs, she can row all day at a good pace. Or with room for gear, do some touring as I did last fall down the Hudson (or a short part of it...).
You are most welcome to come and look her over & try her out - really no problem. I keep it at my boat club on the south shore of Staten Island. Let me know- I can post you some pics.
Brandon writes to recommend the unusual sliding seat arrangement in the Gig Harbor Boats Melonseed:

Dave, of Gig Harbor Boats, came up with a sliding seat arrangement that I really like. It is simple and tough. The great thing is that if you want it to stay put, you just put a pin through the rail and the seat. Suddenly you have a fixed-seat craft.
He makes a couple of nice rowing boats that may be just right for Richard - the New England Dory or his version of the Whitehall.
The Melonseed and Jersey Skiff (which are variations on the same boat) could work too, and would accommodate another rower, should occasion permit.
Of course a faering would be the ultimate rowing boat for rough water.
Clint Chase puts in a plug for his Drake:

 I do a lot of rowing in chop and understand his need for a boat that can handle it. The important thing I find in these conditions is something with some secondary stability but not a flat bottom like a dory....a V-shape that can also do well when rowing into that chop, a hull shape that peels away the waves. Wetted surface may rise, but you can keep a short, quick stroke (high rating) and keep the boat speed up and let her do her thing. This is what I designed Drake for and, I am biased, but must say she exceeded my expectations.
Rick Thomson, who has designed and built a sliding seat for his Welsford Walkabout, says:
Hello Chris,
I have to disagree with you (and John Welsford) again on the sliding seat. Even with our slower recreational boats, a sliding seat lets you use different muscles. It can help a lot on long rows - my back is just not that strong.
I agree with wide spaced footrests for bracing, and do not like the usual bum-numbing racing seats - no reason to be uncomfortable whether sliding or fixed.
All the best,
Well Richard, this is all a bit contradictory and confusing but I hope it helps.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Rowing in a cross chop

Richard Raskin has emailed with a problem:
I am looking to purchase a used sliding seat boat. I want it capable of going on Long Island Sound with cross chop. I had a Alden Ocean double for many years but it could not handle the cross waves.
Is there a place/magazine where rowers advertise used boats for sale?
Right now I think I would like a Whitehall 14 Solo but I am not really sure.
I rather like the Whitehall 14 Solo, but I wonder if you might be better off with a fixed seat boat. A fixed thwart means you can spread your feet and brace yourself to pull into cross waves.
Fixed seat rowing has a lot to offer if you are not racing. Over longer distances, the advantages of sliding seats diminish because you must row aerobically and at those lower power levels you will be pushing the boat towards its hull speed anyway.
And having a fixed thwart means it is much easier to move around the boat when you stop for a drink, a rest and a chance to take the weight off your bum every so often.
Is there anyone in the Long Island Sound area who can point Richard to suitable boats?
My new boat, currently under construction, will now have fixed thwarts. Here's another teaser pic ------->

Saturday, 22 January 2011


I have finally had to admit I am addicted. I went out at the crack of dawn this morning to help get Langstone Cutters' Solent galley Bembridge ready for a visiting club to train on (they are rowing from London to Paris and back again, bless their little cotton socks) and of course they had a spare seat and of course I went out with them. Admittedly I coxed for a while so I didn't row the whole 8 miles but it was a good trip.
When we got back Langstone Cutters were setting out for a Saturday row in Mabel and Millie. I had signed up but was given the perfect excuse for going home because without me they could all squeeze into one boat instead of taking two. Of course I went anyway.
So I rowed 18 miles today and I am cream crackered. If you can't understand that expression, google it because I am too tired to bother explaining. Bed now.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

North West Passage by skiff

Christine, Damian and I took the Teifi skiff Millie through the North West Passage today.
Not the one in the Arctic, the channel round the back of North Binness Island in Langstone Harbour, but it was an exploration nevertheless because we had been informed it was much too narrow.
So we edged gingerly through at high spring tide and it was fine. Then we went to the pavender, and that was exploring new ground too because no-one in Langstone Cutters Rowing Club had been to the Great Salterns Mansion by water before. We found an iron ladder set into the harbour wall, tied the boat to it and went for a quick Guinness before heading back. You can see an interactive GPS track with pictures at Sports Tracker.
Best of all, though, was skiving off work on a Wednesday and being rewarded with a clear blue sky and calm water after ten days of wind, rain and general horribleness.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Adirondack Guide Boat racing

Mark Anderson wrote to say he enjoys Rowing for Pleasure, which is good, and to draw my attention to the lovely Adirondack Guide Boats he produces at Oarsman Boats in upstate New York. He calls them 'furniture that floats' and they are indeed things of beauty.
These are not display items, however. Last year, Beth Burchill of Rochester NY rowed one to second place in the punishing 90 Miler, a three day race over 90 miles of the Adirondacks including five miles of portages (which is why most of the entrants are in canoes). 'Brutal', is Mark's description and I certainly wouldn't disagree.
The route of the 90 Miler runs through the stunning scenery of the Adirondacks from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. There are lots more pictures at the race website.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

More Mirage drive boating

Mack Horton in Melbourne has sent a link to a video of his double Hobie Mirage drive powered boat Strider beetling around Victoria Harbour. What I really like about this is that he is peddling round the backs of pontoons and under gangways along strips of water too narrow to row. It looks like great fun. Look out for the admiring glances of onlookers!
More videos here.
Mack built Strider at the Wooden Boat Centre, which builds boats and offers facilities for people to build their own. I wish there was a place like that in Chichester Harbour. I need it desparately.

Friday, 14 January 2011

A Mirage drive boat on Chesapeake Bay

The Hobie Mirage drive with its strange turtle fins is slowly gaining a following among human powered boat builders.
Don Polakovics has adapted Paul Gartside's propeller-driven design, Blue Skies, for the Hobie mechanism and it looks pretty good floating on Chesapeake Bay at a sustained speed of 3.5  knots and sprints of up to 6 knots .
Blue Skies was designed for cruising with an auxiliary sail, and Don sleeps and even cooks aboard, something of an achievement in a hull as slim as this.
Judging by the picture, the only thing he hasn't fitted in the cockpit is the kitchen sink. The boat still lacks a name, though, as Don explains:
Hi Chris.
No, she doesn't really have a name yet. My paddling partners voted on Patuxent Queen (we paddle mostly on the Patuxent River....war of 1812 fame....but no grudge), which was a whole lot better than the initial proposal of "Hippo". Compared to a normal sea kayak, she is quite large.
So far the boat has worked well for camping (five nights total, three full days, two nights without touching land). The "so far" part is because I've yet to spend a rainy day and night aboard. The cockpit is quite roomy for cooking, dressing, lounging etc. with the Mirage drive removed and the drive well cover in place.
At night I pull the baggage out of the sleeping compartment and put it in the cockpit and then move into the berth. The sleeping compartment is very comfortable. (Probably too comfortable. Much temptation to take a little nap, when I should be exercising.) With a 40 in beam, the boat is wide enough to sleep in most any position, including legs curled.
The open hatch provides a great view of the sky. I've never felt claustrophobic, but yes, I get the coffin comment a lot when people see the boat. The only distraction I've had from good sleep was when I anchored in a place with a little too much fetch and was kept awake by the waves slapping the hull a couple inches from my ear.....and then there was that time some critter kept scratching at the hull.
Speed? Flat water, loaded for a week, she cruises an honest 3.5 knots (quite slow by your rowing standards). Overall daily average (30 nm), including rest breaks, is 3.2. I can get bursts over 6 knots, flat water. With a down wind sail (windpaddle), she'll hold mid 5's, and poke into the 6's, but doesn't seem to be inclined to go any faster. Even at 20 ft., she's portly by kayak standards. The boat was built with a mast step and a dagger board to take the place of the Mirage drive, but I haven't built a real sail for her yet.
Thanks Don! More pictures of this interesting boat are here.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Sound advice for winning races

I swore I would never watch Three Smartypants Comics Make Snarky Remarks for a Whole Hour of My Time ever again, but I have a cold and am too weak to do anything but watch the telly and tonight there was nothing, nothing else on. And although I still wouldn't recommend you watch the whole thing, the glory of the BBC iPlayer is that you can skip the longeurs and watch the stunning footage of a Fife-designed yacht and a lovely victualling inshore craft or VIC (incorrectly described as a Clyde puffer).
But the highlight was a rowing race in a couple of nice clinker dinghies in which Griff Rhys-Jones ruthlessly demolished a 17 year old called Angus.
He then called Angus over and got him to lift the bow of his boat. He had gone down beforehand to ensure that he had the lightest boat. Cunning - that's how age beats inexperience.
The race is in Episode 1 so I'm afraid you only have a couple of days to watch it. And apologies to non-UK residents who can't get to watch it at all (but it was paid for out of our license fee after all).

Sunday, 9 January 2011

HBBR meets at Dell Quay

A small, exclusive sub-section of the Home Built Boat Rally gathered at Dell Quay today. It would have been less exclusive, but a range of conditions from man-flu to broken car springs prevented a large number of members (3) from getting to Chichester Harbour.
It was a great day. The weather was crisp with blue skies and a moderate breeze. First on the water was George Isted with his beautifully made Pup (the Practical Boat Owner design).
Then Chris Waite, boat innovator supreme, took his auto-yuloh out, mounted on the transom of his tender Wishes Were.
There are many forward-facing rowing systems out there, but most are either too complex or not very effective or both. Chris's system relies, as most of his inventions do, on string, but it shows huge promise judging by the speed he was  making against wind and tide in a short, fat boat. I particularly like the yuloh itself, laminated from contrasting woods.
The pedals pull the yuloh from side to side, automatically adjusting the blade to the correct pitch. Steering is done by pedalling more vigorously on the outside foot, but Chris is working on a design that would mount the yuloh on a rudder. The rudder would give instant control to the rower, and its motion would counteract the tendency of the oar to fishtail.
The next step is to install the auto yuloh on Octavia, Chris's skiff. Being longer, higher speeds should be attainable.
So the mechanism was removed from Wishes Were, which was promptly sold to Sarah for paddling round Chichester Harbour in the conventional facing-the-wrong-way manner.
To get a better idea of how well the auto-yuloh works, here is a short video:

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Rowing in Argentina (and Uruguay)

Prompted by Robert Ayliffe's pictures of rowing in the congested waterways of the Tigre Delta near Buenos Aires, Pablo Escandarani sent this great set of pictures of an expedition he and two friends did a couple of years back in a lovely wooden skiff. He writes:
Chis. I have seen your article about rowing in Argentina. This is a gift for you. Our Odyssey to Uruguay (in five days, 160km rowed).
Best Regards,
Pablo Escandarani.
That's twenty miles a day - well done, guys! Here is a slideshow of their epic trip:
They started in the Sarmiento River and braved the river buses in the Delta and the monster ships in the Parana and Uruguay rivers to row to Carmelo in Uruguay.
They returned via the River Plate (I had always assumed that we had simply anglicised the Spanish Rio de la Plata, but apparently it means 'River of Silver', and plate was the Tudor word for silver so it is actually a proper translation).
They battled 100 degF (38 degC) temperatures and blazing sun - one of them got a fever and had to cox beneath an improvised tent.
The map shows the route through the maze of channels that take the Parana River to the sea. What a journey - thanks, Pablo.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Across the Solent

Every New Year Henley Whalers have what they rather cheekily call an Icebreaker row across the Solent, which is never known to freeze. In fact, this year they have had to chop their American Whaleboat Molly out of the ice at her mooring on the Thames but the Solent remains iceberg-free.
Langstone Cutters joined them in Gladys, our Clayton Skiff. We launched at Lee-on-the-Solent and Molly at Calshot.
We took a lot of photos of this vessel in the hope that our families would be impressed by the perils we ran in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, but it is so obviously at anchor I don't suppose anyone was fooled.
It was a beautiful day, calm and almost windless, so we had the water pretty much to ourselves. Gladys tied up to the Trinity Landing pontoon and Molly at Town Quay, the crews meeting at the Union Inn where we had a natter over beer and lunch.
Then back to Lee. A bit of a scare when we found that the tide was so low Gladys could not get to the end of the slipway, but one of the great features of Lee is that there is a slipway every few yards along Marine Parade so we simply moved along to the next one and hauled out without difficulty as the sun began to go down. A fabulous start to the year - many thanks to Molly's owner Geoff Probert and the rest of Molly's crew.