Friday, 30 September 2011

Smallest Ocean Rowing Boat?

Master Boatbuilder and Photographer Chris Perkins got a surprise visit from an American oarsman a few weeks ago, wanting to see the secret project (teaser pic right).
His visitor, Chris Duff, had just been forced to abandon a row from Scotland to Iceland in a 19ft rowing skiff bearing a strong resemblance to my own Sprite skiff, Snarleyow.
In fact, it is based on a Merry Wherry Two, a stitch and glue kit made by Wayland Marine in Washington State. Chris added cabins front and rear to make a sort of miniature version of the thing Matt Craughwell plans to row the Indian Ocean in.
Now, I am a huge admirer of the seaworthiness of my Sprite, but I really wouldn't fancy having to sleep in that forecabin in the open ocean. Chris is not totally mad, however, as he did not attempt his ocean crossing in the challenging weather of this summer despite being clearly psyched up for it. His fascinating reports are here (including the great pic by Ken Nicol).
The boat is now hanging in the roof of a cowshed near Ullapool awaiting better weather next year.
At Wayland Marine, however, the idea of an ocean-going skiff has taken root, and they are offering a kit of a similar sort of thing, called the Merry Expedition, with a snug cabin at the front, a storage cabin at the back and a self-bailing cockpit for good measure. It will be interesting to see if the idea takes off.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Double Ender Down Under

I would never dare alter a design by someone clearly much more capable, experienced and talented than I am, especially when that person is John Welsford, boat designer supreme. But Peter Murton in Nelson, New Zealand, has bravely done just that.
He decided John's elegant rowing boat Joansa would make an even more elegant double ender, so he simply went ahead and built it. He writes: 
"I just used the bow sections of John's drawings. The centre frame was the center of the boat. Next time I would make two centre frames and space them 600mm apart so you end up with a boat about 5.3m long. She is a lot lighter without the transom at about 75lb and still rows very well.
Our next boat is going to be a double ended Whitehall, 17ft long with sliding seat and outriggers."
The result is a lovely looking boat, and it probably goes a bit faster without the transom as well as being lighter.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Rowing in Portugal

So Anders Eliasson took his new Thames skiff over the border to Portugal for a short holiday. As promised, he reports:
Lago Alqueva is an artificial lake in Portugal. Its in the south in the Alentejo province and part of the lake is on the border with Spain. It’s the biggest artificial lake in Western Europe and its more than 80km (50 miles) long. The region is also considered to be the least populated part of western Europe.I was there for 4 days with my 12´ Selway-Fisher Thames skiff and my dog, rowing some 3 to 4 hours a day.The place was a very pleasant surprise. It's late summer here and everything is very dry, but the feeling was fresh and lush. The water is not clear but it seems to be very clean with a lot of plants and fish. The whole zone is pretty deserted and accomodation is scarce. No campsite, very few hotels or B&Bs. I slept in the back of my Ford Focus van and enjoyed the loneliness. That was what I was looking for.I could imagine that the lake would be a really great place to do some serious dinghy cruising. There are an endless amount of small islands and hidden bays where you can camp wild. There´s no need for sleeping in the boat. The weather was warm but not overly hot, a maximum of some 32 degrees celsius. Most days there were a stable wind of some 6 to10 knots, in the afternoon a little stronger and in the morning less.The little skiff did great. Its not the ultimate rowing machine. Its too short and fat for that (12 x 3´8) but it is a dedicated rowing craft and you reach max hull speed with little effort. I´m looking forward to going back. Its only a two hours drive from where I live.
Thanks Anders - the HBBR folk have been discussing more far-flung cruising grounds and I think this one is now on my personal list.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Southampton Boat Show footnote

The Southampton Boat Show coops most of the nice boats up in a fenced-off ghetto accessed only over a bridge, to isolate them from the Sunseekers. 
This year, Stirling & Son showed their lovely and glowing traditionally-built, real wood rowing boat (above). You can see why Princess wouldn't want it next to their stand, it would show their plastic monsters up rotten.
Ian Thomson of Nestaway Boats was showing his new Trio 16, a big boat that splits into three to fit in the back of a Focus estate. His new outriggers were fitted, a robust design that bolts onto the gunwale rather neatly (right).
Craftsman Craft had on display a 16ft 'yachtsman's launch', which I was a little tempted by - just the thing for pottering about the Solent. 
I particularly liked the plaque below the gunwale, placed there solely to get round the provisions of the Recreational Craft Directive. I wish other Euro-nonsenses were as easy to circumvent.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bursledon Gigs at the Great River Race

Bursledon Gigs from the River Hamble were out in force at the GRR, with boats from Hamble River Rowing and the Sea Scouts, who won in most of the Scouts classes. Smartest boat on the river was Mistress, the Hand family gig.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

GRR injustice

Starting at number 14 at the Great River Race was Kingfisher, an Iain Oughtred-designed Acorn skiff rowed by Hamble-based father-and-son team Philip and Ben and crewed by a couple of lads from their sailing club. Here is Ben with support crew at the Millwall slipway before the race.
The Meakins led the field until close to the finishing line, when they came up against the Richmond half-tide lock, a barrier that maintains water levels upstream at low tide. There they were prevented from going further by a PLA official until the barrier was fully raised, delaying them for about five minutes.
"We were spitting!" Philip writes, with British understatement. "It seemed like we were waiting for ages but I gather we were timed at 4.5mts ahead of Maggie [a previous race winner starting at number 20] at Hammersmith (ie 1/2mt faster than the starting gap). Maggie arrived at the lock about 30 seconds before they let us through."
A few minutes after their arrival, a Celtic longboat and two dragon boats came up and also had to wait a while. Of course, immediately the way was open they stormed to the finish.
Kingfisher eventually came in 9th and Maggie 11th.
You can see the event unrolling on the Great River Race's satellite tracking page, though it isn't easy as the display software is a bit rubbish, and you can't see the lock because the map only shows road bridges.
This is clearly grossly unfair - small boats like Kingfisher and Maggie have no reserves of speed to draw on if they lose time in this way. It is entirely possible that Kingfisher was robbed of the trophy.
This is not a one-off problem either - apparently it has happened before.
The raw GPS data should enable the organisers to assess a new time for Kingfisher and Maggie with some exactness and should do so immediately.
This is a problem that needs to be addressed for future years.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Great River Race Results

Launching at Millwall
The preliminary results are in and, while not wishing to brag HELL NO! None of that English Classic Yacht reticence here! Gladys was AWESOME!
Not only did we retain both the Veterans over-60 and Fastest Clayton skiff cups, we cut five minutes off last year's time and came 8th in the Veterans over-40 class, which means we beat 73 boats crewed by people twenty years our junior! Take that, puppies!
AND we came 13th in the Four-oared boat class, which includes no fewer than 169 boats.
Well rowed Geoff Shilling, Chris Bream, Chris Penfold and Mike Gilbert (from stern, and that's me at No2). And thanks to Passenger 1st Class Jake Gilbert for uncomplainingly putting up with the wind and rain, and unwrapping food items for his dad and me.
Coxwain Geoff Shilling gives a passing dragon boat a few words of encouragement and advice

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Great River Race

What a great event the Great River Race is. Everyone goes out to have a good time in a spirit of friendly rivalry (although this frays round the edges a bit when boats jostle for position on the water). It's great the way everyone mucks in to get everyone's boats in and out of the water.
The water was incredibly rough in the Lower Pool, where a westerly wind came in against the tide, and in the Upper Pool it started to rain hard and long. We were completely soaked, but the days training in the challenging conditions of Langstone Harbour stood us in good stead and Gladys clipped roughly five minutes off last year's time of 3hrs. So victory was ours! Fastest old beardies on the Thames! And the fastest Clayton skiff too.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Great River Race

It's the Great River Race in London today. I'll be rowing with Langstone Cutters in Gladys. Also out are the Solent galley Bembridge, Clayton skiff Mabel and Salter skiff 15 Seconds. So if you are in London this afternoon, get on a bridge and cheer us on our way!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Rowing for Pain

To Soton for the Boat Show. Hidden away in the fleet of white plastic stuff was this three-seat ocean rowing boat, manned by Matt Craughwell, an affable loony.
Actually, he is very pleasant and articulate and clearly pretty damned fit, not mad at all. Until he tells you that next year he and five other bedlamites are going to row from Australia to Africa 'because nobody has done it before' you don't realise how deeply bonkers he is.
He does know he is insane, but justifies it on the grounds that 'sometimes I wake up for the early shift and row through a sunrise, and then I know why I do it."
Which seems reasonable.
Details of Matt and his Indian Ocean expedition are here.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Chester Yawl in New Hampshire

Malcolm Forbes lives in southern New Hampshire, one of the lovely places of the world with its woods, lakes and rocky coast, so clearly he needs a rowing boat. Back in May he found what he wanted at the Chesapeake Light Craft Okoume Festival when he spotted the Chester Yawl. In fact, he was so taken with it he bought the kit even before he got a chance to row the demo boat - 'buy before you try' isn't the usual advice.
Malcolm writes:
It has taken me three months to get her into the water. Several names for the yawl are under active consideration, one to be selected after the "sea trials" are complete. I do have favorites, one in particular which would look well on the transom in Celtic lettering, is appropriate in my mind, but does not quite roll off my tongue. I have always had trouble coming up with names - the worst case was when the hospital told us that unless we named our newborn baby, they wouldn't let us take her home.
I live near several nice lakes and the Merrimack River, all suitable for rowing. The ocean is about an hour's drive away, ranging from Boston to the south and Portsmouth to the north. All in all, I have plenty of opportunities. Now I need to find a good spot for a cruise in the Yawl, with shoreside camping. In the meantime I need to row as much as possible before winter closes in on us in order to get in shape for next summer (where did this summer go?)
What a nice job. The boat has lots of features I like, such as the movable rowing seat. This means it can be taken right out of the way if you want to use the middle of the boat for gear, and can be adjusted as well as the stretcher so the rowlocks are in exactly the right position for a good swing. I noticed only the other day that despite my long arms I don't reach as far forwards as others in the crew, and realised that it is because even with the stretchers in the most forward position I am sitting right on the back of the thwart. Everyone else sits right at the front of their thwart. Lack of enough adjustment is a big pain for rowers of average height such as myself (6ft 5in).
Malcolm has created a really nice photostream on Flickr showing the construction process.
And I love his sun hat. Where did you get it, Malcolm?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A Thames skiff built by a Dane in Spain

Anders Eliasson built this fabulous 12ft Thames Skiff to Selway Fisher's design in an astonishing four months, launching it last month in a lake near his home in Spain.
But he is a professional woodworker, albeit a maker of guitars for flamenco rather than a boatbuilder. His expertise in guitar construction came in handy when he needed to pull the stem on while the epoxy set.
He used a very simple technique that none of the boatbuilders seem to have acquired - a sort of cats cradle to hold it in. But apparently it is centuries old in the guitar business.
Anders also provided the quote of the year with: "Life is empty without a hull. A hull means dreaming, possibilities."
Anders is now off on holiday to southern Portugal, taking his new skiff for use on nearby waters. He has promised a report.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Pathfinder rows backwards

Rowing for Pleasure has exclusive pictures of Colin Cumming's new Pathfinder 3, featuring a completely novel 'rowing backwards' arrangement.
Rowing a sailing boat involves compromises, because the masts, centreboard and fore and aft buoyancy/dry storage compartments mean that legroom and weight distribution are poor. In one of those lightbulb moments, Colin realised that a double-ender doesn't have to be rowed 'forwards' - it can rowed 'backwards' just as fast.
The new arrangement releases room for both crew to get the most out of the oars. A single-hander can row the boat conventionally, sitting on the forward thwart and using the aft pair of rowlocks.
The only drawback is the need to take the rudder out to row. Getting the rudder back in will involve squirming round the mizzen mast over the very small stern deck and no transom, which will not be an enticing prospect in a stiff breeze on exposed water.
Pathfinder 3 recently went through some proving trials and was found to sail fast in light airs but with plenty of reserve stability for when the wind picks up. The narrow beam at the waterline meant she rows "very smartly indeed" according to Colin, and the broad beam at the gunwale (6ft) means that full-size oars can be used. Interestingly the theoretical advantage of the underwater hull shape for rowing backwards was seen in practice. Colin, rowing single handed, tried both directions and found her to be easier and faster stern first. 
Pathfinder 3 gives a large volume boat for very low material outlay – she used 5 sheets of 6mm Robbins elite for the Hull and bulkheads, one sheet of 9mm for the CB case and thwarts with offcuts used for the rudder, one sheet of Robbins 4mm super elite for the side decks and tank decks. A couple of planks of utile were ripped up for the solid timber trims, mainly the wide (50mm) outwales and CB case framing . She can be lifted by two people – which isn’t bad for a boat of this size.She is already entered for SailCaledonia 2012 - her performance will be watched with interest.