Saturday, 30 June 2012

Time and Tide

The train taking me to London the other day was timed slightly too early for my meeting, so I had quarter of an hour to kill on the way. Which I spent watching the Thames barge May passing through the lock from St Katharine's Dock into the river. It made my day.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Virus Yole

I had a play with a Virus Yole sliding seat skiff last Sunday, after club rowing. It is the double scull version, which can also be used as a single with its ingenious removable riggers and seat rails that extend the whole length of the boat.
The rotomoulded hull is very stable and robust, and self-bailing thanks to the lack of a transom so all you have to do is keep the speed up and all the water runs out the back.
Unfortunately, this also means that when you move forward on the slide (ie backwards on the boat) the stern dips and water rushes back into the boat, which then comes to a halt.
The aluminium oars don't help either, but even with a nice pair of wooden Macons she was a pig to row.
Marcus and Christine Ball took her out too and didn't seem to be very impressed - the picture shows them coming back to land.
I will give the boat one more chance with a pair of full-length carbon fibre Macons that I happen to have.
Meanwhile, here's a picture of the event every father dreads. Darling daughter going to the school prom with some boy. Actually, he seems very nice and is learning Japanese, something I know I don't have the sticktoitiveness or talent to do. But it is a disturbing experience anyway.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Perfect Planning PPPP

Because of the Jubilee Pageant, I had to join the HBBR Thames raid late. My cunning plan was to put in at Eynsham, near Oxford, take the trailer to Beale Park and return by train and bus. I sorted out all the timetables with care, because public transport in rural Britain is a sick joke.
Naturally, I just assumed that I would be able to drive to the lock at Eynsham, sling the boat in the water and pop off.
But the notice at the end of the lane to the lock states that all vehicles must have permission from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in writing. Which I didn't have.
Luckily, I remembered from the last trip that there is a small stream linking the Talbot pub with the river, and some canoeists had used it so it might be large enough for me.
The landlady charmingly gave permission, and a bloke sitting at the end of the bar assured me that there was plenty of room for a small boat as long as I could get under the bridge. Isn't it funny that in any English pub there is always a bloke sitting at the end of the bar with the local knowledge you need?
Snarleyow was eased down some very slippery and uneven wooden stairs to a dodgy pontoon and loaded up. At which point I heard the familiar and welcome voice of Tim O'Connor, who offered to accompany me to Beale in his car and bring me back when I had deposited the trailer. What a star!
And he took these pictures of me getting into the boat with extreme caution and proceeding down a very tight waterway in the rain.
What he didn't capture, thank goodness, was me deciding that it was easier to row down backwards. Not a pretty sight.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


This enviable setup is on the Thames at Burcot, Oxfordshire. It isn't easy to identify the exact boat under the tarp, but it is clearly one of the American-made plastic sliding seat Whitehalls that are increasingly popular on coasts and lakes.
The dock is a great arrangement, keeping the boat out of the water so it stays nice and clean between trips instead of getting an indelible green waterline. The tarp is properly held down on the ground instead of strapped under the boat, which is both easier to attach and prevents water puddling in the cover and stretching it out of shape.
Coincidentally, the latest newsletter from Whitehall Rowing and Sail arrived, with two interesting stories. One is of a guy in New Hampshire who has been rowing his Tango double skiff twice a week for over a year, after being warned by his doctor that his weight (more than 300lb!) was killing him. He doesn't specify how much flab he has discarded but I bet it's a lot.
The other story is of a couple who got married in a lakeside hotel in British Columbia and are pictured rowing in their wedding togs. Awwww.....

Thursday, 21 June 2012

HBBR Thames Raid postscript

Two last pictures to encapsulate how wet, windy and miserable the first day of the Beale Park Thames Boat Show was (or would have been if it hadn't been cancelled).
Above, Jo and John Perry row their Wayfarer in, smiling despite having to wear full foulies in June.
Below, Tony Waller guides Isabella III towards the slipway as the rain really begins to come down.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New Boats at the HBBR Thames Raid (4)

Some boats appear in ever evolving forms at each HBBR event.
Paul Hadley's Millibee started life as a conventionally completed Selway Fisher Lynx14 but has become more of an electric cabin cruiser over the years. Paul has spent a goodish amount of time and effort recently tinkering with an electric outboard (a cheapie trolling motor), batteries, Chinese switchgear for an electric bike and, this year, a huge solar panel which you can just see, side on, covering the cabin.
The arrangement worked well, and Paul rarely had to fire up the petrol outboard. Charging points are gradually spreading along the Thames.
Millibee's evolution has already started afresh since the raid. Paul has taken his jigsaw to the bilge keels and cut the boxes back to the hull, which should improve drag considerably. The next step is to cut the cabin down a bit to reduce windage. Pictures of the process are on the HBBR Forum.
The other boat that had changed considerably since I first saw her was John 'Ratcatcher' Lockwood's amazing TBA, which had lock keepers boggling from Rushey to Goring.
John had added a yard or so to the stern to create a motor well for a second outboard, by the simple process of epoxying on some extra panels and strengthening the join by bolting on a few ginormous baulks of wood.
Then he put a cabin top on the bow by (this is genius) buying a time-expired boat on eBay, sawing it in half, turning the stern upside-down and epoxying it in place - it is the green thing at the front. Imagine it the other way up....
A few lengths of deal he had in his barn, a bag of bolts he was given by a mate years ago and a tarpaulin, and the cockpit tent was complete.
The final touch (more genius) is a seat consisting of a wooden chair with the legs cut down and epoxied to a bit of plywood so they don't go through the hull.
This is my sort of boatbuilding. Simple, quick, cheap and effective. Aesthetics? Bless you - get well soon.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

New Boats at the HBBR Thames Raid (3)

The last time I saw Chris Adeney he was in a 'painting everything that moves green' phase, but his latest boat, a strip-plank Canadian canoe, he has left the wood bright and very nice it looks too. The wood, Western Red Cedar, came from a friend so I suspect it was all from one tree, resulting in a much more consistent colour than you often get. It looks fabulous - no wonder it won the 'Most Professional Looking Boat' prize in the Water Craft Amateur Boat Building Competition.
Behind is Phil Oxborrow in Tonawanda, with Gem the Wonder Dog in the bow.
David Bewick launched Aberrare, an Aber design sailing dinghy by Francois Vivier. Also a lovely job. David says the name was virtually the only acceptable name he could get out of 'Aber' - after all, 'Aberration' isn't a nice name for a boat and she would sulk. Then he discovered that the Latin word 'Aberrare' means 'wander away' and that seemed just right.

Monday, 18 June 2012

New Boats at the HBBR Thames Raid (2)

 You can instantly recognise boats created by some designers, and one of those is Chris Waite. He had two new designs being paddled down the Thames with the HBBR, remarkably, both sporting the curvy single chine shape and rounded bow that have become his trademark.
Pictured above waiting for the lock gates to open is Chris in Polly Wee, a boat designed to fit in his garage and pass between a pair of bollards in the road that leads to the slipway on the River Arun. She is intended to be sailed but also rowed (another reason for the thin hull). Water ballast will be fitted so a decent spread of canvas can be flown. He explains the design process in some detail at the HBBR forum.
Chris also designed Graham Neil's latest sailing canoe, Katie Beardie. KB was first launched at the Tewkesbury meet last year, but has now been fitted with decks and a sailing rig. She now looks absolutely gorgeous, a tribute to Graham's boatbuilding skills. You can read the whole story at his blog, Port-na-Storm.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

New Boats at the HBBR Thames Raid (1)

One of the great points of interest of any UK Home Built Boat Rally is that there is always at least one new boat, and on the Thames Raid there were lots, with many being designed by the builders too.
Here is Tim O'Connor propelling his new self-designed canoe Zelva across the lake at Beale Park using the the elegance and power of a Hobie Mirage flapper drive.
Zelva incorporates a bunch of ideas from Tim's previous boat Wotnext, but enlarged into a luxurious camp-cruiser. The hull is glued clinker, double ended, and steered by a flexible rod attached to a yoke on the rudder.
Both ends are decked to provide a huge amount of stowage and sleeping space. The high-backed slatted seat (amazingly comfortable) is taken from Wotnext, and removes at night to allow a tent to be rigged over the cockpit and the bed laid.
In the travelling configuration, a pair of Tim's patented storage boxes are positioned either side of the seat so everything is to hand. In fact, once set up he doesn't have to get off his buns from departure to arrival as far as I can see.
The workmanship is fabulous, the design is stylishly curvy but entirely practical and Zelva deservedly won the 'most innovative design' prize at Water Craft's Amateur Boat Building Awards.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Update on Rowing Heroes

Chris Duff, the American in Europe, is in the Faroe Islands waiting for a favourable wind for the last leg of his epic row from Scotland to Iceland. Here he is with some Faroese boys who wanted to try his boat. More here.
Lewis Colam, the Brit in America, is heading for New York, set to finish his amazing row up the Intracoastal from Miami soon. More here, and help him raise money for Alzheimer's research here.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Pageant boat on eBay

One of my favourite boats in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant was Jack Charlton, a little clinker dinghy presented by the 1966 World Cup star Jack Charlton to a Tyneside charity. They later disposed of it to the current owner.
I really admired the small boats in the display - they rowed just as far as everyone else with fewer rowers and greater restrictions on speed. But Jack Charlton appealed particularly because of its unique rowing configuration - they could not use the middle rowing station for some reason (either a broken oar or a lost rowlock, I think), so they improvised by putting a couple of people with paddles in their place. They seemed to do alright. Slow, though.
Just a week later, Jack Charlton has been put on eBay. The condition is described as recently revarnished with 'a few minor scratches (arising from the Pageant)'. She is in Henley and you will need at least £800 to buy her.

Monday, 11 June 2012

A Very British Summer (cont.)

First there was a mighty rushing wind. Now we have a great flood.
This is getting worryingly Biblical....

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Venetians on the Thames

After the Royal Row Barge Gloriana, which effortlessly dominated the river with her gilt-carven-bulkitude, the most impressive sight at the Diamond Jubilee Pageant was the pair of huge gondolas manned by Venetians, with accompanying sandolos brought by City Barge in Oxford, a club devoted to the less common forms of rowing.
We came up with them again on Wednesday in Abingdon lock - they were also going to participate in the Beale Park Thames Boat Show. The big gondolas were not there, unfortunately, but it was still a pretty sight to see four sandolos and a gondola in such a quintessential English scene. Several of the Italians were with the party.
The big sandolo (below) was built in Stratford-upon-Avon fairly recently, but the gondola was made in Venice in 1904 for an exhibition in London. Afterwards, she was bought by the romantic novelist Marie Corelli, who lived in Stratford. The sight of her and her companion being rowed on the Avon by her tame gondolier was a notable tourist attraction for years. Corelli (born Mary Mackay) was without doubt one of the worst novelists in history, right down there with Jeffrey Archer, with whom she shares many stylistic traits. Try Thelma - I defy you to get to Chapter Two.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Very British Summer

What a busy week. First there was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant (windy, wet and bitterly cold), then the Home Built Boat Rally raid down the Thames (windy, wet and bitterly cold at intervals) and finally the Beale Park Thames Boat Show (Friday's show cancelled because of ferocious wind, rain and cold). I had a great time.
The top picture shows Phil Oxborrow (Pathfinder canoe Tonawanda), Wayne Oliver (Sandpiper flattie Ever Hopeful) and Chris Adeney (strip-plank canoe) entering the lake at Beale after an invigorating trip down from Wallingford against a stiff headwind (is there any other kind of wind?). An hour or so later, the wind blew up hard and the rain came down in stair rods, blowing the Water Craft tent completely off the ground. The people inside it were alarmed but luckily unhurt.
Here is a picture of the repair crew at work, stiffening the bent tubes with bits of wood held on by zip ties. The editor of Water Craft, Pete Greenfield (left) is assisting by holding his hand in the way.
When I got home later that afternoon, the first thing I saw was the gazebo I had erected over the Bee to facilitate finishing and painting:


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Off to the Upper Thames

I'm off to the Thames again, this time to Eynsham where I will be joining the Home Built Boat Rally for a paddle down the river to Beale Park and the Thames Boat Show.
It became finally clear that the Bee was not going to be finished in time, what with the Pageant and all, so Snarleyow got a bit of a tidy up and is being pressed into service.
It is bloody raining already.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Friday, 1 June 2012

Vogalonga 2012

A group from Langstone Cutters took a pilot gig and a Teifi skiff to Venice for the Vogalonga, the only day in the year that motor boats are banned from the canals and human-power rules. You would think this would restore the calm of La Serenissima for a blessed moment, but the event now attracts more than 1,600 boats from all over Europe.
The mayhem can be judged from this...