Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Laser over the Channel

A bit of a delayed post, but Robin Morris has successfully rowed his converted Laser, the PicoMicroYacht, across the Channel - he is pictured above off Cap Gris Nez. Congratulations, Robin!
Robin has described the crossing in some detail in his blog, which I have read with interest as I am coxing a pilot gig across this weekend, weather permitting.
There is a good deal of discussion of the navigation but luckily I won't have to do any of that as the support boat will set the direction. All I will have to do is pull the correct string and try and keep the bow into the waves.
The row was in aid of Epilepsy Research UK - sponsor him generously!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Torch final report

Joe Lane's photo stream includes this great shot of Gloriana with HMS Belfast, showing how a lot of gold leaf can upstage even a monster warship with ease.
Joe himself was in the Thames Waterman's cutter Trinity Tide, captured passing through Putney by Captain JP.
Adrian Hodge was also in the procession in the Thames skiff Cherub. 
He sent these great pictures of the scene in Teddington Lock: "All very good humoured," he writes, "and an opportunity to meet new people and renew old friendships, amongst whom are the John Disley Syndicate, with the eponymous 1952 Helsinki Olympian and co-founder of the London Marathon aboard."

Friday, 27 July 2012

More Tossing

The Olympic flame was rowed from Hampton Court Palace down the Thames to Tower Bridge today aboard the Queen's Row Barge Gloriana, powered by Olympic oarsmen back to 1948. Unless you count the added boost from the bow thruster, clearly to be seen in this picture.
There is a good report here.
Also in the parade were the Thames skiff Cherub with Adrian Hodge, and Thames Waterman's Cutter Trinity Tide, with Joe Lane. Hope you had a great time guys - it was certainly a lot warmer and drier than the Pageant! And if you have any nice pics, please send them along....

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Teifi Skiff for sale

The Teifi skiff is a remarkable boat, fast, easy to row and very seaworthy. I have grown to love the pair we have at Langstone Cutters, after an initial period going through the pain of regrowing the stomach and back muscles needed to lean back properly when rowing them.
The design is very thought-through, and shown by this article in Duckworks Magazine by their creator Nick Newland of Swallow Boats. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on ergonomics. Home boat designers tend to focus on the lines, aiming for the ultimately fast hull, but in my opinion you can get much more performance simply by making things comfortable for the rowers.
They are not being made any more, but Swallow boats has a hull in the mould that is informally for sale. And Mike Phillips in Wales has a second-hand one on the market.
Mike is a non-rowing angler, so the Teifi's long slim shape is really not suitable for him at all. And he uses an outboard jury-rigged on the stern (horror!).
So he's selling it, on its road trailer, with stretchers and rudder but no blades, for £2,250. If you are interested ring Mike on 01239 820 228 or email mikephillips31@hotmail.com.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Aluminium oars

I've never used aluminium blades much before. Aluminium was at one time going to provide the modern alternative to wood, but the availability of carbon fibre at reasonable prices put paid to that.
Aluminium is still used where the primary needs are economy and indestructibility, as in the Virus Yole we tried out recently (picture right). They are very horrid, both to look at and to row with.
So when Langstone Cutters' new Solent galley Church Ope arrived from Portland on Saturday and we saw the aluminium blades she came with, we reacted with disgust. And alarm - what will our traditionally-minded and plain-speaking boatswain say about them when he gets back from his sailing expedition next week?
But these are very different from the nasty yole scaffolding poles. They were made by Aylings for a start, a respected maker of racing kit. They are tapered nicely and have proper Macon blades. The cavity is filled with foam and they have wooden handles. Oddly, they feel a bit heavier than our wooden oars.
We were all surprised by how effective they are in action. They are very stiff and the Macon blade bites harder in the water than our traditional narrower blades. Nobody has actually said they prefer them to the wooden oars but there was definitely a groundswell of approval...what will our bo'sun say?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Another river conquered by the St Ayles Skiff

The St Ayles Skiff phenomenon has hit the silv'ry Tay, with the launch of Glide. She was built by a team of lads directed by Sam Marshall for the Newburgh Rowing Club.
The girl at stroke is really giving it some welly - look at the bend on that oar. Mind you, I am told the oars are made of larch rather than (ideally) spruce so they must be a bit whippy.
Newburgh used to be home to a fleet of Tay salmon cobles, used to net salmon in the estuary and vigorously raced at a summer regatta.
 In 1996 the riparian owners upstream, keen to protect stocks for their very profitable fly-fishers, bought out the rights and salmon netting at Newburgh ended - the one shown in the picture is operated for tourists by the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company.
The locals wanted to preserve links to the past, however, and built four reproduction salmon cobles in grp to continue the fishermen's annual rowing races. Now the event is a central part of the Newburgh Highland Games (sadly cancelled this year because of the appalling so-called summer).
Now rowing in the St Ayles Skiff looks set to continue year-round - another is already under construction.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Olympic Flame passes through Henley

The Olympic Flame was carried by Sir Steve Redgrave through Henley, but the event was completely upstaged by a streaker.
The Chinese government was so shocked it instantly freed Tibet.

Monday, 16 July 2012

A coastal rowing boat for Norfolk?

Adrian Hodge, stalwart of the Norfolk Skiff Club ("its not that grand...it's really just me and a mate") is looking for a boat for rowing off the coast of North Norfolk. His own skiff, the lovely Cherub (seen here in Chiswick at the start of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant, damp but not disheartened) is not really suitable for offshore. And a club really needs at least four oars.
Adrian writes:
I always enjoy your blog, which I know has a wide and knowledgable following, so can I canvas opinions from among your readers about the "ideal" crewed coastal rowing (or sculling) boat. No doubt you will sing the praises of the Solent Galley and west country men and women will say that nothing compares with a pilot gig, but we are looking for boats for the north Norfolk coast, where there is no tradition of competitive coastal rowing.
For those unfamiliar with the area, there are drying harbours, which are well used by dinghy sailors, who rarely venture over the bar into the North Sea, having plenty of room to play behind the protecting sand dunes.
Recently enthusiastic rowers have founded the Blakeney Rowing Club, which operates from the town sailing club site. But, wouldn't it be good if Wells, Brancaster, Morston and Blakeney could all have crews competing in similar boats. A similar model to the successful Scottish Coastal Rowing Association.
So what we want is a four (or six) man boat that is inexpensive, robust, seaworthy and fun.
Any suggestions?
My idea would be to consult Andrew Wolstenholme, who is based in the Broads and would be very capable of producing a nice-looking four-oared boat. His design for a Workstar cutter would be very suitable if a strictly traditional design was not required, being stable, equipped with modern flotation tanks and probably quite fast:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

More on the Virus Yole

I was wondering if we were a bit harsh on the Virus Yole last week. It was definitely let down by its cheapo aluminium oars with their horrid plastic blades, and the wooden Macons I also tried weren't long enough either. 
So today I tried again with a pair of carbon fibre Macons. They were too long, being out of a standard sculling boat with a span (the distance between the rowlocks) of about 1.6m. The Virus has a span of 1.5m, and it is amazing the difference a mere 100mm can make. The overlap of the handles made sculling practically impossible.
I move the buttons as far together as possible to make the overlap tolerable. The oars were less well balanced as a result, but carbon fibres are so light it made little difference. It was a very clever feature of the Virus riggers that saved the day - the ability to adjust them vertically simply by turning the screw that holds them off the deck - you can see them under each rigger where it turns horizontal over the side of the boat. The screws meant I could adjust the handles to be high on the left hand and low on the right, so my hands passed nicely even when putting power on.
The boat feels a lot faster with the longer blades, but the hobby-horsing of the short hull still brings water in over that blunt transom, wasting lots of energy. She doesn't feel like a fast boat, although once I had got used to her she was getting to be a lot of fun...
....but that may have been that it wasn't raining for the first time in days....

Friday, 6 July 2012


What's the best fun you can have in a Laser? Rowing it, of course!
Robin Morris has proved this conclusively by rigging a Laser Pico with a sliding seat and a pair of carbon fibre cleavers for an epic row along the South Coast.
He started in Kent and has made it in weekend-long bursts of about 15 miles a day to Dartmouth. The picture shows him rowing up the estuary at Salcombe.
The Laser Pico is not the hull I would have thought of first for conversion to rowing, but it is stable, tough and buoyant.
He left the centreboard in, keeping it down when at sea so he can be assured of being able to right the boat in the event of a capsize. Of course, capsizing is highly unlikely as when rowing you stay firmly in the middle of the boat and never ever do anything dangerous like hike out. And there is no great big flappy thing trying to pull the boat over in the first place.
He has a GPS, which is just common sense, but also a clever automatic steering system that keeps him on a constant course relative to the earth, which must save an awful lot of neck-cricking.
This picture shows it at Itchenor in Chichester Harbour, with both masts up and a big flag so even the drunkest motor boat fiend can't miss him.
Mind you, if the Salcombe picture is anything to go by he seems to have built up a bit more confidence as he goes along.
He even tows a tender....
On July 29 Robin plans to row the English Channel in aid of Epilepsy Research UK - sponsor him generously!
See Robin's great blog for more.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Wot, no oars?

One of the commonest remarks about the Queen's rowbarge Gloriana in rowing and boaty blogs is a rather sniffy "I understand she has an engine...." as if that was High Treason or Aggravated Mopery or something.
Of course she has an engine. She needs to be moved from place to place without having to get 18 oarsmen together, for a start, and even with a full crew there are moments when you want a bit of extra oomph - when you are trying to get onto a jetty in a high wind and lots of current on live TV, for example.
And the hidden propulsion is actually rather innovative and interesting.
Two electric motors drive feathering, adjustable-pitch propellers on saildrive legs, providing lots of torque and silent running. The motors are Lynch pancakes, designed and built in Britain by Lees Motors, and the props are Bruntons Autoprops, again designed and made in Britain.
The drive train is even regenerative, so when the barge is moored in a flowing stream the batteries can be recharged. Of course, the crew could charge the batteries by rowing but it would be very hard work (remember, this is supposed to be fun).

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Weymouth Gig Regatta

The Weymouth Gig Regatta on Saturday was, I was told, the last event before the whole place is virtually shut down for the Olympics. It is a fabulous location, with a huge sheltered bay, the largest artificial harbour in the world (probably) and a great lump of rock called the Nothe in the middle to watch it all from.
Not having a Cornish pilot gig we couldn't take part in the Saturday racing but it was spectacular. I got to ride in one of the umpires' boats - here are a few pics.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Surf Boats in Britain

To Weymouth over the weekend where there was a Cornish pilot gig regatta on Saturday and a British Rowing Celebration of Rowing on the South Coast event on the Sunday.
We took Solent galley Bembridge which was the star of the show and much in demand for 'taster' rows.
An Australian surf boat also made an appearance. I didn't get a chance to row in it but Elaine, who did, told me it was very tippy. The steering oar is designed to ensure it can be directed at all times, even when an ordinary rudder would be out of the water.
It was all very interesting, but the point of a surf boat is to boat in surf (duh!) and there is not a lot of that in this country. The general opinion was that surf boats are increasing in popularity because it allows exhibitionists to wear swimmies that would definitely not be acceptable at the Stewards' Enclosure at Henley.
Certainly, she looks a bit out of place with the industrial backdrop of Weymouth's derelict ferry terminal. A far cry from her natural habitat: