Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Champ rowing

Popeye the Sailor Man goes rowing in this great short cartoon from 1933. Well, he doesn't row - he stands in the bow looking manly and repelling thunderbolts. Wimpy sits in the back eating. Olive Oyl does the actual rowing. A very interesting and remarkable style she has, too. And look out for the scene at the end where she duffs up a marauding horde of Red Indians while screaming for help. Whadda goyl!
Thanks to Tillerman for the headsup.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Boat Building in Argentina

Alberto Vila of the Tigre City Rowing Club in Argentina made a comment on a previous post  containing a link to the website of the builder of their lovely traditional wooden rowing boats, and I think it deserves a post to itself.
Angel M. Gil builds boats in the traditional way, in various local woods and proper rivets. Google Translate adds its own charm to the site, for example one of the woods is described as 'cedar missionary: wood light of pleasant fragrance'. I so much want a boat light of pleasant fragrance.
There are several boatbuilders in the UK who would be capable of making this sort of thing, it's just that sliding seat rowing is now entirely in the hands of the high tech boat industry and are without exception made of plastic. A pity.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

More gigs at Manningtree

It's amazing but all you have to do is dump three boats on a beach and you automatically get a good image, this one taken at Manningtree last weekend.
Dauntless and Proud Mary (left and right) were made by Keith Webster in Benfleet from 2005 on by modifying and lengthening a boat from Hanningfield. 24ft long, they have four rowing thwarts and a cox's seat and were dubbed Hanningfield hybrid gigs by the Great River Race organisers for the purposes of identification. The one in the middle was made by someone else.
The boats are owned by Lower Thames Rowing Club in Benfleet and Two Tree Island in Essex, who are regulars at the Great River Race and local regattas.
They are very effective boats - fast, light and relatively cheap to make. They are powered by standard carbon fibre blades (bought second hand from Putney RC).
Keith himself has moved on and has now started Seax Marine. One of his projects  is the Seax One Design gig. This will be longer, possibly 28ft, and will have greater spacing between the thwarts. Could this be the answer to my question yesterday?
(The original post has been updated)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Rowing Velocity

At the Manningtree Paddle and Oar Festival on Sunday we got a chance to row one of the new class of  coastal rowing gigs being built by the Pioneer Sailing Trust in Brightlingsea. Velocity was the first boat owned by Brightlingsea Coastal Rowing Club, and that's BCRC's Geoff in the coxing seat.
Velocity is 24ft long and cold-moulded in three layers of mahogany. The oars are gig oars from Suttons.
All the Pioneer Trust's boats are named after old fishing boats from their home port, and Velocity was named after a sailing smack from 1864.
There seems to be very little on the web about these interesting new boats, which is a shame as ten are being built and you and me are paying for them through funding by British Rowing, I understand.
The hull is a great design, fast and slipping easily through the water. 24ft is an ideal length for a rowing gig - not too heavy for the crew to haul out of the water and finding a place to put her is much easier than for a 32ft pilot gig.
Having said that, who thought thole pins were a good idea in a modern coastal rowing boat?
Thole pins might be lovely and wooden and traddy and everything, but they limit the swing of the oar and require constant adjustment of the blade that limits the power you can put in.
I can understand keeping thole pins in a reproduction Victorian boat like the Cornish pilot gig, but using them in a modern cold moulded hull makes no sense at all.
The problem now is that the thwarts are too close together to allow swivels to be installed to any effect. Everyone would simply be bashing their handle on the back of the rower in front.
It really is time that someone comes up with a modern fixed seat gig design that combines reasonably economical hull construction, ergonomically well laid out rowing positions, swivels and carbon fibre blades.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Racing in the Sun

Langstone Cutters are in Manningtree on the lovely River Stour in Essex, at the Paddle and Oar Festival. Yesterday we took part in the Wrabness Challenge, a seven mile there-and-back race under a blazing sun (was it really raining apparently without end just a few weeks ago?).
This picture appears to show us in the lead at the start but that is an optical illusion. In fact we started at the middle of the pack and finished there too.
We failed to take advantage of local knowledge by gluing ourselves behind a local boat and staying there until the last reach, which took us over a mudbank that virtually glued us to the spot for several minutes. Damn.
Apart from that it was a great row. Other participants included the lovely new gigs from Brightlingsea, such as Velocity in the picture. They are very quick boats, even though their use of thole pins rather than rowlocks must slow them down a bit. More later on these.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Rowing in Bangladesh

 Another great post at Duckworks Magazine has a fascinating and beautifully shot film of boats in Bangladesh, taken at the end of the last millennium by cameraman Derek 'Deek' Rose.
There is an enormous variety of rowing styles captured, from forward-facing sculling with crossed blades to monster yulohs, punting and every form of paddling. The sound track is great, too.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Platten (or Zillen) on eBay

The Hallstattersee Zillen (or Platten) that I wrote about when it was sold at the Turks auction a couple of years back has come onto eBay and failed to sell - the highest bid was £104, below the reserve price. A pity really, as it would be a practical boat for the English canal system as long as the owner was prepared to learn the odd and difficult skill necessary to row it without going round in circles.
Rather flatteringly, the vendor cited this blog as one of the sources on this rare and unusual boat, though this might simply reflect the paucity of information on the web.
Thanks to Brian Pearson for the heads-up.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Crossing the Varne

PicoMicroYacht asked if conditions over the Varne, a big bank in the middle of the Channel that has claimed many a ship, were different from the sea state elsewhere. I think these two pictures taken from the support boat show it very well.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Coxing the Channel update

Team Arch to Arc (Nick Yates, Tom Levitt, Will Surman and Jonny Muir), the crew I coxed over the Channel on Sunday, seen here approaching Cap Blanc Nez, completed their epic journey to Paris by bike. They were raising funds for two excellent charities, the Stroke Association and Kith & Kids, so why not click here and donate now?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Coxing the Channel

I coxed a nice bunch of blokes over the Channel yesterday, and it was interesting to compare it with PicoMicroYacht's recent crossing.
Both took roughly the same time - PMY did it in seven hours, my crew of four in a plastic pilot gig called Angela in seven and a half. With four of them powering a boat more than twice as long they should have been a lot faster, but they were inexperienced rowers and had run a relay from London (about 30 miles each) the day before.
Spot the difference in the courses the boats took.
PMY went over at a low neap, starting at 06.30 with low tide at 11.30. Angela went on a high spring, starting out at 09.30 with high tide at 14.00. So the boats were swept in opposite directions by the fierce tidal flows in the Strait of Dover.
The other major difference in strategy was that PMY did careful calculations on a paper chart, whereas  Mike Oram, the support boat skipper for Angela, just set his autopilot to take us straight over.
I don't think any of that all that much difference - as far as Angela was concerned, the dominant factor in choosing a crossing time was the current dramatically changeable weather, making finding a day when it wasn't going to be blowing a hoolie and lashing down with rain something of a problem.
In the event, the weather was dry and bright, with a fresh breeze and a bit of lumpy swell left over from the depression that whizzed through a couple of days before.
Lots of pictures here.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Hayling is Weird

It's the Hayling Island Scarecrow Festival, and this year it has an Olympic theme (along with just about every village event in the entire country).
Celia Billett sent me a picture of this scare-crow. The sign reads "C-rowing for Great Britain" (har!).
I haven't seen any of the other entries but I don't care - it should win all the top prizes.
Tonight, a popular beat combo from Somerset called the Mangledwurzels is playing at Eastoke. Apparently, they are a top "Scrumpy and Western" band. Har!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Rowing down the Suwannee

The Swanee name is so familiar from all those dreadful patronising songs, not to mention the bloody whistle, that I always lazily assumed it was legendary, like the Anduin or the Alph.
But it is real and really amazing. The Suwannee (Stephen Foster spelled the name wrong so it scanned) rises in Georgia and flows through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, passing through truly remote and unspoiled regions on its way - lots about the river here.
The Suwannee is one of the few true blackwater rivers in the world, so-called because tannins leach in from the decaying mass of fibre in the swamps it flows through, colouring the water.
Another highly unusual physical feature is the springs that line the river. Water sinks into the limestone aquifer that underlies the vast swamp, rising through sink holes to join the river along its length. The springs form natural swimming pools - there's a great explanation here.
Tom Williams rowed down the Suwannee and chronicled his trip on his blog DrunkRowing (he likes a cocktail). It sounds absolutely fabulous.
For a start, huge areas of the river basin are publicly owned, and campsites have been built at about 10 mile intervals along the bank. Cleverly, the sites are accessible only by water, so local vandals can't easily get them. Tom says they are pristine.
"It was just about the best four days of my life," he writes. "Rowing, tequila , cigars, food, and my wonderful wife."
Sounds brilliant. Another raid route I must do one day.
Thanks to Duckworks for the headsup.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Chris Duff flies home

I think I would have a seizure if I saw this looming along behind my boat. It is perfectly harmless, of course, a basking shark, but all I would hear in my head is BOOM....BOOM....BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM.
Chris Duff took the pic in the Faroe Islands, half way between the Shetlands and his final destination in his epic row from Scotland, Iceland. He spent many days there waiting for a weather window but finally had to admit defeat and store the boat before flying home. Chris, we feel for you and hope you will be able to complete the voyage next year.
There is a wonderfully evocative account of his adventure at his blog, with lots of great pics including more of the shark.