Monday, 29 October 2012

French Style

Gavin Atkin, boat designer, blogger, musician, journalist (also contains lanolin, as Flanders said about Swann), sent me a link to the the Liteboat, a highly stylish new rowing boat created by French long-distance oarsman Mathieu Bonnier.
Gavin asks what I think.
Well, I hesitate to be rude about a boat created by someone who has far more experience of rowing through every kind of weather than I have, but the design treads on all my corns.
That reversed bow, for a start. There is no apparent functional reason for it. Indeed, you can actually see it piercing the waves and throwing water into the boat in the video. A well spread bow lifts the boat over the wave and prevents water coming in.
Then there is the wide open stern, intended to provide an easy exit for all that water coming unnecessarily over the bow. It must drag the boat back, especially with heavier rowers who will cause the stern to dip underwater every time they slide towards the stern. The self-bailing stern is the nastiest feature of the Virus Yole, in my opinion.
On the plus side, the hull is intrinsically buoyant and construction is by resin sandwich infusion with carbon bits for a very strong but light boat.
Bonnier says that he wanted a boat that is stable, light, easy to row, fast and car-toppable. "I looked in vain for this boat: she did not exist!" he says.
Yes she does, Mathieu. She is pictured up there, on the blog masthead. My Sprite Snarleyow.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Solent Galleys Gather

The Bursledon Blogger has reminded me to put up a post about last Saturday's row up the Hamble, which reunited three Solent galleys after decades apart. Two came from Langstone Cutters (Sallyport and Bembridge). The other is Avery A, until recently owned by Newport (IoW) Rowing Club but in the last few weeks transferred to Elephant Boatyard on the Hamble, makers of the wonderful Peanut.
The Elephant Boatyard has an enthusiastic crew of rowers who did extremely well in the Great River Race, coming in eighth in a Bursledon Gig. Now they want to compete in a serious boat.
This is great news - perhaps a Solent galley scene may develop. On Saturday Avery A was borrowed by other Hamble River Rowing stalwarts including Glyn Foulkes and Philip Meakins, and they intend to use her as well.
It would be interesting to run a tape measure over the various boats. Avery A looks different in shape, flatter and less cod-headed.
The picture on the right shows Avery A returning to the Elephant Boatyard past the crew's spiritual home. The picture below shows us in Bembridge about to overtake Avery A on the way up to the Horse and Jockey, with me gasping like a grampus. Not a pretty sight.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


I couldn't resist this. I pinched it from the website of the Thames Boating Company in Maidenhead, owned by Dan White who is building traditional skiffs for hire. The scheme is that you book a boat for a particular public slipway and he will bring it along and launch it.
The design is Paul Fisher's Mandarin, a double skiff in epoxy clinker ply for a traditional appearance. It should also be much lighter than a traditional clinker skiff, which will be invaluable if he is going to be launching it every time he hires it out.
Dan has recorded the building process in his blog - a fascinating process.
The first skiff is nearing completion. No indication of a price, but I am tempted already.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dawn is getting later

Earlier yesterday, before I took the pic of boats on their sides looking mournful in an empty channel, I went out at dawn in Mike's newly acquired Cornish pilot gig Porthminster.
It was still dark as we gathered at a severe but not punishing 7am. My how the days are drawing in.
And the skies are getting wintry. Mist lay over Thorney Island. The water was mirrored. The only sign of life was some fishermen not catching anything.
Actually I am looking forward to winter. Crisp, still, windless rowing on water unmolested by other people. Can't wait.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Low Tide

I go to Langstone to row. So I go at high tide. So the views today when I popped round to prepare boats for an afternoon row up the Hamble were slightly unnerving.
Especially after last Wednesday when we could have rowed into the bar of the Royal Oak and ordered five pints of Old Speckled Hen without getting out of the boat:

Friday, 19 October 2012

Ocean Pearl on TV

I got my first opportunity to go aboard Ocean Pearl a couple of weeks back at an open day at Emsworth Marina where her owner and restorer, Nick Gates, has his boatbuilding business. In the past I have only seen her from the water.
The interior is still a bit unfinished but Nick's main priority seems to be taking her out sailing, entirely understandably. 
And last night she was on the telly!
I've been following Wartime Farm with fascination, partly because it is packed with stuff I didn't know (eg rats don't have bladders so they weeweewee everywhere they go) but also because it was filmed in Manor Farm near Botley on the River Hamble.
To illustrate that farmers weren't the only ones to suffer from government interference during the war, presenters Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn went to sea on Ocean Pearl to find out what the impact was on fishermen.
Quite a lot, Nick told them. Ocean Pearl was built as a fishing vessel in Scotland in the 1930s and was commandeered by the Navy for inshore supply work. This might have meant depriving some bloke of his livelihood were it not for the fact that most fishermen had been called up.
Then the historians released a carrier pigeon on a training run back to Southampton, to illustrate the importance of pigeons to military communications. That was another thing I didn't know - pigeons were used when the entire invasion force was observing radio silence prior to D-day.
It was illegal to shoot carrier pigeons, naturally, but wood pigeons were not so lucky. The Royal Observer Corps used to report movements of flocks of pigeons so country folk could shoot them down by the hundred. Delicious boiled, stewed or fried.
PS - Nick, in a previous email you sort of invited me to come sailing in Ocean Pearl sometime.....just a reminder...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Doryman at Port Townsend

I've been meaning to post this for ages. Doryman took it at the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, a lovely inlet off the Pacific Ocean in Washington State.
He doesn't say what it is, but it looks like one of Platt Monfort's Airolite boats, perhaps the Classic 12.
Airolite skin-on-frame boats are made by creating a light frame and heat-shrinking a fabric such as Dacron onto it. Very light and fast but perhaps not as rip-resistant as one would wish.
Here's Doryman's complete photo essay on the Festival:

Monday, 15 October 2012

Carbon blades

The Teifi skiffs at Langstone Cutters are great boats, quick, rewarding to row and very seaworthy, but the lightweight wooden blades we got with them are now over ten years old and showing their age. So I managed to get some second-hand carbon fibre blades.
They were designed for fine boats with outriggers so they were far too long, of course. I set about shortening them by about 8in, and cutting a nice blade in half takes a bit of screwing-ones-courage-to-the-sticking-place as the bard has it. I took my trusty tenon saw and did the deed.
Next step was to remove the handles from the stubs of the looms, which was done by making two longitudinal cuts with a precision angle grinder and breaking the split loom off the handle with a precision club hammer and bolster.
I cleaned the gunge that had been used to stick the handles inside the oars with a sander and glued them back in with silicone gunge designed for window frames, figuring it would hold the handles in place without causing undue stresses.
What I hadn't bargained for was that one set of handles had been cross-sawn where it goes into the oar, so that it would squeeze into the hole. The silicone gunge did not provide enough strength to prevent the handle wiggling in the loom, and the handles cracked and came out on the first outing.
The damage was easily repaired with epoxy, however, and the blades passed their first thrashing round the harbour with flying colours.
Now everyone will have to start getting used to the much larger overlap, but the combination of lightness, strength and the bigger area of the Macon blade means they really propel the boat through the water.
Now we need another couple of pairs. Anyone know where we can get two pairs of carbon fibre sculling oars cheap?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

POSH kit

Got an email from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution offering stuff for sale (Christmas is coming) including these port'n'starboard gloves.
I'n not keen on gloves for rowing. They always slide just a little bit, disconnecting you from the oar and just slightly causing you to know even less about what you are doing than normal. And they can be sweaty and horrible. Better just to go through the pain of developing a full set of callouses.
But these gloves have another killer disadvantage for people who go boating backwards.....

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Collector's Weekly is an unlikely place for a fascinating article about boating, but they recently ran a piece alluring entitled Love Boats: The Delightfully Sinful History of Canoes. It concentrates on the US but there was a similar phenomenon in Britain.
It seems that before the back seats of beat-up Chevrolets became available to the common man and his girl in search of well-padded privacy, canoes were the thing.
Canoes would be primped for the purposes of romance, with cushions, picnic baskets and even phonographs. Just like the shag wagons of later years but more stylish.
In Britain, it wasn't just canoes. Thames skiffs and punts were notoriously used for seduction. Thames-side towns flourished on the popularity of hire boats taken out by couples. 
Maidenhead in particular became a by-word for the dirty weekend - the famous scene in Kind Hearts and Coronets where Dennis Price cuts the painter of the punt where Alec Guinness and Anne Valery are fornicating to send them over the weir was set in Maidenhead. "I was sorry about the girl, but found some relief in the reflection that she had presumably during the weekend already undergone a fate worse than death," he observed, in one of the breathtakingly brutal quips that make the film so blackly funny.
It is tempting to read all sorts of shenanigans into the famous picture of Boulter's Lock by E.J. Gregory but he used his family for most of the figures so presumably it is not a satire on Victorian hypocrisy. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

World of Cruising

We have all had that problem. Everyone has had a lovely day on the yacht anchored off St Trop in the Mediterranean sun, playing with the jetskis, hanging on to the inflatables as the speedboats towed them round, watching the fishes in the submarine, taking spins in the helicopter...
Then the time comes to up and aweigh and all the toys have to come aboard, leaving nowhere to party! Horrors!
The answer, according to Dutch shipyard Amels, is to bring along a Superyacht Support Craft, where you can store all the kit so you aren't tripping over stuff every time you want a discreet ciggy on the upper deck where the wife can't see. Every yacht should have one.
Actually, one of my long term fantasies has been to get a cruising boat so I could visit lots of lovely places to row while still having a comfy bed at night. The problem is that a good rowing boat is long and thin, so you would need a short, fat rowing boat as well, to act as a tender. And of course you would need a sailing dinghy just in case and possibly a sliding seat jobby for those times when a real workout is required.
Carrying all these boats aboard would take up the whole deck of a big boat. So perhaps the answer would be to have a smart little steam yacht to live in and a big motor barge with all the boats inside, following along like Dumbo after Timothy.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cosine Wherry on the Hamble

An unexpected arrival at the Horse & Jockey on Saturday was Cabdriver Dave, who hailed us when we were having coffee at the nice new caff in Hamble-le-Rice and asked us if we knew the Bursledon Blogger. I said we hoped that he might be coming up to the pub and Dave duly rowed up as well. 
Unfortunately Max couldn't make it but it was great for us as we got a chance to admire Dave's nice cedar strip Cosine Wherry before he had to leave for his evening shift.
The Cosine is not a very common boat here, hailing as it does from the American west coast. It is a modern interpretation of the Whitehall, as explained in the book Rip, Strip, & Row! by J.D. Brown:
"The Cosine Wherry is a strong, lightweight, beautiful, high performance 14-foot rowing boat, the newest design by John Hartsock of Emonds, Washington. Combining years of rowing experience with his knowledge of computerized hull designs, Mr. Hartsock has created a single rowboat to satisfy the various recreational requirements of a family, the practical demands of the sportsman, and the competitive desires of the serious rower. The Cosine Wherry offers the best of both worlds: it's light, fast, and a joy to row, yet stable, and capable of hauling plenty of passengers and gear."
John Hartsock used the cosine curve as the basis of the boat, as described by Stuart Young in the Wooden Boat Forum a few years back:
"The Cosine Wherry was designed by John Hartsock and is fully described in WB100. Hartsock used Colin Archer's Wave Form Theory as a starting point and designed the boat so that the curve of the underwater areas followed a Cosine Curve (the cosine of an angle plotted against the angle inself). Having fixed that parameter (the reverse of the usual design cycle) he used John Gardner's and Willit Ansel's research work to determine the final dimensions of the boat. The resulting Cosine Wherry turned out to look pretty much like a traditional pulling boat of the Whitehall type, and Hartsock concluded that the 'builders of small boats in the 19th Century must have been wonderfully intelligent people with an intuitive feel for hull shape and a willingness to communicate with each other.' As suspected Grandad wasn't as stupid as he appeared."

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Genius Boat

One of the people at the Horse & Jockey (S of the H) on Saturday was Jake Frith, editor of Sailing Today, who frequently rows from his home at Netley down Southampton Water and up the Hamble to Swanwick where his office is.
His boat is a plastic canoe converted to rowing by the simple wheeze of cutting a rowing station out of an old quad scull and bolting it down in the canoe.
The quad scull in question was a defunct racing shell formerly owned by Eton College, no less. As you can see, the whole sliding seat and outrigger structure simply clamps into the canoe almost as though it was made for it.
This is my sort of boatbuilding. Effective, fast through the water and simple to make. Also cheap. Perfect.