Sunday, 22 September 2013

Draken Harald Fairhair

Now that's an oar and a half.
It is 23 feet (7 metres) long and there are 50 of them powering the Draken Harald Fairhair, a reconstruction of a Viking storskipene, a large ocean-going warship dating from the time of Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway in the 10th century.
The ship was due to make an epic row this year from her base in Haugesund, a port on the bottom left-hand corner of Norway, to Istanbul, well known to the Vikings as Constantinople.
The first leg across the North Sea to Liverpool was assigned to a squad of 60 rowers from Liverpool Victoria RC and other clubs, who went through a rigorous training programme only to find at the last minute that the testing programme was not complete and the voyage had been postponed to 2014. So instead they went to Norway for the Karmoy Viking Festival to row this amazing ship in her home waters.
Club member Heather Parry is quoted in the latest edition of Rowing & Regatta: 
"We pushed off and began to learn a completely different style of rowing, which involves pausing at tap down for two seconds before taking the next stroke. After a few attempts we managed to get a reasonable rhythm, although tapping down with a small tree and having to follow a stroke who is about 30 metres in front of you isn't easy."
The top two pictures are from the ship's website here. The picture below shows LVRC rowers getting to terms with the oars - lots more great pics here.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bursledon Gigs at the Great River Race

Hamble-based Bursledon Gigs always put in a good showing at the GRR despite being short and wide. Proof again that it isn't the boat, it's the crew. And they start just ahead of Gladys so I can get a few good snaps as we pass (!).
That great bunch of girls Crazy Daisy (above) finished in a very creditable 3hr 10m.
Snapped approaching Tower Bridge is either Exocet or Point Source.
Some, however, we failed to catch including Annihilators who stormed home 12th in a time of 2hr 54m and the Hand family in Mistress who finished just ahead of us at 29th.
One of the encouraging things about the GRR is the increasing number of youth crews, mainly from the Sea Scouts and Sea Cadets.
Hamble Sea Scouts rowing Bursledon Gigs dominated the leader boards, taking the Under 18 and Under 16 trophies - well done them!

Friday, 13 September 2013

St Ayles Skiffs at the Great River Race

There were four St Ayles skiffs in the Great River Race this year. Coigach Community Rowing Club came all the way from Loch Broom with Coigach Lass and Lily-Rose. The picture shows them powering past us at the Montevetro Building in Battersea (grrr....). Shortly afterwards, Coigach Lass drew away from Lily-Rose to come in 15th overall, winning the mixed crew trophy - well done!
Groot & Grut
Hoi Larnton
Also racing was Hoi Larnton from Blakeney in Norfolk, and Groot & Grut from Woudrichem in the Netherlands. I think 'Groot & Grut' means 'Great and Small'. This picture is from their website, which has several more.
Which demonstrates that the St Ayles skiff is now a truly international phenomenon after a few short years. Amazing.
This picture from the Hoi Larnton blog shows the St Ayles skiffs on the slipway at Millwall on the day before the race - flanking dear old Gladys and Mabel.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Sailing, I am Sailing

At the DCA/HBBR Cobnor week recently, I sailed Wayne Oliver's schooner Ever Hopeful. Liz Baker, organiser of the week, got this picture from her boat as she passed just off Pilsea Island. It came out very well considering she gybed three times while taking it.
Poor old Wayne is hidden behind the foremast, however.
You can see why Ever Hopeful gets compliments wherever she goes, with the varnish, the traditional rope rigging including wooden deadeyes, that spread of sail and flags everywhere.

PS Last night BBC4 showed a selection of clips from a series called Look at Life, shot in the 1960s by the Rank Organisation but never broadcast. The first episode is called Messing about in Boats. It is a lost world, with London dockers unloading sacks and boxes of stuff by hand, fishermen casting their nets off Iceland in the cod wars, the rise of leisure sailing, the first solo circumnavigations and rowing regattas where the commentator thought it necessary to explain that the rules on amateur status had been relaxed so 'artisans and workmen' really could compete against their social superiors. Well worth catching on iPlayer if you can.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Starting at the Front

Small boats can do very well in the Great River Race. They start right at the front, so they don't have to fight their way past a mob of slow, wandering, doing-it-for-the-helluvit boats, rowed by the halt and coxed by the blind.
This year was no exception, the overall winners being The Graham Buoys in Maggie, a Cosine Wherry based in Weybridge Sailing Club that has been rowed to victory in several GRRs in the past. She started at 23 in a fleet of 331.
Half Cut, a (Salter?) skiff, started at 16 and came in 6th.
And our own 15 Seconds, definitely a Salter skiff, rowed by Deborah Pentesco-Gilbert, Aileen McGovern and Shelley Cook and crewed by Jake Gilbert, won the Women Veteran's trophy again in a time of 3hr 12m. 
The main problem for the small boats is the notorious lumpiness in the Pool of London, which must be alarming and a bit sick-making...
(Picture of Maggie by Ian Wylie, pictures of 15 Seconds by Hilary Thursby)

Monday, 9 September 2013

Dressing Up

The Great River Race is always an excuse for dressing up, especially for the charity fundraisers. The first part of the prizegiving ceremony is traditionally a vote for the best dressed crew, made by acclamation. The crowd's favourite by a considerable margin (judged by the roar of approval) was The Sunderland Flying Boat, who were raising money to raise a Sunderland currently lying in the bottom of a Welsh estuary. They rowed Montagu Whaler Collingwood (the picture above is from their Facebook page).
The Sea Wombles in Old Sinky.
Talk about stereotypes...this is a four-oared currach called Magical Merlin.
Robin Hood Invasion Boat (from the film, I think) manned by monks in monkey masks.
These are the Sea Girls in a River Teign seine boat.
My personal favourite, Henry VIII and a selection of wives and the man that chopped their heads off, inexplicably rowing the Maltese dghajsa that appeared in last year's race.
To combat the leprechauns, a gigload of Cornish piskeys from Port Isaac.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Great River Race

What a great Great River Race it was. For a start, the weather was nearly perfect. The forecast had been particularly depressing for most of the week, showing high wind and rain. Surely the heat wave could continue for a couple of days? How unjust!
As it turned out, the front stormed through a little early, bringing in its wake a cool but mostly sunny day that was perfect for rowing. Not too hot, not too cold.
The race started with the usual chaotic milling about, but somehow all the contestants reached the start line more or less on time. This year there were only three Clayton skiffs, our own Gladys (crew: Geoff Shilling, Alan Robinson, Chris Penfold, Mike Gilbert and me), Witchoar from Manningtree, and the other Langstone Cutters boat Mabel. 
The first part of the race is always the most challenging, with lots of boats in a concentrated space and the notorious lumpy water in the Pool of London. Once past Blackfriars Bridge, however, the line lengthened as the faster boats pulled away and the water got calmer. We left Mabel behind but Witchoar was still ahead.
We caught her somewhere off Battersea, but then disaster struck. A dirty great log got lodged under Gladys's rudder, forcing us to stop and take the rudder off to release it. Putting the bloody thing back on took an age, allowing Witchoar to pull ahead.
That situation could not stand. It took us ten minutes or so, but we had them and they gradually dwindled into the background in that very satisfactory way that gives rowers a pleasure denied to, say, cyclists or runners (for an alternative view of this incident click here).
We must be getting fit or something, because the usual mid-race slump didn't seem to happen. We were putting almost as much power in at the end of the race as the beginning. And we romped home in 2hr 51m 51s, a time described by the master of ceremonies at the prize-giving as 'going some in a Clayton'.
We retained our Veterans Over 60 and Fastest Clayton trophies (again), and came 30th out of 324 overall. 
Witchoar was 65th at 2hr 57m 51s and Mabel was 90th at 3hr 03m 46s. Times in general seem to be faster than last year - Gladys by about 7min and Mabel by a lot more, a tribute to the training her crew put in.
For another dramatic picture of Gladys with some old bit of stonework behind, see Captain JP's Log (and read on down to take in his great story of his recent voyage along the coast of Greenland). Search on 'Great River Race' in Facebook for lots more.
Provisional results of the GRR 2013 are here.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Great River Race

Today Gladys goes to London for the Great River Race tomorrow. The tried and tested team of Mike, Geoff, Alan, Chris, Chris and Chris will defend her eight year record of wins in the old farts Veterans Over 60 class, and the Clayton Cup as well if we can overcome our various infirmities and put our backs into it.
The long heatwave that we have basked in means that, naturally, it is forecast to rain. Again.
This year we will not be flying the club flag but that of a local charity, British Earthquake and Tsunami Support (BEATS) which helps areas hit by natural disasters rebuild. We want to help fund a new classroom at an orphanage in Indonesia, something that will cost just £2,500, a sum that would barely cover the cost of the pupils' footwear in the UK.
So if you want to donate the cost of a pair of trainers to this hugely worth-while undertaking, please go to and press the 'Donate Now' button. The amount raised so far looks a bit pathetic but that is because Langstone Cutters are a bunch of traditionalists who believe in printing the form out and hawking it round their friends and relations, so the money will come in later. For those of you online, please give now!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Notes and Jottings

Coming back from a training row last week, who should be leaving but Jim Graham in his rowing canoe. Several people asked how the beam connecting the outriggers worked with his knees so I tried to get a picture. Unfortunately by the time I had retrieved my phone from its bag he was too far off, but it looks as though he can just tuck his feet under it.
On a different note, the Dutch gaff cutter Brandaen was moored in Emsworth channel for most of the week. She is a member of the Old Gaffers Association and was flying the 50th Anniversary pennant, so she must have been taking part in the festivities though she isn't listed.
Brandean doesn't look very Dutch so it was no surprise to find that she was built by the Arma Marine Shipyard in Brightlingsea to the designs of R. Watts, in 1987. The steel hull is based on the lines of the racing smack Ellen.
She's for sale at €240,000.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Leaning Back

I was talking to a sliding seat rower the other day and they casually said that fixed seat rowing must be good for the biceps. Clearly, even sliding seat rowers think that fixed seat rowing is all arms, but this picture of a competitor at the Skiff Championships at Henley over the weekend shows how wrong they are.
Look at that lean back! She's practically horizontal. Sliding seat rowers hardly lean back at all, because all the available length of stroke is used on the slide. For developing the core muscles, fixed seat rowing is even better than sliding seat.
Malcolm Knight took the picture from the umpire's launch, and has posted lots more on his Facebook page. More on the Skiff Championships here.