Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Rowing by Moonlight

Mike Gilbert has a brilliant phone but it struggles with low light. Actually this gives a rather ethereal effect to this shot of Solent galley Sallyport on the way to Emsworth for beer last night.
I have rowed at night very rarely so this was a special event. High water was at 18.24 so we set out at 16.30 as the light was going. Soon, the gibbous moon was giving us just enough light to navigate by. The buoys were just menacing dark blobs on the water. Luckily, we had people who knew the harbour lights so we did not go far wrong.
Coxing out of Emsworth on the way back, I discovered how disorientating the dark can be. But it was magical - can't wait to do it again.
Next time, for curry. 

Monday, 29 December 2014

In Praise of Overlapping Handles

The latest issue of that eminent publication Water Craft has an interesting article about choosing oars for pleasure rowing, by John Rawson. 
Rawson began to consider the vexed question of the 'right' dimensions for a sculling oar when he bought a book on how to build a skiff that gave no guidance on the oars, leaving him to work it out from first principles. 
Me too, except that in my case I had bought my Sprite skiff with a pair of horrible unusable oars and needed to upgrade.
There is a lot of good stuff in Rawson's article, but for one thing. He doesn't like overlapping handles, advising an inch of clearance so you don't bash your thumbs.
I disagree. A good gap between the handles is probably a good thing for hire boats that can expect to be rowed by people with limited skills, but if you want to get the most pleasure out of rowing the handles should overlap by their own length as demonstrated above by me and Christine Ball in Langstone Cutters' Teifi skiff Millie.
The reason is simple - with an overlap you get an extra six inches or so of leverage inboard and the oar will balance better so you can get more length outboard as well if you need it. The boat will go faster and you will have more fun.
The downside, of course, is the skill you need to acquire to move the handles smoothly past each other in the stroke. Happily, it isn't difficult - just lead with the left hand and slide the right underneath it.
The process is made easier by adjusting the button so the handles just clear each other when the blades are in the water, like this:
This allows you to put more power in on one side to turn the boat, without risking your thumbs.
Rawson rightly rejects an exaggerated overlap as found in boats such as the Adirondack Guide Boat. In that case, the boat has to be very slim to be light enough to portage between lakes, but a bit of beam is a good thing in a pleasure skiff, providing stability, buoyancy and room to put the champagne and picnic basket.
(Thanks to Mike Gilbert for taking the pictures)

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Launch of HRB

Today saw the launch after restoration of Victoria Holliday's double scull HRB, named for her grandfather Henry R Beeton, a rather good artist - a sale of his work funded the boat.
Originally called Vernon Ball, she was built as a training tub by the Eton College Boatbuilder, but it is not known whether it was built for the school or some other club.
The hull is GRP with mahogany sheer boards and plywood decks for and aft. The slides and stretchers are supported on a rather ingenious structure of struts, and the cox's seat is quite grand - clearly a place intended for someone of the stature and gravitas of an Eton College master. I felt unfit to occupy it. But it was jolly comfortable even without cushions.

Being a training boat she is much broader and heavier than a fine scull, but this just makes her all the more suitable for the waters of Chichester and Langstone harbours which can be considerably more challenging than the Thames at Windsor.
As it proved today, when the wind gusted to nearly 25 knots at one point bringing waves that nearly reached the gunwale even in the sheltered waters opposite the Mill. Never rocked the boat, though.

Thanks to Mike Gilbert for the photos.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A New Boatbulding Material?

Engineers at the eminent Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have developed an aluminium foam sandwich that is said to be 20 per cent lighter than grp and so stiff you can build shell structures with no reinforcing ribs. Sounds ideal for boats.
The material is shaped by embossing and in the process of foaming the metal filling (which is mainly aluminium with manganese, silicon and copper. I have been unable to work out how this is done because Fraunhofer's press release is a bit vague but the first product, a cab for a high speed train, looks damned impressive.
It sounds perfect for boatbuilding. Imagine a hull that is lighter and much stronger than grp, with no internal ribs. Bolt on a pair of rowlocks to the gunwales and a stretcher to the floor, add a box to sit on and away you go. Hmmm...

Friday, 19 December 2014

A sculling boat for the Great River Race?

I have been thinking a lot lately about a sculling boat that would be ideal for the Great River Race but not so specialised it would be unusable for general club use.
Langstone Cutters have a couple of Teifi skiffs and members own a small fleet of Salter skiffs, plastic reproductions of a Thames skiff.
The basic problem with both types of skiff is accommodating the passenger that is mandatory under GRR rules. Neither have much space, and putting the passenger in the bow digs it down and slows the boat. In the Salters, passenger and cox usually squeeze into the sternsheets so the bow lifts out of the water. And it makes it very difficult and time-wasting to change the passenger into the bow seat.
I came to the conclusion that a purpose-designed double skiff with a passenger thwart in the bow would be ideal as the bow could be made fuller to take the extra weight. In club use, the bow thwart would be used for an extra sculler making it into a very fast triple scull.
It seems that someone else has been thinking on the same lines. Paul Fisher's new design, the Loddon 20, is exactly that - a triple scull that can also be used as a double with passenger.
Paul's description reads:
The Loddon 20 is round bilged and can be made using foam sandwich (FRP) and strip plank Cedar construction methods. The moulds, transom and inner stem shape. She is designed for 2 or 3 rowing plus a cox or 2 rowing plus cox and passenger. The hull shape has a low wetted surface area shape with good stability and a reasonable freeboard for use in choppy waters. 
The only drawback might be that at 20ft long she would be handicapped to hell, starting at around 100 I would guess. Hmm..


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sprite kits available again!

I've got a new job, thanks for your concern, and I've been rowing a lot, and restoring my grandmother's old boat so it has been a busy time.
The big news this week is that Alec Jordan of Jordan Boats is going to make kits for one of my favourite sliding seat sculls, the Chippendale Sprite. That's me in my Sprite Snarleyow hammering up the Hamble in 2008, and she is up there ^ at the top of the screen too.
The late Jack Chippendale designed the Sprite with Andrew Wolstenholme. Andrew tells me the design process was a bit of an odd one because the way the hull is made (by sewing the bottom planks together along the keel and then folding them apart over the frames) makes it impossible to generate the shapes on a computer.
The result, however, is a super-light hull that is easy to build, goes like a train but has enough volume and freeboard to take out in quite aggressive conditions. Her only vice is a tendency to hobby-horse as the weight of the rower shifts along the slides - see how the bow sticks up in the photo. But, of course, the rower is <ahem> heavier than average.
Ted Bird continued to supply kits and develop the design when he bought Jack's business but the current owners seem to be more into furniture these days and the kits have not been available for a while.
So I was delighted when Alec rang to say he is about to add the Sprite to his range, and it is advertised in the new edition of Water Craft. 
Let's hope Alec makes the double version, Otter, available too. I rather fancy the idea of fitting out an Otter as a fixed seat single - at 19ft and very light she would be fast and seaworthy. Ideal for bashing round the Solent.