Monday, 29 September 2014

The Hunt

The unique thing about rowing races is that the crew can see threats coming up behind but only the coxswain can see the boat in front.
This makes it very difficult to overtake. A cox can shout and scream about how near the opposition is and how easily they can get past, but the crew never really takes it seriously. Meanwhile, the crew in front can see doom approaching and redoubles their efforts.
Gladys got stuck behind our rival Claydon skiff Witchoar for ages. They started slightly before us for some reason. Here we are slogging through Chiswick unable to get past.
Here's another attempt failing.
Eventually it got too absurd and we managed to up the stroke rate for long enough to get through. Then Witchoar seemed to lose heart, as often happens. Now we could see their timing get ragged as they faded into the distance.
But as we approached the finish line, it nearly happened to us.
Here we are emerging from Richmond Bridge, pursued by the camera boat (why, I cannot imagine).
Just a few seconds later, came this:
Solent galley Bembridge, with a crew of cocky 40+ youngsters who have been loudly threatening to get past us in the GRR for years without success. Here they are storming past the Pembrokeshire longboat Yellow.
This time it was us who had to give everything we had as we saw the much faster boat relentlessly approaching. But we held them off, finishing a few boat lengths ahead - 14 seconds ahead in fact.
But that was GOOD ENOUGH. Gladys was 30th, Bembridge 31st. Yay us!
Thanks to Ron and Cheryl Williams for the top pictures, and Paula Bray for the lower ones.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Wooden Gig for sale on eBay

Nick Gates, Emsworth boatbuilder and owner of Ocean Pearl (on which I have still not been sailing) writes to say that a friend of his is selling a wooden rowing/sailing gig built by one C. Matthews at the School of Navigation at Warsash back in 1972.
She is 20ft long, beam 5ft 6in and draws 18in. The mug of tea is extra.
Nick writes:
"A friend of mine is selling a gig I sold to him many years ago. It's actually in good condition, teak centerline, iroko planking, teak thwarts etc but it does need reframing. I am keen it finds a good home rather than be bought by someone for firewood. It's just gone on eBay.
I did work up a price to reframe it in oak. He has sails. I have spars. It would make a great raid boat. Trailer is for local use only. Do you know anyone who may be interested? Could you possibly put it on your blog to raise awareness? If so, eternally grateful!
Cheers, Nick"
She certainly would make a great raid boat, as long as you can raise a crew of six to row her effectively. I think she would make a great club boat, possibly for Sea Scouts or Cadets. Bidding has reached £51 but the purchase price would be the smallest part of the cost of the boat, of course.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

A Great Great River Race

It was a fantabulous day. Organised chaos at the start as usual.
Some crews took it more seriously than others, but everyone had a great time.
We took loads of photos.
We all had blisters at the end. Especially Jenny.
Gladys won the Supervets trophy (again) and beat Witchoar (but it was harder work than last year) and got in ahead of Bembridge (by about three boat lengths).
Mission accomplished (except that we were beaten to the Claydon Cup by a bunch of teenage gorillas but hey, that's racing).

Friday, 26 September 2014


Three Solent galleys lie at Millwall, Isle of Dogs, ready for the Great River Race tomorrow. Gladys and Mabel, the Glaydon skiffs, are on the slipway with two Salter skiffs. Three Cornish pilot gigs are also in the race. That is ten boats from Langstone Cutters, a record.
The weather forecast is warm for the time of year, with a light southerly breeze.
It's going to be a blast. If anyone is close to the course tomorrow afternoon (it covers the 21 miles between Millwall and Ham) come and cheer us on.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

In the Lock

Last week's visit to Greenland Dock involved a tense passage through the old ship lock into the Thames. 
The original gates were removed when the dock was closed to shipping, being replaced with much narrower quadrant gates. This makes access difficult for rowing boats as the oars are too wide. 
To get in I got the crew to toss oars and helped maintain forward momentum by paddling with stroke's blade, accompanied by a vigorous rendition of Just One Cornetto.
It didn't really work - the boat behaved in a very peculiar way and we drifted round the lock in a rather embarrassing way until bow managed to grab one of the ropes dangling from the side and we got into position.
The following day we brought paddles for bow and cox and things were much more under control.
Thanks to Mick Buckley for the pic.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Back on the Tideway

To London yesterday with Langstone Adventure Rowing to help train crews from a major corporation taking part in the Great River Race on Saturday week.
They should have been coxing themselves but a couple of no-shows meant I was yelling at them again, in a brutally supportive way.
We launched at the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre on Greenland Dock, just behind and to the right of the tailfin of this aircraft:
I kept a wary eye on the sky but he didn't seem to be around.
Today the dock is very charming, lined with homes rather than wharves.
Getting on to the river was a bit challenging. First there is a narrow, low swing bridge, then a narrow, deep and alarming lock. Lots of shortening oars and trying to get hold of the cables so we didn't drift out into the middle. I made a complete Horlicks of it going out. The boat was behaving very oddly and didn't seem to respond to the oars in the usual way at all, possibly due to the combination of a light breeze and a gentle current. Anyway, we finally got attached and the lock gates opened revealing troubled water outside. My heart sank. Happily, Mike Gilbert in the other boat went first.
One of the cox's necessary skills is to look totally confident at all times so we struck out, oars shortened, and were rewarded with a lovely autumn evening on the river with views of Canary Wharf, Greenwich and, towards the City, the Shard, the Walkie-talkie, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin.
Thanks to Mike for the pictures.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Southampton Boat Show (cont)

New to Soton was Colin Evans of Evans Boatwork in Pembrokeshire, with a model of the Atlantic Beachboat, a design that could, he believes, finally provide the ideal compromise between rowing and sailing.
The ketch rig is designed to take the sails out of the way of the four oarsman and, very ingeniously, the helmsman as well - note how the tiller can be swung without the need for huge loopy shapes or extensions to avoid the mizzenmast.
Colin has also given her a decent bit of beam so she should be reasonably well-behaved, unlike sailing pilot gigs which apparently go over at the drop of a hat. The loose-footed lugsails won't wreak havoc with oarsman's sculls while providing quite a lot of power.
The length, 28 ft, should give a reasonable turn of speed under oars despite the extra beam.
The hull is designed to be supplied as a kit for construction by teams of amateurs in the same way as the St Ayles skiff.
I would really like to see this boat in action - anyone up for building the prototype?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Southampton Boat Show

To the Southampton Boat Show where the atmosphere in the small boats ghetto was much chippier than in recent shows. The talk was all of increased orders and investment in new designs.
The new boy was Dad's Boats with a pedal-powered boat for inland waterways (well, mainly inland waterways - apparently an early version was pedalled round the Isle of Wight by its inventor and builder David Williams).
David, the Dad in the company name, started building pedal-powered boats in the 1950s so he could follow his remote control yacht while keeping his hands free for the controls. One of his designs was taken up by Swallow Boats as the 'Winsome' but only a few were ever built.
Now Dad's Boats, based in Ludham on the Norfolk Broads, are trying again with a design more closely modelled on David's original.
She certainly looks comfortable, with yacht-style seats facing each other so the pedalers can chat as the world goes by.
The picture shows director Stephen Pitkethly and his son Joseph showing off the boat, which is available to order as production begins - see for more.

Friday, 12 September 2014


Burseldon Blogger was at Dell Quay recently and spotted a rare sight - a schooner-rigged dinghy - and posted some pictures.
But the event was even rarer than he supposed. That is me actually sailing.
The boat is Ever Hopeful, designed by Conrad Natzio and built by her owner and, in these pictures, jib man Wayne Oliver. His mate Marcus has the foresail sheet.
Wayne and Marcus come down every year to the Dinghy Cruising Association's camping week at Cobnor, and it has been interesting to see how the boat has evolved. She started out as a yawl but was terribly slow, so she has now been rerigged as a schooner and is faster, though she is unlikely to win many speed trials (although her downwind performance is surprisingly good).
Graham at Port-na-Storm went out with them one day this year. He beautifully describes Wayne's ultra-relaxed skippering style, and the 'Fletcher Christian moment' when he took command.
Well, I am sorry to say that I had no such moment. I took hold of the tiller the second I got in the boat and kept a'holt of 'er for the entire day. It was great. The sun was out but not too hot, there was a nice steady breeze most of the time and Ever Hopeful's flat bottom and nicely flared sides are supremely comfortable for a lazy sailor.
The only depressing thing was watching Graham disappear into the sunset in his Coot as we had to put in yet another tack before we could exploit the nice long reach down Itchenor channel.
So thanks Wayne and Marcus for a great day and sorry about the martinet behaviour. I'm already looking forward to next year. And thanks to Max at Burseldon for sending the pics.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A New Project

A few weeks ago I picked up a bit of my childhood - Snarleyow Too, otherwise known as Little Snarley.
She is a flat bottomed lock-keeper's punt, designed as a work boat for workers on the Thames to ferry themselves and their tools around. They were economical to make but handy little boats (11ft 6in long) that made good platforms for fishing, which is why my grandmother had this one made at the boathouse at Carmel College near Wallingford around 1960.
It was a copy of the first Snarleyow Too, pictured in this blog here. I remember helping to bring her from Carmel back to Riverside, sitting in the boat clutching the boatbuilder's launch. 
She has been sitting in a barn since 1968 (the last Thames Conservancy plaque for, 1967, is still attached to the stern thwart.
My son Miles and I hacked our way through brambles to the barn to recover the hull. I was surprised at its good condition, considering she has been out of the water for 45 years. Many of the bits are missing but they are easily replaced.
Little Snarley is small but just big enough to lie down in, so I may be able to camp in her. And she is only a bit bigger than a stand-up paddleboard.
I think she may be a good camp-cruising boat for rivers and canals, powered by a stand-up paddle. 
After we attached the boat to the back of the car, we went for lunch at the excellent Pike and Perch in South Stoke, a few miles downstream. My cousins and I drove but the kids rowed:

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Saluting the Tall Ships

To Greenwich with Langstone Cutters to join the Queen's Row Barge Gloriana in a processional down the tall ships moored there at the end of their race from Falmouth.
It was a great day for a row, if a bit bouncy on the tideway for such light and low racing machines as the Solent galleys, but it was a bit disappointing not to see the tall ships together in what might have been a magnificent forest of masts. Instead, they were spread out along the shoreline from Deptford nearly to Charlton, presumably so they could use the deep water moorings and eliminate the need for ferry services.
The unexpected problem was photography and the traditional telegraph-pole-through-the-back-of-the-head-shot (I expect the Germans have a word for it). Above, Gloriana looks as though she is about to set sail.
And here is the crew of Sallyport carrying a clipper on their heads.
After the row and the race that followed, the fleet headed back to Deptford for a rather stylish locally-brewed beer.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Egg Banjos

It is getting all misty, mellow and fruitful all of a sudden, which is both lovely and sad. Today first thing was one of those gorgeous, grey windless days with mirror water and the sun just trying to break through but not succeeding.
We rowed to the top end of the Langstone Archipelago for egg banjos* - that's me frying the eggs and Sam margeing the white sliced (there are laws against using butter on artisanal wholemeal bread for egg banjos).
*If you haven't had the ill fortune to serve in the British armed forces, or be a decayed old hack, you can find out what an egg banjo is here and see a practical demonstration here.
Thanks to Louise Linton-Evans for the pics.