Sunday 30 March 2008

More adventures with Satmap

The software for the Satmap Active 10 satnav for walkers, cyclists and rowers has been upgraded, and the Satmap people sent all registered owners an SD card with the new software on it. This is exceptional customer service - most computer companies don't give a stuff about you once the payment is in.
The new software brings a number of improvements, the most important being a better power management system so battery life is noticeably longer. For me, however, the major new feature is the ability to plan trips on your PC and download the waypoints, POIs and so on to the Satmap. After the trip, you can upload the actual track you followed and display exactly where you went wrong on your mapping software.
It is a huge improvement. The only gripe I have is that track data is in .gpx format, so you have to convert to .kml to use Google Earth. Happily there are a number of free utilities on the web for converting to .kml automatically - I used GPS Visualiser with complete satisfaction.
The weather was supposed to be awful today, and neap tides mean the water was only available at five in the morning and six in the evening, so I went to Langstone village at about four to see what was occuring.A number of lessons were learned.
1) Switch on the Satmap on arrival - the first few positions may be wildly out.
2) Don't be a cheapskate and set the power management system to switch off after a period. You will be in the middle of the harbour and discover that the Satmap has failed to record the last quarter of an hour, apparently showing that you have taken a short cut across Hayling Island.
3) Congratulate yourself that the satnav has failed to notice that you nipped in to the Royal Oak for a gipsy's and a quick half of Abbot after you got the boat back on the trailer.
4) Take no notice of the track when you are driving - accuracy declines with speed and it will show you driving through everybody's front gardens.
5) Don't be surprised if the end point is in a Bronze Age fortification known locally as the Devil's Ditch, five miles from where you switched the device off.
It was a fabulous day. A cutter was hammering up the Emsworth Channel - I think it must have been the Langstone Cutters crew that is training for the London to Paris row in a couple of months. They were looking good - best of luck to you all!
I rather liked the yacht too. Despite heading against the tide, he didn't have the bloody motor on. Good show.

Saturday 29 March 2008

The Rocat

Christopher Laughton, inventor of the Rocat mentioned a few days ago, writes to say that a version of the design for recreational rowing is under consideration:

"The first ROCAT is a 'fine boat', which uses advanced composite technology to be as strong and light as poss - the hulls for example, before adding the crossbeam sockets and skeg, weigh just 7.1kg each! The yet-to-be-developed 'polyROCAT' would be a family-beach-muckabout craft. It would have more buoyancy, weigh more and be less fast. But made of roto-moulded polyethylene with ally crossbeams, it would be much tougher than the fine boat, and about a third the price. The market would be families, holiday resorts, schools, disabled, surf-life-saving etc. etc. best wishes ... Christopher"
That would be something, especially for rowers who would like to get out in the rough stuff. The 'fine boat' is probably not an economic option unless FISA, rowing's governing body, relaxes the rules and that seems unlikely. Christopher calls it "FISA's oppressive anti-development regime" but I suspect it is more to do with fear of a change that would cost clubs a great deal of money.
A separate rowing unit on aluminium cross-beams that could be attached to any hulls would be attractive to home boat builders, though. It could stimulate a lot of development. What about a stitch'n'glue camp-cruiser with lots of storage space in the hulls and a wide deck that you could pitch a tent on?

Friday 28 March 2008

Duck Punts

I have never seen a duck punt on Chichester Harbour, but as they go out before dawn and at low tide in winter this is hardly surprising. Wildfowlers are clearly a hardy breed, innured to long periods lying doggo in a small boat in the bitter cold, waiting for their chance. There is a delightful account of a duck hunt by Allen Musselwhite here (scroll down to 'A morning in the punt').
All the piece lacks is some pictures, so for an idea of what modern duck punts looks like, go to the Domeyer Scull Boats site in the US, which has some evocative photos of early morning mists on the river.The site is a veritable encyclopedia of duck hunting and how to do it, especially the art of sculling with an oar out the back. The hunter lies on his back with his right arm over his chest, holding the oar over his left shoulder and waggling it in a figure of eight motion to move the boat stealthily forward towards the target.
Interestingly, the hunters seem to use regular shotguns rather than the traditional duck gun that Musselwhite describes, a monster weapon fixed to the punt so the boat has to be steered accurately into place before firing.
Selway Fisher do plans for a couple of duck punts for home construction, but they are really for rowing and fishing rather than hunting.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Sliding riggers

I've been considering sliding riggers for my next boat.
Sliding riggers, where the rigger and stretcher slide and the seat is fixed, were invented in Victorian times but only became practical in the 1970s. In 1981 Peter Kolbe won the world sculling championship with a sliding rigger designed by Dr Victor Nolte and built by Empacher. Here's a video of the 1982 championship, showing sliding riggers in action. The commentary is in French, but I picked out some talk about sliding riggers being definitely faster than conventional fixed riggers.

They were banned because it was feared that smaller clubs would be unable to afford to upgrade and would drop out of competition.
Sliding rigs might seem overkill for recreational rowing, but they have advantages other than speed. Short boats (mine is 15ft) tend to buck as the rower slides back and forth, especially if he is of average height (6ft 4in) and less slim than he was at age 18 (ahem). The boat loses momentum during the recovery as well. Both these effects are eliminated with a sliding rigger.
A sliding rigger can also be easily detached from the boat and stored in the boot of the car, which makes cartopping a lot easier.
Two sliding rigger systems are available, as far as I know. The Piantedosi system (right), made in the US, and the French Virusboat unit (left).

I suspect that the Piantedosi system is easier to fit (you can buy a kit to attach it to a canoe very easily) but the Virusboat system has the rails wider spaced and may take the force of the oars better.
Does anyone have any experience of either sliding rigger system? If so, do get in touch by emailing using the link over there >>>------->
The most impressive sliding rigger system ever devised must be the Rocat - click here for a brilliant animation - but it does not seem to have gone into production. A pity, but it would probably have been very expensive.

Friday 21 March 2008

Skiff for sale

David Winspear is one of a dying breed - the boatbuilders who went through an indentured apprenticeship. Sadly, he has to work as a joiner by day but still creates objects that are closer to works of art than functional modes of transport in his very traditional shed near Whitby, North Yorkshire.
He works by eye. This lovely Thames-style skiff was made without plans or much by way of power tools, which to the layman is jolly close to magic. "Where I was apprenticed we used to get orders for a dozen or so skiffs for boating lakes in parks and so on, so I have had lots of practice," he said.
And David made it from the tree - he bought a trunk of European larch and had it sawn into planks by a friend. The frames are made of oak. Traditional copper boat nails hold it all together, though David is using some stainless steel screws these days. It comes complete with two sets of oars (though three oarsmen can row by moving a thwart) and iron hoops to support a tent for camping. True threemeninaboat stuff.
Just look at the shop - a roof on sticks to keep the rain off a strongback set on the bare earth.
David has made an enormous variety of boats, including a replica Viking ship, a Saxon boat with raised ends, and local traditional boats such as cobles and double enders, though the demand for commercial vessels in wood has dropped off in the last few years. He also builds 27ft gigs for both local rowing clubs, Scarborough and Whitby Fishermen, which is a tribute to his skills as they are deadly rivals. A selection of his boats can be seen on his website.
Incredibly, David rarely goes out boating himself. His wife Enid writes: "David NEVER goes in a boat!! He has built dozens, fishing, pleasure and heritage but I can't persuade him to have one of our own..." He blames it on a trip he was forced to take on a trial voyage of a fishing boat he built: "It is a bit like a busman's holiday for me. I went out once on a boat I built for the White Fish Authority and it was a very boring day."
The new skiff is currently for sale on eBay with an initial bid of £4,200. It must be worth every penny. Get bidding now and help support a traditional craft!

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Rowers to the rescue!

It's every yachtsman's nightmare. The sails are down as you enter harbour and the motor suddenly dies. You drift inexorably between the arms of two piers with no place to tie up, the boat bouncing against the stanchions and the top of the mast beating itself to pieces on the pier deck. You have to give the tiller to your girl, who is fabulous in many ways but doesn't have a clue.
A yacht circles round like a mama chicken, concerned but useless.
And worst of all, it is Pier 39 in San Francisco. A million tourists get their camcorders out and record your misery to feed public schadenfreude on the Web.
But who is this on the horizon? It's Rowing Man, with his two trusty sidekicks Bow Girl and Stern Guy! They grab a painter and haul him out. Thanks, Rowing Man!

The rescue from Lee Shore on Vimeo.
Thanks to David at Never Sea Land for the heads-up)

Monday 17 March 2008

Reed boats

Reed boats seem very exotic to Westerners, who only see them in books about Ancient Egypt or remote Lake Titicaca, but river boatmen in Ireland used reeds to make dramatically simple and effective sculling boats known as cliath thulca until recent times.

In 1962 the National Museum of Ireland commissioned one from Patrick Gately on the River Suck, County Roscommon. He produced a boat that is simple, effective and about as sustainable as you can imagine.
The reeds are gathered into long bundles which form a raft. On top is a wooden frame that stops the edges of the raft from folding upwards and supports the rowing thwart and rowlocks. It is the minimal boat.

In former times the frame would have been made of basket work. Presumably the frame would have been kept and the reeds renewed each year.
It is easy to imagine boats like this being used anywhere where reeds and willows grow. There are reed beds and willows at the top end of the harbour close by here - I am strongly tempted to build one. I could probably get an Arts Council grant....

Friday 14 March 2008

Rowing for Breakfast

When I was a kid my parents used to take us down the River Thames in my grandparents' double skiff to have breakfast on the bank. Dad did a fry-up on his terrifying petrol-fired stove and we messed about in the water for a few hours until it was time for lunch, more or less.
So the mouth-watering pic on Ben Crawshaw's entertaining blog The Invisible Workshop brought back memories. Ben went one step further, though - he rowed to breakfast in his luscious little boat Onawind Blue, a Light Trow designed by Gavin Atkin, in the Med, off Tarragona where he lives.
He has very sensibly abandoned running, an activity that is both harmful to health and makes you look like a dork, and taken up rowing a few miles in the morning and taking breakfast halfway. The menu (fried egg, fried bacon, fresh bread and wine) balances all the food groups in a way that is clinically proven to buck you up no end.
And if you were directed here from, YES, I did nick the link from there and NO, this is not a quid pro quo for Gav's generous link to this blog yesterday.

Thursday 13 March 2008

The Tuebingen Stocherkahn

The Stocherkahn is a punt native to Tuebingen, a university town on the River Neckar south of Stuttgart. It is much more pointy than Oxford or Cambridge punts, and has curious seat backs that slot in next to each thwart, between the side of the boat and the gunwale. Passengers can then lean back in comfort, as long as they do so in tandem with someone of similar weight on the other side of the boat. This being Germany, there is a large space for storing beer, which is cooled in the river. Some Stocherkahns even have barbeques.
Stockerkahns are about 10m long by 1.5m beam, made sturdily of oak and pine, and are steered from the stern using a Stocherstange or punt pole.
Every year, in June, there is a Stocherkahn race over a figure-of-eight course formed by an island and the central pier of a bridge. The gap between bridge and island is very narrow, leading to complete chaos.
To race, the back rests are removed and the crew assist the punter by paddling with their hands. They can also grab opposing boats and push them out of the way. In fact, it seems that almost anything goes short of actual armed combat. Apparently the back rests used to be carried in the race until they began to be used as weapons, when they were banned.The race only goes back to the 1950s but already a tradition of dressing up in silly clothes has grown up. The winners get beer (this is, I remind you, Germany) and the last crew back has to drink half a litre of cod liver oil each.
See this web page for details of this rather lovely boat (if you don't speak German, use Google to translate it - you'll be little the wiser). The pictures come from Robert Mackenzie and Otto Buchegger, to whom much thanks.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Another new pilot gig hits the water

Devoran Pilot Gig Club in Cornwall turned out in the abominable weather last weekend to launch their new pilot gig Faith, built by Maurice Hunkin in Fowey. Despite the rain and wind, they took her out for a spin and she looks a cracker.
These pictures are from the Cornish Pilot Gig Association's website, and there is a great sequence of photos of the boat under construction at the DPGC site.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Bow-facing oars

One of the big things that stops people getting into rowing is not being able to see where they are going, and inventors have been wrestling with the problem for 150 years at least.
One of the most popular approaches is the bow-facing oar or articulated oar. It consists of a handle and a shaft linked by a crank so when you pull on the handle the blade shaft moves in the opposite direction.
The mechanism is said to have been originally devised back in 1884 by a fisherman called Fred Allen of Monmouth, Illinois, but Larsen's US patent of 1923 shows the principle.
Articulated oars were popular in the first half of the 20th century for duck punts, because hunters need to see their quarry as they stalk it, but they could not transmit enough power and the metals tended to corrode badly so they never moved into the mainstream.
Recently, however, a number of updated versions have come on the market using new, stronger stainless steels and computer design software so the power is transmitted more smoothly.
The Gig Harbor Boatworks unit, for example, is a nice looking stainless steel mechanism that looks the part, and the EZ Row is made of aluminium and plastic that reduces the price considerably. If you want to make one yourself, Australian designer Rob Bruce sells plans for a simple mechanism made of bent galvanised bar.
The drawbacks of articulated oars remain the same, however. They are very expensive, complex and less efficient than regular oars. And you can't feather them. But they certainly fascinate with their weird back-to-front action - take a look at the EZ-Row in action and you will see what I mean.

Monday 10 March 2008

Pilot Gig World Championship

In the course of my day job I wrote a piece about pilot gig racing for The Times which didn't get in grr grr so here it is, exclusively online. Local photographer Andy Cox very kindly supplied the pictures.

"A line of boats races across the sea, the rowers stirring up a cloud of spray as they sprint for the finishing line. The World Pilot Gig Championships on the Isles of Scilly is a unique spectacle and the pilot gig is a unique type of boat.
Long and slim, powered by six rowers and steered by a cox, they were developed to take pilots out to ships coming up channel. The first to get their man on board got the fee, so competition was intense.
Pilot gigs have always been raced, but over the last few years interest in the sport has mushroomed. There are over a hundred gig racing clubs, mainly in Cornwall but also in France, the Netherlands, the US and even Australia. But the world HQ has always been the Isles of Scilly where it is the local passion.
Every year the islands host the World Pilot Gig Championship, held on the May bank holiday weekend (this year, May 2-5). More than 2,000 rowers pour off the ferries, bringing over a hundred gigs. Racing is based on the beach at Holgates Green on St.Mary's, where the indefatigable ladies of the island serve breakfast, lunch and tea in ‘the tunnel’, a plastic shelter that becomes the epicentre of the festivities.
The tunnel is the place to be, partly because the money raised from the food is a major boost to gig racing funds, but mainly because it is the focus of the social side. Last year’s Saturday night party was, apparently, a blast.
Kevin Sherris, vice chairman of the championships committee, says the appeal of gig rowing is its inclusiveness. “It’s a very good social sport for both men and women, it keeps you fit, it’s not age related,” he says. The championships have grown with the sport, and are now the biggest annual event on the islands. “In 1989 we had 19 gigs, now we have over a hundred,” Mr Sherris says. “Everyone likes to come here because on the mainland they just go the meeting, row, put the boat back on the trailer and drive home. With 2,000 rowers stuck on the islands for two days, they socialise. The pubs are six deep at the bar.”The most impressive races are the mass dashes on the Saturday morning to establish the seedings. First the women’s crews, then the men’s, line up for the two mile row from St Agnes’ to St Mary’s. The sight of fifty or so gigs at speed is truly impressive.
The handicaps established, the boats then race in heats, leading up to the finals on Sunday. On Monday, crews take a rest from the oars and race under sail. The weather is rarely bad enough to stop racing altogether, though a few years ago a storm delayed rowing for a day and when they finally got out it was very hard work rowing into the wind. Coming back was another matter: “Surfing gigs is good fun,” Mr Sherris says. Another year one gig got lost in the fog, turning up hours later having navigated by the time-honoured technique of rowing until they came to a coast, and following it until they reached the harbour."
More on the Pilot Gig World Championship here.

Friday 7 March 2008

Property porn

Ooooh I want it and I want it now. A house on the River Hamble, Britain's yachting mecca, has come on the market. The house has views over the river and marina, and the garden goes right down to the water, at high tide at least. But the best feature is its own dock for small craft, and planning permission has been granted for a pontoon for your cruiser. I think a classic steam yacht would look very nice there.
The house is a few doors along from the Jolly Sailor which is a prime pub even when it is wedged out with the yellow welly crew.
It has to be said that the garden is on the north side of the hill so it tends to be a bit dark but what the hell - when the sun is out you'll be out rowing, won't you?
Only £1.6m.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Gartside Flashboat in New Zealand

Owen Sinclair sent me these pictures of a Paul Gartside 15ft Flashboat built by Steve Bagley of Nelson NZ, taken a couple of months ago on a midsummer rowing/camping trip in Pelorous Sound at the top of South Island. What fabulous scenery! And what a lovely boat!
It was, however, a bit of a heavy build, Owen reports:
"I asked our mutual friend John Hitchcock about the difficulty of building given that he saw Steve building the boat. John regarded it as a difficult build, saying that the plywood is tortured into compound curves and that one plank (I think the garboard) is made from two pieces of ply scarfed together lengthwise!! This from a man who has built an Oughtred Ness Yawl, a Welsford Joansa (leaving out the stringers for lightness) and a St.Lawrence River Skiff.
On the other hand the result is beautiful. John does mention the width as a disadvantage in high winds; the wind can lift one side and then has a significant area to act on."

The Flashboat has no centreboard and a simple standing lugsail, so there is no temptation to try and sail upwind. If the wind is against you, you row: if it is behind you, you raise the sail and relax, as Steve is doing in this picture by John Hitchcock, judging by his cheery thumbs-up.
Notice the oar poling out the sail, and the lines keeping the tiller in place.
Finally, one of those "this is what it is all about" images - Steve with John in his St Lawrence skiff getting on the crystal-clear water at the Abel Tasman National Park. Thanks, Owen.

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Viking cabin cruiser on eBay

An exact replica of what a Viking ship would have been like if Volvo Pentas had been available back then has come up on eBay. Hand-made in traditional fibreglass, it has all the luxuries the discerning Berserker would wish, including padded seats, luxury kitchen with hob and sink, and an ensuite loo - no need to piss over the side offending passers-by in this baby!
Navigation is by GPS so all that boring star watching is a thing of the past.
The boat even comes with a set of clip-on Viking shields and authentic cow-horn helmets to inspire terror in the local populace.
But you can't row it. What's with a Viking ship you can't row?
(Thanks to David at Never Sea Land for the heads up)

Monday 3 March 2008

James Joyce's 'needleboats'

Sergio Paliaga kindly emails to say that the 'needleboats' in James Joyce's poem Watching the Needleboats at San Sabba would have been racing shells.
"A needleboat is a skiff-like boat (Oxford/Cambridge race), canotto in Italian, the same poem in Italian is "Osservando i canottieri a San Sabba," he writes.
It seems that the word originally signified a quill, hence its use to describe a racing shell.
So that's cleared up. I would have put a nice picture of a canotta here, but searches in Flickr and Photobucket only turned up photos featuring the canotto pneumatico, or inflatable boat. In fact, all the pictures are of scantily dressed young people playing in the surf with rubber dinghies, which is very nice but not what I was looking for (honestly, Constable).