Monday 30 June 2008

On Chichester harbour with camera

Rowed out in Nessy to take a few snaps of the harbour landscape on Saturday evening, and also tried out the 3.2 megapixel camera on my spiffy new Nokia E71. This very attractive yacht was lying near Dell Quay.
One of the pleasures of rowing the same waters fairly frequently is seeing the boats come and go, and a consistent pleasure up to a couple of years ago was seeing the classic yacht Thalia on her mooring on Bosham Hoe. Then she disappeared, and I only found out recently that she is for sale in the Caribbean. Someone bring her back home, please.

Friday 27 June 2008

Racing in the age of the gentleman

Frankly, I was shocked when I discovered a few months ago that racing used to be a rather brutal affair back in Victorian times, the golden age of gentlemenly conduct and fair play.
Tactics such as running your opponents up the bank or into a bridge pier were regarded as entirely legitimate by the enormous crowds that turned out to watch and bet heavily on the events.
This is a description of the Eton College against Westminster School race of 1836, rowed from Staines Bridge to Penton Hook and back, turning round a moored punt. The total distance was about four miles.
Both boats were new, the Victory for Eton and the Fairy Queen for Westminster.
The Eton squad was heavier and stronger, and started clear bookies' favourites. The umpires were Lord Orford and Captain Ackers, of that elite cavalry regiment, the Blues; a pair of such unimpeachable nobility it is not surprising that one of the notable features of the race was that both crews instantly complied with their every command.
Previous to starting, it was agreed upon that no fouling should take place until half a mile of the distance had been rowed.
On going away from the bridge the Westminsters went in advance, which position they kept for about a quarter of a mile, Eton pressing them closely. Noulton [Westminster's professional waterman] had by this time steered the Fairy Queen over to the course the Etonians were pursuing, and he bored them so closely in shore that they were obliged either to foul the Westminsters or go into the bank. A foul consequently took place, which lasted five or six minutes, ending in the discomfiture of the Fairy Queen, who had her rudder struck off, an oar broken, and was turned completely around. The Etonians went away with a cheer, but the Umpires, considering that an infringement of the agreement had taken place, called them back to a fresh start, which they immediately complied with. At six o’clock they started from the bridge a second time, with an understanding that each boat should keep its own side of the water for half a mile. The Fairy Queen again took the lead, which she held for about three-quarters of a mile, when the Etonians came upon them, and some smart fouling was the result. Eton at length cleared, and showed the way down the stream. In rounding the distance boat they were close together, and immediately after doubling the station punt the Westminsters caught them on the starboard quarter, which nearly put the Victory into the bank stern up. The Etonians, however, shortly cleared themselves from this awkward situation, and once more went in advance; and notwithstanding they were occasionally bumped by the Fairy Queen in working up against the stream, they maintained the lead, ultimately winning by several boat’s lengths. The match proved a treat throughout, by the spirited and gallant manner in which it was contested by both parties.

It is tempting to suggest that racing would be a lot more fun for both crews and spectators if fouling was brought back in, but I suppose that is unlikely in the rule-bound, risk-free, cushioned, bloodless, spiritless world we live in.
The account of the race appeared in Vanity Fair, and is reproduced in Wikipedia here. The picture shows the race at Staines Bridge.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Rowing boat on eBay

I swore I wasn't going to do any more rowing boats on eBay, but this I couldn't resist. It is a cliche to ridicule polymer boats as 'plastic baths' but this really does look like one. Which is the tap end?

University College's new boathouse

Glossy mag Architecture Today has featured University College's spiffy new boathouse on the banks of the Isis (as Oxonians call the Thames as it flows through their city). The article is interesting in that it gently exposes the way the college seems to have muscled in on the boathouse and rather marginalised the rowing club.
The clubhouse on the first floor, for example, has been grandified to give the college a classy function room with river views where they can entertain notables they want to impress. Unfortunately this means the rowers don't feel comfortable in their own clubhouse.
And a flat for postgraduate students has been included, partly for the good reason that a 24hr presence might deter the type of arson attack that destroyed the old boathouse. But none of the new residents are rowers.
Finally, the money having been spent on the hospitality suite, the gym, changing rooms and other facilities for the rowers have been decorated in a very utilitarian breezeblock finish.
The building sure looks good, though, with its copper roof designed to look like a blade cleaving the sky. It was designed by Belsize Architects, who also entered a recent competition to design a boathouse for Lea Rowing Club in East London.
Thanks to The Rowing Service for the heads-up.

Rowing skiff on eBay

A stylish and fast-looking rowing skiff is on eBay. It's a Wherry made from a kit by Fyne Boat Kits, 17ft 9in long by 3ft 4in beam, and fitted with two fixed-seat rowing positions.
Construction is in plywood using the 'lapstitch' construction pioneered by Chesapeake Light Craft in the US, who designed the Wherry. A rebate is machined along the lower edge of each strake to key the strakes together and strengthen the final join. Apparently it reduces the amount of epoxy used as well.
The Wherry on sale looks lovely, and the £2,500 price tag (it's a classified ad, not an auction) is not unreasonable considering it comes complete with oars, rowlocks etc, especially compared with the prices for finished hulls from Fyne Boat Kits themselves.

Sunday 22 June 2008

A Somerset Flatner for home builders

The Flatner was a rowing/sailing boat from Somerset, used on the Bristol Channel for fishing and on the rivers, streams and pools of the Somerset Levels. The general shape is flat bottomed and pointy at both ends, which is unusual for the British Isles but widely used in the US and elsewhere in the world.
The excellent Watchet Boat Museum, housed in an old railway goods shed in the small Somerset port, has several original flatners and has been promoting the design as an easy-to-make leisure boat. Plans for a reproduction sailing flatner, as built by museum volunteers in 1996, have been available for some time, but now the museum's curator John Nash has built a smaller rowing version and plans are available for that too.
The boat, named John Short after Watchet's most famous character 'Yankee Jack', a sailor who supplied folk song collector Cecil Sharp with more than fifty sea shanties, is 12ft 8in long and weighs less than 2cwt*.
The boat was on display at Beale Park, where the pictures were taken.
Construction is very simple in plywood and ordinary timber, held together with screws and polyurethane glue. A pair of flotation compartments have been built in fore and aft, a very sensible precaution. John Nash says that it cost him almost exactly £250 to build.
The plans cost £25 plus postage - details are here.
* Note for Americans: 2cwt = 2 'hundredweight' = 224lb.
Note for Europeans: 2cwt = 100kg

Thursday 19 June 2008

American style at Beale Park

The Slipway Co-operative in Bristol who built the Cornish pilot gig Young Bristol, also showed a smashing rowing skiff at Beale Park, the Whisp designed by Steve Redmond.
The Whisp is about as simple a boat as can be, but Win Cnoops and his fellow-craftsmen have created a lovely thing from the design. The boat is 15ft 9in long by 3ft 6in beam, and a draft described as 'very little', so it should be easy to row and especially handy when landing on beaches or slipways. It weighs about 70lb so can be carried on top of a car without too much difficulty.
The rowing version is available complete from the Slipway Co-operative at £3250, or in kit form at £1500. A spritsail rig is also available.

Monday 16 June 2008

Every guy's dream... a boat with a real cannon. Don Craig of the Battle of Plattsburg Association and his friends actually built one, a reproduction of an American bateau, the workboats on American rivers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They use it to recreate the atmosphere of the last naval engagement on Lake Champlain, in 1814. And they get to fire that cannon. A great report on Duckworks Magazine.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Out on Portsmouth Harbour

Portsmouth Harbour, home of the British navy, is a rather intimidating place for a sculler in a very small skiff. Big, sometimes choppy, lots of fast motor boats and occasionally huge ferries and the odd aircraft carrier.
But today was sunny and still, so I went out to see if I could catch up with the Dinghy Cruising Association and try out one or two gadgets. Well, actually four gadgets, sad sack that I am - mobile phone, satnav, camcorder and digicam. And I used them all.
I needed the mobile to locate Steve Bradwell who had stayed overnight at Portchester after sailing round Portsea Island (Portsmouth is the only island city in Britain). I caught up with him as he was preparing to complete the circumnavigation of Pompey by motoring through the narrow Hilsea Channel that separates it from the mainland. Here he is starting his Seagull outboard and heading for the motorway bridge:

The video was taken with the new (to Britain) Flip Ultra, the simplest camcorder you can buy. Shooting clips is a matter of pressing the red button to go, and pressing it again to stop. Back at base, you can chop out the boring bits and assemble the rest into a smooth mini-movie so easily even I can do it.
Later, I happened on a pair rowing like mad for the harbour mouth in a traditional-looking pulling boat in grp, with a cat rig stowed inside. We took pictures of each other with my Panasonic Lumix digital camera (that's the former HMS Intrepid in the background).Back home, I uploaded the satnav track in .gpx format from my Satmap and discovered that Google Earth now supports .gpx, hooray! But it still won't let you edit the track by removing boring and irrelevant stuff such as tracking my car on the road to the slipway, boo!
Here is an image of my trip round the harbour. If anybody knows how to remove the non-boating tracks, do let me know, please?

Saturday 14 June 2008

Thames Traditional Boat Society at Beale Park

The TTBS were out in force at Beale Park last weekend, taking advantage of the sun to demonstrate quintessential Thames boating elegance and style. I really can't add to these pictures.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Nesting boats at Beale Park

The trouble with boats is they occupy a tremendous amount of space when out of the water. Beale Park was full of boats that fold up, inflate or come apart to fit into the back of a car or on the deck of a yacht.There were two boats that split in the middle into two halves that can be nested for storage. First is the delightful Fairey Pixie, built on the Hamble in the early 1950s, when they sold for £23 10s - which was rather a lot.
The cold moulded hull is a thing of beauty, the diagonal agba veneers glowing bright. The two halves are held together by overcentre catches, water being kept out by a tongue and groove arrangement. The boat is 7ft 8in long, beam is 2ft 9in and it weighs just 32lb. It can be fitted out for rowing.
Ian Thomson of Nestaway Boats in Devon was showing his lovely nestable dinghy, also cold moulded, on the Lyme Regis Boatbuilding Academy tent.Rather than rely on the join between the halves remaining watertight, the Nestaway has a bulwark at the end of each half extending to above the waterline. A pair of pins and three bolts hold the two halves together securely, and it is easy to assemble on your own (though much quicker with two pairs of hands).
Ian designed the boat to fit on the deck of his sailing boat, and points out that it will fit in a largish estate car and stands upright in the back of a garage occupying very little room at all. I would be perfectly happy having it in the corner of my living room - it is much nicer than most of my furniture.
The result is a boat that should be a pleasure to row or sail, especially compared with an inflatable.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Rowing the Heritage 15

I'm not a big fan of fibreglass as a rule and there were several 'rowing' boats at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show that confirmed my prejudice. Great lumpy things designed to withstand being hired by trippers who play dodgems with them while hurling empty cans of Special Brew at each other. Yurgh.

But the Heritage 15 skiff is a different animal altogether. Slim and elegant, the hull has an inner liner that gives a nice inside finish, not just the rough side of a grp layup. And the gunwales are real wood, so it looks dead smart.

An interesting feature is the swinging outrigger, designed to avoid clashes with pontoons. The arm rotates in a hole in the gunwale, so you can swing it inboard when coming in to dock. On leaving, you simply swing it out until it can go no further and tighten a clamp to hold it in position.

The riggers can be lifted out of the pivot holes in a trice when putting the boat on a trailer or on top of the car, which should make transportation very much easier.

Out on the water the boat was easy to propel and tracked nicely, but was easy to maneouvre too. Here's a picture of me taking a swift turn right at the end of the lake - see how bendy the oar is.

I liked the boat a lot, and at just under four grand with the teak finish, not absurdly expensive. The Heritage range is made in America and imported by The Rowing Company in Falmouth.

British Manly Exercise

Gavin Atkin at has a wonderful discovery - a 'how to row' poster from a series called British Manly Exercises 1834. Presumably this was followed by a series on ballet called Foreign Effeminate Exercises 1835.
Is that a bottle floating in the water at the end of the pull? Tsk tsk.
Anyway, the poster is on Wikipedia so you can print it out and hang it on your wall.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Jordan Boats at Beale Park

Jordan Boats supply CNC-cut plywood boat kits that eliminate the worst fear of the trepidatious amateur - that you will cut totally the wrong shape and not realise until it is attached to the rest of the boat with the glue rapidly hardening.
Alec Jordan had a lovely Acorn 12 skiff built from one of his kits by John Baddeley outside his stand at Beale Park. Designed by Iain Oughtred, she is light and slim, and sits delicately on the water. Here is Alec claiming exhibitor's rights and getting a bit of a paddle in.

Monday 9 June 2008

Pilot Gig Young Bristol

The Pilot Gig Young Bristol took to the water at the Beale Park Thames Boat show and a fine sight she was. Trips round the lake were in hot demand, but I finally managed to haul myself aboard for my first experience in one of these wonderful boats.
It was a bit alarming as I haven't rowed in a crew for many years and I have acquired all the slothful habits of sculling (failing to pay attention, daydreaming, getting distracted by friends in other boats etc). And using the approved grip of the inside hand over, outside hand under the handle took a bit of getting used to.
It was weird not to be feathering the blade too, just altering the angle slightly to enter and leave the water smoothly and without danger of catching a crab. I was just getting into the swing of it when we had to get out. Many thanks to the Bristol Gig Club for bringing their new baby along - Young Bristol was only launched last year.
This picture was taken by Chris Perkins, passing by in Chris Waite's Tit Willow. We were exchanging friendly abuse, as you can see. And as you can also see, I was not keeping up as a result...

Sunday 8 June 2008

A threat to boating. Or possibly its saviour.

A very interesting story in the Sandusky Register here. The major question on everyone's lips is, of course, where the heck is Sandusky, but that's not important. The big question is whether making fuel from algae is a good thing.
Apparently, algae can be brewed into fuel just like maize or palm oil, but with the great advantage that it doesn't displace crops for food.
I am in two minds about this. If algae are removed swiftly and efficiently from the waters I personally row in to feed fuel production, that is obviously good, but if they decide to farm algae in my favourite rowing waters, this would not be so good. Another eco-conundrum.

Friday 6 June 2008

Another reason...

...why I don't like rowing competitively.
This picture was taken at the National Schools Regatta at Nottingham, and appeared on the entertaining Tideway Slug site.
Four eights sank in a single race. This would be jolly funny and ripping good fun but shockingly the boats coming up behind were allowed to crash through the swimming crews. It was lucky no one was seriously hurt.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Rowing as a Recreation for (Victorian) Women

Women have been taking up rowing in huge numbers recently, and a very good thing too, but it is not such a recent phenomenon as one might assume. Here is an article from American sporting magazine The Outing, published in 1889. Don't laugh too hard at the opening paragraph.

ON looking over a number of photographs of English and American women possessing beauty, wealth, rank and social distinction, someone remarked with admiration on the noble carriage and proud poise of head as their most aristocratic and distinctive feature. “Is it merely a characteristic of high birth?” he inquired.
“Perhaps,” answered a clever and observant friend; “but it is not always the divine heritage of a nobleman’s daughter, neither is it with an American woman the result of her forbears’ partiality for terrapin and canvas back. I think it comes from generations of riders and rowers.
Now, the mothers as well as the fathers of these women spent no small amount of time and energy on their out-of-door sports. The days of the hunting season saw them on lively, long-legged mounts, briskly scampering over hill and dale in chase of the wily fox. In summer they pulled with swift, clean strokes their skiffs and shells over the many fine watercourses of their fair island.
The article then goes on to discuss rowing techniques, boats and clothing suitable for women. The advice is surprisingly robust, especially for the Victorian era when we are led to believe women were put on pedestals and regarded as too weak and frail for anything more physical than petit point. Nonsense, says Margaret Bisland. She doesn't quite go as far as to say that women can do anything men can do (and sliding seat rowing seems to be off the agenda) but she comes pretty close.

For a long time it was a fiction lovingly cherished by many that ladies needed light craft suited to meagre muscles. Imitation birchen canoes and pressed paper shells are no doubt very nice for maidens who wish to trifle elegantly among the swans on the lawn lake, For other purposes I would advise that all so-called “ladies’ outfits” be discreetly avoided. Now that a plain, hearty girl wishes to row, give her something up to her weight and worthy of conquest. A young girl of to-day, fond of out-of-door exercises and well up in her athletics, should hold the same honest scorn for a paper shell as she would have were a hobby horse offered her for hurdle practice.
A well-made, three-seated, flat-bottom skiff, seaworthy and not too heavily built, will, with oars of the requisite weight and length, answer the purpose.
Now for costume. Lay aside all the fashionable fancies and make up a flannel suit, simple and loose. A stout flannel skirt, quite full, short enough to escape the ankles and gathered or pleated into a broad belt, will be found the most convenient.
A common sailor’s blouse or seamless jersey can be used as a waist, only remembering to make it so loose that every position in using the oars can be gained with ease and rapidity. Here the stays, however flexible and easily they may be worn, are an absolute impediment and should be abandoned. Their steel ribs will not admit of the bend from the waist and should be replaced by the corded bodice introduced by dress reformers.
Brown hands and a rosy face, the consequence of much exercise under the warm sun’s rays, are no longer regarded as vulgar or unladylike, so a Tam o’ Shanter cap and no gloves will complete the outfit.
I particularly like the idea of a Tam o' Shanter cap, which would be so much more stylish than the abominable baseball caps many oarswomen wear these days.
The article also includes a lovely description of fisherwomen rowing competitively on the Tamar:

On the southwestern coast of the tight little isle women row an annual regatta. These are the fisherwomen of Devonport and Saltash, rowing in four-oared galleys before a goodly crowd as excited, enthusiastic and open to wagers as that at the great races of Henley and Putney.
The stout-limbed, broad-shouldered amazons handle their oars with ease and skill; their brown, honest faces and bronzed bare arms are well set off by the red and blue blouses or jersey jerkins they wear.
‘Tis a fine sight, when the word is given and they start away, to note the movement of their muscular arms, the sway of their bodies and the long, sure pull, with a simultaneous flash of wet oars in the sunlight and the spray glitter from the feather.
This picture from about 1892 shows what American women could do at that time. It is a crew from the ZLAC club in San Diego, the oldest all-women's rowing club in the world.
The photo at the top shows women rowing in Christchurch, New Zealand, from the Christchurch Library website.
The complete Outing article can be read at the LA84 Foundation Library.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

A gig design by Joe Dobler

Duckworks has made available plans for another low-cost rowing gig from the board of Joe Dobler. Like the smaller Marietta Yawl, the Crestwood Gig is designed for stitch and glue construction without jigs or extreme boatbuilding skills.
The boat is 34ft long by 5ft 6in beam, roughly the dimensions of a Cornish Pilot Gig, so it would be very suitable as a training boat or as a starter boat for a club that cannot justify investing in a traditional gig before the crew is firmly established.
Dobler himself traced the ancestry of the design not to gigs but to Swampscott dories, with their flat bottoms and rounded sides.
The Duckworks article includes a delightful account of retired oarsmen and oarswomen in Houston finding love through rowing. Bless.