Thursday 31 July 2008

Trad rowing boat on eBay

Puddle, a traditional clinker-built 11ft by 4ft rowing boat, has come up on eBay. She's lovely with lots of twinkly varnish and brass, and would look fab ambling round Chichester Harbour with me aboard, though her native habitat is Henley-on-Thames. She comes with two pairs of nice brass rowlocks, square pattern for neat and precise feathering, and two pairs of rather elegant spoon blades which are of slightly different lengths so I suspect were made for the boat.
The bottom has been sheathed in fibreglass which is reassuring in a boat of this age.
There is a step for a mast but no mast or sail is supplied. This is not a boat that would sail particularly well, though sailing not particularly well would still be preferable to firing up the small outboard that comes in the package.
There's a trailer and launching trolley, and it even comes with a canvas boat cover and a canvas bag to put the cover in.
There's obviously a lot of interest in Puddle as five bids have already been placed, pushing the price up to £770. The auction ends on Sunday.

Bidding reached £1,021.00 but failed to reach the reserve.

Puddle is back on eBay here, bidding starting at £450. Presumably the reserve price has been adjusted downwards - it will be interesting to see what happens this time round.

The boat has sold at £1,000 after a brisk auction - five bidders were after her.

Monday 28 July 2008

Perils of sculling

I've just read Laura Lippman's latest, Another Thing to Fall, starring her rowing detective Tess Monaghan, based in and around the city of Baltimore, and a jolly good romp it is. Uniquely, it starts with a Grade 1 joke about sculling, specifically what might happen when you travel fast, backwards and effectively deaf:

The headphones were a mistake. She realized this only in hindsight, but then—what other vision is available to a person heading backward into the world? True, they were good old- fashioned headphones, which didn't seal tightly to the ear, not earbuds, which she loathed on principle, the principle being that she was thirty- four going on seventy.

Furthermore, she had dialed down the volume on her Sony Walkman — yes, a Sony Walkman, sturdy and battered and taxicab yellow, not a sleek little iPod in a more modern or electric shade. Still, for all her precautions, she could hear very little. And even Tess Monaghan would admit that it's important to be attuned to the world when one is charging into it backward, gliding along the middle branch of the Patapsco in a scull and passing through channels that are seldom without traffic, even in the predawn hours.

But Tess had painstakingly rationalized her way into trouble, which, she decided later, is pretty much how everyone gets into trouble, one small rationalization at a time. She wanted to row, yet she felt obligated to listen to her boyfriend on a local radio show, promoting the Oktoberfest lineup at her father's bar. Besides, he planned to play some songs by Brave Combo, a nuclear polka band that Tess quite liked. She would row a path that was familiar to her, and trust the coxswains for the fours and eights to watch her back, a courtesy offered to all scullers.

It did not occur to Tess to row a little later, or skip the workout altogether. The rowing season traditionally ended after Thanksgiving, a mere month away. She had to take advantage of every waning day, especially now that Baltimore was in its full autumnal glory. If aliens had landed in Baltimore on this particular October morning, they would have concluded that it was the most perfect city on the globe they were about to conquer, truly the Charm City it claimed to be. The trees were tinged with gold and scarlet, the breeze was light, the sky was slowly deepening into the kind of brilliant blue that reminded Tess that she once knew the word cerulean, if only because it had been on the vocabulary lists for the SATs. She set out for Fort McHenry, at the distant tip of Locust Point, rationalizing every stroke of the way: She knew the route so well, it was so early, the sun not even up. She had beaten the other rowers to the water, arriving in darkness and pushing off from the dock at first light. She wouldn't wear the headphones on the way back. She just needed to hear Crow on WTMD, listen to him play a few snippets of Brave Combo, then she would turn off the Walkman and — That's when the police boat, bullhorn blaring, crossed into her line of vision and came charging toward her. By the time she registered everything that was happening — the approaching boat, the screams and shouts coming from all directions, the fact that someone was very keen that she stop or change course — the motorboat had stopped, setting up an enormous, choppy wake that was going to hit her sideways. Tess, trying frantically to slow and steady her scull, had a bona fide moment of prescience. Granted, her vision extended only two or three seconds into the future, but it was uncannily exact: She was going to go ass over teakettle into the Patapsco, a body of water that even conquering aliens from a water-deprived planet would find less than desirable. She closed her eyes and shut her mouth as tightly as possible, grateful she had no cuts or scratches into which microbes could swim.

At least the water held some leftover summer warmth. She broke the surface quickly, orienting herself by locating the starshaped fort just to the north, then the wide channel into the bay to the east of the fort, toward which her vessel was now drifting.

"Get my shell," she spluttered to the police boat, whose occupants stared back at her, blank faced. "My shell! My scull! MY GODDAMN BOAT." Comprehension dawning, the cops reached out and steadied her orphaned scull alongside the starboard side of their boat. Tess began to swim toward them, but a second motorboat cut her off.

A man sat in the stern of this one, his face obscured by a baseball cap, his arms crossed over a fleece vest emblazoned with a curious logo, Mann of Steel. He continued to hug his arms close to his chest, a modern- day Washington crossing the Delaware, even as two young people put down their clipboards and reached out to Tess, boosting her into the boat.

"Congratulations," said the male of the pair. "You just ruined a shot that we've been trying to get for three days."

Tess glanced around, taking in everything her back had failed to see. This usually quiet strip around Fort McHenry was ringed with boats. There was an outer periphery of police launches, set up to protect an inner circle, which included this boat and another nearby, with what appeared to be a mounted camera and another fleece jacketed man. There were people onshore, too, and some part of Tess's mind registered that this was odd, given that Fort McHenry didn't open its gates to the public until 9 a.m. Farther up the fort's grassy slopes, she could see large white trailers and vans, some of them with blue writing that she could just make out: Haddad's Rentals. She squeezed her ponytail and tried to wring some water from her T-shirt, but the standing man frowned, as if it were bad form to introduce water into a boat.

"The sun's up now," said the young woman who had helped Tess into the boat, her tone dire, as if this daily fact of life, the sun rising, was the most horrible thing imaginable. "We lost all the rose tones you wanted."

The doubly stern man threw his Natty Boh cap down in the boat, revealing a headful of brown curls, at which he literally tore. He was younger than Tess had realized, not much older than she, no more than thirty-five. "Three days," he said. "Three days of trying to get this shot and some stupid rower has to come along at the exact wrong moment—"

"Tess Monaghan," she said, offering a damp, sticky hand. He didn't take it. "And I'm sorry about the accident, but you almost killed me."

"No offense," said Natty Boh, "but that might have been cheaper for us in the long run."

The rest of the book has her sorting out the various threats faced by the film makers, who seem to have antagonised just about everyone in Baltimore with their TV film on the old steel industry. A brilliant depiction of the dynamics of film production and a page-turner of story. Recommended.
By the way, Natty Boh is a colloquial reference to National Bohemian, a beer brewed for many years in Baltimore but now a beer-like beverage extruded in North Carolina by the Miller company.
The lovely picture of Fort McHenry at dawn is from Flickr, by nature61.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Rowboats launch on Duckworks

Two interesting rowing boats have been launched, reported at Duckworks. The first is a Flint design by Ross Lillistone, built by Bruce Erney who rows on the Cooper River in New Jersey. She's a very attractive boat, 14ft 7in by 4ft, and Bruce says he is having to learn how to row fast to keep up with her.
Daniel built Esperanza for his parents (nice pictures here) who seem to be enjoying rowing her very much. The design is Jim Michalak's RB42, 18ft by 3ft 9in. I would consider installing outriggers. Do follow the links to the design, by the way - it has some dramatic pics of Herb McLeod's boat in the Rocky Mountains.

Friday 25 July 2008

An old joke but a new video

It was Saturday night aboard the Roman galley. The big bloke at the back had put his whip away for the day, and addressed the slaves chained to their oars.
"Listen up, crew! I have some good news and some bad news!
"The good news is, tonight it's double rations for everyone! The bad news is, tomorrow the Captain's going waterskiing....."
Here's a little video:

Thursday 24 July 2008

Tin Boats

Some pretty odd materials have been used to build boats down the ages, and one of the oddest has to be corrugated iron. But corrugated iron boats, usually known as tin boats, were common round the English-speaking world in Victorian times.
It was Joseph Francis, a Bostonian, who realised that corrugated iron would make strong, cheap boats. He was particularly interested in making lifeboats that would survive coming ashore in a storm.
The difficulty is creating a boat shape from a material that is designed to be rigid – the corrugations allow bending in one direction but not the other. Francis solved the problem by building a huge hydraulic press capable of bending corrugated sheets into boat shapes.
The parts were bolted together and caulked with pitch or other materials. Because assembly was as simple as putting Meccano together, they became very popular in pioneer areas.
Tin boats were shipped all over the world with the corrugated iron bungalows, shops, pubs and churches that colonists built everywhere they went. Rust killed most of them quickly, though tin boats can still be found with plants growing in them on farms all over Australia in particular.
Joseph Francis continued developing iron lifeboats, the first with built-in flotation tanks. One version, the lifecar, was carried on deck ready to be attached to a line shot by cannon from the shore in the event of the ship hitting the rocks. The system saved more than 200 lives when the immigrant ship Ayshire was wrecked off New Jersey in January 1850. Francis also invented a circular yacht and a military vehicle called the amphibious duck, a horse-drawn cart that could be floated across rivers.
The Toms River Seaport Society Museum is now housed in the coach house of Francis’ country house.
Francis was also very involved in developing rowing boats, building many skiffs for competition and inventing a double jointed rowlock, of which more later.

Monday 21 July 2008

Someone's oars

This is sad. Someone's boat was stolen, leaving a pair of oars useless in someone's garage. So someone propped them up against a tree in the garden, photographed them and put on them eBay. Bidding stands at just over a fiver, so if you are anywhere near Loughborough and you need a pair of 5ft 8in oars, now's your opportunity.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Maine man

Peter H. Spectre, editor of Maine Boats and former editor of WoodenBoat, is a "rowboat kind of guy". Well, not right at the moment, as he confesses in his blog, Compass Rose Review. He is running a motor boat right now, but wisely intends to get shot of it.
For Spectre lives on Seal Harbor, Maine, which is a place God made for rowing, he says:
"Seal Harbor is a rowboat kind of a place. It's big enough so that a crossing from one side to the other can seem like a voyage, especially if the wind is blowing hard or the tidal current is running strong. It's small enough so that you can row for half an hour or less and come ashore on an uninhabited island that perhaps hasn't seen a footstep for days, or even weeks if it's late fall or early spring. It has a main anchorage off Sprucehead Island for the lobster fishing fleet, a lesser anchorage in the lee of Slins Island, and a bunch of isolated moorings here and there, all of which makes rowing and gawking at the boats one of the great pleasures of a summer afternoon."
Idyllic. And, what's more, Spectre has a view of all that from the easy chair in his studio. "What more could a rowboat kind of a guy want?" he asks.

Jason's Argo rows again

A replica of Jason's Argo has set forth from his home port, Volos in northern Greece, on a new argosy. Unfortunately, they are rowing in completely the opposite direction from Jason, who headed east to the Cholcis in the Black Sea to steal the golden fleece.
The Turkish government refused to guarantee safe passage through the Hellespont and the new Argonauts have had to head for Venice instead. It is not clear whether the Turks were concerned with safety (the Hellespont is only 600m across at its narrowest point and is regularly used by supertankers as well as an armada of ferries) or just hate the Greeks.
Anyway, one of the unexpected pluses of the change of plan is that the Argo passed through the amazing Corinth Canal with its vertical walls punched through the limestone. What would Jason have made of it? It is much more spectacular than anything he came across on his original voyage, whatever the legends.

Thursday 17 July 2008

How to Row

Technique is very important for recreational rowers, for two reasons.
1) Rowing well requires less energy than splashing wildly about, essential for lazy rowers like me;
2) Good technique helps a rower look elegant and in control, essential for impressing watchers on the bank.
So this animation by Flip Luisi on YouTube is very helpful even for people who simply want to have fun rather than win races.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Sad, sad, sad.

I went out for a quick scull at Bosham at just past seven this evening and it was fabulous. Dramatic sky, skylarks singing their hearts out, yachties lounging in their cockpits pouring sundowners and so on. One of the great advantages of rowing in summer in high latitudes is that one can go out at times when everyone in the benighted tropics is completely in the dark.
But when I got back to the hard, I couldn't resist the temptation to log on to the Bosham Webcam on my mobile phone, just to see myself on it. How deeply, deeply sad is that?
And I found that the camera is a bit further along the shore, directly opposite the famous church, so I wasn't in shot. Next time I will have to log on from the boat to make absolutely sure I can admire myself online.

A boat is launched on Orchid Island

Many hands make light work. This is a traditional fishing boat being launched for the first time by the Lau people of Lanyu, which means Orchid Island, off Taiwan.
The new boat is then rowed round the bay. The crew seems to be having a bit of difficulty getting together here.In a fascinating article with great pictures, blogger Caro tells how the Tao tribe face an uncertain future. Like all ethnic minorities in China, they are losing their ancient culture and traditions. The Han Chinese majority imposed Mandarin on local schools and banned the traditional house style, an interesting structure built into the sides of hills to survive typhoons, in favour of concrete and glass.
Local fishing is under immediate threat. It's a rich tradition, Caro tells us:
"The Tao people believe the flying fish is a gift from heaven. And there are many rituals and taboos surrounding the catching and eating of the fish. There are special fish types to be eaten only by the elders, by men and the women."
Every family is expected to run a fishing boat, built by family members and launched with appropriate ceremonies and a massive party.
But as the younger generations move to go to university or to find work on the mainland of Taiwan, boatbuilding skills are not being passed on, and the boats themselves are being displaced by outboard-powered fibreglass monsters. Even the fish are going, the victims of over-fishing by mainland vessels and global warming. It looks depressingly as though a beautiful and rare type of boat may become just another museum piece.
Thanks to for the heads up.

Thursday 10 July 2008

More on the Godyoto

Guy Capra has emailed more about his godyoto sculling oar, an update of the ro (from Japan) or yuloh (from China).
The drawing in the last post was an earlier design, Guy writes. The two parts of the godyoto are now parallel, held together by a simple clamp as shown in this rather nifty animation:

Guy writes: "Note the godyoto doesn't use any rope fastened within the boat nor anything to hold the oar on the transom, unlike the yuloh and ro. It is an easy way to scull and to learn traditional sculling, and as you pointed out it is a good wayto use a standard oar yet fit it inside the boat."
Godyoto also has its own website, with dimensions to enable people to make their own.

A new design of sculling oar

Here's an interesting sculling oar, developed by Guy Capra in Toulon. His blog is in French, so I have probably got this wrong, but Guy points out that sculling over the transom is a difficult skill to learn because it involves a counter-intuitive figure-of-eight movement of the handle.
His design, dubbed godyoto (godille is French for stern oar), has a crank in it that forces the blade to turn in the right direction when you pull the handle. Traditional Chinese yulohs are bent, like the godyoto, but don't have the crank. The pictures make it clearer. And the video makes it clear it works.

I tried over-the-stern sculling in Nessy a couple of weeks back, using a long oar I bought off eBay, and made little headway though I did manage to go forwards rather than in circles. If the godyoto really does work it would be brilliant for sculling round harbours.
As a bonus, the crank splits the oar in half for easy stowing in the boat when not in use.
(Thanks to Duckworks for the heads-up)

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Rowing down the Thames

Travel writer Minty Clinch rowed down the Thames for Henley and wrote about it in the Sunday Times (note that the picture is not of Clinch and co skiffing, but of a gondola demo). The boats were rented from Tom Balm at Thames Skiff Hire.

Saturday 5 July 2008

Beer - the solution to, and cause of, all our problems

Like love and marriage, rowing and beer go together like a horse and carriage, except it doesn't rhyme. And, like a horse and carriage, the rowing has to come before the beer for the best outcome. Sage advice that was ignored by a Swede who decided to row home after getting loaded at a bar - in Denmark. He stole a dinghy and headed for Sweden, three miles away over the Oresund, one of the busiest seaways in the world. Predictably, he passed out half way across but luckily he was spotted and rescued, according to this story from the BBC.
It's an great laugh but I actually get rather puritanical about this sort of thing ever since the comedian Jeremy Hardee (creator of a hilarious balloon dance that is remembered vividly in pubs all over south east London) drowned when trying to board his houseboat when completely pissed.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

The Aquatic Lounger

'Henley on Thames' by 'A Thames Lounger'
From the American sporting magazine The Outing, July 1890

Stuck in the middle of this flowery Victorian word-picture of the Thames at Henley is a interesting description of a recreational rower of the time, presented for an American audience by, I suspect, an English writer. He is labelled 'the aquatic lounger' but all the idleness and devil-may-care attitude is all a front - he is in fact, according to the writer, a hard-working, hard-playing professional gentleman, and an Old Etonian to boot.
The individual was clearly a 'type': only a few years later he enters into history when he appears in Wind in the Willows as Ratty.
The whole article can be found at the LA84 Foundation. We join the writer at a lock, where he spots a sportsman having a break:
There [at the lock] also that product of the Thames, its native genii, the aquatic lounger most does congregate. Burly of form, muscular of development, sunburnt of countenance, much given to smoking the fragrant weed from the recesses of a meerschaum pipe, at the locks he rests from his labors and hears the gossip of the river.
He knows everybody and everybody knows him, for has he not swung his lusty arms and skimmed his outrigger, like a swallow, up and down the Thames these twenty summers past, and passed and repassed every lock hundreds of times? Every locksman knows him and every roadside inn, in all its courses, has had him for a welcome guest.
With such men the Thames becomes a fascination. Every day they can snatch from the serious business of life they are off to its waters. The Thames lounger may, in the intervals, be a busy scientific teacher, or an engineer all but buried in the pressure of weighty contracts, or he may be a literary Gideonite hewing the wood and drawing the water for a voracious and hardly grateful public; but be he what he may his one relaxation is his boat and his favorite haunts on the Thames.
Here lawyers safe from legal toils,
And peers released from duty,
Enjoy at once kind nature’s smiles,
And eke the smiles of beauty.
And it is not surprising that over such men the Thames holds such a sway: setting aside the healthy exercise, the fresh air, the freedom, the lack of all the restraints of fashion in dress and meals, it appeals to all the artistic, historical and patriotic feelings of the educated man.
From the grim Traitors’ Gate at the Tower, whose portals for centuries closed on the martyr and the victim of faction and of religious persecution, to the farthest fanes of Oxford it teems with reminiscence. At one place he rows over the still standing black piles which mark, beneath the water, the work of the Roman engineers who first taught the Briton how to build. At another he passes the farfamed field of Runnymede, where the barons wrung from King John the Magna Charta on which were founded the liberties of the Western world. To-day he saunters through the gardens of that palace which the great Cardinal Wolsey built at Hampton Court, whose stately walls attest the magnificent taste of the great prelate. To-morrow he spends his leisure hours in the precincts of that huge pile, rich with the tradition of a thousand years, wherein the sovereigns of the realm have dwelt and held their court, Royal Windsor, or on the opposite bank he revisits the playfields of his early days at Eton.

Shetland Sixareen launched

Two beautiful new fishing boats have been launched at the Shetland Museum. One is a sixareen, which I have blogged before, and the other is a smaller haddock boat. Both have the classic double ended shape of all Viking-derived boats.
The sixareen,built in just three months by local shipwrights Jack Duncan and Robbie Tait, was named Vaila Mae. The haddock boat, built by Malcolm Hutchison, was dubbed Laura Kay.
After the launch, the boats were rowed briskly round Lerwick.

There is a full report with lots of lovely pics at Shetlopedia. The picture above was taken by Jeannie, and the video by Heimdal.