Saturday 30 August 2008

Converting Canoes for Rowing

Hi Chris.
At last, I've found a website committed to non competitive rowing!
My interest in recreational rowing started when I purchased an 'Old-Town' drop-in rowing seat for my open canoe. With a pair of seven and a half foot long oars the canoe was considerably easier to propel through the water than with a single paddle. It also felt a lot safer, especially in rougher water.
Whilst the drop in seat was extremely comfortable to sit in it was very awkward to transport. The one piece fibreglass seat measured about 54 inches across by about two and a half feet depth and took up the whole of the back seat of the car. After a season's use I sold it on as I was sailing my canoe rather than rowing it.
Now my interest in rowing has returned and and I'm looking for a drop in rowing seat for my open canoe again. This time I would like a rowing seat that is more compact or even collapsible. I'd even consider a sliding seat rowing rig, though I've never actually rowed with one. I would be very grateful if you could advise me of any suitable rowing rigs, especially products that can be purchased in G.B.
I particularly like your 'Sprite' rowing skiff. Are the rowing outriggers attached to your boat homemade? They look rather flimsy but I suppose they must be strongly constructed. In your Sprite, are your feet strapped in? If not, how does your sliding seat work effectively.
I am based in the small town of Newburgh on the south shore of the tidal Tay estuary between Perth and the village of Wormit. I do hope you can answer some of my questions.
Stuart Sutherland

Hi Stuart,
Glad that you like the blog!
First off, I have to say that I have never rowed a canoe so this is all theoretical, but there seem to be several ways forward. You could get a Piantedosi 'Scout' rowing rig. It seems to be well made and will make your canoe go very fast, but it is expensive and will take up most of the back of your car when not in the canoe.
Take a look also at the EZ Row, a rig with cranked oars so you can row facing forward. Unfortunately that is expensive too and I doubt whether the system will allow much speed.
At the other end of the scale, the designer Jim Michalak suggests sitting on a simple box. You would have to shape the bottom to match the bottom of the kayak, and perhaps add a couple of studs to the bottom of the kayak to keep it in position, but it would take up far less space in the car as well as being cheap.
The riggers on my Sprite came with the kit from Seabird Boats. They are made of stainless steel tube and may look flimsy but are actually very robust. I've never had any trouble with them. The boat came with a strap that goes round the stretcher (footrest) and attaches round the feet with velcro, but the original one came off and I discovered that the friction between my ankles and the stretcher is enough to bring me forward as long as I don't try to do it too fast. I will reinstate the strap when I get round to it.
I hope that answers your questions.
All best wishes, Chris

Does anyone have any better ideas for converting canoes into rowing boats?

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Broads Green Boat Show

Electric boats a-plenty will be congregating at the Broads Green Boat Show on Sunday September 21. Electric boats are good because they are quiet, produce little wash and are, generally, operated by nice people who are considerate to rowers. But one human-powered boat will also be there, Swallow Boats' smashing pedal-powered Winsome.
I tried the Winsome at Beale Park and she is remarkably fast. The crew face each other, which is much more sociable than the usual arrangement where bow can only see the back of stroke's head and stroke can't see bow at all. And it leaves one's hands free to hold a glass of something cold and bubbly. Ideal for the Broads and, indeed, rivers and canals anywhere.
The Broads Green Boat Show is on Salhouse Broad and costs a mere £3 to get in if you come by car, but the really pleasant way to arrive is by boat from Wroxham at a cost of £5 including access to the show.

Monday 25 August 2008

Rowing for charity

A crew from Ryde Rowing Club is planning to row the Channel for charity next month. This sounds like very hard work but it is for the Naomi House Children's Hospice near Winchester, and I can't think of a better cause.
So go now to their fundraising page on Justgiving and give generously.

Saturday 23 August 2008

A great gadget

My new Nokia E71 is not only a great phone, it is a decent camera and an excellent GPS too. A free downloadable application called Sports Tracker enables you to record the route of a row, with speeds, heights and almost everything else you need to analyse your performance afterwards.
Of course, I didn't do any analysis whatsoever after my row from Itchenor to Prinsted today but I did export the route to Google Earth so I could see where I went, and now you can too:

Happy to help

A couple of weeks back this blog got an email:
Hi Chris,
My name is Neville Murray, I am from the Burnham on Crouch lifeboat crew (RNLI).
We have a Montagu Whaler which we are rowing from Poole to Burnham next year, and this year we are just doing some small races including the Great River Race.
The question I have for you is do you know where I can get some oars for it, as the ones for this boat have gone missing.
Hope to hear from you soon.
That seemed like a jolly good cause, so I forwarded the message to all the owners of Montagu Whalers I know (both of them). Dick Wynne of London Whalers came up trumps:
Hi Chris & Neville,
A worthy cause, and the 2nd new MW project on the EC I have heard of this week! The other being Adrian's on Sheppey. Unfortunately I dare not part with my long spares as we are out once or twice weekly on the East End canals, the breakage risk is a lot higher there than on more open water, and the repair cost and lead-time are very high. I do have 10 virtually new 12ft Admiralty oars (for double-banked whaling which we no longer do in the MW) but can't afford to give them away, intend to sell them for around £400 or £50 each as yacht sweeps, for which they are ideal. This is a fraction of their original cost I hardly need add.
Neville, I would try the Sea Cadets - I recently bought a bunch of oars from the Victoria Dock SC station, they had somehow lost their whaler. There could be other stashes around the country. If you & your crew would like a London workout sometime, a weekday evening on the canal, or on the river at a weekend, get in touch. My Montagu Whaler can be seen at
My boat was fastest MW in last years GRR, and I am sure the fact she was the only MW does not detract. Looks like she will have competition this year then!
Probably time someone formed a whaler association, the whaler in all its forms is the ideal communal sail/oar boat, as I like to bang on. We seem to have a quorum on the Thames from Henley via Limehouse to Burnham & Sheppey ... we should all gather somewhere sometime.
Neville bought the Admiralty oars and got a result!
Hi to one and all
I would like to say a big thanks to Chris and Dick for all the help getting the oars for the race Sunday (we did win) it was a real team effort - let's not leave it too long before we all meet up for a row BBQ and beer.
Many thanks from all at Burnham lifeboat station

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Rowing Catamaran

Canadian company RowersWorld are selling an interesting rowing catamaran, the TomCat, although it may be the Skimmer under another name, perhaps.
It is 18ft 6in long and each hull is only 9in wide so it should be fairly fast, and the overall beam is 3ft 3in so its should be extremely stable. It splits into three bits without tools, enabling the boat to be carried on a roof rack without difficulty.
The sensation of rowing over the water is said to be "exciting and dramatic" but also bum-dampening I imagine. And it might not be very manoeuvrable. It is on sale already, down from $4300 to $3700 (plus tax). Has anybody tried one? What's it like on the water?
For comparison, see the Virus Kataram and the prototype Rocat.

Monday 18 August 2008

Eddystone Challenge 2008

My favourite Goon Show line is Major Dennis Bloodnok's remark "Curse this wind! No more curried eggs for me!" Well, there was quite a lot of wind over the weekend here on the south coast of England and everyone cursed it thoroughly. I was forced to row up the relatively sheltered channel to Dell Quay instead of heading towards the harbour entrance from Cobnor, where I was boating with the Dinghy Cruising Association and Home Built Boat Rally.
They obviously had a much bigger gale down West. The Eddystone Challenge, a race for pulling boats and sea kayaks from Plymouth to the famous lighthouse and back, had to be diverted up the River Tamar (again).
According to the Plymouth Herald, conditions were atrocious with winds gusting to force 8. Forty boats took part, and six competitors had to be taken off by safety boats. Some great pics on the site of windblown and very wet crews battling through the white horses.
First home was a double gig from Bradford on Avon in 2hr 13min, a tremendous show.
[Two members of] London Whalers were there in Henley Whalers' American whaleboat Molly, winning the whaler trophy. The fact that Molly was the only whaler in the race does not diminish my admiration for their achievement in rowing over twenty miles in punishing conditions. There's a report here.

Friday 15 August 2008

Coombes monument to be restored

Moves are afoot to restore the memorial to Robert Coombes in Brompton Cemetery, west London.
Colin Middlemiss, clerk to the Company of Watermen, to which Coombes belonged, tells me that money has been raised and it only remains for permission to be given by the cemetery owners for work to begin. As noted in previous posts, this wonderful tomb is in a sadly weathered condition with most of the heads gone from the four figures at the corners (all modelled on the 'champion sculler of the Thames and Tyne' himself, in various costumes). This is great news.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back

The citizens of Fogo Island, Newfoundland, have started a new tradition - a race across the ocean to Change Island ten miles away. The aim is to stimulate interest in the genuinely traditional Fogo Island punt, a rowing boat that used to be the workhorse of the community in the days when the sea was much easier to travel than the roads.
The race should have taken place on the weekend before last and I've been waiting for a report. So far nothing has appeared, but here is a lovely video from the organisers in which one of the last builders of these lovely and characteristic boats talks about them.

Monday 11 August 2008

World's smallest duck punt?

Is this the smallest duck punt ever? Jim Cooper built it from plans in the old Mechanix Illustrated magazine, and John Kohnen snapped him rowing in the Quinn's Cove messabout near Vancouver, Washington State, in June. Looks like fun, but I think he needs to move aft a little to bring the bow up a bit.
Thanks to Duckworks for the heads-up.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Having a punt on a rowing race

We tend to regard the Victorians as straight-laced religious people who would never gamble, still less attempt to nobble a race. But rowing in the mid-19th century was a major sector for betting, with huge crowds gathering on the bridges of the Thames and Tyne to lose their shirts on rowing races.

There were, needless to say, concerns about the honesty of the sport, as reported in Vanity Fair in 1871:

We have seen the last of the practice of the eights, and almost as soon as this number of the FAIR sees publicity we shall have seen also the race and its result. We never remember a greater excitement than on the present occasion, and never such an infusion of the gambling element as is now unfortunately introduced as a leading feature in the entertainment. City speculators plunge as greedily on light and dark blue as on cotton or indigo; and having never seen either crew in their lives, nor having even succeeded in feathering a scull, gravely tell you that it is a “real good thing” this way or that; that they know on the “very best authority” that A and B in the Oxford boat can’t stay, or C and D of the Cantabs are lamentably over-trained. As for the “ring,” they quote the odds as formally as prices for the Chester Cup and Derby, and only lament that there is no such luck as a possibility of “squaring” it -- judging charitably University probity by their own.
This gambling is a serious evil; without raising the abstract question of morality, it puts University men on thorns, lest unscrupulous speculators, finding that they cannot buy or square the crews, should attempt to “nobble” them as a last resource. We more than suspect that this sort of game has been planned, though futilely, before now. We remember how in ‘67, when Oxford were hot favourites, ugly rumours came to our ears from private sources as to whereabouts in the course a boat was provided to run into Oxford, should they be leading. Forewarned, the presidents were forearmed, and though at the expected place a suspicious-looking craft shot erratically into the track, both boats were wide off shore, Cambridge the nearer of the two, and mischief, if intended, was averted. This year Cambridge are public favourites, and the ring are “fielding” at the odds. If any attack is planned, it will be against the light blue, but we sincerely trust that the guard of police at the boat-houses, and in police boats during the race, will suffice to overawe any such villainy.

In 1912 a Vanity Fair correspondent recalled that an American undergraduate at Cambridge opened a book on the boat racing, hoping to fleece the innocent English. During the course of the evening, every one of the crew of his own college boat, including the cox, approached him individually and privately to put half-a-crown against their own boat. As a result he became convinced they were going to throw the race and when the rest of the college swarmed round next day to place a sovereign each to win, he was happy to give five to one.

Of course, they romped home in record time and the amateur bookie faced a payout of £500 against an income of £1 2s 6d.

Thanks to Wikipedia

Saturday 2 August 2008

That little problem rowers have....

There has been a frank discussion on the BBRS Open Water Rowing forum of the hidden problem of rowers, the damage sitting on a hard seat for hours does to one's posterior. Jim has discovered diaper rash cream:
"Thought I'd pass along a seredipitous discovery I made recently for curing and preventing "rower's rash", that unpleasant result of the abrasive action of whatever article of clothing stands between one's posterior and one's boat.
Our nine-month-old granddaughter has been in visiting for a few weeks, and has developed a healthy appetite for Jersey beach sand. That, combined with the gastrointestinal effects of teething, resulted in a nasty case of diaper rash. After consultations were made with local maternal experts, grandpop was dispatched to the local CVS for a tub of "Triple Paste", which is apparently highly regarded as a cure for the aforesaid condition.
Seeing the miraculous effect of this balm on the baby, and feeling the after-effects of the morning's row down below, the proverbial light bulb lit up in grandpop's skull, and I have been using the stuff ever since. It cleared up the original rough spot immediately, and I haven't been troubled with abrasion since--knock on wood--and the stuff washes right off. Available in the "Baby Supplies" section of your local chain pharmacy.
Dave chipped in with the gratuitous information that the condition is known as Swamp Ass in his neighbourhood. Rather more constructively, Tony recommended a square of carpet with a V cut out of it where the tailbone will rub. Attach the carpet to the seat with duct tape.
Uncle Phil thinks good quality shorts are key:
"Come on guys. There is no good reason to have raspberries at this point of the game. That is for the dumb kids who don't feel like spendong a few bucks to get a good set of trunks and somehow think that spandex will not rub.
Granted occasionally you will get a wrinkle in any shorts and get rubbed - so Brother James' serendipitous discovery should help. However as noted by Tony - you can get a foam pad well contoured to your butt - go to the Alden site and order one If you are sliding on a fixed seat then bring along either the liquid soap or (my preference) mineral oil.
Uncle Phil"
Capt Ben Gaffney and Lt Orlando Rogers, the Royal Marines who rowed the Atlantic last year, recommend nudity moderated by Sudocrem, a British nappy rash cream. Their site is called Row Commando, a disturbingly appropriate name.
Solo Atlantic rower Roz Savage swears by tea tree oil antiseptic lotion and Green People's Baby Salve, plus lovely soft alpaca pads on the seat (right).
And finally, Leven Brown's record-breaking transatlantic rowing crew aboard La Mondiale, pictured top (Ocean Rowing Society website), were blessed with sheepskin seat covers from Easirider. I intend to buy some for my boat, but as I have a strict rule on every rowing expedition to take a break and pop into the pub every few hours, the nappy rash ointment is never necessary.