Friday 31 October 2008

Punt Gunning

The subject of punt gunning has resurfaced. That prolific correspondent A. Nony Mouse has left an interesting comment on my post from the Broads Museum, and Eugene Molloy sent this (the blue sections are from my post):

I've just had my attention drawn to the punt gunning piece on your blog.

As a one time punter I'm always pleased to see the sport referenced and thought the pictures were great .... but the accompanying text contained very many inaccuracies, so many indeed that anyone with real experience of punt gunning would find the piece laughable. You might care to amend it if you value your reputation.

The punt (the lower boat - the other is a play boat made in Sussex) is 17ft long and carried a 1.5in gun. The gun was loaded with a pound of black powder and about 2lb of shot. Any old scrap metal could be used but the usual charge was mixed nails. The basic science of punt building was laid down in the 1880s by the splendidly named Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, and has been developed since. Even using modern building materials there is no way that a 17.5 foot punt could carry a gun heavy enough to throw 2 lbs of shot,  8 to 10 oz would be more like it. Scrap metal was not used, that is a myth These were professional market hunters for the main part and knew that lead shot was the preferred load; it killed cleanly and efficiently. The birds had to be presented to the market and having them shredded by nails (which would in any case severely damage the gun) is a ludicrous claim.

The hunter would lie prone in the punt and stealthily row towards the roosting birds. When in position, he would knock the side of the boat sharply with the flat of his hand to send the birds into the air. Then he would pull the trigger, causing a tremendous blast and pushing the boat back as far as 25 yards. The punt when approaching fowl is either paddled (single butter pat type paddles, one in each hand) or sculled. Making the birds jump is an unusual tactic, normally they are shot whilst either on the water or mud. A punt recoils around 2 feet at maximum; just do the physics and you'll see that is so. Equal and opposite reactions and all that stuff. Additionally the replica gun in the snap has no "breeching rope" so it could not in any case transfer energy to the punt. being unrestrained, it would however undoubtedly kill the firer!

After that it was a question of clearing up. The dog would fetch the dead birds, and the wounded would be finished off with a shotgun known rather bluntly as a 'cripple-stopper'. Most unusual  to have a dog when in a punt, from both a safety and a utility point of view. I've only seen dogs in punts when they were being transported from one part of the salting to another.

Concern over the number of wounded birds led to a ban on 1.5in guns, after which only 2in guns were allowed. The exact reverse is true. 2" guns are unlawful, 1 !/2" guns are lawful. Concerns for quarry were not part of the process leading to that decision.

Punts are still being built and used by shooter / craftsmen in the county; as a boating and sailing enthusiast you might well be interested contacting some local wildfowling associations with a view to meeting these guys and examining their craft so that you can make a more accurate assessment of puts and punt gunning.

Eugene Molloy

It's great to get feedback from people with practical experience of this fascinating sport which very few people know exists. There is little information on the Web. Most of the information I used for my post was taken from the Museum exhibits, so I suspect there are many ways of operating a punt. I must admit I did wonder about the dog (how do you keep it quiet when sneaking up to your prey?) but the description I read was clearly from experience so some shooters must use dogs.
I have tried to contact Chichester wildfowlers but without success - if any of you are reading this, drop me an email. I would love to come out one day to see for myself, if that is feasible.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Amble up the Hamble

I'm discovering the source of the mighty Hamble river on Saturday, in aid of the Stroke Association. A small fleet of intrepid explorers will be accompanying me, and I am glad to see the weather outlook is reasonable given the time of year.
Anyone who would like to join in is cordially invited to turn up with boat at Swanwick Hard at around 1100. The natives say the source is about five kilometres away, at the legendary happy hunting ground, a land flowing with beer and crisps.
See for details, and while you are there you can sponsor me if you feel so inclined. Many thanks!

Improv at Barcelona

Ben at the always entertaining Invisible Workshop blog has a picture of a thole pin on a Barcelona fishing boat. It's an old chair leg. Beats paying chandlery prices, I say.

Rowing off California

Kim Apel writes from California with this great picture of his friend Nelius rowing towards Morro Rock, a dramatic outcrop on the coast:

Chris: I enjoy your website, and in return I feel obligated to contribute something. Attached is a photo I just received of my friend Nelius R., from his camping and rowing trip in September to Morro Bay, on the central coast of California.
Morro Rock, as the small mountain in the photo is named, is sort of a mini-Gibralter at the entrance to Morro Bay. The boat is a 14' home-built “Cosine Wherry”.
I have more rowing photos from the western U.S. if you’re interested.
The Cosine Wherry is a strip-built skiff described in the book Rip, Strip and Row! by JD Brown.
It is available in the UK here at £18, which must be a bargain for a full set of plans for this lovely boat. It looks like Nelius did a fabulous job with his.
Thanks for that, Kim - and do send more!

Thursday 23 October 2008

Spirit of Mystery leaves for Australia

I interviewed yachtsman supreme Pete Goss for The Times a couple of months back and visited his replica Beer lugger at the Southampton Boat Show, but I didn't think I would get an excuse to write about his epic voyage from Cornwall to Australia here, as they are sailing not pulling.
Except that Spirit of Mystery is being rowed in and out of port in the old-fashioned way, in keeping with the aim of completing the voyage without modern aids. Swinging those great big sweeps looks like hard work.
Goss writes in his blog (which he is not writing with a quill pen):
"Rowing her out was amazing and I can't thank the supporters enough for the send off - particularly given the weather. In fact we were pretty chuffed at how good old 'Spirit of Mystery' rose to the moment as we hadn't really rowed her. We cleared the harbour at 1830hrs, filled the wind with sails and we were off into a dark, wet and rough old night. As soon as the RNLI boat turned back it felt like we had left and thoughts of home and family came flooding through and I gave Tracey a quick call to say we were off. The sun is out at the moment and I can clearly visualise her pottering about in the garden - roll on Cape Town."
Bon voyage, Spirit of Mystery!

Sunday 19 October 2008

Braving Southampton Water

What's the difference between the moon and Southampton Water? The moon is shiny and bright....
Which is just one of the reasons why I have never rowed there, another being fast-moving and upredictable threats ranging from jetskis to cruise liners. Which reminds me (read this aloud) what is brown and steaming and comes out of Cowes backwards? The Isle of Wight ferry.
However, the destination of the last southern meet of the Dinghy Cruising Association was Eling, a village on a little inlet off the River Test on the other side of Southampton from where I live. It was a case of either drive through Southampton, or row through it.
So I decided to launch at Weston, a dreary suburb dominated by Weston Shore, a line of tower blocks put up in 1965 by the old People's Republic of Southampton. In constrast, the slipway is fabulous, usable all states of the tide and having a free car park and (joy!) an extremely smart new public jakes.
The water still looked intimidating, with some huge carriers unloading gazillions of cars from the Far East on a quay on the other side, and a speedboat race taking place in the middle. The only other users of the slipway were two jetskis towed behind Kamikaze Testosterone V8 pickup trucks with bull bars so large they should be elephant bars. Usually, boaters exchange friendly banter on the slipway whatever their boating preference but these guys didn't acknowledge my presence.
Looked right, left and right again and rowed briskly over the water to Hythe, breathed sigh of relief and continued north. Period of alarm passing between the military port at Marchwood and the cruise liner port on the other - nowhere to climb out of the water if disaster struck. But of course it didn't.
Caught up with Al Law in his Paradox Little Jim off the sail training place. Left him tacking manfully but slowly upstream.
Got to Eling, a pretty place with a church on a hill, a tide mill and a pub. Unfortunately also an enormous stack of empty containers. And it is surrounded by housing estates, so it is infested with chavs. Two Fletcher speedboats launched as I ate my sandwiches. Nice blokes but lethal on the water - one nearly ran me down as I left.
So it was rather a joy to find that the DCA had assembled on the bank just to the south, a place with dramatically contrasting views - two lovely Georgian houses on a wooded hill on one side, and the container terminal on the other.
Regretted my long break afterwards as I felt stiff as a board, but much more confident. Even the departure of a cargo vessel, the Isle of Wight ferry and a huge cruise liner didn't phase me (much).

Friday 17 October 2008

Boat on eBay, possibly for rowing

This boat is on eBay here with a richly entertaining description. Key quote: "It has a couple of wooden paddling stick things."

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Mystery skiff

Gavin Atkin at photographed a skiff at Mylor, Cornwall, and asks what it is. Well, I'm told it is a 15ft skiff, the smallest traditional boat raced in Cornwall. Three oarsmen row it 'randan' style, with a sculler (two oars) in the middle and a rower (one oar) at each end. If you look carefully at the picture you can see there is only one pair of thole pins (used instead of rowlocks) next to the bow and stern thwarts, but a pair on either side of the centre thwart.
Here is a picture of one in action, taken by Brave Tales on Flickr.

Monday 13 October 2008

Rowing in the USA

This picture is for anyone under the impression that all Americans are walking sacks of lard. This lot look incredibly fit. The key? They all row, and have just taken part in the national event of the International Recreational and Open Water Rowing Association (IROW).
The event took place at the Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont, one of my favourite states. Lots of pics by Kathleen here - it looks like they had a ball.

Not rowing in Madeira

I've been to Madeira on business (ha!) so no rowing for a week. We went whale spotting and saw a couple of spouts in the faraway blue yonder but otherwise nothing, not even a friendly dolphin. Madeira's fishermen now rely on taking tourists out big game fishing if they want to kill blue fin tuna and marlin, and whale watching if they don't, so the harbour is wedged out with massive plastic speedboats. Only one traditional fishing boat shone out like a good deed in a naughty world, resplendent in her brightly patterned paintwork. Outside, a rather nice cutter was parked.
Off the coast, I got a very long shot of a replica of Christopher Columbus's flagship Santa Maria, which is based in Funchal as part of the city's 500th anniversary celebrations. Columbus lived for several years in Funchal when he was a buyer in the sugar trade (not many people know that) and called there on one of his epic voyages. She seemed to be putting on a surprising turn of speed under mizzen alone - perhaps the replica is not quite as authentic as it seems.
A magnificent bronze mermaid adorns the harbour. I'm not sure if the all-over graffiti adds to her artistic quality or not. Someone has even tried to carve their name in a very difficult-to-reach spot....

Monday 6 October 2008

More from Life in the Slow Lane

While he was going through the long incubation process that eventually hatched the Alden Skiff and started recreational rowing, Arthur Martin was troubled by doubts as to whether a sliding seat skiff designed for fun rather than racing would be accepted both by sporting rowers with a speed obsession and by fun rowers with a varnished mahogany obsession.
College rowers, he feared, would be to snooty for a recreational skiff, even if it enabled them to get out in choppy waters:
"There is a story, for which I cannot guarantee the veracity, of a young man from the Midwest who went to Harvard. Upon his graduation and return home, his friends had a party to celebrate. The asked him if he thought the Easterners were snobby. "No," he answered, "I rowed on the Varsity crew for three years, and by my senior year everyone in the boat had spoken to me, except number 7."

He was later to take a phone call from the Friends of Harvard Rowing ordering two Aldens, sight unseen, simply because the Harvard coach had said they should.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Shortest ever cruise?

Joined a Dinghy Cruising Association cruise today. Went in at the ferry hard at Smuggler's Lane, Bosham (the other side of the channel in the picture) and rowed across to Itchenor where Cliff and Sarah, the only other arrivals, were preparing their Wayfarer. They launched and headed for East Head. I launched intending to row up to Dell Quay for lunch, but it suddenly came down in stair rods, driven by a nasty squall. So I rowed straight back to Smugglers Lane and went home.
Total distance covered: about 600 yards. Could this be the shortest DCA cruise ever?

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Pete Reed

I had the privilege of interviewing Olympic coxless four gold medalist Pete Reed (second from left, or No3) this evening for The Times. He's a giant in all senses (6ft 7in and the largest lung capacity on record, apparently).
As a qualified marine engineer and naval officer, Pete is one of the few athletes who has the intellectual equipment to analyse the equipment for his own sport. His dissertation for his BEng was an examination of the optimum setup for rowing. His conclusions were:
A) the longer the oars, the better,
B) the longer the stroke, the better.
These conclusions may seem obvious but they ain't. A longer stroke means a longer recovery, and longer oars mean more exertion by the rower, both of which may impact overall performance.
Reed wanted to look at the physiological impacts of varying stroke and oar length, but this got far too complex for a bachelor's degree. Apparently, professors of physiology are looking at this subject now. The results should be interesting.