Saturday 29 November 2008

More oceanic rowing at Earl's Court

James Ketchell (above) aims to break the record for rowing solo across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua, which he aims to do in December 2009. He expects to be at the oars for 12 hours a day in 100 degrees heat. Click here for more details.
In April, Chris Martin and Mick Dawson (below) will set off from Choshi, Japan and row for San Francisco, in an attempt to become the first crew ever to row unsupported across the north Pacific. Take a look here and step back in admiration.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Oceanic Rowing

Last year, an exhibit at the Sail Power and Watersports Show at Earls Court showed that the Atlantic had become a virtual Piccadilly Circus of rowers, with crews crossing almost weekly.
In 2009, rowers are crossing the other oceans as well. This year's show is wedged out with boats that are going to cross the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and one intrepid sculler plans to row the Atlantic solo.
Today, the Indian Ocean race.
The Woodvale Challenge pits rowers against the Indian Ocean, racing from Geraldton, Western Australia, to Mauritius, a 31,000 mile row that will take the fours about 60 days and doubles 80 days.
Two of the boats were on show at Earls Court. The Ocean Angels hope to be the first female crew to row across the Indian Ocean. Their flyer says in big letters they will be rowing NAKED, but before all you lecherous males book your tickets for Geraldton they made it quite clear they were going to row out of helicopter range of the Australian coast before they strip off.
Angels Amy, Fiona and Jo were on the stand and fizzed with enthusiasm and fear in equal measures. Fiona rowed the Atlantic last year, and Amy was a leading light of La Figarow, the crew of the waterman's cutter that, to quote Amy, was 'first across the finishing line' in the London to Paris race earlier this year (for an alternative version, click here). Jo plays hockey and is a chartered surveyor, and is wondering what she has let herself in for.
The picture is rubbish because I had accidentally knocked the camera's settings thingy to 'crap'.
Guy Watts and Andrew Delaney have a brand new Rossiter boat and are going for two records - the first pair crew to cross the Indian Ocean and the youngest (they are both 25). Guy is pictured in his boat, unfortunately looking as though his head is being cut off by a strap.
So sorry about the pics. But best of luck to both crews - I personally think you are all bonkers, but in a nice way. And the cancer charities they are supporting are very worthwhile, so visit their websites and sponsor them now!

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Row up the Hamble on Sunday

Max Taylor and I plan to row up the Hamble on Sunday, Nov 30.
Plan A: Launch at Swanwick Hard, Shore Road, at about 11. Row up to Horse and Jockey, Curbridge. Have lunch. Row back.
Plan B: Turn up at Swanwick Hard, stare glumly through windscreen at driving rain. Go to nearby pub.

Monday 24 November 2008

New sculling boat at Earl's Court

An exciting new rowing boat is being launched at the Sail, Power and Watersports Show at Earls Court this week. Paul Zink writes from lovely Clovelly in Devon:

Hello Chris,

I've recently picked up your blog from earlier this year on sliding riggers. Did you get round to setting up a boat with a sliding rigger?

I have been sculling with a sliding rigger on the open sea for the past four years. Apart from its slightly better performance on flat water it has proved to be greatly superior in rough conditions. With the fixed seat, one feels much more part of the boat, resulting in greater stability, control and ability to maintain a good rhythm.

I was looking for a sporty sculling boat providing a good balance between speed, stability and general seaworthiness. I was not able to find anything that met all my criteria so I set about building my own. I have now built three boats, the second with modifications on the first and the third a complete redesign based on lessons from the first two. The first boat was fitted with a sliding rigger taken off of a standard production boat but after a few months suffered a metal fatigue problem and broke. Boats 2 and 3 have a rigger to my own design.

General reaction to my boat has been such that I have teamed up with a business partner (also a rowing enthusiast) and we are in the process of putting it into production. You can find more details on We will be exhibiting at the Earls Court Boat Show (stand Q16) this week. If you happen to be at the show please look for me for a chat about sliding riggers and boats in general.

Paul Zink

I have yet to try a sliding rigger boat, but they have lots of advantages over sliding seats and my next boat will have sliding riggers. When they were introduced in the 1980s they were banned by rowing's governing body, FISA, because they started winning everything.
But the main advantage from a recreational and sea rowing perspective is that the weight of the rower stays fixed in the boat, eliminating the pitching movement that a sliding seat causes.
Judging by the photos, the Clovelly Scull is a very seaworthy boat indeed and Peter seems confident out there in the Bristol Channel off the rocky North Devon coast.
The Clovelly Scull is a high-tech machine, made from polyester glass foam sandwich and selling at £3700 (inc VAT but exc carriage) if ordered at the show. A unique optional extra is the bipod supporting a front-view mirror and a GPS.
But what really sells it for me is this shot of the Clovelly Scull returning from a trip to Lundy Island, just visible on the horizon fifteen miles away. Perfect.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Rowing in Literature (3)

The finest bedtime reading that literature affords is P.G. Wodehouse, and the other night I came across this description of a rowing expedition in Tried in the Furnace, one of his tales from the Drones Club.
The story so far: Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps has been tricked into taking the Village Mothers of Maiden Eggesford, Somersetshire, on their Annual Outing. Sixteen females of advanced years assembled in a motor coach, demure and docile, but once out of sight of the Vicarage they went wild, hijacking the coach from its intended destination of the Abbey and Museum at the neighbouring village of Bottsford Mortimer and directing it and him to the fleshpots of Bridmouth-on-Sea. After trashing the amusement park, they headed for the beach:
Suddenly the sixteen mothers gave a simultaneous whoop and made for a sailing-boat which was waiting to be hired, sweeping him along with them. And the next moment they were off across the bay, bowling along before a nippy breeze which, naturally, cheezed it abruptly as soon as it had landed them far enough from shore to make things interesting for the unfortunate blighter who had to take to the oars.
This, of course, was poor old Barmy. There was a man in charge of the boat, but he, a rough, untutored salt, had enough sense not to let himself in for a job like rowing this Noah's Ark home. Barmy did put it up to him tentatively, but the fellow said that he had to attend to the steering, and when Barmy said that he, Barmy, knew how to steer, the fellow said that he, the fellow, could not entrust a valuable boat to an amateur. After which, he lit his pipe and lolled back in the stern sheets with rather the air of a Roman banqueter making himself cosy among the cushions. And Barmy, attaching himself to a couple of oars of about the size of those served out to galley-slaves in the old trireme days, started to put his back into it.
For a chap who hadn't rowed anything except a light canoe since he was up at Oxford, he considers he did dashed well, especially when you take into account the fact that he was much hampered by the Mothers. They would insist on singing that thing about 'Give yourself a pat on the back,' and, apart from the fact that Barmy considered something on the lines of the Volga Boat Sone would have been far more fitting, it was a tune that was pretty hard to keep time to. Seven times he caught crabs, and seven times those sixteen Mothers stopped singing and guffawed like one Mother. All in all, a most painful experience. Add the fact that the first thing the females did on hitting the old Homeland again was to get up an informal dance on the sands and that the ride home in the quiet evenfall was more or less a repetition of the journey out, and you wil agree with me that Barmy, as he eventually tottered into the saloon bar of the Goose and Grasshopper, had earned the frothing tankard which he now proceeded to order.
The picture is by the late Beryl Cook (of course).

San Francisco Bay in the springtime

Every year at Easter time, Gordie Nash runs a race out of SF Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and back. This video has Gordie explaining the history and ethos of the race, which is similar to marathons - anybody can enter, some row to win, some row to prove they can get round the course, but most row to have fun.
Key facts: 62 boats ranging from 15ft Whitehalls to 25ft double sculls entered. Ages ranged from under 20 to over 80.

Thanks to the IROW forum for the heads up.

Monday 17 November 2008

The way we were

We tend to assume that bad manners and loutish behaviour were invented by the Mods and Rockers in the 1950s, but it has ever been thus.
In Victorian times yobs threatened to close Henley Royal Regatta. Thousands of Londoners went up by train and hired boats, so many that at one time it was said you could cross the river dryshod by leaping from punt to punt.
Annually through the 1890s W.B Woodgate, Vanity Fair's forthright rowing correspondent, raved about the chaos on the river. Here is a selection of his remarks, dating from 1892 to 1898:
“There were, if possible, more small craft than ever, and worse handled than ever, running amuck and quite devoid of watermanship. . . . It is intolerable that any cripple of a Cockney should be let loose for the day to do more damage that he is worth by incompetency to handle a common tub....
[Most] are largely made up of bounders and counter-jumpers on the spree. These creatures coolly tie up and loll in their boats, blocking the passage and enjoying the nuisance which their lubberly conduct produces....

The incompetence, and in many instances truculence, of non-rowing club cripples in the crowds on the reach becomes more marked each year. It would not be a bad idea for the Thames Conservancy to place some limit upon the presence of these adventurers....
“Keel to the current” is a maxim with all habitués when moving or halting; but duffers think nothing of sprawling broadside to the stream, blocking passage, and thus tangling a dozen or more passers-by in one knot of confusion....
"Then, again, many of these loafers are devoid of good taste, as well as of watermanship. Thus a brace of pariahs deliberately moored their punt, with ryepecked poles, in the middle of the Berks side-channel....and then lay down and amused themselves with watching the confusion which their obstruction occasioned. Unfortunately, there was no specific by-law to meet and punish this act of rowdyism this year....
One of the freaks of the normal Cockney on the spree at Henley is to lie in the bow of a progressing boat armed with a boat-hook, and to prod off with the spike all approaching craft, enjoying the fun of spearing timbers and ripping up carvels. There were at least half-a-dozen such mischief-makers on the course this year....

“Punt paddling” should be stopped during Regatta hours. A laden punt, thus propelled, cannot be “held” up sharply -- especially by the class of cripples who indulge in the trick -- when collision is imminent (unlike a row boat); it runs on like a battering-ram, and its iron-shod shelving prow sweeps destructively over gunwales and rowlocks of legitimate craft. It is a form of navigation painfully on the increase, because it commends itself to the unskilfulness of the tyro, and can be learned in minutes, while it takes weeks to learn to punt and months to row decently.

The solution was simple. In 1899 floating booms were chained between the posts that mark the regatta course to prevent the oiks mooring to them. People still hired boats in incredible numbers, however, as the picture above shows - it was taken in 1914. Nowadays race-watchers come by car and the urge to get out on the water seems to have abated.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the information and the image.

Sunday 16 November 2008

One-handed rowing

Ben at the Invisible Workshop has put pictures up of the Galician one-handed rowing technique. The oars have a square section at the thole pins so they cannot deviate from the vertical, which makes it possible to pull the oars with one hand wrapped around where they cross. Having to slide your hand up the oars must limit the power you can apply, but it would release one hand to cast a line with a lure.
The construction of the oars is interesting too, with two halves lashed together. Cheap to make, I imagine, but weaker and heavier than a pair of Collar's Macons.
Note the anchor at the bow - Ben has a very nice pic of it. I want one for use in the harbour and another for my mantlepiece.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Rowing, Galician style

Ben at the Invisible Workshop has a fascinating post about fishing boats in Galicia, the top-left-hand corner of Spain that ends in Cape Finisterre. Apparently they row with crossed oars, like the Adirondack guide boats, but pushing the oars back with their forearm so one hand is always free for fishing (or, being Spanish, smoking).
I don't really understand how this is done, and Ben has promised to put up his photos over the weekend.
Meanwhile, here is a photo from Wikimedia Commons of a carving in Ben's home city of Tarragona. If rowing in Tarragona is always like this, I want to go too....

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Double skiff on eBay

Here's a fabulous object - a double skiff made about 100 years ago by Turks of Cookham. The hull is mahogany on oak frames, and the traditional cane back and arms on the passenger seat have been newly restored. Apparently it has a canvas tent with iron hoops so you could camp in it.
She's on eBay with a 'buy it now' price of £5,350, which is steepish but a boat like this will guarantee you a starring role at the Thames Traddy Boat Rally, especially if steered by a dolly bird in a crinoline, twirling a parasol seductively.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Autumn Rowing

That depressing time of year when high tide is before dawn and after sundown as often as not is upon us, so I didn't get out on Sunday. It was wet and windy on the south coast in any event. But inland, the Henley Whalers rowed down the Thames - pictured here off picturesque Temple Island, the start of the Henley Regatta course. The Temple folly was built in 1771 as a fishing lodge for nearby Fawley Court - clearly angling was a different class of sport in those days.
At Hurley Lock they stopped to observe the Two Minutes Silence, then on to Temple Lock for beer and cake, followed by more beer at the Flowerpot on the way back. All the elements of a jolly good row, I say.

Sunday 9 November 2008

The Helping Hand

The rescue of Bear Sterns earlier this year by J.P. Morgan Chase revived memories of the way J.P. Morgan almost single-handedly rescued the US economy in the bank crisis of 1907. Here's how cartoonist JK saw it, in Puck magazine.
It is a clever parody of that charming painting The Helping Hand by Emile Renouf. A Breton fisherman takes his grandaughter out rowing. She is, of course, powering the boat all by herself and Grandad is just giving a bit of added oomph.

Friday 7 November 2008

A Tin Duck Boat

This hilarious story, from The Outing magazine of April 1908, combines a pair of recurring interests of this blog, tin boats and duck punts:


UNCLE EZRA threw back his head and indulged in a mirthful cackle. "Any o' you fellers ever try huntin' ducks in one o' them sheet-iron coffins they call duck boats?" he inquired, as he bent forward and shook his head in a paroxysm of reminiscent delight.
We plead not guilty with suspicious unanimity, whereupon Uncle Ezra assumed an air of conscious superiority.
"Don't do it boys—don't resk it," he said, "I've been up agin it an' escaped with nothin' more 'n a few triflin' internal injuries but you might get worse. Bill Fikes was th' party that led me into it. He'd been postin' up on them newfangled sportin' idees an' one day he corners me an' says he'd bought a boat to hunt ducks in."
'Why, you've got half a dozen old scows down to th' docks now,' says I, 'What do you want another for?' "'This is a duck boat,' Bill says, 'It's right up-to-date. Made o' tin!'
"'Tin!' I says. "Then I stole a whiff o' Bill's breath to see if he hadn't been takin' on a cargo but he proved an alibi by a hair.
"'I'll believe it when I see it, Bill,' says I, wanderin' on.
"About a week after that Bill give me th' Injun sign an' led me down to th' landin'. There was his boat—floatin' as high as th' stock of a Texas oilwell. It was painted th' color of a bricklayer's overalls an' looked to be as peaceful an' innercent as a buck Injun before bein' mixed with alcohol.
"'Get in,' says Bill, jest like he was tenderin' me a brick block or a sleepin' car.
"Thanks, guess I will,' says I." Here Uncle Ezra stopped abruptly and clutched his jaw with both hands to keep from bursting into a roar of laughter — it got up as far as his throat but he manfully choked it down.
"Gettin' into a tin duck boat is somethin' like playin' th' hoss-fiddle—got to be studied in privit first. Bill's boat was snugglin' up alongside th' dock, down about a foot an' a half an' lookin' as invitin' as a bald head to a hoss-fly. Bein' familiar with th' general run o' Bill's catamarans I stepped in sorter careless like, jest like you'd step onto th' kitchen floor on a dark mornin', a trifle easy but expectin' it to be there when you landed.
"But I hadn't more 'n touched it when it changed ends or somethin' an' when I come down with th' other leg I missed it by a good half a yard. I went right to th' bottom, got a mouthfull o' mud an' came right back with haste an' a poor pen. As I come up th' boat was watchin' for me an' banged me two good ones on th' ear before I could fight it off.
"Bill's eyes were stickin' out till you could have hung your boots onto 'em an' he says. "'What're ye tryin' to do, Ez — scuttle my boat?'
"'If I had a hatchet I'd show ye !' says I, after gettin' th' seaweed out o' my teeth. "Bill helped me onto th' dock an' I asked 'im if he'd had th' pleasure o' gittin' into th' boat yet. He scratched 'is head a bit pertendin' to think. Finally he says: "'I believe not, Ez.'
"'Well, here's five dollars for you if you'll get in now,' says I, producin' my roll an' dissectin' off a V.
"Bill turned a little pale but begun to peel 'is coat.
"'Hold on, Bill! Keep your clothes on — I did!' I says, "After hesitatin' a little Bill put 'is coat back on an' moistened 'is hands. Then he set down on th' dock an' stuck 'is feet down into th' waist o' th' boat.
"'Better go an' get a derrick to let you down with, hadn't I?' I remarks, scornful as vinegar.
"Bill didn't reply but drawed a long breath an' slid off th' dock. He looked about as brave as a man goin' to th' 'lectric chair.
"I thought Bill was goin' to make it but jest then I noticed th' boat sidestep like a scairt featherweight an' Bill set right down on th' lake. I caught 'im by th' hair as he come to th' top an' separated 'im from a good handful gettin' 'im back to th' planks.
"That's a fine boat for any one that's tired o' life,' says I, after we'd stood an' dripped a while. Bill groaned like th' landlady had jabbed 'im with a hatpin.
"'It's all right after you're in it,' he says. "'Maybe th'receipt tellin' how to get into it comes by mail, Bill. Shall we go up to th' post office?' says I, tryin' to cheer 'im up some.
"But he never paid no attention. His face was all puckered up studyin' th' question. All of a sudden he give a joyful little cough an' says: "'I've got th' answer, Ez! It's as easy as drivin' nails into a featherbed. Here goes!'
"Bill got down on 'is chest on th' dock, reached over an' got a good holt of th' middle seat with 'is hands. "Funny I didn't think of this before,' says he, 'it's a snap!' "Then he started to lower himself off th' dock slow an' easy. When he'd got a lit­tle more 'n half of 'im over th' edge somethin' went plunk into th' water under Bill's nose.
"'What was that?' says he, kinder rattled. "'Sounded like your pocketbook,' says I. "Bill took a quick look back at me be tween 'is knees an' emitted a painful groan. After studyin' a minute he let go with one hand an' reached back to feel of 'is pocket.
"While he was doin' that th' boat started for th' open sea—it started so blame quick that th' first thing I see was Bill stretched out like a rubber band betwixt th' dock an' th' boat an' strainin' every muscle in 'im to keep from lettin' 'is stomach drag in th' water.
"'That's fine, Bill,' says I. 'What's th' next step?' "He gave me a murderous look an' th' boat slid out three inches more leavin' Bill's toes hangin' to about a half an inch o' dock.
"'Reel me in, you brindle-whiskered porch-climber!' Bill yells, in a tone that would have corroded zinc. "I saved 'im from the jaws of a lovely duckin' an' th' minute he got 'is wind he wanted to fight. Had all I could do to ca'm 'im down an' explain that I was perfectly innercent.
"'Bill,' I remarks, 'you'd better write that boat crowd an' find out how to occupy that craft. Th' only way I see now is to put it on th' dock, get in, an' then saw th' dock in two. She might turn a handspring even then.' "Bill groaned an' said he'd catch th' sciatica if he didn't go home an' change 'is clothes so we dispersed.
"Afterward Bill traded th' boat to a farmer for a veal calf an' th' calf got into th' kitchen an' butted th' cook so severe she struck for higher wages on th' spot. Bill now says if any man tries to sell, trade, give or otherwise hurl a tin boat onto 'im he will feel compelled to shoot in self defense.
"Bill says he never——" Just then the speaker caught the beckoning finger of a robust gentleman behind the refreshment stand and he mounted to his legs and went across to see about it.

Up the Hamble yet again

Max Taylor, designer and builder of this rowing boat that I blogged back in April, missed the great row up the Hamble last week despite living in sight of the start point. He was away in Cornwall, he writes:
Glad to see your Hamble row went well. Sadly every time you or the HBBR come to Hamble I'm away. This time we were in Fowey for the week avoiding email and phones. We did however find this loverly boat, I made some enquiries about its history, but the best response was from the man on the Bodinnick Ferry was 'she's a proper old'un'. For those of us who haven't graduated to a sliding seat she looks safe and fast and seaworthy. I tried to find the owner to see if he'd let me take the lines off her at LW.
Back to Hamble - I row from Swanwick Hard pretty much most weekends and wondered if there might be interest via your blog, in a monthly row over winter - ie last Sunday of the month with a suitable tide. If the weather is bad the river makes for an interesting trip with pub at either end. Or if weather permitted how about doing the 'two Jolly's' - Jolly Sailor at Bursledon to the Jolly Sailor at Ashlett - I know the latter is sadly closed but it's a nice title.

I feel that crossing Southampton Water to Ashlett is probably one for warmer weather (at least, in a boat as open as Snarleyow) but any time is good for a row up the Hamble as long as it is not actually raining (I will be able to do the trip without looking round soon).
Anyway, Max and I have made a date for Sunday 30th November. High tide at Warsash is about noon, so an 11.00 start at Swanwick should get us up to either Botley or Curbridge by beer time. If anybody would like to join us, either drop me an email or just turn up at Shore Road, Swanwick, Hants on the day.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Rowing in Loch Broom

The Loch Broom Image Library is an evocative collection of photos of the area dating back to late 19th century. Needless to say, there are several rowing pictures that you can easily bring up by putting 'rowing' in the search box. This one is my favourite. These guys are really putting their backs into it. Love those moustaches!
Thanks to and Chris Perkins for the heads-up.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

New design from Gavin Atkin

Gavin Atkin has produced an interesting design for a rowing skiff called Julie, flat bottomed, which at nearly 16ft long is about as long as you can get out of two sheets of 8ft by 4ft ply.
She should be a reasonably fast and stable river boat, nice for fishing or just mooching o'er the stream.
One thing I disagree with Gav over, however. He says a boat that long is not car-toppable. Phooey! I used to pop my 19ft Otter skiff on the roof rack all the time until we got a new car and my dear lady wife started worrying about scratching the paintwork with the outriggers.
With Gav's Julie, removing the rowlocks removes all risk of tramlines on the roof of the car, and a line from the bow to the front bumper removes all risk of the boat coming adrift, however long. The picture shows Gav's model placed on a glasses case that is unnervingly similar in size and shape to my estate car, which shows it will be perfectly car toppable. All you have to do is put it the other way up and strap it down securely.
So build her light, I say, and you will be able to row faster as well!

Monday 3 November 2008

NE Coast gigs on the SE Coast

NE Coast gigs, rowed mainly by deadly rivals Whitby and Scarborough, have come south to Kent. Duane Ashworth has sent some pictures of Queenborough Rowing Club in action on its home waters around the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
Queenborough rows two gigs bought from Scarborough, both fibreglass, plus a copy made by the sadly defunct Burgashell. The boats carry four oars, a cox and a passenger in a tiny and wet seat in the bow, which means they qualify for the Great River Race. Two gigs entered this year, coming in within a minute of each other.
They have several other craft including this whaler, which looks like a barrel of fun.
The club meets at the boathouse in North Street, Queensborough on Sundays over the winter, and on Wednesday evenings in the summer. For more details and more pictures, see their website.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Up the Hamble

Well, I rowed up the Hamble - here I am arriving at the Horse and Jockey at Curbridge in a picture by Graham Neil entitled "Where's My Pint?".
Graham and I had earlier foregathered on the hard at Swanwick and wondered when the rain would stop. Eventually we decided it was easing off a bit and it was time to make a start. So I went to park the car, failing to notice that Snarleyow had been floated on the incoming tide and was gently drifting off in the direction of the Isle of Wight.
But all was well! Graham had his kayak on his car, and he went off to fetch it. And came back a moment later, looking a bit sheepish. He had left the paddle at his sailing club. We simultaneously made the same remark about what creek we might be up.
Happily, at this point Snarleyow drifted into Swanwick Marina's pontoons and was secured by one of their chaps, who is a hero and has my eternal thanks. I got in and headed upstream, Graham getting in his car and going off for his paddle.
Despite the occasional drizzle the row up the river was lovely, the trees showing all their autumn colours. I got to the pub just as Graham arrived.
I had expected the Horse and Jockey to be pretty much empty, it being a wet wintry weekend, but a friendly gaggle of canoeists arrived just as we did, and soon after three steam traction engines pulled up outside. It was turning into a very English event, everyone cold, wet but cheerful.
Back down was more or less the same. Got out, had bizarre conversation with yottie on the foreshore about people we knew who look like animal biker drink-sodden hooligans but are actually world-famous scientists, and went home.
Many, many thanks to everyone who sponsored me. The Stroke Association does a lot of good work and I hope the money will help them help others like they helped Mum after her stroke. Anyone who suddenly feels the urge to make a last minute donation can still do so at