Thursday 30 April 2009

Indian Ocean Row

The bonkers rowers I met at the Earl's Court Boat Show last year are now on their way from Australia to Mauritius, and by the magic of the internet you can track their progress at the Indian Ocean Rowing Race website.
The Ocean Angels (rowing Pura Vida) are about 500 miles into the 3,000 mile voyage, and Guy Watts and Andrew Delaney (Flying Ferkins) are over 200 miles out, which shows the big advantage of having four rowers rather than two.
Both crews are blogging from the boat, and great reads they are.
Ocean Angels in particular sounds as if they are going through hell, what with the heat, adverse conditions making rowing impossible for days at a time and salty drinking water. Go girls!
The boats are only 11 days out and already three of the 11 boats have had to retire. It is clearly a tough race.
No pictures of the boats under oars yet, but this picture of the boats arrival at Geraldton, on the coast of Oz north of Perth, is impressive.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Expedition rowing

I think these picture show the start of something big. Canadians Colin and Julie Angus are amphibious explorers, rowing and cycling. Here they are towing their boats up a hill in Scotland, and rowing them across the English Channel with the bikes and trailers stowed inside. And below you can see them camping in comfort, the boats rafted together with a tent on the top.
Last year Colin and Julie rowed and cycled from Scotland, where his family comes from, to Syria, where Julie's family roots are. The trip took in the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea and the Med. You couldn't imagine a better demonstration of the effectiveness of the row/bike combo. There is a great log of the trip here.
So it is great news that Angus Rowboats are making and selling the boats from next Autumn. The 18ft Expedition model, as taken on the trip, will cost about $1,500 in kit form, ready to build using stitch and glue techniques, plus $1,890 for the sliding seat and rigger parts. There will be a 15ft version suitable for sheltered waters but still capacious enough to carry a bike. I imagine city folk buying them to hang in the hallway and tow to the river by bike for weekend or evening rows.
For us on this side of the pond, adding shipping and VAT to the cost would probably be prohibitive, but considerately plans are being offered at the modest price of $120.
I live about a mile from the water's edge, so I always feel a bit guilty about firing up the car to get the boat afloat. I could definitely do with a towbike....

Monday 27 April 2009

Mirage power at Melbourne

Mack Horton in Melbourne has sent over a couple of links to videos of his remarkable two-person skiff powered by Hobie Mirage drives, Ripple, as a post-script to an earlier Rowing For Pleasure post. She is truly like a swan - elegant, graceful, fast and you can't see any of the frantic flipper-waggling below the surface. For river cruising she would be difficult to beat for exercise combined with fun. The design is by Chris Ostlind in the US, and Mack has posted pictures of the build process here.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Spot the Deliberate Mistake

Langstone Cutters held a spring regatta today, featuring events such as fetching the bars of silver from Hayling Island, rowing blindfold and this event. To a casual glance it looks as if Gladys and Mabel are rowing home, but look at the coxswains - they are both facing backwards. And indeed both boats are moving away from the slipway to the start line for the rowing backwards race.
I would not have believed how tiring rowing backwards is. Not using the legs must be the explanation, as my arms felt limp at the end and we only went a few hundred metres.
That's me at No3 in Gladys, and we went on to win, not that I am in any way competitive or anything.
Later on, I found myself so far abandoning my life-long aversion to racing, or exertion of any kind, that I volunteered for the Great River Race. What have I commited myself to?
(Thanks to Paul Zink for taking the picture)

Saturday 25 April 2009

Clovelly Scull at Langstone

Paul Zink brought the prototype Clovelly Scull to Langstone today, on high spring and a stiffish southerly breeze bringing up white horses in the harbour.
Last time I tried the Clovelly Scull on the Hamble, the water was mirror-smooth, so it was interesting to experience how stable she feels in a chop.
The wind also highlighted how useful the retractable skeg is. When it is fully retracted, the boat broaches to quite forcefully, but dropping it by releasing the conveniently-placed rope brings the boat back on track instantly.
The picture shows how difficult it is to photograph an interesting boat without getting a screen full of behinds.

Rowing in Catalonia

Ben at The Invisible Workshop has gone rowing with the local team in their llagut, an eight oared gig that can also set a lateen sail (this is not the boat he went out in, but one from Calafell just along the coast to the east - picture from calafellvalo's Flickr photostream).
It was not a friendly crew, Ben says. They just went out and did it. And the boat lacked any flotation, bailers or lifejackets. I don't think he need be concerned - rowing boats don't lean over sideways like sailing boats do, so they rarely take in any water at all. And the freeboard looks high enough to prevent almost all waves from tipping water inside.
I also suspect the crew will become a bit friendlier if Ben returns - as one of them told him, all clubs see a procession of people turning up unannounced expecting a brass band, but are never seen again. It is worth sticking with it though. Rowing as part of a crew on song, everyone exactly in synch, is a wonderful experience.
A hint of this is shown in this video of the women seniors' race at the Catalonia Llagut Championship 2006.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Sam Manning's big expedition

Joe Des Lauriers has very kindly sent me this month's issue of Wooden Boat magazine, which contains a splendid account of Sam Manning's trip under oars and sail from Gloucester, New Hampshire, up the east coast and round Nova Scotia, in the summer of 1955.
Sam had rescued a 23ft seine dory from dereliction and rigged her as a dipping lug schooner, and persuaded an old navy friend to accompany him on his voyage north.
There were two main obstacles. One was getting across the isthmus that joins Nova Scotia to the mainland - accomplished by going ashore, finding a farmer with a tractor and a trailer, and giving him $10.
Getting to that point through the Bay of Fundy required a navigational rethink. The tides there are among the highest in the world at 17m, rushing in from the Atlantic into the bottleneck between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A drunk they discovered living under the town wharf at Jonesport proved an unexpected source of knowledge, having traded timber under sail in the Bay. He told them: "Don't get caught when the tide turns. Be sure to go up with the tide and grab onto something when it turns."
A great tale. Pop out and get April's Wooden Boat before the May issue arrives. The article is by Donnie Mullen.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Oyster fishing at Whitstable, Kent, 1920

This delightful film from the British Film Institute archive shows the famous oyster fishermen of Whitstable at their trade in 1920. It is all very staged - the fishermen pour down the beach and row off just like a Le Mans start at a motor race, and the smacks pass each other dramatically in a way that just cannot have been accidental.
The rowing boats are splendid - one is rowed randan like the Cornish except that bow sculls and the others row, whereas the usual randan arrangement puts the sculler in the middle.
And what moustaches!
Thanks to Caroline's Miscellany for the heads-up.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Preparing for cruising

Nessy needs to be prepared for cruising down the Thames with the Home Built Boat Rally from Lechlade to the Beale Park Boat Show. First requirement is to rig a tent.
The proper thing to do would be to order one from a sailmaker, but that is not the HBBR way. The HBBR way is to get a length of canvas and stitch a tailor-made tent, but I'm too cheap even for that. So I got the fly from a tent I bought cheap at Millets thirty years ago, and clamped it to the gunwales with spring clamps (Tesco, 30p each). Works a treat. Now all I need is some floorboards, a box of Wagbags and a towel and I'm set.

Monday 20 April 2009

Isabella de Franca leaves Calheta

The last picture from Isabella de Franca's journal of her first visit to Madeira in 1853-4 illustrates the perils of launching from a beach. She has just visited Calheta, then a remote hamlet but now a rather suburban place with holiday villas stretching up the hill. Today the beach is artificial, held in place by a sea wall.
Isabella clearly enjoyed the experience:
We took our places in the boat; overwhelmed with 'adieus'...and then began a scramble which defies description. These twenty copper men ranged themselves on each side of the boat, and at a signal given pushed it with all their strength into the water, screaming, splashing and jostling one another, with wild cries and gestures, till we were fairly launched upon the waves, and then they all jumped in and swam after us...
I like the boat. It has five oarsmen, like a British naval whaler, and tall posts sticking up from the stem and stern to hold a line supporting the canopy at the stern. Everyone looks as though they are having a whale of a time.

Friday 17 April 2009

David Payne

Owen Sinclair, who always has something interesting to say, writes from NZ:
Hi Chris,
I have always liked the look of this, although it is on the short side. David Payne: Might suit your Aussie correspondents. He has other interesting rowing boat designs too.
Regards, Owen

I like the look of the Pittwater Scull too. With its full decks and coaming, it should be able to take some choppy seas without that horrid damp feeling that you know is going to transfer to your car seat and be with you for days to come unless you change undies in public on the foreshore.
A sliding rigger rather than the sliding seat would avoid the hobby-horsing that boats as short as that are prone to.
But I am even more attracted to another boat in David Payne's range, the Greenwich Gig, which presses most of my buttons.It should be very fast for a fixed seat boat - she is 18ft long by 4ft wide. She has a lovely wineglass transom which should mean the added weight of a cox will not slow her down too much. She also has a small sail for downwind work, and is very simple (no centreboard) and stable.
David has not had much feedback on how the Greenwich Gig performs at sea, which is a pity. He writes:
The Pittwater scull is a great boat, it can handle some waves and choppy conditions so lets people get out rowing when there are powerboats around or the weather's a bit rough, when a normal scull is awkward to use.
The Greenwich Gig is a good boat but I 've not had much feedback, more on the smaller version, the Rocks River Skiff. There is no centreboard, the sail is there for downwind conditions. I do not know how well it steers as I have had no comments back, but I do know the RR Skiff tracks well having rowed one, so I would anticipate the Gig to go well too.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Extreme sculling

The pilot for an upcoming CBS Paramount tv show called Washington Field includes a scene where a sculler comes to a dramatic end on the Potomac. Could it really have been George Clooney on that sliding seat?
Thanks to for the headsup.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Launching dolly

Nessy's trailer has been out of action for some time as I tried to get the wheels off to repack the bearings. I had convinced myself that it would be perfectly OK to launch the boat directly off the trailer as long as I never immersed the bearings in salt water.
So the wheel nuts corroded onto the studs, and nothing I or the mechanic could do would get them undone. One of the hubs had to be replaced.
I have now sworn the trailer will never see salt water again, and Nessy will be launched on a dolly in future.
Unfortunately, the very expensive dolly I bought to launch Snarleyow with did not fit under Nessy - the wheels fouled the longitudinal skegs under the boat.
So I constructed a new dolly out of bits of wood that fell off a freighter and washed up in Bracklesham Bay a while back, plus a length of aluminium tubing and the wheels from the original dolly. And a clamcleat to hold the rope over the boat.
I'm rather proud of it. Total cost: £12.

Monday 13 April 2009

Scullmatix on test

The Scullmatix arrived from Duckworks, hooray! But they sent it via Parcel Force, boo! Who charged me £8 for paying £8.13 VAT. Imposing an admin charge that is almost as much as the tax itself is outrageous, and because they refuse to hand the parcel over until you have paid. it feels like extortion.
Every time I have had stuff sent to me through Parcel Force it has been delayed or damaged. In one case it went to the wrong address and disappeared completely. Did they pay compensation? No. They are without doubt the worst carriers in the world.
Now I've got that off my chest, back to the Scullmatix, Guy Capra's ingenious device for automating over-the-transom sculling.
It is beautifully fabricated in stainless steel. Two half-shells are held together by bolts and wing nuts, to clamp an off-axis handle onto a standard rowing oar.
To scull, you trail the oar over the transom, allowing it to float behind. The handle is driven smartly to and fro, and allowed to swivel so the oar is turned in the right way to move the boat forward.
I spent hours trying to learn sculling the traditional way, and only managed to go forward slowly, painfully and in circles.
With the Scullmatix, I was going forward slowly, painfully but in a straight line after about ten minutes.
The breeze made it very difficult to turn into the wind, as her relatively high freeboard made her try to broach all the time. The best technique seemed to be to pause briefly between strokes and allow the oar to act as a rudder.
It was jolly hard work for a slow speed, but practice showed slow improvement. Facing forwards was a big plus. Using muscles that have lain dormant for decades was a negative, but I imagine that will also improve with practice.
I will try and get out in dead calm conditions soon, and also drag my son out so he can take a video.

Friday 10 April 2009

Putney views

This charming 1930s relief by John Linehan is part of a frieze on the front of Wandsworth Town Hall showing life in the borough over the centuries. It shows a young man and woman going rowing in Putney - that's the bridge behind. The cox is carrying a rather large rudder and wearing a simply splendiferous pair of Oxford bags. The girl on the right looks as though she is washing their sports clobber but is actually working at one of the dyers that used to pollute the Wandle river in Victorian times. You can see more of the Wandsworth frieze at

Wednesday 8 April 2009

More on Luxury Cruising

Rick Thompson responds to my post on luxury cruising on the David B:
Very nice. A little poetic license on the David B, but I am with you on the Dutch barge. Someday, to cruise through the canals and rivers of Europe, with a nice barge to spend the night on and a small boat to explore the day with...
If you are interested, the David B is a pretty good story anyway. It was built in 1929 to support the Alaska fishing fleet, wound up abandoned, and was recently restored by Jeffrey and Christine Smith.
They have created a small ship cruise business around the David B, based in Bellingham, Washington. Here is their website. They will take you around Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands or up the Inside Passage to Alaska, if you like.
We took a trip around the San Juans, towing the Whitehall and carrying kayaks on the ship. Days were spent out on the boats or hiking the islands, evenings with wine and gourmet meals, and nights in comfortable beds. The nicest way to explore, in my opinion.
Happy rowing,

Well, thanks a bunch Rick. That was an entire morning WASTED daydreaming about taking the family cruising in the Pacific Northwest. The nature-loving half of the family would spend the days watching whales and stuff while the boat-loving half goes rowing. In the evening we would all meet up for our common interest in food. The only barrier is the cost, especially getting there from the UK - I may have to invest in a lottery ticket this evening...

Tuesday 7 April 2009

New whaler design from Selway Fisher

Paul Fisher has drawn a pulling boat, designed to get youth on the water which can only be good.
The 26ft whaler is based on the classic Royal Navy Montagu whalers, double ended with big round curves for seaworthiness.
The main differences are that it is a bit shorter and made of plywood using stitch'n'glue rather than clinker. It can also be built in two halves to make storage easier - I think you could fit it into most garages by stacking one half on the other.
Construction is about to start on the first boat, Paul tells me, which will be used for outward bound activities in Scotland.
If you fancy the idea of the real thing, Dick Wynne is reluctantly selling his Montagu Whaler Vancouver, based in London. Details here.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Neap tide

Neap tides this weekend meant getting on the water by 8am while the family was still in bed. When I passed the pilot cutter-style charter yacht Annabel J at anchor off Itchenor there was only one person on deck, but as I returned she swept down towards the harbour entrance in great style.

Friday 3 April 2009

Luxury Cruising

Sailors daydream about cruising the oceans under canvas, but the truth is that yachts are terrible boats for living in. The cabins are cramped and incredibly awkwardly shaped, and everything is at an angle if you are under way which makes cooking and even sleeping virtually impossible.
I've always hankered after a nice Dutch barge with lots of room on the deck for rowing boats. Bags of headroom, you can boil a kettle when moving and you can get to your destination on schedule without feeling guilty about switching the engine on. If you power the boat with chip fat, you can even save the planet a bit.
And when you arrive, you can launch the boats and have a nice row, paddle or even a sail. Bliss.
Rick Thompson has actually done it. This is the 'mother ship' David B in the fog of San Francisco Bay, with his Gig Harbor 14ft Whitehall behind.
Rick writes:
Hello Chris,
I have seen your blog. I seem to run into it when searching for a rowing or traditional boat topic. It's great, lots of unusual stuff.
The boat is named The Rat, which might be from Wind in the Willows, but more likely from my wife's opinion of me for spending too much time out rowing. The pictures are from trips in the San Francisco Bay area and US West Coast. I do row a lot, but have not had any major disasters to produce a good trip story - rowing is mostly a contemplative activity.
On the pennant, I have lived in the States most of my life, but am still a Brummie.
All the best,

I love that comment about rowing being a contemplative activity. So right.
Oh, I forgot: the pennant. This photo explains:Once a Brummie, always a Brummie and quite right too.
Another item I would pack on my Dutch barge is a bike, for trips inland, and Rick has thought of that too:There are more pics at Rick's Flickr site.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Cutout Galley

Here's a bit of fun. The fascinating Comunn Birlinn site, devoted to ancient Hebridean boats descended from Viking forebears, has a ready-to-print cardboard cutout galley by Gordon MacIntyre.
The Commun Birlinn has built a number of replica boats for schoolchildren to learn rowing and sailing, an admirable project. Iain Oughtred did the designs.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Fire Fire!

I passed by the HQ of the London Fire Brigade on the Albert Embankment yesterday, and was suddenly reminded of Sunday's little drama on Chichester Harbour by a magnificent relief sculpture on the front showing Merfiremen tackling a fire on a ship with fish-hoses.
Directly below are galleys with billowing sail and a bank of oars. They date from 1937, carved by Gilbert Bayes.