Monday 29 June 2009

How to Launch a Boat (1)

I've been a big fan of American humourist Dave Barry for years. Today, his blog features this picture:

Sunday 28 June 2009

Langstone Cutters Regatta

We were supposed to have thunderstorms yesterday, but the weather gods smiled and we had a lovely summer day at Langstone.
Gravesend Rowing Club brought one of their fleet of Clayton Skiffs so we could race three instead of two. All teams rowed against all teams.
Langstone crews were second and third in the final league table, but the clear winners were the incredibly in-synch and strong Gravesend A crew, who are seen taking the trophy at the end of this video.

The video was shot using the new Flip Ultra HD which I have on test. It is incredibly easy to use, but its lack of a proper zoom makes it a bit difficult to catch rowing action which was up to three quarters of a mile away.

Friday 26 June 2009

The Hoff goes rowing

From the Knight Rider to a rowing eight...the Hoff changes pace.
More pics from the Upper Thames Rowing Club at

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Beer Boats are a'comin'

The handover of the Presidency of the European Union from the Czech Republic to Sweden was marked by the symbolic passing of a barrel of beer from a boat rowed by the Czech minister for EU affairs, Stefan Fule, to a boat with a delegation from the Swedish embassy, in the middle of the Vltava River in Prague last Saturday, AFP reports.
This could be the start of something big. Why didn't we celebrate the appointment of a new Speaker of the House of Commons by getting Michael Martin to pass a six-pack of Special Brew to John Bercow on ceremonial shallops in the middle of the Thames? It would make a lot more sense than dragging Mr Speaker to the chair. And Andrew Motion could have handed the new Poet Laureate her barrel of sack from a Thames Waterman Cutter opposite Shakespeare's Globe.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Bembridge comes to Langstone

On Saturday evening, members of Langstone Cutters RC rowed the Solent Galley Bembridge from Portsmouth to her new home in Chichester Harbour.
The boat is part of the collection of the late Pat Sherwin, and is now on permanent loan to the Cutters from the Pat Sherwin Trust.
Bembridge was picked up at the slip in Old Portsmouth - that's her on the lower level of the trailer. Above is Doreen, which is going to another club.
The long, light and elegant boat was carried down the slipway by the crew and launched into the rather intimidating waters of Portsmouth Harbour, where warships, cross-channel ferries and speeding ribs are frequent dangers. She seemed very close to the water, and a number of slightly alarming leaks were apparent - she has been out of the water for a while. She is also a bit tippy compared with the wide Clayton skiffs we are used to.
But she rowed beautifully, moving along almost without effort, and we soon became much more confident.
We rowed upharbour passed the Spinnaker Tower, the naval dockyard, HMS Victory and Whale Island. At the entrance to Hilsea Channel, which separates Portsea Island from the mainland, the tide was only beginning to fill and we had to row lightly through the narrow, meandering channel.
The light was fading as we approached Langstone.

Friday 19 June 2009

When Mabel gets going, the tough change their underwear

The crew of pulling boat Mabel went out for our first training row today in preparation for the Great River Race in September. We didn't capsize, run aground, hit an iceberg or anything. It's looking good.
In the picture, Mark Taylor, Peter O'Sullivan, Carol Baptist, Dawn Thisby and Jenny Munns.
Go Mabel!

Thursday 18 June 2009

1902 Thames skiff at Beale Park

This lovely thing was for sale at Beale Park for £6,200 including the trailer. The sign said Talk to the man in the boater - so if you want to do that his phone number is 01276 33509.

Monday 15 June 2009

A Phil Bolger Sweet Pea at Beale Park

The late, great and very much lamented Phil Bolger had fixed views about adapting rowing boats to sail, and vice versa.
Discussing the rationale behind his Sweet Pea design, he wrote in Boats with an Open Mind: "Aside from getting the proportions just so, the hard problem was to give the boat lateral plane and a rudder without totally spoiling it for rowing, as uaually happens if you yield to the pervasive impulse to rig a nice rowing boat to sail (fitting a good sailboat with oars is usually more profitable)."
Bolger's solution to the problem was to design a slipping keel and inboard rudder that could be removed when rowing. A friend of his built one and kept it on Bolger's pontoon but apparently never made the keel because it was never sailed.
So it was great to meet Paul Apps with his own Sweet Pea at Beale Park, to find out how Bolger's slipping keel and rudder work in practice.
Paul leaves the keel and rudder in place all the time because it helps the boat track straight - apparently she slides all over the place without them.
When rowing the rudder is held straight by reversing the tiller so the end falls into a slot in the sternpost, a feature that mightily amused Dynamite Payson, apparently. The picture shows Paul's hat demonstrating it.
Paul reports that the rudder is effective and under the small spritsail she goes about nicely most times: if she stops in irons it is simply a matter of getting an oar out and giving a helpful nudge or two. Pointing is not particularly good but she was as fast as anything else on the Beale Park lake, Paul found. But he still rows more than he sails, although this is partly because he lives near rivers rather than lakes.
An unexpected advantage of the slipping keel and removable rudder is that when they are removed the boat sits nicely on its trailer.
The boat is beautifully made and is even equipped with Bolger's favourite long bronze crutches, even though they cost a fortune to import from the US.

Saturday 13 June 2009

New Nestaway boat at Beale Park

Take-apart boats seemed to be everywhere at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show this year. This is Nestaway Boats' M-P-B (multi-purpose-boat), a 14ft by 3ft 6in boat that splits into three sections for transport in the back of a Ford Focus Estate. She can be rowed, sailed or powered at up to 12 knots with one person aboard. The parts are assembled with just six bolts.
She looks pretty and fast to row. And I've got a Ford Focus Estate. Tempting...

Friday 12 June 2009

Rowing Skiff Gecko

I wish I had been able to stay at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show long enough to have a row in Gecko, a 26ft three-man camping skiff built by furniture designer Ben Fowler and his son Dominic.
She is shapely and made in an unusual and attractive wood - European sweet chestnut on 'tiger oak' frames. Ben says sweet chestnut is durable, light and stable, and that more boats should be made from it. Anyone know any cause or just impediment why boats should not?
The outside is sheathed in epoxy and glass which gives the usual slightly milky finish. I tend to prefer either varnish on unsheathed wood, or paint over plastic, but each to his own.
The hull is divided into three parts that can be unbolted to fit the whole thing in the back of a Transit - very handy especially for a 26ft long boat.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Launch of a St Lawrence River Skiff

The International Boatbuilding Training College in Lowestoft adds interest to its exhibition stands by getting students to work on a boat, and until recently their party piece was a St Lawrence River Skiff.
Over many shows, they recreated the No 5 design of the old Skaneateles Boat and Canoe Company, which used to operate in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. At the Beale Park Thames Boat Show, she was exhibited finished, and Nat Wilson told me it was for sale and "she hasn't even been in the water yet".
Well, that was a scandalous situation that was soon resolved. Here I am taking her on her maiden voyage, captured by the lens of Chris Perkins (sorry about the quality of the other pics - the battery had run out on my camera and I had to resort to my mobile phone).
The St Lawrence River Skiff is legendary for its seaworthiness and ease of rowing. I couldn't really test either attribute in the flat calm of the lake at Beale Park, especially with the heavy, stumpy oars that were in the skiff, although Nat says he is making more suitable oars. But she slid through the water with ease and grace and she is beautifully built.
This lovely boat is for sale at £4,500 and cheap at the price.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Thames Boathouses

The Thames is lined with boathouses ranging from small sheds perched on the bank to palaces capable of holding a small navy and accommodating the crew above. This is one of the latter, and I remember it vividly from my childhood.
We were rowing from Wallingford up to Benson when we were caught in a sudden and violent thunderstorm. My parents noticed the boathouse doors were open and we sheltered inside. Their relief at being safe from the lightning was palpable, but us kids just revelled in the sensation of being afloat in the indoor gloom, lit only by the occasional flashbang.
It was great to see the boathouse in such great condition when we passed by last week, as was another favourite, a Stockbrokers' Tudor boathouse in Oxford (right).
Many, however, have been sadly neglected. Look at the state of this boathouse near Northmoor (below). It is falling into the river but a massive new non-boathouse is being built behind at huge expense. Someone has their priorities dead wrong here.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

More on oars

One of my favourite boats on the great HBBR row down the Thames was Tony Waller's Isabella III, built to Joel White's Shearwater design. The picture shows him easing through Radcot Bridge heading for the pub.
Later, Tony was pushing against a lock wall with his oar and it slipped into a crack, breaking off the end.
Continuing to row, he expected to feel the boat tipping over due to the imbalanced thrust of the oars, but interestingly the break made very little difference. He lashed up a new end to the blade with duct tape (what would we do without it?), not to restore performance but to protect the ends so the bits could be epoxied back in place when he got home. Here he is by Wallingford Bridge with the ghastly evidence.Just goes to show that the length and size of oar does not really matter, within limits. What really makes the difference is a comfortable rowing position and the right gearing (except when racing, of course, when milliseconds can make the difference between glory and goathood).

Monday 8 June 2009

Built for comfort, not speed

The two hardest working rowers in the HBBR fleet from Lechlade to Beale Park were probably me and Wayne Oliver in our flat-bottomed boats. Wayne was also burdened with a pair of short oars and the fact that he had left the rudder at home, so his boat Ever Hopeful would spin round on its axis rather than go forward.
Wayne's problems were lessened by the addition of the rudder, brought to him at Radcot Bridge on Monday. With the tiller lashed to the centre position, the boat went in a straight line quite nicely. And borrowing Chris Waite's long oars gave him a bit more heft, as shown above in Chris Perkins' picture. But he still had to labour heroically to complete the course.
The fundamental problem for both of us was the combination of a flat bottom and a wide transom that digs into the water, sucking the boat back. As you can see from this picture, Nessy leaves a carpet of turbulence in her wake.
This is the price we paid for the ease of construction, stability and capacious flat space for sleeping in that the designer, Conrad Natzio, built into both boats, the Sandpiper and Oystercatcher.
Richard Rooth's Inwe, in contrast, is a slippy double ender from Iain Oughtred (his Elf) and seems to be a joy to row with Richard's long, slender sea oars (pic by Chris Perkins).

Sunday 7 June 2009

Launch of Octavia

Well, we did it. We rowed over 60 miles from Lechlade, close to the source of the River Thames, to the Beale Park Thames Boat Show near Pangbourne.
The sun struck me pink, every muscle in my body aches, my hands are covered in calluses and my bum has a boil the size of Berkshire. It was GREAT.
For those of you not familiar with the Home Built Boat Rally (HBBR), this internet-based disorganisation (no forms, no subs, no rules) has an abysmal weather record, with almost every event so far consisting largely of people huddling on the foreshore in the driving rain wondering when the pubs are going to open. But last week the weather god gave us sunshine from Sunday to Thursday, and even allowed us to get into Beale Park on Friday under grey skies before the rain set in.
Sunday was devoted to setting up at the famous Trout Inn at Lechlade, which we soon discovered is famous for its high prices and basic facilities. I haven't seen a jakes like it anywhere else in England since the 1980s. My dear, the smell.
But let's move on. The surroundings were lovely and countrified, just as yer fancy paints, and we set to on the main event for Sunday, the launch of Chris Waite's new skiff Octavia.
Octavia uses four sheets of ply, with a few slivers left over. She is built in two halves, so she can fit in the back of Chris's SUV, the attachment being made by slotting the halves together with a dovetail. The dovetail is stopped from unhitching by slotting in the outriggers, which hold themselves in with a wedge system and bits of string - low tech but KISS (look it up).
Even off the water, Octavia is innovative - the halves of the hull fit together to form a shelter, a tarp keeping rain out of the gap.
Chris poured a generous libation of Glenfiddich over her bows on the slipway and rowed off with aplomb. She was clearly fast, a first impression borne out over the next few days when Chris would look up over his breakfast of mixed egg, sausage and beans, see everyone was leaving and follow hot-foot, or is that hot-oar? He would inevitably overtake everyone within a few miles.
Finally, at the Beale Park show, Octavia was awarded Watercraft's prize for the most innovative design, and richly deserved. Congratulations, Chris.
(Thanks to Chris Perkins for several of the pics. The others were taken by me)