Saturday 29 August 2009

Pirates on the Hamble

Bursledon Regatta on the lovely River Hamble had a pirate theme this year, though Chris Waite, Brian Pearson and I didn't dress up - we just went to row in the Bursledon Gig races.
Bursledon Gigs were moulded from Falmouth workboats, and a dozen or two operate on the river. Until now, they have been used individually by Sea Scouts, various marinas and families, and have come together only for ad hoc races such as the regatta and the Hamble River Raid.
This may change with the formation of the Hamble River Rowing Club, which will arrange more events and also aims to keep a gig in the water at all times on a convenient pontoon, with the oars stored close by. Understandably, they are hoping the Jolly Sailor might be able to host the boat, which would then be available for members to use every day instead of by prior arrangement with the individual owners as at present.
Chris, Brian and I rowed in the Boatyard Sheave Race from the Mercury boatyard to the Jolly Sailor, and the big news is (a) no-one died, and (b) we did not come last. Further details are unnecessary, I feel.
We also tried to enter the Press Gang Race, six handed, but what with one thing and another failed to get out in time. Had we got to the start I am personally convinced we would have won by a country mile.
The men's single-handed race was hotly contested by two Iain Oughtred designed Acorn skiffs, pictured pulling big wakes.
For me, the eye-opener boat was the Peanut Dinghy, made by the Elephant Boatyard where the regatta itself is staged.
Just five foot long, the Peanut was designed by none other than Cockleshell hero and OSTAR founder 'Blondie' Haslar to encourage children to take up rowing. It is just 5ft long, extremely stable and has enough buoyancy to float when full of water. And kids love it - several were rowing round the river at speed, with great skill and obviously enjoying themselves enormously. The picture shows the race for children under 8, with two Peanuts heading an inflatable. I have to tell you, those infants were rowing to win. Congratulations to all of them.
The procession of dinghies, dories and assorted inflatables dressed up as pirate ships displayed all the inventiveness that enabled Britain to build an empire, and the sense of humour that kept us going while we lost it. The winner was the wonderful Black Pig, shown here repelling an attack by a Peanut. I was taken by a group that had updated the pirate theme by fitting an inflatable with a super soaker that looked just like a machine gun, and a pump feeding water to a hose. They took to the water as Somali pirates, and ruled the pond with their overwhelming firepower.
The regatta ended with a duel between Race Marshal Glyn Foulkes and his son. Click to play:

Friday 28 August 2009

Martha Stewart buys an Adirondack Guide Boat

I never thought I would turn into a Martha Stewart fan - I'm not keen on all that floral print stuff in the house. But it turns out she is a boatie, and has just acquired an Adirondack guide boat from the Adirondack Guide Boat company in Vermont. She even featured it on her show - here is the segment:

I always wanted to know how the crossed handles that are compulsory on guide boats work, and the film clearly shows the way they hands are placed the same height but one in front of the other.
Crossed oars, on the other hand, are much more difficult to handle, as Ben of The Invisible Workshop has just discovered when he got to row a traditional Spanish dorna. Ben says it was difficult to get the blades far enough out of the water on the return, and would not recommend them for long distances. Very interesting.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Outbreak of rowing in Chichester Harbour

The Dinghy Cruising Association occupies Cobnor, a sailing centre and campsite in Chichester Harbour, for ten days every August and the Home Built Boat Rally tags along, though many HBBR members are DCA members anyway. This year the weather was nearly perfect, sunny with a nice breeze most of the time, but I had no boat. Snarleyow, my sliding seat skiff, is being refurbished, and Nessy, my flattie, has developed huge areas of delamination and may be approaching her final end.
The upshot was I spent the week sailing, except for the intervals of furious rowing trying to get Wayne Oliver's Ever Hopeful (a beautifully built Natzio Oystercatcher) out of Bosham channel against wind and tide.
On Saturday, having paddled for what seemed like hours to get the few hundred yards out of the channel, Wayne and I drifted lazily up channel to Dell Quay where the flotilla stopped at the hospitable sailing club for lunch.
Then Ever Hopeful continued up to Fishbourne, where we were overtaken by a Virus Yole (top pic) and a shell, rowed up from East Head apparently.
It is not very often I see any rowing on Chichester Harbour, so it was nice to meet them. And I discovered later that we just missed Langstone Cutters in the Solent galley Bembridge, on a long row practising for the Great River Race.
We then drifted back. Here is a view towards Birdham Pool, the sun twinkling off the wavelets. The sail is Liz Baker's Cormorant, Tess.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Norwegian wood boats

The BBC/Open University prog Coast went to Norway this week, and saw traditional clinker boats being built. The excitable Mark Horton drove a boat nail and peened the nail over the rove. The Norwegian boatbuilder told him with a straight face that the noise of the nail against the dolly was a 'clink' and this is why the boatbuilding style is called 'clinker'. Mark believed him.
All balls. According to Webster, the word is derived from clench.
But the boats were stunning. Lovely faerings that would have been instantly recognisable to the Vikings. The programme can be viewed on the web here (but only if you are in the UK).
The section was filmed at the Hardanger Ship Preservation Centre, which makes and sells a range of marine stuff from hand-forged iron fittings to rowing and sailing boats made under the direction of some of the last remaining traditionally-trained boatbuilders in the country. Their lovely Osterfjord boat is pictured above being coated with tar.

Monday 24 August 2009

Eels in Ely

The Rivers programme also featured Peter Carter, the only traditional eel fisherman left in the entire Fenland, which reminded me that he got in the news earlier this year by reviving the medieval custom of presenting their tythes personally to the Bishop of Ely.
He punted to Ely and gave the Bishop half a dozen wriggly creatures. Bet he was really grateful.
Rivers followed Carter as he set traps made of withies, punting his boat in a traddy way. What the programme didn't mention was that the boat is a gun punt, and they had got him to do a demo of punt gunning as well. But that didn't make it onto the show.


My old chum Gavin Atkin at intheboatshed has posted about last night's amusing televisual presentation Rivers, starring that thin comic that used to be in a comedy show last century with the fat guy. Gav was hugely amused by this bloke going shopping for stores in Roy's of Wroxham, the self-styled 'world's largest village store' (a slogan that the locals deprecate because it is actually in Hoveton, on the other bank of the river).
The bloke recalled that his father was a 'one-pan man' who stocked the galley on his yacht entirely with tins, mainly spam, beans with sausages and cling peaches. He even bought all-day breakfast in a tin.
Gav writes: "It...had a distinctly post-War feel about it, and seemed to me to be an amusing but fair account of how I remember men of Rhys Jones senior’s’ generation dealing with the problem of eating out of doors."
Post-War? Excuse Me. I have just returned from a few days camping at the DCA Cobnor Week in lovely Chichester Harbour (had a great time, since you ask) and my stores consisted of the following:
Heinz Beans with Sausages
Heinz Macaroni Cheese
Heinz Red Hot Balls
More Spam.
But don't get the impression that time has stood still since 1946. All these are ring-pull cans, so it is even easier to empty the contents into a canteen, heat and eat without the need for a tin opener, oven, multiple hobs, crockery or, unless you are extremely fussy, washing up.
I had forgotten how delicious tinned clings are, though. But here the telly got it wrong, so wrong. The bloke recommended evaporated milk, an etoliated confection suitable only for delicate infants or aged aunts. The correct way to serve clings is to take a tube of condensed milk, squeeze a generous glop on top of the peaches, and eat directly out of the can. Better than anything served in the so-called Fat Duck.
(Thanks to Scorpions and Centaurs for the pic)

Friday 21 August 2009

Rowing, Cornish style

John Hesp has sent some fabulous shots of skiff racing in Calstock recently.
The skiffs are carvel built, rowed by one or two scullers or three oarsmen 'randan' style with an oar at each end and a sculler in the middle.
I hadn't realised how far back the scullers lean, allowing them to maximise the time the blade is in the water. It looks like hard work, but great fun.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Rowing a Walkabout

What a great day rowing, starting with a brisk row down Chichester Harbour with Langstone Cutters in the Clayton Skiff Gladys. Here she is being brought in from her buoy behind a Teifi skiff.
Back at the Dinghy Cruising Association meet at Cobnor, I joined Tony Waller in his Shearwater faering to pop across the channel to the Harbour Office so he could get a licence for a few days on these fabulous waters. £3.50. What a bargain.
On the way back, we succeeded in breaking his new leeboard and the pushpull tiller broke off. So we had to return under sail controlled (a bit) by oars. Luckily the wind was light or we would have scratched a lot of paintwork.
Finally, I got to go out in a brand new Walkabout, built by Paul Smithson to the design by John Welsford, albeit heavily modified to make it more of a sailing boat than the original rowing/sailing hull. He added an extra strake to build the hull up, removed the decks and the mizzen, and the side flotation tanks.
The carbon fibre mast and balanced lug drive her along nicely, and she rows well too with a pair of 9ft 6in oars from Collars.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Victorian rowing etiquette

We tend to think of the Victorians as punctillious gentlemen but the early years of competitive rowing were anything but. Anything went, it seems.
When Cambridge rowed against Leander in London in 1838, Leander claimed victory but Cambridge demanded a rematch on the grounds that Leander's conswain had unfairly blocked them.
At that time, coxswains were professional watermen, Parish for Leander and Noulton for Cambridge.
After the race, Cambridge man WB Brett (later Master of the Rolls Lord Esher) wrote to the Leander captain as follows:

Upon starting for the match we were at first, as in the former year, left behind; but on coming up to you at the Horseferry we most unexpectedly found ourselves against a barge on one side and your boat on the other, fully proving that Parish had closed upon us, and not left us room to proceed on our proper course. Noulton, upon this, was anxious to proceed also to waterman’s practice, and so endeavour to break the rudder of your boat. We, however, thinking that there might have been some accident in the case, insisted upon backing water, and yielding the Middlesex side of the river to you. This we did, gave you a considerable start, pulled up to you on the Surrey side, and were again crossed. We still insisted upon Noulton yielding to you; but at the Red House, finding all hope of being allowed to pass useless, and convinced that you were sanctioning your steerer’s conduct, we told him to run into you, and there broke your oar, etc. We now asked the Umpire whether the race was fair or foul, and upon his answering that it was foul we put up our oars to claim the match.
Our own boat was, at this time, half full of water; but seeing that you had procured a new oar, and had rowed away about 200 yards, we again started after you, and pulled up to you in less than half a mile. After Chelsea Bridge we again left you, and actually crossed and recrossed the river, to try whether or not you would allow us to pass. Being again crossed within ten yards of Wandsworth Meadows, the wrong side of the river, we gave you a last start, and ran into you as you passed through Putney Bridge.
  Imagine what commentators would say if one Boat Race crew deliberately tried to run the other against a barge and the other responded by ramming them. It would be seen as the beginning of the apocalypse.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Rowing in the Movies

By coincidence, two blogs I like have featured rowing in films in the last few days. Goran Buckhorn at Hear the Boat Sing links to a the surprisingly good MGM comedy A Yank at Oxford, in which Robert Taylor wins the boat race. Well worth a watch, not least because it features Maureen O'Sullivan and Vivien Leigh in bustles and bonnets.
Ben at The Invisible Workshop has posted the famous clip from Ben Hur where Jack Hawkins orders Charlton Heston and his fellow galley slaves up to ramming speed. It is truly amazing how much space they had on those Roman galleys, and the way they could let go of the oar handles without getting smashed in the face as the blades trail in the water is truly remarkable.
Above is my contribution. It is Gerard Depardieu as the Count of Monte Cristo taking Ornella Muti as Mercedes for a gentle scull on the Seine. It is a lovely, sunny, soft-focus scene with lots of flaneurs in top hats and ladies twirling parasols. Unfortunately, the scene does not feature in the book. In fact, the whole film has little to do with the book, even featuring a happy ending with the Count and Mercedes reunited. It is the worst adaptation of a classic novel I have ever sat through.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Wexford Cot

Tonight saw another great episode of Coast, the unlikely smash hit from the Open University and the BBC. My favourite bit was a profile of 82 year old Wexford boatbuilder Larry Duggan, whose family has been building the Wexford Cot for generations.
The cot is a flat-bottomed boat designed for fishing over the huge tidal mudflats of Wexford harbour, so minimal draft is the main design priority. The boat is rowed by two men each working one oar.
The picture above is from the Flickr photostream of Alan Duggan.
Larry Duggan also builds gun punts, a species of boat that this blog finds inexplicably fascinating. The punts are the standard canoe shape, fully decked, with a giant cannon pointing out the front. There was a sequence of the gun being loaded, which involves pouring shot down the barrel and banging the end on the ground to tamp it all down - how the thing didn't go off directly I don't know. When the gun was fired, the boat did not recoil like a Pentacostalist at a pub door. Was it firing a blank or is all that talk about gun punts shooting backwards hundreds of yards all balls?
Duggan did claim he had downed about 50 birds with one shot, the kind of legendary bag that is regarded with scepticism by many.

Rowing boats on eBay

Some very tempting boats are on eBay right now. This attractive Thames skiff looks robust rather than elegant and must have been a hire boat judging by the great big mooring ring on the transom. She is in Sonning on Thames and bidding stands at £100 as of now.
Below is the one I would love to have if I lived on the canals. It is a genuine Venetian sandolo, the boats that Venetians have for their personal transport and pleasure. 23ft long, it comes with oars and forcole, the sculptured oarlocks that are regarded as works of art - they are usually signed by the maker.
Sandolos are rowed standing up, facing forward. The oars are crossed, so the rower must use a complex technique known as 'knitting'. Not for the faint-hearted, and I personally would not dare do it in the busy and often choppy waters of Portsmouth Harbour, where she is pictured. In Oxford or Cambridge, on the other hand, she would be sensational.
Finally, this attractive wooden skiff is still available if you're quick. 12ft long, lying Oxfordshire, bidding now standing at £270.