Friday 31 December 2010

New Year Resolution

This picture is my secret shame.
This lot of wood is a kit boat for a Woods Bee that Alec Jordan cut for me a loooong time ago, which I have failed to even start to build. It should be a rowing/sailing dinghy by now, looking something like this:

Progress of a sort has been made - one of the sheets of exterior grade ply that the kit came packed in were made into the washing-up bowl shaped boat in the front there. As Simbo, she has won me the title of Biggest Bloke in the Smallest Boat 2010.
So I hereby resolve that the kit will be built in 2011.
Although first I have to transform the other packing sheet into a cordless-drill-powered boat for the Water Craft competition at Beale Park (I will use another of Hannu's brilliant designs, Prism).
And then there is this, which will occupy a good deal of my time I hope >>>------->
And there is another building project looming, training for the Great River Race, and I am hoping to cash in on some invitations to go sailing this year as well.
So perhaps 2012 is a more realistic aim.....

Thursday 30 December 2010

Noah's Ark

I have to thank Tillerman at that Lasericious blog Proper Course for two things. One is naming Rowing for Pleasure 'best rowing blog on the planet' (Ta very much!) but mainly for drawing my attention to a discussion of Noah's Ark at the National Center for Science Education.
The story of the Flood presents something of a problem for creationists, because the story told in Genesis has quite a lot of detail that can be examined scientifically. Stuff like: "And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female." This implies, according to NCSE calculations, a manifest of nearly four million creatures, all of whom would have to be loaded in just one day (Gen 7:14).
But the thing that really surprised me was how big the Ark was. Genesis 6:15 specifies a length of 300 cubits and a beam of 50 cubits. It is impossible to give an exact conversion to today's units as the Standard Cubit was obviously washed away in the Flood, but creationists agree that it would have been something like 450ft long by 75ft beam.
That is a stupendous size. The Ark would have been the largest wooden ship ever constructed in the history of the world by a very big margin.
Even the monster six masted wooden schooners built at the beginning of the 20th century topped out at about 330ft by 50ft. They used to flex visibly in any sort of sea, the leverage of their enormous length forcing the planks apart so severely they had to be pumped out continously. The biggest of them all, the Wyoming, was lost in a storm on the New England coast despite having anchored to shelter from the blast.

Even the 'replica' Ark built in the Netherlands and shown in the pictures is only 150 cubits long, so it can tour the canals. And is not actually a wooden boat at all, but is supported by a steel barge. Could Noah really have built an Ark that size that could have carried the world's life safely through the worst storm of all time?

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Liz in Massachusetts

I had a bit of a double-take when this picture slipped into my in-tray from Jim Brousseau, longstanding friend of this blog. I thought it was the same design as a boat currently under construction in which I have a personal interest.
But it turned out to be completely different. Jim explains:
About two and a half year ago I bought a Ken Bassett designed boat, the Liz. Around 18' by 36", 90 lbs. I put the Piantedosi row-wing in it and I love it. But the boat was designed and built as a fixed-seat rower. The thwart is removable. I can use it as a fixed-seat boat but much prefer the sliding seat row-wing. Why throw my legs overboard?
Anyway, I have a real two-for-one boat. First time I used it with the slider, it just went so smoothly I said to myself, this thing glides. Hence the name of my boat "Glide".
I now notice with "Glide" that I seem to be pulling a stern wave. Is this good or bad, is my weight distribution wrong? I felt that if I went fast enough I would put up a rooster tail. Never had any of this with my 15'6" dory. What do you think?
Take care,
Jim Brousseau
Westport, Massachusetts

One odd thing: I pull a slight 'rooster tail' in my 15ft sliding seat skiff Snarleyow (the boat pictured on the blog masthead). However, it is only visible on the return, when I am shifting my admittedly substantial weight towards the stern causing it to dip the triangular transom in the water. Being three feet longer, Glide should not hobbyhorse so much but she will a bit.
You feel that 'if you went fast enough you would put up a rooster tail'. Well, because the boat is longer you are going faster. Perhaps that is the reason.
I am particularly interested in this question because a boat of very similar dimensions is currently under construction and I am looking forward to rowing her a lot. Here's a sneak preview >>>------>

Monday 27 December 2010

Rowing with Santa

The Langstone Cutters Boxing Day bash pitted Santa against Santa in races for presents. Great fun.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Rowing Down Under

Jamie Brown makes Ocean Boats in Evans Head, New South Wales, and emailed with a kind offer to take me rowing in one should I make it to Australia any time soon.
Now, I really shouldn't like this boat. I like long, thin, elegant wooden boats with lots of gleaming varnish and a bit of brasswork. The Ocean Boat is plastic and its bulbous bow is a bit Budgie the Helicopter. Its very narrow waterline and flaring sides indicate a boat that will feel very tippy, though this is done to make the boat easy to drive but with a wide span.
But I really, really want to take Jamie up on his offer because you can do this in it:

Sunday 19 December 2010


The boat was snowed under this morning, iced on so hard it survived the tow to Dell Quay.
Some hardy souls were racing. They looked freezing - I was lovely and warm due to extra jumper and new Thinsulate lined fingerless gloves with leather onlays in the palm for a better grip.
Rowed down to Itchenor and back. Taking out at Dell Quay, saw most of the ice was still in place.

Friday 17 December 2010

Winter rowing without pain

Frankly, this is my ideal of winter rowing. Warm, no chance of getting dunked in cold water and a tutor who is hot as dedamned. From the Whitehall Spirit newsletter:
It’s winter here now and although it’s really a great time for rowing out on the water when it’s quiet and still, not too many people know about this. So we find ourselves promoting the Whitehall Spirit™ Rowing Club™ at the local pool. Kids and parents alike were impressed as Andrea Guyon deftly spun them around in a Solo 14 and did a few laps up and down the pool.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Romance at Lyme Regis

There is something really romantic about a lovely rowing skiff, and this was again proved last week at the Launch Day at the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis, as Academy admistrator Emma Brice reports: 
Matt's Whitehall can be sailed too
Onlookers cheered as student Matt Cotterill rowed out into the middle of the harbour with girlfriend Yvette, and got down on one knee. She said yes!
Needless to say, the ring was wooden and hand-made by Matt himself.Matt Cotterill, originally from the Yorkshire Pennines, worked in package design and 3D branding before chucking in the office for a chisel in March. Matt chose a boat which would fit the vernacular style of those in the Thames Valley, where he now lives. The ‘timeless classic’ 14ft Whitehall skiff is of glued clinker construction, and has allowed Matt to add some personality to the design and finishing. He has a few business ideas up his sleeve and hopes to set-up a workshop for developing wooden products inspired by the shapes and forms of boat building, utilising boat building construction methods. 
There must be something in the air at Lyme Regis. Apparently student Ross Doherty and his wife Elisabet are expecting a baby next year. Instructor Mike Broome and his wife's second baby, Ella, was born in September and BBA Administrator Gemma Blathwayt is due to have her first baby in April.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Mulled wine and mince pies row

Today Langstone Cutters took Clayton skiff Mabel and Teifi skiffs Millie and Lottie to Mill Rithe, an inlet in Hayling Island, where we stopped for mulled wine and mince pies.
Then we headed off home:

Pleasure in Rowing in Buenos Aires, despite Everything

Robert Ayliffe of Norwalk Island Sharpies in Australia, who handles the designs of Iain Oughtred and Alec Jordan's kits down under, visited Buenos Aires recently and went for a boat trip on the River Plate. He was very impressed with the number of lovely wooden rowing skiffs being taken out by families, and even more impressed by the conditions they had to battle to get out on a river that seems to be a watery version of the M25.
Here is Robert's report (click the pictures to enlarge):

These are some of the boats that I saw in the River Plate Delta on the outskirts of Buenos Aires early last week. Could not believe my eyes! 
There are hundreds of [Iain Oughtred's skiff design] Badger lookalikes complete with sliding seats for public hire on this amazingly turbulent, highly trafficked water way.
Bullfighting has nothing on this; it is a tribute to the type that they survive at all!
Note the vessels that they coexist with.
Note the extensive use of buoyancy vests.
Argentineans fear nothing!
I love them!
Amazingly similar to Badgers and Moles, here is just one of the hire fleets; at first I thought I was dreaming!
I could not believe the aplomb and resilience of these boats and their crews in the face of such wild turbulence. They just rose over the wash, barely moving off course.
Wonderful to watch. Made me feel even more enthusiastic about recommending Iain Oughtred's Badger and Mole designs design to my fellow antipodeans. We have several of Alec Jordan's excellent kits of these boats being built in Australia and New Zealand.
My company acts as Iain's and Alec's agent in Australia and the Pacific.
A new web site is being built: , which will incorporate NISBOATS and the Jordan/Oughtred range.

Thanks, Robert. This is my favourite picture. Clearly, young men take their girls out on the River Plate just as they do on the River Thames.

Friday 10 December 2010


Hamble River Rowing have produced a very nice training video, starting off with a bravura display of terrible timing in a Bursledon gig. You have to be good to row as badly as that.
Then, about a minute and a half in, along comes the Solent galley Bembridge, rowed by a crew from Langstone Cutters with me at stroke. Fame at last!
The video was created by Philip Meakins who also sings that classic folk melody Messing about on the River.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Rowing for all ages

Today Langstone Cutters took out our youngest rower ever. Ella (age two) took several tentative strokes at No 2 position in the Clayton skiff Mabel but it's hard to keep up if your feet don't reach the stretcher. So her mum Elke helped.
When I got home, I found news of the four gold medals gained by Marj Burgard at the World Masters Regatta in Ontario this year, at the age of 81.
Marj is the widow of Arthur Martin, the inventor of the Alden Shell recreational rowing boat, marrying rower Ralph Burgard after Martin's death. She took up rowing in fine boats at the age of 60 and shows no sign of slowing up. Proof once more that rowers live longer as well as living better!
Thanks to Irow for the heads-up.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Rowing to Breakfast

Food is always more enjoyable after a good row. You get a warm feeling of entitlement.
So when two boats from Langstone Cutters arrived at the Driftwood Cafe this morning, I ordered the sort of breakfast I am normally strictly verboten.
Added savour was provided by the fact that the weather should have kept us indoors. The forecast predicted a series of fronts bringing more rain, but the downpours happened before and after we went out so we beat the weather gods again!
And the morning was fabulous, one of those days of complete calm, with mist over the fields and the trees standing out like black lace on grey silk.

Friday 3 December 2010

Go Gadget Blades!

Seamus Woods of Fishpond Consulting in Cape Cod got in touch about the BalancePoint oar handles I posted a few days ago. He modelled the handles on computer, and the results are featured on his website:
The idea started when a US National Team rower turned crew coach was trying to figure out why a quad (four rowers racing in a shell, "sculling" with two oars per person) was faster than a four (four rowers, but with one oar per person, rowing "sweep"). He concluded that the dominant factor was that the asymmetrically loaded sweep rower was not able to provide as much thrust as the symmetrically loaded sculler. He came up with a simple and effective oar handle that could be used by sweep rowers to significantly reduce the asymmetric loads and prevent much of the potentially hazardous twisting of the back and shoulders. Sweep rowers could now row faster and more safely.
Stress Map of BalancePoint T-HandleIn order to help make the vision a reality, we helped the inventor design, model, prototype and manufacture his new oar handle. From material selection (carbon fiber, fiberglass, or aluminum?) to part selection, we worked with the inventor to find the best path forward.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Winter Rowing

This is how they row in the winter in Finland, and if this bitter weather continues we could be doing it here in England too. Can't wait - it looks like huge fun.
Thanks to Steve Sagrott for the heads-up.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Camp Cruising on Chesapeake Bay

This long, slim boat seems to slip over the Patuxent River elegantly and without effort, like a swan.
Underwater, however, like the swan, a pair of webbed feet paddle furiously. Another triumph for the Hobie Mirage Drive.
Don Polakovics built the boat to a design of Paul Gartside's that was originally made for a pedal-driven propeller. If you compare the two, the Hobie drive removes most of the complexity (look at the way the rudder is held out behind the stern to allow the prop to be retracted) as well as allowing the drive to be removed while afloat should it need attention. Clearing weed off that prop must be a nightmare. And the case for the Hobie forms a nice base for a table when camping.
Don built the boat for cruising Chesapeake Bay, where camping grounds are hard to find. The foreshore is either private or swamp, apparently. The boat can carry three days worth of water and week's worth of food. A bimini keeps the sun and/or rain off when at anchor and provides a frame for hanging a mosquito net from, something which is mercifully unnecessary round here on the south coast of England. I just love the ventilation cowl on the cabin, bringing a touch of the old ocean liners to the boat.
Don writes:

Hi Chris.
No, she doesn't really have a name yet. My paddling partners voted on Patuxent Queen (we paddle mostly on the Patuxent River....war of 1812 fame....but no grudge), which was a whole lot better than the initial proposal of "Hippo". Compared to a normal sea kayak, she is quite large. 
So far the boat has worked well for camping (five nights total, three full days, two nights without touching land).  The "so far" part is because I've yet to spend a rainy day and night aboard.
The cockpit is quite roomy for cooking, dressing, lounging etc with the mirage drive  removed and the drive well cover in place. At night I  pull the baggage out of the sleeping compartment and put it in the cockpit and then move into the berth. The sleeping compartment is very comfortable (probably too comfortable - much temptation to take a little nap, when I should be exercising).  With a 40 in beam, the boat is wide enough to sleep in most any position, including legs curled.  
The open hatch provides a great view of the sky. I've never felt claustrophobic, but yes, I get the coffin comment a lot when people see the boat. The only distraction I've had from good sleep was when I anchored in a place with a little too much fetch and was kept awake by the waves slapping the hull  a couple of inches from my ear.....and then there was that time some critter kept scratching at the hull.
Speed?  Flat water, loaded for a week, she cruises an honest 3.5 knots (quite slow by your rowing standards). Overall daily average (30 nm), including rest breaks, is 3.2.    I can get bursts over 6 knots, flat water.  With a down wind sail (windpaddle), she'll hold mid 5's, and poke into the 6's, but doesn't seem to be inclined to go any faster. Even at 20 ft., she's portly by kayak standards.
The boat was built with a mast step and a dagger board to take the place of the Mirage drive, but I haven't built a real sail for her yet.  
Thanks again for your interest Chris.
More pics are here. Thanks Don, and thanks to Duckworks Magazine for the heads up.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Open Water Rowing with Harris Goldstein

Harris Goldstein is a self-confessed "guy who likes to drill holes in fiberglass" which I can relate to, being a guy who likes to bodge stuff up in plywood.
Harris runs the Open Water Rower Facebook page, containing the fruits of his experience drilling holes in fiberglass boats and rowing the results. 
I particularly like his ideas on oar length - people too readily assume that longer is better, but getting the length right is really about balance and ease of swing. I think he may have gone a bit too far, however.
Harris advocates a very narrow span between the rowlocks, 4ft as against the usual 5ft 3in, and using short 7ft 6in oars.
The result seems to be that the oars are steeply angled to the water, raising the handles up to shoulder height. While this gives lots of room for a comfortable return, I suspect he is sacrificing the ability to put on the odd burst of speed. If you are going to fit outriggers, why not go the whole hog?

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Go Gadget Blades!

These are the weirdest blades ever. Even weirder than those face-forward crank ones. It is not even clear what the advantage is. BalancePoint oars don't seem to be in business, so I suppose they never got into production. Anyone know different?

Monday 22 November 2010

Three new boats for Scottish Coastal Rowing

It's been a week of feverish activity for Scottish coastal rowers.
The fearless builders at Ullapool have already started repairing Ulla, holed so sadly in the recent storm. The process is being recorded here so we can all learn. It looks as though the repair will be all but invisible.
On the 14th November at Newhaven, near Edinburgh, The Wee Michael was launched in the presence of Icebreaker from Portobello and St Baldred from North Berwick, who saluted the new arrival with tossed oars.
The name was chosen by local schoolchildren who had learned about King James IV's mighty warship, The Great Michael, built in Newhaven in 1504.
And Cockenzie and Port Seton launched their second St Ayles skiff yesterday, naming her Boatie Blest to go with her sister Boatie Rows.
And the third boat? Well, to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "It's only a model", but a particularly lovely one. It was made by Norman Thomson of North Berwick and presented to the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association's Robbie Wightman in recognition of his work for the project.
For anyone wanting something to do in the dark winter nights, Alec Jordan is producing a  kit of a 1/6 scale model skiff. The model is just over a metre long and the right size for Action Man rowers or, as at least half of rowers these days are women, Barbie and Ken rowers (are they still together? Anyway, it would make a change from those flashy sports cars).
The models will be available for delivery by Christmas at a price of £49.99. Contact Jordan Boats if you are interested (and you know you are....).

Saturday 20 November 2010

Cold rows

Langstone Cutters took out Bembridge on on an early tide for Emsworth where we stopped for organic coffee and only escaped organic cheese scones by running away.
We got to Emsworth just as some extremely small sailing boats were leaving. The sailors were dressed up like Michelin men, which was just as well as they will be sitting out in the wind and spray doing nothing but freeze. We put a bit of pressure on and kept nice'n'toasty for the trip down harbour and back to Langstone.
The GPS track is here.

Friday 19 November 2010

Rowing up the Tamar in Edwardian times

I'm really enjoying Edwardian Farm on the BBC, and not just because I have this thing for redhead and historian of scrubbing Ruth Goodman. This week the blokes, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, took a load of cider apples from their 'farm' at Morwellham Quay on the Tamar to the National Trust's property at Cotehele to be pressed.
They sailed down in Joshua Preston's beautiful Beer lugger Idler. She is made of elm on oak frames with mahogany trim, and was recently restored by Stirling and Son in Tavistock. Well, I say they sailed, but the on the film it looks jolly like they had the Lister diesel running. 
To get back upstream they rowed, at least when the camera was running. Joshua explained that boatmen of the pre-WWI era would have had to row if the wind was against them but only if they had the tide. If both wind and tide were adverse, they stayed put.
To row, the sailors stood facing forward and pushed, feathering on the recovery. It looks like hard work, especially with that bow sticking about a mile in the air.