Sunday 31 January 2010

Up the Hamble again

Up the Hamble again today, with Home Built Boat Rally friends Chris Waite, Paul Hadley and Phil Oxborrow with dog Gem. Here is Paul at the oars of Octavia while Chris sits regally behind, directing.
Old Gaffer and blog reader Bernie turned up at the Swanwick hard to take a look at our boats, as he has bought the plans for a Selway Fisher 12ft Thames Skiff and needed to decide whether to make the beam 3ft 3in or to go for the 3ft 9in option. He has gone for 3ft 3in, wisely I think.
It was nice to meet you, Bernie, and I look forward to you joining us on future expeditions in your Thames Skiff!
Went to the Horse and Jockey at Curbridge and, joy, they were open, welcoming, and serving a brilliant breakfast consisting of a real proper sausage and lots of other stuff including bubble'n'squeak. And they had a new (to me, anyway) real ale from Gales called Seafarer, which is light, refreshing, suitbable for lunchtime quaffing when one has to drive home, and £3 a barrel goes to the maritime charity.
So my curse on the H&J is hereby rescinded, repealed, revoked and rethingied.
Talking of charities, I passed the YMCA training centre and was pleased to note:
a) someone has a sense of humour;
b) they still remember the unassuming local man who went round the world without hype, hoopla or commercial sponsorship.

Friday 29 January 2010

Proxigean Tides

Dept of Learning Something Every Day:
I'd never heard of proxigean tides despite a lifelong love of long words, so it was delightful to come across the term at Frogma today. We are due for some over the weekend, with a height of 5.2m in Chichester Harbour on Tuesday, so it's floodboards and sandbags out, chaps.
A proxigean tide is an extreme spring tide that happens when the moon passes through a perigee, bringing it closest to the earth (about 365,500km, compared with the apogee at 406,700km). Perigees only coincide with springs every one and a half years or so, as you can see at AstronomyCafe.
Every 31 years the perigee is at its absolute minimum and coincides with a new moon, which means it is lined up with the sun for the maximum gravitational pull, and extreme proxigean tides occur. These can be very damaging. Luckily, one isn't due until 2026 apparently.
On Sunday, Dr Waite and I are rowing up the Hamble to the Horse and Jockey at Curbridge, and if the tide is as high as predicted we might be able to row directly into the bar. If anyone fancies joining us, we will be departing from the hard in Swanwick Shore Road at 11.30.

Monday 25 January 2010

More Summer Sunshine in New Zealand

Owen Sinclair in New Zealand has been out and about on the lakes that are dotted round the spectacular scenery of South Island, rowing his Welsford-designed Light Dory.

He writes:
Hi Chris,
My dory is back in use. Attached some photos from my Xmas holiday.
Lake Hayes is in Central Otago, not far from Queenstown, and has a 10 knot speed limit so is blessedly free from larrikins on jetskis and in powerboats.
Lake Moeraki is on the West Coast and it would be worth spending more time there. As it was I rowed up one side of the lake largely in the lee of southerly squalls and came back down the other side pushed by the wind. Only about 1.5 hours on the water. 
Regards, Owen

Thanks for that, Owen. I'm only SLIGHTLY ENVIOUS.

Friday 22 January 2010

West Mersea Duck Punts

Keyhaven potterer Brian Pearson has a new enthusiasm, the West Mersea Duck Punt, which he expects to be megafun for racing about the mudflats and he may be right and all. They are long (15ft), thin, flat bottomed and totally without fripperies like centreboards or rudders. This means they have to be steered by an oar, which usually has to be brought into vigorous action when going about.

They can also be rowed, as demonstrated in this picture from the West Mersea Town Regatta last year, and I expect they go reasonably fast.
When racing, the sailors seem to be able to row them facing forwards, which must be less than totally efficient but needs must if the wind dies, I suppose.
But it prompts a thought. What about racing duck punts over a course with an upwind leg where rowing was compulsory?
The boat would probably have to be a little beamier to allow the rowsailor to turn round on the thwart when changing from muscle to wind power. Or it could be run by a crew of two, one to row and steer and the other to tend to the sail. Perhaps a more traditional duck punt design such as Selway Fisher's Ruddy Duck Punt would be better, and its decks would make it less easy to swamp too.

PS - The main race at West Mersea regatta has to be rowed with two people and two oars, so most competitors row as a pair. It looks like tremendous fun. This year's regatta is on July 31.

Thursday 21 January 2010

The Great Thing About Winter Rowing.... that you get the harbour to yourself.
Especially, of course, if you skive off work and go rowing on a Thursday.....

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Punt gunning in Chichester Harbour

The local history museum in Havant, just up the road from me, has this formidable 9ft long duck gun propped up against a wall.
It was made some time in the 1890s by James Pycroft, a member of a large family of farmers, builders and sailors on Hayling Island. James himself worked as a fitter in the naval dockyard at Portsmouth, so he had access to the machinery to make duck guns properly - a great many wildfowlers must have been killed by their weapons over the years. This one even had a breech loading mechanism, which the museum is trying to locate. James built this particular gun for his brother Harold (pictured), who built several punts of larch, sitka spruce, deal and parana pine. According to Harold's son Noel, the gun would be loaded with 2lb of BB shot for Brent geese or No1 shot for widgeon, duck and teal. Blasting powder provided the propellant.
Harold and his brother Albert shot 3,000 Brent geese over the bitterly cold winter of 1939/40, which were sent to a game merchant in London. Noel recalls being sent out onto the mud looking for barleycorns mixed up in the bird poo - apparently, seabirds cannot digest barley so this would be an excellent indication of where they were roosting. A dawn raid would then be mounted.
This picture is interesting for two reasons. One is that the punts seem to be in more ice than I have ever seen in the harbour. The other is that they are fitted with outriggers, presumably to make rowing to the killing ground a bit faster. The final approach would have been made by running one of the oars back over the transom and sculling.

Many thanks to the curator at Havant Museum for pointing me to the right records, and for permission to take the pictures.

Sunday 17 January 2010

London to Paris rowers start harbour training

One of the Thames Waterman's Cutters entered in the 2010 London to Paris challenge arrived in Chichester Harbour this weekend to begin training for the race in May.
Most of the crew live between here and London so it is a logical place to train, especially as they want to get lots of coastal experience before crosssing the channel. I am told that one of the main things that separated the Langstone Cutters crew that won decisively in 2008 was their long experience offshore rather than just on the relatively benign River Thames, though the tidal river can have its alarming moments.
The Reivers 12 have borrowed the Arthur Alcock, a 34ft Thames Waterman's Cutter and are keeping her on Hayling Island until the race. This weekend was their first outing here, the A crew going out in the wind and rain on Saturday and the B crew getting the sticky end of the oar with calm water and brilliant sunshine on Sunday, when these pics were taken.
We met for a chat in the Royal Oak afterwards, when they submitted patiently to a great deal of reminiscence and advice. They are raising money for two charities - Chase Hospice Care for Children and Children with Leukemia, both of which do great work. Click here and give now!

Saturday 16 January 2010

A Miniature Currach

Hilary Russell of Berkshire Boat Building School has developed a design for a small currach (that's him in the stern) with a frame of withies, spruce and pine covered by a polyester skin. Influences include the Donegal currachs (obviously), traditional north American skin-on-frame kayaks and umiaks, the hi-tech designs of Platt Monfort and, from left-field, J.R.R. Tolkien.

 Hilary writes:

"I used 8 oz. polyester from George Dyson.  Nylon works too.  Considering it's only 9.5' long, the currach rows very well.  Since building the currach, I've replaced the thole pins with brass oarlocks (however, thole pins can still be used) and made the middle seat removeable, as did the people of Donegal.  Do you know the book, The Donegal Currach by Donal Mac Polin?  It's quite detailed and thoughtful.  For instance, the author speculates on the evolution for the coracle (a river craft in Wales and Ireland) to the small Donegal currachs, which were both paddled from the round (a dead round semi-circle) end with a skulling stroke that pulled the craft through the water and also were  rowed.  There are wonderful illustrations and building instructions."
Hilary holds boat building courses at the school, located in Sheffield, Massachusetts. and supplies kits.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

For Your Rowing Comfort

The entertaining slogan for this item is 'A Cush for your Tush'. Made by GelSport in the US, it is a foam pad with a non-slip material sewn onto the bottom so all you have to do is place it on your rowing seat and go - no messing about with tie-downs or velcro or what-have-you.
Has anyone tried one? Are they any good? They are 25 bucks in the US. Here in the UK, distributor Stylo Sports only stock the Dragonboat version but apparently it fits nicely on the seat of a rowing machine so it should do the job. The price is £17 including P&P which isn't too bad.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Punt gunning

Punt gunners today usually propel themselves by sculling over the transom, but they often used to sneak up to their prey by paddling with table-tennis bats, as this reconstruction by, of all people, Royal Armouries, shows. Listen to the commentator list the huge number of birds that a professional wildfowler in Essex bagged in one month 130 years ago. Nowadays, not only are the birds getting rarer but it is impossible to let off such an enormous piece in any estuary without shooting a birdwatcher.
Thanks to Martin Corrick on the Home Built Boat Rally forum for the headsup on this one. He suggests that racing gun punts would be fun, but the winner might be the one that came in last.....

Saturday 9 January 2010

Port Sorell skiff splashes in New Zealand

I have been quietly lusting after a Port Sorell skiff for a while now. Designed by Paul Fisher, it would be handy for pootling round the harbour when the waves are a bit too high for comfortable sliding seat rowing, or for going on picnics.
A very beautiful Port Sorell has just been launched in Aukland. It looks lovely, and the heat of a tropical New Zealand summer is a bitter contrast with the snow outside my window.
I am particularly impressed by the oars, one pair in Douglas fir and the other in Kauri, both with contrasting hardwood tips and with traditional sewn leathers.
Another Port Sorell is under construction by Bob Raynor, whose blog is here.
The builder of the NZ Port Sorell skiff writes:
Hi Chris
Glad you like the look of  my boat - I'm thrilled with her and delighted with her performance.  The name is 'Playtime' reflecting the fact I'm a teacher and time building or rowing is my time to relax... My wife says I go off to play...!  Enjoyed your blog too so will keep an eye on your thoughts.
Cheers, Jeremy Sievers
Thanks, Jeremy!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Not rowing Ancient Egyptian style

We are still snowed in so I've been watching the box again, this time a BBC4 docco about the first female Pharoah, Hatshepsut, and the expedition she is said to have despatched to the mysterious land of Punt to get myrrh and other exotic goods.

The boats are depicted in a frieze in Hatshepsut's tomb, and a lady American archeologist set out to show that such a ship would be seaworthy enough to brave the Red Sea, although one of the big problems is that no-one knows where Punt was - it could have been anywhere from a short coast-hugging journey to a major venture into the Indian Ocean.
They went through the various other imponderables, from how wide the ships were (difficult to say because they are depicted only side on in the tomb reliefs) to whether the planks were caulked or not (they caulked them anyway because the hull leaked like a bundle of sticks even after several weeks submerged in the Nile).
But one thing that is absolutely certain and clearly shown in every depiction of Ancient Egyptian ships is that the main method of propulsion was by oar.

So the sailors on the replica boat endlessly discussed what sort of sail it would have had and how it was rigged, and speculated on whether it could point upwind. Not once were oars mentioned. In fact, it looked as though they didn't even stow any, though without the oars the experiment was about as valid as Thor Heyerdahl's reed boat Ra that didn't prove that the Ancient Egyptians crossed the Atlantic.
If you are in the UK you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Oh, and another thing. Why do documentary directors insist on endless sequences of the presenters driving, flying, walking down corridors and so on? It is totally irrelevant and demonstrates how directors are not at all interested in their subject, simply on adding movement during the commentary. It makes me really angry.

Monday 4 January 2010

Another Perilous Post (Florida)

Mike Davenport of sent me this snap of the sort of thing rowers in Florida have to contend with. That's plus the crocs, the Exocet-size mosquitos and the pistol-packing power boaters, of course.
Mike, a world class rowing coach, has just started a series of posts in which he outlines his system for going faster without destroying yourself. The secret, he says, is that rowing should be fun. Can't disagree with that. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Three Men Hit a Post

Talking of hitting posts, the Comical Trio did a grand job of running a currach against one for the cameras in Three Men go to Ireland. The champion women currach rowers instructed them in words of one syllable but they were still awful. Being professional comedians, one would have expected their timing to be better. Then they hit this egregious post, probably because G. Rhys Jones (stroke) was whining about how much better an oarsman he was rather than giving any sort of leadership.

Another Post of Peril (this time in Chichester Harbour)

Danger? I should cocoa - I jolly nearly ran right into it, and here is Chris Waite giving it a near miss too. They should remove that post before someone does themselves a mischief.