Saturday 29 May 2010

Home Built Boat Rally on Barton Broad

I'm at the Home Built Boat Rally at Barton Broad, and it's raining. But that didn't stop me taking a couple of turns round the island between the staithe and the broad practising the 'shoulders down' rowing technique that rowing coach Julia Rooke taught me the other day - I have clearly got into some very bad habits in all those years sculling on my own.
Now I go so fast I nearly rammed Graham Neil who was rowing his new Andrew Wolstenholme-designed Coot dinghy. It would have been a crying shame to scratch such lovely paintwork.
Behind him is a beautifully built Stevenson Weekender that was featured in Water Craft recently.
Now, the BBQ. Tomorrow the weather should be better with any luck.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Yachting Caps (derision rightly directed at)

Captain JP has a yachting cap dilemma. It is a knotty problem, the hat thing. Many sailors of enormous experience and seniority regard the Breton cap as a symbol of authority. But many younger, ruder sailors say wearing a Breton cap is a sure sign of moral turpitude and mental collapse. And fashion brain-death.
What is clear is that the cap, a practical and stylish tile especially for those of us who might be follically challenged, is now under attack. I blame the rise of the moronic baseball cap. And of course this image, from the funniest film ever, Some Like it Hot:

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Rowing to Hampton Court, Tudor-style

The Thames Traditional Rowing Association had its annual Tudor Pull over the weekend, rowing a bunch of shallops, wherries and Thames Waterman's cutters from Hampton Court to the Tower of London in full fig, which is not quite an authentic recreation of Tudor boating garb but does involve medieval-style flat hats, canopies over the passengers and lots of flags.
Trinity House rower Joe Lane, who supplied the pictures, described the weather as "a little too intense heat-wise" but clearly everyone had a blast. Joe describes the event:
"The Tudor Pull is a ceremonial event for Thames Watermen's Cutters which is organised each year by the Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA). The cutters escort the Thames Royal Shallop 'Jubilant' rowed by members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen from Hampton Court Palace to the Tower of London to deliver a 'Stela' to the Governor of the Tower for safekeeping. The 'Stela' is a piece of medieval water pipe made from a hollowed tree trunk which stands on a base of timber from the old Richmond Lock and which bears the coat of arms of the Waterman's Company."
Here is the crew passing the Palace of Westminster, 'tossing oars' in salute.
There are lots more of Joe's pictures here.
Joe recently took part in a 100 mile, 24 hour row from Southend Pier to Windsor in aid of Help for Heroes, and you can help as well by taking firm hold of your credit card and clicking on

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Charles Courtney, sculler

Goran Buckhorn at Hear the Boat Sing focuses today on the controversial career of the American sculler Charles Courtney. In the late 19th century, professional rowing existed mainly for gambling and huge amounts were wagered on the results. For some reason that has never been explained, Courtney failed to make the finishing line on several occasions. In 1887 he was poisoned by a cup of iced water he drank on the night before a critical race with James Riley, and in 1879 on the morning of his challenge race with Ned Hanlan for the world championship his boat was mysteriously found sawn in half. And in 1880 in another race against Hanlan, Courtney responded to Hanlan taking an early lead by simply rowing back to the start/finish line without going round the turning post.
Why? Courtney was an innovative rowing theorist, developing a new and very successful rowing style, and took an unusually puritanical line on fitness. He never drank nor smoked himself and in his later extremely successful career as a coach insisted on his crews abstaining also. On one occasion he sacked most of a crew for eating strawberry shortcake before a regatta, going on to win with a mainly substitute crew made of sterner moral fibre.
But what really endears Charles Courtney to me is a story I found in his entry in Wikipedia:
At 12, Courtney built his first boat out of hemlock boards and two inch planks that he had found. Due to his poor workmanship he plastered yellow clay on his boat to keep it water-tight. Once on the water the clay would eventually be washed away. This did not stop him and his friends from racing the boat. They would take turns to see who row it the farthest before it sank.

Monday 24 May 2010

Essex River Race (Essex, Massachusetts, that is)

I had a bit of a double take when I saw this, having recently posted a pic of a bit of Edwardian sculpture in Trafalgar Square that seems to show a boat being rowed in both directions at once.
It shows nothing of the kind, of course. The boat was swamped and stroke lost his seat, so after going in to the foreshore and bailing out, he is sitting on the deck and helping to stabilise the boat while bow finishes the race.
The race concerned was the Essex River Race on May 15, when a fleet of assorted boats from Cornish Pilot Gigs to racing sculls went downriver from the lovely New England town of Essex, Mass, round Cross Island where they briefly entered the Atlantic, and back. The picture was taken by David Jones ("clamflats") and there are lots more great shots on his photosite.
I particularly like this one. These guys are giving it their all.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Coigach Lass launched, wins first St Ayles Skiff race

Barely was Ullapool's Ulla in the water when Coigach Lass from nearby Achiltibuie was launched with much ceremony. Ulla was rowed down Loch Broom for the occasion, and of course the very first St Ayles skiff race developed. It was entirely in the spirit of the Scottish Coastal Rowing project that each crew had members of both communities, and that Coigach Lass won.
Coigach Lass looks stunning, with vivid blue hull. She has a silver coin embedded in the bow and will have a rather delightful figurehead, which will be cast in metal or resin. She is intended to sit on the stemhead so it can be removed to avoid damage when on the trailer. There is, of course, no suggestion that rival St Ayles skiff crews might regard her as a desirable 'trophy'.
The first St Ayles skiff regatta will take place at Anstruther next Saturday, May 29, when six skiffs are expected to turn out. Should be a great occasion. The Scottish Fisheries Museum will be free to enter for the day as well.

Friday 21 May 2010

Ulla hits Loch Broom

It is truly amazing how fast the Scottish Coastal Rowing project is getting onto the water. Ulla, built by the community of Ullapool on Loch Broom, is in her element and boy does she look lovely.
And she couldn't have fabulouser surroundings as Chris Perkins' dramatic pictures show.
One of the difficulties with double-enders is that the rudder is inevitably miles away from the cox, necessitating either bits of string or long spindly tillers (or, even worse, push-pull arrangements which are a recipe for misunderstandings and disaster).
The Ulla builders, which include such luminaries as Topher Dawson, Adrian Morgan and Chris P, have resurrected the steerboard, adapted from an idea by the Vikings. The rudder is mounted to the side of the cox on the gunwale and a sponson lower down - the Vikings used the rootball of a small tree to provide the natural flexibility and strength. The steerboard was always on the right of the boat, giving rise to our term 'starboard'.
Apparently, the steerboard works well. It will be interesting to see if other crews follow the Ulla way.
For some reason I missed the launch of the Port Seton skiff Boatie Rows, which was launched a couple of weeks back to much piping. A video of the event is here.The rowing is....err...crablike...but it was the first time out. Having demonstrated the will to succeed by building the first boat to hit the water, Port Seton will evidently be a force to reckon with in the upcoming regatta season.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

A Walkabout for rowing

John Welsford's Walkabout is a boat for cruising, under oars and sail. It has a very appealing combination of length for easy rowing and a man-size flat area on the bottom for comfortable sleeping.
This blog's favourite expat Brummie Rick Thompson noticed that it has a lot of excellent features for a pure rowing boat that is used in more challenging waters, in his case San Francisco Bay. The decks and coaming keep out all but the worst waves, and there is lots of flotation should the worst occur.
So Rick is building a Walkabout for rowing, stretched by eight per cent to 17ft 10in and without all the sailing stuff. A few days ago he had a trial launch to fix the rowlock positions. She was blessed with a splash of Guinness and named 'Puddles' - and she looks very good.
Rick wrote in the Welsford forum:
"The boat I have been rowing for the past 4 years is a 14' Whitehall type, known
as a decent pulling boat, so my comparisons are to that. Steady long distance rowing speed for the Whitehall has been 3 - 3.5 kts, and Walkabout measures about the same on GPS. This is great, I was afraid the bigger boat would be slower. Pulling very hard, Walkabout got to 4.5 - 5 kts, faster than the smaller boat probably due to longer waterline. Even at this speed there is very little wake generated, where the Whitehall would be surging and making waves.
The Whitehall is sensitive to fore and aft trim, and more tippy. With two people in Walkabout, not trimmed properly as there is only one rowing position at the moment, it made very little difference in speed. I can also sit out on one side seat and the rail is still well above the water."
The result is much more seaworthy and practical cruising boat than the Whitehall. Rick has lots of pictures of the launch and the construction process here.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Racing in Paris and Hamble

The London2Paris Challenge climaxed early this morning, with the Gravesend/Medway/Langstone crew first across the line followed by Reivers12 and the Outloars. It was an eventful race, brought to a sudden halt in Herne Bay when horrible weather howled in. Gravesend's boat was swamped.
The boats were recovered and the expedition bussed to Le Havre to restart the race up the Seine. At this point, the organisers started a very strange system of pursuit races, imposing massive handicaps on the faster crews. Gravesend managed to overcome this, rowing to victory in several stages despite the handicap. At the end, the Outloars, the slowest boat, won the pursuit section and Gravesend won the overall championship.
My sympathies are with Rievers12, who came away with nothing despite being second.
Anyway, congratulations to all the crews, who all rowed the same distance in a gruelling event and came out with credit. And particular thanks to Mike Gilbert and Colin McPhee for letting us know what was going on through their Twitter feeds.
I took part with fellow Langstone Cutters Mark and Jenni in the Hamble River Raid, a distance of just four miles, and we came away with the prize for the oldest crew in the race - despite the fact that our cox, Nick Hands, is just 11. This picture, which I have fearlessly stolen from Max Taylor's Bursledon Blog, shows us starting out.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

London to Paris 2010 in Seine

After the dispiriting abandonment of the cross-channel leg of the Challenge because of the high seas, the three crews started off up the Seine from Le Havre early this morning. After a couple of hours, Gravesend had drawn ahead - those little dots behind are Reivers12 and the Outloars, in this pic taken by Colin Mcphee on his Blackberry. Clearly, sinking in Herne Bay has not slowed Gravesend up. Well done guys!

Monday 10 May 2010

Powerboat fever spreads

Tillerman and Captain JP have spread alarm and despondency in the sailing world by announcing their conversion to (shock!) powerboats.
And I also feel the lure. One of my tenderest childhood memories is swanning elegantly up the Thames in my grandparents' Andrews launch Snarleyow (now you know where the name of my skiff comes from).
Mind you, we were never, never allowed to open the throttle, let the engine go PHWOAR and roar along drawing a monster wake to remind lower forms of river life such as rowers, sailors and canoeists who was boss. The boat had been bought from the American comedian Red Skelton who had been banned from the river for life for just that sort of behaviour. Even with the tedious speed limit, whenever I got behind the wheel they had to prise my hands off with a crowbar.
That's Pops driving when he got the boat in 1949. Behind him is the ruler of the family, the famous Staffordshire bull terrier Piggy.

Sunday 9 May 2010

UPDATE: Drama off Herne Bay

SUNDAY: Blogger Captain JP got this spiffing shot of the Gravesend boat leading the London2Paris Challenge as they powered down Barking Reach. He writes:
Only managed to get shots of one of the teams. You’ll be glad to hear we were at anchor at the time they went by but when the other two got to us we were practising getting positional fixes with hand compass so wasn’t able to go into pap mode.
Not quite as mad as the rowing the Atlantic but even so, rather them than me!
Many thanks JP!

MONDAY: Later that night Gravesend's boat capsised off Herne Bay. All the crew were recovered and the boat taken in tow. Mike Gilbert twittered from his BlackBerry this morning:
"Interesting experience being trapped by the leg under water in an upturned boat, in the dark in rough seas! However, I wriggled out, the life jacket worked, and Colin helped get me out. Scary moment that!! Happy days!!"

Reivers12 and Outloars also stopped in Herne Bay and all the boats are now in Ramsgate. A Force 8 is forecast and the French have yet to give permission, so a crossing today is unlikely.

Up the Itchen

I've never rowed the River Itchen before, mainly because it doesn't look very attractive seen from the bridges that I drive over in my rare visits to Southampton. It is lined with dead wharves and shipyards, and filled with monster but lower-end plastic boats belonging to people who can't afford the mooring fees in the Hamble.
So I rowed up this morning just to tick it off my list of rivers rowed, putting in at Netley, a village on Southampton Water. I was pleasantly surprised.
Southampton Water is a slightly alarming waterway because you have to share it with things like this.
What's it like to live under a bus route?
But what makes the Itchen great is that all Southampton's rowing clubs are based on its banks, and they were out in force. Coastal fours were strongly in evidence, a few single shells, one eight being rowed by a geezer crew that I strongly identified with, and this funny.
This is Southampton Amateur Rowing Club. Clubs on the other bank include the splendidly-named Itchen Imperial RC and Coalporters ARC. Soton University boat club is further up.
So I did eight miles and felt knackered.
Which makes me even more open-mouthed in admiration at the three crews rowing the London2Paris Challenge, who are well on their way on the first stage from Westminster Bridge to Ramsgate, a distance of 75miles. Gravesend is about 1.5 miles in the lead - see the positions online here, and Mike Gilbert's Twitter feed here.

Saturday 8 May 2010

London to Paris 2010

The London to Paris row starts tomorrow, departing past Big Ben and 0900hrs. This punishing six-day race to the Eiffel Tower was won in 2008 by Langstone Cutters (pictured going under London Bridge on the way up to the start line) and two members of that crew, Mike Gilbert and Colin Mcphee, are turning out for the Gravesend and Medway boat this year.
Mike is twittering from his BlackBerry here mikedoesL2P, and Colin from his BlackBerry here colindoesL2P. Official updates will be posted here.
Best of luck you guys!

Thursday 6 May 2010

Rowing in Walsh Bay, NSW

Peter Miller has found that it is still silly to take coals to Newcastle, in Australia at least. He writes:

Last week a business trip took me up to Newcastle, 2.5 hours north of Sydney. After puzzling over the logistics for a few days I took the opportunity to travel up the night before with my Swift Dory on my roof racks and stay at a friend's place at Lake Macquarie just south of my destination. Waking early I snapped a pic of sunrise on the lake and travelled the 30 minutes into the city arriving at Horseshoe Beach at 7:15am.
Launching from the beach I travelled west then north to Walsh Bay Reserve about 3.5km away. The vantage point provided a good view of a couple of coal ships one of which, the Hanabusa, was being loaded at the Carrington coal terminal.
Newcastle is one of the busiest harbours in Australia and I understand the biggest coal port in the world. Last year there were about 1000 coal vessels loaded and around 100 million tonnes of coal exported. It was an unseasonably warm morning. Is there any connection between that and 100 million tonnes of Newcastle coal going up in smoke?
The coal is railed from mines up in the Hunter Valley down to the port and shipped mainly to China, Japan and Korea. The Hanabusa launched in 2007 and it mainly transports coal to the Hokuriku Electric Power Co in Japan. Vital Stats: Deadweight 77,247 tonnes; Length 229 metres; Beam 36 metres; Draft 12.8 metres. It kinda makes one's own vessel seem rather insignificant. Then again my fuel bill is lower and I am a bit more manoeuvrable.Turning to go south I dodged some of the river traffic including a dredger the David Allan.
The Newcastle Port Corporation's Trailer Suction dredger David Allan works in conjunction with the survey team, to ensure that the channels and berths are maintained at their correct depth.
The dredging process itself is called trailer-suction dredging. The dredger lowers its dredging arm, which is a large pipe of about a metre diameter, to the harbour bed. Water is pumped into the pipe to remove the air to create suction. This allows the excess mud and silt to be sucked from the harbour bed (something like a huge vacuum cleaner) as the dredger is manoeuvred through the area requiring dredging.
She removes approximately 500,000 tonnes of actual silting material a year, with about 1000 trips to the spoil ground, which is 1.5 miles South East of Nobbys Head. (Source Newcastle Port Corporation).
Nearing the edge of the City to the south of the harbour I came across a shapely statue of a winged lady created by Julie Squires, inspired by the figureheads on sailing ships. Mariners believe that a naked woman before the ship is good luck and has the power to calm gales and high winds, keeping them safe. She symbolises the spirit of the future, standing on a globe and drawing strength from the earth. Her hair strands represent the seven seas.
I headed east back to the Horseshoe Beach and inevitably struck up conversations with first a kayaker and then, after landing, a fellow who wanted to know more abot the dory and where he could get one. So far in my rowing I have only twice come across non-competitive row boats on Sydney Harbour. Kayaks and surf skis are by far and away more popular. Having been a kayaker many years ago I can say they don't know what they're missing. After loading the dory on the car and locking her down I took a quick dip, changed into my suit and was ready for the business of the day. Now if I could just somehow work a row into my commute in Sydney each day...

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Maps, Boats on telly

Bosham is the most historical village I know, having been the home of King Canute and King Harold. The church is portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry.
But I didn't know it was so important in Roman times that it is marked on Ptolemy's map, dating from the second century AD. It was called Portus Magnus then, and the picture shows Professor Jerry Brotton discussing the map with Professor Ian Stewart at Bosham, in the last programme in the series Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession. It was clearly a bit parky because they continued their talk in the Anchor Bleu. Apparently Ptolemy got the position fairly accurately, even though he had to rely on third-hand data.
The next true delight was Tom Cunliffe in Boats that Made Britain, sailing the Matthew, a replica of the ship that Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. Cunliffe made the voyage come alive with insights only someone who had done it himself could provide. He even ate medieval gruel, and pronounced it good for morale.
Astoundingly, Cabot only stayed on the coast of America for a few days and went ashore only once. 
One detail that Cunliffe omitted, however, was that Cabot was backed not just by Henry VII but by a Bristol merchant called Richard Amerike. Did Amerike give his name to the continent Cabot spent a few brief hours exploring?

Saturday 1 May 2010

Future Sailing

Darnit, went out rowing and missed the deadline for Tillerman's writing challenge, and it is important that someone tells the truth about sailing 25 years from now. Because there ain't goin' to be none. Global warming will have raised sea levels so we will all be living under the sea. The surface will be covered with an impenetrable scum of oil-coated garbage, stirred up by violent and unpredictable storms, making sailing impossible. Oil will have run out, so power boats will no longer function.
The only viable water transport will be the rowable submarine, invented by Dutch genius Cornelius Drebbel four centuries ago.
Periscope depth, and row all!