Saturday 31 July 2010

A royal barge

The Navy Days are on in Portsmouth this weekend, and of course we went and gasped at the antics of the helicopters of the Black Cats team, admired the Marines as they put down pirates and gawped at the new Type 45 frigates (which are actually almost as big as one of the old Dreadnought battleships, I was surprised to discover).
But for me the highlight of the trip was to discover Charles II's Royal Barge in the museum. Built about 1670, it is eight oared (four a side) and slim for her length with a fine entry. She is clearly built for speed rather than vulgar display, like the barges of the Georges which have so much gold leaf they should have turned turtle and sunk the instant they were launched.
The seat at the back is painted with an image of Britannia, with the face of Charles's French mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth. Can you imagine what the Daily Mail would make of that today?
The boat returned to the national stage in 1806 when it was used to bring Nelson's body from Greenwich to London for his state funeral. This is a model of the boat on that occasion, complete with black canopy.
But the other highlight was the Airfix stand, where you could make up a kit on the spot, for free! I assembled HMS Cumberland. It was the first time I had done a plastic kit since my chum Phil and I used to build warships and cut them down to the waterline, fighting naval battles on the living room carpet.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Seawolf on the Ammersee

Wolf Huber sails on the lovely Ammersee in Bavaria, which I have fond memories of. I rowed the lake one bright autumn morning, nursing a horrible hangover as Luftwaffe Starfighters roared overhead to protect Germany against their natural enemies, the Swiss.
Wolf got third prize at the Water Craft competition at Beale Park in 2003 for his boat Elgol, but Elgol has proved a bit too large for cartopping, so he converted the rowing tender he built for his yacht. into an easily cartoppable rowing/sailing dinghy. Unfortunately, he as he had to do it in a third floor apartment, as he relates:
Dear Chris,
My problem in the past was getting my 3m boat Elgol on top of my car. My solution is Seewolfchen or Little Seawolf, designed and built by me eleven years ago as rowing tender for my self-built 5m cabin yawl and sold together with her some years ago. The new owner took her to Lake Mueritz.
Last year when sailing with him I found Seawolf in his garden looking very neglected and found out that he had no more need for her. So I bought her back with the plan to alter her to a good sailing/rowing combi boat.
I did the alterations in two months in our third floor living room, building first a 2.5 x 4m compartment with transparent plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling and a strong one over the floor. Without  a tolerant wife I had no chance to do that, so I'm very happy with her understanding.
I first cut out the lengthwise sitting substructure, then built up a forward buoyancy chamber with mast partner and daggerboard case. When sailing I sit on a detachable thwart with  foldable side flaps on a detachable underconstruction. When rowing this  bench  is used lengthwise as it was before. All  the fittings were leftovers from earlier boat projects or made up by me.
For varnishing spars, daggerboard and rudderparts I used our little balcony.
Last I sewed a comfortable watertight sitting mat with three layers of foam mats inside as used for camping and three long watertight sacks for sail, spars and oars.
I have had a couple of nice sailing days with Seewolfchen on my home lake. Predictably, such a short sailboat is not at its best in big waves and sailing upwind can be difficult. Often wind was thrown out of the sail by the strong multidirectional movements of the boat between the waves. But nevertheless she sails very dry, taking in little water, and sailing on a broad reach is a real pleasure. Even so, with her tiller fixed she sails a straight course for long distances like all my boats do and I can make small course corrections by shifting  my weight a little to left or right. Naturally my 3m long Elgol will remain  my normal and my favorite boat when sailing on my home lake, but now I have a nice boat to take away for future voyages and in the colder out of sailing season she will be a good future rowing partner. We possibly leaving for Brittany mid of  August coming back mid of September and  I hope enjoying sailing  her on some nice spots there I still visited often without a boat.
Nice greetings,

Tuesday 27 July 2010

A disturbing trend... highlighted by news stories here, here and here.
The Moral: Cobbler, stick to your last. Rower, stick to your oars.
Or perhaps they should each have bought a Sculltrek.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Sulkava churchboat racing

Tony Shaw teaches English in Helsinki, and has become wildly enthusiastic about rowing Finnish churchboats. He took part in the amazing mass churchboat gathering at Sulkava, claimed to be the largest rowing event in the world with more than 7,000 rowers competing. The boats leaving for the race through the islands in the lake near the Russian border make a spectacular sight.
Tony writes:
Dear CP - Thanks for the VERY FINE collection of rowing trivia and triumph on your blog - it ties in with my excitement about Sulkava, which is its participatory aspect.
My scratch crew of 14 exceptionally varied rowers, aged from 20 - 70, including five women, bonded to manage 70 kms in 2 days with very little discomfort - maybe thanks to perfect summer weather...churchboats were all about spirit!
Though many boats are sponsored by companies for their staff, there is a very powerful fun element, eg the interim evening dance and karoke!
I used to row at school, and even turned out for York University in their Roses Weekend vs Lancaster Uni - in the 1970s. Over here I hardly touched an oar until three weeks ago when I joined a scratch crew for a public invitation row in Helsinki. I seem to be hooked again (as many 50-something readers of yours are!).
ALL regards

Tony took the pictures, except for the top one which comes from a massive album of excellent photos of the event. There's a longer report from Tony at Hear the Boat Sing.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Sliding seat for cruising rowboats

Sliding seats are a big problem for cruising boats, because they take up all the middle of the boat and get in the way when you want to for camp, cook or just laze around. Worse than a centreboard.
Rick Thompson in the San Francisco Bay area has built one of the most interesting rowing/sailing boat designs around, John Welsford's Walkabout. Now he has added an ingenious sliding seat mechanism that runs on the side flotation tanks, leaving the centre well free for other purposes, such as sleep. Rick describes it in the very excellent John Welsford forum thus:
I'm pretty happy with it so far. I know JW is not so keen on sliding seats, and I understand that it probably burns more energy and doesn't do anything to change the hull speed limit on this type of boat.
For me, it is a big help to be able to use leg muscles as well as arms and back. Next will be some type of hold-down so the seat can be used fixed as well.
It's really hot here in inland California now, hope others are having good
boating or building weather.
I have to say I rather agree with John Welsford about sliding seats on long-distance boats. When you are racing over relatively short distances, you need to transmit all the power you can possibly generate into the oars. It is a sprint, so it's anaerobic.
Over longer distances, it is physically impossible to row anaerobically - the power you can produce is limited by the amount of air you can pump through your lungs. And you can produce this power just as efficiently on a fixed thwart as a sliding seat.
If you use a fixed seat, you get the other advantages of better control over the oars in choppy conditions and a more robust and simpler setup. But with the sliding seat, Rick will be able to make a lot of money by challenging fixed seat Walkabout owners to a race to "that buoy and back". Go, Rick!

Friday 16 July 2010

More Smuggery

Paul Zink, creator of the Clovelly Scull, has put the North Devon coast up for the title of Loveliest Rowing Waters on the Planet.
As with previous entrants, he makes a point.

Hi Chris,
I guess we've all been enjoying this summer's exceptionally good weather. The photos above were taken while out rowing my Clovelly Scull in idyllic conditions along the North Devon coast between Clovelly and Hartland Point. I think I must challenge Brian Pearson's claim that the waters out of Keyhaven are the loveliest on the planet. It takes a lot to beat the north coast of Devon and Cornwall, that is if you like rowing on the open sea with spectacular cliffs on one side and the sea horizon on the other with only the occasional porpoise, dolphin or seal for company as well as the likes of razorbills and shearwaters demonstrating their flying skills. In contrast there are days when rowing is very definitely out of the question. The photo on the right was taken just around the corner at Hartland Quay during a winter storm. Maybe Brian could have been out rowing from Keyhaven on that same day!
I do have to agree with Brian that Keyhaven is a great place for rowing. It is certainly my favourite out of the various places in the Solent area I have visited. While providing sheltered water in the various creeks and behind the spit it is also a good launch point for rowing over to the Isle of Wight or just going to have a bit of fun with the overfalls in the Hurst Channel during the flood tide.
Trust all is well with you,
Another major delight of Paul's home waters is the row to Lundy, also known as Puffin Island, a distance of 14 miles. The huge tides in the Bristol Channel makes this a row to be timed with care.
Last weekend Clovelly Pilot Gig Club held their annual Lundy Row. Nine pilot gigs rowed to Lundy on the Saturday morning, spent the afternoon walking the island and the evening in the Marisco Tavern. They rowed back next day, arriving in Clovelly just in time for the Red Lion to open, so a typically rowing time was had by all. There is a full report here.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

River Yealm boat on the Solent

I have always admired West Country rowing boats with their combination of speed, practicality and style, and this is an attractive example from the River Yealm, owned and rowed by Alison Abrams in Keyhaven.
Brian Pearson relates:
"Alison had cancer a little while back and I am pleased to say things have gone well and she can get back to rowing again. She learnt to row on the Yealm and has had her boat for 20 years. To pay something back to the Bournemouth Cancer Unit she did a sponsored 12 mile row on Sunday out to Hurst Castle and back six times. Well done her!
Her boat is called Tom, after the man who taught her to row as a child on the Yealm and then when he died he left her a legacy with which she purchased the boat - a lovely story.
If anyone would also like to contribute they can at Click on donations, then fill in amount, then under "Reasons" enter Alison Abrams Big Row, and please add Gift Aid My Donation."

Monday 12 July 2010

Hog Heaven

This guy has it MADE. He is lazing in the sun while his girl paddles him towards the pub. Their dog is also enjoying himself top hole - he is alternately swimming and chasing ducks along the shore.
Spotted on the Hamble yesterday.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Illusion launched

Paul Hadley's latest creation, Illusion, was launched with due ceremony into the River Hamble today. Graham Neil did his 'I'm Scottish and I cannae watch good whisky dribble into the water' act.
The 10ft microcruiser is designed to sail in puddles and major waters. She is large enough to sleep in, but small enough to portage. Paul based her on the legendary Matt Leyden's latest creation Elusion - he would have bought plans but Matt has not made them available. Something about the boat being a bit edgy.

Illusion took to the water with aplomb, floating high because about 90 per cent of the fittings have yet to be added (not to mention all the food and gear for the expeditions she is designed for).
Paul propelled her across the Hamble under oars to the Jolly Sailor, where he said she was reassuringly stable and 'extremely manoeuverable'. With a pronounced rocker and no ballast, she turned on a sixpence. Didn't keep a straight line, however.
It will be very interesting to see how she performs with rig and rudder.
Graham brought his lovely new Coot, resplendent in sweet chestnut, and put the rig up for the first time. She sailed beautifully.

Saturday 10 July 2010


Brian Pearson puts his home waters up for the 'loveliest waters on the planet' title. He has a case, as he sails at Keyhaven, a pretty little village squeezed between the New Forest on one side and the Isle of Wight on the other.
Unfortunately, he backs up his claim with a bunch of pictures showing him and a fleet of friends sailing Lymington Scows. Now, they look like they are having a lot of fun, but the sun's out innit? For all-weather enjoyment, rowing's the ticket.
Coincidentally, pulling boat Gladys (the picture shows Richard coxing loudly) passed through a huge fleet of small plastic boats with a sort of starburst logo on the sail on our way to Emsworth today. Can't think what they might be, but they look as though they might get sailors wet, cold and miserable when the weather gets shirty.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Drowning, not waving

I always assumed that you could tell a person was drowning by the way they thrash about, calling for help as they are swept away by the current.
Of course, someone who is thrashing about in the water calling for help is probably in trouble, but they are not actually drowning. Drowing is a much quieter, much more horrible process, as I discovered from this article by Mario Vittone of the US Coastguard.
As they drown, victims go into spasm and are unable to call for help or move much at all. They put their head back in a desperate last attempt to reach the air, holding their arms sideways. Their head may bob up a few times before they sink. The process can take under a minute and entirely silent. And because most of us (including me) don't know what drowning looks like, a staggering 10 per cent of child drownings happen as an adult is actually watching, not understanding what is happening.

Thanks to David Greybeal for the headsup. Image by Paul Kondritz.

Wednesday 7 July 2010


Gavin Atkin has sent pictures of his local sailing grounds, the Medway at Lower Halstow, noting that it too 'doesn't seem so bad'. Especially when the sun is out and the view includes the lovely Edith May, the newly restored Thames barge featured on Gav's blog

Tuesday 6 July 2010


Richard draws this blog's attention to a picture he took of his local sailing waters, in reference to my smugness about living on Chichester Harbour. He makes a point.

Monday 5 July 2010


I've been called smug for bragging about living close to the loveliest stretches of boating water on the planet, viz Chichester Harbour. It's all true. This evening, for instance, the weather was almost perfect, with blue sky and cottonwool clouds, so I smugly popped out on impulse for a quick row at Bosham, the pretty village that was home to King Canute and King Harold.
On the way back I spotted this boat name. Normally I disapprove of smartypants names like Costa Bomb or Dungardnin, but this one slid under my mental block and gave me a little giggle.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Dunder und Blixem, it's a thunderstorm!

Dave Brewin in Marblehead, Massachusetts, posted a couple of really nice pictures of the late afternoon sun on the Roughstuffrowing forum recently. What the picture doesn't show is the thunderstorm that was on its way, as Dave relates:

Yesterday saw some record temperatures here in Eastern MA - well into the 90's. The good news was a back door cold front moved in from Canada and the heat started to leave. Perfect evening for a row, I thought, and Mother Nature obliged with some great cloud formations and a beautiful sunset.
What the pictures don't show, because the camera was back in the water tight box and I was rowing for all I was worth, is the thunderstorm cell that moved in 5 minutes later. I was only a half mile off the beach at the time so made it back safely, if a little wet. Watching a lightning bolt hit the water a half mile off the stern is a reminder that heat waves in New England are always ended with THUNDER AND LIGHTNING!

I've always wondered about lightning at sea. Clearly it happens, but how dangerous is it? According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospherice Administration fatalities are rare but if you are caught out in a thunderstorm, an open boat such as a rowing boat or canoe is one of the worst places you can be. This is from the NOOA website:
The vast majority of lightning injuries and deaths on boats occur on small boats with NO cabin. It is crucial to listen to the weather when you are boating. If thunderstorms are forecast, don't go out. If you are out on the water and skies are threatening, get back to land and find a safe building or safe vehicle.
Boats with cabins offer a safer, but not perfect, environment. Safety is increased further if the boat has a properly installed lightning protection system. If you are inside the cabin, stay away from metal and all electrical components. STAY OFF THE RADIO UNLESS IT IS AN EMERGENCY!
If you are caught in a thunderstorm on a small boat, drop anchor and get as low as possible.  Large boats with cabins, especially those with lightning protection systems properly installed, or metal marine vessels are relatively safe. Remember to stay inside the cabin and away from any metal surfaces.
As far as I can see, the only thing you can do to increase the risk of being struck is to put out your fishing rod while getting on the radio. Dave clearly did exactly the right thing: row for land.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Peter Miller rows Darling Harbour, Sydney

This blog's correspondent in Sydney, Peter Miller, has sent another despatch:
One of the enjoyable facets of rowing on Sydney Harbour is discovering new launch points from which one can explore the foreshore sights.
One such spot I came across last week was a park at Pyrmont which used to be the base of the Sydney Water Police on which the TV series Water Rats was (loosely) based. After getting a hand from a friendly jogger I launched off for a row from Blackwattle Bay near Anzac Bridge to Darling Harbour.
Just across the bay was moored the ex-HMAS Adelaide [see right side of panorama] which is facing an uncertain future. The frigate was scheduled to be scuttled close to shore up the coast in March to create an artificial reef and tourist destination for divers. However last minute moves by an environmental group concerned about PCB contamination have scuttled the scuttling for now. Many of the locals were upset as they had already ordered the sausages for the BBQ on the day and T-Shirts had been printed with the sinking date!
Rounding the headland and turning into Darling Harbour I came up next-to the Australian National Maritime Museum. The Museum is well worth an (official) visit as it has moored next to it a replica of the Endeavour which was launched in 1994. With a length of only 109 feet it is hard to believe Captain Cook sailed all the way around the world in something so small. Also moored at the museum is the sub HMAS Onslow commissioned in 1968 and whose motto was “Strength, silence, surprise". I guess it could have been worse. Apparently the unofficial crew motto of the USS Kamehameha was “Kam do”.
After being gently notified by the Museum security that I was actually on Museum water (“Sorry mate”) I rowed back snapping a pic of the fully restored 1874 James Craig on which the public can book trips. I am going to have put that one on the bucket list.
 Thanks for that, Peter. US subs seem to specialise in awful mottos: USS Tunny has Illegitimi Non Carborundum. How do they translate that for visiting clergymen and ladies?