Thursday 30 September 2010

Dutch Lifeboats at the GRR

The Dutch seem to be obsessed with rowing old lifeboats and naval training boats, which has had the great outcome of preserving a large number of historic boats including many built in Britain. No fewer than eight were competing very aggressively at the Great River Race - the Services trophy was won by the Royal Netherlands Naval College in the lifeboat Pollux, in a time of 2hr 49min.
The sloeproeiens or 'rowing sloops' above are the eight-oared lifeboats Oksewiel (front) and Zeeotter, rowed by crews from Den Bealch. Oksewiel started at 123 and finished at 117 in a time of 3hr 9min. Zeeotter moved up from 130 to 109 in a time of 3hr 3min.
Here is a good video of Oksewiel racing another sloeproeien.

William Riley in the GRR

There were many boats that I wouldn't have fancied rowing up the Thames against a headwind on a brisk autumn day, on the face of it, and the William Riley was one of them. All that freeboard must have slowed them up considerable, even with ten oars.
But what a boat! She was the lifeboat that in 1914 was famously hauled six miles along the cliffs near Whitby and lowered down a 200ft cliff into the sea to assist the hospital ship Rohilla, which had run aground and was breaking up.
The William Riley was recently found on an eBay auction, brought back to Whitby and restored. She looks brilliant, and her new crew took her over course in 3hr 25min. A labour of love, for sure, and one suspects a lot of fun too.
(Picture by Steve Sagrott)

Tuesday 28 September 2010

More boats at the Great River Race

The very first St Ayles Skiff to compete in the GRR was Skiff John B from North Berwick, with a time of 3hr 27min. Note the fab flag, which is that of the town of Berwick with, appropriately, an oared galley. I suspect we are going to see a lot more of these great boats in future years - about 30 are complete or under construction. (Pic by Steve Sagrott)
Joe Lane and Trinity Tide, a Thames Waterman's Cutter, took part in the GRR but seem to have dropped off the scorecard, so haven't got a time yet. (Pic by Steve Sagrott)
The very fine Cornish Pilot Gig Young Bristol started at 276 and moved up to finish at 117 in a time of 2hr 42min. Behind is the Dutch whaler Haarlemmerhout, which started at 179 and finished at 112 in a time of 3hr dead. There was a record number of Dutch boats at the race this year.

Monday 27 September 2010

Pics from the Great River Row

Steve Sagrott has sent over a bunch of pics that he took from the luxury of one of the river boats following the race.
Top is Gladys, our Felixtowe Clayton skiff. The Claytons were moulded from workboats used in Thames estuary ports and come in two varieties, the Felixtowe and the Gravesend. The Felixtowe is said to be faster than the Gravesend, though 'faster' is perhaps not the right word. 'Less back-breakingly slow' would be more accurate.
Gladys is pictured with Geoff Shilling Nick Parish coxing, Nick Parish Geoff Shilling at stroke, then Nigel Armstrong, Mike Gilbert and me in the bow. Our passenger, Dougal, took some video that I am in the process of editing.
Here is 15 Seconds, a Salter skiff, rowed by Deborah Pentesco-Gilbert and Sandra Russell, coxed/passengers being their sons Ben and Tim. They won fastest women and fastest veteran women. And because they started right at the front of the pack (number 25) we couldn't quite catch them.
Everyone's favourite boat is Bembridge, an all wood Solent galley that is fast and a joy to row but has little chance of winning anything because of its crippling handicap. Nevertheless, they managed to overtake more than 200 boats. Didn't catch us, though.
This is Mabel, our Gravesend Clayton, which managed a respectable time but not as fast as Gladys.

Finally, here is Millie, a Teifi skiff, which finished the course in 3hr 32min. Good, but not as fast as Gladys.

Sunday 26 September 2010


The Great River Race is a masterpiece of directed chaos, with more than 300 boats, crews, helpers and supporters converging on a single slipway in a rather inaccessible part of east London, and then again on a remote field in west London. But everyone mucks in, crews helping each other to manhandle boats down the long pontoons on the Isle of Dogs and again up the bank into the field at Ham.Langstone Cutters were there in force, with five boats entered.It was bitterly cold, with a brisk northwesterly on the nose for most of the course, against the tide creating a nasty chop.
But Gladys triumphed, coming in Fastest Clayton Skiff and Fastest Supervets (over 60s). Mike Gilbert had to jump straight from the boat into a waiting car to take him to a theatre in Southsea where he was appearing as Sherlock Holmes that evening, and Nigel Armstrong had left to tow Gladys home, but here are Nick Parish, Geoff Shilling and me taking the old farts' prize.
Deborah Pentesco-Gilbert and Sandra Russell rowed 15 Seconds the entire course, coxed and passengered by their sons, and won the Fastest Women's Crew and Fastest Women's Veteran's classes.
Here are Debs and Ben with their trophies.
For some nice pictures taken from the bank, see Captain JP's log.

Friday 24 September 2010

Rowing for Pain

It is the Great River Race tomorrow, so almost all of Langstone Cutters' boats were cleaned, polished and loaded on trailers for transport to the start on the Isle of Dogs in London.
I was towing the double-decker trailer in the foreground, and I had forgotten what a pain a big trailer can be. It waggled the whole car, I couldn't see a thing behind and on the longer hills I couldn't even keep up with the Tesco lorries. It rained, mainly when we were getting the boats off the trailers, and we got stuck in the kind of traffic that makes London look like Bombay in the monsoon with Range Rovers. But the boats are in place and the trailers are at the finish line.
Time for bed. Tomorrow, I am in a boatful of old farts who like to win. It will be painful.

Monday 20 September 2010

Charles II's barge and Nelson's funeral

I sent David Nabors of Mermaid Central, NeverSeaLand, a picture of the delightful mermaid carved on the bow of King Charles II's barge, which was also used to carry Nelson's coffin from Greenwich to London in one of the most spectacular funerals England has ever seen.
David responds with a link to a Hornblower story that had passed me by, avid C. S. Forrester fan that I am. Newly promoted Captain, Horatio Hornblower finds himself lumbered with the task of organising the water-borne funeral cortege. Aboard the old barge, he first discovers that consulting his watch means that he cannot maintain a suitably funereal aspect, so he hangs it on a coffin handle for ease of consultation.
What with a leak that means his crew have to 'bail like hell' (his orders) and all the other things that go wrong on occasions like this, he nearly loses the corpse of Britain's greatest hero and his watch. It is hilarious, and confirms my suspicion that Forrester is one of our greatest novellists, not just a naval history buff.
Thanks, David. I am now going to read Hornblower and the Atropos with delight.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Rowing to Blues Point

Peter Miller has been rowing round one of the world's loveliest metropolitan seascapes again. I love this shot - that's Peter in the bottom right hand corner, reflected in the huge concave mirror that gives him an all-round view forwards when rowing. He writes:
I feel very fortunate to be able to undertake my recent trip.
I launched from a tiny beach at Blues Point which was named after a Jamaican, Billy Blue, who offered a ferry row boat service across the Harbour in the early 1800's. Passing by Luna Park my journey took me under the Bridge and into Neutral Bay, so named because it was set aside by Governor Phillip in 1789 as a 'Neutral Bay' where foreign ships were to be moored while visiting Sydney.
After a short break and a coffee, a quick row dodging the Manly ferries had me past Fort Denison and beside the Opera House.
It was a good day.
If any Rowing for Pleasure readers come down this way drop me a line and maybe we could share a row.
Thanks, Peter. I love the idea of Manly Ferries. Do they have Girly Ferries?

Friday 17 September 2010

More from the Home Built Boat Rally

So I was casually carrying Simbo to the beach when someone said: "Are you entering the Biggest Bloke in the Smallest Boat contest?"

(Picture by who else but Chris Perkins)

Thursday 16 September 2010

It Takes Two (to Row a Double)

This absolutely made my day. Thanks to Whitehall Spirit.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Soton footnote

These two boats were the high points of the Southampton Boat Show, demonstrating that there is still some craftsmanship around. Berry Boats of Barnstaple produce lovely clinker ply boats such as the canoe above, and skiff builder William Howard of Cholsey restored the antique canoe below - it was on the Hempel stand as they supplied the varnish.
But this little jellymould boat made me smile. Called the Circraft, it has just one control - a throttle - and you steer by moving your body from side to side. The outboard is 8hp so it should be a lot safer than a jetski, as well as lacking the aggression that makes jetski owners cordially hated round the world.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Illusion sails at Cotswold Water Park

Paul Hadley's new Illusion, based in general terms on Matt Layden's Elusion, got under sail for the first time at the Home Built Boat Rally. One of the really nice things about the HBBR is the way members help each other out with advice and even bits of kit. Phil Oxborrow lent Paul the cut-down Mirror sail from his canoe Tonawanda, and to the surprise of both it fitted Illusion's mast perfectly.
She sailed well with a leeboard clamped onto the side with G-cramps.
Meanwhile, a Laser sailer demonstrated how to clean weed from the lake using the mast. There's a lot of algae round Hayling Island at the moment, so perhaps the competitors at the Laser World Masters being held there this week might do us a favour and clear some of it using this technique.

Monday 13 September 2010

A Home Built Boat with Mirage drive

The Home Built Boat Rally rallied to the Cotswold Water Park over the weekend and brought the sun out. It rained on Saturday morning before I got there and was turning a bit nasty on Sunday afternoon when I left. Just how I like it.
The star exhibit was Tim O'Connor's Wotnext, a Walt Simmons canoe which he has fitted with a Hobie Mirage drive.
The Mirage drive has a pair of pedals driving flippers under the boat, flapping round like demented turtles. It is an incredibly elegant mechanism, just a couple of chains/cables transferring the power from the pedals to the flappers. And it drives the boat along lickertispit, as the video shows. Apologies for the camera shake, but he was at the other side of the lake and it's a long zoom.
I had a go myself later, and after just a little practice you develop a nice easy action that could keep you going forever. Tim has also designed and built a stylish seat based on the shape of seats on recumbent bikes, which is amazingly comfortable.
It is great to be able to keep on going while you take photographs, wave to boats you are overtaking or lift a nice glass of something to your lips. Tim seemed to be very keen on the idea of making sandwiches on the move, but that may just be the diet talking.
The big drawback to the Mirage drive is that you have to order it specially from the US and you won't get change from £500. As Tim points out, nobody who is into home built boats is going to buy a rotomoulded Hobie so they wouldn't cannabalise their kayak market by making the drives available to buy more easily and cheaply.

Friday 10 September 2010

At the boat show

Went to the Southampton Boat Show today. As usual most of it was a hymn to ostentation, with Welsh foghorn Katherine Jenkins belting out a few operatic arias from the stern of an unspeakable new Sunseeker. Dragon's Den entrepreneur Theo Paphitis also waxed lyrical about the Sunseekers he is upgrading to.
But my absolutely favourite boat at the show is the Starfish, a rowing boat for children.
The Starfish is made by Reid Marine in Christchurch, builders of the Hawk 20 of which I see a lot in Chichester Harbour. The design was inspired by Blondie Haslar's Peanut, a 5ft long fibreglass hull with enough buoyancy to float completely swamped. It comes with oars in captive rowlocks, so newbies can't lose them. You can even choose a hull colour from a range of the vile tones that kids love.
This is the sort of boat that children discover the water in. They find out what happens when you put oars in the water and pull. You can see them working it out for themselves, and almost instantly becoming expert boat handlers. And they have brilliant fun doing it.
At £575 inc VAT they are excellent value for money, because you can let your kids mess about in one secure in the knowledge that they will have to be embarrassingly inept to kill themselves.
I haven't a clue who the girl in the Starfish is, but she was clearly taken with it as much as me. She wanted to pose in it because it is in her favourite pink. Goodonya, girl!
If you are tempted by the idea of podding out £12 million for a Sunseeker 40m, consider how much good you could do by buying 21,000 Starfishes and giving them to schools and youth clubs round the country.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

First Mermaid Race

The first Mermaid Race for fixed seat boats took place in Cardigan recently. I wanted to take Langstone Cutters' Solent Galley Bembridge but holidays had been booked etc so we couldn't get a crew together.
Anyway, judging by the pictures everyone had a cracking time. The race started at the old bridge at Cardigan Castle, went down the River Teifi, out into Cardigan Bay and round Cardigan Island, returning to the bridge, a total of 11 miles. The winner of the £1,000 prize was Langwm Rowing Club mixed crew in a Celtic Longboat.

Monday 6 September 2010

A heroic rescue

A nice story linked to at In the Boat Shed describes in pictures the rescue of a yacht in Britanny a couple of years back by a rowing gig. The Mor Bihan, based in Vannes I believe, is a 10-oared Bantry Bay Gig, designed by Canadian naval architect Steve Killing, with a sail plan by Francois Vivier, for the Atlantic Challenge in the US and now very popular in the US, Ireland and France. It was copied from a captain's gig that took some of the crew off the warship La Resolue when she was wrecked in Bantry Bay in 1796.
By a bizarre coincidence, the boat on the rocks was also designed by Vivier - it is a Stir Ven pocket cruiser. But perhaps it is not so strange a connection - Vivier is a very fine designer and a lot of his boats are sailed and rowed around the coast of France and over here.

Friday 3 September 2010


I think I have discovered a new medical condition. The principal symptom is going out rowing more often as the days begin to get shorter. I went out last Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and today, when I got in at Prinsted. And I intend to go out on Saturday and Sunday.
It looks like a nasty bout of seasonal affective disorder anticipation stress syndrome or SADASS, caused by the body trying to build up a reserve of essential infarctium dibollockase before the sun disappears for the winter.
One can't be sad out on the water for long, however. Sailors always give me a cheery wave, like the guy pictured above, whose wife was below preparing a nice glass of something so he was happy.
On the way back I came across Ocean Pearl, with owner Nick Gates aboard, and stopped for a nice chat. Apparently the bowsprit broke off Cowes a couple of weeks back and has had to be replaced with one a few feet shorter, which Nick says is bad for his self-esteem.

More Sad

Rowing from Itchenor to East Head after work yesterday, I passed through the fleet of Solent Sunbeam keelboats racing in the declining sun. It was a perfect evening, but tinged with sadness.
Out with Langstone Cutters last Saturday, we had incuriously watched a little blob on the horizon - a helicopter hanging around off the coast. Little did we know that it was lifting Lt Col John Davies OBE, the Chichester Harbourmaster, off his beloved Solent Sunbeam Fleury. He had had a heart attack and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
He is a great loss to everyone who uses Chichester Harbour, from sailors, walkers, birders, kayakers to rowers.
Here's a video of the Sunbeams tacking back in the sunset.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Another sad picture

Skived off early today because nobody was returning my calls (if you have boils erupting all over your face, you were one of them).
Rowed from Dell Quay to Furzefield Creek, a little inlet between Bosham and Bosham Hoe, lined with 1930s houses. It is an attractive little pool, with pontoons for dinghies and a clutch of moorings.
The building in the middle was built to replace Coombes Boatyard, the last working boatyard in Bosham. It was a condition of the planning permission for the two expensive houses on the site, but it remains unoccupied.
It is time the owners were forced to make the building available to boatbuilders at a reasonable cost. This has gone on long enough.
And it is also time the owner of the rather attractive sloop on the left got a bit of TLC an' all.
But on a lighter note, I met (indeed, nearly collided with) Alan and Jenny Blamire in their Dutch-made dinghy which has been sailed all over the Continent. Their daughter Katherine is half of alternative folk duo Smoke Fairies, and their debut album is out on Monday.