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Don Polakovics built the boat to a design of Paul Gartside's that was originally made for a pedal-driven propeller.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.

Friday 12 November 2010

Storm hits Scottish Coastal Rowing boats

The storm that hit Scotland earlier this week took a terrible toll on the new coastal rowing boats. The exceptionally high tide dragged the Ullapool boat onto the rocks - the painful results are clear to see.
The prototype, Chris O'Kanaird, was blown off her trailer and holed, and the North Berwick boat was damaged as well.
Chris Perkins at Ullapool is remarkably sanguine about the position, describing it as "a chance to explore clinker ply repair techniques." Well said that man, and here's hoping all three boats are back on the water in full racing fettle by the spring.
Continuing the positive tone, another St Ayles Skiff will be launched on Sunday, at Newhaven, near Leith. She will be named by local man George Hackland who was present the last time a new boat was launched there, in 1928!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Rowing in Versailles

Wojtek Baginski lives in Warsaw, builds boats and rows them on the Vistula, but work has taken him to another historic capital. He writes:
Grand Canal looks huge from here....
All October in 2010 I was examining stone statues located on the roof of the Royal Chapel of the Chateau de Versailles, France. Such was the deal between my employer, the Museum of Wilanow, Warsaw, Poland, and another member of the Association of Royal Residences in Europe, Chateau de Versailles. My basic tools up there were a pen, a notebook, a laptop, binoculars and a camera. Working on my project I could hardly stop myself from visiting other parts of the roof few times, and enjoy the amazing view towards the Grand Canal. Built by Louis XIV (the project has been started in 1667) it was the biggest artificial lake made just for pleasure of one person. There was even a fleet of sailing ships founded there to entertain the King and his court.
Anyway, even being very busy with my work I was able to observe the Grand Canal very often, and the idea of rowing there appeared very soon.
The boats are more stylish than usual
On the last day of my stay in Versailles, after the presentation of the project results, I have felt as a free person and decided to run down there after lunch to rent a boat and row at last!
That looks a long way away
Now I should explain something. Being the frequent visitor of the Chateau the Versailles roof I lost its scale in my mind, due to the fact that it was located under my feet! The Grand Canal, seen almost day by day from the roof, started to look like a really big water area. “Challenging, but still manageable” – I was encouraging myself walking down there that last day.
So I got a boat. Those boats are very nice and simple, flat bottomed, able to take a family. Probably a little bit too heavy for one guy exhausted after a long and extensive project, in addition forced by the price table to return the boat in just one hour. Getting farther and farther from the eastern quay I started to wonder: what’s that huge castle which is growing on and on above the Versailles gardens? Is this the chateau I know so well? Wow!
It took about 15-20 minutes to make maneuvres to take the good photo of the castle, and I started to row like crazy to get to Grand Trianon and back. Well, maybe not extremely crazy to respect the royal place and to not scare other boats and people, which were rowing with more or less dignity around me. I reached Trianon in five minutes or so! Is this really that big Grand Canal I was observing over the last four weeks from the roof? Hmm… It gave me an opportunity to spend another quarter hour or so to look for a nice view of the chateau on my way back. Now I can share few of them on my Flickr pages. Please enjoy!

Monday 8 November 2010

Home Built Boats on the Hamble

Saturday's amble up the Hamble was also attended by members of the Home Built Boat Rally, including Phil Oxborrow in a not-home-built-but-who-cares kayak, Paul Hadley in his ongoing project Illusion and Graham Neil in his lovely Coot, a Wolstenholme-designed dinghy.
The wind had died away completely when we all left the Jolly Sailor so Graham was faced with the prospect of rowing all the way back to Swanwick (300 yards). "Not in front of all these rowers!" he cried as he left, so of course I instantly pressed the video button on my camera.
I think he rows rather well, actually.
Paul is trialling electric power for Illusion.
But I missed the most interesting experiment of the day. Chris Waite is developing a forward-facing, pedal-powered over-the-transom sculling system. The forward-facing element is not yet in place, but the sculling mechanism is working as shown in Graham's video on his always entertaining blog Port-na-Storm.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Bembridge rows up the Hamble

Setting out from Langstone
Langstone Cutters' Solent Galley Bembridge rowed up the River Hamble from mouth to source on Saturday. Well, as far as the Horse and Jockey at Curbridge where we got somehow detained.
Actually, the river is not navigable much further than Curbridge. We were worried that Bembridge, which is 30ft long and has 10ft oars sticking out on either side, might get embarrassingly stuck and be forced to back down.
Mistress at Warsash
We put in at Warsash and were met there by the Hand family in their immaculate Bursledon Gig Mistress, complete with monogrammed carbon fibre blades and matching T shirts. They row pretty smartly too, and don't hang about.
Bembridge arrives at Bursledon (thanks to Anthony Hewett-Hicks for the pic)
At Bursledon we were joined by six other gigs of Hamble River Rowing and the fleet headed up river. The wind had died to a complete calm, the tide was high and the autumn colours were just fading into deep russets and golds. It was bliss.
The fleet at the Jolly Sailor
Coming back down, we stopped at the Jolly Sailor, home of Hamble River Rowing, before paddling back to Warsash in the gathering gloom.
The GPS tracks are here.
We got a great welcome from HRR and we will be back - and we hope HRR will be over at Langstone soon.

Friday 5 November 2010

No wreck, nobbody drownded

Of course, this is not life, but Art.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Community Rowing

The Scottish Rowing Project is a year old, and has been a stunning success with more than 30 boats on the water or under construction. We will be testing the prototype St Ayles Skiff here in Chichester Harbour the weekend after next when Alec Jordan, whose idea the whole thing was, brings her down south for the first time. If anyone is interested in seeing her, drop me an email.
But now it's time to look forward to the next step. I want to row something really big with genuine excitement.
Battling in Roman galleys would be fun. The winner would be the one left afloat at the end of a day at ramming speed.
The great bronze ram of the galley carved in stone on the gatepiers of the old Admiralty building in Whitehall shows the sort of thing. What a great sight that would be. That would be a sport that would really catch the public imagination. Unlike the huge yawn that the America's Cup has become.
Alec's visit has had to be cancelled - sorry, everyone.