Tuesday 28 June 2011

A Sprite hits the River Dart

Back in February, Alan Harper emailed from Totnes on the lovely River Dart in Devon about a Chippendale Sprite he had seen on eBay. He is 6ft tall and was concerned it might be a bit small. I wrote confidently saying the design is superbly stable and quite able to support me at 6ft 5in.
Then the HBBR Thames raid got closer and I started to fear that perhaps the Sprite was a little on the titchy side for me plus a tent, sleeping bag and clothes+food for a week. Eventually I had to just travel as light as possible and hope for the best.
I needn't have worried. Snarleyow could have carried twice the load perfectly safely. Damn. Life would have been much more comfortable with a gas cooker - I packed a solid fuel stove and the pellets disolved away in the first day's rain despite being in a sealed plastic pack.
Anyway, while I was away Alan emailed with pictures of his restored and repainted Sprite, and what a smashing job he has made of her. More evidence that Andrew Wolstenholme and Jack Chippendale created a classic design - simple, practical, fast and lovely.

Monday 27 June 2011

A footnote from the HBBR Thames Raid

You probably don't remember, but on the recommendation of Goran Buckhorn of Hear the Boat Sing, I took my copy of Frans Bengtsson's The Long Ships to read on the Home Built Boat Rally's Thames raid.
The volume was pristine when I packed it, but the bag proved to be much less waterproof than it looked and it got soaked in the rain that lashed down on the first day. You would not believe how long it takes to dry a book out - the pages are still a bit damp two weeks later. That the text was still legible was a stroke of luck as I had to spend some time in my tent over the next few days waiting for the rain to stop, during which time I discovered that The Long Ships is one of the best books ever written for being cooped up in a tent with.
It is a ripping yarn, fast-moving, exciting, funny and even informative.
The tale is of Red Orm, a Viking living at the time of Ethelred the Unready around the year 1000 AD. As a boy he is kidnapped by other Vikings and taken on a voyage to the south, where he is captured by the Moors of Spain and sent to the galleys. He eventually manages to return via the Ireland of Brian Boru and the Denmark of King Harald Bluetooth. Later, he joins the Viking invasion of England, taking his fair share of the Danegeld. His final voyage is through Russia to the River Dneiper in search of hidden treasure. There is never a dull moment.
Bengtsson is not always historically accurate, and accuracy always takes second place to a great story, in which he follows the tradition of the Icelandic sagas - his plain, unadorned writing style was deliberately based on the sagas. There are many details that ring true, however, such as:
"Throughout his long term as one of the Caliph's galley-slaves, he rowed a larboard oar, which involved sitting with with the oar on his right and taking the strain of the stroke on his left hand. Always afterwards, as long as he lived, he wielded his sword and suchlike weapons with his left hand, though he still used his right arm for casting spears. The strength which he gained through this labour, which was greater than that of other men, remained with him and he still had much of it left when he was old."
Only a few days ago someone was telling me that official British Rowing policy is to refuse to allow young rowers to specialise in stroke or bow side, because the growing body can become permanently bent out of shape if they don't swap sides regularly.
Goran, many thanks for pointing me to The Long Ships. It is the most entertaining book I have read in years.

Sunday 26 June 2011

A non-wood boat

What we will do on a bet. Jeremy Harris rose to the challenge of producing a boat with no wood in it at all, and this is the result.
Of course, he could have bought a rotomoulded kayak but that would have been too easy, so he made this shrinkwrap-on-aluminium-tubing rowing boat instead.
He brought it to the Beale Park show to enter in the Cordless Canoe Challenge but was foiled by a bystander turning his motor on when the boat was on the ground and destroying the drive mechanism.
The riggers are the wrong way round in the picture, but Aero is an impressive design. I particularly love that custom dolly on the stern.

Saturday 25 June 2011

The Three-day Skiff

Trudging through the rain at Beale Park I was hailed cheerfully by a bloke in the Classic Boat tent, who wanted to give me a copy of his mag. He was clearly demented with boredom - by then most of the punters had gone home to dry out in front of a nice warm fire.
I explained that though Classic Boat is an admirable publication in many respects, I don't read it any more because it doesn't cover rowing. Whereupon he insisted on giving me the current issue as well, which features cartoonist Guy Venables building a rowing boat in just three days.
Well, he didn't build the whole boat in three days, obviously. The time-consuming process of laying out and cutting the plywood had already been done by kit makers Fyne Boat Kits in their factory in Kendal, and Guy went on one of their courses. Also, the boat was not finally finished in three days either - only the primer was on. The other time-consuming process, painting and decorating, was completed at home.
But the resulting Jimmy Skiff was round the back of the Classic Boat tent and jolly nice it is. Guy is an entertaining writer as well, chronicling his voyage past fear as he embarked on a process that was clearly well outside his comfort zone.
Chapter Two appears in the August issue, but I won't be buying it. The Three-day Boat article is the only reference to rowing in the entrie June and July issues, and it is not worth plowing through acres of stuff about the J class just for the one article on a boat I might actually step aboard.

Friday 24 June 2011

Turk's shallop at Beale Park

The film-star shallop that I really fancied when it went under the hammer at Turk's sale of assorted boats last year has found a new home at Beale Park, where it has become an attraction on the lake.
And, oh joy, I got the chance to row it. A crew of ten assorted sliding seat types, sailors, boatbuilders and me swung the oars round the lake.
It was very difficult for all of us to get into the groove. For a start, the close spacing of the thwarts and the fixed kabes limited the stroke length to a very short, stabby stroke. The oars are extremely heavy and not very well balanced. And the need to steer in ever decreasing circles to get round the lake without hitting any of the dinghies added to the problems. I'm amazed we didn't hit anything.
But it was great fun. I still want a shallop.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Lerret at Beale Park

Just rewind a week. The Home Built Boat Rally started off from Beale Park Thames Boat Show near Pangbourne, which apparently was bathed in glorious sun until I got there on Sunday. Then the heavens opened.
Here is boatbuilder Gail McGarva showing off her superb lerret, a boat found only in Lyme Bay in Dorset and used for mackerel fishing. She built it by eye in the workshop of the Boatbuilding Academy in Lyme Regis.
In the newly-formed RNLI used two of them as lifeboats because of their sea-keeping qualities. So it was rather appropriate that Gail was sporting this rather fetching set of oilskins for the occasion.
The lerret's oars are tremendous planks pivoted on steel thole pins. Apparently they balance well and are easier to swing than might appear.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Biggest Item of Rowing Memorabilia Ever

Rowing past Chertsey Meads, I spotted this former college barge, used by one of the Oxford university boat clubs as a floating clubhouse in the last century.
When the City of London Livery Companies (the old guilds) started selling their state barges in the late 19th century, several colleges bought them and added saloons with rails round the top to watch races from. As time went by these were gradually replaced with purpose-built barges, some by top architects such as John Oldrid Scott and T.H. Jackson.
This one has been converted into a stylish houseboat with two bedrooms and all mod cons. It was sold recently for a sum not unadjacent to quarter of a million sovs. However, the agents don't know which college used to own it - can anyone enlighten me?

Monday 20 June 2011

It's the people

It's the people you meet that make a trip down the river specially enjoyable. We ran into Mushroom Paul at Penton Hook lock, in his amazing home-built liveaboard canoe. He has built a long tall cabin on a standard Canadian hull, complete with wood burner, and stabilised it with a platform and a float. The mast carries a jib, and it has the largest centreboard I have ever seen - a huge circular sheet of plywood pivoted between the main hull and the platform. He explained that he didn't know how big a centreboard should be so he made it as large as possible.
Paul's unusual profession in his home in the Cotswolds is carving giant mushrooms with a chainsaw, as garden ornaments. To finance his trip down the river, he was whittling small mushrooms with a Swiss Army knife. I bought a magic mushroom ("Hippy types love them!" he said). His Facebook page is here.
As we arrived at the campsite at Chertsey, a trio departed in a Canadian canoe they had bought on eBay, picking it up in Oxford and paddling all the way down to Richmond, where one of them lives. The aim was to sell it when they arrived, thus scoring a free holiday. Given the extortionate cost of living in Richmond, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they succeeded.
I was very concerned about the weight of all my gear in Snarleyow (not to mention myself hem hem) but they succeeded in cramming all three of them and a mountain of stuff in this one canoe. The only thing they couldn't fit in was a six-pack of beer, which they had to leave with us. That didn't last long...

Saturday 18 June 2011

Rowing down the Thames with the Home Built Boat Rally

A rain-sodden fleet arrives at Reading
So the HBBR rowed, paddled and very occasionally sailed from the Thames Boat Show at Beale Park, near Pangbourne, downstream to Walton.
The first leg was miserable, in the teeth of an easterly gale of wind and rain, but we had to do it because campsites with moorings are rare on the lower reaches of the river and we couldn't afford to mess about. So we got soaked, although we still managed to light the barbecue at the first stop in Reading.
Watching the girls row by at Henley
The next couple of days were fabulous. Sunny weather to Henley, where we pitched in the grounds of Upper Thames RC and watched the girls practicing for their regatta this weekend.
Paul Hadley shelters from the rain under a bridge
Then down to Marlow where we stayed at the brilliant Longridge adventure centre, which was heaving with kids climbing, kayaking, dragon boating and generally having a great time. Next stop was remote Boveney Lock. Then the weather turned nasty again for a drenching row to Chertsey where we stayed at a campsite for monster motorhomes.
Damp but cheerful at Chertsey
Finally, a gentle amble to Walton where we pulled out and took a minibus back to Beale to fetch our cars and trailers.
HBBR rafting up to pull out at Walton
It was brilliant. More later.

Monday 13 June 2011

Camping at Henley

Training for the regatta passes our campsite.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Rowing in the Rain

Rowed down the Thames to our first campsite.It rained and the wind blew straight from Siberia. Now I have to try and get a nights sleep in this thing.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Rowing is for Pleasure

 Today has been a blizzard of work, too tedious to detail. Tomorrow is the start of a week of pleasure, rowing down the Thames in the delightful company of the Home Built Boat Rally.
Each day we will cover about 12 miles, a good row but not painful. We will gather in the evenings for conversation, good food and good beer. It will truly be rowing for pleasure, as long as the rain keeps off, as it did a couple of years back.
Just as I strapped the oars on the roof rack, I got an approach from the dark side.
It reads:
Dear Blogger, 
I'm writing because you've been identified as one of the top 100 bloggers in the fitness, multi-sport or well-being space worth talking to. We have gone into great detail and effort to look through your site, make sure that your point of view and quality of content was on par with our initiative. Which brings me to why I'm writing. 
We are introducing a web-based series for fitness and multi-sport enthusiasts called Crossing The Line, with world champion rower, triathlete and fitness presenter, Josh Crosby. Within a few seconds of watching it, you'll see why we already have good buzz; it's high quality, engaging content.
We have free cases of Gatorade's new GSERIES FIT product line, a free subscription to Rowing News magazine, athletic accessories and other freebies.
I'm very flattered at being identified as one of the top 100 bloggers in the 'fitness, multi-sport or well-being space', or in anything really, but I suspect they haven't actually read my words.
Josh Crosby is a fine man in many respects but he is the opposite of everything this blog stands for.
He wants to get fit for the sake of it.
He eats carbs, proteins and fats. Not food.
He is a 'member of the fitness community', not a member of the human race.
So I think I may decline his kind offer. I am not at all sure what Gatorade is, but it sounds as though it is made in a factory in somewhere like Birmingham and is unfit for human consumption. I suspect it may not even have any alcohol in it, unlike beer which is scientifically proven to be the best drink for rowers.
Sorry Josh, but no. If you happen to be around Chichester way, drop by and come for a leisurely paddle round the harbour and pint afterwards. You are are in the chair.
A message for Goran Buckhorn, Swede, oarsman and nice chap: here is my reading matter for the week.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Then and Now

Peter Miller in Sydney has sent me a couple of pictures that show how things change.
Above is a picture of Fort Macquarie, built in 1817 to protect the harbour. This photograph was taken in late Victorian times, shortly before it was demolished to make space for a tramshed which was also built to resemble a castle, rather bizarrely.
Nowadays the site looks like this. I have no opinion on the architecture, but it is a pity that all the rowing boats have disappeared. Let's hope that more rowers follow Peter's splendid example and reclaim the harbour for real boats.

Friday 3 June 2011

Coble launches at HBBR

There is usually a new boat launching at HBBR events, and last weekend it was this lovely Selway-Fisher designed Northumbrian Coble.
The builder (seen at left) has a great talent for scrounging material including lots of lovely mahogany from an old bank building in the City, so it is a really superior boat.
It rows well too, as this picture of the happy couple shows.
OK, someone help me out here. I have forgotten the couple's names...someone pop them in the comments box, please.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Cordless Power

The Amateur Yacht Research Association joined the Home Built Boat Rally at Barton Broad last weekend and far be it from me to imply they are a bunch of raging eccentrics. Jolly nice, though.
One of them has added electric power to his catamaran for the upcoming Water Craft magazine Cordless Canoe Challenge at the Beale Park Boat Show on the Thames next weekend. The challenge is to get round a dogleg course powered only by old cordless power tools (you can just see a couple of cordless screwdriver/drills in the picture). I thought of entering with a single-sheet canoe, but my cordless drill is so shot I wouldn't stand a chance.
Water Craft's website has details of the next issue, incidentally, and it includes plans for a new design of coastal rowing boat from Paul Gartside. Can't wait for my copy to drop through the door.....

Wednesday 1 June 2011

A classical temple on the River Ant

This little Parthenon in wood and corrugated iron stands on the River Ant at Wayford Bridge. It is a bit sad really, neglected and rundown, a storage space for unused boats. That lawn should be covered in deck chairs occupied by ladies in floaty Art Deco frocks and gents in striped jackets and boaters, drinking cocktails brought by stewards in starched whites.