Saturday 30 July 2011

I have finally managed to upload a video of Graham Neil launching his new design canoe Katie Beardie at the HBBR event last week. You can hear a commentary by designer Chris Waite in the background. She whizzes over the water very elegantly I thought, even though Graham is facing the wrong way....

Tuesday 26 July 2011

A new Linnet at the HBBR

New on the water at the HBBR meet on the Severn was Puddleduck, a superbly-finished rowing/sailing skiff by Ken and Sonja Norman.
The design is the Woods Linnet skiff, intended mainly for rowing but also with a small rig and daggerboard for broad reaches and downwind sailing.
Sonja confessed when they were launching that she was a little apprehensive about the sail on such a narrow boat, and she prefered to row anyway. When they returned, she had a big smile on her face (pictured) and said that sailing had been unscary and in fact fun.
This is great news. As readers with long memories may recall, I have a kit for a Woods Bee awaiting construction, and I had slight concerns about her sailability. I think my fears may be unfounded.
Chris Adeney rowed his Linnet down to Tewkesbury from his home near Upton on Severn on Saturday, and back again next day. So clearly it rows like a train also.

Monday 25 July 2011

HBBR at Tewkesbury

I've been rowing on the Rivers Severn and Avon with the Home Built Boat Rally people, and had a fabulous time, since you ask. The weather was overcast for much of Saturday but the evening barbie was a great gathering. Sunday brought blue skies.
The limitations of mobile data were brutally brought to the fore by the off-and-on coverage by my network at Lower Lode, a place that is only a mile away from Tewkesbury but seems to be off most mobile coverage. This was the only pic that made it, and it was cruelly low quality and failed to oreintate correctly. So here it is again.
Graham Neil brought is new canoe Katie Beardie for a trial run, not an official launch because the decks aren't on yet and a lot more remains to finish.
Watched by designer Chris Waite, Katie floated exactly to her marks, seemed speedy and turned quickly but not too quickly. She looked fabulous too, with Chris's trademark curved stem.
The pictures show Graham up the Mill Avon, which is the old stream of the river before the mill was put up and the main stream of the Avon diverted down a cut to the Severn. The tower of Tewkesbury Abbey is in the background - we could hear the bells on Sunday.

Saturday 23 July 2011

HBBR at Tewkesbury

Graham Neil paddles his new canoe Katie Beardy on the Mill Avon.

Thursday 21 July 2011

The Sulkava Churchboat regatta

Anthony Shaw has completed the 60km Sulkava race in Finland (something which I think is outside the ambit of Rowing for Pleasure but thoroughly admirable nevertheless). He reports:

With three days to go to my very first serious rowing marathon, much had now been clarified (the kit, the timetable, the goal!) – and yet equally much remained uncertain. My position was still unsure, although experience of the last two training outings suggested I would be one of the stern four, since I had volunteered as one of the part-time coxes.
At least the route was clear, a single circuit of a very scenic 60 kilometre course around one of the multitude of islands that dot the waterway in eastern Finland known as Saimaa. Although it is officially a lake, the name also refers to the basin that includes the numerous local lakes that formed the heartland of the tradition of Finnish church-boat rowing. Local communities traditionally designed, financed, constructed and rowed their boats to services in lake-shore churches, sometimes involving 50 persons at the oars, and sometimes on trips lasting overnight.
To describe these participants as oarsmen would be a major error, since women in these near-subsistence economies were expected to take an active part in many farming or hunting activities, which invariably included laying nets for fish or crustacians by boat. Today the country's economy is far from subsistence, but for many of the urban based populous the summer holidays (typically taken during the whole of July) involve return to their country roots to relish the pleasures of the simple life in a cottage by a lake, with of course a boat on hand.
The crew of my Statistics Finland sponsored boat were just such an urban crowd. Our outings in the Helsinki archipelago attracted folks from all around this broadly spread metropolis whose approach to rowing nowadays is exclusively recreational. But now that the primary target of the last two months training loomed close, the level of commitment has suddenly become more serious. There was much talk during the final session of the benefits of various types of preparatory diets, alternative solutions to the tricky issue of onboard toilet arrangements, and suddenly the word 'race' was used. Refreshment breaks now seemed to be planned with an emphasis on minimising the time lost from maximum application of energy. Even the anticipated overall time is being re-calibrated, and somewhat alarmingly reduced below previous estimates.
I must confess that this is just what I had hoped. My previous involvement in this marathon was a leisurely, yet still determined, excursion as a member of the two-day Sulkava Rowing Trek.
Tony rowing in an earlier event in Turku - that's him on the left in the grey shirt.
This year's crew was almost as sociable if not quite as vociferous as the previous year's. But the physical demands were distinctly more athletic. Even with an hour's stint in the cox's seat, the completion of the final 25 km was an experience I am still currently wary of repeating. Unlike my neighbour with his strap-on pulse/general health monitoring device, my exhaustion was readily apparent to me by the slight dizziness, the pulsing headache and a desperate desire to lie down and cool off. Even though the row commenced at 6pm (a gun-shot in front of the capacious stadium), the weather during this particular week had been exceptionally hot, with about 28C as we set off. Thankfully it cooled steadily as we continued, but the regular stops for drinks (every 20 minutes one pair at a time taking a break long enough for a couple of swigs of fortified water/energy drink) offered only brief respite from the oar. For a considerable time during the latter half of the trip I was only dimly aware of the beautiful sights (wooded islands, open watery vistas and huge colourful skies) the major contribution I made to forward thrust being to stay out of the fellow rowers way, dipping my oar symbolically in the water and lifting it out in synchronised time. My neighbour at this time thought it worthwhile to fill me in with a litany of stories of his own marathon achievements over the years, on bike, in canoe, even with walking sticks – the Nordic ones. Challenging as this was to my state of consciousness, as well as my modest language skills, he did keep me awake as I struggled to follow the details of his story old in his colourful native language.
There were surely others in the boat who took it much easier than I had done initially, especially those with more experience of marathon exercise. The bow couple (a pair but not an item) whom I had watched nattering 10 metres away during my helming seemed to have plenty to say to each other, and in the latter stages of the trip there were some barbed comments about them from the senior cox, which of course went unheard! However the final 10 minutes produced an unparalleled coordination of power as we surged towards the finish line with a truly impressive singularity of purpose, effort and even skill, in order to complete the course in just four seconds under 5½ hours.
The mixture of competitive and cooperative effort, which is surely the greatest reward for participants in this sport, had continued through the spring and now carried on well into the night, as we gathered sit (suitably clean and sauna'd) around an open fire outside our overnight cottage accomodation to receive our medals and certificates. The time was past 2 am and my own enthusiasm for beer and barbecued sausage was minimal, but it was actually the first time I got to meet and trade a few words with some crew members who had materialised just for the race itself. They all had had a clearer understanding of the physical requirements of such a commitment and gladly sat around on the old garden chairs to replenish liquid and energy reserves. As part of the post-race wind-down, certificates were distributed to all, with one of the crew receiving an especially gaudy paper proclaiming him, amongst the curliques, to be an Expert Veteran Rower (to my own simple Rower) having now completed the course 33 times! Physiologically I have no chance of matching this, but given the merely modest discomfort at 48 hours distance (the buttocks being the only really sore muscles I notice) there is a serious chance that I will be back next July to face another struggle for modest, but pleasingly collective, aquatic glory.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Rowin' in the Rain

It is amazing how you can delude yourself. The sun was momentarily out, so although I could clearly see the cloud like a monstrous crow trailing long tails of rain, I convinced myself it was going inland and it was safe for a quick row round the island.
So I went out in Kittiwake, and Nigel went out in Millie (that's him in the middle distance).
And it came down in stairrods.
Nothing is nastier than driving home in wet underpants.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Edward Hutchins is coming to Europe this autumn and wants to row the French canals, but needs to know more.
Giacomo de Stefano, the man on the river, has just passed through the French canal system on his voyage from England to Italy, as this video shows. Love the music - more Star Wars than Wind in the Willows. There is a lot of narrative on Giacomo's blog
Brian Anderson, an American in Europe, has done a good deal of paddling on the rivers and canals and wrote about some of his trips in Duckworks Magazine. He is also, by the way, the editor of a lovely collection of writing about boats, Small Boats on Green Waters (available on Amazon - if you haven't got a copy, buy it now!).
Edward writes:
I have a query of sorts. I have read your blog for sometime, which I find very interesting.
I was hoping you might have some information on rowing in the French canals as I am currently planning a trip with my girlfriend to France with the hope of going down either the Canal du Midi or the Bourgogne. However coming from New Zealand we are having a bit of trouble finding a boat.  We had planned to row a dingy or skiff during the day and either camp or stay in hotels or hostels at night. We both have two weeks off work this September and are keen as mustard on the idea.
Any information you might have in regards to buying or hiring a boat, or suggestions on the choice of waterway would be very much appreciated.
Kind Regards
Edward Hutchins
Christchurch, New Zealand

Has anyone any advice and wisdom to pass on to him?

Thursday 14 July 2011

Night Rowing

I've rarely rowed at night, though it is a particular pleasure. Last night Langstone Cutters went to Fowley Island, an old oyster bed near Emsworth, for a midnight feast.
We set off just as the sun was setting, and Marcus fried up bacon and Graham produced home-baked bread for top-hole bacon butties. People brought a strange variety of drinks from hot chocolate and coffee to brandy, whiskey and even sloe gin.
Rowing back in Bembridge, the predicted 20 per cent cloud cover closed in to nearly 100 per cent and the full moon disappeared. Gliding across the mirror-like water in the dark with no sound but the splash of the oars was rather magical.
Just glad we didn't hit anything.
Also, sorry about the quality of the picture - my phone does not do well in low light.

Sunday 10 July 2011

An Englishman rowing in Finland

Tony Shaw, English teacher in Finland, is entering the Sulkava churchboat rowing regatta again - you can read his account of last years event here.

He has sent this account of the preparations, painting a charming picture of the cameraderie that builds up in a crew, however disparate their ages, professions and nationalities (the picture is from the Flickr stream of kai.e.g).

Rowing in a Finnish church boat has many similarities to joining a cult meeting - one sets out regularly to meet up in a remote location, there one a participates in a highly intense ritual ceremony involving close (almost intimate) contact between members, as well as a number of arcane words and orders that sometimes are even chanted by the 'leader', and after which one returns home feeling in some ways purged, if not elevated to a higher state of being.
No doubt for many rowing has a similar restorative effect and, despite the frequent aches and blisters along the way, it is a highly social sport with many elements of cooperative participation as well as an intense individual focus, if not pain! This hobby in Finland has very social if not spiritual origins, the boats having been used to transport parishioners from distant households and hamlets to the highly community-focused services in local churches. Even more so than in Anglo-Saxon countries, the church was The Establishment: the centre of administration, the prime place for social interaction outside the family nexus, the source of learning and news and of course gossip. Preparation for worship during the outward voyage was apparently solemn, with restrictions even on the clothes as well as language. The homeward leg might be relaxed, even revelrous, with participants singing together and the boats joining in competitions with other local crews.

The crew I have joined this year are a fairly typical cross section of the rowing populous. Of the full compliment of 14 rowers there are a handful of students and a similar number of pensioners, a couple of foreigners, some occasional normally middle-aged 'others', and then a very malleable hard-core of employees of one state-owned company, whose staff association is the owner of the boat. At least that is how I have understood the set up after the 6 weeks of sporadic participation I have shared. The fact is it doesn't matter who owns what, whom I sit next to or how I am dressed. We meet beside the boats at the edge of the very sheltered bay that is part of the Helsinki archipelago, even if this club is actually located just across the border in the neighbouring municipality of Espoo. There is a period of indefinite and slightly querulous chit-chat/deliberation as the assembly is divided between one of the three boats generally available to take out, with one boat normally reserved for a group from Fujitsu. This is the time for a little social exchange with people one has earlier been squeezed beside in the boat or knows from other contact but, for those who are familiar with the highly disciplined and typically efficient world of business or organization in Finland, this is a thoroughly unstructured and even chaotic process. But it is the way that every variegated individual who appears in time on the shore is somehow allocated to a seat and an oar of their own, and regardless of age, strength, sex or whatever, for the period of that outing are 'all in the same boat.'

Compared with the disciplined preparations of a racing eight, this form of crew composition is haphazard if not anarchic. But as a veteran participant in the sport the days of pre-dawn runs and outings in gale-force conditions are a thing of the past. This is a sport that appeals to students and pensioners alike, to all who enjoy being on the water and engaging in a degree of physical exertion, but whose enjoyment of competition is tempered by an appreciation of contemplation. An outing of 60 to 90 minutes involves very close proximity and opportunity for discourse with one's neighbour, but equally the opportunity for observation of the local environment or for introspection. However for the majority of crew on the last two outings the opportunity is for preparation for the Big Competition ahead, the mother of all rowing regattas (possibly even in the world) - the Sulkava World Championships, held every July in this very remote, eastern Finnish, lakeside town.

In the early years of this century this gathering attracted over 10 000 active participants rowing a selection of classes of wooden boat around the 60 kilometre course through the period of a long weekend in July. (It includes the strange Finnish version of a speedy working boat with one oarsman at the rowlocks and the other paddling 'Indian-style' at the stern, alternating positions when needed.) My crew this year will gather there on the Saturday evening to take part in the 'Churchboat Night Row', starting at 18.00 and finishing hopefully five hours later in the penumbra that is near midnight in these northern climes. Rowing in total darkness is quite a challenge to the senses, especially balance, but even if our energies fail and we are delayed we should have enough light to read the course map that will be provided with, and afterwards to find our way back to our campsite for an early morning sauna to loosen up those stressed muscles.

In the somewhat lackadaisical way that this version of the sport is organized in Finland, I still don't know who will be my seating partner for these five sweaty hours next weekend, even though the full complement is listed on the internet sign-up page. We have met once or twice a week for the past two months, sweated somewhat as we paddled around the beautiful islands of eastern Helsinki that make our training ground, heaved the heavy boat trailers in and out of the brackish Baltic water, and waved goodbye as we departed home on our separate routes. By the time of the 'race,' it's sure that I still won't know all their names even if the faces have become familiar during the last two months. And although post Sulkava rowing is bound to be something of an anti-climax, if it actually continues at all during the semi-official 'Scandinavian holiday month' of July, by then I will have bonded with the 14 other punters in my boat, taking one more step towards integration in this distant European land.

Thursday 7 July 2011

David Thomson wrote:
Hi Chris
I enjoy reading your blog very much being an occasional, recreational rower in Perth, Western Australia.
Recently, my wife and I were doing the tourist thing in China, which was an amazing experience, and as part of our trip we went on a brief boat ride through a town (Zhujiajiao) built on canals, near Shanghai. I took some video footage (on my iPhone) of the yuloh being used to propel the vessel and posted it on YouTube.
The power that could be put into the stroke  was very impressive as was the  simplicity of the rope attachment which angled the oar correctly in both directions.
Cheers, and I hope you have great summer.
Many thanks for that, David - it looks as though you had a great holiday!
There was much discussion of yulohs on the recent HBBR raid down the Thames. Al Law yulohed his Paradox virtually all the way, and said he improved his technique (and endurance) significantly in the process. Chris Waite used his autoyuloh device as well.
I have been thinking about building a sampan for use on Britain's canals. Rowing is not really feasible - the oars are too wide and you need to look forwards on a narrow windy waterway. I hadn't realised how manoeuvrable the sampan is with a yuloh.
A 20ft sampan with a cabin in the middle would be the greenest, quietest and healthiest vessel for touring the canals, I suspect.

Monday 4 July 2011

Aero's maiden voyage under oars

Jeremy Harris's remarkable non-wooden skiff Aero went out under oars for the first time on Sunday, on the River Hamble. Also present were Chris Waite with his remarkable all-wood skiff Octavia and myself, with my remarkable Chippendale Sprite Snarleyow, which is mainly wood but a with bits of SS here and there.

Aero proved to be a bit tippy but with reassuring amounts of secondary buoyancy, and incredibly light. So much so that Jeremy complained that when he hit patches of algae (it's that time of year) the boat would come to a dead halt instantly. This is partly due to the sharp angle of the bow which digs in to the water like an axe.
The outriggers are made of carbon fibre on a foam mould originally intended for a leaf spring in an aircraft undercarriage (Jeremy's other obsession is planes). A pair of John Murray's GA swivels are slid into sockets in the ends. The outriggers seemed very stiff.
The oars are aluminium tubes with carbon fibre blades, not a very happy arrangement but necesary to win the bet to create a boat with no wood at all. Jeremy had weighted the handles to help with the balance but this meant the blades overall were quite heavy compared with my traditional Macons. They were also far too short (also, possibly, the outriggers 'wings' were not long enough).
The short blades meant that Jeremy struggled to push the boat along at the speed she is clearly capable of, but with a few tweeks to the rig, she will fly.
The next step is to install a front-facing rowing device.
Jeremy has built a high-tech version of the cranked oars that used to be used in duck punts, which looks like rowing as designed by rocket scientists. The cranks have a 20 per cent leverage and folding the handles out brings the blades in for convenient stowage. It will be very interesting to see how the design pans out.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Rowing Cornish pilot gig Anne

I finally got the opportunity to row a Cornish pilot gig with thole pins yesterday, with Mike Gilbert's new venture Langstone Rowing. Mike operates grp pilot gig Anne, giving locals a chance to row her regularly and also providing training course for groups planning Cross-Channel rows but who might only have experience rowing sliding seat river boats or even be novice rowers.
So far, Anne has been fitted with crutches and the oars have had buttons, so this was a learning experience for us all.
Rock Gig Club makes it all look easy and smooth, but it is a difficult and counter-intuitive technique.
The first surprise was that the oars don't jar back against the thole pin on at the catch as I had expected - if you come forward properly, the oar almost jams between the thole pins and is automatically laid up against the rowing pin at the start of the stroke.
Holding the outside hand under the handle felt wrong, but I soon got used to it. What I still hadn't really sorted out at the end of the session was keeping the power on as the wrist moves round the handle as you pass it round the side of your body. Here's a video of my rather pathetic effort. No comments about timing please, it is a novice crew some of whom had never set foot in a rowing boat before.