Monday 31 October 2011

Carrow Cup

The Carrow Cup has been fought for most Decembers since 1822 on the River Wensum in Norwich. Originally the boats were traditional wherries with fixed seats, but as sliding seats and outriggers came in the racers adopted them. Nowadays, the main race is for fine boats but last year Norwich Rowing Club added a second race for traditional boats, organised by the Norfolk Skiff Club - judging by the pictures, they had a jolly festive time.
Just a few boats took part, but this year the turnout looks set to be very much larger with at least 17 boats planning to enter, including Langstone Cutters with our Solent galley Bembridge and possibly a Clayton skiff as well. All the members of the old codgers crew that triumphed in the Great River Race have signed up, so we should be in with a chance of some sort of win.

Sunday 23 October 2011


I look very jolly in this picture, taken by that intrepid sailor Liz Baker at a picnic lunch on Fowley Island last weekend. As you can see, the weather was fabulous, the last knockings of our Indian summer, and it had been lovely to catch up with members of the Dinghy Cruising Association. I am rowing Kittiwake, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite boats for aimless paddling.
But under the smile was bitter pain. I was trying out a new set of high-tech underpants in the hope that they would prevent my recurring problem with chafing on the bum.
A pair of Berghaus trews made of spandex had helped, but I had come to the conclusion that the main culprit was the Marks and Spencer cotton/polyester boxer shorts I favour. There seems to be very little advice available on the web concerning this fundamental problem, though I bet it is more widespread than many admit.
Cyclists are much more open on the subject, and they recommend special underpants to prevent saddle sores. So off I trotted to the cycle shop and invested more money than I have ever spent in my life on a pair of knickers - a score. Outrageous. And when I got them out of the box and saw the thick pad that is supposed to protect you from the saddle, I just knew they wouldn't work.
In fact, they made matters far worse, causing an extremely painful chafe that took all week to heal.
So the next day I popped into Aldi and there found a running set consisting of breathable vest and pants in some sort of stretchy polymer for the very reasonable price of a tenner (Aldi is cheapskate heaven).
On Wednesday I tried them out on a trip round Langstone Harbour in the teeth of a Force 5, and they gave no trouble in the botty department at all. I hope I may have cracked it.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Oar length

I've been discussing oar length with Gavin Atkin of intheboatshed. He has received the exciting news that the first Oarmouse has been built to his plans for a fast, stable, easily-built sculling boat that can be made from just two sheets of ply.
The builder, Fred Rodger in the US, says it fulfils all his expectations but needs a skeg to stop it turning too fast. A skeg is under construction. He is also rethinking the outrigger and thole pin arrangement.
Thole pins are very ancient and still used in many parts of the world, mainly in traditional fishing communities. The rope holding the loom of the oar against the thole is called a humlibaund in Scotland and an estrop in Catalonia. 
Fred doesn't say how long his oars are but Gavin thinks they may be too short.
There are lots of formulae for calculating the 'correct' length of oars of varying complexity ranging from a simple 'half the span, times three, plus six inches' (span is the distance between the thole pins) to the widely-quoted Shaw and Tenney equation that you need a computer to calculate.
I personally use trial and error. Start with oars that are too long and take them out for a thrash. Then cut them down by half an inch. Repeat the process until you feel really comfortable. Then go rowing.
With modern oars, you will need to adjust the button that holds the oar in place against the rowlock to maintain balance, but with Fred Rodger's thole pins it will mean simply repositioning the strop.
It is also worth looking at the height of the rowlock. Even a small change in the height will make a big difference to the height of the handles above your knees - raising the rowlocks just a little can transform an uncomfortable and cramped stroke into a lovely casual swing.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Flatpack Rowing

As a fully paid-up gadget freak, I love this. Demonstrated at a design show on the Regent's Canal in London last month, the Foldboat is cut from a single 2.5 by 1.5m sheet of polyethylene, cleverly creased so to pop up into this little rowboat.
The designers claim it can be assembled in a couple of minutes, bolting together at the bow and the ends of the transom.
The Foldboat was developed by Max Frommeld and Arno Mathies, students at the Royal College of Art. They also created the novel oars with blades cut from the same sheet of plastic as the boat - the shafts are ash.
The Foldboat comes in two versions. This one is quick to set up but must be stored as a single sheet, though it would easily hang on the garage wall.
Another version folds down into a flat pack a mere 1.5 by 0.6m, so it could be transported in the back of a car or even carried around.
More information on the designers' very stylish blog.

Monday 17 October 2011

Man on the Danube

I love this picture. Partly because it shows the wonderful Hungarian parliament building in Budapest, which rivals the British parliament in its Gothic splendour and riverside setting. But mainly because it is one of those pictures where you have to look closely to find the real subject - that little boat in the bottom left-hand corner.
It is Giacomo De Stefano's Clodia, a Ness Yawl designed by Iain Oughtred, which he is rowing and sailing from London to Istanbul via the Thames, Rhine and Danube. You can read about his exploits and aims in full on his blog, Man on The River.
It seems that Giacomo's epic voyage will pause for the winter in Budapest.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Free Fleet Trow on offer

The Fleet Trow is one of the most specialised of traditional boats, having been developed for use on the Fleet, a lagoon in the lee of the Chesil Bank, one of the largest shingle banks in Europe. The trows are flat-bottomed and with hardly any rocker, designed to be rowed around the shallow waters of the lagoon, especially to transport mackerel landed on the beach by seine-netters to railheads inland.
Traditional wooden Fleet Trows are still being made by Clark's Boatworks in Portland, and Daan Eysker owns a rather nice example. He writes:
"I have an 12ft 9 inch Fleet Trow made by Clark's Boatworks in Dorset. It is in a very good state, varnished inside and out.
It’s free , so if you know some one who wants it , let me know!
I live in the Netherlands though.
Daan Eysker"

If you are interested in Daan's Trow, drop me a line and I will pass the message on.

Friday 14 October 2011


This guy rowing what looks like a Cornish flashboat is Exhibit A in a British Rowing poster explaining the definitive method of fixed seat rowing. It is excellent, by which I mean that it reinforces all my prejudices. Download it here.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

A baby St Ayles Skiff

Alec Jordan, originator of the Scottish Coastal Rowing project, has created a little sister for the St Ayles Skiff that is proving a roaring hit round the world.
Designed by Iain Oughtred, the Wemyss Skiff is a single or pair sculling boat, that can be rowed with or without a cox. It should be a valuable addition to any coastal rowing club where members want to broaden their oarsmanship skills or simply get out when they can't get a crew together for the big boat.
A very interesting aspect of the boat is its complete adjustability. The stretchers (1) can be moved, of course, but so can the thwarts (2), which rest on flotation tanks running down the sides of the boat. And the swivels (3) can be moved too, so rowers at both ends of the height spectrum can tune their position to get the best possible action.
Alec writes:
Just thought I would let you know that there is a smaller skiff in build here. I'm meant to be taking the prototype up to Ullapool next weekend, but it is touch-and-go as to whether I will have her finished in time. I had intended launching on Wednesday, but I think it is probably going to be next Saturday morning in Ullapool!
It is called the Wemyss Skiff because I live in East Wemyss, and it was hearing about the coal miners' regattas here in times gone by that planted the seed for the St Ayles project. Length is 16'7", beam 4'9". Disp 610lbs.
Iain Oughtred has made some changes to the hull form, and I am wanting to make mods to the planking - giving her a 9mm garboard and some changes to the buoyancy arrangements. The kit will need to be completely re-designed!
The idea is that she can be used as a single, a coxless double, or coxed double for youngsters.
She will be in Watercraft's Grand Designs in the next issue - maybe on the water, maybe not...
As you can see, Alec got her into the water at Ullapool last weekend where Chris Perkins took these pics (more are at the Ullapool Coastal Rowing Club site). Chris reports that the Wemyss Skiff is lovely and quick despite not being quite finished - the buoyancy tanks are not fitted yet and the stretchers are still missing.
It should make another great rowing boat kit.
Notes for non-pedants:
(1) Footrests
(2) Seats
(3) Rowlocks

Monday 10 October 2011

Summer is Icumen In...

...well, south of the Equator it is. In England, as the poet Timothy Shy trilled. "Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing goddamn!"
In Australia, Alec Morgan is planning a summer expedition to Fraser Island, which is something close to paradise if the pictures on Panoramio are to be believed. 
Alec's blog follows him preparing his home-built boat, a Flint dinghy designed by Ross Lillistone, and plots his course up the landward side of Fraser Island, a national park on the coast of Queensland, to Wathumba Creek.
This is my type of cruising. Alec plans to float with tide and wind, do a bit of fishing and have a relaxing time generally.
His boat is my type of boat too. He has rigged it with a small sail right in the bow, the shape taken from Micronesian examples. The whole rig can be put up or taken down in a couple of minutes at sea, and the spars fit inside the boat. Alec says it has good downwind performance, which is what you want.
The latest operation has been to prepare the oars, which are standard chandlery oars improved by shaving so they balance better and give a nice bit of spring, but are still strong enough to use for the inevitable fending-off.
Alec leaves next month, when I suspect we in the frozen north will be fretting indoors, cursing the weather.
(Picture of Wathumba Creek at top by JWarnes on Panoramio)

Thursday 6 October 2011

Brighten up your walls this Winter

This shows how propagandists fail to understand anything. The woman rower is not HANDICAPPED - she is EMPOWERED. The wind just has to veer round and she will still be progressing when that smug sailor is tacking fruitlessly and quite possibly backwards. And at the end of the race, she will be much fitter and he will still be a fat slob. Go girl!
A reproduction of the poster is available on eBay at eight quid.
Also on eBay, an essential weapon for any rower competing for space on a congested jetty (about £13 but unfortunately in Texas).

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Discussion Point

“When one rows, it’s not the rowing which moves the
ship: rowing is only a magical ceremony by means of
which one compels a demon to move the ship.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday 3 October 2011

Indian Summer

You wouldn't believe this pic was taken today, October 3. An Indian summer has struck southern England, bringing the warmest October days since records began. So we are all furiously getting out to enjoy it as it will be the last chance we get for months and months and months.
One of the few joys of being one's own boss is that one can give the worker permission to skive off occasionally, so as the rest of the year is predicted to be dreary and cold I sloped off in the afternoon to take Kittiwake out for a little fishing trip down the harbour. Didn't catch anything, predictably, but had a lovely, lovely time.
See how the current holds Annie against the pontoon.
On Saturday I rowed up the lovely River Hamble with Langstone Cutters, but left my phone in the car so these pics are courtesy of crew member Graham Lloyd. No fewer than 13 people turned up wanting to get the good row in before it gets cold, so we took Clayton skiff Mabel and Mike Gilbert's Cornish pilot gig Annie. Hamble River Rowers were out in strength too.
Lessons learned:
1) When launching into a river with the tide making at high speed, don't move the boat from the slip to the pontoon however convenient it looks. The current will jam you up on the pontoon and you will have to fight the boat off. Launch directly off the hard where there is no current.
2) When securing the boat on the trailer, check the loose ends of the tie-downs are properly secured or they will wrap round the axle and bring you to a complete halt on a busy intersection and you will be very embarrassed.