Monday 31 December 2012

Rowing for Pain

An irresponsible friend of mine who shall remain nameless but is actually Ratcatcher John, has irresponsibly suggested that I buy this and enter GB Row 2013, a 2,000 mile row round the entire coast of Britain.
The main attraction is the prize, £100,000, which is a lot of beer vouchers, but the problem is that ocean rowing boats such as the one above (currently on eBay at a starting price of six grand) are totally unsuitable.
In a long distance slog like this, it is not possible to keep the boat above hull speed. Previous round-Britain rowers have achieved times that indicate an average speed of about half the hull speed.
That means length wins. A longer boat goes faster for the same power input. There is no need to use sliding seats because it is possible to keep a boat at hull speed on fixed thwarts.
So the best boat for the race would be as long as possible, with as many rowers as you can cram in while providing enough space for off-duty rowers to cook their grub and grab some sleep.
A Viking ship, say.
Anyone got a Viking ship for sale?

Thursday 27 December 2012

Going Coastal

It's been a while since I was in a boat this thin. It is a Janousek coastal single scull owned by Mike Gilbert of Langstone Adventure Rowing, which he keeps for people who want to do the Channel on their own - back in August it was used by Harry Uglow to become the youngest ever cross-Channel rower at the age of 15.
It took a little while to get back into the rigorous but relaxed balance control you need, especially in a gust that came up while I was out of the shelter of Langstone village.
The main problem was that I was a bit too big for the boat. It is rated from 50 to 100kg, and at 100kg pretty much exactly the boat was rather low in the water. This had two bad results - the self-bailing stern was down in the water and creating an lot of turbulence which was clearly dragging me back, and the oar handles were brought down towards my knees so the blades were clipping the tops of the waves on the returns.
Having got the boat out, people were queuing up to have a go:

Monday 24 December 2012

A Dreary Outlook

Apparently I can't go rowing tomorrow for some reason.
Tides are all wrong anyway.
And the weather will be horrid.

Oh gloom.

Sunday 23 December 2012

A St Ayles Skiff for Norfolk

At Norwich for the Carrow Cup last weekend we met Dr Victoria Holliday, the driving force behind the adoption of the St Ayles Skiff as the coastal rowing boat for Norfolk.
She has inveigled Blakeney Sailing Club to set up a rowing section called CraBlakeney and together with 'dinghy sailor and would-be rower' Ian Duffill has sponsored the purchase of a kit from Alec Jordan.
Construction has started in Ian's workshop, though the recent cold snap has forced them to transfer frame building into his kitchen (obviously). Here is Dr Adrian Hodge of Norfolk Skiff Club giving a hand. Adrian tells me that Blakeney is a great place to row, with lots of sheltered water.
It's great to see coastal rowing in fixed seat boats spreading round the coast - all good luck to them. I'm looking forward to beating them by a country mile meeting them in friendly competition in the Carrow Cup next year.
There are loads of pictures of the 2012 Carrow Cup race on the Langstone Cutters website, but my favourite is this one, showing us all leaning back in a way not usually still feasible for a bunch of 60-year olds and giving it some welly. We were more than half a minute faster than last year, and if we had managed to shave a couple more seconds off we would have come second instead of third.

Thursday 20 December 2012

More Viking Rowing

More hilarious rowing from historical re-enactors trying to be Vikings, this time on Waldemar Januszczak's series The Dark Ages: an Age of Light on the Beeb.
Kudos to the portly presenter, however, as he wasn't under any delusions about the cowhorn helmet he is wearing. He explained that it was invented by a Victorian costume designer for a production of Wagner.
But the rowers really need to sharpen their act - the timing was truly awful and everyone looks at their blade instead of behind the steersman as they should. At one point, one guy completely loses it and has to miss a stroke. Real Vikings would have chopped him in half with an axe where he sat.
The boat doesn't seem very authentic either. In fact it looks suspiciously as if it might be fibreglass....
The rest of the series is excellent, well up to the standard of the rash of programmes we have been getting lately on the 'Dark Ages weren't dark at all' theme. UK readers can watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Winter Rowing

Went rowing in Langstone Harbour yesterday as the sun dipped towards the horizon. A skein of geese flew westward. It was fabulous.
It's going to rain today.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Carrow Cup Norwich

Bembridge raced today in the Traditional Boats division of the Carrow Cup, which has been held in Norwich since 1813. Sunny and relatively warm, compared to last year's bitter cold, but this year we were forced into third place by a couple of crews from Lower Thames Rowing Club about half our age. And they were using carbon fibre oars.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Expedition Rowing in Finland

Ruud van Veelen makes rowing boats in Sulkava, home of Finnish church boat racing. His largest hull is a 40ft, 14-oared monster with a cruising speed of nearly eight miles an hour.
His latest design is an expedition boat intended to take you round the gazillion and one lakes that dot the Finnish landscape.
20ft long and double sculled with sliding seats, the Sinne 610 Expedition has built-in buoyancy fore and aft, a tent and detachable wheels for portages.
It was launched at the Helsinki Boat Show last spring and was taken out in the wilderness in the summer, where the sun never sets.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Clovelly Scull prototype on eBay

A prototype Clovelly Scull has appeared on eBay, apparently posted by the makers in Cowes, Isle of Wight. It failed to sell for the fairly obvious reason that no one wanted to pay £1,200 for it.
That is a pity, because the boat is lovely to look at, rows extremely well and is very stable and seaworthy. Its sliding wing outrigger eliminates hobby-horsing and the fact that the rower's body does not move fore-and-aft prevents the loss of momentum on the return.
However, Paul Zink, designer of the Clovelly Scull, seemed very surprised when I told him of the sale.
Manufacture of the boat has stalled partly because of the recession but mainly due to Paul's health problems. Happily, he seems to be recovering and expects to make some progress towards getting boats on sale next year.
Also on eBay, a punt made to a design by the great Percy Blandford. It is only 14ft long and divides into two halves so you can get it on a car roof easily, or even inside a larger estate. An ideal canal tourer. Bidding stands at £112 right now (Tuesday tea time) which is a bargain for such a practical craft.

Friday 7 December 2012

Watts cartoons and boats

"You might have upset the beastly thing
a bit further out, George. I'd rather
be drowned than look a perfect fool."
Arthur Watts (1883-1935) was a cartoonist with Punch, book illustrator, author and sailor - his books include A Three-legged Cruise (compiled from articles for Yachting Monthly) and The Scented Trawler (an account of his time spent at sea with the Auxiliary Patrol in WW1).
His cartoons epitomise the gentle, conservative humour that characterised Punch between the wars, and many are featured at The Art of Arthur Watts, a site maintained by his son Simon.
Simon himself is a boatbuilder now based in San Francisco. 
He has run many week-long classes that create traditionally-built boats, including this lovely sliding seat rowing boat based on a hull built in the 1920s and found in Petaluma, California.
The original was planked in red cedar on a frame of an unidentifiable wood, fastened with copper clench nails. Simon's new version is in sitka spruce on locust, fastened with copper rivets and roves.
At nearly 20ft long, she should be fast. I particularly like the traditional 'clogs' - shoes fastened to the stretcher rather than straps.
The plans can be bought from the site and various other outlets.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Teifi skiff brushes up nicely

Boat addict Brian Pearson has bought one of my favourite rowing boats, a Teifi skiff. After a bit of a disaster towing it back from Fishguard (one side of the trailer collapsed) he has applied some TLC and it is looking very nice. He writes:
"Very pleased with the boat. I think she is very pretty and remarkably good looking for a single chine two plank boat. Very much in the Oughtred style. I think we will have a lot of fun in her."
I think you will too, Brian. She goes very quickly without too much exertion and is seaworthy with it.
The carbon blades in Langstone Cutters' Teifi skiff Lotty are proving to be rather popular, once people get their heads round the overlapping handles and the need to feather. Anyone know where we can get some more?

Saturday 1 December 2012

Moon over Langstone

There seems to have been an outbreak of morning moonshots, with Max the BB and Cap'n JP both posting pics of the full moon in Bursledon and Putney respectively. Unfortunately their cameras are better than my mobile phone so I apologise for the image quality.
But they were on the bank. I was out rowing in an adventure gig (like a Cornish pilot gig only plastic and equipped for cross-channel rowing).
It was cold but worth it for the clear, cloudless sky and mirror-flat water.
And on the way back we passed a duck punt, complete with bloody great cannon on the foredeck, being rowed VERY SLOWLY down channel. It looked later I scrolled down Adrian Morgan's blog Something About Old Boats and there was one so similar it could be the same.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

I'm Rowing Backwards for Christmas

I'm rowing backwards for Christmas,
Across the Irish Sea,
I'm rowing backwards for Christmas,
It's the only thing for me.

I've tried rowing sideways,
And facing to the front,
But people just look at me,
And say it's a publicity stunt.

(Picture taken at the Manningtree Paddle and Oar Festival. This race was an absolute hoot.)
(Apologies to Spike Milligan)

Monday 26 November 2012

I'm (still) Rowing Backwards for Christmas

Actually, this guy isn't rowing backwards, he is just getting in position for that great nature shot, but it's the boat that is the star. It is a new design from Charles Broughton, called the Westport Jolly Boat.
Charles is a naval architect and founder of Westport Group, located in the martial magnificence of Crownhill Fort in Plymouth. Westport Rowing is the latest addition to the group, and its first product is this lovely sliding seat skiff.
"She is designed for recreational rowing along traditional lines, but is very much a practical boat," he writes. "We have designed folding riggers, which are proving great when coming along side and for storage. She has a full deck mould and with the addition of a dinghy self-bailer she will drain even at rest with a rower aboard. We build her down in Plymouth, Devon, and have manage to keep most fittings UK manufactured. Neaves supply the sliding seat and gates, with Xcell manufacturing the scull for us. Our folding riggers our our own design and they are cast and finished here in Devon."
I love the practical details like the folding riggers, the netting so you can keep bits and bobs close to hand without them drifting under the sliding seat, and the compass exactly where you can keep an eye on it. The way the deck mould wraps over the gunwale is not to my taste but will definitely help keep water out of the boat.
The boat comes with a full range of accessories including carbon fibre blades, cover, trailer and so on - an unusually comprehensive list. And the price is not exorbitant at four grand including blades. All the details are on the website.

Friday 23 November 2012

I'm Rowing Backwards for Christmas

Here's a bit of an odd one, for sale on eBay. The hull is long and thin and looks fast. It is the way the rowlocks are fixed onto straight planks hung outside the gunwales that looks so very peculiar. One would expect that the reason for this would be to mount the rowlocks with the same span, so the blades would be interchangeable. But it looks as though the spans at bow and stroke are different.
The clever mounting of the seats and stretchers so they all come out as a unit is interesting too. Unfortunately the owners have put the thing in the wrong way round so the rowers will be facing forwards.
And then there is that very strange rounded bow, like a nose. Probably doesn't affect performance but might attract comments at the slipway.
The starting bid is £240. If it was closer to the south coast than Warwick I think I would buy it just out of curiosity but it is a bit far to go on a whim. If any reader succeeds in bagging her, please let me know how she does on the water!

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Tuesday 20 November 2012

CLC Team Dory goes home

The CLC Team Dory has now gone to Philadelphia where Neil Calore and the rest of the gang will finish her off. He writes:
Four guys and six days later she's ready for her ride to Philly, where we'll finish her and make some oars. We're all very pleased with the outcome: a lightweight, solid boat that is easily built and affordable.
I can't wait to row her as I think she'll be very stable and fast, just like her little sister the Northeaster Dory (only faster!). We hope to have her finished and in the water before it gets too cold. I'll keep you all posted and send pictures.
I squinted at the general arrangement drawings for ages - surely there should be adjustable stretchers or footrests, shouldn't there?
But no. The designer, John Harris, writes in CLC's blog:
I had the very devil of a time arranging the seat geometry to suit all different heights of rowers. Seat height and length are critical for efficient rowing. This is often handled by having adjustable footbraces, but there simply wasn't room in the interior for that.... My scheme was to make the seats broader on the top. The footbraces are the forward face of each seat, and thus fixed. Taller people will simply slide their butts further forward (on the seat).
This is genius. Or possibly complete lunacy.
As a taller rower (right at the top of John Harris's height range), I always have to crank myself in to our Solent galleys, which were obviously designed for midgets, so I would really welcome a boat that fits. 
Getting the crew to adjust their stretchers is always a faff, and we are always breaking the wooden struts that provide the adjustment. A simple, automatic arrangement like this will be fabulous if it works.
A final thought - this arrangement fixes the feet in the same place for all rowers, against the conventional arrangement which fixes the bum. 
Now, taller rowers have a longer reach, so if their bum moves relative to the rowlocks, but their hands move further forward than shorter rowers, does this mean that the rowlock stays closer to the middle of the stroke?
Would this make a difference to the power output? It might....

Monday 12 November 2012

Chinese Foot Rowing

Watching Attenborough's Ark I was brought up short by a brief glimpse of this lad rowing down a shallow, polluted, garbage-strewn canal in China with his feet. Using his feet means he can row facing forwards. He even manages to feather a little.
It seems this is quite common, especially in Vietnam, where the clip below was filmed. I had never heard of it before. How difficult is it to learn? Would it be a good technique for Britain's canals, perhaps? I suspect that here on the South Coast with our big tidal currents it would not be an option.
Attenborough's Ark, by the way, is brilliant as Sir David always is. It is an excuse for him to choose ten animals that are interesting in different ways, either endangered, exotic, strange, endearing or simply bonkers. If you are in Britain, watch it on BBC iPlayer now. If you aren't, tough titties - campaign for your government to set up a BBC in your country now.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Fit for a Pharaoh

Langstone Cutters rowing captain Mike Gilbert took his family  to Egypt for half term and was deeply impressed by the 2,500 year old Khufu ship in its dramatic hall next to the great pyramid at Giza.
The 43.6m boat was found in a trench next to the pyramid in 1954. It had been buried in 1,224 bits, like monster Ikea computer desk. A bloke spent more than a decade putting it all together, even without that little allen key jobby or the useless instruction leaflet.
It is still not clear if this was a real boat or just a symbolic gesture. Some people believe it was used to transport Khufu's body down the Nile for the funeral. Others point to its very narrow hull (under 6m) to say it would not have  been practical to row and must have been intended to transport the pharaoh through the heavens with the sun god Ra.
I say, let's find out.
Let's build a replica. It could either be an exact reproduction in the same wood and using the old sewing techniques, or a hull of the same size and shape but using modern materials. Either would show us if the layout would be suitable for rowing.
And then I could have a rowing holiday on the Nile.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Team Dory details

Naturally, I made one or two wrong assumptions about the Team Dory in the last post. It is a sweep rowing boat, not a quad scull, and it is steered by a conventional rudder and yoke as you can see from the more detailed schematic sent over by Neil Calore.
With a beam of 4ft 8in and considerably less at the bow and stroke positions, I still think she would be very well suited for sculling, however. Perhaps some mini-outriggers there. Hmmmm.
The thwarts are interesting, including buoyancy tanks that must add a lot of strength. I hope the leg room is enough for taller rowers (always a matter of personal interest).
The flat bottom makes her easier to build I suspect, and will make the boat easy to move about in without floorboards. The only thing I suspect might not be optimal is the steeply raked transom, which will make the rudder swing upwards in a way that may slow the boat down a lot. It will be interesting to see how it works in practice.
Neil and the team have been making amazing progress at the CLC workshop in Annapolis. Only two days in, and it's a boat! You can see progress live on the CLC webcam (remember that if the screen is blank, it's still working but it's night and the lights are off).

Sunday 4 November 2012

Team Dory in Philly

Neil Calore, the Philadelphia firefighter who rowed from Washington DC to New York for charity, is taking part in a community rowing project on the Delaware River in his home town. The team will build a quad-scull version of the dory Neil rowed.
The project has much in common with Scottish Coastal Rowing. The boat was designed and supplied in kit form by Chesapeake Light Craft of Annapolis, Maryland, and is being built by volunteers.
The boat will be based at The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia.
Neil writes:

"John Harris of CLC has designed a 'Team Dory' specifically for this type of use which is very similar in design to the super-seaworthy 'Northeaster Dory' that I've built and sailed in various open water events recently.
ISM's program, starting next spring/summer, will provide public access to the river in the form of community rowing, and include educational elements for school kids to get acquainted with boating, fitness and nature.
If this boat takes off, I'm hope to also generate interest in some open water competition similar to the popular pilot gig races in Britain. Not to compare the two, but the stitch and glue version is much more affordable than traditional gigs, making it easier for more teams to form."
And we can all follow progress on the webcam in CLC's workshop, which starts tomorrow (Fifth of November, remember). Neil says that another is also being built on the Great Lakes, but his team has claimed Hull Number 001.
It looks like a great shape, although how the rudder will work with such a rakish stern remains to be seen.

Monday 29 October 2012

French Style

Gavin Atkin, boat designer, blogger, musician, journalist (also contains lanolin, as Flanders said about Swann), sent me a link to the the Liteboat, a highly stylish new rowing boat created by French long-distance oarsman Mathieu Bonnier.
Gavin asks what I think.
Well, I hesitate to be rude about a boat created by someone who has far more experience of rowing through every kind of weather than I have, but the design treads on all my corns.
That reversed bow, for a start. There is no apparent functional reason for it. Indeed, you can actually see it piercing the waves and throwing water into the boat in the video. A well spread bow lifts the boat over the wave and prevents water coming in.
Then there is the wide open stern, intended to provide an easy exit for all that water coming unnecessarily over the bow. It must drag the boat back, especially with heavier rowers who will cause the stern to dip underwater every time they slide towards the stern. The self-bailing stern is the nastiest feature of the Virus Yole, in my opinion.
On the plus side, the hull is intrinsically buoyant and construction is by resin sandwich infusion with carbon bits for a very strong but light boat.
Bonnier says that he wanted a boat that is stable, light, easy to row, fast and car-toppable. "I looked in vain for this boat: she did not exist!" he says.
Yes she does, Mathieu. She is pictured up there, on the blog masthead. My Sprite Snarleyow.

Friday 26 October 2012

Solent Galleys Gather

The Bursledon Blogger has reminded me to put up a post about last Saturday's row up the Hamble, which reunited three Solent galleys after decades apart. Two came from Langstone Cutters (Sallyport and Bembridge). The other is Avery A, until recently owned by Newport (IoW) Rowing Club but in the last few weeks transferred to Elephant Boatyard on the Hamble, makers of the wonderful Peanut.
The Elephant Boatyard has an enthusiastic crew of rowers who did extremely well in the Great River Race, coming in eighth in a Bursledon Gig. Now they want to compete in a serious boat.
This is great news - perhaps a Solent galley scene may develop. On Saturday Avery A was borrowed by other Hamble River Rowing stalwarts including Glyn Foulkes and Philip Meakins, and they intend to use her as well.
It would be interesting to run a tape measure over the various boats. Avery A looks different in shape, flatter and less cod-headed.
The picture on the right shows Avery A returning to the Elephant Boatyard past the crew's spiritual home. The picture below shows us in Bembridge about to overtake Avery A on the way up to the Horse and Jockey, with me gasping like a grampus. Not a pretty sight.

Wednesday 24 October 2012


I couldn't resist this. I pinched it from the website of the Thames Boating Company in Maidenhead, owned by Dan White who is building traditional skiffs for hire. The scheme is that you book a boat for a particular public slipway and he will bring it along and launch it.
The design is Paul Fisher's Mandarin, a double skiff in epoxy clinker ply for a traditional appearance. It should also be much lighter than a traditional clinker skiff, which will be invaluable if he is going to be launching it every time he hires it out.
Dan has recorded the building process in his blog - a fascinating process.
The first skiff is nearing completion. No indication of a price, but I am tempted already.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Dawn is getting later

Earlier yesterday, before I took the pic of boats on their sides looking mournful in an empty channel, I went out at dawn in Mike's newly acquired Cornish pilot gig Porthminster.
It was still dark as we gathered at a severe but not punishing 7am. My how the days are drawing in.
And the skies are getting wintry. Mist lay over Thorney Island. The water was mirrored. The only sign of life was some fishermen not catching anything.
Actually I am looking forward to winter. Crisp, still, windless rowing on water unmolested by other people. Can't wait.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Low Tide

I go to Langstone to row. So I go at high tide. So the views today when I popped round to prepare boats for an afternoon row up the Hamble were slightly unnerving.
Especially after last Wednesday when we could have rowed into the bar of the Royal Oak and ordered five pints of Old Speckled Hen without getting out of the boat:

Friday 19 October 2012

Ocean Pearl on TV

I got my first opportunity to go aboard Ocean Pearl a couple of weeks back at an open day at Emsworth Marina where her owner and restorer, Nick Gates, has his boatbuilding business. In the past I have only seen her from the water.
The interior is still a bit unfinished but Nick's main priority seems to be taking her out sailing, entirely understandably. 
And last night she was on the telly!
I've been following Wartime Farm with fascination, partly because it is packed with stuff I didn't know (eg rats don't have bladders so they weeweewee everywhere they go) but also because it was filmed in Manor Farm near Botley on the River Hamble.
To illustrate that farmers weren't the only ones to suffer from government interference during the war, presenters Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn went to sea on Ocean Pearl to find out what the impact was on fishermen.
Quite a lot, Nick told them. Ocean Pearl was built as a fishing vessel in Scotland in the 1930s and was commandeered by the Navy for inshore supply work. This might have meant depriving some bloke of his livelihood were it not for the fact that most fishermen had been called up.
Then the historians released a carrier pigeon on a training run back to Southampton, to illustrate the importance of pigeons to military communications. That was another thing I didn't know - pigeons were used when the entire invasion force was observing radio silence prior to D-day.
It was illegal to shoot carrier pigeons, naturally, but wood pigeons were not so lucky. The Royal Observer Corps used to report movements of flocks of pigeons so country folk could shoot them down by the hundred. Delicious boiled, stewed or fried.
PS - Nick, in a previous email you sort of invited me to come sailing in Ocean Pearl sometime.....just a reminder...