Wednesday 29 February 2012

John Bishop's Week of Hell

John Bishop made it across the Channel yesterday, against the odds - there is a great video here. He had had just one hour of sleep after cycling from Paris (185 miles) the day before and it shows - he is obviously just going through the motions towards the end of the row. But frankly, after a cycle ride like that I would have been curled up in the bow getting a few ZZZs to try and recover a bit before running from Dover to London. What a man - sponsor him here and help vaccinate children in Africa and assist deprived children in the UK.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Japanese rowing

I've been meaning to post this from Bob Holtzman's Indigenous Boats blog for ages, but better late than never.
This is a trading vessel of the Ainu people from Hokkaido, the big island at the top end of Japan. The Ainu are not ethnic Japanese, so were historically were allowed to do a lot of things that the Japanese themselves were forbidden. In this respect they were rather like the Jews in medieval Europe, who could lend money at interest when Christians were banned by the usury laws.
When Japan slammed the door on the outside world in 1639, the Ainu continued to trade with China, Korea and other parts of Asia, often acting as middle-men for Japanese merchants.
This boat, called an itaomachip, is about 40ft long and both rowed and sailed by the odd arrangement of masts on both sides of the boat. The masts could be moved to take advantage of winds from most directions.
Note how the Ainu are portrayed with big hairy beards and the Japanese merchants are clean shaven.
Eventually, the Shoguns realised how profitable the trade was and took it over, reducing the unfortunate Ainu to destitution. They were systematically persecuted throughout the 20th century.
An itaomachip is built on a base of a dugout canoe, a particular sort of tree that is hollowed, then filled with water and hot stones to expand it. The rest of the hull is made of pine boards sewn together.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Rowing with the Stars (3)

I wasn't rowing with the stars this week, but Gail McGarva and colleagues at the Boatbuilding Academy at Lyme Regis were. They featured in Britain's Heritage Heroes on the BBC, in which John Craven and Jules Hudson drive a Landy round the country in a tour of craftsmen, woodsmen, steam men, cheese men and a rich tapestry of countryside obsessives.
The tone is relentlessly lowbrow, our presenters spending the first five minutes listing what they are going to see and the last five listing what they have just seen, in case we are too stupid and daft to remember.
The section on the Academy and Gail's new lerret, a fishing boat unique to Lyme Bay, was a delight. They launched the boat in the traditional way, the crew getting in and being bodily hurled down the beach into the surf, neatly demonstrating why the boat is short, fat and double-ended.
You can see the programme on BBC iPlayer (UK only, sorry).
Hudson seemed to be making a decent fist of pulling the traditional heavily-balanced blades but Craven made a complete horlicks of it, being completely unable to row and talk at the same time.
Readers with long memories may recall I saw Gail and the lerret at Beale Park last year.

Friday 17 February 2012

A Thousand Years of Rowing

I've been meaning to point to Doryman's Voyage Ethereal blog all week but haven't got round to it. In a couple of posts he covers a thousand years of rowing.
The second post is the first, at least in historical terms. The Gokstad small boat was built in by the Vikings in the 9th century and was part of the burial goods of a warrior king who died in about 900AD.
The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, makes reproductions of Viking ships and including a new Gokstad small boat for the Danish-Canadian museum in Dickson, Edmonton, Canada.
The process started with buying an oak tree, splitting it into planks and gradually adzing, bending and nailing it into a shape that is still recognisable in boats from Scotland to Sweden today. Fascinating.
Such a contrast with Doryman's Finesse, a modern, plywood outrigger-and-sliding-seat flyer designed by Ken Bassett as the Firefly.
Doryman has 'detuned' her, installing fixed seats. He had to make some new outriggers and calls them 'underengineered'.
Despite the slight regression from the modern obsession with sliding seats, the average Viking would be unable to see any use for Finesse - until he was invited to race in her. Then the lightness and rigidity of glued plywood construction and the mechanical advantage of the outriggers would speak for themselves.
The sliding seats are only an advantage in sprints, of course. Over distance, fixed seats often win because the rowers don't have to extend their leg muscles to their full extension which is brutally wearing.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Exploiting Eddies

Last Saturday I went out with Langstone Cutters to the Ferryboat Inn at the mouth of Langstone Harbour, which is notorious for its vicious tidal currents. There were nine of us, so we went off in Bembridge (5), Millie (3) and Kittiwake (me).
The row down to the harbour mouth was against the tide, obviously. Bembridge took the main channel down (you can see her in the picture above as a line of multi-coloured blobs on the horizon) but I took a curve to the south via a side channel, as you can see in the GPS track. It is a longer route, but the incoming tide forces an eddy down it - look at how the mooring buoy is being driven to the left when the tide should have driven it in the other way. I got an extra few knots that way, and Bembridge saw me draw away ha ha ha.
I was expecting to get to the pub first but got distracted by a bunch of sailors from the Dinghy Cruising Association - you can see the diversion I made to go over and yack about the DCA meeting that evening.
Returning, there were no eddies to exploit so I just hugged the side of the channel to minimise the adverse current. Won by a mile despite stopping for a chat with Sarah Sorensen of the DCAS who was rowing back to Emsworth after paddling round South Binness Island.

Monday 13 February 2012

Rowing with the Stars (2)

The great cricketer Freddie Flintoff has volunteered to help row John Bishop across the Channel in his Week of Hell cycling/running/rowing marathon in aid of Sport Relief. So Freddie came out with Langstone Adventure Rowing on the River Thames to learn how.
After a briefing from Mike Gilbert, we started from Bridge Marine in Walton on Thames (what a friendly and helpful place!) close to the place where the HBBR row from Pangbourne finished, rowing upstream, round the island and back via the Desborough Cut.
Freddie caught enough crabs to supply a large crab restaurant, but then got the idea and even started leaning back into the stroke. Then he demonstrated exactly how a real athlete can pick up any action required very quickly, despite his recent knee surgery.
And he is a jolly nice chap.
Just as we were setting out for the afternoon session, a lovely old skiff passed by, presumably on the way to the Thames Valley Skiff Club boathouse.

Friday 10 February 2012

Old Rowers Never Retire

South Queensferry's St Ayles Skiff went out in brisk conditions the other day, with a crew whose total age amounted to 270 years, not counting the cox who was a stripling half the age of the rowers.
Can anyone beat that, asks Robbie Wightman of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association.
Well, down here at Langstone Cutters the crew of Gladys, winners of the Veterans Over 60 and Fastest Clayton Skiff at the Great River Race, had a total age of about 268 (give or take a year). But if you include the ancient and venerable cox, it took us up to at least 312.
Apparently, today a South Queensferry crew with a total age of 307 went out. It's rowing that keeps us active, doctor.
Alec Jordan, maker of the kits for the St Ayles Skiff, rang to tell me that he has just had his 60th order. It has been successful beyond his wildest dreams and St Ayles Skiffs are now being built in the US, Holland, France and all over. A great success and one that bodes well for the health of recreational rowing as a sport.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Rowing Footwear

Before you all groan 'Not another picture of himself, the egoist', this is really designed to show off the items I am wearing on my feet.
Readers with long memories may recall that I have tried several ways of keeping my feet dry on the foreshore.
The standard welly boots are not quite long enough, and nothing takes the shine off an apres-row visit to the pub like icy, sodden socks. My experiments with waterproof socks and yachting boots were expensive failures.
But when one of the Langstone Cutters pointed out at the AGM that rowing in wellingtons is probably not entirely safe, I decided to try something different. As ever, eBay had a promising solution.
I bought a pair, and also invested in a few pairs of deck shoes.
The thigh-length waders are brilliant. I can get round the other side of the boat in the picture to hand the ropes holding the cover on (you can see the knots in the picture) without risk of getting a bootful. They fold down to calf length when not in the water.
When I get in the boat, I slip the waders off and the boat shoes on, which are safer, more comfortable and much less sweaty.
The downside is that the waders are a bit of a faff to get on again, but I think it is worth it.
Thanks to Robina Bream for the picture, a symphony in blues. Even though the waders are green. That's mobile phone cameras for you.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Rowing with the Stars

A few weeks ago we took the stars out rowing. Comedian John Bishop is doing a Week of Hell for Sport Relief, involving cycling from the Arc de Triomphe, rowing the Channel and running to Marble Arch.
He and fellow masochist Davina McCall came down to Chichester Harbour to learn how to row in a pilot gig. Here is John with me, Colin McPhee, Debs Gilbert, his coach and a BBC producer. Davina had already left by this time.
Both seemed fit and determined, and picked the rowing basics up quickly. Whether this will be enough for a 20 mile row in the open sea remains to be seen.
Bishop doesn't seem to be relishing the prospect though. In an interview with the BBC, he said: "Rowing is boring."
After the announcement, this picture appeared in the Metro, emailed by alert reader Ben Meakins.

Monday 6 February 2012

Another sailing punt

George Dunlop Leslie may have pioneered the sailing punt (he claimed never to have seen any but his own) but the idea refused to die. Gavin Atkin of intheboatshed has alerted me to a later and much more sophisticated design by none other than Captain R.F. Wykeham-Martin, inventor of the famous foresail rolling gear.
Leslie mounted a simple lugsail but otherwise used the stuff to hand, steering with the pole and using a floor board as a leeboard. Wykeham-Martin has a proper rudder, pivoting leeboards and leg'mutton sail with a jib. Details are on the brilliant River Thames Society website.
I have to confess I don't see the point. The tiller will get in the way when you are punting and the rudder means you lose the ability to go over very shallow water that is one of the punt's main advantages. The complex rig will take time to put up and take down when you want to change from one mode of propulsion to the other. Going  under bridges will be a nightmare - Wykeham-Martin didn't face this problem because he sailed his punt on the Shatt-el-Arab.
Frankly, if you want to punt, punt. If you want to sail, get a Laser.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Icebreaker Row

A very early neap tide today so got out in Kittiwake just after eight. It was still and clear but bitterly cold, and the bow crnchd crshsd scrshd through the thin layer of ice. Despite the scale difference, the sound was exactly the same as you hear in the monster ferries plying the Baltic from Stockholm to Helsinki in winter.
I am always surprised at how often the water in the harbour freezes, at least at the edges. It is salt, after all. Apparently, the ice forms on the mud flats and saltings, and the tide floats it off as it come in.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Another Bee Mess

Construction of the Bee proceeds from one disaster to another. Having got the bottom boards assembled the right way round, the boat went together quite nicely, although the bow needed a big shove to get into the right shape.
Then, just as my back was turned, I heard a hell of a bang. One of the bottom boards had cracked under the strain.
After a few words, I undid the ties in the area and screwed a patch on the area, protected by a piece of epoxy-proof plastic. Epoxy was applied, with tape over.
Next morning, the epoxy was hard and all seemed well. It bent nicely into shape as new ties were tightened. When the patch was removed, it cracked again. The epoxy had not gone off properly - the tape peeled off in my hand. Last night's frost is probably responsible.
B. B. B.
I will wait for the weather to warm up a bit before trying again. Judging by the BBC weather forecast, it could be some time.