Saturday 31 March 2012

Jim Michalak's Polepunt

Although I eventually want a full-length, very beautiful punt made of varnished wood, I would also like to get punting pretty soon. Jim Michalak's Polepunt might be the way to go.
Like all Michalak's designs, Polepunt isn't specially pretty but it does the job and is easy and cheap to build. The principle is that you assemble the sides on a set of frames, then pin and glue a sheet on the bottom, trim it to shape and there you are. It is only 15ft long but that makes it easier to put on top of the Focus Estate, dunnit?
Wojtek Baginski in Warsaw built one to explore some rugged streams in Poland, and now Graeme Fraser in New Zealand has built one - his report appeared in Duckworks a little while back (the pictures are his).
Some people really can't accept the chine log along the bottom, but it is speedy to build and adds a lot of strength to the hull.
I feel a Wickes special coming on - they sell quarter-inch exterior ply at 16 of our English pounds for a 8x4 sheet, so the whole damn thing could come in at under 100 quid, less if I can use the only-just-out-of-date epoxy I have been given.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Another Sprite in Chichester Harbour

I just finished work in time to get out rowing, so I went to Dell Quay with Snarleyow, my Chippendale Sprite.
On the hard, I saw another Sprite appear round the end of the wharf and disappear off. I parked the trailer and the car and set off after - I had to know who else had one. I caught him up off Birdham, and discovered it was a man called Doug who bought his boat ready-made from Ted Bird in Rye. What a lovely boat it is, in royal blue.
Then I went on to Bosham, where the ice cream van was on the foreshore yum yum.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Rowing in New Zealand

Owen Sinclair has been rowing through the summer in New Zealand, as he says in an email:
Hi Chris,
Photos attached from a holiday based at Lake Brunner on the South Island West Coast in February. We rowed and paddled a small part of the Arnold River (drains Lake Brunner), Lake Poerua, and  around the circumference of Lake Hochstetter.
Keep up the good work with the blog.
Owen Sinclair
What a beautiful place. Must go there one winter soon (no, I mean summer...well, you know what I mean). Here is a slideshow of the lovely pics taken by Ann Russell:

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Rowing: The Rules

As you may have worked out by now, I don't do racing.
Well, very occasionally. But mainly I row just for fun. The competitive spirit is a mystery to me, but I think I have seen a little bit into the mind of the elite oarsperson in Rowing: The Rules.
The rules are by Anna Railton, a member of the Cambridge women's crew that beat Oxford in the Women's Boat Race at Henley over the weekend.
There is a lot of stuff about rowing technology like ergos and things called a 'one-piece' of which I know nothing, but the central difference between rowing to win and rowing for pleasure is encapsulated in
Rule 10: There is only one remedy for pain. Make your opposition hurt more.

This is nonsense.
I don't pretend that rowing for pleasure doesn't involve pain. I have the callouses to prove it, and a current case of skiffer's arse with which I will not bore you. But the cure for pain is BEER and lots of it. Obviously.
Apart from the disturbing desire to inflict pain on the opposition (and by opposition, Anna includes anyone occupying the ergo next to hers) there is actually a lot in common between the addicted competitor and the addicted pleasure rower. We go out in all weathers, though she doesn't approve of going out through the ice which she seeks to justify by the damage it could do to a delicate shell. Come on - doesn't she have a garden full of boats for every eventuality? I mean.
Anna is also very wrong about sunglasses, which she says (Rule 23) should be worn in all weathers despite the fact that it is very rude to hide behind them when you are talking to someone, they make you look like a chav and they give you skin cancer.
Her blog, Something About Rowing...? is acerbic, funny and insightful, and her stick-woman drawings are a hoot. The language is filthy, but there is something highly arousing about an intelligent, witty, attractive and potty-mouthed woman as the proposals of marriage in the comments attest.

Friday 23 March 2012

John Bishop's Row of Hell

John Bishop's magnificent ride-row-run from Paris to London was charted in a BBC documentary last night.
Coach, cox and Langstone Cutter Mike Gilbert played a superb supporting role as he steered the Cornish pilot gig Deborah across, shown above fending off a recalcitrant flag to announce that John had already raised £285,000 for medical aid in Sierra Leone.
John looked truly terrible after a punishing bike ride from Paris, as long as a leg of the Tour de France. But, Mike says, he was clearly not going to get off the boat except by reason of death.
The timing was awful but they made it over.
What a great achievement. You can still donate to John's appeal here. Give generously.
And yes, I appear briefly in a segment on the training, rowing behind Freddie Flintoff. Who said, on camera: "In my experience, rowing isn't particularly enjoyable. I'm not even sure Steve Redgrave likes it."

Thursday 22 March 2012

Jack Chippendale

The picture on this blog's masthead is of one of the best recreational rowing boats ever designed. It is the Sprite, created by Jack Chippendale who died recently.
It was Jack's idea to create the hull by sewing the two bottom planks together and splaying them apart over frames so they naturally adopted a sleek profile. He was collaborating with naval architect Andrew Wolstenholme to create a kit that could be easily built at home, and Andrew rather despaired of it because the method meant the shape could not be developed by computer and he had to draw the lines more or less by trial and error.
I first came across the Sprite, and Jack himself, at the old Wooden Boat Show in Greenwich in the 1990s. His enthusiasm was infectious, as was his talkativeness - which I later discovered was legendary. Sometimes he had to work late into the night completing work delayed by conversations with visitors to his workshop.
I built the kit in my garage (but the one in the picture I got later when I moved to Chichester Harbour). It was simplicity itself, and the Sprite has given me boundless pleasure over the years. I also had its big sister, the double skiff Otter, for a while. Golly could that boat go.
There are obituaries of this wonderful man here and here.

Tuesday 20 March 2012


Spring is sprung,
De fish is riz,
I wonder where de anglers is?
To get to sea they can't wait a minute,
So they're doing twelve knots in an eight knot limit.
The cretins.

Saturday 17 March 2012


I promised myself a 'new iPad'. I went in to Carphone Warehouse with the intention of trading in my faithful iPad 1 for one. Then I realised that for the same money I could build myself a punt.
No contest really. I turned on my heel and left the shop.

Thursday 15 March 2012

So far, so good...

Well, I trepidatiously snipped through as few of the zip ties holding the bow section together as I thought I could get away with, and the cracks stayed together. Tape was applied. Tomorrow more ties will come out and more tape will go on - let's hope for the best.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Punts and Punting

My punting pash has got a big boost with the arrival of R.T. Rivington's Punts and Punting, a condensed version of his magisterial Punting: its History and Techniques.
A few weeks ago I mused on whether a punt might be the ideal canal boat, but worried about the muddy bottom that might be expected. Well, Rivington says:
"In recent years, undergraduates from both Oxford and Cambridge have set up long distance punting records travelling mainly on canals, using camping punts, popular 70 years ago. Their reports are favourable and it may be that outside Oxford and Cambridge the most hopeful future for pleasure punts will be on canals.
Most canals have a firm bottom for much of their width and at the few places where a bank is muddy there is always a hard bottom in the centre of the canal. There is an even depth at a convenient 6-8ft. The reaches are straight. River traffic is slow, creating no problem with wash. As compared with some owners and hirers of river launches, the users of the canals are considerate, polite and usually show interest in traditional craft."
That's it then. I'm definitely going to build a camping punt. Just as soon as I get the Bee finished - and the outlook is a bit more encouraging on that front. Yesterday I got the rest of the seams epoxied and tomorrow I will start cautiously removing ties and slapping some glass tape on.

Sunday 11 March 2012

One step forward...

Success! The support patches on the outside of the hull were removed and the repairs did not instantly explode. Today, the ties will be tightened just a tad to bring all the seams into exact alignment and the first series of epoxy 'welds' will go in to hold the hull together for removal of the ties. Fingers crossed!

Friday 9 March 2012

That B Bee

So the cold snap passed and I got started on the Bee again. All the plastic zip ties were cut and the bottom boards removed. The front two foot or so of each board was cut off, a copy made and joined on with epoxy and tape on either side.
Then the hull was reassembled using the official method of stitching the bottom boards together along the keel, placing them in the moulds and carefully folding them apart so they could be screwed onto the moulds.
Then I put the sides in place and started stitching them to the bottom. All went well, until I began to tighten them up. Suddenly, both bottom boards split within seconds of each other. Disaster.
Luckily, the splits are not nearly as long as they were last time, and they are symmetrical on either side of the boat so repairing them may not result in a banana-shaped hull.
So I screwed a patch on the outside, with a plastic sheet inside to stop it sticking to the plank. The inside was lavishly epoxied and a permanent patch screwed in place.
Tomorrow, I will take the outside patches off. If the repairs fail I think I may torch the bloody thing.

Monday 5 March 2012

Punting in Japan

I spotted this Japanese print on eBay, and such is my burgeoning punting obsession I just had to buy it. It is said to be Meiji period, ie late 19th or early 20th century.
Funny how punts in both Japan and England always have a girl with a parasol in the passenger seat.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Pub Paddles

This is my sort of boating. Awaydays on some of the loveliest rivers in the world, with a pub somewhere on the route.
All the technical info you need is in Pub Paddles - where the slipways are, distances and obstructions, what licences you need and so on. Peter Knowles also describes the landscape very clearly and honestly, so you know what to expect.
The core market is with canoeists, of course, but most of the rivers can be rowed or (when I fulfill my new life aim of building one) punted. There are several rivers I had never heard of, such as the Chelmer in Essex (flows through Chelmsford, obviously, but Knowles wisely warns against paddling there. At least, for fun).
I came across Pub Paddles when I went into Foyles the other day to kill some time before a press junket important meeting, and devoured it on the train home. Of course, I would have spent a lot less money if I had bought it on Amazon.
With any guide, the first thing you do is look up your favourite places to ensure the writer shares your prejudices, so I turned to the Hamble pages. The picture of Swanwick is the archtypical boaty photo of two male bottoms sticking out of a canoe, but there in the background is a rowing boat - none other than Gato Negro, being rowed by her designer and builder Max Taylor, Esquire, Blogger of Bursledon.

Friday 2 March 2012

Socialising afloat

We headed towards Emsworth on Thursday for a late afternoon row, with four people which meant three in a Teifi (Geoff, Barry and Frances) and me in Kittiwake. They went direct, but I headed down to Marker Point where I came across Dark Star moving slowly up-channel with the flood tide and a very small amount of wind. Most sailors fire up the smellynoisyhorriblething at this stage, but Dark Star just floated mid channel taking in the loveliness of the early spring sunset.
I took the shot above and Dark Star took these:
The Langstone Cutters met up at the Blue Bell in Emsworth for a quick one, then headed back. On the way, who should I come up on but Sarah and Beroe. It is amazing how social life on the harbour is.

Thursday 1 March 2012

That Bee Boat

I don't think God intended me to do stitch and glue. 
After the instant destruction of what looked like a decent repair job on the fractured bottom plank of my new Bee, construction paused for the weather to warm to more epoxy-friendly temperatures. On Tuesday, the break was repaired again. Today, the seams were re-stitched with plastic ties and the bow carefully tightened...and tightened...and CRACK! the other bottom plank split.
After a suitable period of self-examination and meditation, I came to the conclusion that I was doing it all wrong. I screwed the bottom planks into the moulds and then forced the bow section up into position, threading the plastic ties through as the gap closed. As a result, brutal stresses build up in the wood.
On re-reading the instructions, I should be sewing the bottom edges of the planks together loosely, placing the pair into the moulds, and parting them so they come to rest in position. This process will, I suppose, allow the bow to adopt its natural shape and avoid critical stresses.
So I have completely undone the boat and will cut two new bow pieces out just as soon as I can locate my jigsaw in the pile of garbage in my shed.