Sunday 30 September 2012

Meet on the Hamble

We had a fabulous row on Saturday, up the River Hamble on which we have not been for far too long. It was a bit of a meet, with members of Langstone Cutters, Hamble River Rowing, the Home Built Boat Rally and a couple of extras foregathering at the Horse & Jockey, Source of the Hamble, for lunch under a brilliant blue autumn sky.
The picture of Bembridge arriving at the H&J (SoH) was captured by Tim O'Connor of the HBBR who very kindly says "the shots of Bembridge's arrival at the pub don't do the magnificence of the actual occasion justice."
Tim also managed to capture the Hamble River Rowers' Bursledon gig storming up river.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Positively the last from Southampton

Just a couple more boats from the Southampton show. Above is a very shiny GRP rowing/sailing/motor boat from Per Nilsson, a company founded by a Swedish sea captain in Calstock, Cornwall over a hundred years ago.
The most evident features of the boat are a big strake along the side and its slight reverse sheer. Now, I am a fan of reverse sheer and its 1930s speedboat look, but you need a firmer line to give character. This half-hearted sheerline makes it look rather lumpy and unnatractive.
Also on display was the Trinity 500, the Sea Cadets' new training boat. It is rotomoulded and rather horrid. You really couldn't row this thing with pride. A boat designed by a committee, probably mostly consisting of media relations advisers, health and safety experts and industrial design gurus.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

More Vikings

It's Vikings all over at the moment. The excellent Neil Oliver was on the box last night with the final chapter of his three-part history called, with unerring accuracy but little imagination, Vikings, and he was filmed rowing a reconstruction of a Viking ocean going ship designed for exploration rather than war.
The ship is shorter and beamier than the long, sleek warships, to cope with Atlantic swells. Still had the shields hung on the gunwales, though.
I suppose it is a bit much to expect an academic on a punishing film schedule to get in a boat and row with perfect technique, and Oliver was disarmingly willing to be caught on camera clashing blades with his neighbour. "Hold on!" he shrieked. "It's all gone terrible!"
But the rest of the crew were no better. If they want me to go to Bergen and give them a few pointers, my rates are very reasonable.

Monday 24 September 2012

More from Southampton

This exquisite Thames racing skiff was built by Michael Dennett at Laleham. Apparently he has a tree of mahogany that he has been using for these boats, which are built in matched pairs for operations like Dittons Skiff and Punting Club.
Several of these skiffs were at the Great River Race. I was impressed by the complex series of actions needed to bring the blades in. In action, they are held down by a twisted cord halfway up the rowlock, so to get them out the entire loom and handle must be slid out and the blade raised over the cord. The rowers could do it in a swift, neat and practiced movement but it must be much easier with a swivel, when you can just turn the blades parallel to the boat and slide the handles forward. Each to his own, I suppose.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Southampton Boat Show Not Plastic Section

Wooden boats from traditional boat builders got a bit more space at the Southanpton Boat Show this year, a bit more than the crowded ghetto the organisers usually allow them anyway. And they seem to be doing OK.
New to the show was Ryan Kearley, a former apprentice of Mark Edwards in Richmond now based in Brighton.
He was showing a 12ft dinghy based on a boat built by the famous Turks boatyard in Kingston-on-Thames (which reminds me, the man who drew me a lovely pint of bitter in the beer tent at the end of the Great River Race was Michael Turk no less).
The main difference is the choice of planking material - sweet chestnut. Ryan pointed out that the wood is used for fencing in Sussex so it must be fairly durable. Durable enough, he says, for a boat that is usually kept on land.
Ryan also explained that he built the hull by eye, using only a few moulds designed for guidance rather than for bending the strakes round. Not many people can do that these days.
I particularly like the square gunmetal swivels and the blades are things of beauty. Can I afford one? Mmmm.
More info is available on Ryan's website.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Great River Race (just one more post)

Passenger 1st Class on Gladys, young Jake Gilbert, took these pics from the bow. Above, the flotilla passes the Shard.
And just in case the memory of just how choppy it was in the Pool of London is fading, here's how it was....

Thursday 20 September 2012

Vikings at the Great River Race

I looked at this thing at the start of the Great River Race and felt very thankful I wasn't going to to be rowing it. The problem is that if you are slow, you miss the tide and spend the last hours battling the ebb+current. They had to be towed to the finish line, I think. It needed a crew of hardened Vikings fuelled by mead and lust, not a bunch of re-enactors that work at desks all week.
Incidentally, those holes in the gunwale are the original 'row-locks', I am led to understand. The Y-shaped jobbies in Gladys are technically called crutches, and the square ones are called swivels.

Monday 17 September 2012

Kingfisher barnstorms Great River Race

Cruelly denied victory last year by the delay at Richmond lock, the Meakins family in their Oughtred-designed skiff Kingfisher (Philip, son Ben and two small family members as cox and passenger, seen above at the start in a picture by Glyn Foulkes) faced a daunting setback at the very beginning of this year's race. 
Philip Meakins writes: "Ben's oar broke at the first pull of the race ! He borrowed some tape from a rescue boat - taped it together and pulled for 3 hours on a short loom - proud daddy or what!"
As you can see from Chris Perkins's great shot above, taken at Richmond Bridge, they recovered and finished second, winning the Four Oared class in a time of 2hr 57min. An outstanding performance.
It has been a busy time for Kingfisher - only a few weeks ago Ben and his new bride Steph rowed off down the Hamble in her, after their wedding on the bank. Congratulations to you both - Ben, keep in time with stroke!

Dghajsas on the Thames

The Maltese dghajsas at the Great River Race were spectacular, with their tall bows and stems and bright paintwork. They could go as well - this one passed Gladys somewhere off Kew, though we never saw the other.
I am told that rowing clubs in Malta employ professional oarsmen at some regattas, to uphold the honour of the club if they have doubts about their A crews to put in a decent time. The rowers that passed us were certainly taking no prisoners.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Gladys hangs on

What a great day. The weather was simply lovely, a cloudless blue sky with a light breeze to keep it nice and cool. If the breeze had been in the east instead of right on the nose it would have been perfect.
Langstone Cutters' Gladys with her crew of Veterans over 60 (from the stern, Geoff Shilling, Chris Bream, Alan Robinson, Mike Gilbert and me), rowed a good time of roughly three hours (no official times yet) and held on to the trophy again. We also got the cup for the fastest Clayton skiff.
Ahead is Coigach Lass, a St Ayles Skiff that had just overtaken us (grrrrr). An impressive performance - the St Ayles skiffs are going to be very competitive in the GRR in future.
The picture was taken by Glyn Foulkes of Hamble River Rowers and there are a lot more here. And we also got on Captain JP's Log.
The Cutters were out in force with seven boats - all three Solent galleys, both Clayton Skiffs and a Teifi. The fastest was Bembridge, but they still came in a couple of minutes behind Gladys (a situation they have sworn to remedy next year. Good luck with that, guys).

Friday 14 September 2012

Great River Race

Gladys and the Codger Crew is entering the Great River Race tomorrow, defending a seven-year run of wins in the Veterans Over Sixty class, and last year's Fastest Clayton Skiff class. If you are on the bank, cheer us on!
To bed now...the bus leaves at 6.00 am in the morning before noon o'clock.

Rowing the Thames for charity

Thames Waterman's Cutter Trinity Tide is rowing 100 miles down the Thames today, in aid of King's College Hospital Charity. The picture shows a training run earlier - for current pics see their Facebook page).
What makes this effort particularly special is that they will finish at the start point of tomorrow's Great River Race, which they are entering (of course).
See you there, guys!
Meanwhile, sponsor Trinity Tide here.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Flying Rowing

Chris Waite sent me a link to this, a video of a hydrofoil sculling shell built at Yale University a few years back.
It has a sliding rigger to keep the weight of the rowing still in the centre of the boat, so the foils don't rock up and down.
Very ingenious, but exactly the sort of thing that doesn't appeal to me in the least. It would be fun for a few minutes, but tire just a little and you are down off the plane and having to row against the drag of both foils as well as the boat.

Monday 10 September 2012

Boat for Sale

A traditional rowing boat built by dockyard apprentices at Devonport has come up on eBay. It's very pretty, though it looks as though it could do with removal of several layers of paint. It is described as a randan, but it seems to have only two rowing positions which would rule out the traditional randan arrangement of three rowers, two with sweep oars and the other with sculls.
I'm quite tempted.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Clayton Skiffs

Clayton skiffs are not much admired in rowing circles, it has to be admitted. They are beamy, heavy and hard work to row. And they are not very pretty. Even one of their biggest fans said to me that all they needed was a couple of taps at the end...
But they have lots of big advantages. They are roomy and the rowing positions are very comfortable. They are very seaworthy and inspire total confidence even in nervous novice crews. And they are strong, secure and practically bullet-proof.
Four Claytons appeared at the recent Manningtree Paddle and Oar Festival. Pictured above are Mabel, Lt Washington and Myrto. Witchoar romped home first - this picture shows us trying to catch her on the homeward leg.
There is a cup for Claytons at the Great River Race, and five entered last year (I don't need to mention who won). 
There are a couple of dozen Claytons around the Thames Estuary and the south coast, but the clubs don't communicate very well. So I have set up a Facebook page for Clayton Skiffies - if you row a Clayton, please 'like' the page and contribute to it. If everyone who uses these remarkable boats gets on the page we might get a scene going!
It is even possible that a new Clayton will be built over the winter. Perhaps these under-rated boats might be in for a resurgence.....

Wednesday 5 September 2012

More Knitting

Italian lifeguards row these neat catamarans Venetian-style. Standing up and facing forwards means they can survey the beach and spot anyone in danger quickly so they can blow their whistles and impress the girls with their virility and importance.
The cats look very practical for getting to swimmers in trouble quickly and hauling them out of the water safely, at least on sunny days on the Med. Would they be suitable for the swift currents, rip tides and surf on Atlantic beaches?

Monday 3 September 2012

Call away the Dghajsa

The Maltese Dghajsa was the taxi of the Grand Harbour in Valletta when it was the headquarters of the British Mediterranean Fleet. This old postcard shows a couple of jack tars going ashore for a jolly.
The Dghajsa (British sailors pronounced it dy'so) was rowed in a very curious way, reflecting a strange amalgam of Maltese and English styles. A single oarsman would row standing up with crossed oars, as in the picture. This would be the obvious thing to do in a protected harbour filled with fast-moving vessels.
Picture by Nick Tynan
When they wanted to go a bit faster, another rower would take one of the oars and row sitting down, facing backwards, to gain the extra power of the legs. The forward-facing oarsman would still be able to steer, of course.
Racing involved two forward and two rearward facing rowers, and they still race like this.
Two Dghajsas are competing in the Great River Race this year - I can't wait to overtake them in Gladys.
The late, great Cyril Tawney featured the Dghajsa in his poignant and moving song, the Ballad of Sammy's Bar, written when he was based in Malta during his time in the submarine service. I heard him sing it at Blackheath Folk Club many years ago - a totally memorable evening.