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.