Sunday 29 December 2013

Winter Weather

Open rowing started at 07.30 today, a gruesome time. A bunch of photographers were shivering outside the pub as I arrived, and one of them sent over this wonderful snap of Langstone Lady rowing out towards Marker point.
On the way, we overtook the pilot gig Spirit of Langstone.
I love this time of year.
But later this week, I might be less in love with winter if the weather forecast is even half correct....

Saturday 28 December 2013

A Row of Two Halves

Went rowing with the Dinghy Cruising Association today, from Itchenor to Sandy Point, the spit of land on the Hayling Island side of Chichester Harbour mouth.
At Itchenor, two Mirror dinghies were almost rigged. Here is David Sumner with his (note the home made gaff rig with topsail) with Cliff Martin and Sarah Sorensen in the background. The sun was shining and the wind was a gentle westerly. Lovely weather indeed.
They had to beat into the wind down the channel, so I was considerably faster in my sliding seat boat Snarleyow. I tried getting up the rythe to My Lord's Pond but it was almost exactly low water and the channel was too narrow.
On the way back I noticed a big yellow can marked 'Black Can' in big letters. Shows what happens when a universally-known local landmark gets replaced by someone with no sense of history.
Notice the nasty big black cloud in the photo. Half an hour later, having lunch on the beach, a front blew in with a vengeance, driving rain before it. Luckily, we could shelter under the balconies of Hayling Island Sailing Club.
When the rain stopped, I decided to hightail it for home through the gathering gloom before the next gust came in. Several showers could be seen coming up the Channel outside the harbour mouth.
By this time the tide had turned and I had both wind and current pushing me along. I got the boat strapped to the roof of the car just before the next shower. Wish I could manage such brilliant timing every trip....

Thursday 26 December 2013

Boxing Day with Langstone Cutters

Went rowing in the pilot gig Heart of Hayling on Boxing Day morning, a lovely crisp windless midwinter day. Chris Bream played the mouth organ.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Cruising Rowing Boat

Paul Fisher has sent me a design he has had on his drawing board for a while, from one of those projects that starts with enthusiasm and then goes quiet. It is a rather nice skiff based on the American Whitehall, with smooth lines, a transom small enough to stay out of the water most of the time but to support the weight of the larger passenger or cox when necessary. She also has enough freeboard to cope with Chichester Harbour and the Solent.
Paul has added side buoyancy tanks that support the rowing thwarts while enabling them to be adjusted as necessary and to be easily removed to release lots of space for camping.
Now, the only thing missing to make it a nice vessel for joining DCA events is a sailing rig to allow the rower to take a break when the wind is on the beam or abaft.
The famous St Lawrence River Skiff has a spritsail but no rudder, being steered by adjusting the sail and your position, like a windsurfer. This appeals very much to my minimalist instincts. Clint Chase in the US builds a lovely kit for his skiff Bobby - how does she perform, Clint? Does sailing such a long, thin boat involve much involuntary swimming?
Would mounting a windsurfer rig in the bow work? I have a sneaking suspicion this is much more complex than it seems. Getting a windsurfer sail mounted and dismounted appears to involve massive amounts of faffing about on large areas of lawn. And the foot of the sail wouldn't clear the gunwale unless the mast was stepped on a thwart.
What do you all think - would a simple rig mounted forward like a catboat provide enough propulsion to be worthwhile? Would it improve matters to use an oar to steer with?

Monday 23 December 2013

Up the Creek with Four Paddles

Taking a 30ft galley up a narrow winding river with oars sticking out either side is not easy, so on our jaunt up the Hamble to the curry house at Botley we took paddles as well. On the way up, we had no cox so I sat in the cox's seat and steered with a paddle. On the way down, I took Dragonfly and her crew transferred to Avery A, so they had a cox. Mind you, steering a 30ft boat at low speed with a tiny rudder is tricky, so a good deal of 'left hand down a bit' was needed.

Saturday 21 December 2013

More Carbon Blades

Talking of carbon oars, I am finally refurbishing the second hand pairs I bought for Langstone Cutters' sculling boats. 
The rubbish paint has been stripped off, and the question now is: what is the best paint to use on a plastic surface?
Yesterday, by a startling coincidence, I used another pair of the identical blades, which were made in Germany and supplied by George Sims sometime in the last millenium.
They were fitted in Dragonfly, a lovely double skiff designed by Ed Wilkinson and built in strip plank. She is slender and quick but weathercocks rather a lot in a bit of wind, probably because of the relatively high freeboard. I rowed her back down the Hamble from Botley against a brisk wind funneling up the valley (more on this trip later).
I asked the owners (Ed's mum and dad) about the paint they had used on the very smart pairs of Sims blades, and they said it was ordinary enamel. 
So unless any of you experts out there have any better ideas, my blades will be coated in the residue of the vivid scarlet paint I bought for Snarleyow's wooden oars.
Dragonfly at the top of the Hamble, with the Meakins' Kingfisher, an Ian Oughtred design.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Carbon Blades

Oars are such a nightmare. To carry, to photograph, to wrap, to send in the post....
Anyway, Steve Woods has a number of practically-new carbon blades for sale. They have been used two or three times in our abortive initiative to get Langstone Cutters onto sliding seats. The boats had to go back and the oars now need to go too.
He has four thee pairs of Braca standard Macon sculls, list price £700/pair. He would like £500 a pair. £280 per pair, saving 30 per cent off list price [update from Steve].
Steve also wants to dispose of a training plank, a rather strange flat object with outriggers and a sliding seat, designed to help new rowers get used to the sliding seat action before facing the extra challenge of a cocktail-stick boat. Invaluable for clubs. It is listed on Janousek's price list at £1,470 but can be yours for £1,175.
While I'm on the subject of sales, Steve's neighbour Sadie is selling her immaculate Salter double skiff 'Holly'. Complete with two pairs of sculls and a combi trailer, Holly is a snip at £999. (Actually, Sadie said she wants a grand but if Tesco says lopping all those zeroes off the price makes a difference, it's clearly worth doing).
If you are interested in any of these items, email me and I will put you in touch.

Monday 9 December 2013

Vote for Rowing!

Classic Boat Awards 2014 are coming up, and two of my favourite new rowing boats are nominated, so it's time to get voting. Perhaps if they get enough votes for oar-power they will feature some in their pages instead of endless glossy pics and gushing prose about museum-piece gentlemen's yachts and obsolete power boats.
In the 'Spirit of Tradition under 40ft' category, the St Ayles Skiff is nominated. This boat is not only beautiful, seaworthy and fabulous to row, she is also a phenomenon. Scottish Coastal Rowing has ignited community rowing in Scotland and has already spread round the world. So vote for it now!
The 'Traditional New Build' category includes the St Ives Sculler (sic - actually punt), a traditionally-built recreation of a type of boat that had died out in the wild. Two are now on the water, which with the new St Ives Jumbo fishing craft are the source of much local pride, and have also been the focus of highly successful regatta events, so vote for her too!
The awards voting page is here.

Friday 6 December 2013

Tudor Eel Fishing

Yes, I've been watching the telly again. I blame these early nights. Tudor Monastery Farm is a great prog, and not just because most of it is filmed at my favourite local museum, the Weald and Downland just up the road.
"Eels Ahoy! Thar she blows!"
This week, the rumbunctious Ruth Goodman went fishing for eels with a basket maker called Simon Cooper (it is about 7 minutes in). They made traditional eel traps out of withies, willow wands that grow conveniently at the water's edge, and set forth in a rather wonderful punt, a massive flat-bottomed boat with lots of room in the middle for the eel traps.
The oars are rowed against single thole pins, held in place with a strop or grommet (known as an estrop in Catalan or a humliband in Scotland).
It looks fun - look out for the moment an eel climbs out of the keeper basket and freaks Ruth out for being 'far too snakey'.
At this point the look of the boat began to ring bells...I had seen it somewhere before...and indeed it is Mike 'Kipperman' Smylie's Severn punt, seen here at Beale Park in 2005.
The river looks fabulous too - anyone know which river it is? The upper reaches of the Severn, maybe?

John Lockwood has kindly informed me that Simon Cooper is much more than a 'basket maker', as described in the programme. He is a farmer, fisherman, boatbuilder and conservationist as well. The Severn punt is part of a collection of traditional fishing boats - see the Salmon Boats site for details. And take a look at how flax can be used for skin-on-frame boats such as curraghs here.
On looking at the Beale Park picture again, is that Simon standing next to it?

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Rowing a Paddleboard

How about this for a versatile boat? It is a paddleboard with a sliding rigger rowing unit strapped onto it, so you can paddle or row.
It's called the OarBoard, and is made by Whitehall Rowing and Sail in the US, using an all-plastic chassis and powder-coated aluminium riggers for resistance to salt water. It can be strapped to any paddleboard.
Cleverly, the sliding rigger keeps your bum stationary on the board to avoid the hobby-horsing that would be inevitable if the rower's body was shifting along the board all the time.
The staff at the stern is for a camera or light.
The only downside is that it costs the thick end of a grand, without the paddleboard or oars. Looks like enormous fun, though.
The designer, Harold Aune, writes in his latest newsletter:
"Just last weekend, we were out shooting video and stills with Andrea Guyon sculling an Oar Board unit on an ATX touring-style paddle board. We got some great shots and at one point a Dragon boat team paddled by and an impromptu race started. Andrea required only about half power to match speed and didn't want to see anyone overstrain themselves so she took it easy on them."
Congratulations, Andrea, but dragon boats deserve no mercy. Next time, THRASH THEM.

Monday 2 December 2013

Dimbleby Junior Rows

The agony that is Britain and the Sea continues. Dimblebore has a major talent for the crashing platitude. But this time his son rowed him ashore and demonstrated a nice rowing action, arms straight at the catch and a good finish. Well done that man.

Christmas is Coming

A memento mori for rowers.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Dimbleby Round My Parts

And who should be rowing up to Bosham but David Dimbleby, in his latest TV docu-thing Britain and the Sea, yet another farrago of high mind and middle brow almost as bad as his previous effort Seven Ages of Britain.
At least he takes to the oars again, bless him, in the rather attractive tender to his repro gaffer Rocket, fitted out with nice bronze crutches (the technical name for that rowlock shape) and traditional sculling oars with leathers.
So it would be churlish to point out that he was rowing with one leather out of the crutch, a good way to damage the shaft very quickly. And the fact that the stitching is underneath the oar where it will be worn away by the crutch shows he has the blades the wrong way round.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Stay-at-home Rowing

Took a novice crew out early on Saturday morning in adventure gig Deborah (one of the plastic pilot gigs used to train cross-Channel rowers). The two proper wooden gigs Heart of Hayling and Spirit of Langstone swept past, powered by crews training for next year's regatta season. They looked great.
On the downside, I realised that I haven't been on waters further than six miles from Langstone for far too long. I need to get out more.
While I plan something, have any readers had any good rowing adventures lately? Send me the details, with lots of pictures!

Sunday 17 November 2013

A Question

A question for you experts out there: Does hanging a plastic owl in the shrouds deter gulls from pooping all over your boat?
(Picture taken in Emsworth channel today).

Friday 15 November 2013

Claydon Skiffs (cont)

The next step in the colourful if obscure history of the Claydon skiff was the spread of the type to Gravesend, the town on the Thames where the Indian princess Pocahontas died.
Gravesend has a very long established regatta, first recorded as long ago as 1698. After the war, the Town Regatta Committee bought four traditional clinker-built, 21ft skiffs for racing, including the Long Ferry Race from Westminster to Gravesend. This punishing event retraced the route of a ferry granted exclusively to the watermen of Gravesend by Royal Charter in 1401. Winning boats were presented with decorated backboards (the backs of the passenger seat), several of which hang in local rowing clubs and pubs to this day.
The wooden boats eventually fell victim to time and were replaced by a number of Claydons, but by this time the name seems to have morphed to Clayton.
The hull was slightly different as well, and usually regarded as slower than the Felixstowe boats. For several years they had a slightly better handicap at the Great River Race but that seems have been eliminated these days.
According to the Gravesend RC website: 
The popularity of this type of rowing lives on, with crews of both sexes and all ages formed from local clubs and pubs. Today there is still much cross-over between the two types of rowing, with many Gravesend RC members competing in skiff events, and many skiff rowers continuing to train and race throughout the winter as members of the rowing club.
Gravesend brought one of their Claydons down to Langstone Regatta in 2009 and whopped us round the course, but it seems that most of the star rowers of that crew now row sliding seat coastal boats, and no Gravesend-based Claydons have been entered in the GRR for some time. A great pity - does anybody know what is happening to them?

(Photos from the Flickr stream of Paul Johnston)

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Better camera weather

Amazing what a bit of extra light does for image quality. Went out in Lottie, one of the Teifi skiffs, at 09.00 this morning and met Christine Ball getting a bit of paddleboarding in before work. That's the Mill and the Royal Oak behind.
It was so warm I was down to my T-shirt in no time. What month is it?

Monday 11 November 2013


Cap'n JP at has been comparing all his fancy cameras, including a Canon DSLR, an incredibly compact mirrorless Sony NEX, an Olympus water/dust/shockproof jobby and his Google Nexus 5 smartphone (only just out - what a slave to tech he is).
I seem to have been taking only my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone out recently. Yesterday on the evening tide off Langstone I discovered that its low light performance is
In fact, the image looks like something Edvard Munch might have knocked out on one of his less optimistic days at the easel. 
I must resume packing my Ricoh splashproof camera. Or possibly get one of they Nokia Lumias with the 41 megapixel sensor.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Yet another big bloke in a small boat

This is John Konstanzer of North Texas rowing his new rowboat, built to Jim Michalak's WeeVee design. It is just 7.5ft long, with a deep V hull after which the design is named.
John gives an excellent account of the build and launch at Duckworks Magazine. He reports that getting in is a bit of a challenge, which is to be expected with a boat that has very little below the waterline at the edges, but that she has a remarkable turn of speed for such a short boat. Jim himself also noted this.
But the really nice thing about boats this size is that they are so easy to take to the water and launch, allowing you to grab those opportunities that might otherwise pass you by.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Early Days of the Claydon Skiffs

More Claydon myth-busting.
I had been told the mould had been taken off a Thames workboat used for ferrying passengers across the river and transferring crew to ships. But according to Keith Webster, it could have been from anywhere:
Hi Chris
I did actually speak to one of the organisers back then. If I remember right his name was Len Saunders and I think he was involved with Felixtowe RC. Len told me that the skiff mould was actually found in a field & it wasn't clear what it originally was. I have a funny feeling that it may have been a hull mould for a broads sailing boat as the shape is very similar in style.
In the end some 13 were built and enjoyed quite a good racing circuit centred on Harwich, the Stour, Orwell and Deben rivers plus the Walton Backwaters.
It would seem that each skiff was owned by a separate small club but the circuit was organised basically by the two founders, when one of them died his mate tried to pass the baton on but nobody would help, And so the race series died out and the fleet became fragmented.
Roy Alexander was one of the original Claydon rowers. He remembers the fabulous sensation of starting a race in a line of aggressively rowed skiffs:
Hi Chris,
My recollection is very sketchy, The Claytons were made by workers in the dock basin at Felixstowe who formed clubs and raised funds to have a former made and as more people became interested more skiffs were made off it. In their heyday there were more crews than boats.
The men raced first then the women, followed by the boys. Most of the men had very physical jobs: like Felixarc who were deep sea divers, tug boat crews, trawlermen. rugby players, coastguards, life boat men. I've been in a race with 15 starters and for the first half mile it was like a wall of water and foam, it was an amazing feeling all aches and pains gone the adrenalin running high.
Kind regards
Paul Norris rowed in a Felixarc Claydon that won the Great River Race back in the 1990s.
Hello, I was in the last Felixarc crew that raced and won the GRR; unfortunately the boat was sold soon after. Myself plus Dave Robinson (he was the one who broke the oar during a big ten) and our amazing cox are looking to buy a boat and bring the team back to the waters. Any knowledge of one for sale? 
Does anyone know of a Claydon that is unloved, unrowed and possibly available? Let me know and I will get you in contact. Alternatively, I am told that a mould still exists, so new Claydons could be produced.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Down to the Harbour Mouth

Another brief break in the stormy autumn weather this morning so I took Millie, one of our Teifi skiffs, to the mouth of Langstone Harbour and had a warming cup of coffee at the beach hut cafe.
As I was returning to the boat, a rider took his horse to water for a paddle in the sheltered water behind a sand spit, a clear photo opportunity.When I got home, I was surprised to find this image on my phone. It is a feature called 'auto-awesome' that detects a series of similar shots and combines them into an action shot.
Normally I'm not a fan of my phone doing stuff all by itself without my say-so but just this once the results are, while not quite awesome, at least pleasing.
On the horizon you can see a queue of ships waiting to take the tide up to Southampton.
The trip was a reminder of the need to consider the wind carefully before going out. It was a calm F2 when I left the Mill at 08.30, but the forecast was for windier conditions in the afternoon so I went upwind through Langstone Harbour. When I started out from the cafe it was blowing up considerably and I was blown back.
A lady member of the club took her own boat out but went downwind. She couldn't make headway coming back and had to abandon the boat on the foreshore near the coastal path. We will have to go along tomorrow and help her lift it back in.

Thursday 31 October 2013

The Birth of the Claydon Skiff

The Claydon skiff came about when people in the maritime industries of Felixstowe and Harwich wanted to row and compete.
Philip Cunningham has kindly sent a clip from a newspaper of the time, sadly with the name cut off but I think it must have been a company newsletter.
The author, Don Black, wrote:
Tugmen of Felixstowe have commissioned, in one gala day, the £3.2m tug Trimley – and a fleet of skiffs to race in their leisure time.
[The tug was remarkable for being crewed by just five men.]
That is the same number needed for each of the five racing skiffs, which this summer will be rasing money for good causes along the coast and estuaries of Essex and Suffolk.
The glass fibre hulls of these 24ft craft come from a mould discovered by chance in a field, then fitted out by tugmen of Alexandra and Felixarc companies at Felixstowe and boatmen and shore staff of Harwich Haven Authority.
Each insured for £3,500, they will be seen racing for RNLI funds from Walton-on-the-Naze to Harwich on June 15 and from Clacton to Walton on July 27.
Their dedication by the Rev. Alan Rawe, from Felixstowe International Seafarers' Centre was followed by naming ceremonies that brought a touch of sadness to an otherwise sunny day.
One commemorates Cliff Marks, among six men in the tug Hawkstone who were all lost in a storm in the Thames estuary.
Another remembers Russel Marsh, only son of Pauline and Brian Marsh, chief engineer of the tug Ganges. Russel lost his fight for life at the young age of seven. The boat bearing his name has been given by his mother.
First to be named was the Alf Saunders, who died shortly after retiring from a lifetime of service on the Thames as a freeman of the river and at Felixstowe as an Alexandra captain.
Representing Felixarc RC is a skiff named Gary John Gray [who] died in a tragic road accident in 1963 at the age of 17.
The fifth skiff belongs to a club formed by boatmen and shore staff of Harwich Haven Authority and is named Vicson, for their chief executive Capt. Victor Sutton.

No indication as to why they were known as Claydon skiffs, but Claydon is a village on the River Gipping near Ipswich.
More on the early days of the Claydons later.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Bunking off again....

The next chapter of my history of the Claydon Skiffs has been delayed yet again, this time by a weather window that could not be ignored. Took Lotty out at 08.00 for a quick thrash to Marker, the post on the right with the beehive on top. Such a contrast with last weekend. And the forecast for next weekend is fairly rubbish too. Got to take an opportunity when you can at this time of the year.
Here is the view towards Emsworth with the South Downs behind.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Seax Gig ready to splash

The Seax gig is finally ready for launch, and she looks superb. Designer and builder Keith Webster sounds fairly chipper too, as well he might for he has found a home for it (but that isn't him in the picture - that is Adrian Mather, rower and unicyclist supreme). Keith writes:
"There is a bit of a rush to get her on the water as a small group of us have started a new club, Southend Coastal rowing club. If she goes well it looks like I may have a couple to build in short order.
Cheers, Keith"
The founding of another rowing club is always good news. Southend CRC aims to provide all sorts of rowing from sliding seat racing to casual pottering. They even have a stated ambition to do the Celtic Challenge, a 90 mile race from Ireland to Wales for certified lunatics only.
The club already has a sliding seat coxless pair and the Seax gig will soon join the fleet. 

Sunday 27 October 2013

Clayton or Claydon?

At Langstone Cutters we have always called our big grp boats Clayton Skiffs. Everyone does. I assumed that the word 'Claydon' on the silver cup awarded at the Great River Race was simple engraver error.
Philip Cunningham of Manningtree Witchoars has sent me a clipping from the East Anglian Daily Times dated June 3, 1991, which describes the first race of five new 'Claydon' skiffs up the River Deben.
The fleet was made for the Alexandra Towing Company in Felixtowe. Crews from many local companies rowed them extremely aggressively.
A couple of members of the original crews have been in touch, so more tomorrow.

Friday 25 October 2013

Another Big Man in a Small Boat

Remember my Simbo, the one sheet boat from the designs at Hannu's Boatyard?
Now a Californian named Ralph has launched another of Hannu's amazing designs, the Micro Auray Punt.
Filmed at Shoreline Park, Mountain View, the boat handles his 6ft frame with aplomb.
It looks like a super job. Ralph even made the oars himself, but as he used cheap pine he doesn't expect them to last very long.
The launch is reported in the 'Splash' section of Duckworks Magazine, which also features one of Hannu's single sheet kayaks.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

The Open Boat

The Open Boat presses so many of my buttons it is like the Lost Chord of rowing for me. It is extremely clever and favours simplicity, economy and speed of construction over any considerations of craftsmanship or good taste. And the inventor, Jim Flood, is a rowing coach in Reading. As I only this Sunday qualified as a rowing coach (albeit at lowly Level 2) this makes him a comrade in arms.
It is made of a metre-wide, inch-thick sheet of a foam plastic normally used to crate up electronic equipment for shipping. Jim Flood simply folds the ends up, welds them together to make a bow and stern, and attaches lengths of pine as gunwales. I particularly like the way he doesn't bother with fussy details like sanding or varnishing - when the boat hits the water all the wood is finished exactly as it left B&Q.
The Open Boat seems to row just fine (make sure you watch part 2 of the video here) but there are some technical issues that might need to be addressed before the design can be regarded as totally finished, which are discussed in depth by the experts on the excellent Duckworks forum.
Jim Flood has a link on his site to the extraordinary sturgeon-nose canoe of the American Ktunaxa Nation, which may indicate a shape that would bring the bow up and reduce the hogging in the centre of the boat that the building method tends to create.
Jim's aim is to create a sliding seat rowing boat for developing countries, but I want to know how this method can be adapted for beamier fixed seat boats. It would involve either obtaining sheets of foam wider than a metre or welding two sheets together I suppose. Any ideas?

Saturday 19 October 2013

Pair rowing

Pair rowing is something that scares me rigid, to be honest. In a fine boat particularly it is a recipe for tipping over and getting all wet, and coxless pair rowing is a recipe for hitting the bank then tipping over and getting all wet.
So I got in the lovely century old pair skiff at St Denys Sailing and Rowing Club on the Itchen with some trepidation. Luckily we had a cox in the form of boatbuilder, canoeist and sailor supreme Graham Neil, and John Gingell in the bow is a coastal rower and knows what he is doing so all was well. After an initial wobbly period while we got used to each other things went swimmingly, by which I mean we did not have to do any swimming at all.
Love the gull....

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Breakfast Row

Rowed with the Cutters in Langstone Lady to Emsworth this morning. Had superb bacon sarnie with coffee for under a fiver in the Deck cafe. Can't really believe how fabulous the weather is. Makes skiving off work totally justified.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Drop-in Rallying

There had been a good deal of discussion of the weather forecast in the week before the Dinghy Cruising Association rally.
The plan, as far as there is ever a plan for DCA rallies, was to cruise in Chichester Harbour on Saturday, meeting up in the evening for a pint at the Crown and Anchor at Dell Quay, sleeping in their boats overnight. Everyone would have time for another day's cruising on Sunday before pulling out at their various start points.
As it turned out, Saturday was lovely. I had promised to coach a novice crew in a Langstone Cutters pilot gig in the morning, and when we returned to Northney Marina who should be clagging up the slipway pontoon but DCA president Roger Barnes in Avel Dro, an Ilur dinghy designed by Francois Vivier.
So I had unexpectedly joined the first part of the rally.
Towards evening I put Snarleyow on the roof of the car and drove to Dell Quay. It was a fabulous autumnal evening as I rowed down to Itchenor.
Half way down I spotted a familiar sail so on the way back up I went over. It was Cliff in his Mirror, a bit discouraged by the lack of wind. With a huge sigh he gloomily concluded that he might as well row the rest of the way.
I pushed on ahead and had the boat back on the car by the time Cliff arrived on the pontoon. We repaired to the pub for beer. And who should turn up later but Ian Hylton and his son Will, who had come up from Itchenor in their Wayfarer.
Today, it rained all day as predicted.
The proper sailors had to get back in the wet. As a rower and part-time, drop-in rallyist, I got to stay in my nice warm bed.

Monday 7 October 2013

Autumn on the Hamble

Autumn brings spectacular colour changes to the woods that line the upper reaches of the Hamble river, so on Sunday it was off to join Hamble River Rowers in one of their Bursledon Gigs to row up to the Horse & Jockey for lunch.
It was another spectacularly lovely day, sunny but not oppressively hot. So lovely, in fact, that I failed to take any pictures of the colours just appearing in the woods. This is a snap of Jim Williams coxing with a bit of wood behind.
Getting in the boats at the pontoon, I was placed in stroke due to my leg length being deemed excessive for any other seat. Jim drew my attention to a football in the bottom of the boat which apparently is an improvised stretcher for shorter rowers.
Now, it looks very simple and effective, its round shape allowing it to sit in the bilges very securely, but it can't be optimal. Surely one's feet must tend to slide off on either side and preventing stroke from developing full power.
I had to put my feet on the edge of the cox's seat, but found that the lack of a proper stretcher meant my heels were crammed into the bilges and it was really difficult to row properly. How important a good footrest is - pressing down with the feet is where all the power comes from.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Lunch at Bosham

Everyone was saying they are getting out a lot lately because you never know if it might not be the last opportunity until next spring.
I put in at Dell Quay and rowed round to Bosham where I had a simple but nutritious luncheon of sardines mashed with a fork in the tin, a hunk of cheese with two home-grown apples and a handful of assorted nuts. I would like to claim that this was a scientifically designed balanced meal but actually I was running late and just grabbed stuff at random on the way to the door.
On the way back I noticed that water has been allowed in to the new salt marsh at Cobnor, intended to create an inter-tidal habitat that will go a small way to reversing the losses of recent years. The heavily-used footpath now passes over two new bridges. It all looks very impressive.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Weedy Water

I've often expressed the opinion that there is no perfect boat, but every boat has its water. Proved that today taking Snarleyow up the Arun.
The Arun valley is fabulously beautiful, partly because the river floods every springwhich deters developers but also because it is almost all the personal property of the Duke of Norfolk, who lives in Arundel Castle.
The only defect is that every year the reeds grow from the banks towards the centre, almost meeting in the middle in the upper reaches.
Last time I rowed from Pullborough to Pallingham, where further progress on the old Wey and Arun Canal is impossible, it was spring and the reeds had died back over the winter leaving a relatively free channel. And I was in a tiny boat, the single-sheet mini-punt Simbo.
This time, I took my sliding seat skiff Snarleyow with its long oars and outriggers. And because it is autumn, the reeds are at their most extensive.
Grum of Port-na-Storm had no trouble in his kayak. And Chris Waite, boat designer supreme, could stand up in Octavia and paddle - though he still had trouble when the channel narrowed to under a yard or so.
In the really narrow stretches, both of us turned round and went in reverse, meaning of course that we were facing the right way and could see where we were going.
It was hard going, though, especially at the places where it was so narrow the only way to propel the boat was to use an oar like a huge, unwieldy paddle.
The outriggers were continually catching on the reeds and low-hanging branches. At one place where long stringy weeds had taken hold, because I was backing down the sharp stern caught the weeds and the boat was dragged back horribly. On the way back I turned round and went forwards, the curved bow slipping over the reeds as god intended.
Lesson learned: Snarleyow wins all the prizes on unobstructed waters, but a canoe is the thing in streams like this.
Finally, at long last we made it back to the delightful White Hart at Stopham Bridge, where a bunch of Germans took this picture. A bit Last of the Summer Wine, but what the hell.
More on this event at Port-na-Storm.