Thursday 28 February 2013

Rowing the Distance (2)

People have been commenting that the screen of the Talos rowing app featured on yesterday's post consisted of incomprehensible figures.
Well, going out rowing with Mike and Christine in a Teifi with the go-faster carbon oars yesterday, I discovered they are...well...incomprehensible. Couldn't understand what was going on at all. A superb lesson in why one should learn how to use one's equipment before going out on the water.
So today I downloaded another app, BoatCoach, and the screen is totally clear and immediately understandable I'm sure you will agree.
On the other hand, the logo is not nearly as funky:

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Rowing the Distance

A while back I downloaded a thing called Talos Rowing onto my Android phone. It claims to use the satellite navigation and accelerometer to produce all sorts of stats about speed, stroke rate and lots of other things that might improve my technique. So far I haven't even fired it up once, such is my lack of interest in self-improvement. I mean, where is the point?
The latest post on O Dock has inspired me to give it a go, however. He rightly points out that we have forgotten how to walk. I am just as guilty as anyone - the local Tesco is only half a mile away but I always get in the car even if I am only going for a paper and a bottle of wine pure mountain stream water.
So now I am going to use the app even if it is only to log my mileage. I haven't set a target yet, but five miles in an average row is reasonable, and I aim to go out three times a week so that makes 60 miles in a month. I'm sure I can do better than that.
By the way, I really like Talos Rowing's logo:

Thursday 21 February 2013

Pizza Boat for Sale

This is Colscopter's pizza boat, so-called because it was built for less than the price of a takeaway pizza.
The hilarious video relates how the builder knocked it up out of wood from skips, cheap nails and silicone bathroom sealant. Total cost: £7.50.
On launch day in a local canal it works rather well, taking the wake from a passing narrowboat in its stride. He shouted "It's home made!" to the boat's steerer, who can be heard replying "It looks it!"
Some people have no respect.
The boat is now fitted with skis for some unexplained reason, and is now on eBay. Don't bid more than £7.50 for it.

Sunday 17 February 2013

A Thousand Years of History

Caedentes Langstoniensis adepto, in naues impositos navibus apud Bosham et ordine lignorum trans portum.
Langstone Cutters board Mabel and Sallyport at Bosham to row across the harbour.

Thursday 14 February 2013


O Docker opened a can of worms with his comment on yesterday's post on scullying, with advice on how to build a sculling oar by sailor and author Jerome FitzGerald.
FitzGerald shows a sculling oar bent down at the business end to dip the blade in the water and create a sort of waggly propeller - his drawing is on the left.
Chris Waite, who has a goodish deal of practical experience with the Chinese sculling oar known as a yuloh, writes:
"While I agree absolutely with the idea of sculling to get your small/medium/large sailing boat around in a calm, I disagree utterly with several assertions made in Mr FitzGerald’s article," he writes.
The first problem is the location of the bend in the oar. FitzGerald places it in the shaft, between the pivot and the water. But that won't work very well at all - it should be in the loom, between the pivot and the handle, where it is in all Chinese yulohs. "If you put the bend in the blade outboard of the pivot/notch, then much more of the swing on the handle simply goes into rotating the blade, rather than moving it through the water – like using any winding type handle, but backwards. The reason for the bend is to induce alternate angles of attack as the blade swings to and fro and it is actually just a crank – as demonstrated in the ‘Scullmatix’," Chris says.
The first yuloh Chris made, on the left in the picture, had a lovely bend along the entire length of the shaft/loom. It waggled impressively in use, but didn't provide as much forward momentum as anticipated.
His current design (on the right) is a bit less elegant but much more effective. As you can see, all the bend is inboard of the pivot.
The second problem is the angle of the blade in the water, which Fitzgerald says should be as steep as possible, like a propeller, at an angle of at least sixty degrees. "Regarding that sixty degrees, I have tried increasing the depth of the blade and the result is that the boat starts to slow down much after forty-five degrees. I have not worked out the reason yet, but it does," Chris says. "Orientals have been doing this much, much longer than either Jerome FitzGerald or myself and they always have the bend inboard and the blade at a shallow angle."
I personally suspect that the reason a steeply-angled sculling blade does not work very well is that at the ends of the stroke the blade comes to a halt as it changes direction. At that moment, it is actually acting as a brake, slowing the boat down. An oar at a shallow angle will exert much less drag at the ends of the stroke.
In the picture above you can see how Alistair Law sculls his Paradox Little Jim. He did serious mileage in his heavy boat on the HBBR Thames raids using the sculling oar - note the bend in the loom of the oar and the shallow angle of attack.

Wednesday 13 February 2013


The launch celebrations of the St Ives punt next month will feature lessons in the grand old skill of 'scullying', propelling a boat with a single oar over the transom.
I've not had much practice at sculling because you need a boat with a reasonably wide beam and a beefy transom for the leverage to work. Most of my boats have been too long and thin, with the exception of Nessy, which proved to be an ideal platform for the Scullmatix.
But Glyn Foulkes has been doing it for most of his life on the Hamble, where it is very useful for threading through the mass of parked boats to a mooring. This video, shot for Practical Boat Owner, shows him in action after a brief demo by Philip Meakins.

Monday 11 February 2013

Ponto, Pontoon, Punt

Like many words for boats, punt seems to denote something different wherever you go. The word has traveled a goodish way from its roots as the Latin word ponto, meaning ferry boat.
Inland, punts are almost always the familiar flat bottomed, square ended boxes that used to be boats that worked a living, mostly ferrying and fishing. Now they mean lazy summer days with straw boaters, parasols and strawberries.
In Chichester and Portsmouth harbour it is mainly used for gun punts. On the Norfolk Broads they have gun punts but also those fast and frightening sailing punts. But these punts are still very low draft and flattish bottoms.
And, of course, ponto also morphed into pontoon.
On the coast, however, the word punt got completely detached from the flat bottom design and came to mean any small boat used for harbour work or launched off a beach.
In St Ives, the group that revived the Jumbo fishing lugger is on the verge of launching the first St Ives punt built in many years.
The picture to the right (borrowed from that excellent blog 70.8%) shows an original St Ives punt being 'scullied' towards the second new Jumbo, William Paynter, last year.
The new punt is being launched on March 9 with a day of watery activities.
The builder, Jonny Nance, is offering a unique opportunity to get your name on the boat. For a donation, he will carve your name (or a loved-one's) in mirror-writing under one of the thwarts so you will be able to read it by putting a mirror in the bilges. A really nice idea - details here.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Gun Punts

Getting the gig in the water today I met some waterfowlers coming back from an expedition in their gun punts. I've long been fascinated by these legendary boats but never seen any in full working trim.
The first thing I noticed that has been absent from the museum displays at Stalham and Havant is the thick 'breeching rope' running from a shackle at the bow to either side of the gun's breech. The rope absorbs the energy of the recoil, so the boat does not leap backwards like a startled porpoise but just drifts back by a couple of feet.
The gun is held on a shotgun licence, which shows a reassuring amount of common sense on the part of the police. After all, a gun longer than most naval cannon these days is not going to be an easy weapon to use in a bank robbery.
The gun is loaded with a charge of shot (not scrap metal), wadding and a bag of black powder. It is fired by a percussion cap tapped by a lock just like an old musket.
The guy on the left kindly got in his punt and sculled off to the other side of the marina to demonstrate how they approach their target, lying down in the boat using a paddle. The small frontal area and matt grey colour scheme make the boat virtually invisible to the unsuspecting duck.
But actually shooting birds is only secondary. They want to keep the sport going especially in Chichester Harbour where, they maintain, punt gunning was first invented back in Victorian times. And good luck to them, I say.

Friday 8 February 2013

Gig Wash

The Polish car wash guys round the corner from the workshop where we are restoring the boats had an unusual job this morning. They did a great job cleaning all the accumulated crud out of Spirit of Langstone ready for weekend rowing.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Gigs off Northney

I love it when you spot a picture you didn't know you had, hidden in full sight in a shot of a large amount of sky and sea with a couple of tiny boats in the middle. Zoom in, straighten, crop creatively and something nice suddenly pops out.
This shot was taken as I was rowing Kittiwake around off Langstone on the day the gigs were renamed. It didn't look much on the screen of thumbnails, but zooming in revealed a study in sterns, with splashing.
The magic of digital photography on websites is that whereas this shot will probably make a rather uninspiring photo print, on screen it looks great despite reducing the resolution horribly to make sure it loads reasonably quickly.
So I used it for the masthead of the Langstone Cutters Gig Club website.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Cold Weather Gear

The Swedes say there is no such thing as cold weather, only inappropriate clothing. Well, I've been getting myself kitted out appropriately for sitting in the coxswain's seat in the thoroughly British winter we've been having.
The first purchase was a pair of thermal undies from Marks & Spencer (of course - does anyone else actually sell undies?). Merino wool. Soft, supremely comfy and far too warm to row in. For coxing, ideal.
Next up was a Berghaus mid-layer to replace a useless and too-small windproof that someone got me for Christmas. Don't you hate having to pay extra for the thing you really want? But it is lovely and warm and has a nice pocket for my GPS (a useful bit of kit that also acts as a mobile phone).
This weekend I hit the jackpot with a set of Musto foulies, a jacket and a pair of salopettes. This is serious kit. Wind and water seem not to penetrate at all. Loads of pockets for stuff, the only irritating thing being that you have to rip open a velcro pocket cover to get your hankerchee out. I have had to resort to stuffing it up my sleeve, something I haven't done since I was a child.
You will notice the Langstone Adventure Rowing logo embroidered neatly on the breast. That it is company issue kit. I am qualifying as a rowing coach (level 2, fixed seat) so I can train crews for Channel crossings.
I spent the weekend in Weymouth on the first two days of the course, doing training techniques, first aid and man overboard drills. I learned a very great deal and met some tremendous people from local gig clubs.
This kit is going to get worn a lot.