Saturday 30 March 2013


We cut across a very curious line of waves coming out of Dell Quay yesterday. The tide was coming in up the channel in a north-easterly direction, and the bitterly cold north-easterly wind was blowing straight over it. The result was a band of standing waves where the channel turns to the north. It was only fifty yards or so wide, but really quite choppy. 
You can just make it out as a line across the crapphone pic.
That's Dell Quay behind, with the crane that chose that very day to plonk all the yachts stored on the staithe for the winter onto the slipway we wanted to use. We had to wait for a whole HALF AN HOUR for the water to reach the other slipway. But the sailing club gave us coffee which was nice of them.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

A Paul Fisher skiff in Canada

Sailstrait, a serial boatbuilder and yacht owner on the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia on Canada's East Coast, has started his first proper rowing boat.
It is a Medway skiff from the pen of Paul Fisher, a design that combines simplicity and elegance in a way that is really appealing for me. 
And I love the way Sailstrait has put out the flags to mark the day the hull came together.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Ade Goes Gigging

There's been a queue of fading comics heading for the West Country recently to make a bit of easy cash filming soft features for the tourist board. First it was those three guys in a boat that used to do satire, then that woman who was on Jonathan Creek for a bit, and now Adrian Edmondson who was in a couple of sitcoms that I never bothered watching back in the 1980s.
Anyway, in Thursday's Ade in Britain he went to Cornwall and looked at pilot gigs. First he visited Peter Williams, a gig builder in Bodinnick, where he looked at a gig from 1930 that Peter is restoring. He even 'assisted' in a bit of restoration, nailing on a bit of gunwale and steaming a frame. Clearly it was all done for the cameras but actually rather interesting.
Then Ade went rowing with the Newquay women, which was exceptionally brave of him. Not only did he seem to the timing well, he even managed to lift his loom in time to avoid catching a crab, which was slick. Didn't avoid breaking a pin, though.
Keep it up, Ade, and you might lose some of that tum.....
The episode is available here.

Friday 22 March 2013

The Fitzgerald Sculling Oar in Action

Cliff Martin kindly sent me a video of him sculling with his home-made Fitzgerald pattern sculling oar.
The oar came in for some critical examination when I posted about it recently. Fitzgerald places the crank in the oar below the rowlock, which goes counter to the traditional yuloh design which is bent above the rowlock.
Cliff made his Fitzgerald pattern oar 'from stolen hardwood'. He writes:
"The video shows Sarah rowing with a pair of Plastimo 8 footers while I scull with the Fitzgerald pattern oar over the transom. The boat is a Wayfarer, heavily laden with cruising gear and being rowed into a headwind. Towards the end of the video it seems as though Sarah was barely able to keep up with the Plastimo oars. I think you will agree that it is a long time since you saw a Wayfarer being rowed so quickly."
Sarah is a strong rower despite having to use Plastimos, which like the lives of the poor are nasty, brutish and short, so I suspect Cliff may be contributing less to the speed than he thinks, but the performance is impressive nevertheless.
Steve Bradwell shot the vid at the lovely Wootton Creek, IoW. Which reminds me, I have been mulling a row to Wootton for some time. If the weather improves this must happen soon.

Thursday 21 March 2013

St Ives Punt Launched

Here's a great video of the launch of the new St Ives punt, Sija, with the builder Jonny Nance giving a bravura demonstration of the art of scullying. Apparently he was giving lessons within five minutes of the boat hitting the water.
Jonny uses a traditional straight oar for scullying, as is right and proper for such a traditional boat. Tomorrow, I return to the vexed question of the correct shape for a Chinese sculling blade....

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Duck Punt For Sale

Andrew Berry has drawn my attention to this very nice looking duck punt on eBay. It was professionally made by Littens of Beccles and even comes with a sailing rig, though that looks a bit home made with a cut-down Mirror sail (is there some sort of law that mandates cut-down Mirror sails for every home-made rig?).
There are riggers for rowlocks but no apparent mounting for a gun.
Colin Willock describes how a punt is very handy for wildfowling even without the monster cannon, as it can be used to transport the shooter out to the best locations before dawn, and get him back again after the tide has risen.
Currently, bidding seems to have stalled at £121.00 but as several people seem to be interested I imagine there will be a last-minute surge. Under a week to go...

Monday 18 March 2013

St Ives Punt Sija

The St Ives punt has been named Sija with due solemnity.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Subsequent Saturdays

A week ago, I 'navigated' my way through thick fog for the first time. Out on the Solent, however, the sun shone and we headed for the Victorian forts that were built at enormous cost to defend Portsmouth but whose only practical use turned out to be as a backdrop for Dr Who's battles with the Cybermen.
Yesterday, instead of a flat calm we had a F7/8 gale with driving rain. The crews training for the London to Paris challenge (now apparently rebranded 'the Real Boat Race') were supposed to be doing 24hr rows off Ramsgate but had to make do with a 12hr row in the relatively sheltered waters of Chichester Harbour instead.
I shepherded the crews from Ickle Pickles, a very excellent charity helping premature babies. The other crew is raising cash for the equally excellent Help for Heroes.
In the morning the wind howled and the rain came down chronic so no pics, but the water was relatively calm because the wind was coming in over the tide.
When the tide turned, however, it got a bit brisk. The picture shows conditions in a an area that was quiet enough for me to get my phone out:

Friday 15 March 2013


Guiding my first cross-Channel crew last Saturday, I confidently set out into the harbour. There was a slight mist but nothing to worry about.
Through the bridges into Langstone Harbour and we plunged into a bank of fog. It is the first time I have ever been steering a boat with no horizon and no landmark of any kind. It is eerie and slightly frightening.
We casually ploughed on. The gig's cox was supposed to be keeping a fixed distance away from me, but I could feel him pushing me to the right. I couldn't see a thing so it didn't seem to matter if I wandered a little - everything would become clear when we came up against the shore as we must do soon.
Hooray! a shoreline became visible. It must be one of the islands in the middle of the harbour.
We closed in. Then I got this uncomfortable feeling that it wasn't any of the islands - it was a narrow spit. In fact, it was the wall round the oyster beds we had passed on the way out. We had turned a complete circle and were going back to the marina!
Damn damn damn. What to do? Keep calm and try to look professional. What direction to go?
I can't believe I hadn't thought of that before. I suppose it is because in all my puff I have been able to navigate by eye.
Squint down at the dashboard. The magnetic compass showed NWN. The GPS showed the position of the boat pointing N and also a bearing that I couldn't read clearly because of my bloody bifocals, but GPS and compass were clearly about 15 degrees different.
What to do?
I turned to the cox and said "Follow me!" in an authoritative and totally confident voice, pointed in the general direction of south according to the compass, and motored back into the fog. Quarter of an hour later we emerged into brilliant sunshine and had a great time going out towards the Victorian forts in the Solent. 
On the return journey, the fog had disappeared.
Ali Ralph in the gig crew kindly sent me the pictures I took on his camera and the GPS track on his phone. We come in from the top, turn right at the bottom, turn sharply when we spot the oyster beds and off again to the south-west (due south on the magnetic compass).

Wednesday 13 March 2013

With Punt and Gun

One of the crew of the gig I was supposed to be joining while I was chatting to the wildfowlers on the slipway the other week later produced this richly entertaining book dating from 1958. It is the story of how two shooters built themselves a gun punt.
The pair were journalists on Lilliput and Picture Post, but also shooting and fishing addicts. One had access to an area of mud'n'water in the Fens known as the Ouse Washes. Shooting there was made extremely difficult by the need to get out in the dark through mud-filled channels called gutters before the birds flew at dawn, and then get out again before the tide rose and cut them off. 
They came to the conclusion that a punt would be just the ticket, and this is the story of how they researched the design, sourced the guns, and worked out how to operate the thing. It is fascinating.
But one of the most fascinating things is that the hacks were none other than Colin Willock, the man who was the brains behind Survival, TV's premier wildlife programme for decades, and Jack Hargreaves, who just about monopolised TV programmes on the countryside for the same time.
Hargreaves built the punt and Willock got the gun, a search that involved meeting some interesting eccentrics.
I am told that the book is full of duff information, but that is hardly surprising considering they were starting out from scratch in a sport that had already pretty much died out even back in the '50s.
The Duck Punt Adventure is available from Tideline Books.

Friday 8 March 2013

Rowing & Regatta

One of the requirements for getting on the rowing coaching course I did recently was to join British Rowing, which I have never done before as they are generally obsessed with elite competition in sliding seat fine boats. They also promote the rowing machine, which is a bomination to the Lord.
But needs must and it was only a pony so I sent off a cheque (how quaint! I had to search through all my drawers to find the book). I was told that I would get a glossy colour magazine every month but expected to have to throw it in the recycling.
Well, my first copy of Regatta & Rowing slid through the letter box yesterday and bugger me if it hasn't got two articles of deep interest. One is the first in a series - a gig rowers diary by Mel Williams of Falmouth, one of our top gig rowers. She provides an insight into the ways of gig rowing that will be invaluable as Langstone Cutters Gig Club moves up through the gears this year.
The other article of note is by Ian Mills, and expatriate Englishman living in Scotland, who relates how a meeting with boatbuilder Alec Jordan led to the building of a St Ayles Skiff in Craill, just one of the 40 clubs around the world that have built these great boats.
I'll be looking forward to the arrival of Regatta & Rowing in future. I wonder if they'd like an article on the Solent galley?

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Decline and Fall

I'm deeply ashamed. As of today, I am qualified to drive this thing, having attained a National Powerboat Certificate Level 2.
What's worse, I quite enjoyed it and am looking forward to escorting a gig full of cross-Channel trainees out into the Solent on Saturday. Have I gone to over to the dark side?

Sunday 3 March 2013

Portsoy in the Pink

The Portsoy Skiffettes are the first all-woman group to build a St Ayles Skiff, the Soy Quine, which was launched yesterday.
The whole process of the build can be seen on their Facebook page. A top quality job, I think, though I'm not sure about the colour scheme. The pink is very traditional but a bit on the dark side for the salmon pink favoured by clubs such as Leander - that's their tie over there---->.
The picture is by Chris Perkins - lots more top quality images of the event here.