Monday 29 April 2013

Depoe Bay Wooden Boat Show 2013

John Kohnen has posted lots of pics of the Depoe Bay Wooden Boat Show on the Pacific coast of Oregon, including this one of Dennis Banta, who is 6ft 2in, rowing his new tender to his stylish tug-style boat.
Reminds me of another tall person in a small boat.
But Dennis's boat is actually rather capacious and could fit two, although they both look very apprehensive.
But my favourite picture is of some kids in a couple of boats taken to the festival by Andy Linn of the Toledo Community Boathouse. At top right is their Mollyhawk, a very attractive sculling boat designed by John Welsford, about to T-bone Aurora, a canoe designed by Andy himself - the plans are here.
What I like about the picture is that every single one of both crews is laughing fit to bust. Rowing is fun!

Saturday 27 April 2013

St Ayles Skiff on the telly

A lot has been going on in the St Ayles skiff scene. A very nice little prog on Reporting Scotland has Andrew Anderson interviewing Alec Jordan and going out with the ladies of Anstruther. A very clear exposition of just why the boat has taken off so fast - Alec is about to sell his 100th kit.
And Coigach have launched their second boat, Lily-Rose.
The Blakeney boat has got a coat of primer inside, and the crew are already getting out and practicing for the launch.
Everyone seems to be keenly anticipating the first World Championships at Ullapool in July.

Thursday 25 April 2013

The Draper's Barge

One of the stars of the Tudor Pull was Royal Thamesis, the barge of the Drapers' Company. Until the 18th century the livery companies of London, successors to the medieval craft guilds, all kept their own boats to transport officials and make a statement at the annual Lord Mayor's Show which at that time was held on the river. The Lord Mayor's barge was particularly lavish as you might expect.
The Drapers' Company decided to buy Royal Thamesis in 2003, 182 years after their previous barge was disposed of. It's not clear why they felt the need for a new one, but here are some facts:
1) Royal Thamesis was purchased from a rowing club in Oxford called City Barge;
2) The founder of City Barge was Richard Norton; and
3) Richard Norton was a Liveryman of the Drapers' Company.
So it seems they bought her just for fun and that is the best reason there is.
Royal Thamesis is a replica of Queen Mary's shallop, built in 1689 and which survived in irregular use until 1919 when she appeared at a pageant celebrating the end of the First World War. What an incredible length of service. She is now in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The replica was built by Michael Dennett in 1996. She is 36ft long and has eight rowing stations, though only six were occupied on the Tudor Pull. There is room for six passengers under the canopy.

Monday 22 April 2013

Tudor Pull

Saturday was the first day of spring in my book, with clear skies and a warm sun so I went rowing with the Cutters in just a T shirt, sweater and fleece. The instant the sun went down, however, it reminded us that it was still not summer and the temperature went down like fatty Fry bungee-jumping. There was a deep frost in the morning, but Sunday was the day of the Tudor Pull and it had to be good.
This colourful event was accidentally started by Prince Philip, twenty years ago. He was chatting to one of the Royal Watermen, a fine body of chaps who add style and class to royal functions by hanging around in 18th century costumes featuring hard caps and silk stockings. He asked one of them "Can you chaps actually row?"
ACTUALLY ROW? All the royal watermen are professional boatmen and many are winners of Doggett's Coat and Badge. So they decided to show him by rowing from Hampton Court to the Tower of London in a reproduction shallop, wearing all their fancy gear.
The event was so popular it has been held every year since, and this year's was the most spectacular yet.
The main attraction was HM Rowbarge Gloriana, attended by a flotilla of Thames Waterman's Cutters with canopies sheltering dignatories in their gold chains and furs. Then came a bunch of other boats including Langstone Cutters' Bembridge and Sallyport, seen here on the trailer at 8.00 ready to go up to the smoke.
Also on parade was one of the Oxbridge Cutters (pictured top), a pair of replicas of the boats used in the 1829 Boat Race. It is very like a Solent galley but eight-oared, of course. There is a picture of the original here. The actual boat is now on display in the River and Rowing Museum at Henley.
Oh, and you can see more pics of the event on Cap'n JP's Log.

Friday 19 April 2013

Monday 15 April 2013

I thought Punting was the capital of China until...

I had expected Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea on the telly to be a light, witty concoction without any boating interest, which it was mainly, but to my delight the standup comedian, sitcom writer, singer/songwriter and pianist took to a punt on the Nine Bend River in the spectacular Wuyi Mountains to explain how tea was brought to Britain when we first became addicted to the brew in the 18th century.
The punt is simple and appropriate, just lengths of bent bamboo lashed together. The bow is interesting - bamboo punts on China's harbours and estuaries seem to have a much less pronounced curve. Must be something to do with the swift currents and rapids on the Nine Bend River. You can actually see it flexing as it slides over the shallows.
Our Vicky explained how tea was brought down the mountain by porters carrying bales on yokes, punted down the river and transhipped to European ships for export. No wonder it was expensive - the Duke of Bedford paid £500 a pound in modern values.
Punt rides like this are now a popular tourist attraction on the Nine Bend River (or Stream of Nine Windings as the botanical collector Robert Fortune called in when he explored the region illegally in the 1840s. The Chinese government valued tea so highly selling plants to Europeans was a capital offence).
It was a bit of a pity Ms Wood didn't tell us more about the punts. It wasn't what the programme was about, of course, but she had gone on about the Chinese maglev train and the new airport in Shanghai at some length so why not?
What scenery! Love the punters' costumes. Don't think Vicky's buoyancy aid is quite so stylish though.
Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea is on BBC iPlayer for a bit. The punt sequence is about ten minutes into Episode One.
PS if you recognised the allusion in the title to a certain 1970s advertising campaign, you are very old and I will have to go very slowly.... 

Friday 12 April 2013

New Coastal Gig Design

Even their biggest fans would not say the boats of Lower Thames Rowing Club are works of art, but boy do they go. This is Dauntless at the Carrow Cup last December.
The LTRC fleet was based on a bunch of boats originally built for angling on Hanningfield Reservoir, so they were short (18ft) and very, very heavy. 
Boatbuider Keith Webster started experimenting to see if they could be improved. Two were sawn in half and lengthened by eight feet. The heavy fibreglass thwarts, gunwales and floors were removed. The final hulls, despite the extra length, were much lighter than the originals and cost about £1,000 to create - very cost effective.
Now Keith is creating a totally new gig design, under construction in a former scout hut in Benfleet. She will be 27ft 6in long with a beam of 4ft 6in and designed to use standard carbon fibre blades from the sliding seat world, obtainable second hand at a fraction of the price of a set of wooden gig oars. The lines, Keith tells me, will be similar to our Solent galleys.
The first two hulls will be built in GRP foam sandwich but if they are successful a mould could be created for longer production runs.
The class already has an association to promote it - the East Coast Rowing Association, and Keith has started a blog where he is chronicling the build. It will be very interesting to see how the design works.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Australian Heroine

Gavin Atkin, boat designer, musician, journalist and sailor (also contains lanolin), sent me this tremendous picture of Cassie Woolly McRitchie, founder of the Albert Park Ladies Rowing Club in Melbourne, Australia, taken about 1910.
McRitchie was the first Australian Interstate Women's Rowing Champion, using a skiff lent to her by the Governor of Victoria, Lord Brassey. The women rowers attracted such a huge crowd of lecherous men that the police had to be called to keep them at bay.
Judging by the number of medals she is wearing, it was not her only triumph.
She died at the age of 96 - more proof that rowing is good for you.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Making Blades

I had a trip out to Windsor yesterday to collect a set of new gig oars from J Sutton Racing Blades, one of the few companies left to specialise in making traditional wooden oars.
They live in a corner of a boat shed at Romney Lock, at the end of an unmarked track, the satnav's downfall. We took a long time finding it using old fashioned methods including following-one-nose and asking-directions-from-locals-who-haven't-a-clue.
The shop is a lovely mess of wood and varnish and chippings and sawdust and cramps and tools and templates. Our gig oars are stacked up on the right.
In residence was Peter Martin, who has been making oars from Canadian sitka spruce since 1963.
The shaft of an oar is basically a box with a hollow in the middle for lightness and 'cheeks' glued on the ends to form the blades.
He showed me how the blade is planed into shape using ball-shaped planes. It must take years to learn now to get a good even cut without digging into the wood.
The basic shape of the blade is marked out from a template, but the final shape is determined by just three measurements. If you make more, the blade inevitably comes out shaped like a 20p coin, he explains.
As the shape emerges from the wood, he ensures it is symmetrical by putting his thumbs on the spine in the middle and feeling the width. Much quicker and more reliable than fiddling about with a ruler, he says.
Our set of six 13ft gig blades took a week to make. Goodness knows how long he will be taking on his current job, a set of second-best blades for the Royal Rowbarge Gloriana (left). He made the best set, of course, with their ornate painted and gilded blades, but she is now being made available for trainee and disabled rowers so some workaday oars are required.