Sunday 28 July 2013


Here's how to launch a new boat with style.
'Shenanigan' was built by Oregon Coot Dick Mitsch (right), and is shown being rowed by the intrepid Bob Larkin.
This thing is even smaller than my own Simbo. But the Coots, an informal gathering of boat nuts, seems to have a thing about absurdly small boats - the picture below shows Dennis Banta's Tiny Ripple, built to a design by William Atkin. Behind is a faering by Iain Oughtred.
Thanks to Duckworks Magazine for the headsup, and John Kohnen for the pics. There are a lot more great photos at his Flickr stream.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Quad Sculls

Always willing to try something new (apart from incest and folk dancing, natch) I went out in a quad scull the other evening.

Oddly, although I have been in rowing fours and eights I have always sculled on my own in my entire life.
So when meverygoodfriend Steve Woods (that's him at the coxing end of the boat) borrowed some coastal boats (a quad, a double and a training 'plank') from Janousek, we got a group of people with sliding seat experience to give them a go.
It was a lot of fun, but I had forgotten how the sliding action punishes the hamstrings and glutes.
But the main joy was rowing in the evening under a clear blue sky as the sun went down over the Ship.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Rowing in Samoa

This blog has been contacted by Warwick Marler, Commissioner for Recreational and Tour Rowing at FISA, the world governing body for the sport, which is flattering. He recently made a presentation to a FISA executive conference on the need for a reference website for all rowing, and part of this was a video about an astonishing class of racing boat that was new to me - the Samoan fautasi.
The boats seem to be about a mile long and populated by entire villages.
Fautasi racing is pursued as fanatically in the islands as pilot gig rowing is in Cornwall, but the prizes are much higher - as much as 25,000 tala (£7,000). Prizes like that would guarantee a big turnout at any British regatta.
The boats were originally made from planks of a light but strong tree called the fau, but in the 1980s one village used plywood and fibreglass to create a shell that blew the opposition out of the water. Predictably, all racing fautasis are now in new materials.
Another thing that is changing is the male domination of the sport. See the woman coxwain in the picture? That is Zita Martel, the Queen of the longboats, and the first woman to compete and the first to be blessed as a skipper. She is featured in Warwick's video, which was the thing that got the FISA executive really excited, he says.
And this year, the first all-woman fautasi crew has started racing.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Poetry in Rowing

Grace Darling: or, The Wreck of the Forfarshire.

by William Topaz McGonagall

As the night was beginning to close in one rough September day
In the year of 1838, a steamer passed through the Fairway
Between the Farne Islands and the coast, on her passage northwards;
But the wind was against her, and the steamer laboured hard.

There she laboured in the heavy sea against both wind and tide,
Whilst a dense fog enveloped her on every side;
And the mighty billows made her timbers creak,
Until at last, unfortunately, she sprung a leak.

Then all hands rushed to the pumps, and wrought with might and main.
But the water, alas! alarmingly on them did gain;
And the thick sleet was driving across the raging sea,
While the wind it burst upon them in all its fury.

And the fearful gale and the murky aspect of the sky
Caused the passengers on board to Lament and sigh
As the sleet drove thick, furious, and fast,
And as the waves surged mountains high, they stood aghast.

And the screaming of the sea-birds foretold a gathering storm,
And the passengers, poor souls, looked pale and forlorn,
And on every countenance was depicted woe
As the “Forfarshire” steamer was pitched to and fro.
And the engine-fires with the water were washed out,
Then, as the tide set strongly in, it wheeled the vessel about
And the ill-fated vessel drifted helplessly along;
But the fog cleared up a little as the night wore on.

Then the terror-stricken crew saw the breakers ahead,
And all thought of being saved from them fled,
And the Farne lights were shining hazily through the gloom,
While in the fore-cabin a woman lay with two children in a swoon.

Before the morning broke, the “Forfarshire” struck upon a rock,
And was dashed to pieces by a tempestuous shock,
Which raised her for a moment, and dashed her down again,
Then the ill-starred vessel was swallowed up in the briny main

Before the vessel broke up, some nine or ten of the crew intent
To save their lives, or perish in the attempt,
Lowered one of the boats while exhausted and forlorn,
And, poor souls, were soon lost sight of in the storm.

Around the windlass on the forecastle some dozen poor wretches clung,
And with despair and grief their weakly hearts were rung
As the merciless sea broke o’er them every moment;
But God in His mercy to them Grace Darling sent.

By the first streak of dawn she early up had been,
And happened to look out upon the stormy scene,
And she descried the wreck through the morning gloom;
But she resolved to rescue them from such a perilous doom

Then she cried, Oh! father dear, come here and see the wreck,
See, here take the telescope, and you can inspect;
Oh! father, try and save them, and heaven will you bless;
But, my darling, no help can reach them in such a storm as this.

Oh! my kind father, you will surely try and save
These poor souls from a cold and watery grave;
Oh! I cannot sit to see them perish before mine eyes,
And, for the love of heaven, do not my pleading despise!

Then old Darling yielded, and launched the little boat,
And high on the big waves the boat did float;
Then Grace and her father took each an oar in hand,
And to see Grace Darling rowing the picture was grand.

And as the little boat to the sufferers drew near,
Poor souls, they tried to raise a cheer;
But as they gazed upon the heroic Grace,
The big tears trickled down each sufferer’s face.

And nine persons were rescued almost dead with the cold
By modest and lovely Grace Darling, that heroine bold;
The survivors were taken to the light-house, and remained there two days,
And every one of them was loud in Grace Darling’s praise.

Grace Darling was a comely lass, with long, fair floating hair,
With soft blue eyes, and shy, and modest rare;
And her countenance was full of sense and genuine kindliness,
With a noble heart, and ready to help suffering creatures in distress.

But, alas! three years after her famous exploit,
Which, to the end of time, will never be forgot,
Consumption, that fell destroyer, carried her away
To heaven, I hope, to be an angel for ever and aye.

Before she died, scores of suitors in marriage sought her hand;
But no, she’d rather live in Longstone light-house on Farne island,
And there she lived and died with her father and mother,
And for her equal in true heroism we cannot find another.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

A new Pathfinder

One of the most interesting new designs at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show was Colin Cumming's Pathfinder 4, the latest in a series of innovative boats from this engineer-turned-boatbuilder.
It is intended for raids, so it needs to row well in addition to having sparkling performance under sail. So Colin has created an extreme hull, rather like a racing shell with wings. The idea is that when rowed upright she will have a very low wetted area and therefore be easy to push along, and under sail will heel onto the 'wing' to stabilise her.
I wanted to try her out but somehow missed the opportunity. It will be fascinating to see how the Pathfinder 4 performs in raids.
Chris Perkins advised on the build, and took these pictures - more here.

Tuesday 9 July 2013


This is a Viking boatshed, as found on Shetland and other locations on Scotland's windswept and treeless coast. Boats could be sheltered from the stormy blast but easily carried down the beach when needed.
It is called a noust (or naust, nowst, noost, or noast, depending to the taste and fancy of the speller).
This is great architecture. Simple and practical, but the horseshoe shape adding a touch of elegance. 
The Tyree Maritime Trust has created a new boat shed for the trust's small fleet of historic 16ft luggers, and they have called it The Noust. It's good architecture too, more comfortable and a lot warmer but perhaps less of a piece with the landscape.
Thanks to CRABlakeney for the heads-up.

Monday 8 July 2013

The Skiffs Gather

Langstone Cutters chairman is up in Ullapool for the Skiffie Worlds, as coach to the CRABlakeney team in Hoi Larntan. He sent this pic of the skiffs assembling on the beach yesterday. It looks as though it's going to be a cracking event.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Royal Regattas

As the Henley Royal Regatta draws to a close the first St Ayles Skiff World Championships begin. Oddly, it is the Skiffie Worlds rather than the Royal Regatta that gets the top Royal this year - the event will be opened by the Princess Royal no less.
I find it truly amazing that the word 'International' is fully justified at the very first Championships, with crews coming from the Netherlands (there is an international treaty obligation that mandates Dutch participation in all rowing events anywhere in the world), the US, New Zealand and even Tasmania.
That is just four years since the first prototype was launched.
Another difference from Henley is that all the boats were built by the crews and their communities. If the sliding seat rowers had to do that the world would be a better place.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Seax Gig Takes Shape

It's been a while since I wrote about Keith Webster's Seax Gig project, but the hull has now taken shape in his shed in Benfleet, Essex. And the shape looks good.
The four-oared design is being laid up in fibreglass on a foam core. I hadn't realised how complex the layup has to be to create strong points where the thwarts and the rowlocks will be.
The hull is nearly 28ft long, which should be an ideal combination of speed without being too big and unwieldy for the crew to handle easily on the shore.
It is looking very promising - you can follow the build at Tales from the Creek.