Wednesday 31 December 2014

Rowing by Moonlight

Mike Gilbert has a brilliant phone but it struggles with low light. Actually this gives a rather ethereal effect to this shot of Solent galley Sallyport on the way to Emsworth for beer last night.
I have rowed at night very rarely so this was a special event. High water was at 18.24 so we set out at 16.30 as the light was going. Soon, the gibbous moon was giving us just enough light to navigate by. The buoys were just menacing dark blobs on the water. Luckily, we had people who knew the harbour lights so we did not go far wrong.
Coxing out of Emsworth on the way back, I discovered how disorientating the dark can be. But it was magical - can't wait to do it again.
Next time, for curry. 

Monday 29 December 2014

In Praise of Overlapping Handles

The latest issue of that eminent publication Water Craft has an interesting article about choosing oars for pleasure rowing, by John Rawson. 
Rawson began to consider the vexed question of the 'right' dimensions for a sculling oar when he bought a book on how to build a skiff that gave no guidance on the oars, leaving him to work it out from first principles. 
Me too, except that in my case I had bought my Sprite skiff with a pair of horrible unusable oars and needed to upgrade.
There is a lot of good stuff in Rawson's article, but for one thing. He doesn't like overlapping handles, advising an inch of clearance so you don't bash your thumbs.
I disagree. A good gap between the handles is probably a good thing for hire boats that can expect to be rowed by people with limited skills, but if you want to get the most pleasure out of rowing the handles should overlap by their own length as demonstrated above by me and Christine Ball in Langstone Cutters' Teifi skiff Millie.
The reason is simple - with an overlap you get an extra six inches or so of leverage inboard and the oar will balance better so you can get more length outboard as well if you need it. The boat will go faster and you will have more fun.
The downside, of course, is the skill you need to acquire to move the handles smoothly past each other in the stroke. Happily, it isn't difficult - just lead with the left hand and slide the right underneath it.
The process is made easier by adjusting the button so the handles just clear each other when the blades are in the water, like this:
This allows you to put more power in on one side to turn the boat, without risking your thumbs.
Rawson rightly rejects an exaggerated overlap as found in boats such as the Adirondack Guide Boat. In that case, the boat has to be very slim to be light enough to portage between lakes, but a bit of beam is a good thing in a pleasure skiff, providing stability, buoyancy and room to put the champagne and picnic basket.
(Thanks to Mike Gilbert for taking the pictures)

Sunday 21 December 2014

Launch of HRB

Today saw the launch after restoration of Victoria Holliday's double scull HRB, named for her grandfather Henry R Beeton, a rather good artist - a sale of his work funded the boat.
Originally called Vernon Ball, she was built as a training tub by the Eton College Boatbuilder, but it is not known whether it was built for the school or some other club.
The hull is GRP with mahogany sheer boards and plywood decks for and aft. The slides and stretchers are supported on a rather ingenious structure of struts, and the cox's seat is quite grand - clearly a place intended for someone of the stature and gravitas of an Eton College master. I felt unfit to occupy it. But it was jolly comfortable even without cushions.

Being a training boat she is much broader and heavier than a fine scull, but this just makes her all the more suitable for the waters of Chichester and Langstone harbours which can be considerably more challenging than the Thames at Windsor.
As it proved today, when the wind gusted to nearly 25 knots at one point bringing waves that nearly reached the gunwale even in the sheltered waters opposite the Mill. Never rocked the boat, though.

Thanks to Mike Gilbert for the photos.

Saturday 20 December 2014

A New Boatbulding Material?

Engineers at the eminent Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have developed an aluminium foam sandwich that is said to be 20 per cent lighter than grp and so stiff you can build shell structures with no reinforcing ribs. Sounds ideal for boats.
The material is shaped by embossing and in the process of foaming the metal filling (which is mainly aluminium with manganese, silicon and copper. I have been unable to work out how this is done because Fraunhofer's press release is a bit vague but the first product, a cab for a high speed train, looks damned impressive.
It sounds perfect for boatbuilding. Imagine a hull that is lighter and much stronger than grp, with no internal ribs. Bolt on a pair of rowlocks to the gunwales and a stretcher to the floor, add a box to sit on and away you go. Hmmm...

Friday 19 December 2014

A sculling boat for the Great River Race?

I have been thinking a lot lately about a sculling boat that would be ideal for the Great River Race but not so specialised it would be unusable for general club use.
Langstone Cutters have a couple of Teifi skiffs and members own a small fleet of Salter skiffs, plastic reproductions of a Thames skiff.
The basic problem with both types of skiff is accommodating the passenger that is mandatory under GRR rules. Neither have much space, and putting the passenger in the bow digs it down and slows the boat. In the Salters, passenger and cox usually squeeze into the sternsheets so the bow lifts out of the water. And it makes it very difficult and time-wasting to change the passenger into the bow seat.
I came to the conclusion that a purpose-designed double skiff with a passenger thwart in the bow would be ideal as the bow could be made fuller to take the extra weight. In club use, the bow thwart would be used for an extra sculler making it into a very fast triple scull.
It seems that someone else has been thinking on the same lines. Paul Fisher's new design, the Loddon 20, is exactly that - a triple scull that can also be used as a double with passenger.
Paul's description reads:
The Loddon 20 is round bilged and can be made using foam sandwich (FRP) and strip plank Cedar construction methods. The moulds, transom and inner stem shape. She is designed for 2 or 3 rowing plus a cox or 2 rowing plus cox and passenger. The hull shape has a low wetted surface area shape with good stability and a reasonable freeboard for use in choppy waters. 
The only drawback might be that at 20ft long she would be handicapped to hell, starting at around 100 I would guess. Hmm..


Thursday 18 December 2014

Sprite kits available again!

I've got a new job, thanks for your concern, and I've been rowing a lot, and restoring my grandmother's old boat so it has been a busy time.
The big news this week is that Alec Jordan of Jordan Boats is going to make kits for one of my favourite sliding seat sculls, the Chippendale Sprite. That's me in my Sprite Snarleyow hammering up the Hamble in 2008, and she is up there ^ at the top of the screen too.
The late Jack Chippendale designed the Sprite with Andrew Wolstenholme. Andrew tells me the design process was a bit of an odd one because the way the hull is made (by sewing the bottom planks together along the keel and then folding them apart over the frames) makes it impossible to generate the shapes on a computer.
The result, however, is a super-light hull that is easy to build, goes like a train but has enough volume and freeboard to take out in quite aggressive conditions. Her only vice is a tendency to hobby-horse as the weight of the rower shifts along the slides - see how the bow sticks up in the photo. But, of course, the rower is <ahem> heavier than average.
Ted Bird continued to supply kits and develop the design when he bought Jack's business but the current owners seem to be more into furniture these days and the kits have not been available for a while.
So I was delighted when Alec rang to say he is about to add the Sprite to his range, and it is advertised in the new edition of Water Craft. 
Let's hope Alec makes the double version, Otter, available too. I rather fancy the idea of fitting out an Otter as a fixed seat single - at 19ft and very light she would be fast and seaworthy. Ideal for bashing round the Solent.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

News from British Columbia

Harold Aune of Whitehall Rowing and Sail in Canada has sent over his latest newsletter which includes this picture of Adam Kreek and Andrea Guyon rowing into the sunrise as they cross the Juan de Fuca Strait from Victoria to Port Angeles. To see the sunrise, watch the video at: Also see the waves, monster ships, and fog. Wisely, the expedition was abandoned with just 7 miles to go.

Harold also included this, which just about encapsulates my attitude to the dreaded ergo:

"8 Ways that ‘Less’ is ‘More’ With Outdoor Adventure Rowing

Getting outside on the ocean river or lake in an ‘all water’ rowing boat equipped with sliding seat rowing gear and lightweight carbon fiber sculling oars can change your life for the better in small ways that are very, very big.

1. Less Boredom – More adventure!
Less staring at the same four walls on the same rowing machine, doing the same motions, in the same room temperature. With outdoor rowing it’s always changing, views, wind, waves. It’s so much more of an adventure!

2. Less Stress - More peaceful, happy feelings!
Less tense muscles and mind load. Rhythmic breathing produced by rowing greatly reduces mental stress.

3. Less Health Issues - More ease of movement and fitness!
Less aching joints, weak muscles, weight gain, depression, etc.

4. Less Stale Air - More fresh, crisp, oxygen-rich air!
No odors produced by sweaty gym rats or recycled indoor air in the gym.

5. Less Pollution - More clean air to breathe. More nature sounds!
Less stinky exhaust gasses, less noise, no fossil fuel consumption. Leaves no oily footprint behind.

6. Less Noise - More sounds of nature. More serenity!
No roar from an engine and no yelling over it to be heard. Less disturbed and frightened wildlife. Noise travels a greater distance on the water.

7. Less Chronic Pain - More fun moving!
Less need for medication for arthritis, less stiffness, faster healing of damaged joints. Rowing is a great way to warm up the joints.

8. Less Impact On Your Body - More time feeling great!
Less need for surgeries due to impact on connective tissues of knees or hips causing joint damage as with jogging, etc. Rowing offers: a symmetric balanced loading of 90% of the body’s muscles in a smooth fluid motion.

Rowing is one of the best health and fitness activities in existence. It’s a total body workout that is gentle and effective. An ‘all water’ rowing or sculling boat is safe and can easily handle wind and waves and this means you can row all year long."

The only thing wrong with this list is that "less health issues" should be 'fewer health issues.' (Sorry, once a proofreader, always a profruder).

Whitehall Rowing's latest product is interesting too - a fixed seat, drop-in rowing unit for a stand-up paddle dory:

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Brewery Row (cont) (eventually)

Sorry about the delay in continuing the saga of the Row to the Brewery.
The approach to Southampton took us past several rather large cruise ships. Rachel looks calm and collected because she is facing the other way.
There is no apparent entrance to Town Quay - you have to thread your way between several pontoons designed to keep the wash of the Isle of Wight ferries out. They have no effect whatever.
The Platform Tavern and Dancing Man Brewery are decorated with the reticence and understated good taste for which Southampton is famed.
A pint of Dancing Man's Pilgrims Pale Ale is piquant and refreshing. Two pints are even more refreshing. Here we are getting totally refreshed.
Recovering the boat. Note the blocked exit to the marina.
Off we go. The sudden drop is no danger at all - it was the bloody post that was the problem. There was a bit of a breeze and the wake of the high speed catamarans nearly pushed us on it. They should take it away. Bloody post.
(Thanks to Ron Williams for the pictures with me in them).

Saturday 1 November 2014

All Saint's Day

A day well spent on the boat. The paint and varnish are now removed from the transom and one side. Tomorrow will see it all gone, I hope.
There was just time to take Kittiwake out for an hour between the tide coming in and the sun going down. It was blowing Force 4 from the southwest, so it seemed a good idea to slog SW to get a bit of a push on the way home. I rowed for three quarters of an hour upwind, where I took a picture of the sunset. Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower is just visible against the sun.
A few minutes later the sun had faded enough to change the colours of the sky completely.
With wind+tide behind, it took just 20 minutes to get back. And so to pub.


It was the warmest Hallowe'en in recorded history. Time was limited with a late tide (half past four) and the nights drawing in (sunset twenty to five). I was going to pop out on my own in Kittiwake but a little posse arrived as the tide filled the rithe to the mill.
Anne Plater turned up with her son Michael, a former rower of eights, so he went out with Victoria in her coastal pair and Anne coxed Mike and me in a Teifi.
It was the last day in October and we were in T shirts.
As we returned Mike got this shot of the coastal with Hayling bridge behind.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Ben Ainslie on Southampton Water

To Southampton betimes, to a public house recommended by a person I met in the queue for saveloys at the Great River Race who informed me that the best home brewed ale in the city is to be found at the Platform Tavern in the ancient walls of that place, hard by the Dancing Man brewery.
We launched our boat, the Solent galley Langstone Lady, at Warsash and rowed to Town Quay, conveniently about 100 yards from the pub.
As we returned down Southampton Water, we spotted Sir Ben Ainslie hammering up the channel in his foiling America's Cup challenger.
I took this snap with my mobile phone, a Nokia Lumia 930. The resolution really is incredible - the view as we saw it from the boat was more like this:

Friday 17 October 2014

Getting in early

Mike Gilbert, fixed seat rower, owner of gigs, Claydon champ and Salter skiff fan, is in Boston from whence he sent this picture of himself rowing the Charles River.
He is not planning to go out tomorrow when the river will look more like this:
This is last year's Head of the Charles, the biggest two-day regatta in the world with more than ten thousand rowers and nearly half a million spectators. It looks very civilised actually. I would have expected complete carnage especially as it is organised by no fewer than thirty committees.
Mike's partner Victoria will, however, be competing. Good luck!

Friday 10 October 2014

Time and Tide

This week has seen the highest tides of the year. Max (the Bursledon Blogger) was at Fowey down in the West Country and spotted this.
Back home, Langstone Cutters may have to check the bearings on the boat trailer soon:
Mike Gilbert took this photo from his garden, which means, I hope, that the very expensive tide-repelling wall he has just had built worked as promised. If not, he must have been wearing waders.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Winter is icumen in, lhude sing goddamm

Had a great row on Tuesday morning, down to Marker Point and up to Emsworth where we had coffee at The Deck. Breezy, and a threatening shower passed by to the south, but still warm and sunny.
Got home and this happened.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Last day of summer (again)?

Another truly glorious T-shirt day, even though there was a hint of ice on the windscreen as I set off for an 0800 start. We have all been going out rowing relentlessly, assuming every fabulous day to be the last. Well, today probably was - the forecast is for a week of rain. Oh well, it was great while it lasted.
An enormous plume of smoke was rising from Portsmouth so we went through the bridge into Langstone Harbour for a closer look.
Then we rowed round the smallest island in the Langstone Archipelago, Round Nap, and went home. I found out later it was a metal recycling plant that had gone up.

Friday 3 October 2014

Young Rowers in the GRR

Junior crews put up some amazing performances at the Great River Race. Here is Exocet, a Bursledon Gig rowed by an under-16 crew from Hamble Sea Scouts, storming through Richmond Bridge to finish 27th in a time of 2hr 51min. They won the under-16 trophy, AND the under-18 trophy and came second in the Scouts category overall. What a great result.
Langstone's own under-18 girls rowed Holly, a Salter skiff, in a time of 3hr 20min, and came fifth in their class - a very good place considering only one of them was over 16 and that by only a week. If they had been in the under-16s they would have come third.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Fast Women

The stars of the Langstone squad this year were the veteran ladies in the Salter skiff 15 Seconds (so named because it came THAT CLOSE to winning the entire race one year).
Look at Christine Ball in bow and Aileen McGovern in stroke leaning back - practically horizontal. Shelley Cook is coxing when the picture was taken but can also do that thing. The passenger was Molly, who was encouraging and helpful throughout.
They finished 16th overall in a time of 2hr 58min, winning the veteran ladies trophy, the ladies (of any age) cup and the fastest Thames skiff trophy, a lovely model of a lovely wooden skiff that is much lovelier than a Salter, it has to be said.
The small skiffs have a history of winning - they start at the front so they don't have to fight their way through the pack like the big boats do. On the other hand, they are more or less alone on the river for most of the race so they have to keep the pace up without the stimulus of competition. If a bigger boat comes up before the last few hundred yards, they are toast.
So well done girls!
Thanks to Paula Bray for the pic.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Bronze Age Boating

First off the start line at the GRR was the half-size replica of the Bronze Age Dover boat, which was launched to much fanfare in 2012 but promptly sank. 
It was a rushed job to meet the launch date, so the builders had filled in the massive gaps between the planks with bath sealant or some damn stuff. Happily, the boat now floats after being taken apart and reassembled properly using entirely Bronze Age gap-filling gloop made mainly of beeswax.
The tale was told in a recently-broadcast Time Team Special that featured a two-second clip of Bembridge's bow, all that aired of a three-hour session in which we rowed Sir Tony Robinson round the harbour explaining why a boat has to have a bow if it is to slip through the water efficiently.
The replica has a bow but the design is rather speculative as the original had lost its entire front end. They don't even know how long it was. 
The crew struggled manfully but progress was painfully slow. Was it an inefficient bow design or the fact that it was being paddled by a bunch of sedentary archeologists that dragged it back to finish 327th in a time of four and a half hours? 
The first shall be last, as the good book hath it.

Monday 29 September 2014

The Hunt

The unique thing about rowing races is that the crew can see threats coming up behind but only the coxswain can see the boat in front.
This makes it very difficult to overtake. A cox can shout and scream about how near the opposition is and how easily they can get past, but the crew never really takes it seriously. Meanwhile, the crew in front can see doom approaching and redoubles their efforts.
Gladys got stuck behind our rival Claydon skiff Witchoar for ages. They started slightly before us for some reason. Here we are slogging through Chiswick unable to get past.
Here's another attempt failing.
Eventually it got too absurd and we managed to up the stroke rate for long enough to get through. Then Witchoar seemed to lose heart, as often happens. Now we could see their timing get ragged as they faded into the distance.
But as we approached the finish line, it nearly happened to us.
Here we are emerging from Richmond Bridge, pursued by the camera boat (why, I cannot imagine).
Just a few seconds later, came this:
Solent galley Bembridge, with a crew of cocky 40+ youngsters who have been loudly threatening to get past us in the GRR for years without success. Here they are storming past the Pembrokeshire longboat Yellow.
This time it was us who had to give everything we had as we saw the much faster boat relentlessly approaching. But we held them off, finishing a few boat lengths ahead - 14 seconds ahead in fact.
But that was GOOD ENOUGH. Gladys was 30th, Bembridge 31st. Yay us!
Thanks to Ron and Cheryl Williams for the top pictures, and Paula Bray for the lower ones.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Wooden Gig for sale on eBay

Nick Gates, Emsworth boatbuilder and owner of Ocean Pearl (on which I have still not been sailing) writes to say that a friend of his is selling a wooden rowing/sailing gig built by one C. Matthews at the School of Navigation at Warsash back in 1972.
She is 20ft long, beam 5ft 6in and draws 18in. The mug of tea is extra.
Nick writes:
"A friend of mine is selling a gig I sold to him many years ago. It's actually in good condition, teak centerline, iroko planking, teak thwarts etc but it does need reframing. I am keen it finds a good home rather than be bought by someone for firewood. It's just gone on eBay.
I did work up a price to reframe it in oak. He has sails. I have spars. It would make a great raid boat. Trailer is for local use only. Do you know anyone who may be interested? Could you possibly put it on your blog to raise awareness? If so, eternally grateful!
Cheers, Nick"
She certainly would make a great raid boat, as long as you can raise a crew of six to row her effectively. I think she would make a great club boat, possibly for Sea Scouts or Cadets. Bidding has reached £51 but the purchase price would be the smallest part of the cost of the boat, of course.

Saturday 27 September 2014

A Great Great River Race

It was a fantabulous day. Organised chaos at the start as usual.
Some crews took it more seriously than others, but everyone had a great time.
We took loads of photos.
We all had blisters at the end. Especially Jenny.
Gladys won the Supervets trophy (again) and beat Witchoar (but it was harder work than last year) and got in ahead of Bembridge (by about three boat lengths).
Mission accomplished (except that we were beaten to the Claydon Cup by a bunch of teenage gorillas but hey, that's racing).

Friday 26 September 2014


Three Solent galleys lie at Millwall, Isle of Dogs, ready for the Great River Race tomorrow. Gladys and Mabel, the Glaydon skiffs, are on the slipway with two Salter skiffs. Three Cornish pilot gigs are also in the race. That is ten boats from Langstone Cutters, a record.
The weather forecast is warm for the time of year, with a light southerly breeze.
It's going to be a blast. If anyone is close to the course tomorrow afternoon (it covers the 21 miles between Millwall and Ham) come and cheer us on.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

In the Lock

Last week's visit to Greenland Dock involved a tense passage through the old ship lock into the Thames. 
The original gates were removed when the dock was closed to shipping, being replaced with much narrower quadrant gates. This makes access difficult for rowing boats as the oars are too wide. 
To get in I got the crew to toss oars and helped maintain forward momentum by paddling with stroke's blade, accompanied by a vigorous rendition of Just One Cornetto.
It didn't really work - the boat behaved in a very peculiar way and we drifted round the lock in a rather embarrassing way until bow managed to grab one of the ropes dangling from the side and we got into position.
The following day we brought paddles for bow and cox and things were much more under control.
Thanks to Mick Buckley for the pic.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Back on the Tideway

To London yesterday with Langstone Adventure Rowing to help train crews from a major corporation taking part in the Great River Race on Saturday week.
They should have been coxing themselves but a couple of no-shows meant I was yelling at them again, in a brutally supportive way.
We launched at the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre on Greenland Dock, just behind and to the right of the tailfin of this aircraft:
I kept a wary eye on the sky but he didn't seem to be around.
Today the dock is very charming, lined with homes rather than wharves.
Getting on to the river was a bit challenging. First there is a narrow, low swing bridge, then a narrow, deep and alarming lock. Lots of shortening oars and trying to get hold of the cables so we didn't drift out into the middle. I made a complete Horlicks of it going out. The boat was behaving very oddly and didn't seem to respond to the oars in the usual way at all, possibly due to the combination of a light breeze and a gentle current. Anyway, we finally got attached and the lock gates opened revealing troubled water outside. My heart sank. Happily, Mike Gilbert in the other boat went first.
One of the cox's necessary skills is to look totally confident at all times so we struck out, oars shortened, and were rewarded with a lovely autumn evening on the river with views of Canary Wharf, Greenwich and, towards the City, the Shard, the Walkie-talkie, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin.
Thanks to Mike for the pictures.