One of my favourite picnicking spots is Portchester Castle, built by the Romans, transformed into a modern fortress by the Normans, and used by English kings as the springboard for expeditions to bash the French, such as Edward III's venture to Crecy.
The huge square outer bailey is beautifully grassed, with a cricket square, and is a complete suntrap. Yesterday we rowed there in Solent galley Sallyport and Teifi skiff Millie, for strawberries and cake.
As a destination, however, it has drawbacks. The obvious one is the distance - eight miles - but the worst one is the need to through the narrow channel that separates Portsmouth from the mainland.
Port Creek is traversed by several very low bridges including a railway bridge with several very large and very alarming notices drawing your attention to the high voltage rails. Sallyport approached it with understandable care:
The creek only fills about three hours before HW, and spring tides come up to within inches of the rail bridge and the bridges under the Cosham roundabout. So timing is critical if you want to get through.
Unfortunately, we can only get the boats in or out of the water at Langstone about two and a half hours either side of high water, and it takes about two hours to get to Portchester, so you don't get much time to relax over the strawbs.
We got back with about 20 minutes to spare before the water disappeared.
More eccentric engineering from Beale Park. The Cordless Canoe Challenge run by Water Craft magazine has one basic rule: all the power must come from battery-powered tools. As last year, the solutions are many and varied, ranging from the brutally practical, through elegantly stylish right the way to the frankly attention-seeking.
Slade Penoyre brought Ayrspeed again (above), with the added feature of a wing with four cordless drills powering model aircraft propellers. He calls it the 'Lancaster configuration'. Once again, Ayrspeed failed to live up to its hugely impressive and innovative power train but effortlessly stole the show.
By the way, the inflatable sailing dinghy behind Ayrspeed was exhibited by Ian Thompson of Nestaway Boats. It is a Dutch design and Ian says it sails much better than it ought to.
Umpire and MC Moray MacPhail rashly opined that a boat with a gearbox would never win this event, but was proved wrong by a group of students from Southampton University and a boat called Chicken Nugget for some reason. It has a lot of gears but obviously the ability to gang several drills and bring the speed down to a rate more appropriate for a screw propeller paid off.
To Richmond Bridge Boat Club yesterday to coach a crew in training for the Great River Race. To get to the club we passed a slipway where, according to the club's Steve Kemsley, a small boy nearly drowned last week. Nobody had noticed, assuming the slowly-turning mass to be a log blown in by the wind, but one man realised what was going on, dived in and rescued the lad.
Every one of us might need someone like him to be around at some moment in our lives, so let's give generously.
Steve Kemsley writes:
Dear all, Following my entry on here a few weeks ago, I have now spoken to the man again. Mark Edwards MBE (Master boat builder) knew him and put us in touch with each other. This time I was able to express my thanks to him in a much more coherent way and also tell him how many people now knew of his selfless deed. - 81,216 people have read our original post, and Rob The White Cross Pub @WhiteCrossPub tells me that almost 90,000 have seen his Tweet. The rescuer was very grateful for all the good wishes and wished to thank you all for your comments. He was pleased that the incident has raised some awareness of the the river safety issues at Richmond. Something that the RBBC is very keen on - having made several rescues in our first year and aided others who have got into difficulty on the river. The rescuer's company has replaced the phone and so luckily he is not out of pocket - which is a huge relief, as not many people could afford to write off £700 on a new phone just like that. I will close the Crowdfunder page and thank those that offered cash - they will not have their accounts debited. As a token of appreciation, Rob at the White Cross has set up generous bar tab for him next time he goes in. Once again, thank you Sir, you did a very good thing. and also thanks also to every one for spreading the word, especially Rob, and for all of your comments, they have been read by the person and have been appreciated. Thank you.
The Steam Boat Association of Great Britain always puts on a great show at Beale, showing off their superb engineering skills in some great-looking boats.
This year they threw down an irresistible challenge for steam men: to build a steam powered outboard. The entries were eccentric to the point of absurdity and almost as unreliable as infernal combustion, but were absolutely awesome. All the machines were fastened to the back of SL Chimera II, which also provided the steam from its kerosene-fired boiler. In the pictures (above and left) Mike Robinson's truly imposing machine provides some forward motion. It must be the first beam engine outboard in the world. Not only that, it uses the Newcomen cycle developed for pumping out Cornish tin mines in the 18th century.
John Barnard adopted a much more practical approach by converting a lawn mower engine to steam and connecting it to a paddle wheel made of old bookshelves. It powered the boat nicely across the lake but showered all behind with a copious deluge. Total cost of construction: £17.
Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the winner. Ian McAlpine designed and built a four-cylinder cruciform engine, drive leg, gearbox and prop entirely in his workshop, a frankly amazing achievement as far as I am concerned. And it worked impressively well. An alarmingly frank and very funny official Society report is here.
Model warships from Victorian battleships to nuclear subs have featured in previous Beale Boat Shows, and this year it was the turn of HMS Plymouth, the ship on which the Argentinian forces in the Falklands surrendered back in 1982.
As I took this picture, there was an animated discussion between the blokes next to me as to whether it had a man in there or not. They concluded it was impossible. Ten minutes later, the 'skipper' was climbing out onto the bank for his lunch.
This is Cwch Bach, or 'Small Boat', exhibited at Beale by Classic Sailboats of Caernarfon, north Wales. I got a row in their nice Whitehall-style Menai 14 rowing boat last year, but I dared not get in this one. Builder Adrian Richardson is made of sterner stuff, however, and was spotted sculling her with one of those tiny oars over the transom.
This is a racing punt from Dittons Skiff and Punting Club in Thames Ditton, with one of the club's most senior members in the stern and a rather junior but clearly very proficient member in the bow.
Although apparently this punt cannot be raced. Proper racing punts are made in matched pairs, known as 'best and best', and this one is a singularity. It was one of Mark Edwards's first commissions, and although it is just as narrow and tippy as proper racing punts is also slightly shorter because of the limited space available in Mark's workshop at the time.
I know you will be disappointed, but there is no picture of me pricking this punt. I simply hate driving in wet knickers.
A whiff was a light, clinker-built fixed seat single sculling boat with outriggers, usually about 20 to 23ft long and under 18in wide.
They were designed for racing and training, but were rather tippy for novices. So the whiff gig was developed with a broader beam (about 2ft 8in) and shorter at 19ft. A coach could sit in the seat and steer, making the whiff gig ideal for training and pleasure as well as carrying one of the most charming names of any boat type. Whiff gig. Lovely. Willow is a beautifully restored example of a whiff gig, shown by a Thames Traditional Boat Society member. A great deal of the structure had to be replaced, as the accompanying board with bits that had to be rejected shows.
And I got to row her. Nick Wilder kindly held my camera on shore and took this snap, from which you can see the usual problem of inadequate legroom. Behind is the umpires' steam launch Consuta, whose great length gave her the speed to keep up with racing eights.
As this Thames skiff went past during the TTBS display at Beale Park, I was amazed to hear the announcer say that it was owned and rowed by the Wilder family. My mother was a Wilder, and the family had been based only a few miles away in Wallingford, and we had a double skiff almost identical to this one...we must be related, mustn't we?
So I introduced myself to Nick, Jan and Stuart Wilder and it turns out that we are, sort of. Their family owned a farming estate in Sulham, near Pangbourne, since the 15th century but until recently it was thought there was no connection between them and the Wallingford lot. But now, it seems, a link has been found some hundred or so years back.
So we are distantly related. On that basis, they took me out in Wrey, a double skiff built in Pangbourne in the last century and unusually equipped with sliding seats and square-pattern rowlocks. Despite the slide, I still had the usual problem with legroom but she is a lovely boat to row nevertheless. Stuart, who rowed at the University of Hertfordshire, went bow. We went through the bridge and took a tour along the river. What a pleasure.
Inspiration at Beale Park for all of us entering the final reach of life's row with Noel, a lovely little single skiff that was used until fairly recently by a lady who rowed and camped on the Thames well into her 90s.
To Pangbourne yesterday to the Beale Park Boat Show. The highlight for me was the display by the Thames Traditional Boat Society who not only had a very welcoming tent and static display but managed to fill the lake with fabulous rowing boats of all shapes and sizes. In the foreground is Hope of Glory, a single skiff built as a hire boat by E. Messum & Sons in Richmond in the 1920s. The current owners have had her beautifully restored.
Later on I got to row her. The usual problem: not enough leg room. But she moved lightly through the water as you might expect from a boat that is 22ft 3in long and only 3ft 8in beam.
The owner took a picture from the cox's seat.
Steve Woods has moved away from Langstone (shame!) but will be coming down regularly to row (hooray!) and has stored his Virus Yole sliding seat scull in the boat park. So when I went for a row last night and no one else was around I simply had to take it out for a bit of a thrash.
The good thing about the Yole is that it is ready for action at a moment's notice. The aluminium outriggers fold into the boat, and Steve leaves the blades in the gates so all you have to do is swing the riggers out and you are good to go.
The wind was brisk (F5/6) and the tide had yet to cover the saltings properly so I ventured gingerly down the narrow channel. The bad thing about the Yole is its open transom, which is supposed to be self-draining but actually sucks water in when you slide the seat forwards in the recovery. It is very depressing watching all this water sloshing in and out of the boat, wasting energy and sucking you back.
And it seemed to be getting worse. The boat was settling down in the water and getting heavier. Turning was becoming a struggle.
Then I noticed a stray item being dragged in and out of the boat by the water, on the end of a bit of string. I had left the bung out...
Time for a swift return to the beach. God that boat was heavy - getting it back on the launching trailer needed muscles of Hercules. It took about ten minutes for the water to drain out.
That's the ugly part of the design. The bung hole is at the end of the skeg where the rower cannot see it, and the rotomoulded construction means you can't see the water coming in either. And when the penny finally drops, it is impossible to get to the narrow stern and put it in.
By this time Les had turned up so we went out in a Teifi skiff instead. No bung, no worries.
People have been rowing all over the Atlantic suddenly.
Here is the amazing Chris Duff arriving off Iceland in his Snarleyow-alike skiff Northern Reach,seven days after setting out from the Faroe Islands to complete his epic row from Scotland.
Chris writes on his Facebook page:
I arrived in Breidalsvik at 5:30 this afternoon. Many of my Icelandic friends had read my last update and had estimated when I would arrive- they were all there on the seawall to welcome me into calm waters and warm hearts... I know some of my updates from onboard Northern Reach were a bit rough to say the least. That is because at times the water was quite rough as well and I had a hard time just reading the tiny keyboard and trying not to be sea sick..Thank you all for your prayers and concerns for my safety. The passage was an unbelievable experience which will take some time for me to process.
What a great achievement.
Another landfall last weekend was the 20ft skiff Aurora, rowed in to Portree from the remote Atlantic island of St Kilda by a group of novice rowers in aid of local charities. The boat was built in the 1890s but was stored in a boat shed in Portree in 1913 and forgotten. She was restored for the row by local boatbuilder Iain MacLean. Another great achievement! And on Saturday a Langstone Cutters/Coastal Rowing Blakeney crew took the St Ayles skiff Hoi Larntan on the Atlantic - well, they poked the nose out on the ocean at the start of the Ocean to City race in Cork. And they won a trophy for fastest four-oared wooden boat! Congratulations to them!
Back at Langstone I didn't get anywhere near the Atlantic, though I did get quite close to the English Channel with this lot: