Friday 30 October 2015

No Access

Christine Ball and I sculled around the Langstone Archipelego today. The tide was very high. 
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was very keen for people to keep off the islands.  Penalty: wet feet. 

Monday 26 October 2015

When to Row

Sunday was one of those frustrating days when it was too lovely not to go out, but there was hardly a breath of wind. I took Snarleyow to Itchenor to join David Sumner (left) and Chris Waite (centre) plus Len Wingfield (not arrived yet) to Pilsea Island and then to East Head.
We rowed with the tide all the way there, which was a great way to test the slightly longer distance from the thwart to the stretcher. It is now pretty much ideal for me.
After lunch on the beach, we faced a return against the tide but there was a little wind behind so it was up sail and off.
Chris hugged the shore to stay out of the tidal flow but I was seduced into moving into the centre of the channel by a yacht that seemed to have caught a decent breeze away from the shelter of the trees.
Chris was, of course, right (he has been sailing these waters all his life). His progress was still slow, but he gradually drifted off onto the horizon while I sat in the middle next to the bloody yacht, edging backwards and forwards. 
Every time I almost came to a decision to strike the rig and get the oars out, a tiny puff of wind would flutter the burgee and hope would rise. 
The burgee was new too and I was quite pleased with it. It is a bamboo from the garden shed, cut to length and secured to the mizzen mast with zip ties (zip ties should be included with duct tape and WD40 as the greatest innovations of the age). I drove a screw into the top, kept in place with a good dollop of PVA, and wound a bit of wire round it to allow the burgee to swing easily. It works a treat. 
Eventually, however, the yacht hoisted a spinnaker and began to edge forward. It was time. I dropped the sail, ran out the oars and simply romped away. I had the boat out of the water by the time the yacht got back to her mooring opposite the hard.
Oh, I almost forgot the buoy. Rowing out of Itchenor I nearly hit a buoy with an oar. Annoyed with myself that I had failed to spot it, I gave it a glare as it passed. Then I saw why it had been able to sneak up on me. It had my name on it.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Adventure Rowing

Owen Sinclair has written from New Zealand with another adventure, this time on a river that I would really think several times about before attempting - the Buller River in South Island.
One of the country's largest rivers, the Buller is used for white water rafting and kayaking so it is a challenging place for someone facing the wrong way. It has the highest flood water flow of any river in NZ.
Those tiny dots in the pictures are Owen, taken by his partner Ann on her iPad (click to enlarge - they are stunning full screen).
What a great place to row.

Owen writes:

Hi Chris,
I recently rowed my dory through the Lower Buller Gorge on the South Island West Coast.
I put in a few miles above Berlins where there is vehicle access to the river and my partner Ann followed by road.
Unlike the Upper Gorge, which I wouldn't be game to tackle, there are no big standing waves in rapids or real white water. But there are rapids. My GPS showed a maximum speed of 17.6 kilometres/hour at the end of the day. I didn't see that speed come up; I was probably rather
focused on not getting swept against a rocky bank at that point.
Mostly the GPS seemed to show 11 to 15 kilometres/hour as I came through a lot of the rapids sideways to the current pulling frantically to keep the boat from getting swept into the bank and overturned.
The photos were only taken in calmer areas. I saw some great scenery while rowing through alternating southerly showers and sunshine. 
A head wind on exiting the gorge made things hard although I gave up trying too hard once I realised I was still moving about 7km/hr without rowing. By way of comparison I average about 6 km/hr on a flat calm lake.
I was pleased to see the Westport bridge, my take-out point although 3 to 4 km short of the sea. The GPS showed 41.8 km, moving average 8.6 km/hr.
The dory is not exactly suitable for that river: much more rocker and no skeg would help. I could feel the bow being wrenched sideways, too strongly to resist at times. Easy to see why river dories are designed as they are.
The entire Buller River has been done in a dory, I understand over three weekends, by someone braver than me.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

More Lessons Learned

Yesterday, Tuesday, was one of those gorgeous autumn days when the sun shines, a moderate breeze springs up and you can hear a voice in your head saying "I am GOD and I am COMMANDING you to go SAILING because verily it raineth on the morrow."
So I did.
Lessons learned:
1) Even if you misread the 24 hour timings on the tide tables so you expect high water at 3pm instead of 17.00, when you arrive at Dell Quay at 12.30 you will still get on the water because the hard was started in Roman times and is enormous.
2) When you see a guy wading through the water pulling a quite large yacht to the pontoon (in the background of the picture), don't wade in to help because it is muddy as hell and you will lose a boot, Luckily, the bloke in the boathouse saw it happen and offered me use of his hose. It still meant I had to spend the day with one sock drying on the foredeck, though.
3) To get the boat in at this state of the tide, make sure you can see the pub sign round the corner of the sailing club, where that is where the hard sticks out further into the channel. This pearl of local knowledge also came from the man in the boathouse.
Apart from that, it went well. Even in the light breeze, with the rig correctly tensioned and me pulling the sheet in properly, Snarleyow went about every time.
And at the end of the day I saw an idle benefits-cheater cormorant hanging around on a buoy waiting for his food handout.
And today, indeed it raineth as foretold.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Traditionally-built boats for sale

St Denys Sailing and Rowing Club on the River Itchen in Southampton are selling some of their wonderful collection of traditionally built rowing boats built in the 1920s
My favourite (I think) is Thrush, a 17ft single skiff. Light and easily driven, she is a delight and would grace any riverside mooring. A snip at £2,000.
Swan is described as a pair oar but that is because she comes with two sweep oars - she is rigged both sides so would be a great double sculler as well. 18ft. £1,750.
Sprite is a 20ft double skiff with strange little wooden outriggers. £2,500.
It is a pity the club is cutting back on the rowing fleet, though the maintenance burden of these antiques is considerable. They need the love of individual owners, really.
More details and photos can be found at the excellent blog Port-na-Storm. Interested? Email Graham Neil, the club secretary.

Monday 19 October 2015

Learning to Sail

Saturday was a grey but dry day with a nice F4 northerly so instead of going rowing I took Snarleyow out on the harbour to continue my sailing education.
Being a northerly, the wind was off the beach at Warblington so I managed to get away without giving the dog walkers too much to snigger about, but realised a few minutes later that I had left my lifejacket in the car. Rowing habits die hard...
Went back, got properly equipped and headed out again. All the strings seemed to be connecting to the right things this time except for the mizzen, where I had tightened the halyard rather than the sprit. Funny how long it takes to work out what is wrong when the view is totally obscured by the very thin mizzen mast.
That corrected, I headed off down channel only to meet Langstone Cutters coming up (all three galleys on a mission for cake at Emsworth). Ron Williams took these pictures and everyone kindly did not yell any advice about the mainsail downhaul being too loose and the mizzen halyard being too tight.
These were probably factors in my failure to go about properly, having on one occasion to resort to the oars to haul me around, which was observed and did cause comment later. Once I had the rig right, I also found after considerable practice that hauling the sail in properly while going about improved things a lot.
Later still I passed the pilot gigs and who should be aboard one of them by Helena Smalman Smith, expedition rower supreme, who describes her first outing in a thole pin boat here.
Coincidentally, Helena's new business is featured in RowPerfect today. Paddleducks Rowing offers expeditions from its base on the Thames near Egham, as well as corporate challenges and coaching. A great enterprise and one that will make Helena and her business partner Carol Cornell world champions in the delicate art of taking unstable boats with outriggers and very long oars handled by novice crews, through locks.
At the end of the day, I even managed to get in a bit of rowing myself.
My expedition philosophy is to sail downwind and row upwind, so I practiced striking the rig in mid-harbour and rowing back to the slipway. Snarleyow proved quick and not unduly sensitive to the wind on the nose,
A very successful day all round.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

I Have By Chance Acquired...

...a new boat.
Not my fault, honest. This bloke in Henley made me take it away by the underhand trick of offering his double Salter skiff hull for free.
I have been considering for some time the possibilities of the Salter skiff as a sculler for the harbour and the Great River Race, where it has an excellent handicap. 
Almost all the woodwork has gone, making the fitting out process that much simpler, a great doer-upper.
To make the trip even more worthwhile I signed up for a row with the Henley Whalers in Molly. We rowed upstream from Upper Thames RC (a friendly club) to Wargrave where we moored at a small jetty and walked into the centre of the village for lunch at the Bull (a very friendly pub), thereby neatly avoiding the St George & Dragon riverbank tourist trap.
Note the nice Andrews slipper launch behind, the sun gleaming on the paintwork.
Here we are coming out of Marsh Lock on the return trip, with Bob steering.
They let me have a go, the first time I have steered with an oar, let alone one as massive as this. Note the handle on the top, intended I assume for sculling but used by the Whalers to show the blade is vertical.
It is a rather strange experience at first, but the ability to haul the stern round by main force makes things very easy in locks and other places where the oars have to be shipped. The boat can be propelled into the lock by getting on side to ship oars, the other side continuing to row lightly as you hold the boat in a straight line with the oar.