Sunday 30 October 2016

David and goliaths

Went sailing up Southampton Water with the Dinghy Cruising Association on Saturday. Winds were light to nothing at all so almost everyone relied to a considerable extent on secondary propulsion, in my case oars.
The fearless David Sumner went between the Isle of Wight ferry (r) and a monster container ship (l) which looks totally death-defying in the picture I took from a nice safe position behind the channel markers. But the distance between the ships was larger than apparent, and I think he was running the motor so he was under control at all times.
I got fed up sitting there going nowhere so I took to the oars (picture: Tom). Then I felt a breath of wind and put the sail back up again, whereupon it died. This happened about a million times before I got fed up with that too and decided to get stuck in and row back. From Hythe to Warsash. Snarleyow  is quite heavy but under oars she was faster than all the sailors.
Here we are getting the boats out.
The absentee was Tom, the guy who took that picture of me. His motor would not start, then he broke a rowlock. He eventually managed to lash the oar on and got back after dark. Bad luck, Tom!
When I got home I lay on the sofa drinking wine and watching TV. Exhausted.

Friday 28 October 2016


Rowing in fog is like rowing through space. The horizon disappears, replaced with a gradation of greys from the dark of the water to the light of the sun trying to break through.
The downside is it is completely disorientating, with no indication of direction apart from the sun. Even up and down is a bit vague. I steered by mobile phone.
First, I fired up Google Earth and checked our position. Google Earth is the best because it shows all the mudbanks. The picture clearly shows a rough heading. Next, bring up the phone's compass and off we go.
Surprising how quickly the heading changes - I needed to consult the compass all the time even looking at the sun. Surprising also how often one needs to look back at Google Earth to check the position.
Cue for old Goon Show exchange:
Captain Ned Seagoon: "What's our position?"
Major Dennis Bloodknock: "Desperate!"
So it was a great relief to see the Ferryboat Inn looming out of the mist. We had arrived!

Thursday 20 October 2016


Up the Hamble in the Solent galley Avery A today to see the changing colours of the trees. In a week or so they will be spectacular.
The fleet from Hamble River Rowers consisted of Avery A, a Bursledon gig and a sliding seat double scull. We went up to the Horse and Jockey for tea or beer, according to taste.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Messing about in a Quad

Langstone Cutters juniors visited Dittons Skiff and Punting Club recently, to experience the joy of skiffing and build up some river coxing skills. They did so well in the doubles Malcolm Knight got special permission for them to row the club's unique quad skiff, built in 1895.
Apparently the boat was acquired a number of years ago when the then owners concluded it was useless and threatened to burn it. Dittons went to look at it, taking the Eton College boatman for expert advice. He squinted down it, and then waggled the stern firmly. The whole boat wiggled like a snake in childbirth and everyone assumed it was structurally unsound. "It's fine," the boatman said. They got it restored and today is is a thing of beauty as you can see.
At the end of the day these guys floated down from the nearby watersports centre. Not sure what type of sailing rig that is, technically speaking.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Oars For Sale

Southbourne Sea Scouts are having a clear-out of their wonderfully-located scout hut right on Chichester Harbour in picturesque Prinsted. It is a treasure trove of boating stuff, including these oars which they want to dispose of.
They range in length from about 6ft to about 9ft (measured by a scientific process of knowing the doors are 8ft 6in high). With one exception, they are straight sea oars with plastic sleeves. 
The shorter oars do not seem to be in pairs unfortunately but that depends on how picky you are. The spoon blade is a really attractive antique shape and would make a great ornament for a pub.
The Sea Scouts are open to any offers in aid of club funds. Email me, and I will put you in contact.
Even if you don't want any oars, Prinsted is a really pretty place to launch a boat (access two hours either side of high water) and on Sundays from April to October you can get tea and cakes at the Sea Scout's hut.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Last Cruise of The Year (Probably)

It's the time of year for getting out whenever you can because it may be months before an opportunity recurs, so last weekend the five members of the Home Built Boat Rally who could drop everything, hook the boat on the car and head for the water at a moments notice went to Bablock Hythe.
Bablock where? It's a hamlet on the Thames upstream of Oxford, consisting of the Ferryman Inn and a bunch of mobile homes. Not a place that features in those Glories of England picture postcards but which has the three elements required for a successful river cruise in small boats, viz:
1) Campsite,
2) Slipway, and
3) BEER.
There was the usual eclectic mix of boats. Richard Rooth brought his new kayak built to a Paul Fisher design and painted a vivid scarlet. Graham Neil brought Katie Beardie, built to a design by Chris Waite. Paul Hadley brought Millibee, a Paul Fisher Lynx micro-yacht.
Tim O'Connor brought two canoes from his vast collection, a Cheseapeake Light Craft kit kayak and a collapsible canoe made by a Swedish firm (amazingly, not IKEA) that he assembled from a pile of aluminium tubes and a huge plastic sheet. Once up, it looked rather good but went sloooowly...
And I took Snarleyow Too (natch...she is a Thames girl).
On Saturday we went upstream to the Rose Revived at New Bridge, so called because it was built in the reign of King John.
On Sunday we went downstream almost to Eynsham Bridge via Pinkhill Lock (pictured above) and had a picnic.
All in all, a fabulous weekend. But waking on Sunday morning the view from the campsite was beautiful but chillingly autumnal. I don't think we will be getting away again this year.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

By the Light of the Silv'ry Moon

Rowing by moonlight is a rich and particular pleasure, but in the challenging navigation of Chichester Harbour it happens once in a, well, blue moon. Everything has to be right: high water before bedtime, a big moon, cloudless sky and light breezes.
Last night it all happened and we rowed down towards the harbour mouth under the stars.
And we saw the International Space Station swing overhead.
And then there was beer.

Monday 26 September 2016

Mystery Rowing Boat

This lovely skiff was parked outside Nick Gates's workshop when I visited Emsworth Yacht Harbour yesterday in the hope that sliding seat rowing with Dolphin Rowing Club hadn't been cancelled in the face of Force 5/6 winds (it had).
It is made of epoxied ply and looks like an Iain Oughtred Acorn, a design I am particularly fond of. I want one. 
The name is carved on the backboard - Coquito, a villainously sweet cocktail from Puerto Rico consisting of basically of rum, coconut milk, egg white and condensed milk. Waste of good rum if you ask me.
Talking of good rum, the Langstone Cutters' fabulous junior girl rowers who won the under-16 trophy in the Great River Race again and came in 4th women overall (a field of 40), presented me as their coach with a bottle of Gosling's Black Seal Bermudan rum, the official rum of the America's Cup. It is the BEST. Thanks, girls (and your parents)!

Sunday 14 August 2016

Wasting Times

I have been re-learning the crossword. Things have changed quite a bit since I last did it regularly. Much less knowledge of the classics or the Bible required. Much more on recreational drugs and cyber stuff. Encouragingly, the setters still seem to have no interest at all in popular music thank god.
I have also been out sailing quite a lot, including yesterday when a small but elite group went for an impromptu daysail from the beach at the end of Warblington Road, Emsworth. It dries out two hours after high water on the dot and I left it a bit late and got firmly stuck on the mud. 
Now I would have survived eight hours not sailing as I had a packed lunch and a good book (Eric Newby's The Last Grain Race) but everyone I know walks along that beach at least once a day and I couldn't bear the prospect of explaining every five minutes why I was sitting in my boat twenty yards from land.
So after thrashing about with the oars and punting mightily with the paddle I finally got out and pushed. The oozy sensation of mud between the toes is always such a delight. Got off, got back in, got out into thicker water, dangled feet over the side to get rid of the worst of the mud.
It didn't seem worthwhile putting my socks and shoes back on so I sailed barefoot and very nice it was until I got home and discovered I had burnt them to buggery (a medical term).
But the highlight of the day was discovering that Snarleyow sails faster reefed than an unreefed cutter-rigged yacht double her length. I was sailing as close to the edge of the channel as I dared and she was breasting the full tide at the centre. And I think she may have been too tightly sheeted for a broad reach.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Rowing to Heaven

I was brought up at the Low end of the Church of England, but in those days the Low Church did not mean rock bands and light shows but a rejection of finery, bells, incense and anything that even faintly smelled of Popery. Services were strictly Book of Common Prayer and lessons were read from the King James Bible. The singing was from Hymns A&M, lead by a first-rate all-male choir accompanied by a real three-manual pipe organ.
The rot was beginning to set in, however. Just before I moved away, a new vicar had taken to conducting services in a lounge suit of a deplorable lilac shade.
Nowadays it is impossible to find prayer book services at all. Morning Prayer and Evensong, two of the loveliest poems in the English language, are fading sunlit memories. The only thing on offer in most churches is the modern Eucharist involving that toe-curling embarrassment, 'The Peace', featuring physical contact abhorrent to all Englishmen. One of my few hopes for a good outcome for Brexit is the abolition of this vile Continental practice.
But I digress.
Wandering round Hotwells, that beautiful suburb of Bristol, I took a peek in the Hope Chapel, a lovely Gothick confection dating from the late 18th century. It is used by an evangelical church these days, and the altar has been covered over by this hanging.
I suppose I should disapprove, but its vigour and gaiety are completely disarming. And, of course, the subject, which is a row to heaven. Everyone has piled into a fleet of lovely traditional wooden boats, realistically drawn so the artist must have been a boatie, and have gathered on the beach for food, music and dancing with the angels. Utterly beguiling.
Pity about the projection screen. I do hope it can be removed.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Sweet Thames Run Softly

In 1939 the wood engraver, printer and naturalist Robert Gibbings found himself locked out of the second world war on the very understandable grounds that he had taken a bullet in the neck at Gallipoli in the first one. Chafing in his job teaching book design at Reading University, he did a very extraordinary thing. He designed and built a boat capable of carrying his artists tools, his scientific instruments and his camping gear and set out to explore the River Thames.
He rowed in a leisurely way downriver from the source near Cricklade to the botanical gardens at Kew (by then further progress was impossible because of the war). On the way he observed the birds, the plants and fish, using a glass-bottomed bucket. He put water samples under his microscope. And he talked to anyone who passed (especially the girls - he was keen on girls). And, of course, he drew the scenes, including this charming cut of the boat itself and the one below of Shillingford Bridge with a sculler just visible under the main arch.
Then he produced a book of bucolic charm, Sweet Thames Run Softly, which was a surprise success in a Britain locked in a desperate fight for survival. Escapism, perhaps.
In the preface, Gibbings explains the boat creation process: "I wanted a boat in which there was plenty of room to sleep, and one which would not turn over when I turned over. She would have to be flat-bottomed in order to negotiate the shallower reaches of the river, and I hoped that she might be propelled by sculls, for I was brought up by the sea and have an instinctive scorn of 'prodding the mud'. But wherever I inquired I was given one of two answers: either that such boats were not in demand and therefore not made, or that they were in such demand they were impossible to procure."
So he designed it himself with advice from a local boatbuilder, and had it built in the woodwork department of Reading University, Gibbings and his son providing 'unskilled assistance'. It took a couple of weeks to build. Finished in eau-de-nil green, he called her Willow.
Gibbings is one of my favourite book artists, but I had never read Sweet Thames Run Softly until I noticed a new reproduction published by Toller Books at the bargain price of a tenner. The photo is from a website devoted to his life and work.

Monday 13 June 2016

Sailing again

Went sailing again on Saturday, with fellow Dinghy Cruising Association and Home Built Boat Rally members Graham Neal, Paul Hadley and Chris Waite.
We breezed up with the tide to the Crown and Anchor at Dell Quay, where we sat on the terrace keeping an eye on our boats as we drank beer.
Every time we meet it feels more Last of the Summer Wine than ever.
Life is good.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Rowing Razorbill

Went to Beale Park Boat Show on Saturday and got to row David Evans's Atlantic Beachboat, a sail and oar craft I have mentioned before.
To get a crew together, I commandeered rowers from the Bristol-based St Ayles Skiff Hannah More.
We all agreed the Atlantic Beachboat rows satisfactorily fast, even with the straight sea oars David made. It is my belief that with a good set of carbon fibre Macons she would go like a train.
I really liked the way David had provided slots for the oars to stow in, neatly against the side of the hull, and special slots for the rowlocks beneath the gunwales so they can't drop in the oggin when under sail. 

Friday 27 May 2016

A Better Look

Apologies for another picture of me, but I just like it. A lovely composition by Lorraine Grant of Solent galley Bembridge heading back down the Hamble in the rain last Saturday. Note perfect timing.
Apologies also for the late publication of the previous post - I really must return to blogging on my proper PC in my garden office instead of my iPad on my living room sofa, comfy though that might be. The Blogger app is crap, and it often says it has published a post when it secretly hasn't. 

Racing - Not a Good Look

To the Hamble on Saturday to race in the Hamble River Raid, one of my favouritest events. 
The top end of the course is a hairpin bend round a big red marker post, where stroke side holds water and bow side rows like hell. 
Lorraine Grant caught the moment Bembridge made the turn from the luxury pontoon of the Jolly Sailor.
But it was worth it - we held on to the trophy for fastest Solent galley.
And our juniors did amazingly well again - Claudia and Annika retained Bernie's Bollard for the fastest boat in the 'Classics and Spirit of Tradition' class (formerly known as Odds'n'Sods. It was particularly encouraging that we had another junior crew racing this year, Molly and Ayesha, who put in a great performance. 
To the bottom left of the picture is Cordelia, rowed by Mr and Mrs Hand. They had been evicted from Mistress, their Bursledon Gig, by their children who won a pot in it, the ingrates.
Despite the rain, enormous fun.

Sunday 1 May 2016

An Even Blusterier Day

If that's a word.
Anyhoo, Saturday was a sailing day that turned into a fairly brutal row.
Not wishing to turn this blog into a 'why can't the Met Office ever see it coming' rant, but the local hour-by-hour forecast showed the breeze sharpening to F3 gusting F5 in the afternoon, but in the event a squall came in like a train registering 25kn at Cambermet. That's mid F6 and it lasted for over an hour which doesn't count as a gust in my book.
All in all, I learned a lot yesterday.
First lesson was: remember to put on my lifejacket. I launched at 8 o'clock just as the tide was leaving the slipway (because I didn't want to get out of bed any earlier than I had to) and it was half an hour before I realised I wasn't wearing the bloody thing, by which time the slip was inaccessible behind a hundred yards of deep Havant mud, which is not a nice place to lose a boot.
The moment was captured by Andy Cunningham (there to inspect Snarleyow to gain info for his conversion of a similar hull). Note acres of Havant mud in the foreground.
I dropped in on the friendly kiosk at the mouth of Langstone Harbour for coffee and to consider if I was brave enough to go out on the Solent without one, mentioned my predicament to owner John and he very kindly offered to lend me his. Top man! Onwards!
I was, however, still a bit concerned about the wind so I took a reef in. Then, out in the Solent, the wind more or less died so I had to shake it out again. Another bit of useful experience gained.
On returning to the harbour to give John his bouyancy aid back I noticed nasty clouds circling the area, as you can see in the photo. This gave me a nice smug feeling that loads of people were getting rained on but not me. But it was clearly time to head back.
With the wind right on the nose and sharpening, I decided to get a bit of exercise and row, so down came the masts. Just as well, as shortly after the squall came through and it took me for ever to reach the slipway, inch by inch. If I had still had the rig up I would have gone backwards. Lesson: watch the real weather rather that rely on the Met Office.
To cap it all the slipway was infested by jet skis illegally buzzing about damn them to hell, and in the evening a massive filling dropped out into my dry martini.

Thursday 28 April 2016

A Blustery Day

The eminent Helena Smalman-Smith of that great blog Expedition Rowing came to Langstone today to experience the wonders of the Solent galley. The 10 knot sou'westerly was already breezier than I'd expected when we set out at 15.00, but what followed came as something of a surprise. As shown on Cambermet, the wind built to over 20 knots gusting to 30.
When I looked back at the Met Office forecast on my return it was showing this retrospective:
Now I'm fairly sure it was a lot less than that when I checked first thing in the morning. How often does the forecast get updated? Was that squall predicted more than an hour or so ahead? I'm not criticising - forecasts are better than they ever have been - but it would have been nice to know.
Anyway, Helena got a fairly punishing row downwind to Emsworth in Solent galley Bembridge. After tea in the Deck we swapped over to the Tiefi skiff Lottie. The instant we left the shelter of the marina at about 17.00 it was apparent it had blown up something considerable. It was a hard, wet slog upwind to Langstone.
But fun. I think.
Back in the boat park, Helena and I took pictures of each other taking pictures of each other.
And so to beer.
And in the pub she gave me a wonderful rowing gift, a mug celebrating her trans-Atlantic row back in 2011 with her husband (to whom she is still married despite spending weeks cooped up with him in a floating wheelybin hundreds of miles from the nearest pub.)
The liquorice and those darling little clogs were presents from a departing Dutch student lodger.

Monday 18 April 2016

The Conundrum of Jubilee

Jubilee hit the water for the first time yesterday and floated nicely, only taking in modest amounts of water considering how long she has been dry. Geoff and I took her out under sweep oars with Marilyn coxing, and she goes jolly fast, as you might expect from a boat 20ft long but only 3ft 6in beam. 
However...the rowing positions are so far aft she trims bow up and the water is up to the top two strakes in the stern.
It is a mystery why the crew are placed so far astern, especially as the arrangement leaves a huge empty space in the bow and crams the cox'n into a space so small they have no room for their feet.
The sculling rig was a total failure as we don't have any blades short enough.
This morning I took a closer look at her and discovered some interesting evidence of the way she has been modified over the years.
Something was fitted on the open area behind the foredeck, shown by filled holes along the top of the gunwale. And both thwarts have been moved forward by a few inches:
The cox's seat looks suspiciously like an afterthought:
Was she originally a coxless pair? If so, why the huge empty space up forward? And why does she have alternative rigging as a double scull?
Anybody know what Jubilee might have been originally built as?

Sunday 17 April 2016

Jubilee's First Outing

Langstone Cutters has a new boat, a mini-galley called Jubilee, owned by the Pat Sherwin Trust.
She is 18ft long, very slim and can be rigged for sweep or sculls. Very pretty.
We carried her to the water today (she has a handle at each corner and is light enough for four people to lift her with ease) and then launched our Solent galley Langstone Lady. We turned our backs for two minutes and, inevitably, Lady took advantage of the incoming tide and offshore wind to make a break for it.
Our fast-thinking bosun Geoff leapt into Jubilee and pushed off, telling us to hold on to the painter as he went. In a matter of moments Lady was back on the beach. Jubilee is already a Really Useful Galley.

Thursday 14 April 2016


Little Snarleyow went to Bosham today for her first real outing since her refurb. The weather was still, the clouds of an incoming depression moving up from the southwest. 
The improved rowing position and the longer oars worked a treat - she is considerably faster and will be a pleasure to take down the Thames with the HBBR later this year.

Monday 21 March 2016

Emsworth Upside-Down Boats

There was some speculation as to the nature of a long narrow hull seen upside-down on a mooring in Emsworth.
Well, now it is the right way up and bailed out, revealed as a nice, if slightly weather-beaten, Canadian canoe. We passed it in Mabel on the way for morning coffee at Flintstones this morning. 
The weather was fabulous, the sun finally showing some Spring warmth.
But the upside-down tendency seems to have caught on:

Monday 29 February 2016

Boston Snow Row

Mike Gilbert and Victoria Holliday of Langstone Cutters are in Boston at the annual Snow Row from the Hull Lifesaving Museum. 
Where's the snow? It looks as though they are having better weather than us!

Wednesday 10 February 2016

More Rowing in Literature

I'm staying at my sister's place. She has her old set of Famous Five books lined up next to the loo.
I was more of a Secret Seven fan myself but I picked up Five Run Away Together for a quick stroll down memory lane.
George (the tomboy and don't you dare suggest anything else) has her own island, Kirrin Island, with a ruined castle and everything. They row out there to escape the tyranny of the family cook, staying for a week and rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a millionaire. 
Note absence of life jackets. Also, although they pull the boat well up the beach 'because of the storms that can come up suddenly in the bay' they don't have any trouble with any pesky tides.
But apart from that, a much more realistic depiction of rowing than Titchmarsh's. Blyton doesn't use words like 'evanescent' either. And the illustrations by Eileen Soper are charming and evocative. 

Monday 8 February 2016

A Jolly Skiffing Day

My jaunt on the Thames on Sunday was at the Skiff Club, the oldest skiffing club in the world (founded 1895). The club codified the sport, developing a standard design that is built in matched pairs or threes for fair racing.
The club has twenty boats, mostly built in the last 20 years but including a pair of doubles dating from the early days of the club. They have been recently restored by Stanley and Thomas in Windsor and are things of great beauty. The wood positively glows. And I got to row one of them, M.C. Lamb, on her very first outing since she got back from the yard. What a privilege.
It was a first for me too - racing skiffs do not have rowlocks or round thole pins but flat tholes with a string across to prevent the loom of the oar coming out.
This allows the rower to put the power on with confidence but it has the drawback that you can't easily bring the oar out in emergency. So the technique is to manoeuvre the boat with the blade sitting on top of the string and bring it under when you set off in earnest. It is a bit of a faff for the first time, involving taking the handle outside the tholes, taking care not to let go, bringing the handle in and twisting the blade to corkscrew the button under the string. You get the hang of it eventually.
Fran and Dave took me up to the Ye Olde Swanne pubbe in Thames Ditton, a three mile row mainly with the home park of Hampton Court Palace on the north bank. Then we came back. The sun shone. It was fantastic.