Monday, 19 January 2015

Navy Day

The Navy arrived in Chichester Harbour today, in the form of Acorn, possibly the first ever Cornish pilot gig to sail under the white ensign.
The plastic gig, completed in navy blue (of course) with a white gunwale, has been bought for use by trainees at HMS Collingwood, the Navy's training establishment and said to be the largest training orgaisation in Europe. HMS Collingwood is a stone frigate, a bricks-and-mortar establishment on shore, but still called HMS in accordance with tradition.
Called Acorn, the gig is kept at Whale Island in Portsmouth Harbour but will be appearing in Chichester Harbour fairly often, I believe. 
Acorn was taken out for a spin by members of Langstone Cutters Gig Club, who said she moves well through the water.
A great addition to Britain's Navy. And despite the latest round of defence cuts, another is on the way.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Dawn at Langstone

An early tide meant a dawn start today. Geese everywhere. But it was just Les and I came along, though the gig club over the water filled three boats with dads who have to ferry their kids around most Saturdays.
We rowed to Emsworth for coffee. It started to rain just as we left but happily only a spot. The real rain came down on my way home. So we got away with it again.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Nobody drownded but there was a wreck (nothing to laff at!)

Langstone Cutters' annual winter row to from Lee-on-the-Solent to Cowes was enlivened by the wreck of the humungous car transporter Hoegh Osaka on Bramble Bank. Apparently she started listing as she steamed down Southampton Water and was deliberately beached to stop her turning turtle.
We didn't row any closer because it would have meant fighting the ebb tide all the way and it flows fast  when it gets going. And anyway I had queasy recollections of the last time I got a too-close look at the Hoegh Osaka three years ago:
We had just rowed past her and were turning right up the River Test. I looked round to see she had slipped her lines and was already approaching at an alarming rate. A hundred hard and we were out of her way. Phew.
Coming back from Cowes yesterday we took care to avoid these guys. Even at this distance they look threatening:



Sunday, 4 January 2015

Rowing on Film (2)

Kim Ki-Duk's film Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring is one of the very few movies where a rowing boat provides one of the symbolic threads that runs through the plot. 
A Buddhist monk and a boy novice live on a monastery that floats on a lake deep in the forest in Korea. The monastery is tiny, just a raft with a small temple. They use a little punt to ferry visitors from a gated jetty on the shore and to visit the banks of the lake to forage for food.
The boat is the instrument of temptation in the form of a girl brought to the monk to be cured, fate in the form of detectives seeking the novice and finally death as the old monk transforms it into his own funeral pyre.
The movie is full of Buddhist symbolism that I had to look up afterwards (thank you, Wikipedia!) but the role of the boat is not specifically Buddhist (at least, it isn't mentioned in the Wikipedia article). But it is the boat that transports each protagonist from one stage of their lives to another.
It is a great work of art, moving, illuminating and stunningly beautiful.
Warning: some sex (a long way away but leaving nothing to the imagination) and some animal cruelty. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Rowing on Film

I have been shockingly badly educated. At the age of erherm and a half and I have never seen the Wizard of Oz all the way through. The other day I caught the opening sequence for the first time, including the disturbing and bizarre twister that whisks Dorothy up to the Land of Oz.
On the way up she passes a boat being rowed by a couple of cheery coves who doff their bowlers politely. Apparently this is a reference to a number sung by the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman called Hurrah for Baffin's Bay, from the 1903 Broadway musical of the W of O.
The lyrics are passing strange (and you can listen to the original 1903 recording here):

'Twas on the good ship Cuspidor
We sailed through Baffin's Bay;
We tied her to the ocean
While the Bulwarks ate some hay.
The Captain said "We'll tie the ship,
Whatever else betide!"
And he drank a pint of gasoline
With whiskey on the side
He had lost his breath
But soon it was restored.

It was midnight in the galley,
It was one beside the dock;
But by the starboard watch
'Twas only half past nine o' clock.
The first mate said, "Unhitch the mules,
We're going thro' a lock!
And then the bo'sun went
And put the larboard watch in "hock!"
For the good ship didn't
Have a cent aboard.

Avast, belay--Hurrah for Baffin's Bay!
We couldn't find the pole,
Because the barber moved away.
The boat was cold,
We thought we'd get the grip,
So the painter put three coats
Upon the ship!
Hip, hip! Hip, hip!
Hurrah for Baffin's Bay!

The bo'sun asked the polar bear
Would she eat off his hand,
But polar bears talk Polish
And she did not understand.
She chased him up a mountain peak;
She acted very tough--
When she made him jump the precipice
He knew it was a bluff!
But if she had bit him
He'd have bit her back.

Two loving whales got in our net,
We knew they were insane
They blew themselves,
And then we saw,
They'd water on the brain.
The bull whale said "Soapine,
I love you best of all the whales."
The lady said "Don't talk so loud--
The fishes carry tails!"
And the bull whale kissed her
With a fishing smack.

Avast, belay--hurrah for Baffin's Bay!
Just three years is a lifetime there,
For six months is a day.
A whale can give a ferry boat the slip,
But it can't get full of sailors like a ship.
Hip, hip! Hip, hip!
Hurrah for Baffin's Bay!

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)