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.