Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Bronze Age Boating

First off the start line at the GRR was the half-size replica of the Bronze Age Dover boat, which was launched to much fanfare in 2012 but promptly sank. 
It was a rushed job to meet the launch date, so the builders had filled in the massive gaps between the planks with bath sealant or some damn stuff. Happily, the boat now floats after being taken apart and reassembled properly using entirely Bronze Age gap-filling gloop made mainly of beeswax.
The tale was told in a recently-broadcast Time Team Special that featured a two-second clip of Bembridge's bow, all that aired of a three-hour session in which we rowed Sir Tony Robinson round the harbour explaining why a boat has to have a bow if it is to slip through the water efficiently.
The replica has a bow but the design is rather speculative as the original had lost its entire front end. They don't even know how long it was. 
The crew struggled manfully but progress was painfully slow. Was it an inefficient bow design or the fact that it was being paddled by a bunch of sedentary archeologists that dragged it back to finish 327th in a time of four and a half hours? 
The first shall be last, as the good book hath it.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Hunt

The unique thing about rowing races is that the crew can see threats coming up behind but only the coxswain can see the boat in front.
This makes it very difficult to overtake. A cox can shout and scream about how near the opposition is and how easily they can get past, but the crew never really takes it seriously. Meanwhile, the crew in front can see doom approaching and redoubles their efforts.
Gladys got stuck behind our rival Claydon skiff Witchoar for ages. They started slightly before us for some reason. Here we are slogging through Chiswick unable to get past.
Here's another attempt failing.
Eventually it got too absurd and we managed to up the stroke rate for long enough to get through. Then Witchoar seemed to lose heart, as often happens. Now we could see their timing get ragged as they faded into the distance.
But as we approached the finish line, it nearly happened to us.
Here we are emerging from Richmond Bridge, pursued by the camera boat (why, I cannot imagine).
Just a few seconds later, came this:
Solent galley Bembridge, with a crew of cocky 40+ youngsters who have been loudly threatening to get past us in the GRR for years without success. Here they are storming past the Pembrokeshire longboat Yellow.
This time it was us who had to give everything we had as we saw the much faster boat relentlessly approaching. But we held them off, finishing a few boat lengths ahead - 14 seconds ahead in fact.
But that was GOOD ENOUGH. Gladys was 30th, Bembridge 31st. Yay us!
Thanks to Ron and Cheryl Williams for the top pictures, and Paula Bray for the lower ones.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Wooden Gig for sale on eBay

Nick Gates, Emsworth boatbuilder and owner of Ocean Pearl (on which I have still not been sailing) writes to say that a friend of his is selling a wooden rowing/sailing gig built by one C. Matthews at the School of Navigation at Warsash back in 1972.
She is 20ft long, beam 5ft 6in and draws 18in. The mug of tea is extra.
Nick writes:
"A friend of mine is selling a gig I sold to him many years ago. It's actually in good condition, teak centerline, iroko planking, teak thwarts etc but it does need reframing. I am keen it finds a good home rather than be bought by someone for firewood. It's just gone on eBay.
I did work up a price to reframe it in oak. He has sails. I have spars. It would make a great raid boat. Trailer is for local use only. Do you know anyone who may be interested? Could you possibly put it on your blog to raise awareness? If so, eternally grateful!
Cheers, Nick"
She certainly would make a great raid boat, as long as you can raise a crew of six to row her effectively. I think she would make a great club boat, possibly for Sea Scouts or Cadets. Bidding has reached £51 but the purchase price would be the smallest part of the cost of the boat, of course.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

A Great Great River Race

It was a fantabulous day. Organised chaos at the start as usual.
Some crews took it more seriously than others, but everyone had a great time.
We took loads of photos.
We all had blisters at the end. Especially Jenny.
Gladys won the Supervets trophy (again) and beat Witchoar (but it was harder work than last year) and got in ahead of Bembridge (by about three boat lengths).
Mission accomplished (except that we were beaten to the Claydon Cup by a bunch of teenage gorillas but hey, that's racing).

Friday, 26 September 2014


Three Solent galleys lie at Millwall, Isle of Dogs, ready for the Great River Race tomorrow. Gladys and Mabel, the Glaydon skiffs, are on the slipway with two Salter skiffs. Three Cornish pilot gigs are also in the race. That is ten boats from Langstone Cutters, a record.
The weather forecast is warm for the time of year, with a light southerly breeze.
It's going to be a blast. If anyone is close to the course tomorrow afternoon (it covers the 21 miles between Millwall and Ham) come and cheer us on.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

In the Lock

Last week's visit to Greenland Dock involved a tense passage through the old ship lock into the Thames. 
The original gates were removed when the dock was closed to shipping, being replaced with much narrower quadrant gates. This makes access difficult for rowing boats as the oars are too wide. 
To get in I got the crew to toss oars and helped maintain forward momentum by paddling with stroke's blade, accompanied by a vigorous rendition of Just One Cornetto.
It didn't really work - the boat behaved in a very peculiar way and we drifted round the lock in a rather embarrassing way until bow managed to grab one of the ropes dangling from the side and we got into position.
The following day we brought paddles for bow and cox and things were much more under control.
Thanks to Mick Buckley for the pic.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Back on the Tideway

To London yesterday with Langstone Adventure Rowing to help train crews from a major corporation taking part in the Great River Race on Saturday week.
They should have been coxing themselves but a couple of no-shows meant I was yelling at them again, in a brutally supportive way.
We launched at the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre on Greenland Dock, just behind and to the right of the tailfin of this aircraft:
I kept a wary eye on the sky but he didn't seem to be around.
Today the dock is very charming, lined with homes rather than wharves.
Getting on to the river was a bit challenging. First there is a narrow, low swing bridge, then a narrow, deep and alarming lock. Lots of shortening oars and trying to get hold of the cables so we didn't drift out into the middle. I made a complete Horlicks of it going out. The boat was behaving very oddly and didn't seem to respond to the oars in the usual way at all, possibly due to the combination of a light breeze and a gentle current. Anyway, we finally got attached and the lock gates opened revealing troubled water outside. My heart sank. Happily, Mike Gilbert in the other boat went first.
One of the cox's necessary skills is to look totally confident at all times so we struck out, oars shortened, and were rewarded with a lovely autumn evening on the river with views of Canary Wharf, Greenwich and, towards the City, the Shard, the Walkie-talkie, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin.
Thanks to Mike for the pictures.