Monday, 14 April 2014

Cornish Skiff

I've been meaning to blog about this for so long I can no longer remember what tipped me off to Steve McColl's Cornish Skiff.
It was designed by Steve's dad Philip 'Murphy' McColl as a boat light enough to be launched and recovered single handed but tough enough to take anything the Cornish coast can dish out (within reason, natch).
She is 12ft long, grp with hardwood trims. The lines look familiar from the local flashboats. More info here.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


Hoorah for daylight saving! Suddenly evening rowing is feasible. Today I went out with the Hamble River Rowers in the Solent galley Avery A, and there was enough light to go all the way up to the Horse and Jockey, have a quick pint of London Pride and get back just as the light was finally going.
As we left, we spotted the Hands' family's new boat, bought to enable them to row double now the children are gradually flying the nest and a full crew for their Bursledon gig Mistress can't be found so often. She was rowed up from Hamble. Chris yelled from his comfortable position on the pub pontoon that she is built to the Mole design by Iain Oughtred. Very pretty and smart.
When we reached the H&J we found barely enough water to reach the top of the brook to their jetty, so neap was the tide. We had to take the rudder off to get the last few yards, and getting on and off the jetty was a perilous operation. I'm surprised no one had to row back sopping wet.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Boat Race

The Oxbridge Waterman's Challenge was held on the River Thames yesterday.
Boats in the colours of our ancient university towns raced as they used to, in lovely wooden boats with fixed seats. They were accompanied by Thames Waterman's Cutters dressed up as they used to, many with canopies for the passengers and flying flags. For more pics, see the Thames Traditional Rowing Association's Facebook page.
So much more fun than the rather dreary procession that occured later that day.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Every Home Should Have One

This is how Cameron Burton stores his Whitehall Spirit skiff. Neatly out of the way when not needed, but ready to be lowered onto her launching trolley at a moment's notice for walking to the nearby waterway. And very stylish to boot.
Cameron lives in the US but the house would not look out of place on the Thames. After the floods this winter, I would not be surprised to see boats slung on the sides of riverside homes from Lechlade to Teddington soon.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Currach in the West Country

Currachs seem to be all over suddenly. This magnificent example, pictured in the Western Daily Press, has just been launched in Minehead, pearl of the Bristol Channel and the place where my folks ran a hotel for many years.
The idea is to commemorate the arrival of Irish priests in currachs back in the Dark Ages, coming to bring the light of Christianity to the heathen locals. They had the best of intentions but if my memories of Saturday nights at the Wellington and other local venues are reliable, the long-term success of their civilising mission was rather limited.
The 28ft currach was built by Padraig O’Duinnin and Dave Nolan, boatbuilders from an organisation called Meitheal Mara - Gaelic for workmen of the sea. Here they are pictured in the local rag, the West Somerset Free Press (famous for the classic headline 'Jeremy Thorpe will not appear in court today')
The materials were mostly locally sourced, spruce and green oak from North Hill behind my parents' old hotel, and coppiced hazel from Dunster. Leather, still a major product of Somerset, was donated by a local firm.
The boat was built in just a week in a gazebo in the car park of the Beach Hotel, where it will form an exhibit in a museum of local life.
The boat will go in the water at least on the launch day, and the backers have expressed an ambition to row her to Ireland in a reversal of the usual direction of travel back in the 5th century. I hope she gets rowed regularly rather than just getting gawked at by grockles attracted into the museum because it is warm and dry, unlike the beach most days.
Steve Sagrott, formerly of Langstone Cutters, sent me the clips. Go on Steve - get her out on the water!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Currach Oars

By an amazing coincidence, this picture was posted on Facebook today by the Great River Race.
It is an Irish currach, Magical Merlin, starting 67th.
Which was right in front of the Langstone Cutters Supervets crew in Gladys, 68th.
Magical Merlin uses traditional sea oars. They finished 281st.
Gladys uses rowlocks. We finished 30th.
Of course, as I always point out, it's not about the boat, it's about the crew.
Just sayin'.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

One thing...

...that Francois Vivier said that I didn't agree with. He likes the oars used in Irish currachs, like these ones. The hole in the flange goes through a thole pin, which keeps the oar nice and vertical but means you can't feather them.
Now feathering is an art and a pleasure, as well as reducing the windage on the blades on the recovery. Also, a feathered blade skims over the tips of the waves instead of clipping them and throwing water all over the crew. The old currach oars avoid that problem with slim blades that can't have much grip on the water.
And I suspect that the friction between the flange and the gunwale is quite significant and probably becomes a bit of a drag after an hour or two.
So give me rowlocks any day.
Though I must admit the currachs in the Great River Race go like stink...