Friday, 25 March 2011

Curious Cabinet

An odd cabinet has come onto eBay and I am resisting an inexplicable desire for it. It is one of the rowing stations of an old racing shell, from the stretcher to sliding seat, made into a cabinet, boxed in with a top and a bottom, given a glass door and legs.
There must be a story behind this peculiar bit of furniture. The antique dealer selling it describes it as a drinks cabinet, but I think it is more likely to be a trophy cabinet. Did the man who occupied that seat buy the boat when it was scrapped and have it converted? Did the other members of the crew get their seats? And did the bow and stern wind up hanging on the clubhouse wall?
Beyond dating the shell to 'between 1800 and 1890' the dealer is no help at all.
But the biggest mystery is why I have to resist the temptation to buy it. It is totally useless, rather hideous and would cost me over eight hundred sovs. Somebody stop me.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Rowing in British Columbia

Erik Lyon, artist, emailed to say he likes the blog, which was nice of him, and to draw attention to this nice skin-on-frame rowboat with a crazy windsurfer mast and thole pins that seem to be recycled watzits (or perhaps summats).
The boat is called Fog Ducker, and frankly I don't want to know where that name came from. It seems to be one of those boats that have a wanderlust - she slipped her leash under tow near Vancouver, then ran away with thieves and finally disappeared with a marine policeman. Disloyal, Erik calls it, but he also says she was "the best rowboat a guy could ever ask for."
Now she is no more - the full story is at Erik's blog, Raccoon Mask.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Boat Design Process

A select group from the Home Built Boat Rally gathered on the River Hamble today to play with the latest iterations of their boats. In my case, this meant looking rather despondently at the blisters in the paint job on Snarleyow and making a Firm Resolve to do a full refit in the next week or so.
Paul Hadley's Illusion, an evolving microcruiser based loosely on Matt Leyden's Elusion, got under way for the first time under sail, I believe, and scootered along nicely despite her lack of waterline length. Paul has also devised a method of mounting the light board on the transom for trailering, in which one of the bolts passes through both transom and rudder, thus making absolutely sure that it can't fall off on the motorway.
Afterwards, Chris Waite and Graham Neil repaired to Graham's garage boatshed to discuss his new build, Katie Beardie, a sailing canoe designed by Chris. Followers of Graham's entertaining and informative blog will know that that the shape is now generally correct after a non-approved builder modification, but Graham still felt the shape was not absolutely right.
They examined the hull from all angles like the judges in a Fat Pig Contest, and there was much sucking of teeth. Eventually, Chris decided that the V of the bottom had to be pulled in a little, and the curve of the bottom board was a little too full, so Graham will have to unstitch the hull, take a bit off both sides and stitch it all back up again, poor chap.
But the hull shape looks promising and it will be interesting to see how it performs.
This 'still life' was arranged on the Jolly Sailor's pontoon. It reminds me of an old Goon Show gag:
Henry Crun: "Neddy, you will have to go to Brazil. You can use the company bicycle."
Neddy Seagoon: "But Brazil's overseas!"
Henry Crun: "Well, you'll have to get it waterproofed then." 

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Rowing round Hayling Island

I'm quite pleased with this shot. It shows the Clayton skiff Mabel, Solent galley Bembridge and Teifi skiff Lotty in the Channel this morning. The objects at the back are a couple of jetskis (hawk, gob, spit) but they form a nice diagonal emphasis in the picture.
Langstone Cutters rowed round Hayling Island, but too many people turned up so I only got to row the bits between Langstone and Chichester harbour mouth, and from Langstone Harbour mouth back home. A big swizz, I thought, especially as the weather was fabulous, but it did enable me to get some nice shots from the beach.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Breakfast in Sydney

Peter Miller in Sydney is looking forward to the annual race round Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River. It is one of those lovely places without cars - even golf carts are frowned on - and everyone owns a rowboat to get to the mainland. There's a nice video below.
Meanwhile, however, Peter has been rowing in Sydney Harbour again, this time with his friend Paul at the oars, as he explains:
As we approach Easter a young rower's thoughts turn to the Dangar Dory Derby. The race held every Easter Sunday is once around Dangar Island (located in the Hawkesbury River an hour north of Sydney). The race is about 2.7 km, takes around 17 or 18 minutes and some of the keener rowers have started thinking of a training regime.

However I was able to go out on a leisurely row early the other day with my mate Paul. He did the rowing to the cafe for breakfast which freed me up to take a few photos. Starting at Mort Bay where the tug and ferry fleet are moored we rowed around to Pyrmont which allowed for a great view of sunrise over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It was another good day.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Pushmi-pullyu rowing boat

Bet you had a double-take when you saw this picture. Most people do, apparently, when they see this boat on the Thames at Henley. Surely these rowers aren't going anywhere, facing each other like that?
There is a perfectly rational explanation, of course. It is Geoff Probert's Alden double, with one of the drop-in rowing units dropped-in backwards, so Geoff can coach novice rowers at the Phyllis Court Rowing Club without having to crane his neck round all the time.
Geoff explains:
"I find this use of the Alden the best for absolute beginners as it's the only way that I can see what they are actually doing. The alternative is to have the units the normal way around i.e. as a double and sit behind them which means that you can't actually see what they are doing.
The real advantage of using the Alden in the manner shown is that the beginner can see what you are trying to show them. Once they have understood the basics, we just go back to the pontoon and put the units the normal way round and use the boat as a normal double.
I do get lots of comments from passing boats as quite often they can see that something is unusual but can't quite put their finger on it! I once got a comment from a passing cox about being on the wrong side of the river (we have an agreed circulation pattern here for rowing boats). I had to point out to him that I was in the right and that he should try to understand which end of a boat is the bow end.
The lady in the boat with me had never rowed or sculled before. She is now a regular in one of our quads and has entered a couple of Head races as a Novice Veteran (although now that British Rowing has adopted the term Masters instead of Veteran she is a Novice Master)."
Today I got the chance of rowing Steve Rooke's Alden, another double but with the rowing unit in the middle to make it a single. Getting in was a doddle - it is very stable. She rows easily, with only a slight slap under the bow to remind you the bottom is flat.
Tracking can be a bit wayward, due again to the flat bottom. Steve is thinking of installing a small keel just an inch or so deep to help correct the problem. It will be interesting to see what effect it has on tracking and maneouvrability. But my impression was that the Alden is safe, robust and above all fun.

Friday, 11 March 2011

A boat that looks back to the past and another that looks to the future were caught on camera by Owen Sinclair at the Rotoiti Classic Boat Show in Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand recently.
The past was represented by a reproduction of an old whaling boat, the future by a dramatically transparent skin-on-frame skiff. Owen writes:
Hello Chris,
These were the two most interesting rowing craft at the show; the whaler was built recently by Ron Perano to the lines of a whaleboat which was built in Tasmania, used for whaling in Cook Strait (I think this was one of the few shore-based whale fisheries  in the world, if not the only one) and donated to the Canterbury Museum in 1926. 
The Perano family was one of several associated with whaling and has many descendants in the area today. Another whaling family was the Guard family and a Guard was on the whaleboat today. 
I was offered a row, an entirely new experience. The oars are long, heavy and flexible and pivot between thole pins. 
Although it was an impromptu crew with half probably aged over 70 the boat moved along really well with six rowers and a man steering with a sweep oar. 
The oars were stowed, once the whale was harpooned, in sockets: one photo shows the sockets and another shows the oars in the stowed position. A wonderful opportunity, completely unforeseen and greatly enjoyed. Thank you Messrs Perano and Guard.
The sliding seat craft is coated with transparent film, secured in place with zips. The frames are plywood, the stringers are alloy tubing. The boat collapses into a bag for transport. This is a prototype and a project of Kent Luxton of KJL Sails, Picton. Full of innovation. I will try to get more detail for you sometime.
Owen Sinclair
I don't know which of these boats I want to row more.
The whaleboat looks huge fun and very seaworthy, but the ability to carry a rowing shell in the boot of the car and assemble it into a boat that will attract huge amounts of attention wherever it goes is also very appealing.
Of course, one could own both and carry the collapsible shell in the whaler. Double the fun!
Thanks again, Owen.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Tiger, Tiger

Langstone Cutters went out on Wednesday to Emsworth for beer and chips, and on the way back we dropped in to Northney Marina to take a little look at the Cornish pilot gig Tiger, the boat of choice for the Reivers12 row from London to Paris and back.
Tiger is a very unusual pilot gig. According to the rules of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association, gigs must be traditionally built with wood and stuff, but Tiger is carbon fibre throughout, except for the thole pins where wood is good because they break if someone catches a crab, preventing dire structural damage. She is extremely light and should be fast as well as seaworthy.
Apparently the original set of oars went missing so Reivers12 have brought in a new set, oddly traditional wood macons with proper leathers.
Tiger was used in last year's attempt to row from Land's End to John o'Groats via the Bristol Channel, the canal network and up the east coast. It seems they didn't like Tiger very much, but this may have been because they were rowing her along narrow canals which are not her natural habitat.
Can't wait to give Tiger a bit of a thrashing.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Rowing Joy

Steve Rooke, fellow member of Langstone Cutters, looks a bit anxious as he cuts across the bow of Gladys on our row to Thornham last Saturday. He is rowing Joy, his Alden recreational shell, one of the boats that kick-started the current interest in recreational rowing.
The Alden was designed by Arthur Martin back in the 1970s, when if you wanted to row you had the choice of a fixed seat skiff or a fine boat, especially if you wanted to go offshore. The Alden was a revelation - much more stable and seakindly than a fine boat but much faster than a traditional rowboat.
Very few made it to the UK, however, and this is the first I have seen. Must have a go in it soon.
Here's a video, which is a splendid example of what you can achieve by holding a mobile phone over your shoulder with one hand while continuing to row with the other.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Art Boat

At Thornham Marina on Chichester Harbour, artists and sailors are building a boat out of people's treasured wood. They are inviting people to bring them wood that has memories, which they will slice up, encapsulate in epoxy resin, and use in the boat. Langstone Cutters rowed round in Gladys yesterday to take a look.
So far, an artist has donated bags of the pencil stubs left over from her work - she generates a dozen or so two-inch pencil ends every month - and a woman has left a bit of furniture that her late husband made over 50 years ago, and others have brought carvings, the handles of old garden spades and house timbers.
The boat itself is a custom-designed 30ft day sailer intended to be safe to take groups of children out on the water. The design (by Simon Rogers) is still evolving because nobody really knows how bits of old wood held together by a great deal of expoxy will behave structurally. The boat's bottom was going to be made of it but is now being made of cedar strip, though this is partly because wood donations have not been coming in as fast as they had hoped.
The sides of the hull have been made deliberately slab-like to avoid having to bend the epoxy panels too much, and the builders are considering making the sides in convential ply and laminating the epoxy on afterwards.
Another unresolved issue is rowing. The builder wants the boat to be rowable when there is no wind, because running round the harbour under engine is no fun for a group of active schoolchildren.
Unfortunately, this may be a considerable problem because the wide beam and high freeboard would dictate pairs of humungous oars which would be difficult to use and impossible to stow in the boat. But Langstone Cutters have promised to take a look and see if a practical solution can be found.
Take a look at for more - and take a look in your shed and rootle out a few nice bits of wood to donate.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Going Coxless

Four of us went out in Bembridge yesterday without a cox, so we had an interesting education in steering looking backwards.
We started off by appointing stroke to set the stroke (of course) and bow to steer. This seemed simple enough.
The problems started when we got out of the sheltered area round the slipway and the brisk nor'easterly hit. Because we had no cox, the stern was high in the water and the boat started to weathercock severely, bringing her bow into the wind.
This is not a problem when a cox is steering, because the rudder compensates. But when all the steering is provided by one side rowing more than the other, it is all you can do to maintain a course with one side rowing like crazy and the other doing nothing at all.
The next problem was to keep a course when the steersman only gets to see forwards now and again, but bow man Philip Meakins soon sorted out how to make small adjustments by either not rowing or rowing with considerable force, and making large adjustments by clear commands. Impressively, he even managed to get the correct side to row hard/light despite facing the wrong way most of the time.
The next step will be to install longer steering lines and cleats next to the stroke position, so the rudder can be held in position to compensate for the wind.