Saturday, 19 December 2015

Work and Sloth

Work and sloth are a time-consuming combination. And the windy weather has not helped. But last Sunday I managed to get out sailing with the Dinghy Cruising Association and John Hall came along too.
For the first time in weeks everyone was complaining about the lack of wind.
Here we are ghosting into the mouth of the mill stream at Langstone to meet the guys. A lovely day on the water.
Alan Moulton took the picture.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Syrian Story

It looks depressingly as though our glorious leader is about to make Britain an even more urgent target for terrorists with his insane plan to bomb Syria. If you are thinking of doing your Christmas shopping in London, wear a flak jacket is my advice.
The really distressing thing is the impact the bombs have on ordinary Syrians. A while back I blogged about Colin and Julie Angus and their amazing row from Scotland (Angus's ancestral land) to Syria (Julie's). Julie's family underwent the sort of suffering nobody should in today's world, and the bureaucracy and cost Julie was put to before they could reach safety in Canada was amazing. You can read their tale at her blog here.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Admiralty Silver Oar

Watched a fascinating programme on pirates last night. Dr Sam Willis, an excellent historian but a not-so-good folk singer, gave a potted history of the sea wolves with lots of gory detail especially concerning their execution.
Pirates would be tried by the Court of Admiralty, set up by Edward III with jurisdiction over ships, the sea and rivers below the bridges. The court's symbol of authority was a mace in the form of an oar carried by a marshal, as depicted in this tomb of a Tudor Judge of Admiralty.
The execution of pirates was a great display. They would be paraded from prison to Execution Dock, led by the marshal bearing the silver oar.
The oar has been much repaired over the centuries but substantial parts of the Admiralty Court's oar may go right back to Edward III's time.
In the late 17th century, the classic age of the pirates, all had to be sent to London for trial, Captain Kidd for example. This was clearly inefficient and soon subsidiary courts were established in the American colonies, and several of them still have their silver oars. Eventually, Admiralty Courts were established round the empire, each with an oar. And soon the councils of ports such as Southampton and Harwich equipped their mayors with maces in the form of oars.
There is a history of this interesting oddity here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A tub from Down Under

By 'tub' I don't mean this...

...but a training boat, not a fine or best boat. John Welsford, the Kiwi designer who knows a lot about fixed seat rowing, has designed a sliding seat double scull for Lake Rotorua so they can go out in sea states that would prevent rowing in fine boats. It may technically be a tub but it looks smart and elegant.
The idea is to provide a kit so clubs and individuals can build them themselves at low cost - all the details are on John's excellent blog here.
The chap who commissioned the design, Alistair Riddle, says the next prototype will have a fast derigging system to make the boat a bit lighter for loading onto the roof rack on the car. John says he knows of a way of doing it that 'won't bust peoples boilers', but I would say that removing the riggers before loading onto a car is very desirable as it avoids many horrible scratches in the paintwork caused by the gates gouging the metal. Don't ask how I know this.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Strike a Light

The onset of Winter last Sunday means wind and rain today so no rowing. Instead I spent an enjoyable time researching the Bryant and May factory in East London for another blog I write, Ornamental Passions.
In the course of research (isn't Google fantastic for people who want to look intelligent but can't be arsed with libraries?) I came across these early 20th century matchboxes.
The Swedish matches above are clearly destined for the British market, showing a naval cutter rowed by sturdy tars and flying the Union Jack (although a real naval cutter would presumably fly the White Ensign at the stern).
The Japanese match industry clearly wanted to get in on the act, but their cutter is in the Imperial Japanese Navy and flies the Flag of the Rising Sun.
The designer of the earlier one (above) has added a bowman, but the bloke who drew the later design has cut the crew from six to four and removed the facial hair from the seamen. The coxswain seems to have been promoted as well - with all that gold lace he must be an admiral at least.
Also, my standing search on eBay came up with a very jolly seaside postcard from America illustrating that you should beware of wishing for things in case they come true.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Why I skived off work today (again)

Because it was like this:
There were a surprising number of boats on the water, given it was a Monday. Several yachts were clearly out on the basis that another opportunity will almost certainly not present itself to them until well into next year. The trainers of Releasing Potential were out training in the St Ayles skiffs, so they can teach young n'ere-do-wells how to row.
Shortly after this picture was taken, the fog rolled in and gloom descended.

Friday, 30 October 2015

No Access

Christine Ball and I sculled around the Langstone Archipelego today. The tide was very high. 
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was very keen for people to keep off the islands.  Penalty: wet feet. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

When to Row

Sunday was one of those frustrating days when it was too lovely not to go out, but there was hardly a breath of wind. I took Snarleyow to Itchenor to join David Sumner (left) and Chris Waite (centre) plus Len Wingfield (not arrived yet) to Pilsea Island and then to East Head.
We rowed with the tide all the way there, which was a great way to test the slightly longer distance from the thwart to the stretcher. It is now pretty much ideal for me.
After lunch on the beach, we faced a return against the tide but there was a little wind behind so it was up sail and off.
Chris hugged the shore to stay out of the tidal flow but I was seduced into moving into the centre of the channel by a yacht that seemed to have caught a decent breeze away from the shelter of the trees.
Chris was, of course, right (he has been sailing these waters all his life). His progress was still slow, but he gradually drifted off onto the horizon while I sat in the middle next to the bloody yacht, edging backwards and forwards. 
Every time I almost came to a decision to strike the rig and get the oars out, a tiny puff of wind would flutter the burgee and hope would rise. 
The burgee was new too and I was quite pleased with it. It is a bamboo from the garden shed, cut to length and secured to the mizzen mast with zip ties (zip ties should be included with duct tape and WD40 as the greatest innovations of the age). I drove a screw into the top, kept in place with a good dollop of PVA, and wound a bit of wire round it to allow the burgee to swing easily. It works a treat. 
Eventually, however, the yacht hoisted a spinnaker and began to edge forward. It was time. I dropped the sail, ran out the oars and simply romped away. I had the boat out of the water by the time the yacht got back to her mooring opposite the hard.
Oh, I almost forgot the buoy. Rowing out of Itchenor I nearly hit a buoy with an oar. Annoyed with myself that I had failed to spot it, I gave it a glare as it passed. Then I saw why it had been able to sneak up on me. It had my name on it.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Adventure Rowing

Owen Sinclair has written from New Zealand with another adventure, this time on a river that I would really think several times about before attempting - the Buller River in South Island.
One of the country's largest rivers, the Buller is used for white water rafting and kayaking so it is a challenging place for someone facing the wrong way. It has the highest flood water flow of any river in NZ.
Those tiny dots in the pictures are Owen, taken by his partner Ann on her iPad (click to enlarge - they are stunning full screen).
What a great place to row.

Owen writes:

Hi Chris,
I recently rowed my dory through the Lower Buller Gorge on the South Island West Coast.
I put in a few miles above Berlins where there is vehicle access to the river and my partner Ann followed by road.
Unlike the Upper Gorge, which I wouldn't be game to tackle, there are no big standing waves in rapids or real white water. But there are rapids. My GPS showed a maximum speed of 17.6 kilometres/hour at the end of the day. I didn't see that speed come up; I was probably rather
focused on not getting swept against a rocky bank at that point.
Mostly the GPS seemed to show 11 to 15 kilometres/hour as I came through a lot of the rapids sideways to the current pulling frantically to keep the boat from getting swept into the bank and overturned.
The photos were only taken in calmer areas. I saw some great scenery while rowing through alternating southerly showers and sunshine. 
A head wind on exiting the gorge made things hard although I gave up trying too hard once I realised I was still moving about 7km/hr without rowing. By way of comparison I average about 6 km/hr on a flat calm lake.
I was pleased to see the Westport bridge, my take-out point although 3 to 4 km short of the sea. The GPS showed 41.8 km, moving average 8.6 km/hr.
The dory is not exactly suitable for that river: much more rocker and no skeg would help. I could feel the bow being wrenched sideways, too strongly to resist at times. Easy to see why river dories are designed as they are.
The entire Buller River has been done in a dory, I understand over three weekends, by someone braver than me.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

More Lessons Learned

Yesterday, Tuesday, was one of those gorgeous autumn days when the sun shines, a moderate breeze springs up and you can hear a voice in your head saying "I am GOD and I am COMMANDING you to go SAILING because verily it raineth on the morrow."
So I did.
Lessons learned:
1) Even if you misread the 24 hour timings on the tide tables so you expect high water at 3pm instead of 17.00, when you arrive at Dell Quay at 12.30 you will still get on the water because the hard was started in Roman times and is enormous.
2) When you see a guy wading through the water pulling a quite large yacht to the pontoon (in the background of the picture), don't wade in to help because it is muddy as hell and you will lose a boot, Luckily, the bloke in the boathouse saw it happen and offered me use of his hose. It still meant I had to spend the day with one sock drying on the foredeck, though.
3) To get the boat in at this state of the tide, make sure you can see the pub sign round the corner of the sailing club, where that is where the hard sticks out further into the channel. This pearl of local knowledge also came from the man in the boathouse.
Apart from that, it went well. Even in the light breeze, with the rig correctly tensioned and me pulling the sheet in properly, Snarleyow went about every time.
And at the end of the day I saw an idle benefits-cheater cormorant hanging around on a buoy waiting for his food handout.
And today, indeed it raineth as foretold.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Traditionally-built boats for sale

St Denys Sailing and Rowing Club on the River Itchen in Southampton are selling some of their wonderful collection of traditionally built rowing boats built in the 1920s
My favourite (I think) is Thrush, a 17ft single skiff. Light and easily driven, she is a delight and would grace any riverside mooring. A snip at £2,000.
Swan is described as a pair oar but that is because she comes with two sweep oars - she is rigged both sides so would be a great double sculler as well. 18ft. £1,750.
Sprite is a 20ft double skiff with strange little wooden outriggers. £2,500.
It is a pity the club is cutting back on the rowing fleet, though the maintenance burden of these antiques is considerable. They need the love of individual owners, really.
More details and photos can be found at the excellent blog Port-na-Storm. Interested? Email Graham Neil, the club secretary.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Learning to Sail

Saturday was a grey but dry day with a nice F4 northerly so instead of going rowing I took Snarleyow out on the harbour to continue my sailing education.
Being a northerly, the wind was off the beach at Warblington so I managed to get away without giving the dog walkers too much to snigger about, but realised a few minutes later that I had left my lifejacket in the car. Rowing habits die hard...
Went back, got properly equipped and headed out again. All the strings seemed to be connecting to the right things this time except for the mizzen, where I had tightened the halyard rather than the sprit. Funny how long it takes to work out what is wrong when the view is totally obscured by the very thin mizzen mast.
That corrected, I headed off down channel only to meet Langstone Cutters coming up (all three galleys on a mission for cake at Emsworth). Ron Williams took these pictures and everyone kindly did not yell any advice about the mainsail downhaul being too loose and the mizzen halyard being too tight.
These were probably factors in my failure to go about properly, having on one occasion to resort to the oars to haul me around, which was observed and did cause comment later. Once I had the rig right, I also found after considerable practice that hauling the sail in properly while going about improved things a lot.
Later still I passed the pilot gigs and who should be aboard one of them by Helena Smalman Smith, expedition rower supreme, who describes her first outing in a thole pin boat here.
Coincidentally, Helena's new business is featured in RowPerfect today. Paddleducks Rowing offers expeditions from its base on the Thames near Egham, as well as corporate challenges and coaching. A great enterprise and one that will make Helena and her business partner Carol Cornell world champions in the delicate art of taking unstable boats with outriggers and very long oars handled by novice crews, through locks.
At the end of the day, I even managed to get in a bit of rowing myself.
My expedition philosophy is to sail downwind and row upwind, so I practiced striking the rig in mid-harbour and rowing back to the slipway. Snarleyow proved quick and not unduly sensitive to the wind on the nose,
A very successful day all round.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

I Have By Chance Acquired...

...a new boat.
Not my fault, honest. This bloke in Henley made me take it away by the underhand trick of offering his double Salter skiff hull for free.
I have been considering for some time the possibilities of the Salter skiff as a sculler for the harbour and the Great River Race, where it has an excellent handicap. 
Almost all the woodwork has gone, making the fitting out process that much simpler, a great doer-upper.
To make the trip even more worthwhile I signed up for a row with the Henley Whalers in Molly. We rowed upstream from Upper Thames RC (a friendly club) to Wargrave where we moored at a small jetty and walked into the centre of the village for lunch at the Bull (a very friendly pub), thereby neatly avoiding the St George & Dragon riverbank tourist trap.
Note the nice Andrews slipper launch behind, the sun gleaming on the paintwork.
Here we are coming out of Marsh Lock on the return trip, with Bob steering.
They let me have a go, the first time I have steered with an oar, let alone one as massive as this. Note the handle on the top, intended I assume for sculling but used by the Whalers to show the blade is vertical.
It is a rather strange experience at first, but the ability to haul the stern round by main force makes things very easy in locks and other places where the oars have to be shipped. The boat can be propelled into the lock by getting on side to ship oars, the other side continuing to row lightly as you hold the boat in a straight line with the oar.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Rowing in Art

I spent a jolly time on Tuesday rowing Tim the Telly Art Historian round Portsmouth Harbour as he explained to the camera that this painting by Turner is not, as assumed for over a hundred years, a view of Venice but in fact of Gosport.
It was recently discovered that it represents the arrival of Louis Philippe, King of France, at the Royal Clarence Yard in 1844.
Apparently the light was regarded as too brilliant for dreary old Pompey, and the truth only came out by examining the artist's diaries and sketches. There is, admittedly, very little detail to go on in the picture.
By coincidence I had visited the National Gallery the week before and had a look at the huge Turner depicting Dido building Carthage, and the accompanying work by Claude entitled Seaport with the embarkation of the Queen of Sheba.
Both pictures feature rowing boats, curiously.  I took a couple of close-up shots with my new Moto G 3rd Gen phone.
Claude's boat is very detailed, being rowed across the water briskly by its crew of seven. Yes, seven. There are four rowers on one side and three on the other. There is no cox and it looks very likely they will hit the boat on the right. And their oars are ridiculously short.
Turner shows a royal barge with a cabin and a gilded lion on the bow. It seems to be four oared, the oars being the correct length and shown in the easy position. The boat has poise and elegance. Turner has clearly seen rowing boats, while Claude evidently didn't have a clue.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Champs again!

Cap'n JP captured a precious moment from the Great River Race, the time we finally powered past Witchoar.
At the finish we were rather despondent however. Solent galley Bembridge had finally achieved their only GRR objective and overtook us just before the finish line, and we failed to catch the only other Glaydon skiff ahead of us, crewed by a nice bunch of 30 year olds (estimate) from Gravesend.
But our main concern was that we had not seen the other boat crewed by a supervet crew, so it looked as though our decade long domination of the old farts category had come to an end.
We even missed the award ceremony, so only Chris Bream (rowing bow in the picture) heard the call and picked up the V60 trophy, ours for the 11th time. We really must give it a polish this year.
For me, however, the greatest success of the day was the Under 16 crew in the Salter skiff 15 Seconds. Annika, Claudia and Molly were coxed by Annika's mum Katy to a stunning victory - they came 3rd in the Under 18s! Really well done to them.
Here they are at the start.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Great River Race Runup

It's the Great River Race tomorrow and I am watching boats being launched at the finish point in preparation for towing to the start. I took Gladys the hard way, towing her to the start at Millwall and then bringing the trailer through central London. Every year I swear it is the last.
Anyway, of you are in town tomorrow get to the bank or a bridge and cheer the Codger Crew on!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Launch Day, Cobnor

Snarleyow's launch was recorded by Graham Neil on his trusty smartphone and he has sent over the pictures.
The new name was applied:
A suitable quantity of prosecco was applied to the bow and the rest drunk by the congregation. Then the floor show, provided by three big blokes who decided they didn't want to make three trips to their boat when they could all cram into the tender as long as they held their breath:
Then it was up sail and away, moving away from the shore and out of harm's way under oars as God intended:
There was then a lot of faffing about and near misses with moored yachts as I struggled to get her under control and under way, which Graham was kind enough not to record, bless him.
A great first day.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A Concerned Reader Writes

Reader Patrick asks: "New RFP rule? The skipper of the new Snarleyow is apparently a stickler for the wearing of PBAs. Unlike the previous bloke."

Patrick: This blog is committed to safety and always does a risk assessment for its activities, as follows:
Hazardous Event
Risk Assessment
Risk Mitigation
Sudden immersion due to capsize, being knocked overboard by boom or falling overboard when moving about in boat.
Severity: High
Likelihood: High
Risk: High
Wear lifejacket
Rower sits in middle of boat which is stabilized by two 10ft poles.
Severity: Low
Likelihood: Low
Risk: Negligible
No mitigation measures required

Sunday, 23 August 2015

I am sailing

Friday was my first long sail in Snarleyow, from Cobnor to Langstone to see a flotilla of WW2 canoes that took part in the Cockleshelll Heroes operation. They were transporting two blue plaques to commemorate Cdr Goulding, CO of the various naval establishments on Hayling Island that trained and operated waterborne special operations, including the original Special Boat Service.
Approaching Langstone I came up with Mike Gilbert out sculling, who took this picture of me looking very, very smug.
Then I went to the Royal Oak for a quick pint and returned tooking, if possible, even smugger. If that's a word.

New Toys

I have been playing with my new toy at the Dinghy Cruising Association's annual camp at Cobnor, a peninsular in Chichester harbour close to Bosham. 
Yesterday my chum Paul and I took her up to Dell Quay in company with Chris Waite in his self-designed and built sailing dinghy Polly Wee. As the wind was in the east, unusually, I decided to test Snarleyow's performance under oars by rowing the long straight reach at Itchenor while Chris beat up, tacking in and out of the lines of very expensive yachts. I am happy to report that we kept up with him nicely.
Chris had to return early but Paul and I hauled the rig up and carried on to the Crown and Anchor. On the beach was a family experimenting with its new toy, an RS Aero that had clearly recently been bought for No1 Son, seen here installing the daggerboard. He seemed to be having a lot of fun too.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


My new boat has been renamed Snarleyow (of course) and hit the water at Cobnor yesterday. She sails beautifully.
Out in the harbour I decided to test the rowing position, and began to strike the rig. The balanced lug came down easily, and I was just stowing the mast when a massive rib zoomed up. "Are you in trouble, Sir?" they asked, with that polite assiduouity of people who are determined to do you good whether you need it or not. I assured them that everything was under control and I was going to row. "Are you sure you're OK?" they asked. "We can give you a tow if you want." 
It is true - sailors really cannot understand that anyone might want to row, even like to row. And Snarleyow rows very well for a rather heavy boat.
And when on her trailer she is  EXACTLY the right height to lean on when chatting.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Got me a boat

When I wrote on Tuesday that I was looking for a row/sail boat, I never thought I would own one by Friday.
Browsermeister Brian Pearson pointed out an ad for a boat that seemed to fit the bill, so I schlepped over to Clacton yesterday to take a shuftie.
The boat is a ketch based on a Cygnus 15 hull. Now I happen to know the Cygnus 15 quite well - on the River Hamble it has been rebranded the Bursledon Gig. So I knew she rows well. But would the owner be able to convince me she can also sail?
I was shown her by one of the builders, Alan Hopewell. His old friend John, the owner and the other builder, suddenly and distressingly died three years ago and the boat must now be sold.
Alan took me through the rig and it seems well thought through and even an ignorant sailor such as myself should be able to learn the ropes fairly quickly I hope.
She has a big flat floor that is only a couple of inches shorter than me, so camping in her will be possible. With a bit of chainsaw surgery, sleeping aboard may even be comfortable.
So I paid electronically and towed her home. After a minor disaster (light board fell off) and a moremajor  disaster (trailer tyre blew out on M25) I arrived home triumphant.
A few modifications (change the rowlocks, add a stretcher) and she will be ready for a fortnight of cruising at the DCA camp at Cobnor. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

End of an Era

You may have noticed the blog header has changed. For those of you who have already forgotten what it looked like, here it is for one last time.
It is my favourite image of my sliding seat Chippendale Sprite, Snarleyow, taken at East Head looking out towards Thorney Island about ten years ago.
Since then we have been all over Chichester and Langstone harbours, round Hayling Island, up the Hamble, Itchen and Arun, down the Thames, round the Broads and down the Severn. She has changed colour twice, got new gunwales and had her outriggers lifted. It's been such fun.
But lately we have been drifting apart. I have gone over to fixed seat rowing, partly because rowing with a crew is sociable and keeps me fitter (no opportunity for a little break every ten strokes) but also because my legs don't seem to enjoy being flexed to their maximum extent so much these days.
She has been spending more and more time upside down behind the house, looking more and more despondent.
So I bit the bullet and passed her on to Graham who is an amazing craftsman and rower, and is giving her a new lease of life.
I am now looking for a boat that sails as well as rows, to take part in Dinghy Cruising Association rallies. John Welsford's Walkabout design is the front runner. Has anybody got one for sale? If not, can anybody recommend a builder in southern England who could knock one up really cheap?