Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Sunny Sunday

The weather was so brilliant on Sunday I got to the slipway early and took out a Teifi skiff to teach Nagisa, the Japanese student who is living with us while she brushes up her English at the local college.
We watched the gigs practising racing starts.
Then we said hello to Steve The Wargamer as he prepared to leave for a day's sailing in the harbour.
Then the day's open rowing started. We had fun.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Sulkava 2014

A rather belated report from the 2014 Sulkava expedition race in Finland, a monster 60km row through the lakes in 14-oar churchboats. The start, as you can see, is chaos with 10,000 rowers competing.
Tony Shaw, long-time Helsinki resident, entered again and here's his report. Don't fail to click on the link for another view of the event from Helen Smalman-Smith at Expedition Rowing:

Staying in the (rather long) moment
I have often described rowing, and especially the long-distance variety, as a form of yoga, even a type of Zen. Oops - there go my credentials among the scientific readership. But how else can one rationalise the decision to sit for nearly 5½ hours in hot sunshine, swinging backwards and forwards 9980 times at the end of an oar (yes, one crew member did actually count them - she's probably a good scientist too), expending a colossal amount of energy for no apparent purpose. But that is a fact, and this year was the fifth time I have done it, even acquiring as proof of this the certificate, given to all finishers, now recognising my accomplishments as a Sulkava Grand Master of Rowing!
Once again it's all over bar the blisters - five hours and eigthteen minutes of somehow pleasurable toil through the waters of eastern Finland. And once again the weather last weekend was blistering too - about 27/8C on the water for the Saturday morning group, but thankfully some gentle breezes to cool the body. Of the 58 all-wooden churchboats starting (they now call them longboats on the website) my crew of Espoo Rowers were one of the few to have a good flying start, our wily cox anticipating an early starting gun by approaching the line steadily through the throng!
It's a strange mix of adrenalin and self-control that flows through the body in the first 10 minutes, where the lakewater is choppy with churning waves and eddies, and from all sides the shouts of the coxes adding to the tumult. After that the zen starts to kick in, the drink breaks roll by along with the magnificent rocky scenery of this holiday region 60 kilometres from the Russian border.
My start was punctuated by the sudden appearance beside us of another 12 metre wooden boat, filled with 14 straining bodies, moving steadily past us, and urged on by a very English voice from the stern. It turns out that they were a very seasoned crew of Brits, many from Thames Valley, over for a weekend of expedition rowing (two having already been across the Atlantic) under the nomination What's Not to Like. And despite their unfamiliarity with the boat, its fixed oars, the intricacies of the course, they still managed to complete the 58.3 km nearly 20 minutes faster than my gang.
In our boat conversation was typically minimal, but depending on your partner there's plenty of time for philosophy or repartee. One nearby boat was wired up to a ghetto blaster, and in addition had a curvacious cox with the voice like Geri Halliwell urging the crew to greater things. Thankfully they were obliged to stop off at a convenient island for a pee-break and we never saw, or heard, them again.
Despite my relative experience, and despite my scorn for other crew-members worries (see 1 July posting), I too would dearly have appreciated a pee-break this year! Taking some well-meaning advice and dosing myself over the previous 24 hours, my last minute 'visit' my body didn't prepare me for the surplus of liquids consumed. However with the high temperatures, as well as the cox's remonstrations, I had to keep taking the refreshments (every 20 minutes a swig from my sports drink in tandem with my neighbour, with our oars hitched to the foot-rest), leaving me desperate to get off the boat at the end and search the beach for the solitary facility by those moorings. In every other respect this event is thoroughly well organised, the entry fee covering a solid hot meal and drink, entry to the come-dancing floor, right down to the inscribed certificates distributed to all rowers on the same evening.
First-time participant from Madison USA, Chris Miller had never stepped into a rowing boat prior to the previous month, but had been dragooned into joining the crew training next to his university campus just outside Helsinki. 'It was a blast' were his words as he was helped out of his boat after the race on rather shakey legs. He had never met his crew before, never spoke to most of them at all in fact, but had spent nearly 6 hours in their company happily engaged in their joint mission.
It's still quite amazing to me how the urge to complete the task is shared among the 14 variously fit or flailing crew members, but all manage their own somewhat existential solution and every year over hundreds of churchboats find their way to the finishing line at the stadium of this tiny village in the middle of the Finnish lake district. And let's not forget the 400+ single and double wooden boats which completed the course over the weekend. Those guys need even more 'sisu'* than sweat, proving that this is actually as much a sport of the mind as of the body and boat.

*sisu - the very Finnish concept somewhere between guts and stubborness, that they like to think characterises their nation, along with 'sauna and Sibelius'

Friday, 25 July 2014

Expedition Rowing

Bridge Fiend. "Drat it! It's clearing up,and I suppose we shall have to go out in that confounded boat!"
I have been on expeditions with people like this.
Joe Des Lauriers in the US has reminded me of drawings of Arthur Watts, Punch cartoonist and Radio Times illustrator, so here's another one from the website of his son Simon Watts. Simon is a woodworker with several boat designs to his credit, including Sea Urchin, a rather attractive 10ft rowing boat.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Another boat on eBay

This boat currently on eBay is even less suited for camp-cruising than the last one, but at 26ft long, with two sculling stations and a very smart seat for a cox/coach, it should go like a train.
It was built by Eton College Boat House as a training boat about 30 years ago. The vendors suggest it could be adapted for the Great River Race by removing the outriggers and fixing the seats, but even then its long, slender hull would get it handicapped out of the race I suspect.
But for hammering round Chichester Harbour and the Solent it would be brilliant.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ex-Demo sliding seat cruiser on eBay

The demonstrator model of the Collars Skiff that was shown when the boat was launched at Southampton Boat Show last year is on eBay at £3,250.
The grp hull is 16ft long and only 3ft 6in beam so she should be fairly slippy.
I was intrigued by the flat bottom, which seemed to offer the possibility of sleeping aboard. Unfortunately, the gunwales need to be reinforced where the outriggers are to avoid flexing when the power goes on, and this is done with struts that interrupt the flat area.
And the open space is 6ft 6in by less than 2ft, so it is just too tight for camping in. The Collars Skiff's cousin, the Salter Skiff, would be a better bet, and apparently it is possible to remove the rowing thwart. The search for a cheap Salter for adaptation as a camping boat continues...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Clearing the Backlog

Owing to sloth, idleness and indolence I have failed to post on a number of things that have happened recently. This is one of them.
The rowing Laser, PicoMicroYacht, which readers with long memories might recall was rowed across the Channel and round Land's End has gone down the navigable length of the Thames.
Robin Morris starts his account at Lechlade and finishes at Greenwich. A great voyage - I now want to do the whole thing in one long holiday - the only reservation being that the English weather doesn't seem to guarantee a couple of weeks or so without rain (if you recall, even the Three Men in their Boat abandoned their trip at Pangbourne because the heavens opened.)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Literally Coast Australia

Coast Australia on the BBC has been a great series. Lots of fantastic scenery and two of the loveliest PhDs on TV anywhere.
The last programme told the tale of the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia, wrecked on the western coast of Australia in 1629 on her way to Indonesia for spices.
There seemed to be no water on the island they were stranded on. so most of the senior officers took a boat and sailed off to Indonesia "to find some." "Saving their own skins," said a local historian.
A group of marines took a boat to another island and found water, but despite their smoke signals the rest of the survivors did not come over. They had come under the control of the civilian second-in-command, a psychopath who decided that the best way of ensuring his own survival was to get everyone to slaughter each other.
Eventually, he mounted an expedition to kill the marines. In the middle of their spirited defence what should arrive but a rescue ship.
Both sides realised they had to get to the ship first to ensure their side of the story was heard, and a rowing race began. Quite literally a race for their lives. The marines won, the leading killers were hanged on the spot and the survivors taken to Indonesia.
"Literally within arm's reach?"
Notice that I used the word 'literally' correctly there. Twice in the programme, presenters were guilty of egregious literally-abuse.
Dr Emma Johnston said that whereas the Great Barrier Reef is hundreds of miles offshore, the fringing reef on the west coast was "literally within arm's reach". Come on ducky, it was close but not that close.
Then Neil Oliver himself came out with: "The Coral Coast is quite literally the western frontier of this continent." No it isn't. It's quite literally the western coast. Come on, Neil.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Up the Pole

Rowing Bembridge down channel to the Piranha Bar for lunch, we passed the channel marker at Verner (so named because it is opposite Verner Common on Hayling Island). A bloke climbed up into the can, stuck his head out of a hatchway at the top and fiddled with the light. I love the way his feet dangle out the bottom.

By the Seaside

Taking a boat round the bay and saucy postcards are both vanished traditions of the British seaside. The postcard above is currently for sale on eBay. It shows how rowing keeps you fit and slim...
There is really no excuse for these two, however:

Monday, 7 July 2014

A Tender Mystery

Brandon Ford, sailor and blogger, has bought a mystery tender for his yacht Oceanus, found on Craigslist. He wants RfP readers to help identify her.
Tenders are generally unloved utility boats. Some people deliberately pick horrible ugly boats in the hope they won't get stolen or vandalised on the shore. But Brandon seems to have fallen a bit in love with this one: "She is so much fun to row that I found excuses to row her," he says.
Brandon writes:
Hi Chris,
I would really like to know who built my new (to me) dinghy. It is handy, capable and rows really nice. There are some pics on my blog: The Log of Hagoth: A mystery dinghy for my Columbia 43.
The new mystery dinghy for Oceanus. By the way, the cooler was heavy, its not just my butt that's making her down in the bow.
Any ideas from you or the readers of Rowing for Pleasure, would surely be appreciated.
Any ideas? Post a comment!

Friday, 4 July 2014

A Row down the Visla

This is the Visla or Vistula river that runs through Poland from the Carpathians in the south to Gdansk on the Baltic. Wojtek Baginski wanted to row from his home city, Warsaw, to Berlin, but fate had other plans as he reports:
This year I decided to make true my old plan to row from Warsaw to Berlin by rivers and canals. The route is downstream on the Wisla river, Bydgoszcz canal, downstream on the Notec, Warta and Odra rivers, along the current-less Oder-Havel Wasserstrasse, and finally downstream on the Havel river, finally entering Berlin by the canal system from from the west.
Visiting Berlin last winter for another reason, I had found out that Nordhafen, at the border between the Berlin districts of Mitte and Wedding, would be a nice place to end the cruise. Nothing much impressive there, just an abandoned river harbour and that particular kind of emptiness left by the Berlin wall. I had assumed that all the cruise would be like that: nothing special, no extremes, just a journey. The only challenge was to be back in my work on time 1st of July, which meant about 10 days for the trip. The distance is about 700km, river currents make at least 4kph, I’m able to make another 4kph. Five hours of rowing twice a day ought to give 80 km.
The idea had appeared in my head many years ago, so the practical preparations were short and mainly consisted of limiting the number of things to bring along. I was confident about my “Flaneuse”, a very good rowing boat, 14ft Robote designed by Jim Michalak, homebuilt and tested in many adventures. Also about the pair of nice Finnish oars bought at the nautical department of a construction supermarket. And the small dolly to pass by navigation locks if closed too long. I also had prepared one big waterproof bag, one small waterproof bag, one waterproof envelope containing maps. At the morning of the departure I grabbed the big bag and weighed myself with it, as I used to do before air travel. 110 kg… I decided to limit 10 days food reserve to 2 days only. I retained a little gas stove, an espresso maker and a cosmetics box. The tent was out, the air mattress out, only the sleeping bag in, for any case. One set of sailing clothes for all the way, and one regular polo-skirt and trousers for return trip by train, or family car maybe, as I found it very nice to keep a secret set of fresh clothes to the very end.
The time of the cruise was carefully chosen to meet at least two factors favourable to the project: the longest days of the year in June and high water on the Wisla river which usually floods at this time of year because of water coming from snow melting in May in the high mountains in the south.
I had a good start from the centre of Warsaw at Port Czerniakowski in the late lazy holiday morning, June the 19th. The first 40km, sheltered from the wind, were really quick and nice. Average speed 10kph. I was rowing among islands I could only see on maps or through a jet liner window so far. Great archipelago. Relaxing lunch on the shore at the end of that leg.
But once the Wisla turned west, my Tilley hat, if not properly tied on my head in Port Czerniakowski, would surely get blown away. The speed has been reduced drastically. The stopping factor was a strong wind blowing those days from the west with a speed of 6m/s in 10m/s gusts lasting as long as 30min. It wasn’t perceptible in the city of Warsaw at all… Now, having the wind directly against me, no shelter, water just "boiling" around as waves were generated both by the wind blowing upstream and the river current over shoals, I started to realise that my calculations might not be worth much. I could observe clouds of sand over distant beaches and islands. Those days the Wisla at that area was 300-500 m wide but still shallow. As the northern river bank presented a vertical cliff about 30 m high, I kept it as close as possible, literally touching it with the oar, to look for turbulences and wind reflections which might make the water surface smoother. This way I could also constantly observe progress, what was very important to keep a positive attitude.
However, from time by time I had to leave this narrow zone because of sand bars, more or less submerged stone dams or fallen trees, or even fishermen. Sometimes I had to cross the river looking for the way through the shallows, to gain the opposite low bank. The Wisla sandy shoals are like submerged deltas, with many arms, canals, traps etc., curving with the river stream. If there's a possibility to study the water surface, you can choose your way. But if there's no such possibility, you can count just on your intuition and luck. I had my good luck most of time and got stuck in sand in the middle of the river only once.
Thanks to this year's rowing experience in Gdansk Bay I wasn't worried about the boat's behaviour, my worries were mostly of unexpected slow overall progress and, when looking at a submerged stone just passed by, of the possibility of perforation of the hull, forgetting it once a stone disappeared from sight. In the evening I reached little town of Czerwinsk, on the right river bank, a place with a good road connection that would enable me to take “Flaneuse” back to Warsaw using a car. I made only 28 km in more than 5 hours.
The weather forecast was for the same weather conditions for next few days and more than 100 km of same wide wild river ahead of me, so I decided to end the journey. However, those 28km were so impressive that I feel fully satisfied with the cruise.
Which means he has most of the route still to cover. I must say, it looks very interesting and exciting and I look forward to his next attempt!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Rowing Boat on eBay

This sculling boat hull has just sold on eBay for the sum of £11.08. The seller was a paragon of honesty in advertising:
I got this at auction (seemed like a good idea at the time) but know nothing about it other than it's very long, thin and looks very unstable. Apparently, people choose to set sail in these, personally I prefer something a lot wider with an engine. Still, whatever floats yer boat..... This particular death trap is approx twenty one and a half feet long and has the width of the average pencil case. As you can see it has no deck - maybe it's open so you can make a quick exit when it rolls over or it may have had a plywood deck which I'm sure could easily be made. The hull seems sound and I'm sure would make a good project for someone with a death wish.
Obviously it's collection only - I doubt the postman has a sack big enough, but if you want to arrange a courier yourself you are more than welcome. Located in Brixham, South Devon.
26/6/2014 A kind person has just emailed the following info:
This is called a "restricted scull" and were widely used by Eton College (and still are) to help train people to learn to scull.
I rescued number "five" over a decade ago after finding it in a barn. Yours is number "six" which like mine was written upside down when viewed in the water.
Yours needs the sliding seat, riggers and canvas cover before it can be used. These are all available from suitable rowing spare parts sellers. even on ebay.
Of course, the seller may have been prejudiced by the fact that he lives in Brixham where a fine boat like this is about as much at home as a Ferrari on Everest. And I love that the boatman has stencilled the number to be easily readable when the boat is on the rack in the boathouse, without any consideration to how it might look out on the water. His own convenience came way ahead of that of the Eton scholars and his social superiors actually rowing the boat.
Thanks to Andrew Berry for drawing my attention to this gem.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Rowing for Pain

Anthony Shaw contemplates participation in the punishing Sulkava Rowing Marathon in eastern Finland:
"With the 60 kms of somewhat serious rowing now only just over 10 days away, I am hoping that the many metres I have under my belt will see me through (it's better to think in the smaller units since I certainly don't have the marathoners' minimum of 10 times the distance clocked up in training).
One thing which makes the prospect less awesome is the fairly clear anticipation of what is involved, in comparison to the two female rowers recently recruited who are having all sorts of doubts over the rigours to come. It's true that 5½+ hours non-stop is a long haul if you are used to more frequent toilet visits, but my modest experience (three serious outings so far), getting rid of liquids is the least of the problems. It's a fact though that my trips have all be made in balmy Scandiwegian weather - blue skies, light breaths of wind from time to time but generally perfect boating weather, when the consumption of water or a mineral drink was commanded by the cox regularly every 20 minutes. Sweat was an ample method of liquid absorbtion, full stop!
Another headache for even the hardest of rowers are the blisters. I recently watched an olympic training camp video, and near the end of the two weeks the participants turned their palms to the camera, and should have advised on using a colour filter before the filming started. Six weeks plus of twice weekly outings has toughened up my calluses, but they will surely reappear on the day. This year we are entering the Sat morning 'race', necessitating a very early rise at our country lodging to be on the water about an hour before the 9 o'clock start. And if the weather continues in anything like the current Finnish style we will have at least a couple of rain showers. Whether it dissipates the heat from sweaty palms faster than it aggravates the blisters remains to be seen.
I think in previous years I have blindly trusted in my excitement to carry me through - this year I am attempting to be better prepared: regular training, doing some extra exercises, even planning to buy plastic tubes for an automatic drink contraption - traditionally each pair stops on the cox's command, quaffs a few mouthfuls from an adjacent bottle, and returns as quickly as possible to the oar. But, as before, the essential appeal is the prospect of undertaking the communal hardship and at the same time committing to a project that depends not soley on my exertion but on the development of some intangible element of team spirit that exceeds to sum of individual talents. At least I think that there is a greater chance of it materialising than on certain soccer pitches of Brazil."
I took part in the annual Round Hayling Island race on Sunday, and it was brilliant. Only 14 miles but long enough for me. The weather was fantastic, the company was great and despite being deprived the carbon blades in favour of the younger crew in Bembridge we rowed Sallyport round in 2hr 36min 46sec, coming in fourth of 12. Weymouth's crack crew in their Cornish pilot gig Tristan got round in a cracking 2hr 13min, Bembridge in 2hr 26min and Lower Thames RC in their skiff Spirit of Trafalgar in 2hr 36min. Nearly caught them, and held off another Weymouth gig for the last five miles.
After the race, my hands also looked very like the picture at the top (which Anthony swiped from the website of Camp Randall RC).
Sallyport's crew was motivated by three things: Aspiration, Determination and: