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?

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Great Day Rowing

Went to Southend yesterday with Gladys for the Southend Pier Race organised by Lower Thames RC. Started late due to failure to hear 1 minute warning signal or see the flag that should have alerted us that the race had actually started. 
The first leg of the race from Old Leigh to the pier was a long, hard, three-mile slog against the tide and a brisk easterly wind to Southend Pier. We kept our spirits up with the expectation that the wind would push Gladys's big behind and give us a boost when we finally turned. At the pier, the tide turned and the wind dropped so we had a long, hard, three-mile slog back.
We came in last.
At the finishing line we changed sides to make the final paddle back to the slipway a bit more comfortable, and I noticed the handle I passed to the new stroke was bloodstained where it had rubbed the skin off my thumb.
By the time we got back to the slipway the water was slipping away and there was a queue of motorboats behind so we rushed. And I failed to secure the ratchet on the winch properly. And the handle whacked me upside the head.
Hearing 'ringing in the ears' is not just a figure of speech, I discovered. It was like putting my head in Big Ben for a minute. A very odd sensation.
By the end of it I looked like something out of Curse of the Mummy when we had to get up and be presented with the Southend Pier Wooden Spoon.
What a great day. The weather was cracking, everyone put their all into rowing that great tub Gladys, easily the largest, heaviest and slowest boat in the unhandicapped race. Everyone was wonderfully friendly. And I got to be the centre of attention with sympathetic ladies bandaging my fevered brow.
Even the bloody oar was the most stylish trophy on the table.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Home of the Solent galley

On Thursday, to Portsmouth with members of Langstone Cutters RC to see the parade of sail that kicked off the America's Cup event. It was very dull. We weren't allowed to take our picnic into the arena because our surface-to-air Scotch eggs and depleted uranium stuffed olives were a security risk apparently.
So we went to the beach next to Clarence Pier (scene of the last fatal duel in England) and watched the boats go by. I had been expecting a fleet, but all we got were the contestants themselves (impressive), a frigate (seen them before) and a couple of historic motor boats. And a whole bunch of ribs. So for me the highlight of the day was passing George Feltham's yard in Old Portsmouth, for it was here that our Solent galleys Bembridge and Sallyport were built back in 1961. It is possible that Langstone Lady was built there too, probably before the War, but the records have been lost.
Keith Feltham, George's grandson, remembers the yard in its heyday:
My earliest memories are of 'whalers' being built for the Admiralty during World War 2. These were clinker-built boats designed to be propelled by oars or sails and were 27 ft. long. I can remember them being built in the loft of the workshop and, when complete, being lowered into the water from the gantry which can still be seen projecting above the upper doors overlooking the top of the Camber - an operation which must have been hazardous and would not, I am sure, be acceptable to the Health and Safety Executive today!
Larger boats were constructed in the ground floor accommodation where the concrete floor was able to withstand the heavier loads and from which launching was easier although, from my recollection it was never straightforward.
It is easy to forget that power tools, which are used for everything these days, were generally not available fifty or more years ago and the majority of the work was done by hand. There was a circular saw for cutting large sections of timber and there was a band saw, powered from the same electric motor by a series of leather belts over flat rimmed drive wheels, for cutting more intricate shapes. Apart from these, most work was done by adze, hand-saw, plane etc, and the hole through the keel for the stern tube for the propeller shaft was drilled using an auger. A very different situation from today when there is a power tool available for most operations!
Boat-building at Point gradually faded out. I believe that A.W. Clemens was the first firm to go, apart from J.D. Feltham, of course, who died in 1917. Harry Feltham died while sailing in a Victory boat during an evening race in 1958. (The Victories are the 20 ft. black-hulled boats which still have a strong following in Portsmouth and can be seen regularly racing in the Solent.) George died in 1975 and then his business was closed down and my father retired. Stan carried on for a few years after this but now there are no boat-builders left on Point.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Kayaking on the A27

I've been experimenting with a dashcam, one of those video recorders that sticks to your windscreen recording a continuous loop of the last couple of hours of the view out of the windscreen. Very useful in the event of an 'accident that was not your fault' as those ads for dodgy solicitors say, but also fun. I videoed these two on the A27 between Emsworth and Chichester on my way back from rowing last Saturday.
Here's a hint, guys. Roads are for cars. Find yourselves a river. Much easier going in a kayak.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Saturday, 11 July 2015


Artwork by Ray Bartkus on the banks of the River Šešupė in Lithuania. Totally brilliant.

Saturday, 4 July 2015


Snarleyow Too was born and raised on the Thames in Berkshire - so why is she known as a Hampshire punt?
Back in the 19th century wildfowlers wanted a way of bringing themselves, their guns and their bag home. The answer was a flat-bottomed boat that could be dragged out over the mudflats at low tide before dawn, ready for the birds to leave their roosts. After the shoot, they would return to the boat and row home as the tide came in. 
That's my understanding anyway. If you know better, hit the commets section.
The type became popular on the Thames as workboats for lock keepers and platforms for fishing, still known as Hampshire punts.
Today Snarleyow Too ventured for the first time from the Thames to her ancestral waters at Prinsted, on Chichester Harbour.
She took to it with aplomb, though of course I wasn't going to drag her over the mudflats at the crack of dawn. But her ultra shallow draft meant I could navigate over the variious mudbanks and bars in the area with confidence.