Saturday, 6 February 2016

My New Rowing Jacket

I pack a waterproof jacket in my bag whenever it looks like rain, and lately that has been ALL THE BLOODY TIME. But all the jackets I have had so far have had one or more irritating defects, the main one being letting water in within minutes of a shower starting but that is probably because I am a notorious cheapskate and will not pay more than about thirty sovs for any item of clothing.
My most recent one is pictured on the left. I went sculling in it the other day and it reminded me in no uncertain terms how appalling it is.
The front zip has a flap over it, held in place by velcro, which caught my thumb at the end of EVERY stroke. It really was getting to me by the end. The slight ripping noise as the velcro came apart didn't help.
The next annoyance is the hood. Hoods are a big nuisance when trying to look over your shoulder and this one is so loose it completely blinds you. It can be folded away into the collar but that makes the collar bulky and uncomfortable.
So today I went shopping and ended up in Mountain Warehouse where I found the jacket on the right.
The zip and the taped seams are waterproof (its says on the label) and there is no flap to catch thumbs. There is no hood. And it has a nice tail on the back so the person behind you is not regaled with any put-offing views when you lean forward to the catch.
You will have spotted the fact that it is actually a cycling jacket but I am prepared to overlook this (and the dayglo piping) for all its other advantages. And the fact that it was on sale at £29.99 (original price £69.99).

Friday, 5 February 2016

Death of a Marine

I always read the military obituaries in The Times. Sailors, soldiers and airmen are always so much more colourful than politicians or administrators.
Today, it was General Sir Peter Whiteley, a marine who had served in the war in various ships. In Tokyo Bay on the day of the Japanese surrender, he was awarded an RN watch-keeping certificate, something hardly ever given to a marine.
He then qualified as a naval fighter pilot, later transferring to helicopters and gaining his parachute wings. One of his colleagues speculated on his reasons for not learning to command a submarine in terms apparently too rude to print even in today's Thunderer. If anybody knows what it was, please post it in the comments section.
Sir Peter was an avid sailor, and when in Oslo as C-in-C Allied Forces Northern Europe he challenged King Olaf to a race - in Optimists, a boat I cannot even fit in let alone sail. Apparently he even let the King win.
Sadly there seems to be no picture online of this event, so the substitute at the top of the post is defective in that it is not King Olaf, not Sir Peter and not in Oslo. Sorry.
For the story about the bear, click here.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Mahurangi River

I'd never heard of the Mahurangi River until the other day and suddenly it is where the action is. The Mahurangi Regatta was last weekend and a fleet of Kiwi St Ayles Skiffs made an appearance as part of their raid to North Island.
New Zealand Coastal Rowing got a fleet together for a two-week tour, centred on the country's premier event for classic wooden yachts and power boats. Boat designer supreme John Welsford accompanied the raid in his liveaboard cabin cruiser, acting as 'baggage barge' as he put it.
More pictures Alan Houghton's excellent Waitematawoodys site and and Mahurangi Magazine.
From the perspective of a dismal windy, wet and dark northern winter, it looks brilliant.
One skiff was even sailed...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Mahurangi Punt

The Mahurangi River is on the northeastern tip of North Island, New Zealand. Like Chichester Harbour, it is infested with mudflats. So the local boat is a flat-bottomed punt with many features in common with my own Hampshire punt Snarleyow Too (see masthead).
The main difference is the flare of the sides, with the lowest plank bent vertically to form a pointed stern so the water can flow smoothly away without the turbulence that follows Snarly wherever she goes. Above is a neat V transom giving a very attractive shape to the boat.
The first Mahurangi punts were built of solid kauri so they must have weighed a ton, especially as lengths ranged from 16 to 18ft (Snarley is a mere 11ft). This is a modern copy in plywood built by Colin Brown of Whangateau Traditional Boats.
I really like it. It looks as though it would have all the advantages of shoal draft with none of the vulnerability of the Hampshire punt's vertical sides and low freeboard. Does anybody do any plans?
There's more on their history here.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Australian Risk Assessment

From AA Gill's article on foraging for food on Kangaroo Island in the Sunday Times yesterday.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Sliding Seat Frustration

I almost went sliding seat rowing the other day. Philip Meakins is one of those people who accumulates boats (he says he has about 12 in and around his house at the moment), and we met the other day to take a look at a sliding seat coastal four he rescued because burning such a lovely wooden hull would be criminal boaticide or something.
Anyway, the idea is to take it to Emsworth and get a group of slidey-seaty people together to get it back on the water.
Afterwards, we went rowing up the Hamble in a small fleet including two of Philip's boats. One was the boat he built for himself, an Iain Oughtred Mole design called Kingfisher, and a slim, elegant skiff with a Piantedosi drop-in sliding seat/outrigger. That was for me.
I got in with keen anticipation - she looks quick. But on the first stroke my behind crashed on the back stop about an inch short. Damn. And on the recovery I had to slide my hands over my knees to keep the blades out of the water.
The boat was just several sizes too small. Not only are my legs too long, my weight pushes the boat lower in the water, bringing the handles of the blades down very substantially because of the leverage. Philip had to take her instead. I went in the Solent galley Avery A.
I get similar problems in Steve Woods' Virus. Because I'm at the upper end of the 100kg weight range, the self-bailing stern is always just underwater, so every time I come forward water is sucked up into the boat, dragging the boat backwards.
Which brings me to the boat in the picture at the top of the post, the new British-made GlideOne.
It is has got so much going for it. It is made of tough rotomoulded polyethylene providing low-maintenance hull at low cost - just £1,400 (plus VAT, plus blades). The hull is long and slim and has a proper little transom instead of a stupid self-bailer. It should be a hit as a training boat for clubs and schools, and as a leisure rowing boat for fitness freaks.
Unfortunately, rowers of average height such as myself will never own one - the maximum weight is a mere 75kg.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Titchmarsh's Folly

My book group has chosen Folly by green-fingered TV talking head Alan Titchmarsh for this month's read. Not my sort of thing as a rule so I was pleasantly surprised to find Chapter 2 opening with a glowing description of a group of friends rowing down the river at Oxford on a perfect April day in 1949.
It starts purple: "The long trails of willow wands were still unblemished by summer breezes and they sketched evenescent patterns on the water as the freshly varnished rowing boat nudged its way forward beneath them."
Two chums sit 'in the sharp end of the boat', Leo Bedlington reclining, trailing his hand in the water, John Macready sitting with his elbows on his knees. A beautiful girl sits "in the back of the boat."
"Harry Ballantine was on the starboard oar...alongside the stocky, sandy-haired youth who sat beside him and encouraged him to keep up."
Eh? What sort of boat is this? Two rowers side by side, each with an oar? I learned to row not far from Oxford and not so much later than 1949 and I have never seen any skiff beamy enough to allow more than one oarsman on a thwart (tell me if I am wrong).
What happens next is even more extraordinary. 
"[The rowers] glanced sideways at each other and, with a brief nod, changed the direction of their stroke. The boat stopped abruptly, and with the deftness of a seal slipping from a rock into the waiting sea, the Honourable Leo Bedlington disappeared over the side with hardly a splash."
What larks!
But how did they manage to tip a man lying in the boat over the side simply by backwatering? He would have to be standing in the bow like a human figurehead. 
Clearly Titchmarsh had limited time off from his talk show for research, so it came as no surprise to find the Hon Leo Bedlington describing himself as a 'Hooray Henry' a few pages on. In 1949? The phrase was unknown until the 1980s, according to Google N-Gram. Careless.