Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rowing without walls (but with tea and baby robins)

Read these words: "Rowing club". What did you just think of? A building? Maybe with a bar? And changing rooms? Lots of boats on racks (probably all racing boats, if you're British, though a mix of touring and racing boats if you're Dutch or from elsewhere in Europe)? Regular outing times?

Usually, you'd be right about all of those. But yesterday I was a guest at Langstone Cutters Rowing Club, which flourishes without having a boathouse at all (although they do have what could reasonably described as a strong relationship with the pub next door) and simply keep their boats on trolleys in a narrow strip of land, nestling among trees. What's more, geography dictates that they can only get afloat two hours either side of high tide, so the concept of "rowing is at 8am on Saturdays" isn't on. It was the best fun, and I rowed in not one but TWO types of boat I'd never been in before (or heard of, in one case).

Do you tweet?
Whilst I'm on the subject of nestling, the club DOES actually have use of some indoor space, in the form of half a garage where spare blades and other boaty bits and pieces are kept. As its door is missing a plank, some robins got in and built their nest on top of a life jacket bag. Clearly birds with the safety of their offspring in mind.

New boat No. 1: the Solent Galley
These are a traditional, fixed-seat wooden coxed fours, without riggers, and originally designed for racing.

I gather that they were the precursor of sliding seat coastal fours, but there are now only a handful of them still in use. They're good boats for this type of rowing, though: there was a pretty hefty wind blowing, so I can say from experience that their hull shapes deal with a modest swell and galloping white horses extremely well!

As there were six of us, I started off sat on the extra thwart in the bows. As with pilot gigs, the naming of sides is based on which side stroke is on, so "strokeside" was the green blades in this boat. Although there is an obvious logic to this, the flaw in the approach is immediately obvious when you get into a sculling boat (see Boat No.2 below), when strokeside is "red", as "normal". But hey, this is rowing, a sport rich with traditions, and who needs logic anyway when you're having a fun time out on the water?

As a firm believer in looking after your bum whilst rowing, I was impressed with the TRIPLE-layered neoprene seat pads.

As the pins are mounted directly on the gunwales, they have a fearsome amount of lateral pitch. This turned out not to have any noticeable effect, presumably because the stroke is so much shorter than a sliding seat stroke (although the way that the water kept appear and disappearing unexpectedly in the swell meant that this wasn't the most precise of trials).

After a little while I swapped in to bow (on strokeside), and after another little while, mostly got used to the quite small amount of inboard.

We continued to battle epicly into the cross headwind on a route round Fowey Island (which wasn't really obvious as it's only a part-time island, being under water around high tide), before turning round and heading North East to Emsworth Harbour where we tied up in the marina and went to have tea in the cafe. Whilst there, what is possibly Britain's newest rowing club was pointed out to me: Dolphin Rowing Club, represented by a sliding seat coastal coxed four, on trestles under a canvas cover. I do love the boat-first-building-later approach to developing rowing in his area!

New boat No.2: the Teifi Skiff
Refreshed by our mid-outing tea, crews were rearranged for what should have been a shorter return leg so that I could have a go in the Teifi Skiff, a mostly fiberglass coxed double, again with no riggers. The fixed seat thwarts were suspended from metal brackets, and a metal bar along the inner keel was fitted with ergo feet.
Boats in the wood.
The flared sides were pretty effective at parrying the really quite considerable swell and white horses, and although we rowers got fairly drenched from spray, not much water actually go into this seaworthy, but no-longer-made little boat.

The Teifi, I discovered is a river in Wales. I haven't learned so many things in one afternoon in ages!

Langstone have two Teifi skiffs, called Lotty and Millie. As the club also has boats called Mabel and Gladys, I assumed that Lotty and Millie were christened to fit in with the "traditional English girls' names" theme. But no: they're actually so-called because they were bought with funding by the Millennium Lottery Fund. Brilliant.


  1. It was a joy to take you out in our boats, Helena, You must come down soon to try Jubilee when we finally get her sorted, and even experience the Mighty Gladys (bring extra muscles).
    And perhaps I could pop up to Thames Valley Skiff Club some time?

  2. Cracking story. The taste of salty seawater envelopes me! I'll be checking out Mr Partridge's home waters when I can get to the area.