Other PicoMicroYacht

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

CASPA , London's Lost Route and the Pet Shop Boys

The PicoMicroYacht blog was started in 2012 to keep people up to date about preparations for a charity row across the English Channel.

It was kept going and, since then, the voyages have been mainly linked to raising money for CASPA, a charity in South East London that helps support children, young people and families affected by autism.

How can the work of the charity be explained? I cannot do better than refer to this video, which explains it all.

From the CASPA website: https://caspabromley.org.uk/

There are not many opportunities in life to literally transform the lives of young people in our communities, as CASPA does, and I am so glad to be a small part of this.

As indicated in a previous post, the running group 'Fourdaysrunning'  that does charity fundraising for CASPA, has decided this year to run along the South Downs Way for 100 Kilometres.  Starting at Arundel, they will run  through south Sussex.

PicoMicroYacht will join them after exploring London's Lost Route to the Sea, rowing along the Sussex coast to their finishing point, Eastbourne.

The Lost Route to the Sea encompasses the countryside between London and Sussex, with the Wey and Arun Canal the focal point. Various people have written about their experiences voyaging this canal.

This includes a charming waterways travelogue written by J.B. Dashwood, written in the Victorian era. Dashwood reduced the mast of his cat rigged sailing boat, Caprice, and had it towed by a horse up the river Wey and then down through the Wey and Arun canal, using the river Arun to reach  Littlehampton.

Dashwood's book: Note the difficulty with his horse who was refusing to go through a towpath gate

His aim had been to get to Portsmouth.  However, because the canal link via Chichester had long since disappeared, he eventually daringly ventured out into the English Channel and sailed westward round Selsey Bill into the Solent. Despite rough seas and having to bail his boat out, he arrived in Portsmouth safely.

His book was published in 1868 and shortly after a closure order for the Wey and Arun canal was made. Although the canal had become nonviable for commerce,  many regretted the canal's closure, including the writer P. A. L. Vine, who was inspired to write the book, London's Lost Route to the Sea, published in 1965.

This book drew on the sentiments of a poem by Rudyard Kipling called 'The Way Through the Woods.' Vine has reflected on the manner in which the canal wound through the gently wooded landscape of the Surrey and Sussex border and quoted from Kipling as follows:

They shut the road through the woods
seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
and now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods.

(the Way Through the Woods, Rudyard Kipling, published 1899)

Over the years, following the writings of Vine, a sense of saudade about the canal has mobilised people to form the Wey and Arun Canal Trust, with  over 3,000 members and volunteers  restoring it in sections.

PicoMicroyacht will traverse the length of the canal, rowing where it has been restored and running along the Wey South path when it is not possible to row.

The Way Through the Woods - Pet Shop Boys version

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

Words: Rudyard Kipling
Music: Tennant / Lowe

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

PicoMicroYacht's Sartorial Interlude

I am indebted to the advice of Roger Barnes's book, The Dinghy Cruising companion, full of sounds advice for those venturing out to sea in small boats. He is a real enthusiast as indicated by the following quote:

'You will venture into the fringes of the wildness with the minimum of simple gear, to live with it on its own terms. You will know that one of the sure ways to contentment in this life is a small boat, a fair wind, and a new coast to explore'

For PicoMicroYacht I don't even need a fair wind to make this a reality, although it can be pushing it to find the fringes of the wildness on the south of England.

Roger Barnes also has advice about what to wear. His preference is for a woollen base layer, with a wool sweater and cotton oversmock. He then does not bother with modern fabric sailing jackets but goes for polyester fishing gear, which are completely waterproof and dry very quickly.

I have been using a merino wool base layer. The advantage this is that it is light and warm. But if you sweat, it does not 'pin' a damp and cold material to you. It soaks up moisture and releases it outwards. I have a blue wool crew cut traditional sweater. I also wear blue cotton Craghopper trousers, these having very useful pockets for sailing, including a strategic zipped up one for keys.

I have to admit, with a blue peak cap, I may look a little like Herge's Tintin character, Captain Haddock.

Last year for the Irish row, I bought a light padded  long length fishing jacket, which is very comfortable and warm, the  length ensuring the back is covered when I compress forward at the start of a rowing stroke. This jacket breaths well and does not seen to restrict movement too much. It also has an plethora of pockets.

When I set off from Greenwich Yacht Club, one concerned sailor told me that I might get hypothermia due to the cold air temperature. It turned out that with all that gear on I was toasty warm and had to take the jacket off. I covered my exposed feet with the jacket and, together with gloves, everything was comfortable.

A fishing jacket strewn across my feet to keep them warm

Here Captain Haddock goes rowing. He is quite clumsy but a courageous character.

Monday, 12 February 2018

PicoMicroYacht takes the Queen's Highway

The next stage of  PicoMicroYacht's discovery of London's lost route to the Sea was to go through central London. In the days that this route was active this part of the Thames was busy with all manner of craft, and steam power was mixed up with sailing and rowing.

The Pool of London in 1842

 Now there are less ships but the Thames narrows considerably, the banks filled in and the embankments built up in the last century to accommodate modern London.

The river flows rapidly as it funnels and the proximity of the bridges and piers makes the ride up the Thames a nautical helter skelta for the unwary. Surprisingly, you do not need a licence to go boating on this part of the Thames since the tidal Thames is known as a King's Highway and is free for the general public. Historically,  a King's highway is defined as a public passage for use of the sovereign and all his or her subjects.

The gateway to the ride is Tower Bridge and PicoMicroYacht was careful to go through the right hand archway to avoid a fast moving Clipper catamaran ferry.

The wash of the ferries kicked up rough, accentuated by shallows that caused close to overfalls

After a succession of legendary bridges PicoMicroYacht was opposite the London eye and it was hard to keep the camera steady and level

Very soon the Houses of Parliament were on my right as I looked round. The route up the Thames took me close to buildings parliament and under watchful eyes.

The Union Jack flew proudly over the parliament main tower

As PicoMicroYacht moved off upstream a sand barge was creating a large bow wave

I had been worried about running out of light before reaching Putney, not wanting to be on the river in a small boat as it got dark. However, the last ten miles to my destination went quickly and the incoming tide kept me moving on. As the sun set, golden scenes unfolded with the light reflecting off the buildings.

New Buildings in Chelsea bathed in milky golden light that characterises winter in London

Finally the light was fading and PicoMicroyacht passed under Putney Bridge and crossed the river to the rowing boat launching area where a few crews were finishing their outing, marshalled by their coaches.

The 14 miles had been covered in around two and a half hours, the tide helping to make rapid progress.


More about boating through central London is provided by the Port of London Authority (PLA) in this handy video:

As the PLA writes:

Rowing safely on the tideway demands a sound knowledge of the effects of the tidal stream, including the resultant currents and variable depths which may be unfamiliar even to extremely competent rowers who have not previously visited.

Friday, 9 February 2018

PicoMicroYacht begins London's Lost Route to the Sea

PicoMicroYacht started London's Lost Route to the Sea to the east of the O2, at the Greenwich Yacht Club, to voyage 14 miles up the Thames to Putney.

In the days when barges transported goods to and from the South Coast via the Wey and Arun Canal to get a barge through central London it was not possible to tow from the river bank. So the barges either had to use a special purpose sail, a spritsail, or they used large oars called sweeps.

Whatever the method, it required considerable skills.  For rowing there might be two oars pulled individually and a further oar used for steering. Rowing through the centre of London has a long history and involved experienced watermen.

A scene from the historic barge driving race  in 2017
(from the Port of London Authority Website)

As I discovered in 2014, rowing a small boat (yacht) through London it not to be considered lightly. This time I picked a day when the wind was forecast to be from the northeast, in amongst other February days when it would have been gusting against me from the west. The plan was to set off in the middle of the day at low tide from the Greenwich Yacht Club slipway .

At the club I met a working party who were using the low spring tide to work on their tidal moorings. 

It looked like hard work, with the temperature close to freezing and digging into the mud to check the anchorages. The party were very friendly and helpful but somewhat sceptical of my voyage given the cold weather and the strong spring tide river current. I was reassuring them I would be alright but also respecting their extensive experience of the river. My thanks to the club for looking after the PicoMicroYacht trailer and seeing me off with a friendly wave.

The working party pause their work to see PicoMicroYacht off

I realised that although I had planned for a following wind, the arching shape of the Thames in London and the wind backing to the north meant  sometimes I was rowing into a head wind, which was about force four.

PicoMicroYacht crossing the Thames to the north bank to be on the starboard side of the river for going upstream. I was keeping a good lookout for where the river craft were going

Soon I was passing the Canary Wharf financial centre and the West Indies dock.

The Red Ensign was keeping me visible as I looked over head and saw three Chinook SAS helicopters on patrol

This policeman base before getting to Tower Bridge

Soon PicoMicroYacht was approaching Tower Bridge, as a welcome sight and the start of London's Lost Route to the Sea.

A video of the Thames Barge Driving Race in 2015

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

PicoMicroYacht to discover London's Lost Route to the Sea

As the winter passes, plans are being made for PicoMicroYacht's next adventures. This year it includes discovering one of  England's most picturesque waterways.

The River Thames is the UKs most iconic river, passing through the nation's capital, London. Although it provides a natural link with the sea through the Thames Estuary, in the 18th and 19th Century it was realised there could be a much shorter route from London to the South Coast of England using rivers and canals, this being London's Lost Route to the Sea.

The barge route as illustrated in P A L Vine's London's Lost Route to the Sea

The full route starts at Tower Bridge in London and passes up the Thames to Weybridge turning left into the River Wey. It then goes beyond Guildford until it reaches a small gunpowder wharf at Shalford, continuing along the Wey and Arun Canal to the river Arun near Pulborough. This strongly tidal river helped transport barges down through Sussex to Littlehampton on the South Coast. A subsidiary canal was also used to take traffic to Portsmouth, a large UK naval centre. 

Ford Lock on the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal from a water colour by W. H. Mason

According to Paul Vine's London's Lost Route to the Sea, when the Wey and Arun canal became fully operational in 1823  it was possible to travel from London to the South Coast in three days. The canal came in over budget and was expensive to maintain, eventually abandoned due to competition from the railway making it commercially not viable. The canal decayed until the mid 20th Century when enthusiasts have started restoring it in portions, their vision to re-establish it completely.

Approaching Tower Bridge on 6th February at the start of the voyage

PicoMicroYacht has already started to discover the lost route by setting off from Greenwich in London and reaching Putney (I will be blogging this journey in the next post). The voyage will involve rowing up the river Wey to the Shalford Gunpowder wharf and then, because the canal is not in full operation, running 20 miles to Pullborough, stopping off to explore the parts of the canal that have been opened. 

The Fourdaysrunning event, taking the CASPA runners along the seven sisters and then past Beachy Head

PicoMicroYacht will go down the Arun to Littlehampton and enter the English Channel, turning left and going up-channel to Eastbourne. The aim is to join the FourDaysRunning group, who are doing their sponsored run in aid of  the CASPA charity. They will be going from Arundel to Eastbourne along the South Coast. As they run 100k over the South Downs and along cliffs and sea promenades, PicoMicroYacht should have the easy task of rowing up the English Channel with the prevailing south westerly wind.

The Wey and Arun canal history is described in this short video:

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

A Swamping

A small open boat can easily be swamped, either through leaking, capsize or waves breaking over the side of the boat. Boats then vary as to how serious the swamping can be.  

A classic story of a swamping is that of Webb Chiles, who was sailing a Drascombe Lugger across the South Pacific. At one point he pitchpoled (went head over heels) in the rough sea. 

Webb Chiles took this photo of his swamped Drascombe Lugger

The boat was righted but as quickly as he tried to bail out the water, it kept coming in through the centreplate case, a fault found in some dinghies. 

His small inflaable

To keep dry he launched a small inflatable and he moved between his waterlogged boat and the inflatable, eventually drifting to an island and using the inflatable to row to the shore. The comparatively warm water and his inflatable dinghy had saved him. Webb Chiles went on to complete an epic 20,000 mile voyage in the same boat.

In the cold water off the English coast, a swamping can be dangerous. Recently, a remarkable 93 year old sailor capsized his eleven foot dinghy in the sea off the entrance to Chichester harbour, with the same swamping difficulty as Webb Chiles. A fishing boat spotted him and by the time the lifeboat arrived he was suffering from hypothermia. Hats off to this sailor for his adventurous spirit.

The dinghy that was swamped off the the entrance to Chichester Harbour as rescued
 (From the Yachting and Boating World)

PicoMicroYacht fortunately cannot swamp because it immediately drains, but it is low in the water, so could get very wet in a rough sea.

A Laser Pico being sailed across the English Channel by Dave Birch in 2016

Pitchpoling: An example in a racing dinghy

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Oars Power

I have rowed in different guises – as a schoolboy, for my university, in small yacht tenders, including inflatable and small wooden ones, and also in PicoMicroYacht. From the sublime to the …… well I really enjoy PicoMicroYacht.

At each level I have given no real thought the physics of the oars I was using. At school and at university I just accepted the oars we had as being the right ones.

The evolution of competitive rowing  oars:  http://www2.gvsu.edu/ciunganc/History.html

I learned to row competitively using square blades, which even in those days seemed very old fashioned. I then used macon blades for the rest of my school rowing and also my university days.

When PicoMicroYacht came along blade design had moved on, with the ‘cleaver’ blades, I think called ‘hatchet’ when used for sculls. I thought they might more difficult for rowing at sea, but there have been no problems and I now do not even have to feather the blades if the sea is calm, this preserving my wrists.

PicoMicroYacht hatchet sculling oars being put into their rowlocks

In theory, the hatchet blade is more efficient for sculling because of having less drag.

When thinking about the PicoMicroYacht oars, I became curious as to how oar length is chosen. 

Many people are put off rowing because the oars they learn with in small dinghies are small and inefficient – it can be fun but possibly not designed for  adventurous rowing.

Is this fun? Of course it is if you are very small  -
this one of the smallest plans produced by the fantastic Fyne Boat Kits http://www.fyneboatkits.co.uk/kits/

A sleek rowing shell, with the right length blades, glides along almost effortlessly. As the rower tunes into the rhythm of the boat, this gliding sensation is very pleasant.

Rowing boat morphology was developed for speed and pleasure
John Biglin in a Single Scull in 1873 by Thomas Eakins

Of course it is possible put long oars in a very small boat, as in the photographs below. This is the Half Pea, the plans produced by Hannu's boatyard. Half Pea was given long oars, which means that it really does row easily for it's size.

The four foot Half Pea undergoing lake trials: The plans can be obtained from:

Long oars improve the experience of rowing, but how long should they be?

Before the advent of small boat engines, all rowers tended to have longer blades because they needed the efficiency and power.

It turns out that efficient length is dictated by the required gearing ratio of the oar and the physics of how the oar connects to the rower. 

Apparently, an efficient oar needs a ratio of approximately 2.5-2.7, where the ratio is calculated as the distance from the rowlock to the blade end, divided by the distance from the rowlock to the handle end.  To achieve, this sculling oars are recommended to be approximately 287 cm in length.

Variables used in the calculations regarding the forces in rowing. From https://sanderroosendaal.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/basic-equations-3-oars-and-blades/

This ratio also ensures the oars are sufficiently long, with the oar handles moving more or less in line with the boat direction, as the oar axis rotates around the rowlock. Also, the oars remain more at right angles to the direction of the boat, increasing efficiency as it is pulled through the water.

The higher the ratio, the harder it is to pull, and this suits strong rowers in calm waters. It provides not such good power at low speeds and a high ratio is not suited to slower boats.

I checked my PicoMicroYacht sculling blades and found the ratio was 2.43, at the easy end of the scale – but then PicoMicroYacht moves slowly and has to put up with waves and potentially strong headwinds. The PicoMicroYacht oars are a little shorter than recommended, at 254 cm in length, but they seem to do the job.

PicoMicroYacht going down the Thames with a large orange sponsorship flag

I also started thinking why it is better to overlap the handles of sculling blades when sculling, since this is a more difficult technique.

The Don Valley rowing club shows how to lead with the left hand over the right in the recovery phase when sculling


Handles overlapping at the end of the stroke

Apparently, it enables the sculling handles to move less away from the centreline at the start and end of each stroke. The handles should overlap by four to six inches.

Catching a crab in the middle of a race - the oar gets stuck in the water and can drag the boat over

Some people do not like this technique since it can lead to bashing your hands against the handle of the other oar, which can make you lose control and potentially ‘catch a crab.’

So how much power can you generate through rowing? The answer is surprisingly little, which is why you need a very thin light boat to get up to a high speed.

One metric horsepower is need to lift 75 kilograms by one meter in one second

An old wisdom is that a rower can generate around 0.25 horsepower. A rowing athlete can increase this to about 0.7 horsepower over a standard 2,000 metre course. Not much when you consider that a basic petrol outboard motor produces two horsepower or more.

My little Honda 2.3 is over three times more powerful than an elite oarsman

What would happen if you put a Honda 2.3 engine on the back of PicoMicroYacht? That would be another story.

What 2.3 HP can do for a canoe