Category Archives: Rowing,paddling and sculling

Will Stirling sails a Stirling 14ft dinghy to Godrevy Lighthouse

Multiple award winning boatbuilder and all-round interesting bloke Will Stirling recently sailed a traditionally built 14ft dinghy of his own design and building out to Godrevy Lighthouse.

As usual with Will, he found some photogenic scenes to capture along the way as the gallery above shows… Here’s what he says about the trip:

‘Having woken up at 3am on Saturday morning, driven for two hours to Hartland Quay and then aborted an attempt on Lundy Island’s two lighthouses due to bad weather, I was keen to salvage time by circumnavgating at least one lighthouse before the weekend was out.

‘For the rest of Saturday I planned a trip around Godrevy Lighthouse near St Ives, Cornwall.

‘Surprisingly it was very hard to find anywhere to launch on the North Western coast of Cornwall. During an afternoon of phone calls and refusals of permission to launch I was directed to the Carbis Bay Hotel, five miles to the West of Godrevy, who very kindly let me launch on their private beach near St Ives, and also waived their car park fee.

‘I planned to either return to Carbis Bay or land at Portreath five miles to the East of Godrevy.

‘Following another early start I was afloat by 0800 on a beautiful beach with crystal clear water. The course was NE to Godrevy; the wind NW F2. I set off across St Ives Bay. One particular surprise during this part of the trip was being able to stand on the foredeck for over 5 minutes whilst the dinghy maintained her NE course. (The sail shaded me from the sun when I was seated at the tiller and I had got wet launching the dinghy, so a few moments in the warm sun were very appealing.)

‘In order to go around the lighthouse I rowed between the two large rocks to the North of Godrevy and then dropped anchor on the South side of the bigger island. With my dry suit on I got myself ashore, strectched my legs and took some photos.

‘Having regained the dinghy I sailed along the cliff-bound Cornish coast to Portreath. The scenery was magnificent.

‘Portreath beach has a wonderful little harbour tucked into the cliffs which used to be full of sailing ships unlaoding Welsh coal for the mining engines and loading copper ore from the mines. It was too awkward to recover the dinghy from the harbour so I anchored beyond the surf and swam ashore to meet Sara and the kids for a day on the beach.

‘At the end of the day Sara gave me a lift to Carbis Bay to get the trailer. Having driven back to Portreath, I backed the dinghy through the surf and floated her onto the trailer. The RNLI had a 4×4 on the beach and they kindly towed the dinghy up to the roadside.’

There. See what a chap can do with the right boat! Many thanks Will!

National Historic Ships annual photographic competition 2014

Once again, National Historic Ships UK is running its annual photography competition for this year, and offering a range of equipment and cash prizes to be won.

There are categories for all ages, including one for young photographers under 18.

Entries must be in by the 31 August – the collection above represent some of the judges’ favourites submitted so far this month.

To enter in any of the competition categories, fill in an online entry form and upload your images to the National Historic Ships UK competition webpage at

There are rules and so on to check on the site also, as well as a handy web gizmo to enable photographers to identify historic ships that local to them and which might provide suitable subjects. (I think non-photographers will find that interesting too!)

Still more, the site has a set of tips for photographers working with marine topics – and one of them says that you deon’t have to have a special camera and that you’re more likely to have a small camera with you when the moment arises. So I guess my little Panasonic will do.

By the way, I’m not a judge but I’m going off the very processed multi-exposure shots we’ve seen so often in recent years, and – bravo! – I’m delighted to see that the judges’ favourites submitted so far during April don’t fall into that category.

PS – The Marsh Awards for volunteers - National Historic Ships is also calling for nominations of volunteers for the Marsh awards, which recognise those who have made a significant contribution to the conservation or operation of historic vessels in the UK.

There is an overall prize of £1,000 to be won for the Marsh Volunteer Award, and £500 for the young volunteer of the year, which is available to nominees aged 25 or under. Both prizes are donated by the Marsh Christian Trust.

Both awards will be presented at our National Historic Ships UK Awards Ceremony, being held in October on HQS Wellington.

Last year’s winners included James Dulson and George Collinson, who have volunteered for a number of years at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, helping to conserve historic vessels including Edmund Gardner, and Isabelle Law who has volunteered as crew on the ferry Glenachulish for the past five years despite having only recently turned 16 years old.

The closing date for nomination is 31 August. Read what to do and about the Marsh awards here.


Barge rowing on the Thames

I didn’t know the sport of barge rowing or ‘driving’ even existed until I read about the 2014 Thames Historic Barge Rowing Event on The Liquid Highway. It’s being held on the 28th June and if the YouTube above is anything to go by, it’ll be quite a spectacle.

The racers have a Facebook page offering information, photos and films.

An appeal: help local boat builders replace the Phillipines’ 50,000 lost fishing boats

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This piece by boat designer and sailmaker Michael Storer is a short report about instant boat building in the Philippines – an appeal for help in replacing the lost boats so important to feeding the Filipino people and to the economy.

If you want to cut straight to the donations page … it is here. $210 pays for a complete boat on the water without a motor, and there is also there is an urgent need for nets.

As most people will known, typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) cut across the bottom part of the Philippines late last year. Tacloban was one of the worst affected areas.

A two storey-height storm surge reached ing as far inland as 1.5km (that’s a mile in old money), leaving wasted urban areas not looking much different from Hiroshima.

People, houses, cars were all just washed away. Immediately after there were only three working trucks in the city and things are not improving very rapidly – the photos of the area were taken by me in early March.

The name Tacloban might ring a bell to history buffs: it was the town (now city) on the island of Leyte where General MacArthur made set up his headquarters when the Philippines were retaken from the Japanese.

It should be said that Japanese control was fragile due to the staunch resistance of Filipino guerillas, and it’s the Filipinos’ nuggety, tough resilience I want to write about here – and boats, their design and building methods.

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This map gives an indication of the area of devastation. In the green area alone, the Bureau of Fisheries census has estimated that 19,000 small fishing boats were lost along the coast.

In essence these are fishing communities; they are resilient and independent.

Fishing is very small scale; after a day fishermen return with a bucket or two of water with fish swimming around in them. They eat what they need and sell the rest; if they can sell a few kilograms of extra fish a week, they can buy a bag of cement or a couple of sheets of plywood for building a more permanent house rather than waiting for handouts – in short, they can get on with life!

The fishing also underpins the local economy. Some politicians talk about the trickle down effect, but this is more truly a trickle-up effect – if cheap fish are caught locally then small businesses distribute the produce, run roadside stalls selling fresh or grilled fish, and small cafes and restaurants can also sell local produce.

Lots of people get a little money in their pockets and the economy starts moving.

The reason I was there with my friend Dylan Tantuico (who originally came from the area) was to have a look at projects rebuilding some of the estimated 50,000 small one- or two-person fishing boats destroyed by the typhoon.

Part of the problem is that in Tacloban two out of the three traditional boat builders died, and neighbouring boat builders across the bay in Samar are working flat out dealing with their own local devastation.

The traditional boats take longer to build than instant boats, but there is a second, equally significant issue here. Illegal logging by Filipino and Chinese interests has led to nationwide logging bans, which is a problem because the local boats are built with a dugout bottom (‘casco’ meaning ‘like the shell of a coconut or the internal space of a skull’ – it’s not not dissimilar to our word ‘hull’ meaning the outside case of a seed).

Traditionally the sides were planked in solid timber,but more commonly plywood is used.

Aid and government agencies have managed to replace just over 10 percent of the destroyed boats, mostly with fibreglass boats that in many cases don’t quite fit the needs of the local fishermen and don’t really teach anything. So many fishermen continue to wait for help.

These photos are from the BalikDagat (balik=return to dagat=sea) project, which uses traditional construction to repair and build new boats. The folks behind the project are currently deciding whether to continue, after they achieved their fundraising project for 200 boats, most of which have been delivered over the last months.

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Looking at the construction… the casco is visible in this bow. The ribs are there to hold the planked sides together; they’re not really needed now, but fishermen are a bit nervous about removing them.

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All these boats are slender and balanced by outriggers. The crossbeams are steam-bent green bamboo, and the outside hulls are bamboo lengths.

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But even where traditional builders work they can’t get the materials.

But there are a number of exciting projects that buck this trend, for example by moving to full plywood construction. Get rid of the aid agencies’ notion of fibreglass and industrial production, and teach fishermen to build boats for themselves using materials that are available?

The first one we visited was run by the national religious order, The Sisters of the Holy Spirit. They used their community links as well as donations from graduates of their schools to acquire building materials for non-traditional boats, then brought in an experienced ply epoxy boatbuilder from a less affected area further south.

These are totally Filipino boats progressively developed by people in small communities; Pinoy boatbuilders are no slouches in development and design. If you want to see an article about the power of this progression have a look at this article on my website. These boats are both beautiful and effective.

It is quite a shock to see what we think of as our usual methods for fast building boats employed in a village somewhere that to us seems remote and very different.

The boats have 9mm (3/8in) bottom and 5mm (under 1/4in) sides, and have a hybrid hull form that comes from a requirement for a boat that may be driven under power or paddled. The result is a standard hullshape that will do both, with very little rocker and a dead flat bottom. In the photo we see the side ribs as well.

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The deal here is sweeter in many ways. A fisherman helps others build their boats for four days, and is then helped to build their own boat; they then walk away with a boat and with knowledge about building and materials.

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The guy in this photo is finishing off his boat. He has never built a boat before. ~The building rate is two boats at a time, each of which takes two days.

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I love the detailing of these boats. There is some very nice custom work that the fibreglass boats can’t incorporate.

The Sisters of the Holy Spirit have a plan for 125 boats. Effectively they are producing one a day or a little faster, but the project covers just two tiny barangay (local areas) within the Tacloban city.

But what would happen if you go the full fast building hog, and start building the way we would series build simple boats like my Quick Canoe or Andy Linn’s Easy Weekend canoe?

Since moving to the Philippines my support group has been This group is pretty well the same sort of people that build boats for fun in Australia or the USA: office workers, retired engineers, public servants.

What can they bring to the mix? One of the members, ‘Kuton’, organised for his old school classmates to donate materials for 70 boats. At the same time a group on the pinoyboats forum was discussing and designing a bangka (boat) for fast construction from precut kits. It was based on local boats that had been measured up.

The plan was that the classmates and other volunteer labour would cut the panels and join the sheets. They would be shipped to Ilo-Ilo and fishermen would assemble them with guidance from four of the Pinoyboats members.

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This is a trial of the Biglang Bangka in a suburban Manila swimming pool – Biglang = quick or instant, so the name represents a nod to Dynamite Payson and Phil Bolger.

It not only meets the functional criteria, but it is actually a very beautiful looking boat. A couple of weekends of hectic work and a couple of weeks of two men working by themselves produced 70 kits.

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The packs were shipped to Ilo-Ilo by one of Kuton’s classmates shipping company.

And then the fun started: a four-day project with a target of 70 boats to build, with Fishermen building their own boats for the first time.

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One of the fun things was that it was easier for two boatbuilding teams to work together. So a lot of friendships made on the day.

This is what Filipino grit can achieve in a very short time.

We can help by providing funds. These will be donated to specific projects that are delivering excellent boats and building the skills of local people, and which I am able to track down with help from members of Pinoyboats.

These projects will also put the power in their hands to improve their own boat designs and do repairs without the slightest hesitation into the future.

Duckworks is collecting the money via one of its pages – as I mentioned earlier, $220 is the total cost for one boat, and smaller amounts will buy nets or contribute to building further boats. Duckworks will transfer the dollar amount donated, so Duckworks itself is effectively donating all the exchange, transfer, bank and institutional fees. I will put it directly in the hands of the active groups.

So please consider helping this exciting initiative! They will keep building as long as money flows.

Michael Storer

Petition – save the tradition of salmon netting on the Tamar and Tavy

Salmon netting petition

We met Tamar salmon netter Alec Friendship this weekend – and learned that there’s a serious danger that riparian fishing rights owners along the river will get their way and end traditional salmon netting by a tiny number of just three or four licensed fishermen on the Tamar and Tavy.

(Alan may be familiar to readers, as he ran a ferry over the Tamar for many years until quite recently.)

Please indicate your support for the salmon netters here.

What’s striking about the netting fishery is that in common with a few other rivers on the Cornish coast, it’s a pulling boat fishery – the fishermen are only permitted to use boats under oars, not motors.

Fly fishing is big money business on these rivers (as Googling for fly fishing quickly reveals), and I gather from Alec that the riparian rights owners have been campaigning to close down salmon netting for 50 years. No doubt the riparian owners have public relations experts, political connections and the rest, but having met and talked with Alec and having learned a few years ago about the life of Alan Jewitt from obituaries,  it seems unlikely that their campaign will have the same advantages.

Alec tells me that there’s a strong chance riparian interests will win following a consultation on the issue that ends in early April, and that the plan is that the remaining salmon netters’ licences will end on their deaths, and they will not be able to pass their licences on – so the matter is urgent!

This is a case of an unequal struggle – on one side business interest on  with money and Sign the petition here: Keep The Tradition  Of Salmon Netting On The Tamar Tavy

PS – Check out this traditional Tamar salmon netting boat built by Stirling & Son a little while ago. Also, there are some great photos of salmon netting to be found on Flickr.

PPS – Another Tamar salmon fishing boat, Old Stan’s boat, is at the NMMC. See a photo here.

Punt gunning – including an interesting description of the original double-ended Poole canoe

The original Poole canoe

It turns out that Poole Harbour’s famous Pool canoes were not always flat-bottomed skiffs developed for use with a small outboard motor – in their earlier versions they were double ended rowing boats used for wildfowling.

There’s some interesting history about punt gunning here, including some stuff about the dangers of dealing with all that recoil when your boat is light and tiny, and the gunner is likely on their own, and some slightly disturbing stuff about ‘droppers’ and ‘cripples’ and ‘your man’ collecting the spoils.

PS – Retronaut has some good gun punt images here

PPS – And there’s a striking illustration of the power of these guns here. And no, it’s still not something I’d want to do.