Tony Bibbington sails and paddles Macgregor’s route in a Rob Roy canoe

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Rob Roy canoe gear – click on the drawing for a larger image

I’ve just learned that Mersey Canoe Club member Tony Bibbington last year sailed and paddled from Oslo to the Baltic, following Victorian pioneer John MacGregor’s paddle-strokes all the way. My thanks to Brian Smith for letting me know about this, and for pointing out that there are some great photos online at http://www.duene1.de – click on the 2009 calendar and then on Nov 4, and you will find photos of his trip round Heligoland.

It was a 500km trip that he had to complete in three weeks due to the that old enemy work, but perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of the whole thing is that Tony was  determined to follow exactly the same route as his hero and did so using a 138-year old original Rob Roy canoe made by Sewells of London that he restored himself.

This insistence on following Macgregor’s route caused a few problems along the way – the first  of which was that the spot from with Macgregor first launched his canoe in Norway is now someone’s back garden. Thankfully, the owner proved friendly and Tony was on his way.

An article in the magazine Canoe Focus tells the story of a varied journey, sometimes tedious, sometimes  beautiful, and with plenty of incidents worth retelling, with Tony dressing as a Victorian gentleman canoeist and meeting an artist determined to paint his portrait; moments where, like Macgregor before him, Tony had to drag his canoe out of a stream water and use a car or other means to reach the next patch of water; and a final landing in which he landed inside the perimeter of a factory security fence. Luckily, on that occasion his path was smoothed by the security man who had read about Tony’s expedition in the newspapers.

How did Tony get on with his canoe, and how did she stand up to the journey more than a century after she was first made? In the Canoe Focus article Tony himself was happy to quote Macgregor: ‘The Rob Roy has proved herself able ”to sail steadily, to paddle easily, to float lightly, to turn readily, and to bear rough usage on stones and banks, and in carts, railways and steamers; to be durable and dry, as well as comfortable and safe” just as she was originally designed to be. MacGregor’s theory was that ”a canoe ought to fit a man like a coat”. The Rob Roy had been a perfect fit on my journey and I look forward to our next adventure.’

I think the whole thing is an extraordinary story with at least four heroes in addition to old John Macgregor himself: Tony for being brave enough to set out on an arduous 500km paddling and sailing trip in unknown country  in a 138-year old canoe, his family for travelling with him and enabling him to make the journey in a modern age without horses and carts in wide use in remote areas, and the dear old boat itself.

For more on Macgregor, click here; to read Macgregor’s account of his own trip to the Baltic, click here.

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Stirling and Son build a traditional 17ft Tamar salmon boat for the Scobles

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Tamar salmon boat Gloria Marcella. Click on the thumbnails for bigger images

Stirling and Son are currently building some smaller boats after having had to relocate to a garage while they organise themselves some new premises – for some years they were based at Morwelham Quay, which is sadly now in administration.

To prevent misunderstanding, I should explain that the garage is a temporary arrangement and that the outfit will be moving to new premises to begin a new 44ft project by the end of this month. Meanwhile, however, Will and his colleagues have been hard at work, as he reports, and have sent in these very nice shots of a Tamar salmon boat in build:

‘Two recent new builds in the garage have been a 17ft salmon boat for the river Tamar and an 11ft pilot’s punt for a pilot cutter.

‘One of the elder salmon fisherman, Alec Scoble, who has net fished the Tamar in wooden boats since the 1950s has ordered a new boat in preparation for the renewal of the fishing licences, which have been suspended since 2004.

‘In order to increase the viability of the boat, Alec’s son Colin Scoble will net fish with tourists in the traditional manner, tagging and releasing the fish for the National Rivers Authority. Also as a continuation of the family tradition Alec’s grandson, Sam Scoble, helped build the boat.

‘There were no plans for Tamar salmon boats; it seems most likely that none have ever existed, so in order to record the shape for the future, I created a draught of the shape based on dimensions given by Alec. Before planking small alterations were made to the forward moulds following an inspection by Alec and his friend Frankie, who had both fished the river since War War II. The draught was altered accordingly and is now held by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

‘The boat is named in memory of Alec’s wife Gloria Marcella, and  has an oak backbone and framing with spruce planking; all fastenings are copper and bronze.’

‘Best wishes, Will’

Will does seem to have the knack of finding some great projects!

Stirling and Son are offering plans for a traditional general purpose 9ft clinker-built dinghy and an 11ft pilot punt of 1900. For more on these, see this earlier post.

A post-Christmas visit to Dungeness

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Dungeness, Christmas 2009. The first and penultimate photos are Julie’s – the rest are mine

Dungeness is one of my favourite places on the coast round here, and so as the day after Boxing Day dawned cold and windy but with occasional gaps in the clouds we drove down for a meal of locally caught fish and deep-fried chips, and for a stroll on the gravel bank.

It’s an extraordinary place. The site of a classic English South-Coast beach-launched fishing fleet, we’re told that it is the largest area of beach shingle in the world, and that it has been classified as an arid desert. A small community lives here in a variety of wooden huts, many of which are built around condemned railway carriages, and of course there’s the astonishing miniature Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway to provide colour and entertainment.

On a day with better light than we had it’s also a gift for photographers, for as the gravel area has slowly grown, a variety of old boats,  sheds, boilers, winches and other leftovers from generations of fishing in the area have been left behind on the landward side.

At the top of this post I’ve added some fairly self-explanatory shots (readers will notice the tubby and hard bilged-lines  typical of traditionally-built South Coast beach boats), but at the bottom I’ve added a couple of photographs of a restored tanning boiler that has been refurbished as a monument to three local men and their industry – the plaque includes at least one local family name that I recognise. I’m reminded that there are said to be people in the area who still remember and occasionally sing a local version of the song The Wreck of the Northfleet. If anyone is out there who can help me, I’d love to get in touch with one of them! Please contact me at gmatkin@gmail.com .

The locally caught fried fish (and chips) is excellent at the Pilot Inn, and there’s usually fresh fish available to take home from the local fishermen, and when it’s open the old lighthouse is worth a visit. All in all, if you’re ever in the area, I’d recommend calling by for a look round. It’s a grim kind of spot as you’ll see from the photos, but I’d happily live there – though I daren’t say so too often as my family already think I’m half potty.