Friday 26 February 2010

Old wooden oars

The rowing team lifts weights on Mondays and Wednesdays, runs on Tuesdays and rows on Fridays and Sundays. The weight training takes place in a 43 foot container on the fish dock. It’s pretty cramped in there with 8 or 9 blokes hefting iron, not to say smelly. Sometimes we drag all the weights outside and train under the stars.

The Friday night row is full on regatta training in 'el Ibrit' but on Sunday mornings anyone who feels like it can take out the other boat—the old llagut. All the carbon sandwich oars are aboard 'el Ibrit' and the llagut now uses old wooden oars.

These oars have long handles, large oblong looms, an elliptical shaft and slender blades. Very similar to the oars that have always been used on traditional Catalan fishing boats, they are crude, heavy, clumsy looking levers that might have been hacked from a single piece of wood with stone-age tools.

They’d always held a rude appeal but I’d never tried them until the other day. There was plenty of elbowroom with only four of us in the boat. Our cox for the session, the 8-year old son of one of the team, zigzagged us out towards the horizon.

Carpet Slipper (he’s not in the ‘el Ibrit’ team, but he comes along on Sundays to make up the numbers) told me that these old oars were real ‘arm wrenchers’. However, I found them easier to pull than the broad bladed racing oars. They were well balanced and light to use despite their intrinsic weight. Being shorter they have to be held at a higher angle on the pull stroke but with the long blade immersed they could really make the boat shift. The only thing lacking was a real wooden boat.

We splashed out to sea, each more or less in his own little world, until Carpet Slipper started on a long yarn about a Swiss man that came to live in the town one summer in the early 80’s. Masquerading as a woman he seduced a local buck who was so embarrassed when he found out that he’d pulled a bloke that he never mentioned the matter. ‘Well would you?’ asked Carpet Slipper, going on to assure me that 'she' was a real stunner.

Little by little more men fell prey to her charms but bound by an embarrassed bond of silence none warned their mates. ‘There are plenty of men round here that went to bed with her. Bigwigs too. They won’t talk about it though, not even now.’

The 8-year old looked on in wonder.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

What the hell am I going to do this summer?

Some years ago I would have happily done any amount of grovelling for an opportunity to go sailing. Boatless and with few contacts, standing on the beach gazing at the sea was often as near as I got. There was windsurfing of course but my equipment was limited to wind strengths of force 5 and above. The joys of back and forth sailing, scoring a groove in the ocean, had waned. I wanted to cruise a sailing boat.

In the way of life summer 2010 brings more possibilities than I could ever have hoped for. Now the problem is that there are more options than time or money.

On the one hand I’ve been invited by my friend and blogger, Suso, who writes lajareu por barlovento to camp cruise a dorna on the Galician coast for four or five days. We’d sail in the Ria de Vigo and explore the Cíes islands. I’ve written about the dorna here before, it’s an interesting and beautiful traditional boat with a powerful dipping lugsail and Brobdingnagian oars. Suso assures me that the sailing is excellent on the Ria, as is the fishing. How could I refuse?

Then there’s the possibility of joining Giacomo de Stefano—sailing and rowing from London to the Black Sea—on his Man on the River project. I’ve been in touch with Giacomo via email and have been made to feel very welcome. I admire what he’s doing and would feel honoured to take part. I was thinking about accompanying him for the Channel crossing but he’s building at such a pace that he’ll have set sail long before I am ready. Giacomo estimates the journey will take him 6 months and has encouraged me to join him later on in the trip. How could I refuse?

And then there’s the option of scaring myself silly ‘alone on a wide, wide sea.’ However, to call this an option is not strictly accurate. I can’t not have my annual solitary sail in Onawind Blue. Just me and the boat and the elements—this is what I think about nearly every night as I go to sleep. The question really is where will I cruise OB this year. Will I go offshore again, or cruise the coast, or trailer somewhere and hang out in coves, swimming and fishing?

I count myself extremely lucky even to have such dilemmas.

Monday 22 February 2010

Small boat repairs

1. Repair and paint bottom.
2. Think about drains though frames 7 and 3.
3. Repair topside dings and paint.
4. Build up the mast-through-deck rings.
5. Eliminate second mast position.
6. Think about adding cockpit coaming.
7. Strip decks and varnish.
8. Varnish spars.
9. Make longer oars.

This is the list of work to be done on Onawind Blue. I’ve whittled it down from a longer list that included more ambitious projects like making a new boat tent. I’ve retained a couple of items that I only have to think about. They might happen, they might not.

It wasn’t until I saw the videos of my Ibiza trip that I realised my oars might be a bit short. I hope to make another pair lengthening the same Pete Culler/Jim Michalak design, only this time I’ll borrow an electric plane.

I was rather daunted by the list when I first made it but after about 10 minutes working on OB I’d removed all deck gear and was ready to start sanding. This is one of the many blessing and benefits of small boats. The sailing is great, the interaction with the elements unsurpassable, and maintenance is easy and cheap. If I had the same list for a 40-foot boat, I certainly wouldn’t have the money for the material and I’m not sure where I’d find the time.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Our new boat

Our new rowing boat is called ‘el Ibrit’. The name has derived, through a series of spelling mistakes, from el híbrid, meaning the hybrid in Catalan. It is a name that has become disassociated from its meaning. We call it 'el Ibrit' much in the way that we might call it Ingrid, or Brett or any other name.

'El Ibrit' is the boat we’ll be taking to the Spanish nationals in May. It’s made of carbon or Kevlar or some such funky goo and is extremely lightweight. It has significantly lower freeboard than our other boat and a shallower draft, making it tippy and technical to row. All our on-the-water training over the past month has been centred on achieving a uniform, even stroke. And then maintaining it as the power comes on.

Part of this entails keeping your oar parallel with that of the rower in front. Our oars are black and we row at night. Peering into the inky dark to spot a glinting oar blade is another skill that needs to be mastered. Getting it right requires a level of concentration that I’d previously never achieved while rowing.

When we get it wrong the boat rolls, tips and, losing speed provokes disorder as blame flies from port to starboard. When we get it right 'el Ibrit' really flies provoking, at least on my part, a broad grin.