Other PicoMicroYacht

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

Thursday, 26 October 2017

More on Coastal Hopping

In a previous blog, PicoMicroYacht was compared to ocean rowing boats, the point made that the low freeboard of the PicoMicroYacht made it suitable for coastal rowing, with the ocean rowing boats having too much windage.

There is an alternative, including specially designed low freeboard cabin rowing boats. These can be bought in kit form, made of wood. They combine rowing using a sliding seat and a sailing system.

An example is the Fearing coastal cruiser available in the USA and UK.

This is about 23 foot long, double the length of PicoMicroYacht, and well set up for rowing.

Plans for the Faering Coastal Cruiser produced by Chesapeake Light Craft in the USA.

I imagine it would glide along quite smoothly under oar, although in any wind it would tend to be sailed.

The Fyne Fearing Coastal Cruiser

Of course, a boat of this size could not be dragged up a shingle shore singlehandedly, portaged round a lock or turned on it's side and slid through the gap between a gate and a fence, the sort of thing that has enabled PicoMicoYacht to access places that other boats might not go.

If I could buy several boats, this would definitely be on my list.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Ocean Rowing versus the PicoMicroYacht

I have sometimes wondered why the ocean rowing boats are not seen cruising around the coast, enjoying inshore waters. Occassionally PicoMicroYacht has been out there when they are training, but mainly in a harbour or estuary.

Instead of battling it out in the mid-Atlantic, a pleasant cruise would be to coastal hop, using the boat’s cabin for a comfortable night’s sleep in a safe harbour, ready for the next day’s row.

The windage of an ocean rowing boat (James Adair and Ben Stenning's Indian Ocean voyaging boat)

I have come to the conclusion why ocean rowing boats are  not used for coastal hopping is that they  have too much windage relative to the power generated by rowing. The hull and the cabin act as a sail and an ocean rowing boat can be quickly blown downwind.

To counteract this, rowers either make supreme efforts to row against wind or in strong winds deploy a parachute anchor, using the water to halt movement whilst resting until the wind is more favourable.

Jamie Fitzgerald’s philosophy is to keep rowing even if your GPS is saying you are going nowhere

But these are less feasible options for inshore waters, where a boat might be blown onto a lee shore and the safety distances are much less. Also manoeuvrability is compromised without having substantial forward power.

In reality, ocean rowing boats tend to choose routes in which the prevailing winds and currents push them forwards. If not, the rowers experience trials and tribulations battling against the wind.

For example, the British pair James Adair and Ben Stenning set off from Western Australia to row to Mauritius, crossing the Indian Ocean.  They had huge difficulty getting away from Australia because of the prevailing head winds and only succeeded by very determined effort.

When they arrived at Mauritius, despite best effort, the wind blew them away from their port and they ended up being shipwrecked on a coral reef, nearly losing their lives.

James and Ben had swim for their lives when they hit the coral reef and their boat was being smashed up. Extraordinarily, they swam through a gap in the reef and were rescued sitting on the coral.

One advantage of the PicoMicroYacht is that it has very low topsides, such that the windage is at a minimum.

PicoMicroYacht crossing the English Channel - rowing against 10 to 20 mile an hour winds - additionally, small sails help provide lift and counteracted the wind effect

In fact, this made is possible for a middle-aged, not terrible fit, rower to cross the English Channel, rowing for seven hours against the wind.

PicoMicroYacht can dodge the rocks without too much danger - in lighter winds.

Of course, there is no comfortable cabin to sleep in at the end of the day and all the ‘dry’ equipment has to be kept in dry bags.

PicoMicroYacht will not be crossing Oceans but will continue to enjoy the beautiful waters around the Islands off Western Europe.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Good luck matey!

PicoMicroYacht was far enough west to be in Cornwall, where the ports change in character and become more distinctive.

I was leaving Looe, which has about 60 fishing boats and a thriving fishing industry.

The tide was ebbing from the harbour and I was soon just outside.

The plan was to leave Looe at slack water in the channel, go round St George’s Island, and use the tide to row down to Fowey.

I read not to go between the island and the mainland because of the rocky reefs. But the sea was comparatively calm, there was tidal clearance, and fishing boats were doing just that.

Soon St George’s (Looe) Island was receding into the distance. To the south of the Island are the Ranneys, a group of rocks, and an underwater reef that causes quite nasty overfalls.

I looked inland and could see cattle on the cliffs – their sound was reassuring and pastoral.

They were wandering all over the landscape.

Out to sea there were some larger boats.

It wasn’t a long trip and after a few hours I was rowing into Fowey.

A canoeist was coming out, skirting the rocks, and I couldn’t help but notice he was not wearing a life jacket.

Fowey can be best seen from the water where the slightly ramshackle but equally civilised buildings are quite striking.

Soon I was nearing the slipway, opposite the car ferry

I met two friendly fishermen unloading their catch on the slipway.

The skipper got into conversation, curious about the way PicoMicroYacht was kitted up – he seemed somewhat curious about me coming from Looe and also have rowed from Salcombe.

They earn their living crabbing. They use quite a modest boat, with a large hole in the starboard side,  to transfer their crabs to the shore. He reassured me that this was part of the gunnel missing, the rest of the boat solid.

They go all round the coast fishing for crabs, also down to Dodman point, a rough place to be in adverse weather.

As they drove off, the other fisherman waved and said ‘good luck matey.’

Sunday, 3 September 2017

More mud, the vagaries of the tides and an encounter with danger

On a previous occasion, on the Medway, PicoMicroYacht had to be punted across the mud to reach the Commodore Hard. This was planned. But on this occasion a further experience of the mudflat was not planned.

The idea was to row between Littlestone-on-Sea and Rye, going round Dungeness. I was to start at the Varne Boat and Social Club.

This club has a reputation for being very friendly and welcoming, a pleasant sheltered place to go sailing and fishing They are also a leading watersports club with the moto 'Age is no barrier - the fun starts where the land ends.' PicoMicroYacht would echo that sentiment.

 The Varne Boat Club beach shown at high tide.

Because Dungeness sticks out into the English Channel, the sea can be choppy, so a day with a neap tide and low wind was chosen. Also, the Lydd firing range was not in action.

The tides in this part of the world are somewhat complicated. One reason is a sort of watershed in which the tide runs up the English Channel and simultaneously down the North Sea, meeting off the South East of England.

A normal watershed is the highest bit where the two flows come together and from where the water will then subside in different directions, back where it came from.

But there is a complication because the English Channel also funnels as it reaches the narrow part near Dover. The tide slops over into the North Sea, subsiding back west down the English Channel later than expected.

For this reason at Littlestone-on-Sea the tide starts to ebb down the English Channel about four hours after high tide.

I mention this because my plan was to leave Littlestone-on-Sea about three hours after high tide and stem the last of the east-going tide as I headed southwest down the English Channel.

Three hours was too optimistic because the tidal height by then had reduced too much to launch PicoMicroYacht.  The sandy beach at high tide gave way to mudflats and the sea was receding fast.

But I had a go at pulling PicoMicroYacht across the mudflats, which was successful until I was about 40 yards from the sea. At that point, my back twinged and I had to stop, not wanting to risk damaging it.

PicoMicroYacht stranded on the mudflat with the sea receding

As the sea receded further I sat in the boat contemplating what to do and almost immediately rain clouds formed  just off the coast and there was heavy rain. I took shelter, lying under my boat cover. But then it started to thunder with lightning hitting the sea. I became worried as this was getting nearer and PicoMicroYacht felt very exposed.

Looking back to the shore as the rain clouds came in

I decided to walk to the shore. I was fairly confident of safety. On the way out I had been dragging the boat along a near-dried shallow stream which had a hard bottom caused by the way in which it washed the sand down from the higher part of the beach. If I stuck to this stream bed I could retrace my steps safely. But I went very slowly and carefully. It was all a compacted sand and mud mixture.

However, when I arrived back on land I found out there had been concern that I might have fallen into a mud hole.

A man from the lifeboat station shop said:

‘I was looking out for you using my binoculars. When I couldn’t see you I was worried something had happened. The mud is very soft ..... people have died out at there, even a horse....’ 

He must have looked when I lying under the boat cover. I apologied for not radioing the coastguard.

I now had to wait for the tide to go out and start coming in again. I sat there enjoying the sea view and called the coastguard explaining my situation.

I was not too worried about the mud on my return to PicoMicoYacht because of knowing about the compacted sand along the stream bed. 

Just in case, I went holding my portable VHF radio with my lifejacket on and and remembering what to do if stuck in quicksand. I told someone on the balcony of the Varne Boat Club what I was doing before I left.

The mud stretched for miles, illuminated by the large skyscape.

I got there safely and waited for the tide, contemplating this beautiful landscape whilst listening to the oystercatchers. Inspired by the French sculpture Auguste Rodin, I took another photograph.

A helicopter flew close over the head, having a look at me to check I was alright. I resisted waving, in case this was misinterpreted.

The sea was coming in fast now.

When it came in I slowly drifed to the shore as the sun began to set.

On my return someone from the Varne Boat Club helped me pull PicoMicroYacht up their ramp and also gave me a cup of tea.I met Paul Fowler, the treasurer, and chatted briefly about my experiences.

What should I do if stuck in mud? I found this good advice on Wikihow – how to get out of quicksand.


Or this video here, which illustrates how cautious one should be. This is more of a warning video rather than what to do - don't have nightmares watching this!