The new expedition re-design meant we had to remove the decorative stern and bow pieces in order to make room for the new tiller and Gopro mount. The pieces were carefully sawn off so that they can be returned to their owners or even reattached at a later date. Both pieces had been carefully carved and the puffin head had been imaginatively decorated with a beak full of silicon sand-eels but there’s no room for embellishments when Puffin becomes a sleek expedition vessel!
Its time to delve into the dark underbelly of skiff rowing – and we’re talking bums here. Unlike the sliding seat racing boats the Oxbridge set use, the seat in a skiff is fixed and your body is the thing that has to move with each stroke. This inevitably creates friction and, as we all know, friction is not always your friend.
Skiff-bum is a common complaint after rowing for any length of time and whilst it varies from person to person the general symptoms are pressure sores, welts and even open wounds if you don’t look after your botty properly. To put it into context at the finish line of the NB Men’s Open last year (an 18 minute race) my bum was bleeding freely as a result of poor short choice. We won though so it was totally worth it. Critical to prevention of skiff-derriere are seat-type, protective shorts, gel pads and even vaseline (which some members of NB rowing club apply in commercial quanities).
Seat setup for Puffin is something we want to get right from the off so we’re looking at a wide variety of options. Each of the North Berwick skiffs has a different setup that affects the body in its own way depending on the angle front-to-back, depth and the curve of the edges. The first one I knocked up out of some spare CLS was heavier than any of the NB ones but allowed me to plane a really deep curve on both the front and the back to minimise bum-seat contact. It may seem unusual to curve both front and back but although the leading edge of the seat is often the main pressure point and source of grief, in my experience just as much pain can be caused by bum-cheek compression at the stroke finish when you’re leaning full back. Curving the back of the seat away could minimise this but time will tell.
Upon dry fitting it feels pretty nice to sit on but it’s one thing to sit in a static boat in a shed and quite another to row 25 miles per day on. We’re working on a few variations which will be tested in the April sea-trials.
Puffin has had a clean out and we’ve had a (killer) whale of a time unscrewing things, re-screwing things, taking things apart and forgetting how they went together. The good news is that after a bit of sanding and planing we can see that there’s not much wrong with her! There’s a bit of rot around a couple of the oarlock holes but nothing that some new hardwood and epoxy can’t fix. Her hull looks sound but just to be on the safe side we’re getting NB’s chief boat engineer Norman to come out and have a gander. Fingers crossed she passes the medical.
Although we’re part of the fantastic North Berwick Rowing Club which has built and races 3 St Ayles skiffs, we needed a skiff that could be customised and tinkered with for our expedition. Step in Johnny Johnston from Eyemouth who was trying to find a new home for Puffin – a skiff they had built for St Abbs Rowing Club that is no longer used.
Johnny is a real character. He’s originally from Port Seton and after a spell in the merchant navy spent most of his life as a fisherman operating out of Eyemouth. He has been a driving force in promoting the St Ayles skiff and was really keen to get involved with our project. We’re delighted that he’s offered to either cox or follow us with his reconditioned fishing boat “Good Hope” for the first leg from Eyemouth to North Berwick.
We nipped down with Gareth’s pickup to collect Puffin and she’s now safely esconced in Ian’s tractor shed. Condition looks good although we’re a bit worried that she was stored outside with no cover for a couple of years before being dried off. We’ll soon see if this has caused any rot!