Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hampden Coffee and Cake Coracle Kickoff

Omaruvian coraclers, watch out, Hampdenites are coming.

Inspired by the recent surge in interest in coracle making in Oamaru, some recent immigrants to the wee coastal village of Hampden got together one fine autumn day for the inauguration of their coracle society.

To mark the occasion, John Baster, the well-known coracle maker from Oamaru offered his expert help to the society members.

Naturally the day began with quantities of coffee and cake. A work site was decided on and suitable branches from the property were harvested. After this strenuous effort an elegant lunch of home made pasta and salad was consumed, and the coracle making gathered pace, streamlined by John's new 'po-mo' technique. By the time the wine was opened the framework was complete to the joy of the members.

The Hampden coracle society will meet again to finish the boat, and a paddle making session is also planned. The society is keen to have its own race in the local dam (if we get a bit of rain), before sending highly trained representatives to the big race in Friendly Bay.

The pictures feature John Baster and Hampden Coracle Society member Aranrhod.

By Rick Tanaka

Friday, June 29, 2007

Coracle Photo Opportunity June 2007

By Red Hurring

Getting ready for the 2007 Coracle Event? Find out more and join the photo opportunity with some of last year's coracles and their paddler-designers at Friendly Bay, Oamaru harbour this Saturday; 30th June 2007, 10am. We hope to see you there.

Coracle Fever Takes Hold

By Red Hurring

Watery hi-jinks and mayhem are on the cards again at Oamaru harbour during the second Southern Hemisphere Coracle Race, planned for December 2.
Coracle builder John Baster is staging the event with fellow coracle enthusiast Adam Ardouin.

He says the main aims of the day are the same as last year's inaugural race: to appreciate the fun to be had at the harbour and to foster coracle culture locally.

A coracle is a small walnut-shaped boat of ancient Welsh origin, traditionally made from lashed branches and canvas and propelled by one oar from the front.

Last year's race attracted 17 entries of home-built prehistoric watercraft.
As every entrant was a coracle novice, the event proved to be an experiment in ingenuity and hardiness against the combined forces of a strong northeasterly and the Waitaki District Rural Fire Authority's hoses.

John hopes to see more of the same resourcefulness in evidence at this year's race.He is encouraging people to start building their coracles now, to allow plenty of time for testing their seaworthiness.

An information pack with instructions for building a coracle will be made available soon, and those building a second coracle may have their craft on loan to newcomers at this year's race.

Contact: John Baster, Coracle race organiser: ph (03) 4342273

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The First Oamaru Coracle

In 2006 I built my first coracle.
To start with I did not even know how to spell the word, let alone understand the construction or have any appreciation of regional types and their uses.
I learnt a great deal.
It is possible to build a great little boat that will give lots of pleasure and fun for next to nothing. It is extremely difficult to change or improve the coracle in any way as it has evolved from the intuitive synthesis of need of use, craftsmanship, local materials and the character of a specific stretch of water. The coracle is elegant and deceptively simple. What the aspiring cultural tourist, does not immediately grasp is the reason the coracle is the shape that it is. I cannot explain about this, the best way is to build a coracle and the coracle will provide the answers.

I began by studying info on the internet… there is heaps. “The Coracle” by J Geraint Jenkins was the most authoritative source. This book covers in detail, history, types and construction. Having all this information in my hands was not much use as I could not really understand the subtleties of the craft from a book. I decided to have a go and accepted that I would probably make mistakes which would in the long run be insightful.

I chose to follow instructions on the net titled “elfin coracle workshop” I harvested approx 40 willow withies about as thick as my finger. These were pushed thick end down into the ground to form a rectangle 4ft wide by 5ft long . There were 8 pairs of withies down the length of the coracle and 6 pairs across

The next step is to bend the opposing withies towards each other and to lash them to themselves to form a frame . I started with the 8 cross ones first because I wanted the last layer to run longitudinally for streamlining. In bending the willow in my hands I tried to make the bottom as flat as possible for stability. I used the willow within a day of harvesting it and did not bother to soak it. Initially I lashed my frame together using strands of unravelled polyester rope. When the cross frames were done the same process was repeated longitudinally. Next I ran a stringer around what on a boat would be called the turn of the bilge, that is at the base of the side right around in a complete circle. I had to use several withies overlapped. I then repeated the process around the top of the side. The whole basket frame was now stabilised and the shape locked into the structure.

I next pulled everything out of the ground and to my surprise it stayed in one piece. Once turned over I nailed a withy into the trimmed-off ends of the frames using 4 inch galvanised nails, again forming a complete circle using several lengths. The thwart or seat was nailed straight onto this gunwale

The frame was then covered with 10 oz cotton duck held in place by tacks driven into the gunwale stringer. Finally the fabric was trimmed and a waterproof layer of pitch painted on the outside. The product I used was an emulsion, and being water based was non toxic to apply.

My coracle floated , and another adventure began
Regarding the paddle there is as much sophistication in the design and ergonomics of this than as of the coracle itself and that is another story.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Adam Ardouin Visits Bernard Thomas in Wales

During a visit to his native Wales this January, Oamaru coracle enthusiast Adam Ardouin hunts down a coracle legend.

Bernard Thomas is his name. If you like climbing mountains seek out Sir Edmund Hillary, if soccer is your game then Pele is the one, but if coracles float your boat, then Bernard Thomas is your man. The 84 year old Welshman is surely the most experienced and accomplished coracle expert there is. Craftsman, sailor, fisherman, sage: he is unrivalled when it comes to the little black boats. It is he who crossed single-handed 36 kilometres of stubborn English Channel to plant the flag of his country upon French soil.
When I returned to Wales from Oamaru for the first time in 4 years with a new found interest in coracles, I made sure to arrange a meeting.
Bringing the goodwill of the Southern Hemisphere Coracle Society and an armful of New Zealand newspaper cuttings I arrived in Bernard’s home village. I went to Llechryd on the banks of the River Teifi to offer news of our far away exploits, but also to learn what I could from the old master. I wanted to know of his building and paddling secrets, his experiences, but mostly I just wanted to get in the river with him in one of his coracles. Unfortunately, the teeming Teifi had other plans. Heavy rain and swift, high waters drowned any hopes of my getting afloat that day. Even so, my visit was to be far from disappointing.
Bernard’s cottage was easy to spot. Only a few steps from the river’s edge was a garden wall encrusted with the dark, limpet shapes of maybe a dozen coracles. And then, as I approached, the front door swung open, and like some grizzled Willy Wonka, out danced the man himself. Mr Bernard Thomas: eyes twinkling, elbows flapping, he hopped clean over the garden gate. “Croeso! Welcome! Come inside mun, sit yourself down over by here…”
The next few hours were captivating for me. With his devoted 3-legged dog at his feet and with a glass of his rather fine home-made berry liqueur in his hand, Bernard spoke in his sing-song Welsh accent with wit, warmth and knowledge.
We spoke of the history of the river and of the Coracle Fishing Wars between Llechryd and nearby Cenarth.
He told me how he still goes out in his boat almost every day or night and is still adding to his fleet.
He talked of his beloved Teifi coracles, how best to control one and how to gather materials and make one. While not the fastest coracle, the Teifi design, Bernard says, is the best suited to the river from which it gets its name. There is none more sturdy and stable in rough waters. It’s all in the hull’s shape and the pattern of the willow frame, he explains. Although he has trained many people, Bernard is self taught. He insists his building knowledge came to him in a dream…
We talked of his unmatched Channel crossing and how it has passed into folklore. But Bernard was keen to point out that this was by no means his most challenging or rewarding time in a coracle. He is most serious and most proud when speaking about his efforts to rescue sheep from deadly floodwaters. He recounts one incident when he battled long into the night to save a flock of 50 or so from drowning. Entirely on his own, he rescued every last one, but he tells me softly, “I nearly died that night.” He pauses then cracks a wicked grin, “The farmer was grateful, mind you. He offered me a Kit Kat.” Bernard informs me he declined and mutters something in Welsh about farmers.
Bernard is used to danger; his most extraordinary story recalls an experience not in a coracle but in a lifeboat during the war. When his navy ship went down he survived for 12 days before being picked up. He stayed alive by cutting his tongue with his sharpened shirt buttons to drink the blood, and by eating his shoes, belt and the legs of his trousers up to his shins. “And after all that, the buggers only gave me 4 days leave,” he says, and he reaches for a biscuit.
I shared news of Oamaru’s Celtic boat community with him. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the idea of a group of kiwis building and racing coracles and showed me videos of the local regattas he has organised. There were races of varying lengths, from short sprints to long distance marathons. One spectacular race that started on land involved a swarm of contestants, coracles aloft, crashing down a 4 metre high grassy bank into the water. My favourite event though, must be the joust, where hardy mariners attempt to upend each other’s craft. The last person still in their boat is declared the winner. Perhaps John and Lee-Ann will introduce something similar in Oamaru one year.Before I said goodbye I told Bernard of an offer for him to come over to Oamaru, all expenses paid, to meet people and share his expertise. He looked at me bright eyed and told me he had seen the world already and that his travelling days were over. I’m not so sure though. Bernard Thomas seems to like a challenge. I wouldn’t put it past the wiry old veteran to come paddling in his coracle into Oamaru harbour some day soon, maybe barefoot and with his long trousers eaten into shorts. I am hopeful I may yet get the chance to go on the water with him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Matthew's Coracle

My Coracle

Matthew Rusbatch

In 2006 John Baster came to my school (Weston) and told our class that he was organising a boat race. However, he explained, it was not a typical boat race but an ancient British coracle race. He assured us they were simple to build.

Our teacher suggested we build them in pairs at school but I decided to build mine at home by myself because I like a challenge. John had told us how to build one the simplest way possible so I went home and did some searching on the Internet for coracles – it didn’t come up with much, so I decided to design one myself.

The next spare weekend I had my parents and I went out to Robbs Crossing and gathered young willow. Using the dimensions John had given us, my coracle began to take shape in our back lawn. Once the basic frame was complete I left it to dry in the ground for about two weeks. I was a wee bit nervous the day we took it out of the ground in case the whole thing fell apart on me!

It sat on the back lawn for another few days before we started covering it in a lightweight canvas. This had to be pulled tight and hand stitched (Mum was good at that). About a dozen coats of old house paint later and it was almost ready for its maiden voyage. Placing of the seat was crucial for balance and a suitable paddle had to be found.

My first try out was on a calm evening at Friendly Bay – a complete disaster. The only good thing was that it was waterproof and at least it floated. Paddling was near impossible and the seat was in completely the wrong place – whose idea was this!

We quickly sorted out the problems – moved the seat forward and higher up and made a shorter paddle, then braved the strong Easterly wind at Kakanui Estuary one Sunday morning for tryout number two. Things went better this time. I was getting the hang of paddling and the balance had improved a lot with moving the seat.

After a few more touch ups and a fiery Welsh dragon painted on the stern, the day of the race had finally arrived and I was very nervous. I did not fancy the prospect of trying to get across the harbour. Other coracles began to arrive and I felt proud of my effort, it didn’t look like a walnut shell so much after all! With scrutinering complete we all took our places and the race began. I got ten metres out and the wind caught me, I was blown sideways at what seemed like 100 miles an hour and ended up on the rocks (along with some other local identities!) it was a laugh and a great day out.

After we dried off and packed up, we joined all the other sodden sailors and hearty support crews at the whiskey distillery for some welcome food and the prize giving. It was a great experience and a challenge to build and attempt to race in my coracle. It would like to thank everyone who helped me, especially my granddad and John Baster for his inspiration, to my parents and sister and all those on the day who made it a fun and safe event and to Lee-Ann for her follow-up. It would be great to have more people my age to race against next year, so give it a go, build a coracle.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Coracle Racers Invitation

Participants in the Inaugaral Oamaru Coracle Race, look here for unfolding details of how each craft was designed and constructed. Each coracle will be documented in detail eventually. Keep all your ideas, photos and plans so that we can detail your own project and don't burn your boats!