Sculling

Arthur Jenner
7th February 2009, 06:31
FERRYMAN
by Arthur Jenner

Sculling, as you all know full well, is the ‘art’ of propelling a boat by means of a single oar resting over the stern. The sculler, holding the oar with both hands, makes a figure-of-eight motion with his hands and arms and at the same time, by twisting the oar, causing the oar’s blade to emulate the motion of a fish’s tail or a ship’s screw. A skilled sculler can make a boat move very fast. Most deep-sea sailors have limited sculling skills, and I, being a deep-sea sailor, was no exception. Coastal seamen and fishermen are often extremely proficient at it.
I was once on a small coastal tanker, called the ‘MV Anonity’, of about 700 tons. She was owned by a company called Everards whose home port was a little place called Greenhithe, a few miles west of Gravesend on the lower reaches of the Thames. Just off shore, maybe a hundred yards or so, the company had moored a large pontoon for their ships to tie up to, and on the occasion that I am going to tell you about, we were tied up to it. -
When in port all ships appoint one member of the deck crew night-watchman, a twelve hours on and twelve hours off job, which generates extra pay in the form of overtime. In spite of the extra money and light duties, the watchman’s job is not sought after by many people because it means staying aboard while everyone else is enjoying themselves ashore. But because I was saving up to get married, I had volunteered for the job in every port on this ship, and thus I was night watchman on this occasion.
Normally a night watchman’s job is very easy. It entails checking the moorings occasionally, keeping the galley fire alight, calling the cook and the crew in the morning, and very little else. In this situation another task was added to the watchman’s duties; that of ferryman. This meant conveying members of the crew ashore after tea and picking them up later in the evening; usually after the pubs had shut.
Going ashore with a boatload of potential inebriates was easy. They were nearly all keen to show off their sculling skills, and besides it was high tide, so there was very little current flowing. So I landed them all at the right jetty and managed to return to the pontoon without much difficulty. I was beginning to consider myself quite a sculler.
How wrong I was.
As the evening progressed, the tide began to ebb, causing the flow down the river to increase. By ten-thirty the current was flowing fairly fast. I had arranged to pick up my shipmates at eleven, but I thought I had better leave early to be on the safe side.
As soon as I cast off from the pontoon, the boat seemed determined to go away to sea. Before I could get my oar over the stern, we were rapidly heading for the North Sea. I started sculling and although I couldn’t actually make any headway against the current, I did manage to reduce our headlong rush and by angling the boat slightly towards the shore I actually began to make progress shorewards. This type of situation is definitely not the best time to try to improve ones sculling skills. I tried increasing the angle of the blade. I tried making bigger figures of eight. I tried sculling faster but all to no avail. I found that my original style, primitive though it was, seemed the most effective and I continued to close the gap between the boat and the shore slightly although I was still progressing downstream in the direction of Gravesend. I then had a brainwave. Why mess about trying to scull? There was another oar in the boat. I would row. I picked up the second oar, sat on the thwart, and started pulling. Alas, I was making even less headway against the current, than when sculling, apart from the ground I had lost during the changeover. I shipped my oars and resumed my place in the stern, losing ground again whilst changing back.
I was still moving slowly but steadily downstream and imperceptibly closer to land. ‘Thank God’, I thought ‘It’s night-time and no-one can see me making such an idiot of myself.’ There is one advantage in travelling stern first while facing aft. You can see where you are going. I was still about thirty yards off shore and wondering where I would end up, when a very high jetty loomed up in the moonlight. It was directly ahead (perhaps I should have said astern). I had to continue sculling to keep the force of contact with the jetty to a minimum, and I drifted nicely up to it. I shipped my oar and managed to fend the boat off the piles with my hands. It was a simple matter then to work the boat towards the iron ladder. I tied the painter to the ladder, ascended to the deck of the jetty with the intention of walking back up the road to where the lads would be waiting.
Imagine my horror, when, arriving at the top of the ladder, I saw my passengers grinning down at me. They had followed my progress by the light of the moon and sundry shore lights and had anticipated my arrival at the jetty.
Once aboard the boat again I offered the oar to whoever felt inclined to test his skill. My offer was eagerly accepted by the least likely looking candidate; a weedy lad of about nineteen; a very junior engineer on his first trip to sea. He took the oar and with the most incredible speed and dexterity, shot us back to the pontoon like a speedboat. I found out afterwards that he came from some small place on the Solent and had spent all his life ‘messing about’ in small boats.
I was married a few weeks later and left the sea for good.
I have never attempted to scull again, and my only essay into boating since then has been the occasional hour spent rowing the kids around the park lake.

dom
7th February 2009, 08:04
very true Arthur,had a quiet laugh when i read this,and dont forget pumping up the water tank as well,and God help you if both galley fires wernt hot when the cook was called

Nick Balls
7th February 2009, 09:05
Remember the "pier hotel" ?!
As 16 year old MN Trainees we used to give lifts to the guys doing the watchman's job on board the coasters off Everards Yard This was via old admiralty gigs from the Worcester moored down the way a bit! all in exchange for a pint. Never did get the hang of sculling properly mind you. I can still recall that open fire in the pub and the fact it was a proper old barge pub, Like the Worcester it had a few interesting features. I recall a small picture of the ill fated "Pamir" up on the bulkhead

Derek Roger
7th February 2009, 14:50
I remember seeing small boats ( punts ) skulled in Tayport Harbour Fife Scotland ) in the 50s as a young lad . I tried it myself with some limited sucess but I found it very difficult to get any directional stability . Derek

ROBERT HENDERSON
7th February 2009, 15:10
Thanks Arthur, you have taken me back to my school days when I first learnt to scull. At Harwich we had an area referred to as the pound, bounded by two piers which helped to cut the rate of the tide. Visiting fishermen used to moor there Mediterranean style except they could not put the stern of the boat onto the quayside. They came ashore in a small boat and we as kids used ask to look after them by sculling between the two piers, so I was fairly good at sculling before I went to sea.
I started my seagoing career in sailing barges where scullling was a necessity.
I cannot remember the pontoon Artur describes for the Everard ships, I do remember Everard had two mooring buoys where ships used to moor to and of course had to scull ashore for stores etc.
I remember the Pier hotel at Greenhithe, mostly frequented by Superintendents and Everard Directors, for us lower beings it was the White Hart or Brown Bear.

Regards Robert

John Briggs
7th February 2009, 16:06
Another good one Arthur!

Peter4447
7th February 2009, 16:47
[QUOTE=ROBERT HENDERSON;289853]Thanks Arthur, you have taken me back to my school days when I first learnt to scull.

Hi Robert
Very happy memories indeed - Sculling was very much the 'in thing' when I too was a youngster messing about in boats at Harwich. If you couldn't scull you were seen as being very much of a wimp!
Peter(Jester)

japottinger
7th February 2009, 17:54
Having been born and brought up in fiushing village sculling was second nature, that is one oar working in a cut out in the transom. Whe we were at Calcutta moored in middle of Kidderpore Dock with a "sampan" laid on to the great amusement of the boat wallah I used to skull the craft to and fro our ships when going ashore and coming back. He used to ham it up by lying back totally relaxed to the chagrin of the man on the other boat!

japottinger
7th February 2009, 17:56
Hello Arthur, I have a couple of photos of Anonity on Manchester Ship Canal taken about 1963, will post to you if you give me your E-mail add.

ROBERT HENDERSON
7th February 2009, 18:00
[QUOTE=ROBERT HENDERSON;289853]Thanks Arthur, you have taken me back to my school days when I first learnt to scull.

Hi Robert
Very happy memories indeed - Sculling was very much the 'in thing' when I too was a youngster messing about in boats at Harwich. If you couldn't scull you were seen as being very much of a wimp!
Peter(Jester)

Hi Peter
No doubt you willl remember the fishermen I refer to, the CK men from Mersea area. (A) (A) (A)

Regards Robert

Arthur Jenner
7th February 2009, 22:01
Hello Arthur, I have a couple of photos of Anonity on Manchester Ship Canal taken about 1963, will post to you if you give me your E-mail add.

Hello japottinger
Thanks for that. My email address is arthur@bob.sh. I used to have the plan for a scale model of the Anonity but I foolishly lent it to a friend.

notnila
8th February 2009, 01:36
I too learned to skull(rather badly) at sea school,the"Dolphin"Leith,and never had to use the skill until a few years later,I think 62/63,when I joined Stevie Clarks"Gosport".After a couple of trips we found ourselves in the Tyne tied up at Commissioners Bouys??Anyway,the "watch ashore"got away with a"watch aboard" A/B skulling the jolly boat.After an hour or so the "watch aboard"decided it was safe to b*gger off,and as I was the only non-Geordie aboard,I was nominated to bring the boat back to the ship and then pick them up at 0700 Hrs next morning!Off we went,with an A/B on the oar,they all disembarked safely,and the proudest Assistant Steward in the British Merchant Navy was given command of the jolly boat!Unbeknownst to me the tide had turned,(Stewards don't know about these things)and even though I was skulling as fast as I could,I was going east at a helluva rate of knots.Fortunately(for me) a Polish fishing boat came in through the pierheads,realised that there was a numpty out there that could/would become a danger to shipping,or himself,threw me a line,which I immediately bent on as a Spannish Dhobi Hitch(I know how to impress foreigners!!)They then towed me back to my ship.I have never gotten over the derogitory catcalls from the Shields Ferry as I was towed past,mainly from the lasses,"Were ye tryin' to catch the Leda pet?She left two days ago!"Oh God I still cringe!!

Keltic Star
8th February 2009, 04:43
Hi Arthur: You certainly bring back happy memories, I cut my teeth learning to scull at the very same location when 2nd. Mate on the "Acuity" in 1963 and am sure I made as big a balls up as you did the first few trips ashore. It took me quite a while to smarten up and discover that to minimize current effect you sculled as close to the river bank as possible on an ebb tide and when well upstream from the ship, make a mad dash over and with a lot of luck arrived alongside.

ayresa
7th April 2009, 11:20
Hi Japottinger

I see you have a couple of photos of the Anonity, taken in the Manchester Ship Canal sometime in 1963. I was onboard at the time as second mate.
Please contact me by PM
Many thanks
Michael Ayres

K urgess
7th April 2009, 11:23
Welcome aboard, Michael.
I have removed your email address. Please contact the other member by Private message.
Find your way around the ship and get to know the crew.
Enjoy the trip.

Pilot mac
7th April 2009, 12:53
Like Nick Balls,
I did quite well out of the Everard crews returning to the buoys. They would flash the lights on our pier (Worcester) and we would readily oblige, as they paid well!

Dave

borderreiver
7th April 2009, 14:13
The scout camp at Marlow had two old lifeboats which every one would race sculling around an island good fun
Those camping on the island had to use them to scull back and forward many a time I would pick one up drifting down the thames

Nick Balls
7th April 2009, 14:20
Like Nick Balls,
I did quite well out of the Everard crews returning to the buoys. They would flash the lights on our pier (Worcester) and we would readily oblige, as they paid well!

Dave
Yep Beer tokens !!!!

ray.c
7th April 2009, 14:22
Like Nick Balls,
I did quite well out of the Everard crews returning to the buoys. They would flash the lights on our pier (Worcester) and we would readily oblige, as they paid well!

Dave
Would that be the Worcester training ship, if it is my brother
Harry was on it, in 62, i was on the Eskwood at the time,
I remember he used to walk the skippers?? dog, and come
to see me if we there awaiting orders.
ray.c

Nick Balls
8th April 2009, 10:24
Strange thing is before I went to sea I did a very short trip on the last Sailing Barge up to Norwich . Cambria had come up to Reads mill and Skipper Bob Roberts asked me if I wanted a lift down river to Yarmouth.
(The ship was being handed over to the Maritime trust) I took the offer little realizing that only a couple of years later I would be outside his old yard at Greenhithe on the Worcester acting as unofficial boat man to the lads on the coasters! Our course was also one if not the very last where people lived on board worcester. End of an era but the start of one for me.

ROBERT HENDERSON
8th April 2009, 12:23
Casting my mind back to many mooons ago, I was second mate on one of Fred's tankers, one Sunday morning I sculled ashore with a young OS in order to get the Sunday newspapers I tied up at the Pier causeway Greenhithe. On the way back to the ship I came across a semi submerged dinghy, taking it in tow I got it back to our own ship, and bailed it out. It transpired that it was a private dinghy belonging to a Worcester Cadet. Two Cadets from the Worcester came in a motor boat and took it back to its rightful owner, we never got one penny for our efforts.
Had I have known at the time Nick Balls and his friends were charging the poor Everard men to ferry them back to their ships, I would have invoked LLoyds Open.

Regards Robert

B.Nicholson
4th May 2009, 00:39
FERRYMAN
by Arthur Jenner

Sculling, as you all know full well, is the ‘art’ of propelling a boat by means of a single oar resting over the stern. The sculler, holding the oar with both hands, makes a figure-of-eight motion with his hands and arms and at the same time, by twisting the oar, causing the oar’s blade to emulate the motion of a fish’s tail or a ship’s screw. A skilled sculler can make a boat move very fast. Most deep-sea sailors have limited sculling skills, and I, being a deep-sea sailor, was no exception. Coastal seamen and fishermen are often extremely proficient at it.
I was once on a small coastal tanker, called the ‘MV Anonity’, of about 700 tons. She was owned by a company called Everards whose home port was a little place called Greenhithe, a few miles west of Gravesend on the lower reaches of the Thames. Just off shore, maybe a hundred yards or so, the company had moored a large pontoon for their ships to tie up to, and on the occasion that I am going to tell you about, we were tied up to it. -
When in port all ships appoint one member of the deck crew night-watchman, a twelve hours on and twelve hours off job, which generates extra pay in the form of overtime. In spite of the extra money and light duties, the watchman’s job is not sought after by many people because it means staying aboard while everyone else is enjoying themselves ashore. But because I was saving up to get married, I had volunteered for the job in every port on this ship, and thus I was night watchman on this occasion.
Normally a night watchman’s job is very easy. It entails checking the moorings occasionally, keeping the galley fire alight, calling the cook and the crew in the morning, and very little else. In this situation another task was added to the watchman’s duties; that of ferryman. This meant conveying members of the crew ashore after tea and picking them up later in the evening; usually after the pubs had shut.
Going ashore with a boatload of potential inebriates was easy. They were nearly all keen to show off their sculling skills, and besides it was high tide, so there was very little current flowing. So I landed them all at the right jetty and managed to return to the pontoon without much difficulty. I was beginning to consider myself quite a sculler.
How wrong I was.
As the evening progressed, the tide began to ebb, causing the flow down the river to increase. By ten-thirty the current was flowing fairly fast. I had arranged to pick up my shipmates at eleven, but I thought I had better leave early to be on the safe side.
As soon as I cast off from the pontoon, the boat seemed determined to go away to sea. Before I could get my oar over the stern, we were rapidly heading for the North Sea. I started sculling and although I couldn’t actually make any headway against the current, I did manage to reduce our headlong rush and by angling the boat slightly towards the shore I actually began to make progress shorewards. This type of situation is definitely not the best time to try to improve ones sculling skills. I tried increasing the angle of the blade. I tried making bigger figures of eight. I tried sculling faster but all to no avail. I found that my original style, primitive though it was, seemed the most effective and I continued to close the gap between the boat and the shore slightly although I was still progressing downstream in the direction of Gravesend. I then had a brainwave. Why mess about trying to scull? There was another oar in the boat. I would row. I picked up the second oar, sat on the thwart, and started pulling. Alas, I was making even less headway against the current, than when sculling, apart from the ground I had lost during the changeover. I shipped my oars and resumed my place in the stern, losing ground again whilst changing back.
I was still moving slowly but steadily downstream and imperceptibly closer to land. ‘Thank God’, I thought ‘It’s night-time and no-one can see me making such an idiot of myself.’ There is one advantage in travelling stern first while facing aft. You can see where you are going. I was still about thirty yards off shore and wondering where I would end up, when a very high jetty loomed up in the moonlight. It was directly ahead (perhaps I should have said astern). I had to continue sculling to keep the force of contact with the jetty to a minimum, and I drifted nicely up to it. I shipped my oar and managed to fend the boat off the piles with my hands. It was a simple matter then to work the boat towards the iron ladder. I tied the painter to the ladder, ascended to the deck of the jetty with the intention of walking back up the road to where the lads would be waiting.
Imagine my horror, when, arriving at the top of the ladder, I saw my passengers grinning down at me. They had followed my progress by the light of the moon and sundry shore lights and had anticipated my arrival at the jetty.
Once aboard the boat again I offered the oar to whoever felt inclined to test his skill. My offer was eagerly accepted by the least likely looking candidate; a weedy lad of about nineteen; a very junior engineer on his first trip to sea. He took the oar and with the most incredible speed and dexterity, shot us back to the pontoon like a speedboat. I found out afterwards that he came from some small place on the Solent and had spent all his life ‘messing about’ in small boats.
I was married a few weeks later and left the sea for good.
I have never attempted to scull again, and my only essay into boating since then has been the occasional hour spent rowing the kids around the park lake.

Arthur, Skulling a lost art. I loved it. every AB on the NE Coast in the 30s,40s 50s,and 60s, could Skull, You had too That was the watchmens job When you were on the bouys, getting the crew back onboard all pissed .

B.Nicholson
4th May 2009, 00:54
very true Arthur,had a quiet laugh when i read this,and dont forget pumping up the water tank as well,and God help you if both galley fires wernt hot when the cook was called

Dom. The good old days, when we on the Flatties had to pump the water up by hand to midships.and keep the galley fire going. I once let the galley fire go out was sheltering in Seaham Harbour On the "Alexander Kennedy" . Was nearly Linchched next morning by Capt Dukes.