the story of the ROCAT's development during the second half of 2005

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2006 - second half

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2005 - first half

2004 - second half

2004 - first half

2005 - second half

27 December 2005

In England (I don't know what it's like elsewhere) attention is increasingly being drawn to the terrible dangers all around us – it won't be long before our government's 'Health and Safety Executive' (taking its cue from the European Union) declares that getting out of bed entails too much risk, and that we should all stay put. Many of the EU directives would be hilarious if they weren't so serious – one, which actually passed onto the statute books before its absurdity was realised, required anybody wishing to climb a boat's mast to erect scaffolding first - really!

Having said all that, ROCAT is producing a craft designed to be used on 'open water', and it would be exceedingly irresponsible if we didn't recognise that this can be a hostile environment for rowers.

You can go out ninety nine times, and everything is just fine, but on the hundredth time, the wind unexpectedly backs against a flood tide, and life suddenly becomes very tricky.

It is incumbent on the rower to acknowledge this and take sensible precautions – but it's also incumbent on us to do all we can to ensure that rower remains safe in these conditions.

Safety can not be a bolt-on accessory in a boat designed to be used in open water, it must be absolutely intrinsic to the whole design. Once that is achieved, it must then be thoroughly embedded in every user of that boat.

The ROCAT has an exceptionally high level of 'primary safety'.

  • It is extremely stable – from my experience in some very rough seas in proto 2, I do wonder if it could be capsized.
  • The whole structure is very strong, and the impact strength of the hulls is high.
  • Each hull has >120kg (264lbs) of built-in buoyancy.
  • Once assembled for use, all the main components – hulls, crossbeams and seatdeck – are securely locked together.
  • The oars are captive in their rowlocks.

"So, if the boat has such a high level of primary safety, why on earth would anyone need the secondary safety provided by a lifejacket?"

... for much the same reason you wear a seat belt in a car, 'just in case' ...

Starting from scratch, we are lucky that we are not burdened with the baggage of entrenched attitudes, and our unequivocal stance on safety can be pragmatic and up-to-date. This will not be driven by a terror of being sued by some opportunist litigant, but by simple common sense and deep concern for the safety and well-being of the women and men who use our products.

In due course, people will undoubtedly race ROCATs in open water – the company will encourage it and the ROCAT Association will probably organise the events. Because all the participants in these races will be wearing an approved lifejacket it will be the norm – no one will feel conspicuous and it will not be regarded as sissy to do so. Apart from that, we will do our best to keep the rules and regulations to a minimum.

I am really looking forward to ROCAT racing as it can be so diverse, from 2,000m sprints on the flat, to long-distance rallies where difficult conditions just add to the challenge.

Talking of open water rowing races, as you read this, 58 women and men are racing across the Atlantic in singles, pairs and fours.

They started from La Gomera (in the Canary Islands) on the 1st December, and will finish in Antigua (in the West Indies) in approximately 50 - 60 days. The leading four (All Relative) has a huge lead, but the next six places are being very hard fought.

The race's website is – the positions chart on the 'progress' page is updated every couple of hours ... CL

... some 2005 pictures again: AG in the harbour; the ROCAT on the slip; unconcerned at imminent large wake; pub break at Helford; youngest ROCATeer does well; Anthony at speed in a chop.

AG in the harbour

ROCAT on slip

imminent wake!

pub break

youngest ROCATeer

at speed in chop

31 October 2005

Transporting and storing your leisure craft can be a major headache.

Few have it so easy as those participating in kite surfing, the current fastest growing watersport. To my un-tutored eye, conditions for kite surfing appeared perfect yesterday as we walked along the beach at Marazion. The sun was bright and warm, and a stiff onshore breeze provided plenty of drive without a monster surf. While I knew that this is a popular kite surfing spot, for some reason I'd not seen it at close quarters before and I watched, enthralled, as seven kite surfers charged back and forth at a remarkable pace. Periodically they would take off, and soar for ages before gracefully landing back on the sea. As the wind got up, one of the guys came in to change to a smaller kite. Having deflated the big one, he folded it into a holdall the size of a standard sports kit bag and carried it easily to his car. The replacement was then inflated, attached to the lines, and off he went for more romping on the sea. Although that level of immersion in cold salty water is definitely not my scene, it does look enormous fun and, on transport convenience alone, it's way ahead of windsurfing.

Ease of transportation and storage was a major driving factor in the design of the ROCAT – above all, I was adamant that this virtually new sport had to be equally accessible to men and women, whatever their build. I realised that the whole boat would inevitably weigh more than a racing shell, but determined that no component would be beyond the comfortable lifting capacity of any likely ROCAT owner – in the end, the 5m (16'4") hulls are the heaviest parts, and they weigh just 8.5kg (18.8lbs) each. (A very light shell weighs about 14kg.)

Then, if something has to be dismantled to transport it, nobody will bother if the process takes a long time. The ROCAT dismantles into its main component parts – two hulls; two crossbeams; the seatdeck; the footbar, and two oars. Based on the time it took to put proto 2 together, I believe it will take less than 5 minutes to take the boat off the roof of the car, and assemble it ready to row.

Most garages will easily accommodate a ROCAT and, in due course, we will devise suitable wall-mounted racks to support it.

While not as easy to transport as a kite surfing kit, it's a great deal easier than a conventional fast rowing boat and, hopefully, this aspect alone will encourage many more people into the sport.

Meanwhile work progresses steadily in the workshop. I have been asked what the 'yoke' is, as the word isn't in normal boating terminology – this is because the thing doesn't feature in other boats, and we had to make up something to call it. In a conventional rowing boat, the rowlocks are supported on fixed riggers firmly attached to the boat. On the ROCAT, the rowlocks are at the end of the 'swingarms', and these pivot off the side of the seatdeck. The yoke is a very strong U-shaped carbon-fibre part that goes across the seatdeck, between the swingarms, to support their considerable cantilever loads.

And I've also been asked how we make the moulds for the foam blanks which go inside the parts. Basically, we have to make new foam moulds which are 1.5mm smaller in all directions than the main mould. This is done by applying 1.5mm 'thickness wax' onto the inside of the mould; taking a cast off that to make a plug of the right size, then taking a proper mould off that. We now have numerous foam moulds and, consequently, the workshop seems to be overflowing in plugs and moulds! ... CL

... top picture is of a kite surfer with St Michael's Mount in the background; no 2 is of a flying kite surfer; no 3 is of the yoke mould; no 4 has it all set up ready to pull the yoke mould lid; no 5 is of the stages in the production of the swingarm foam mould.

kitesurfer with St Michael's mount behind

kitesurfer flying

ROCAT yoke mould

ROCAT yoke mould ready to make lid

ROCAT swingarm foam plug & mould

16 October 2005

In my fairly long and varied experience, there are few things that refresh a weary spirit better than a brisk walk along the ragged, ocean-pounded edge of the land – if the sun is shining and the wind is blowing hard, so much the better.

"Of course, you realise that your sliding rigger is not new; Empacher produced a sliding rigger boat in 1980, and it won the world sculling championships in 1981 and 1982."

In fact, the sliding rigger goes back a lot further than that as it was first patented in 1877. The sliding seat, the outrigger and the swivelling rowlock were also patented at around that time.

There is a beautiful model of a sculling boat in the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall, in Falmouth. I think it's dated 1895 and, except for the fact that it is made of wood, it's remarkably similar to the shells that race today. This is a spectacular tribute to FISA's quite extraordinary resistence to change for 113 years.

FISA – "Le Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron" was founded in Turin on June 25, 1892 – which I gather makes it the oldest governing body in sport.

FISA's objectives are to maintain and promote the ethical principles of rowing, to promote and develop all forms of rowing

I'm not sure about the first objective above (because I don't know what 'the ethical principles of rowing' are) but I would suggest that they have pretty much failed in their second objective – despite the many merits of rowing, and with over 100 years of potential development, under FISA's guardianship it remains a small, and limited, minority sport.

From its rulebook:

Rule 1- Rowing, Boats, Regattas

Rowing is the propulsion of a displacement boat, with or without coxswain, by the muscular force of one or more rowers, using oars as simple levers of the second order and sitting with their backs to the direction of movement of the boat. Rowing on a machine or in a tank which simulates the action of rowing in a boat is also considered as rowing.

In a rowing boat, all load bearing parts including the axes of moving parts, must be firmly fixed to the body of the boat, but the rower's seat may move along the axis of the boat.

With which, we should really rethink our description of the ROCAT because, officially, it is not a rowing boat ! And to make matters worse, the ROCAT is a full 2.2 metres shorter than FISA's minimum length for a rowing boat – oh well ...

I believe that the ROCAT will broaden the appeal of rowing and that, in due course, there will be many other similar seaworthy, easily transportable boats to satisfy a rapidly growing interest in accessible rowing on all kinds of water.

But, to get back to the sliding rigger (which FISA banned as quickly as it could), while it is undoubtedly better than a sliding seat, it merely swaps the end that slides and retains the existing geometry. With the addition of the 'swingarm rigger', the ROCAT rig takes the sliding rigger one step further, and improves the stroke.

BTW, if you would like to find out more about the history of rowing, have a look at the excellent 'Rowing History' site – did you know, for example, that in the nineteenth century rowing was a hugely popular professional sport ... CL

... 4 pictures of Gurnard's Head, just north of us.

Gurnards Head on the coast of Cornwall

Gurnards Head on the coast of Cornwall

Gurnards Head on the coast of Cornwall

the Atalantic coast, west Cornwall

26 September 2005

The fifth anniversary of the launch of the first prototype.

9 September 2005

The time has come to refurbish the website and take stock.

Looking at the webstats, I am enormously encouraged at the size of the following that the ROCAT project is attracting – the site gets 35-50,000 hits a month, from 36 countries, and it has a high level of returning visitors. The stats also show that people come to the site for various reasons – many, as one would expect, come via rowing related links, but word is also getting around that this tiny team in west Cornwall is breaking some interesting new ground in advanced composites technology.

When I started the project in March 2000, I had absolutely no idea that the realisation of the idea would take so long, and be so hard – would I have embarked on it had I known? People have wondered to me, 'why is it taking so long?' The simple answer is that, considering the size of the project, it's seriously under-resourced – people, especially in the UK it would seem, prefer not to invest in 'new idea startups'. Also, I will not begin to sell boats until I'm fully satisfied that they are good enough – I don't wish to read reports about this 'fascinating new rowing catamaran which, unfortunately, keeps falling apart and/or doesn't work properly'. Triumphs and setbacks would appear to be the frustrating norm in R&D, and there are no shortcuts – but we are nearly there and I believe we should now have a complete boat by the new year.

A number of people have expressed surprise at the frankness of the reporting of the development process, and the extent to which I reveal 'trade secrets'. This straightforward approach characterizes the way the ROCAT company will relate to its customers. 'Do as you would be done by' serves me well as a guiding philosophy and I believe it will work just as well for the company. As for the 'trade secrets', this is plain pragmatism. I have a pretty jaundiced view of the patent system – it costs an absolute fortune in the first place, but only provides as much protection as the (even bigger) fortune you can throw at your patent's defence. There are some things I have described on this site which may be patentable, but to what end. It is more important to get to market and build a strong, respected brand ASAP than try, through the courts, to prevent others from trying to copy the ROCAT. And, by publishing those 'trade secrets', at least nobody else can patent the same things and stop me using them.

I have been asked how I propose to sell the ROCAT. Already, even before there is a finished boat, and before the order book is open, there is a queue building of people (from as far afield as California, British Columbia, South Africa and Argentina), who wish to have a ROCAT as soon as it's available. To begin with, at least, I believe production capacity is going to be a much bigger problem than sales.

We decided not to include a forum in this updated website – it's still a bit premature, but I really do like to get feedback and comments by email. I hope you enjoy the improved gallery, and the video clips which have been included for your amusement and edification – especially the one showing the rough sea trials.

Some of you have been following the ROCAT's progress since we met on the 'Concept Boat' stand at the London boat Show back in January 2003 – what a long way we have come from that rather crude prototype! I learned so much from the many hours I spent out on that boat, in all conditions, and was very proud when the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth asked to make it their '2004 Feature Boat' – it served the project well, but the new boat will be so much better in every way. We're on the home straight, and those who are anxious to try the ROCAT don't have much longer to wait ... CL

... pictures are local scene-setters: jetskiers in Mount's Bay; Newlyn harbour, with Penzance in the distance; a Cornish gig – gig racing is a fast-growing sport; and a different kind of cat.

jetskis by Penzance harbour

Newlyn harbour

Cornish gig


8 August 2005

I have known Aubrey for very many years, and he was among the select few who gamely tried 'proto 2' way back in the summer of 2001. So, as he's down in Cornwall on holiday, and 'proto 3' is working, I asked him if he'd also like to try it. He said yes, and we agreed to meet at the Penzance slipway yesterday afternoon.

He brought with him his daughter Isobel (12), his son Harry (9), and some beautiful weather.

Aubrey went out into the bay for some time, did very well, and appeared to have enjoyed the opportunity to get back in a ROCAT. However, I hope he won't mind if I say that Isobel was the star of the show. Apart from playing in an inflatable dinghy, she had never rowed before, and was not at all sure about going out. Encouraged to do so, she tentatively edged down the channel, past the moored boats, to the more open water at the other end of the harbour. There she spent a while getting the hang of the boat before turning for the slip. Her stroke on that return journey was a joy to behold – except that she wasn't feathering (to be covered in the next lesson), she had every part of the stroke spot on, rowing straight and fast with (apparent) confidence – I was really sorry I didn't have the camera or, better still, a camcorder. I don't recall how long it took me to learn to scull, but it was certainly a great deal longer than that! I was enormously encouraged that a) the absolute stability of the boat gives the novice confidence to concentrate on the stroke, and b) that the stroke is so intuitive as to be mastered in so short a time.

Unfortunately, by then it was too late for Harry to have a go, so I must see if we can arrange another session before they go back.

On a number of occasions, when a novice has tried the ROCAT, it would have been really useful to be able to give instructions and tips from the shore – I was thinking transmitters, amplifiers, speakers, walkie-talkies etc. etc. when it suddenly occurred to me that all you need is a mobile phone with a 'hands free' kit ... duh!

With Isobel, the age range of 'proto 3' rowers is now 12–66, and the weight range 42–97kg! ... CL

AR, who rowed proto2, tries the new boat IR returns after great first row seatdeck tray mould wrecked

7 August 2005

The long-awaited arrival of the new crossbeam mould from Rojac should have been a cause for celebration but, much to my disappointment and frustration, there are problems with it and we will have to see how these might be resolved.

The new crossbeam shape looks much the same as the old one – it is a bit rounder, and slightly deeper in the middle section (see the plug in the first picture) – but the main change is in the mould itself. With the previous mould we never managed to get the system to seal properly where the two-part top mould met in the middle. This time we have a one-piece top mould which is designed to be sufficiently flexible to ease off the undercuts at the ends. Before we can see if it works, though, we have to sort the problems and produce the foam moulds.

The other two pictures show the first carbon fibre bottom swingarm bracket being produced on its new mould.

Talking of problems, there was never a satisfactory resolution to the huge problems we had with the Marbocote Spraycote release agent that we used on the seatdeck roof tray – it failed to release and we had to scrap the new mould. I would publish Marbocote's report on their investigation of the failure, but they have forbidden me from doing so. However, the conclusion stated "It can only be concluded, therefore, that this batch of Spraycote was within specification. Consequently, the poor release obtained by the customer can only be the result of either poor handling or incorrect application." And that was that – their hands were clean and they had managed to come through with the minimum of cost or inconvenience to themselves. That the 'stickup' had cost me about two and a half thousand pounds was tough. Oh, and in case any hint of responsibility could still be traced back to them, they went on to blame Matrix Composite Materials (their distributor) for not teaching us properly how to use the product – too bad that we followed the written instructions to the letter. Would it surprise you to hear that I will neither use, nor recommend, Marbocote products in the future? ... CL

plug for one of ROCAT's new crossbeams ROCAT's new crossbeam mould ROCAT's new crossbeam bottom mould making ROCAT's swingarm bottom bracket making ROCAT's new crossbeam mould

29 July 2005

My impatience got the better of me this morning and I demoulded the hull before Anthony arrived. To my great satisfaction it was complete, flaw-free, and customer-ready.

New readers will not appreciate the significance of this but we are, apparently (and rather surprisingly), the only people making composite hulls in one piece – they are normally made in two parts and stuck together. I explain the process on the technology page, but the result is considerably stronger for a given weight. It's great to have surmounted that particular hurdle!

Unfortunately, our accurate scales only go up to 5kg but, according to the bathroom scales, these last two hulls weigh just the same at 8.2kg ... CL

28 July 2005

Having finished the tray for the seatdeck roof-mounting system, we have been working out the optimum layout of the components to be stored therein – they will be supported on a tough elastic foam so, having found the best solution, Anthony set about shaping some foam for the prototype. With the seatdeck in place as the lid to the tray, it looks quite neat. (take no notice of the untidy reinforcement under the beam; the new beam will be inherently stronger).

We infused another hull today – the process went well, so I look forward to seeing the result when we demould tomorrow.

Rojac has nearly finished the new crossbeam mould – the picture shows it ready to lay up the top mould.

I have decided to tackle the development of the new oar, and oar pivot, later – at this stage, with limited funds, it's more important to focus on finishing the boat sufficiently to open the order book ... CL

car roof mounting tray making ROCAT's new crossbeam mould

14 July 2005

Things appear to have slowed down a bit of late – this could be because half the workforce is taking a well-earned break in Croatia for a couple of weeks.

Adam (who can be seen on the slip in the harbour section of the gallery) was one of the first people to try proto 2. He has been a keen and generous supporter of the project from the start, and is one of the company's few shareholders. I was delighted to be able to give him the opportunity to try proto 3 last week and hear his comments on how the two prototypes differed.

He considered the new seat shape a great improvement, but wondered if the skegs aren't almost too effective in increasing directional stability. This is bound to be a bit of a compromise if the size of the skegs is not adjustable as you row, but I believe it's about right. It used to be quite tricky to maintain a straight coarse, and it had a strong tendency to 'round up' on a windy day in a quartering sea – it behaves much better with the skegs, but remains maneoverable.

Adam observed that the rig all feels very solid now, and I noticed a big difference in the 'ride height' between the two craft. Adam and Anthony weigh about the same and I've got so used to seeing where proto 3 sits with Anthony on board, I forgot how low proto 2 sat in the water when Adam tried it – it's good to see the benefits of the new boat's 50% increase in buoyancy. In fact, while there is obviously more wetted surface drag on hulls which are more deeply immersed, the boat's performance does not seem to be that effected.

I am intrigued by the correlation between a rower's weight, strength and boat performance – I presume this must have been extensively researched, but can't find it. When people start racing ROCATs, given that the boats will be all the same, will they all be able to race on equal terms? With a 21:1 aspect ratio, the hulls have very little 'wave-making drag', but how does the displacement/wetted surface drag relationship compare with a fit person's weight/strength relationship? And how does stamina relate, too?

I enjoy watching how people of different experience and ability take to the ROCAT. Generally speaking, people have no trouble picking up the stroke, and complete novices can be rowing confidently within 30 minutes. My daughter, Freya, (who would not describe herself as a sporty person) went out on the ROCAT for the second time that afternoon, and had it sassed by the end of the session. The third picture below shows the 'catch' position (although she could bring her feet up a little more), and the fourth picture shows the 'power stroke'. Notice how the straight arms anchor the oar handles while she heaves with her legs. Existing rowers have a (perfectly understandable) tendency to lean forward at the catch, and bend their arms on the power stroke, but it doesn't take long to shed these old habits.

Notice the improvised mirror, BTW – it's amazing how much a simple 90x70mm convex mirror stuck on a sail batten can improve the rowing experience. I've mentioned this before, but I cannot understand why mirrors are not standard fittings on all coxless rowing boats. I can now row confidently out of the harbour, through the moored boats, without turning around – so much easier. The production boat will probably have two small, foldaway mirrors mounted on to the back of the seatdeck.

Went over to Mylor Harbour (on the river Fal) for a row at the weekend, but was thwarted when I discovered that the thread in the bottom of the aluminium rowlock had stripped. This is the rowlock that is being used pending the development of the ball joint solution, so it's not serious. I will return there, though, as there is a good wide (free) public slipway ajacent to an inexpensive 'pay and display' car park – not to mention the excellent 'Castaways Wine and Tapas Bar' handy by ... CL

Adam rows the ROCAT again novice learns the ropes forward for the catch the ROCAT power stroke front view of the ROCAT on the slip