Monday, December 07, 2009

‘Jack de Crow’

Last Christmas I was given an unexpected present in the form of a paperback by A. J. Mackinnon, “The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow”. Immediately I saw the word ‘voyage’, my heart was set throbbing, and on the cover of the book there was a photo of a yellow mirror dinghy being rowed by a chap wearing a pith helmet. He looked a bit like an English eccentric, but ‘Sandy’ Mackinnon, the author, was born in Australia. Much has been written about the excellent quality of Mackinnon’s account of his voyage in an open boat through the waterways of Europe from Shropshire, England to Sulina on the Black Sea. He tells of running the tidal stretch of the River Severn from Sharpness to Bristol Docks and a crossing of the English Channel, but not all of the waters he encountered were as challenging as those.

Every review of the book is full of praise for Alexander James Mackinnon’s witty, descriptive writing and wonderful imagination, but few describe the boat or mention the effort involved in overcoming many obstacles along the way. Such a voyage takes one off the beaten track and provides a view and an insight into things not seen by those who travel by conventional means. The 3,000 miles voyage was not without danger, including capsize and a near disastrous shipwreck near Whitstable. He set off in September, 1997, with the intention of exploring the Llangollen canal and further to the River Severn, but just kept going until he reached Romania via England, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria, encountering 282 locks, finally arriving at Sulina, on the shores of the Black Sea, where he gave his dinghy to the Harbour Master on 26th October, 1998.

The very first Mirror dinghy was designed by Barry Bucknell, the BBC TV do-it-yourself expert. He copied the construction technique of stitch and tape for joining plywood panels from Ken Littledyke’s canoe designs. Altogether, three prototypes of the Mirror were built; the design of the second and third were modified by Jack Holt to satisfy the demands of the Mirror Newspaper group who wanted to promote sales under their banner. They needed, first and foremost, a dinghy that would be safe, and easy for amateurs to build from kits. It was to be a cheap dinghy for the masses. Mirrors abound in many parts of the world, and International racing is well organized. Extremely successful, there are probably more Mirrors than any other class of dinghy in the world. Inevitably, such a popular design would be mass-produced in GRP. Quite a few of the earlier wooden versions have been adapted for cruising, and more than a dozen members of the Dinghy Cruising Association own them.


UK Mirror Sailing

A Mirror Dinghy being sailed

Finished Mirrors and Kits

Dinghy Cruising Association


Unknown said...

Dear Bill,

Congratulations for your beautiful blog. This book is so well written and so helpful that I red it already three of four times. My name is Giacomo de Stefano and next year I will row and sail with a Ness Yawl built here in Venice by master shipwright Roland Poltock from London to Istanbul, following more or less the same route of Mr Mackinnon.
You can know more on my little blog and then clicking on North Sea to Black Sea. Last here I rowed upstream the Po river in Italy with another Ness Yawl, from Venice to Piedmont and back.
I hope to meet you, eventually, the next year.

My best regards

William Serjeant said...

Congratulations to you too, on your achievement by rowing against the current of the Po River and highlighting the devastation caused by man of such a beautiful natural environment. I hope something will come of it, and that improvements will be made to reverse the damage caused. Huge efforts have been put into achieving clean water in the River Thames, but there is still a problem of Sewer Overflows during periods of heavy rain. See this link:
If you think I can be of any help when you are in the Southend-on-Sea area during your voyage next year, please let me know. It can be pretty cold here in March and quite often windy. I wish you well.

All the best, Bill.

P.S. That’s a fine-looking boat you have. I’ll have to do an article on the Ness Yawl.

RLarson said...

Hi Bill: Thanks for your great blog!
A question: Where did you find the cool black & photos of AJ Mackinnon rowing into the lock and launching off the beach? These don't appear in either printing of "The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow".
Just curious! They're great!
-Richard (fellow Mirror Sailor)