Henley Whalers  Port  MollyMiniPic   Starboard  Established 1993 - " Who are we?"


What do we do? - History of The Henley Whalers,- Molly, A new Era - Who are we Now? - Brief history of whalers, The Montague Whaler

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What do we do?

Wednesday evening rowing. Usually 8pm. Where? - Even in winter? - Short-notice changes here.
Imagine an open boat about 30ft by 6ft, so stable you can stand up and walk around. On board are up to ten rowers sitting two-to-a-thwart (bench), a helmsman (or woman), and sometimes a passenger or two. Very often we have the river to ourselves sharing it only with nature. The water can be mirror-flat reflecting the trees, the skyline of Henley, and in winter the moon, stars and lights of the town. Swans glide silently by, geese and owls call. We are briefly isolated from everyday life. Frustrations drift away while we cultivate the skill of pulling together as a team. These are sociable occasions, a blend of conversation and light-hearted "training". We take turns at the helm, and after enjoying the river for a couple of hours, then mooring up, we generally find a "safe haven" (ashore) for refreshment.

Weekend Whaling - Usually the 2nd Sunday each month, 10:30. Where?. Short-notice changes here.
Generally in the Henley area, usually rowing, occasionally sailing.
Maybe a pub lunch, or picnic at anchor in a sunny backwater. Information and Reports

We participate in events throughout UK and Europe, and have often won prizes! Molly's owner plans an exciting season of special activities, both rowing and sailing, including old favourites near and far. See Future events and Past Events & Pictures and Raiding.

Local Sailing - Ideal for beginners, students, learner-sailors or those who would like some practice. Sail with a Whaler member at Reading Sailing Club Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays - (enquiries).
We also sometimes sail "Molly" on the Henley Reach.

What does "Molly" look like?

Can anyone join? - First read "You think you want to join us?"
Visitors and New members sometimes ask . . ..

History of The Henley Whalers
"GT" started the group of friends that became Henley Whalers in 1993, soon after he had moved to Henley on Thames in his late forties.. He had sailed offshore keelboats for many years, but he was now looking for a seaworthy boat
he could trail to the sea, and also row on the Thames. He came across his first whaler in the South of Ireland in late 1992, brought her back on a primitive trailer, and sailed her in the Solent with his twin brother in early January 1993. He was more confident in the boat's sailing ability than in his and his friends' rowing, so he fitted a six hp outboard as well for coastal sailing. Renamed 'Lutra lutra' (the common otter) she rowed the Great River Race for the first time in 1993, and crossed the Channel under sail (Hamble to St Vaast and back) in 1995. To show his increased belief in rowing, he rigged Lutra for ten oars rather than the traditional five, and rowed from Dover to Calais in six hours on an October day in 1998.

Our second Whaler was Collingwood, rescued from beneath an oak-tree in Morpeth in 1996. After an extensive rebuild she became the group's 'best boat', and carried the whaler's standard as the best of all sail-and-oar boats in three successive Great Glen Raids from 2000 -2002. Collingwood has never carried an outboard, so well does she row.

GT's conviction that sail and oar whaler-style still has a future, long after the navies have gone over to Zodiacs and RIBs for their small boats, is based on his experience that boats of this size and design can be fun to sail, fast to row, and a great way of involving people who have done little of either. "Henley Whalers" boats have ranged far and wide, with memorable appearances in Amsterdam, Venice, Brest, Douarnenez, the Scottish Highlands, Sweden and, repeatedly, the Thames for the Great River Race, where Collingwood won the Montagu Whaler trophy for three years running, and the Pussers Rum Trophy for fastest whaler overall on two occasions.

(C) Kathy Mansfield 2003
The annual Great River Race, from Ham (Richmond) to Greenwich
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"We reluctantly sold our last Montagu, Collingwood, with the arrival of a replica New Bedford whaleboat in summer 2003. Lighter and leaner than the navy boats, we find she will row and sail faster still, and is easier to manhandle round the trailer-park. An obstinate gesture perhaps, but GT was nearing retirement and fancied the idea of sailing coastal waters in a whaleboat designed for the 21st century. Carbon spars and oars, foils designed to modern standards, a foam sandwich hull: this is only a replica in the sense that the old whale-boatmen would recognise the concept and the lines, and the capability in all the departments they learned to value: speed and windward ability under sail, speed and manoeuvrability under oar, light weight when the job is done: and a true sea boat"...." Come forward the whaleboat 'Molly' ! ". . . (See Build Reports)
A tale of success
"Molly" and friends have since gone on to acquit themselves admirably, frequently achieving wins and high placements in national and international events. See Past Events & Pictures

A New Era - Who Are We Now? - Click here for a more detailed version of this episode
"GT" and family moved south in 2006 taking Molly with them.
Thanks to the generosity of a friendly lender, Henley Whalers were able to borrow "Vancouver", a traditional Montagu Whaler, for a few months whilst seeking a replacement.
Soon "Molly" came back to Henley under new ownership. The Henley Whalers are delighted to row her again every Wednesday evening, some weekends, and in a variety of special events. See "What do we do?

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(C) Kathy Mansfield 2003

A brief history of whalers
Whalers, or whaleboats as the Americans call them, come from the mid nineteenth century, when whaleships needed fast, light boats to chase whales, and the whaleship skippers observed that the chase went better if the whaleboat could make its approach silently under sail. Some skippers liked to place themselves downwind of the whales, and send the boats up the wind line. So the boats had centre-plates. And they were double-enders, so they could back down quickly under oar if need be in the fight for the whale. Eventually a boat-type evolved which was quick to row, excellent to manoeuvre, and fast to sail, upwind and down: and of course a good sea boat, as its working environment was the open sea.

The best book on the type is 'The Whaleboat: a Study of Design, Construction and
use from 1850-1970', by Willits D Ansell, published by Mystic Seaport Museum, Conn, USA

The Montagu Whaler
At the same time the great navies of the world were developing large fleets of ships which needed a wide range of ship's boats. Many of them adopted the whaleboat or whaler as the smallest ship's boat, that could be hoisted on board by hand rather than by crane. In the Nineteenth Century the Royal Navy carried only fairly primitive whaleboats, lightly rigged and without centre-boards. At the end of the century Admiral Montagu modernised the type, fitted a centreboard, added rocker to the keel and the ketch lug-rig, and created the best known of all ship's boat, the Montagu whaler, which was built to his design at the height of Empire in Hong Kong, Bombay, Malta, the Carribean and of course in contracted boatyards around the coasts of Britain: a truly international open boat.

The Montagu whaler was first designed in two lengths, 24 and 27 feet, and was the smallest member of a fleet of ship's boats which, on a capital ship, included the Captain's Gig (30 feet) the 32-foot Cutter and a variety of Pinnaces at over 40 feet and rowed with 12 oars each side!

You don't see many 27 foot whalers around these days, but I have seen none of the others for over 30 years. So the 27 foot Montagu whaler is a survivor, perhaps because it became famous in both sailing and rowing regattas in service, and the rowing (or 'pulling' to the matelots) still carries on in a few events each year in the UK, especially the Great River Race, where there may be six or seven entered in a good year.

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