ALL aboard! The guys from Frome Men’s shed made an appearance at the Cheese Show earlier this month – showcasing their handmade, oar powered floatation device – the almighty coracle. It was made for a race which took place in July – after the Welsh Men’s Sheds Association threw down the gauntlet late last year.
How to use a coracle
Getting into and out of a coracle is the trickiest part of coracling, where you can end up in the pond or river rather than in the boat. This is down to the lack of a keel, resulting in the boat sitting on the water rather than in it. The key to getting in or out of a coracle is to do so as quickly and smoothly as you can. When you are in the boat, it is stable as your weight is distributed across the boat.
If you're coracling with a friend, they can help keep the boat steady whilst you enter or exit. If coracling alone, use the paddle as support, locking it between the bank and your shoulder whilst steadying the boat with your other hand.
After checking for any stones or other objects that may get you stuck or puncture the skin, set the boat in the water with the front against the bank. Step backwards in to the coracle, placing your foot in the centre of the front portion of the boat. Sit down centrally on the seat, before spreading your feet towards the front corners of the boat in order to spread your weight evenly. Then gently push yourself away from the bank.
In shallow water, if the bed is smooth you can set the boat so the front of it will 'lock' as you enter. Once in and stable, you can shuffle yourself backwards onto the water.
Once on the water, try to avoid leaning over the side of the boat. Because of the high centre of gravity and the fact the boat is longer than it is wide, it is very easy to capsize the boat if you lean to the side. Leaning forwards or backwards the boat is much more stable.
Paddling a coracle is a gentle affair - trying to paddle faster will only result in you tiring yourself and won't move you faster. With one hand at the top of the paddle - usually your dominant hand - and the other part way down the paddle handle, use a figure of eight technique over the front of the boat, keeping the paddle blade parallel to the boat. Those familiar with the sculling draw can use this. Use the hand placed down the paddle handle to move the paddle from side to side or to turn it. Keep the paddle blade shallow in the water - placing the blade deeper in the water does not give more power.
To turn the coracle, gently flick the paddle either left or right over the front of the boat to turn in the opposite direction
Once confident in this basic paddling technique, you may wish to try the 'one handed' technique used by coracle netsmen - lock the top of the paddle into your shoulder, usually that of your dominant arm. The hand on the same arm then sits down the paddle handle, operating as above
This video, made by Terry Kenny, may help clarify the paddling technique
If you capsize a coracle, don't try to re-enter it on the water. If you can flip it over so it is upside down, a cushion of air on the inside of the boat will cause it to float rather than sink, making it easier to rescue and giving you some support. If in distress, try to get the coracle into the upside down position and then use the coracle as a drum, banging on it to raise attention.
It is good practice to wear a buoyancy aid when coracling - even if you are a proficient swimmer. It is also good practice to not coracle alone. For more information, please read our safety guidelines
Coracles should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. A peg on the garage wall is a good place - the coracle can be hung on the peg, out of the way of day to day traffic, and this will prevent it from being damaged or collecting water. Always empty any water collected in the coracle before storing, as this will cause the skin to rot