The Centipede

9 September 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

Göran R Buckhorn finds another ‘Thames Monster’.

In two entertaining articles on various sizes of rowing craft – everything between a single scull to a boat carrying 44 rowers – yesterday, Tim Koch wrote about a ‘Thames monster’, the 24-oared, 72-foot The Eagle of 1863. Tim mentioned that the larger boats must be hard to operate, including eights, which, he wrote, ‘are good at what they are designed for, going fast in a straight line, but they otherwise are difficult to manoeuvre, store and transport’.

Another ‘big boat’, that Tim wrote about, was the 24-seater, the sculling Stämpfli Express, which, with its 44 metres, really needs ‘a straight line’ to be able to be rowed. What we ought to have, I suggest, is a flexible boat that can snake around corners, so to say.

In 1888, an artist came up with the ‘flexible, patent-jointed, vertebral outrigger’, the Centipede. It doesn’t say how long it was, or how many rowers it took, but I would guess some 50-60, unless it actually took 100 rowers (as it was called centi- ?).

However, the Centipede was probably a joke as it was published in Punch after the magazine’s artist had consumed ‘an unusually scrumptious lunch on board a house-boat at Henley’. Be that as it may, he was innovative enough to make the boat a bow-loader – or bow-coxed as it’s also called – something that was otherwise developed by the German oarsman Georg von Opel in the 1950s, according to a July 2017 Rowing News article by Dr Rowing, aka Andy Anderson.

Lastly, among the small animals (it’s not an insect just so you know) I detest the most, is the Lithobius forficatus, generally known as the brown or stone centipede. I can’t stand these nasty buggers.

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