Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review: The Sea and the Jungle by H.M. Tomlinson

This is meant to be a classic travelogue from 1909 / 1910, telling of a tramp steamer's voyage from Swansea into the heart of the Brazilian rainforest. I must admit I was disappointed.

Partly it was because its attitudes to race have aged badly. Unlike the vastly better The Surgeon's Log, there was no awaking of a more open attitude as the voyage continued.

Then there was the language. If you have read "Cold Comfort Farm" you will remember there are purple passages clearly signposted with stars. Here its just text.

Take this description of dawn at sea:

"It was still virgin, bearing a vestal light. It had not been soiled yet by any suspicion of this trampled planet, this muddy star, which its innocent and tenuous rays had discovered in the region of night... Its light was tremulous, as if with joy and eagerness. .. The world was miraculously renewed. It rose, and received the new-born of Aurora in its arms. There was cloud of pearl above hills of chrysoprase."

So no Hemingway then.

The biggest problem is it goes on and on for over 350 pages and not much happens. Yes, they trundle across the Atlantic to the mouth of the Amazon and still have over a thousand NM to go. But they do eventually get to Porto Vello up the Madeira river with their supplies for a railway being built there, after much discussion of mosquitoes and butterflies.

There is a short diversion though the jungle while unloading the ship, which gets that most damming of comparisons:

"The forest was nothing like the paradise a tropical wild is supposed to be. It was as uniformly dingy as the old stones of a  London street on a November evening."

It did indeed remind me of the heart of darkness, but without the ride of the Valkyries and smell of napalm in the morning (ok, ok, that is Apocolapse Now, but same story base).

Characters are thin, described as the Skipper, Chief and Doctor; the later is left in Brazil without even a goodbye.

There's too much of the little Englander well outside his comfort zone and it really could be edited down a lot.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lost paddle

Spotted in the Thames today.

Alas it seems broken, but it does suggest someone has been paddling in a creak without a paddle.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eclipse on a grey day

Today there was a partial eclipse across the UK, and the weather didn't really help with cloud blanketing most of the country.

However last night the forecast was for there to be a patch of clear sky about an hour's train journey north of London so I took a chance on a train to Leicester.

Partial eclipses aren't that spectacular as it just gets a bit dim and you really mustn't look at the sun so all the action involves projecting images. I had a very ad-hoc arrangement of camera resting on a pair of binoculars, both pointing at a piece of white paper.

I arrived on time, to find the sun out enough to cast a shadow and in a near empty park took the above.

The one to look out for is in 2017 when a total eclipses crosses continental USA though probably the best observing sites and hotel rooms have already been snapped up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sassi sails on Shade of Grays - part 4

Hi Guys!

So me and... Kevin... headed back to shore. The Thames estuary looked like I felt - a bit flat.

After we did the ropes thing again he said he had a favour to ask. At this point I felt like a massive G&T and a hot bath but said sure, 'cos, like, why not?

Apparently in the summer he'd lost his expensive prescription sun glasses in the lazarette and as I'm a "wee thing" (his words, not mine) it should be a "piece of cake" (ditto). So down I climbed.....

In the dungeon there were not just ropes but chains.....

OMG!! There really were piles of ropes and a muddy chain down there! And it smelled .... of diesel and damp. I slipped and got all wet.... yuck... yuck... yuck!!

"Any sign?"

The hatch slammed shut and I was trapped in the the dark, alone....

"No, can't see them - I'm coming out!!"

Then it was back to London so I can write this up for JP. But, hey, it was a thrilling gothic adventure - or at least it will be the way I tell it next time I'm out on the raz!

Even if the only shades of grey were between Kevin with his hair (geddit!!) and the Thames mud (ditto!!).

Just don't use the word claustrophobic, ok.

Luv yah!

Sassi xxx

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sassi sails on Shade of Grays - part 3

Hi guys!

Huh. So this Shades of Grey sailing trip wasn't quite going to plan. While eating a beef pasty (cheese is so fattening) in body I was in the Thames estuary listening to Kevin's stories of the successes of his children but in spirit I was far away...

It was on the super yacht BILLIONAIRE TOO that she discovered she had a power. Her intuition could sense his crystal waters blue eyes locked onto her even when her back was turned. The on-board wardrobe was vast and she used it to fascinate. Sensual sheers floated over bikinis, revealing her, prompting grazing touches that promised more....

"... but enough about Steve and Crossrail" said Kevin. "How about a drink?"

Now we're talking!!

"Oooh, ta! A nice chilled glass of Chard. or Pinot' or Sauvigi' Blanc or something bubbly but not red as it gives me a head ache".

Me and red wine - don't ask!!

"We have tea or coffee" said Kevin, heading below.

Humph. Now where was I....

They would anchor in remote coral islands untouched since the dawn of time. Here his instruments were natural: coconut fibres to bind as her skin felt the heat of fire and ice, before being led, blindfolded, to be bathed by his hands, warm water embracing her body....

Yuck! That Thames water was cold! Why is it yachts make such a fuss going towards the wind?

Fortunately the day was almost over as I was freeezing! Southend is NOT like the south sea islands!!

Laterz guys!

Sassi xxx

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sassi sails on Shade of Grays - part 2

Hi Guys,

So this Shades of Grey boat trip wasn't quite going as hoped, but you know Sassi, hunt the silver lining!!

We headed out of Thurrock (which for some reason Kevin called Grays - WTF?) which IMHO had a yucky-mud smell and raised the sail. Steering was fab.

Together we sailed the super-yacht BILLIONAIRE TOO between the islands of the southern Pacific. Below in a master cabin filled with the finest lace and Egyptian cotton he was masterful (geddit!!!) but on deck we were a team, united, hearts beating as one...

"Look out!" cried Kevin.

We might have crash gybed or something, but who cares! Time for lunch!!

The cavernous galley brought forth an ever flowing series of culinary delights. Champagne and oysters, rare beef and aged wines, er.... caviare on .... toast.... er stuff like that. I was blind-folded and made to sample his creations, blissful mouthfuls of pleasure....

"I didn't know what you'd like so got pasties from Greggs. There's cheese or steak?"

Huh. Anyhow not hungry and need the loo.... what's the word? Fronts?

It was this weird box, a bit like the portaloos in Glastonbury, but no light.... so maybe...

There were no electric lights on-board, instead there were candles everywhere. Their shimmering flames flattering her curves during those long sultry nights and there was the wax....

"Oops, sorry, forgot to switch the head's power on the control board" shouted Kevin.



"Maybe its time to head back?" I asked.


Sassi xxx

p.s. JP, will this do? I got the picture from here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sassi sails on Shade of Grays - part 1

Hi Guys!

So I headed of to east London for my mysterious sail with a suspected BILLIONAIRE on Shades of Grey!!!

When I got there (Thurrock Yacht Club) it wasn't quite what I expected. The boat... well... it was a bit small... and the skipper a retiree called Kevin.

"Thanks for coming" he said. "The wife's arthritis has been bad recently."

Huh. Maybe he had a son or something.

"Can you cast off?" he asked, pointing at the lines.

Ropes.... maybe I'd get tied up.... they constrained me, fibres gently flicking my over-sensitive skin, teasing them. I was helpless but empowered ... knots questions for my heart... signs of his attention and skill, piercing into my deepest secrets....

"When you're ready" he said. "Tide's flowing out strongly."

Oh well. So I did the rope thing (ok, might have left the boat drifting off and he had to come back and pick me up but duh, his fault really) and off we went!

Oops, twitter fire, laterz guys,

Sassi xxx

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sassi and the Shade of Grays

Hi Guys,

So, like, I got this call from my agent. "Sassi, got a top gig for you, urgent: boats, yachts or some-it". Yesssss! All that hanging around JP finally paying off. But what to do??

I put down my much thumbed copy of "50 Shades" (gotta re-read after the fab FAB movie) and clicked on one of those crew-wanted sites and up it popped, a "day sail on Shades of Grey" or something!!!!!


It was somewhere in east London - but that's where the bankers do .... er... whatever it is they do... but I could picture it now:

He'd be exquisite, commanding, LOADED, but alone, needing a woman's touch to break down those barriers.


So I've pinged off an email (what? no DM on twitter??) and checked trains and I'm outta here.


Sassi xxx

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Top Yacht Return in Doubt

Due to unforeseen circumstances, future episodes of Top Yacht are currently on hold.

The directors would like to make it clear that Buff Staysail is not being considered as a replacement presenter.

Sassi Tweet has kindly agreed to provide a fill-in programme at short notice, more details of which will be made available in the near future.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ming Ming II Talk at the Cruising Association

On Wednesday I managed to briefly escape work and headed east to the Cruising Association's HQ in London's Limehouse Basin for a talk by Roger Taylor about single handed high latitude sailing.

I've been wondering how to write up what he said given I'm still struggling work wise, but then the answer became clear.

In the first half of his talk he covered the voyages of the original Mingming - which he wrote up in two good books which I've already blogged about (for example, here)

In the second half of his talk (after an excellent dinner was served) he played the video of his voyages in Mingming 2 up to Bear Island and back via Jan Mayen - which you can watch for yourself (click above for sample).

To be honest I only re-watched for a few minutes but then got distracted by the latest update from S/v Delos:

Top tip for all sailing vloggers - this is the level of quality to aim for, with excellent shooting and editing.

I might even say Sweet!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The real Winter Holiday

Golly those Swallows and Amazons knew their stuff!

Ok, ok, they are fictional, so I really mean Arthur Ransome, but even so, his books are packed with connections to real sailors and Arctic explorers.

Take a couple of examples from Winter Holiday:

  • The house boat is called the Fram after Nansen's ship that floated across the Arctic
  • There are references to both Greenland (above) and Spitzbergen
  • The crossing of Greenland could relate to the Watkins British Arctic Air Route Expedition that caused a media storm just before Ransome wrote Winter Holiday, as described in that excellent book, Dancing on Ice (review here)
  • The S. A. & Ds. skated across a frozen sea, just as the explorers did who were over-wintering in the ice as part of their hunt for the North-West passage (described in Arctic Labyrinth)
  • They went on expeditions using humans as dogs (above) not because they had no real dogs but because that's how the British Navy did it (unlike Nansen who learnt from the Inuit)
  • They called their food pemmican, which is the concentrated mixture of fat and protein used by Arctic explorers
  • They left messages in caches
  • Search parties were sent out for missing expeditions, just as for Franklin
  • They pass the time taking scientific measurements, in particular astronomy
  • They build an ice yacht and an igloo
  • They used furs for clothing including hats and mittens (better than gloves)
  • They explored in the dark and in a snow storm
  • The description of what happens when a boat meets ice is spot on (but then Ransome did spent a long time sailing the waters by the Baltic states. 

All in all pretty impressive, and maybe a warming thought to those on the Eastern US seaboard currently dodging ice bergs.

Or at least a good excuse to re-read Winter Holiday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: Addicted to Adventure by Bob Shepton

I met Bob Shepton at the London Boat Show and was immediately caught by his book, Addicted to Adventure.

I had just started reading the Arctic Labyrinth by Glyn Williams (reviewed here), the story of the search for the North West Passage, and what should I find at the front of this book but a map of the Canadian Arctic with a wiggly line going through that very route.

Bob - or the Rev as he is known - is still climbing and sailing in the tradition of Tilman into his 70s, and that must be a moral booster for all worried about how long they can escape that nursing home.

The book tells of his many expeditions, from climbing cliffs by Portland Bill, to sailing down to the Azores, further south to Antarctica, then from Hawaii to Alaska, Scotland to Greenland's west coast, Baffin Island, ending up with the famous NW passage.

It is a hugely impressive list of adventures, and it turns out I'd already had some familiarity with his boat, Dodo's Delight

On my sails north I'd made good use of the Willy Ker's classic pilot book to Faroe, Iceland and Greenland, pictured below: 
And it turns out to be Bob Shepton's boat that can be seen framed by the hole in an iceberg on its cover.

So we had a good chat about Willy Ker and his Contessa 32 at the boat show.

My only reservation is that at times it sounds a bit like a we-did-this-then-that-happened-but-it-was-ok sort of story.

There are some glimpses of his character, and he has the integrity and strength to be open about some of his failings, including throwing a bowl of spaghetti at a crew member in the Falkland Islands. But this should be balanced by a true measure of good character: that many crew members chose to sail with him again and again, heading off together into those wild high latitude spaces.

I'm not much of a climber but would indeed like to be sailing between bergy bits when I'm his age.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Different Trains & WTC 9/11

Is Steve Reich the greatest living composer?

Such thoughts come naturally after hearing his haunting and powerful Different Trains this morning at Kings Place. It was immaculately played by the Carducci Quartet who stayed behind for an audience Q&A.

I've got the CD and had heard it many times but live there was an immediacy that grabbed, moving from pre-war America where trains were glamorous to Europe during the war when tracks would end at the horrors of Auschwitz.

It was paired with another Reich work, new to me, WTC 9/11. The musicians admitted they had problems rehearsing this, given the subject is so recent and raw. Also unlike Different Trains there is no resolution, no final movement "After the war" with a message of hope, proof of survival.

It was a concert from the highly recommended Minimalism Unwrapped season at this relatively new addition to London's classical music scene.
Kings Place itself is part of the huge regeneration of the area around Kings Cross Station. Unlike so many developments building luxury apartments for non-doms to leave empty, this one has 50% affordable housing and a new university, plus integration with Regents Canal and a little nature reserve.

Kings Cross is also, of course, the home of Platform 9 3/4 where the most famous train of them all, the Hogwarts Express, would steam north.

A different train indeed.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

London, the big romantic

Surely not, you might be wondering. Big yes, but romantic?

However London was recently voted (in one of those sponsored infotainment online quizzes) the most romantic destination in the UK. It's also bigger than its ever been, surging past the previous peak in 1939 of 8.6 million to hit a record population and growing strong.

I was going through my top hundredish photos from last year and it was noticeable how many of them either were of the Thames or of buildings on its banks. A large factor of that was due to sickness restricting travel but it did show how photogenic this much visited city is.

The Thames, whether glittering in the sun or a flow of grey, winds its way from west to east, delighting with its reflections (above).

Here the wake of a passing RIB disturbs the reflection of a crane, building yet more homes for some of the millions more predicted to move here.

Happy Valentines Day, London.