Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Repost: Buff's America's Cup Adventure 2/13

Rachel - and Ali

"G'day" I said, being friendly like.

"Hello" she said. For a moment she looked at me and boy were her eyes nice looking, brown and capable. All too often women seem to look at yours truly either as if I was an idiot or got the plague, but she seemed to see beneath the Buff exterior.

"You in Palermo for the sailing?" It was what I asked everyone, as if they said yes we'd be away if they said no I could explain all about it. Either way the ice was broken.

"Are you a sailor?" she asked.

"Buff Staysail" I said. "Journalist and writer, you might have caught my show on Queensland Community TV. And you?"

I was ever hopeful, on many levels.


"And you? A journo too?" I asked.

She seemed to think over that question. "I follow the sailing for interest" she said "with my boyfriend, who is late.”

All the nice ones seem to have other halfs.

As if on cue in came this unshaven chap with glasses wearing a leather jacket, who was typically slimmer, younger and better look than Buff, who promptly kissed Rachel. I was prepared to dislike the bloke but he was very friendly and when she explained who I was he offered to buy me a beer.

"I understand you journalists like the odd drink" he said with a smile.

As I said, he seemed a top cobber, Ali he was called.

Then Rachel and he went off jabbering in some language or other that I didn't follow. It seemed like a bit of a bummer from what I could gather from Rachel's expression, but then they started looking at me as I'd seen the farmers back in Queensland check out the calf to be slaughtered.

"Mr Staysail" began Ali.

"Call me Buff."

"Mr Staysail, would you be interested in a sailing scoop?"

Does the moon look like cream cheese? Should a rainbow be the other way up so it's smiling? Should beer be chilled?

"Scoop is my middle name" says I, which isn't true as really its Frederick or Freddie after my ma's great uncle. "Tell me all."

"We have a ... project ... that could use coverage and our contact’s father is very unwell so couldn't come. We need a replacement, fast. I can't say more now, our ...sponsor... has an embargo in place."

"No worries" says I. There had been similar restrictions about this trip.

"Meet us by the entrance to marina F, tomorrow at 4 pm. Bring an overnight bag."

I was in!

To be continued.....

(or you can read the 3rd part here)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Repost: Buff's America's Cup Adventure 1/13

The Luna Rossa Assignment

G’day all! Buff Staysail here! Buff by name and Buff by nature!

I’ve been off on another of Buff’s adventures, and it began a few weeks ago when I was invited by the Luna Rossa team to one of their media events in Sicily. Now Buff never says no to helping one of the 34rd America’s Cup teams raise their profile, especially if there’s a jolly to somewhere warm, so in a jiffy the bags were packed and yours truly was at thirty thousand feet in an aircraft heading south.

Buff must just for a moment say what stars the Luna Rossa PR team were for putting on a hit event. They picked us up direct from our hotel then whisked us out on fast RIBs for a photo-shoot to watch their boat training off Palermo. And what a sight it was - levitated by their foils, flying across waves reflected in their mirrored hulls. I’d gone snap happy, filling up the camera’s memory card with shot after shot, relishing in the strong sunshine after what has been one heck of a depressing cold and grey winter.

Who needs or wants a hat, I said at the drinks reception (top notch Italian bubbly guys) afterwards, when people commented I was looking a bit red:I was making up for six months of lost time.

We had to listen to some sort of presentation about how they’d shipped Luna Rossa back to this, the home yacht club of Circolo della Vela Scilia, to raise the team’s profile with the Italians and Sicilians (who apparently consider themselves very different). For the evening ol’ Buff considered himself one of them and rattled off a couple of ciao bellas to the PR team’s girls.

Alas the next day was not so good. I had a wall-banger of a headache and skin blistering in a dozen places, some of which, weirdly, hadn’t seen any sun. It was a day to stay indoors in the dark kept company by a bottle of water trying out the full range of after-sun lotions stocked by the pharmacy next door to the hotel.

So while the other hacks took the minibus back to the airport I asked Jenny the Luna Rossa girl if she’d be an angel and re-arrange my flight for another day. After all, I pointed out, if their boat had had a spot of shade I’d not be suffering from sunstroke.

And she agreed! Didn’t expect to get away with that one, to be honest. As I said, respect to the Luna Rossa team.

After a day self-nursing myself back to true Buff-ness it was time to get out there again and I headed down to the quay side for a cold one.

Ports, whether for fancy yacht racers or working container ships, mean sailors, and that means bars, so many that even if Buff should get chucked out of one there'd be plenty of others to explore. After a short walk I found this place called Estrella, just on the boundary between the swanky, meaning expensive, and less costly, but more homely, further down the quay side. There were hams hanging from the ceiling, curing slowly, their fat dripping into yogurt pots, bottles of red wine as decoration and a TV always on, playing or replaying football games.

All in all a good place, and imagine how my mood was helped when next to me sat down this dark haired young woman. The evening was looking up!

To be continued.....

(or you can read the second part here)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Building the Blue Funnel Line - Ships

The first of the Blue Funnel fleet was an order for three, Agamemnon (above), Ajax and Achilles, and together they cost £ 156,000, which in today's money would be about £ 17m (according to this site).

Initially business was slow but they hung in there and made some good connections - most importantly with the Swires. One problem was that rates per tonne were initially higher than sailing ships, and it wasn't until the 1870s that their costs were lower.

By 1875 the fleet was 14 strong, ten years later it was 28, then in 1895 up to 36: steady and controlled growth, taking advantage of opportunities to buy new ships at economical prices.

There were tensions, with the Swires pushing for more, newer, faster ships: but they were thinking of the cargo they could ship, not the costs involved.

The long Victorian era of stability was not to last, and in 1914, and again in 1939, the company found itself at war.

Photo from: here

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rowing Calendar Row

Last year's safety message from this blog about the importance of wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) was brought to you courtesy of the Warwick University Women's Rowing team.

Their annual calendar raised thousands of pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support (hurrah!) and this year they are yet again doing their bit to raise money for that charity.

But their latest calendar, an example of which is shown above, has run into a controversy with Facebook banning their page but not that of a similar calendar from the Warwick University Men's Rowing team, (as described here).

One can only hope that this publicity leads to more funds to a cause most definitely worth supporting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Time to say goodbye to Sitemeter?

I recently posted about strange sounds coming from my blog and have been continuing to look into the possible source.

I had a look at the underlying html (in Chrone its right click on the relevant component and then "Inspect element") and there was some unexpected links in the Sitemeter section, including something called vindicosuite.

I had a google of "Sitemeter" and "Vindicosuite" and found this blog post about how Sitemeter has been taken over by a more aggressive advertising company, and some of those sounds have been advertising like, e.g. Visit Jersey!

So I took out the Sitemeter link and touching wood haven't had the problem since.

In addition I have just heard it while visiting "Hear the Boat Sing" which also uses Sitemeter, and having checked its html there was a link to Vindicosuite there too.

Things change. Technorati has gone - should we say goodbye to Sitemeter too?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Building the Blue Funnel Line - Management

In addition to good timing, the Blue Funnel Line's Holt management team made some good decisions.

Firstly they would hold off buying new ships until there was an economic downturn when prices were low.

This was helped by them being a family owned business, so they could decide to build up and keep large financial reserves.

These reserves also meant they could self-insure their boats, reducing their costs. This in turn meant they ordered their boats to the highest specification and developed their own training programs, which led to fewer accidents and losses.

They also made good decisions about agents, in particular teaming with John Swire in China. This partnership led to joint ventures and development of assets such as company owned docks.

The Holts and the Swires thought long term and knew that good business was also about good working relationships and trust.

Monday, July 14, 2014

PicoMicroYacht in Putney

As I have previously posted, I've been off sick and spent a lot of time watching the river flow by and the boats on it.

One that caught my eye was the Laser Pico dinghy (above) that had been converted into a rowing boat. I wasn't sure what the story was but took a quick pic and today Chris over at Rowing for Pleasure gave some background.

Apparently it was Robin Morris rowing the Thames from Lechlade to Greenwich, and you can find out more here and here.

Chris mentions how rain can put a damper on things and indeed for this part of his journey Robin must have been getting very wet.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Building the Blue Funnel Line - Timing

Setting up the Blue Funnel Line in 1865 turned out to be a very good decision by Alfred Holt, though it was helped by a number of factors.

Firstly it was one of the first, if not the first to use iron hulled steam powered screw propelled vessels to carry cargo between Britain and the far East.

Then it was fortunate that the Suez Canal was to open just four years later, a route that was quicker than round the Cape of Good Hope and easier for powered ships than sail.

Furthermore there was a huge growth in cargo to be transported as China and neighbouring countries opened up and there was a continuing stream of new areas of business. They were well located, with their main base in Liverpool where they were the largest shipping company.

But margins were not driven too low to be profitable as conferences with other shipping companies ensured prices that allowed long term planning.

They also made good management decisions, as will be blogged the day after tomorrow.

Image from here

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Blue Funnel Line

In 1851 my great, great, great uncle, Alfred Holt, was unemployed.  He'd finished an apprenticeship as an engineer in the railways just at they entered a depression.

After taking odd jobs including clerical work he set himself up as a consulting engineer, and was soon busy applying his steam engine skills in the shipping industry.

It was a period of rapid technological change, with the introduction of steam power, iron ships and screw propellers opening up new opportunities.

After working on his father's ships for many years Alfred Holt saw the opportunity to take steam power shipping to the furthest corners of the world: between Britain and China, to topple the tea clippers that still ruled these long distance routes.

So on the 11th January 1865 he and his brother Philip set up the Ocean Steam Ship Company. It would be one of a host of other subsidiaries known for their famous blue funnel.

It was the start of one of Britain's greatest merchant marine fleets.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Weird blog sounds

Recently I've noticed something weird about my blog: there have been sounds coming from it.

It seems to be triggered by clicking on one of the blog roll links, but I can't understand why or how to stop it. It's as if the blog has been hacked but I can't see how.

Has anyone seen this before and know what to do about it?

Monday, July 07, 2014

Noctilucent clouds over London

I have been off sick spending a lot of time staring out of the window.

I have seen a lot of boats go by and wished I could be out there on the water sailing, rowing or paddling.

And last night I saw the above - noctilucent clouds over London. More here from Wikipedia on this rare cloud formation.

There are also two building cranes: there are meant to be more in London than the whole of the rest of the UK so its hard not to include them in a shot.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: Dancing on Ice by Jeremy Scott

I just loved this book.

Dancing on Ice by Jeremy Scott tells the story of the British Arctic Air Route Expedition to Greenland in 1930 - 31 by a group of young men fresh from uni (mostly Cambridge).

It was the era of bright young things, flappers, jazz, Bertie Wooster, the charleston, stiff upper lips and ripping yarns read by public school boys such as these.

The idea was that the development of air travel to America would require observational data which was thin on the ground, particularly in the middle of Greenland. So they set off to collect it and to prove they were true men of the British Empire.

As mentioned in the previous post they brought a surreal air to their travels, famously dancing on ice. They were welcomed by the Inuits (who they called Eskimos) of the east coast of Greenland that had had very little contact with the outside world before them.

The Inuit culture was overwhelmingly communal and open to outsiders. Where as the vision of the expedition hut had been a bit like a common room at school or uni, with the mingling of local women it became more like a country house retreat, where the sport was hunting for seals rather than shooting pheasants. And yes, the following year included the birth of a mixed race child.

The weather station high on the Greenland ice pack was however no picnic. Porting supplies to it was so hard that there was only enough for one person, Courtauld, who became the most solitary prisoner on Earth, literally buried alive in a land with 130 mph winds and -50C temperatures.

Courtauld came from a rich family that raised a media storm when the first relief expedition failed to find the station, and it is possible that this story became the seed from which Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday was born, as it was written just a year or two later.

A great read full of curios and interesting characters, and an absolute bargain if you can get it second hand on Amazon as I did.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The British Arctic Air Route Expedition Quiz

The telegram above, found at Arthur Beale's Chandlery, London, was sent by the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, requesting additional alpine lines.

I am currently reading a book about the BAARE and it is a corker - already a contender for the list of favourites.

Full review to come but in the meantime here is a multiple choice quiz. Bonus marks for suggesting what the d. answers should be.

1. How did the expedition leaders meet?
a. In a pub (natch)
b. On the ice flows north of Spitzbergen (natch)
c. At Cambridge Uni (natch)
d. [...]

2. What the pre-expedition training involve?
a. Regime of exercises performed in the Harrods ice store
b. Solo hikes across the Scottish Highlands
c. Running home to Chelsea from one's Mayfair dance
d. [...]

3.  Why was a magistrate required for entry into Greenland?
a. To check the passports, visas and landing permits
b. To search the vessel for illegal materials
c. To visually inspect for VD
d. [...]

4. What were the expeditions first actions on arrival at Angmagssalik?
a. Give the dogs a run ashore
b. Search for a safe anchorage
c. Set up the gramophone and teach the locals the charleston
d. [...]

5. What was the attic of the expedition hut used for?
a. Store the smelly whale meat dog food
b. Store the long range radio used to contact the Government wireless station in Aldershot
c. Accommodation for the local young women recruited as ...er... staff
d. [...]

Updated: the answers were c) in all cases, though for Q3 all three were probably correct

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: Bernard Moitessier's The Long Way

Not everyone in the Golden Globe, the first solo round the world yacht race, were to return to Plymouth.

Donald Crowhurst went mad, leaving a journal of fantasies before leaping overboard. Bernard Moitessier avoided that fate by sailing on, crossing his tracks to end at Tahiti, and "The Long Way" is his story.

The start is mundane, a Proustian, almost boring, description of oceanic sailing by a master. Wind directions, sail areas, sea states, temperatures: a log of his voyage down the Atlantic, into the Indian and then the Pacific.

A couple of times he heads towards land to throw despatches towards ships, such as fishermen. These encounters take it out of him and they became scarcer, the penultimate message sent at Tasmania.

After that he was alone for a long, long time, and it changed him.

The first phase was the zen of sailing, Moitessier at one with his yacht, Joshua, surfing the long waves of the southern oceans, watching the auorora australia, communicating with porpoises and practising yoga in the nude.

As he turned north into the Atlantic he changed again. Maybe he had been on his own too long, in a boat with no long range radio, but his voice became troubled and physically he was exhausted.

He writes of the monster and of an earth alive, suffering. It becomes the Monster "destroying our earth and trampling the soul of men". "Before long no one will be free... they have already become inhuman".

How close did he get to following Crowhurst? Maybe it was the image in his head of Tahiti that saved him and lead to his most famous and final message of that voyage:

I am continuing non-stop towards the Pacific Islands because I am happy at sea, and perhaps also to save my soul.

But he wasn't always happy at sea, at times he was depressed, and there are gaps of days, weeks in his book, where storms and knock-downs are mentioned as passed events.

He would find his monster waiting for him in Tahiti in the form of the developers with their concrete and bulldozers. His last chapters are a rail against modernity and in praise of hippies and the Pope.

This is not a great book despite these changes in voice but because of them.

They tell of the isolation at sea but also the growth of spirit that comes from being in the midst of wild nature for months on end.

Such detachment can lead to unusual thoughts and if sanity is defined by the majority, then this could lead some to query Moitessier's mental health.

But "The Long Way" allows us all to step outside the everyday and instead to follow Moitessier and ask questions of our modern, environmentally destructive world.