Thursday, February 04, 2016

Arctic Forum by Arthur Beale

Yesterday evening I went to a talk called "Arctic Forum" arranged by London's best ship's chandler, Arthur Beale.

We heard about two voyages from the UK, one from the nearby St. Katharines dock, up to 80N and Spitzerbergen. It was all very interesting and if I had a first choice of places to sail this year it would indeed be the Svalbard archipelago.

There was lots of good advice from people who'd actually sailed there, such as this:
For those that didn't go, this book on "High Latitude Sailing" includes lots and lots of good advice for expedition planners.

Afterwards there was a Q&A which I didn't contribute, though I was tempted to comment, relating to a discussion about the best heater to use, that from personal experience it was indeed possible to sail inside the Arctic Circle in an unheated 32' Contessa.

Or that advice about what to do when you land on a beach to find yourself sharing it with a polar bear (obv. get back to the yacht) is not academic but actually very practical. Also, there was nothing about what to do when out kayaking and you find yourself joined by a polar bear (which happened to a friend of mine).

But the key message is one I'd echo: we are lucky that in the UK we are not that many days sailing from some of the most pristine and beautiful wild landscapes in the world.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

How to hold a heron and not get pecked

This story does not have a happy ending, so those with a sensitive nature might like to leave and watch this instead.

It begins with me walking along the Thames embankment, one of those bits where it has built high of stones, with at the bottom a short beach of gravel visible at low tide.

One this day and time there was only a metre or two of beach left dry while the tide was rushing in, and on this stony ground stood a woman. Now as many people each year get caught out by the rising waters I poked my head over the railings to see if she knew her peril.

It was then that I saw the heron, and her stick. She had grabbed the heron with the metal loop on its end and had pulled the bird towards her, and then she grabbed it.

Now there are stories (usually in the Mail) of the Queen's swan's being poached and barbecued, but it was immediately clear that was different, and not because it was a different species, but because she was wearing an RSPCA jacket.

Keeping a careful hold on the heron she made her way back to the ladder needed to climb the shear wall up to safety and the Thames path. But with one hand for the bird and another for the pole there were no hands spare to hold on.

So she called up to the passing stranger (that's me) to help out and of course I said yes and took the pole from her and placed it on the ground, ready to assist further.

At the top there was a difficult bit to get over the railings and even with the hand free from pole she couldn't work out how to get herself and the heron over the top. So it was my time to hold on the heron while she made the final part of the ascent.

On her instructions, I reached over the railings and put the first most important hand gently around the heron's neck, to make sure it didn't turn and peck me. It watched me, mostly quietly, its little eye fixed. I wasn't sure about the other hand, so put it lower down the neck by the body. Quickly I lifted it up and then placed it on the ground so it held its weight while I just kept it in place.

The RSPCA woman climbed over and I was happy to let her reclaim her heron so I could hear the story.

Alas the poor heron had broken its wing and been spotted by a member of the public and alerted the RSPCA. Now it was on land I could see the wing was not neatly closed on the body but stuck open, though the animal was making no noise.

What could be done? I asked. Alas nothing, I was told. All they could do was put the animal out of its misery more humanly than drowning in cold river water.

So with a brief thanks from her and a good luck from me we parted.

I tried to comfort myself with the thought that the Thames is so flourishing that there are no shortages of herons, we can afford to lose one.

But it was a shame that the only heron I have encountered up close was under such sad circumstances.

Friday, January 22, 2016

London Boat Show Visitor Numbers

 
So is the London Boat Show flying high as in the photo above, of the quayside and a take-off from the nearby London City Airport?

The visitor numbers (from here) are:
2016: 90,328
2015: 92,288
2014: 88,593
2013: 93,327
2012: 102,841

So its down from the peak but not as bad as 2014.

It didn't feel that "buzzing" (see below, Thursday evening) though maybe the weekends were busier.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Boat Show Picture Puzzle


What's the blogging connection between the two photos below from the London Boat Show?

For a bonus virtual point, what spread should be on the toast?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Yachts and Yachting Awards 2016 at the London Boat Show

For the last couple of years the highlights of my Boat Shows have been the people, meeting sailors and authors and hearing their stories. And the Yachts and Yachting Award 2016 ceremony is just the sort of place where real sailors can be found.

The "Show Theatre" was pretty small so I arrived early to get a seat but found it was guarded by a young chap with sports jacket who had a list of names and emails on a clipboard. I guessed mine would not be on it (nor, of course, Buff's) so stood at a well chosen position, just outside, to the edge of the walkway to the front.

So I got a good view of the likes of Volvo legend Knut Frostad (above) as he headed up not just once but twice, the first time for "Event of the Year", namely the Volvo, and secondly for his well earned life-time achievement award above:
It was on his way up to get the first of these impressive silver trophies that he accidentally rammed into me, so I did, as Buff indicated, bump into Kut Frostad. I also was standing close to Rick Tomlinson whose photography course I'd been on back in 2013, so said hello to him.

Another winner was Guo Chuan for his record breaking traverse of the North-East passage. There'd been a talk earlier in the day on that expedition that I'd been sorry to miss and he wasn't there so the award was picked up by another in the team:
The "Pro Sailor of the Year" award was won by Ian Walker who also couldn't be there so the prize was picked up by his mum, below, with Yachts and Yachting's editor Georgie Corlett-Pitt:
Ian had written a rather lovely message about how much he owed to his parents which was so nice his mum ended up unable to finish reading it aloud and Gorgie Corlett-Pitt had to take over.


There were many other prizes which I guess can be found in Yachts and Yachting magazine. The most enthusiasm was probably for the prizes for "Youth Sailor of the Year", where there was a healthy representation from young women sailors, and many congratulations to Mimi El-Khazindar & Emma Loveridge (winners) and Eleanor Poole (runner up).

It was an event with a definite upbeat feel to it: lots going on, exciting days for sailors in the UK, with a big round of applause showing support for the Ben Ainslie America's Cup team, new faces and new yachts to get 2016 off to a good start.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Buff livens up party night at the London Boat Show

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

Thursday night was party night at the London Boat Show and there was free champagne flowing all over the Excel (oops, my bad)!!!

My eye was of course caught by the Sunseeker stand (above) and it was around then that I lost touch with JP as he was heading to the Yachts and Yachting Award thingy (yawn - there was a list and Buff wasn't on it) while I thought it would be better to check out the Riva Aquariva stand where there was even more champagne and a fashion show of beachwear from Nichole De Carle (holy cow JP, you so missed a treat there - see below!!!).

My head is a bit worse for wear today but I remember something about Volvo legend Knut Frostad and JP bumping into each other but maybe I got the wrong end of that stick.

This is your's truly, Boat Show Party Buff, over and out.

NDCM-boatshow-WEB-hd from Nichole de Carle on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

London Walks: Limehouse Canal Loop

Over the holiday break I did one of London's urban walks along the canals and rivers of east London, starting and ending in Limehouse. It's a loop recommended in the book the "Thames Path in London" as a diversion from that route and very enjoyable it is too.

Starting from the DLR station it starts off heading north up the pathway on the east side of the Grand Union Canal (not the west as shown in the map in the Thames Path book, which apart from this small "feature" is very good indeed) passing locks and heading under one of the old bridges:
While the commercial traffic might have moved from the waterways to the roads, the canals still are enjoyed:
It's not all urban landscapes, with some welcome wildlife, plants and animals:

Ok, maybe not all the animals were quite so welcome.

Just after the Roman Road the route turns right into the Hertford Union Canal alongside Victoria Park until a wondrous sight, full of happy memories and glorious sounds:
Sigh.... the spirit of London 2012 lives here, forever (unless, of course, West Ham spoils it).

Anyhow, then its down the Lee River where to be honest the route is rather concrete jungle for a bit:
But its worth pushing on as there another's high-spot just a bit further down the Lee, at historic Three Mills Island:
From here leave the Lee behind and join the Limehouse Cut, a straight line bordered by rather anonymous new apartments, until you return to the starting point.

At this point I felt rather hungry, thirsty and in need of a bit of a rest but this being London there was just the thing nearby:
A great walk: the book says 6 miles but with the odd detour the Google Earth track above is nearer 7 miles (11 km).

Definitely worth a hike if you feel like stretching your legs and exploring this side of London, historic in its own way.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Natural Navigation Picture Puzzle

This photo was taken at noon on alongside one of the canals in east London.

Can you work out which?


Thursday, January 07, 2016

Best Camera 2016 Update

I try where ever possible to use my own photographs for this blog and its no burden but rather a lot of fun trying to take the best possible picture.

Previously I ran a set of posts comparing three cameras: the Canon 550D SLR, the mirrorless Sony NEX 6 and the waterproof Olympus Tough TG-1. Since then I've upgraded one camera - but which one and why?

The new camera is a Sony A6000 and with it I've also bought some E-mount lenses and sold on eBay a couple of Canon ones as part of a transition to mirrorless.

The comparison posts were back in 2013 and in the two years that followed I found that more and more I'd take the NEX 6 as it is as powerful as the 550D but much lighter. I can't see the point of the mirror any more: it just adds weight.

SLR bodies are larger and heavier, as are their lenses, which means tripods (needed for long exposure pics like that of Kew Gardens above) must be heavier and if you're heading off to interesting places like Greenland (below) all that weight and volume is bad.
There is one application where the 550D still is a bit better - sports photography, as there isn't really an equivalent long lens for the E-mount system, as used for these types of pictures:
But when that lens does come (E-mount not FE, please, as full frame is also too big for me) it's fair to say the Canon + kit + 70-300mm lens will be up on eBay - if only to pay for the new Sony lens!

I've been really impressed with the A6000. It is now nearly 2 years old so there are some good deals out there, in particular if the long rumoured replacement does finally get released in the spring. Focusing is quick and its got all the flexibility in setting ISO / aperture / exposure etc. of an SLR.

There are some really nice fast prime lenses available, such as the f1.8 35mm (50mm equivalent) where the camera plus lens together weighs just under 500g and which produce lovely sharp images like this one:
The 16mm lens is even lighter and when on the A6000 the combination is small enough to slip into a coat pocket to be taken (say) to Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas day:
You might recognise this photo of another "cathedral" taken with the same lens though using the older NEX-6 body:
With Nikon and Canon focusing on SLRs, the mirrorless market is up for grabs and the Sony's A7 range (in particular the A7RII) have shown that you don't need a mirror to have a world-beating camera for professionals.

So I feel pretty safe buying into their E-mount system and happy with the results:
Note of course that this is what works for me and each photographer has their own needs.

It would be good if O'Docker were still commenting - it would be great to hear what he thought of all this!

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Book Review: Naturalists at Sea by Glyn Williams

It must have sounded like a golden opportunity, and it was for the lucky ones like Joseph Banks. Sailing around the world with Captain Cook, visiting unexplored countries, being the first to see new species, not in the watch system, having a cabin without the responsibilities of command, dalliances with Tahitian girls (in the name of Pacific ethnology, of course) and returning famous, position and wealth guaranteed.

But few other naturalist had such success. The German Georg Wilhelm Steller joined a Russian expedition which struggled for 10 years to get to Alaska but only gave him 10 hours of exploration at the end of it before returning, then being wrecked "on an unknown desert island without a ship or timber with which to build a new one, and at the same time with little or no provisions". He managed to escape the scurvy that killed so many and return safely home, only to die of a fever in Siberia a few years later.

That was to be more of the model for naturalists in years to come: endless struggles often leading to disaster. A later chapter in the book has the title "The Woes of Johann Reinhold Forster" which gives a flavour the more typical experiences. Yet the dream of repeating Banks endured, as did his position, and these pioneers would often be sending him collections of their discoveries.

It was only with Charles Darwin that a naturalist would again be able to claim their voyage was an unquestioned success. Another quasi-success was the much earlier pioneer William Dampier, though he was an accidental or self-trained naturalist, not one employed as such.

This well written and interesting book comes from author Glyn Williams, who also wrote Arctic Labyrinth which I also very much enjoyed.

Strongly recommended.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Book Review: The Lonely Sea and the Sky by Francis Chichester

I've read quite a bit about Robin Knox-Johnston but much less about his solo circumnavigating predecessor, Francis Chichester, so picked up this book hoping to learn more about his historic voyage on Gipsy Moth IV.

However it turned out this was the book of his life up to Gipsy Moth IV, so while there were several sailing adventures there wasn't the one I was hoping to learn about.

But it was still an interesting read. It starts with a description of a hard childhood and then an aimless youth in which he tried a wide range of careers from mining to farming. Finally it was as a property developer in New Zealand that he had the time and money for his real passions: flying and sailing.

He flew single handed from London to Sydney in 1929 - 30, across the Tasmin Sea in 1931 and then later that year from Australia up to Japan as he tried to complete his flight around the world. There were quite a few prangs, include one pretty nasty one, and an interesting take on celestial navigation from the air ("off-course navigation").

Then he got sick, seriously sick, with lung cancer.

One of the strong messages I got from this book was that life can begin again. For he successfully battled that illness and in his late fifties back in the UK took up long distance offshore sailing.

So it need not be too late and it is worth fighting on. As someone who's spent quite a bit of last year off sick that was a positive message.

An interesting read about a famous sailor, clearly a tough coot.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year!

To borrow an idea that the Bursledon Blogger borrowed from Carol Ann Duffy:

What do you want to do with the gift of 2016?


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: One Wild Song by Paul Heiney

The 7th of May 2015 was a busy day.

Not only was there a general election but also another excellent talk at London's premier ships chandler, Arthur Beale where attendees voted for who'd they most like to skipper their boat (see below for result).

The talk was by Paul Heiney describing the voyage which was the subject of his book "One wild song". Paul and his wife Libby Purves are keen sailors but this book is not about their voyages together as much as the aftermath of a tragedy in their life, the suicide of their son Nicholas at the age of 23.

The voyage from the UK to Cape Horn and back was a tribute and a way of remembering their son. Most of the voyage Paul took single handed, though for critical parts such as the rounding of the Horn there were crew.

More than just another story of sailing to high latitudes this book tells of emotional loss and recovery. It also works as it shows the difficulties and worries of the skipper on the long voyage.

Down to Cascais (and a £2k marina bill), further to Morocco, Cape Verde islands, across to Brazil where he and his crew got mugged, Uruguay and then on into the deep south.

Here he would explore the beautiful Beagle Channel and make his rounding of Cape Horn, to discover, as his son had written, "The silence at the song's end".

A moving story, well told.




Election result: Ellen MacArthur of course

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich

You'd have thought that a book with sub-title "Seven Seasons in Greenland" would be right up my street.

However I got as far as this description of ice that "has melted and looks floury, like an unnecessary word that adds confusion to insight" and decided this book wasn't for me.

Others were also concerned about the language, such as this review commenting about the author: "she is also described as a poet and her book is, to my taste, fatally congested with 'poetic' language. Metaphors abound, several to a sentence, until it becomes quite difficult to discern any sense at all".

In this book it is the writing that is floury not the ice so I got no further than page 4.