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.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Rowing Coach Missing

Last night the Thames was busy by Putney Embankment.

Up and down the river prowled a flotilla of rescue boats from the RNLI lifeboat, police boat and PLA, search lights swinging from side to side.

My heart sank, for it is the saddest sight on the Thames.

Today I read in the Evening Standard that a top rowing coach went missing in the cold of February river water and that "Chiswick RNLI lifeboat crew found an upturned boat bumping into moored vessels but it was empty".

Keep safe out on the water.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Blogging family heads into the NW passage

My eye keeps getting drawn north.

First I read Arctic Labyrinth all about the discovery of the NW passage, then I open up Yachting Monthly to read (again) about Sumara of Weymouth's trip to Jan Mayen, then I start my next book which is Bob Shepton's Addicted to Adventure which will end up with him - you guessed it - making the NW passage.

The eagle eyed will also spot that the blog roll delete after one year no-posts rule is on hold as the next to delete is "Northwest passage on a shoestring" which was a rather cool trip.

So I was very intrigued when read over on Windtraveler that blogging friends of theirs were planning on taking their family through the NW passage and looking for crew.

Oh my gosh.

Alas having been off sick there's a lot of work to catch up on and its really not a good time to head into the wildest parts of the world for months on end.


Anyhow I pinged off an email to wish Salty Kisses good luck plus listing my experience (in putting together Lego kits that is) and got a nice reply.

If you're interested and have the time drop them a line though I think they might have some candidates already.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Churchill's Funeral Remembered

The 50th anniversary of Churchill's funeral was commemorated today with a repeat flotilla on the Thames.

It was led by the boat that carried his coffin back in 1965, the Havengore, followed by representatives of the RNLI, the PLA (founded by the man himself), the river police, the fire boat and this dinky little launch from Trinity House:
But we mustn't forget that there was more to Sir Winston Churchill than his greatest years from 1940 - 1945. There are skeletons in his closet, including allegations of racism and the disastrous campaign of the Dardanelles. His name gets overused, all to often to justify dark actions, aggressions and even war crimes.

But today Tower Bridge lifted, the guns on HMS Belfast were fired (bit of an underwhelming bang to be honest) and bagpipers battled against the noise of the helicopters:
On this cold January day London paused to remember what Britain went through in those long war years and the man that led the fight.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Arctic Labyrinth by Glyn Williams

It's the time of year when Tillerman has to dig himself out of his house and here in London we even had a 10 minute flurry of snow (that was gone 10 minutes later).

But what is better when its cold and dark than a book about travelling to where it freezes really hard and long, where ships get locked in ice for years on end and whole expeditions just vanish.

I really, really enjoyed Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage. I've sailed to the Arctic Circle and to Greenland but this is in another league: the European exploration of the high Arctic.

And there were so many expeditions, each discovering just a tiny bit of the sprawls of islands, rocks and channels between what is now Canada and the Pole. They were hunting for a route to far Cathay, but often found just myth or loss.

Step by step each voyage turned the unexplored into charts. Davis Straight and Baffin Bay, then Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. A long time exploring around its edges, into the heartland, following rivers to lakes and then down again to strange unrecognised shores, the first hints of the eventual Northwest Passage.

Sometimes you got a strong hint as to what each mission would find by the choice of captain, for they were not shy about the cartographers equivalent of the selfie. Which island, for example, do you think Captain Vancouver would find himself sailing to?

Many would end up locked in the ice for winter after winter, but most returned. Of course Franklin and crew famously did not, leaving just a series of grisly clues as to what happened. But they so nearly did find the NW passage, as one reason they were not found was they had gone further than anyone thought possible.

It was to be left Amundsen to finally get through in a small boat and copying Inuit methods, taking twelve sledge dogs with him.

It also reminded me of Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday, where the Swallows, Amazon's and D's would leave messages in a cache: this practice was apparently common amongst the real polar explorers.

The north beckons many, heading for those empty spaces untouched by modern life. Yet it is due to human driven climate change that those waters are opening up, even to adventurous cruising sailors.

If like me you can't quite see how you can sail away from work long enough for a NW passage try this book.

Curl up somewhere warm and dream of lands cold but wonderful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not So Great Expectations

London's docks never died, they just migrated east towards deeper water. One of the largest is the Port of Tilbury, nearby Tilbury Fort.

Alas containerisation means ports create relatively few jobs, and Tilbury itself appeared to be more struggling than prosperous. There was a Dickensian feel to the landscape: large skies, mudflats and marshes, where folk work hard for not much in return.

Indeed it was in these waters that Dickens set the scene towards the end of Great Expectations where Pip rowed downriver with escaped convict Magwich to board a steamer to safety. While waiting they made their way ashore to a public house, one "I dare say not unknown to smuggling adventurers".

There was indeed a pub dating back maybe that far near Tilbury Fort called "The World's End":
It felt appropriate, next to the fort that marks the end of London's Thames.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tilbury Fort

Towards the end of last year I took advantage of a fine day to take the MV Pocahontas from Gravesend across the Thames to visit historic Tilbury Fort.

Founded by Henry VIII it has been defending London and the Thames estuary for a timespan that covers both The Armada and the Second World War with its Blitz.
 It's still in pretty good nick, partly because it worked so well as a deterrent it didn't see much action, though according to Wikipedia it did shoot down a Zeppelin in the First World War.
It's also close to where Elizabeth I gave her famous speech to rally the troops against the threatened Spanish invasion.

It's quite impressive and worth visiting though alas the famous Water Gate was closed as it had become dangerous (and also was flooded).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flags stop bad guys

"Fun with flags!" as Sheldon Cooper would say if he spotted this flag on the Tilbury to Gravesend ferry, the MV Pocahontas.

I'm sure the bad guys are even now quaking in their boots.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thames Cable Car by Night

Having left the London Boat Show earlier than expected (probably missing stuff though) I decided to take the cable car (above) across the river to the O2 Arena.

There was a fair old wind and the car was swaying a bit from side to side but the view was pretty good:
There was no queue and you could pretty much bag a cabin all to yourself so worth a go if you're down that end of London.