Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who are the British sailors?

Who are the people who are interested in sailing in the UK?

Thanks to a recently released dataset from market research group YouGov we can get an idea. It has a profiles tool that allows you to query who has identified that they are interested in sailing.

From a sample size of 2633 respondents who said they were sailing fans: we learn that they:

  • Are old. Yup, largest demographic was the over 60. That's pretty depressing, but on the plus side the least uninterested of the rest were the youngsters 18-24
  • Typically male. That might explain while Buff is still single, though there are those (me, his mum etc) who think the reasons are deeper
  • Are mostly right wing southerners who are work in professions like mining, agriculture or architecture. That all puzzles me a bit to be honest. Maybe they're including gin-palaces in this category? Note London is pretty low down the list, under Northern Scotland
  • Enjoy ballet and dance...... ok... suggestions please?
  • Favourite sports are skiing and swimming. I'm assuming that's after sailing
  • Are adaptable, inventive leaders who are also demanding, strong-willed and confrontational (which explains a lot of the argy-bargy around the marks)
  • Like the music of Cliff Richard ..... WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE????
  • Top Facebook page is RNLI. Phew, something I actually understand!
  • Likes to read society rag The Tatler..... er....
So all in all a baffling response.

But you can also do this the other way round. If, for example, you have a look at who watches Channel 4 News (and you all should, its brilliant), the favourite sport of viewers is sailing.

So come on C4 News, give us a regular sailing news slot!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Ammassalik wooden maps

These beautiful carvings are the British Library's copies of the Ammassalik wooden maps, created by local Inuit navigators and represent in 3D the coastline of East Greenland.

The top one is represents islands and the bottom the coastline, and were collected by Danish explorer Gustav Holm in the 1880s. They are designed to be felt in the hand, rotated round, possibly in the dark, with each notch and curve representing not just coastlines but its appearance and rock formations. They also have the advantage that they float.

The coastline block represents the tract between Kangerdluarsikajik, east of Sermiligak, and Sieralik, north of Kangerdlugsuatsiak.

His report notes that the "mainland continues from one side of the wooden block to the other, while the islands are located on the accompanying block without regard to the distance between them in reference to the mainland. All places where there are old ruins of houses, and therefore good storage places, are marked on the wood map, which also shows the points where a kayak can be carried over the ground between two fjords when the sea ice blocks the headline outside."

One of the fjords it covers is Kangerdlugssuaq, where we had engine failure, but I must admit I didn't recognise it, except in its description as "a fjord of such length that a kayak can not even in a whole day row from the mouth to the head of the fjord and back again".

I'm hoping to one day go back to Greenland and have made a mental note to try to get my hands on one of these and ask for a more detailed description of these fascinating works of art that are also navigational tools.

Picture Puzzle

Spotted in the British Library yesterday - but what are they?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Grey beard from Putney sailing rather well

Hurrah for Robin Knox-Johnston!

The 75 year old from Putney (above, from a few years ago) is not just competing in the Route du Rhum he is currently in third position with 650 nm to go.

Woo hoo!

Maybe I should take up long distance single handed sailing when I retire?

I'm clearly not old enough, yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Do harpoons work on comets?

Golly, what an exciting afternoon! Double screen time with both twitter and live feed open.

Congrats to the Rosetta and Philae team for the (possibly bouncy) landing!

Loved the comic strip updates from the web comic xkcd as shown above - which have already been converted into an animated gif. And we still don't know whether harpoons work on comets.

Can't wait to see what pictures get released tomorrow.

Fingers still crossed, just in case.

Updated: Philae on the way down:

Where Philae should be and where it looks like it ended up after two bounces, one of around 1 km (from here).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Sometimes it appears the world needs reminding of the terrible costs of war.

The 1914 - 1918 war led to 888,246 British men and women losing their lives, and the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation (above) is an incredibly moving way to commemorate them, a hundred years later.

Waves of red appear to wash against the old walls of the Tower of London, filing the moat with ceramic poppies.


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Buff gets NAKED

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

Have you ever woken up and had NO IDEA where you were or why?

Well that happened to ol' Buff on a sailing hol to the Caribbean recently that seems to have stirred up some fellow boaters.

I remember waking up and discovering I had a splitting headache, numb thumb and no clothes on - in a strange yacht!!

I went on deck to see where I was and what was going on, eyes sticking together and mouth dry. Jeez it was bright on deck. For quite a long time I just stood there, hands on hips, waiting for the cogs to click into place.

Jeez I felt crap. There was something I really had to do, like urgently.

Something white went drifting past. No, two things. Maybe yachts?

Jeez, never again.

Then things began to come into focus. Previously it had been Dave-boy's birthday and we'd been out painting the island red. Not a lot of what we got up to is family friendly, so just say we ended up with empty wallets having smoked or drunk anything on offer. Actually come to think of it my wallet completely vanished and there were some very odd purchases on my cards. Can't of been ol' Buff surely?

Anyhow when got back late the previous night to where we left the dinghy it had disappeared!! I thought I saw the yacht we'd chartered anchored out in the bay so got down to my birthday suit and swam for it, as did Wes. But where had Wes got to?

Then I saw him, starkers as I was, on our actual yacht - the one I was on belonged to some strangers!!! And stuck hard on my numb thumb was the ring & key to our yacht - so he'd been locked out all night!

Jeez what a mess.

So I used the dinghy the rightful owners had kindly left (must have got a water taxi ashore) and paddled cautiously over to Wes, who looked as bad as I felt.

Red eyes and red skin are not a good look.

So we had a few tinnies to ease away the pain and to be honest crashed out again.

Never again.

Don't know what happened to the two yachts we saw, they'd gone the next day. Oh, and it appeared our dinghy was still there, we'd just forgotten to look in the right place.

Doh! I suddenly remember what was urgent! I had to ring me ma to wish her happy birthday! Luckily Dave-boy had left his phone on our boat so I used it to have a good long chat with her back in Oz.

Didn't mention the reason the call was late - and don't you go telling her either!

This is Buff Staysail, fully clothed now, with Wes and Dave-boy, heading back out on the piss, over and not out - so watch out islanders!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Film Review: Mr Turner

With the arrival of the third Turner exhibition in London in five years it is timely that Mike Leigh's latest film, which has just been released, is on the subject of Mr Turner. It stars Timothy Spall in the title roll, complete with top hat and grumpy expression as in the photo above (from here).

It is always dangerous to confuse historical films with documentaries, but Mike Leigh's style of directing focusses on character and uses improvisation techniques, so it is probably captures more of the truth of the people involved than many non-fictional accounts.

Timothy Spall is magic to watch, complete with a sound-track of different grunts. Think of a wild boar that has caught the smell of truffles and you'll get an idea. "Hmm", "errmm", "huram", "hurgggh", "grruhmmm" are just a few of the words in this extensive dictionary.

Spall's Turner is a man of few real words, relaxing only when talking to his dad or fellow artists at the Royal Academy about art. Unlike the contemporary John Martin (of which I've blogged before) he held no famous dinner parties but rather stumped off on his own to Margate, where he stayed under an assumed name and struck up a relationship with the widowed landlady, Mrs Booth.

It was a rarity, as Turner gave the impression he'd rather be alone with his thoughts, sketch book in hand, than chatting about (say) gooseberries with John Rushkin (as happens in one scene).

It feels right and true, but there weren't enough boats. Ok, that is a pretty limited criticism but the problem is the difficulty (read cost) of outside scenes of the Thames in 1850 in Chelsea when it currently looks like this:
This is the view of the river from 119 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea where Turner lived with Mrs Booth, painted, and eventually died. Between the river and the house is a busy road, so I can see why they actually shot the scene elsewhere.

Turner is known for his large skies and wild seas, but all too often they were hidden from view, apart from one lovely shot of white cliffs and rolling seas.

The one exception was the recreation of the famous scene of the Fighting Temeraire using extensive CGI like this:

This is the view as it was captured by Turner in his masterpiece - but which is known to be inaccurate (e.g. the masts would have been taken down).

But it makes a lovely scene in the film with Turner in a real rowing gig out on the water as the sun sets. I wish there could have been more of them.

I also felt there should have been some mention of the problems Turner had with his vision.

But the aggregate effect of numerous character focussed scenes, no doubt well researched by the team including actors, builds to picture of a complex man who focussed on art rather than people, who knew the difference between solitude and loneliness, for he was never alone while he had his sketch books to hand.

Both the deaths of his father and Turner himself are ultimately moving, and the last words of the latter, "the sun is god", haunting.

For anyone interested in Turner, plus many others beside, I'd say its a must-see film.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Cruel Sea

Recently Film4 was showing again the war time drama The Cruel Sea and I couldn't help watching it again.

It hasn't always got good reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes one critic called it dated propaganda, while the New York Times wrote it down as a documentary rather than drama. I think both miss the point, though it could be a question of taste, as I found The Cruel Sea both moving and gripping.

Too often mainstream movies value scenes with bangs rather than creating a film of depth. Take U-571, which has implausible battle scenes and a much protested re-writing of history, yet critical consensus by Rotten Tomatoes as "a tense thriller". But in practice it is so false as to be truly describable as propaganda (and I suspect it will date badly), whereas The Cruel Sea feels as if it captures the reality of the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Cruel Sea works through gradualism: whereas each scene might have lower impact it builds to a greater impression. It's opening line is a great one:

This is a story of the Battle of the Atlantic, the story of the ocean, two ships, and a handful of men. The men are the heroes; the heroines the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea that man has made more cruel

The skipper and his crew start out raw, learn through the early encounters before the full engagement, with successes and disasters, to ultimately victory, after many years of struggle.

It captures the energy draining relentlessness of years of war, hard days and black nights at sea, the reality of war as a marathon not a sprint.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

Clean Bandit vs. Chvrches at the Brixton Academy

Hi Guys,

O! M! G! Sassi has FINALLY been having some fun!! The nights might be dark but echoes of those summer festivals can still be heard on the tough streets of Brixton - even the smells are the same!!!

First up at the legendary Brixton Academy was the Cambridge quartet with friends on vocals Clean Bandit (above) who were boogie level fun with sing-along anthems for everyone!! I know where I'd Rather Be!!! One evening that brought Sassi a splash of sunshine!!

The following night it was the tvrn (geddit!!???) of Glasgow techno trio Chvrches (below) who had lasers - and everything is better with lasers!!

Intense!! Lights like the Night Sky!

So which was better??? Well they were both BRILLIANT but Sassi has got one conclusion for you.

The camera on the Nexus 5 is USELESS!!

Rock on!

Sassi xxx

Friday, October 31, 2014

Now we are eight

Golly doesn't time fly, it's Halloween again and that means this blog is yet another year older.

I took the opportunity to update my blog list using some of the suggestions Tillerman gave, a task that reminded me of those bloggers we haven't heard from recently.

Where are you O'Docker, the Knitting Sailor, Messing about Adam or the rower that now bikes a lot?

Time and tide wait for no one as they say, and the shadows are getting ever longer on 2014. Who knows what is in store for us in the last few months of this year, let alone 2015?

Hope you have an enjoyably spooky evening....

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Sea Legs by Guy Grieve

This is one of those "we  took our family including children away from the life ashore, living in a yacht and sailing around the Caribbean" books. The plan was for the couple and their two children to explore those islands, then sail across the Atlantic back to Scotland, but they didn't, and the failures are what makes this story interesting.

Armed with little more than a day skipper certificate they let their house and flew off to the island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles to their new home, a 41 foot Hans Christian yacht. It was to be a tough beginning.

For a start it was a difficult port, close to the dangerous waters of Venezuela, the air full of mosquitoes and community unwelcome. Forget these stories of eternal friendships made in the cruising community; here there are sad faces and histories, people trapped in unseaworthy boats without money or hope.

Then to head in the direction they wanted it was basically upwind and everyone but the author's father-in-law got terribly seasick the moment the bow poked its head outside the harbour.

The learning curve was as they say steep. In fact the requirements on the skipper came faster than he'd like, resulting in a prang at one harbour, bashing into another yacht causing it damage. From there led to disputes with its vengeful owner and remote insurance companies.

The tourist images of unspoilt waters and friendly locals were unrealised, with aggressive local sales people, rip off merchants, wasted taxi drivers, unwelcome night time visitors and an encounter with all too likely real pirates.

As you'd expect the boat required all sorts of repairs, draining their savings, so that by the end the credit card was fully loaded and the father-in-law had to be tapped to pay the diesel.

By the time they'd sailed up to the good old USA they'd come to a realistic conclusion: the cross-Atlantic passage wasn't the place for their family including two young boys. They and the mother flew while Guy was joined by a friend he'd made on their travels to sail home double handed.

It wasn't an easy crossing, with ghastly storms, huge waves and a knock-down.

I wasn't that surprised that at the end of the book they family had sold the yacht and returned to their house on the island of Mull.

Too many of those sell-up and sail-away books paint a rosy picture that won't be realistic for all. If anyone is thinking of doing just that I'd really recommend you read this book to get a balancing picture.

Family life in a small boat, far from the stability of home, isn't all cool drinks at sunset in a bay of crystal clear waters.

I'd rather risk icebergs than real pirates any day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Late Turner at the Tate

Another Turner exhibition as rolled into London, the third in five years after the NMM's Turner and the Sea and the Tate's Turner and the Masters. Is there really more that can be learnt about this artist?

The Late Turner: Painting set free exhibition covers J. M. W. Turner's work when he was 60 or over, and he continued to create art at a prolific rate during what his time would have considered his declining years.

Seascapes and landscapes mostly, with some of his greatest pictures, such as "Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway" (above), a work that connects one of Britain's greatest artists with one of its greatest engineers - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was the mind behind the railway and in particular this bridge at Maidenhead over the Thames.

It's a great example of the swirling clouds and an impressionist abstraction that became a trademark of his later years. Some even suggest it pre-dated 20th century symbolic artists such as Cy Twombly.

But where did this style come from? Could it have been more than artistic genius - could it have been a symptom of Turner's physical decline?

On display were his glasses, for his eye sight was poor, and these could be a clue as it has been suggested that "Turner, suffering from early, slight colour-blindness and later cataracts, was painting exactly what he saw".

But there were later works, such as watercolours of the mountains around Lake Lucerne, that did show sharp lines and clearly distinguishable features.

Some of the most abstract works had another simpler explanation - they were not finished. There is described as a sea monster, but the title was given to that work by the National Gallery and it was never completed by Turner. In his Whaler works his ships were simple lines together with off-white paint, so that their sails merged into the background clouds. It wouldn't have required much work to change that sea monster into a fishing boat - if he had time.

For example have a look at this oil, "Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!":

The lack of time could be another explanation, for Turner seemed driven to create as much as possible while he still could. Where other artists would relax in what we'd call his retirement, admiring the scene as they drifted down the Grand Canal in Venice, Turner was forever sketching, filling his notebooks (several on display) with scene after scene.

Maybe with the sands of time shortening and his energies weakening he felt he could spend less time on each canvas, and so the technique become more economical, avoiding time consuming detail.

Yet despite his failing health, eye-sight issues and limited time his weakest work would blow any of the contenders in 2014's disappointing Turner Prize straight out of the water.

There was clearly so much creativity and ideas in Turner's work that the answer to the initial question is a resounding yes: there is more to discover in this astonishingly prolific artist.

Definitely worth a visit if you are in London.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Longitude & Steampunked at Greenwich

Greenwich is officially ground zero for longitude, and so tourists from all over the world come to queue for the chance to stand on that line (above).

But how does one calculate longitude where there aren't helpful metal lines screwed into the ground? That was a question that puzzled some of the top minds for years, and after far too many ships were wrecked parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714.

To commemorate its 300th anniversary there is currently an exhibition on the subject of Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude at the National Maritime Museum (NMM).

Some of the suggestions put forward were simply bonkers - and in one case cruel to the dogs that were thought could have been used as a communications medium. More sensibly, John Harrison developed with his famous H4 watch that could be compared against local time to calculate longitude to sufficient accuracy.

All of Harrison's watches are part of this display - a remarkable collection.

Up on the hill above the NMM sits the Royal Observatory where official time was marked by dropping the red Time Ball every day at 13:00 precisely:
Here there is another view on the story of longitude taking an alternative, steampunk, approach:
It is hugely entertaining.

For example take these great quadrants that were used in calculating angles, such as this one used by Halley (which is actually just outside the exhibition but I didn't take a picture of the one inside):

The caption inside the exhibition was as follows:
The Commodore, by the way, was the fictional character around which the Longitude Punk'd exhibition was built, in particular The Rime of the Ancient Commodore, which starts:

There was an ancient Commodore,
My Granddad told to me,
Who'd lived three hundred years before
And sailed a wond'rous sea,
With flocks (or herds) of Kiwi birds,
A wander was he

I found myself laughing out loud at this one, which was attached to a sad picture of a ship o' the line aground:
Both are worth visiting, one for being informative and the other entertaining.