Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ti Al Lannec

Just back from a long weekend in Brittany. If my theory that bad-posts-are-good it should really be a story of transport woes and hotels from hell.

Unfortunately it was wonderful, but to make up for the lack of drama I'll let you into a secret and tell you the name of the hotel rather than keeping it all to myself.

Actually I've already done it, for its the title of this post, and their web site can be found here. It feels like a country house run by one's favourite relatives who are amazing cooks and with views out of the bedrooms a bit like this:

Unless of course the fog rolls in in which case its a bit like this:

I can't understand why it only has three stars - maybe its the slightly old fashioned wall paper. But that makes it all the more charming - and I can totally see how its on the "Rooms for Romance in France" list.

But its also great for families and they coped wonderfully with my nephews and nieces letting us all dine together as a big group.

A short but steep path drops down the the beach where we made sand castles and swam in the extremely cold water. We talked about sailing as there were a couple of sailing schools there but there was no wind so we took the inflatable out with the motor and pop-popped around the bay. This too was cut short as it turned out we had only found one of the two of the gashes in its side so we gradually got lower and lower in the water

There were also walks along the cliffs like this:
It reminded me very much of "A summer's tale" though alas without the lovely Margot of that film.

I could go on, but surely that's enough - it was as good as this sunset:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back Soon

Off to France on Eurostar & TGV for a long weekend in Brittany.......

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Picturesque Rivers

There's a whole series of outdoor walking / hiking and canoeing / kayaking programs on TV at the moment. My favourites are the Great British Journeys presented by Nick Crane.

Today he walked and canoed down the Wye in the footsteps of William Gilpin who described his journey in a series of travel books and developed the ideas of nature and the picturesque in art.

What was interesting is that when Crane tried to identify the parts of the river where the pictures that Gilpin used to describe his theories came from it was clear how much he altered reality: the picturesque - or at least the idea - was in his head not in nature.

He also ignored completely the paper mills and copper foundries of the early industrial revolution sprouting along the lower parts of the river. Yet today the ruined factories are themselves considered picturesque.

But even if he didn't find the absolute beauty of nature in his travel, he did help develop the concept that nature, the wild, is beautiful, not scary and unattractive.

But not everyone has the same feeling of what is picturesque - I prefer the view upriver but one of my neices prefers downriver.

What do you find picturesque?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rainy Day

Today its been raining - a good day to stay in!

Thames Water

It's looking like it's going to be a bad summer for sailing. What with work pressures and Open University course I can't see a free weekend till the end of September, when it might be too cold to be doing this:

For this wasn't taken in sunny Turkey when the temperature is in the thirties but here on the Thames.

The problem is the blocks of flats by the Thames creates all sorts of weird wind effects so that sailors can go from downwind to upwind in a few metres.

You might ask - well what about the water quality? It's certainly on my mind but they do keep saying not just that its much better than it used to be, but that its one of the cleanest rivers flowing through a major city.

There are also lots of fish, with flocks of birds diving into the water and sometimes direct sightings like these (anyone know what these are - the water was alas rather murky):

Its must be a rich mix, with all the mud and organic waste. If you ever wondered what happens when a tree floats down the river, well it gets picked up by the fire department, like this:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fastnet Photos

There's been a rush of news about the Fastnet and if you missed these two eye catching photos, enjoy:

Photos from http://www.yachtingworld.com/yw/home.htm and http://fastnet.rorc.org/

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Are bad posts good?

There has been a rush of viewing on this blog. One particular post has had more hits than all the others put together this month, a new all time high.

So what is the winning formula?

Was it:
  • the perfect day sail in the Solent on a Volvo 60 with round the world single handed sailor Emma Richards?
  • the unexpected treat of sailing an America's Cup class boat in beautiful Sydney Harbour?
  • or the fictional adventures of a bunch of celebrities attempting to race the Atlantic?
No, the overwhelming favourite is "Worst Ever Race", the confession of an occasional dinghy sailor selecting the wrong sail for the the wind blowing during a sailing resort's regatta.

Not entirely sure why this is - if you have any theories let me know.

A working hypothesis is that while it is said that everyone loves a winner, I think actually everyone would like to be a winner, but would rather not read about how someone else won by being smart and sailing faster and better than everyone else (i.e. them).

You could call it the Homer Simpson effect: his misadventures are more entertaining and endearing than the corporate machinations of Mr Burns. Similarly with favourite sitcoms like Cheers and Seinfeld: I loved both but neither set of characters were really successful.

So to all you race winners out there, all I can say is "Doh!"

Storm hits Fastnet

I felt a bit guilty this morning. Waiting for the alarm to go off, all warm in my bed, I could hear the rain outside and wondered how the Fastnet fleet had coped with the conditions overnight.

I was soon to find out as got the following text over breakfast: "Went for shelter in plymouth: bad night half crew down with seasickness".

Checking the Rolex Fastnet Race web site it became apparent that what seemed like half the fleet had made a similar decision. Ports from Falmouth to Weymouth must be packed with retiring boats.

The two main yachts I was following, Selene (hello A.) and Intuition (hello A. & A.), had both retired. There had even been a couple of dismastings, including the wonderfully named Oz Privateer that used to be owned by an old friend and colleague DK.

If it helps cheer up those recovering in port, this is clearly going to be one of those races that people will remember for years to come.

Graphic from race viewer from http://fastnet.rorc.org/

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fastnet Finally Starts

The Fastnet has finally started and the fleet is well on its way past Portland Bill and heading for Start Point and I have been distracted at work by following their progress on the RORC race player (to be found here).

While the player has its clunky moments, thats not too unexpected given the fleet is not half a dozen as per many off shore races but a whopping 300. Its great fun watching the start as the waves of classes head off down towards Hurst Castle and then bursting out into the channel by the Needles (above).

One boat seem to be routing through the Isle of Wight but I'm guessing that is technical faults not unorthodox tactics.

It seems they will also avoid the worst of the weather - looks like a F7-8 peak and many will at that point be away from the strongest winds, as the chart below (from here) shows a dip in wind speed around the Lizard at the same time as the fleet should be getting there.

This might cause some to question the RORC's decision to delay the race. They say that blogs should always be controversial so I should stir things up and flame at committee mentality.

But the truth is I have some sympathy. The forecast did indicate a potential force 10, with wind speeds over 50 knots in the Celtic Sea just as the fleet would have been crossing it. It looks like this worst case scenario won't happen, but with the vagaries of the weather it might have.

And with gust speeds 50% higher than the continuous that would mean peaks of 75 knots, which would not have been pretty.

If you're not convinced read this great book about the 1979 race when 15 died.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Commiserations and Congratulations

Both commiserations and congratulations to Mike Sanderson.

Commiserations for also not being able to do the Fastnet though for a better excuse than mine - his brand new Pindar was dismasted during Cowes week.

But congratulations are also due as he and his wife Emma (ne Richards) are expecting a baby! Thankfully the lovely Emma, who was on-board at the time, was unharmed in the incident.

I was lucky enough to sail with her last September on another Pindar, so my special best wishes go to Emma

No Fastnet Today

Even with the start of the Fastnet delayed by a day it still won't avoid the bad weather. Looking at the forecast above for Tuesday (from here) its clear its going to be a bumpy ride for the first couple of days.

The argument is that at least the boats will be close to shore if something goes wrong. But some might say that when something goes wrong you might not want to be too close to a lee shore.

Good luck and safe sailing to all those heading out tomorrow.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fastnet Delayed

A low is sweeping across the Atlantic towards Britain and already it has had an impact.

The start of the bi-annual Fastnet race has been delayed until Monday. Even with the delay there is a chance of foul weather, as the forecast above shows for Wednesday. Winds over 40 knots in the Irish sea - and that is a decrease, as forecasts during the week suggested the low could be deeper with winds up to 50 knots.

I'm not doing this race, which is a shame, but have just too much on with work stress and the OU course. But I'll be checking the weather web sites for friends who will be heading out there.

In the mean time I hope the crews get good rests while they can!

Picture from: http://www.stormsurfing.com/cgi/display_alt.cgi?a=brit_slp

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Worst Ever Race

With hindsight, racing a triple reefed Topper in force 2 winds wasn't such a good idea.

Let me explain. When having the race brief it was blowing 5 gusting 6. Wind surfers were hidden by their spray as the sprinted before being driven into an explosion of water. Dinghies were going about 100m and then capsizing. Looking at what seemed like survival conditions I quoted to my nephew "to finish first you first have to finish" and thought about tortoises and hares.

So when (as one of the first out) it came to rig the boat and it was strongly suggested that reefing would be a good idea, and remembering the previous day's crop of bruises (of which the death mark was just one of about twenty), it seemed sensible to go for the cautious ok lets do one more.

Initially it seemed a good idea. Sailing a Topper in those winds felt like driving a mini which had had its engine replaced by that in a Ferrari - screamingly fast, edgy, and noisy. I did a trial lap and all seemed ok.

Then there was the long long wait as the other boats made their way out, during which time the wind dropped, dropped again and changed direction. By the time of the start it was 3 gusting 4 and by the end at most 2.

So not only was I going slowly, but the reefing made the sail have the aerodynamic qualities of an office block: going to windward became a real challenge. The wind ward mark (which also had been moved since my practice lap) also seemed to be in a slight current, so once I drifted onto it and once drifted below it.

I saw one other similarly handicapped miss the mark and keep going - but the final achievable goal of the day was finish the course legally, so I doggedly did a 360 and tacked again respectively. I probably could have finished after two laps as the committee boat seemed to miss count and give me the thumbs up after once drifting back over the line forcing a 2nd crossing.

Moral of the story: well it could be read the wind right, but we always try to do that. A better one would be go out more in conditions don't feel comfortable to build confidence and avoid over cautious sail selection.

Time Off

Had two great days off: yesterday caught up with all the paper work. Today over a lovely capuccio caught up on old copies of New Scientist (there was a great article on value of accepting uncertainty).

Then went into town to see the brilliant Antony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Highlights included:
- Allotment: the hundreds of concrete blocks of different sizes, like a post modern concrete terracotta army
- Space Station: huge complex & challenging
- Blind Light: <50 cm visibility white-out inside a box inside a gallery - spooky (glasses really are no good but managed to navigate from one end to other by dead reckoning)
- Event Horizon: whereby the exhibition doesn't stop at the extent of the Gallery but extends out into London with statues dotted over buildings as far as the eye can see

Really worth a visit - but hurry, its the last 2 weeks!

Now going to have a drink, watch the sunset and read a book :)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Non laser sailor sails a laser

I hadn't done much Laser sailing apart from once on another sailing holiday a long time ago. But having heard lots about it from Tillerman was keen to give it another go.

So during the hols we did the clinic, had a lesson, and off we went. Nephew B had done a bit of Laser sailing before so was soon practicing his rolling tacks, backwards sailing and dry capsizing.

Me - I was trying to work out how many hands you'd need to simultaneously move the tiller, main sheet, raise/lower the dagger board, tweak the sail tension lines, and possibly hold on. I think that's about 5, so a double-jointed octopus would feel right at home. The first ten minutes were spent thinking "There! Is! No! Cleat! On! The! Main! Sheet!" - which for the non sailor means there is nothing to lock it off so you have to hold on to that rope all the time.

And of course when tacking or gybing you have to maneuver all of these while also moving across the boat while keeping at least one foot in the straps. And as for the so called dry capsize, mine turned into a total inversion total soaking with added bruises:

This is the one I called the death-mark, even though it looks a bit like an obese rabbit.

But by the end of the week I became a total Laser fan. Once you get the hang of what to hold where and when to change it kind of makes sense - after all 180,000 other Laser sailors can do it.

And the size and shape is just brilliant for fun and fast dinghy sailing. After a bit of practice the reasoning begins to clear. With such a small boat you need to hold on to sheet to adjust quickly for gusts. With practice the tiller becomes as automatic as driving and so you can forget the basics and enjoy the ride.

And it certainly is fun to be reaching along skimming the waves that splash up and soak your bum (well it certainly is when the temperature is in the 40s). Its a perfect racing dinghy - small yet perfectly formed, priced to be an entry level club sail yet also raced at the Olympics.

Must admit have been looking at prices in sailing mags and checking out local clubs that sail them.

That can't be right, surely?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunsail Life

This is what the Sunsail Phokaia resort looks like from the jetty where they moor the day yachts. To the left is the sailing beach and to the right the swimming beach (with sea urchins so watch out). Directly ahead is the bar and one of our favourite things was to sit there in the evening over alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails and play a couple of hands of Hearts before dinner.

I was pretty impressed - it was large, brand new and seemed well thought out. Further back there was a long and very warm swimming pool, usually full of younger children playing and surrounded by parents with holiday books. We noticed that between the pool and the bar there were half a dozen different paths twisting amongst trees, none of which were a straight line. It helped reduce the artificial nature of the resort.

For let's be clear, this isn't the place you go if you want to experience the "real" Turkey. There was none of the learn the language and sit on rickety buses next to farmers with live chickens on their lap sort of moment.

This was a place where almost everyone was British and middle class and it was totally focussed on families, full of professional parents and their teenage or younger children. There were no singles there, so no romance for the non-teens.

Its mission was to provide activities to keep British middle class families busy - you can get the full list of boats and stuff at their site here. Being a large site meant there were lots of staff and usually lots of choice of boats.

You could always get a Topper if you wanted one - see their racks below:

It was slightly harder to get other boats - the Hobies were very popular in the heat and light winds and so sometimes had a waiting list and 1 hour max time limit. We also occasionally had to wait if we wanted three lasers at once.

Similarly for day yachts - there was heavy demand and so a draw was made as to who got to choose their slot for the week:

The food was good though by the end of the week slightly predictable. But somethings were always nice, like the sunsets each evening over the bay.

Would I recommend it? Yes definitely: it was a good sailing base and we learnt a lot in the lessons and the tutorials. But be aware it's a family resort - singles might feel out of place.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Slowing down

Been bit of a delay in blogging the sailing holiday. What with my business partner off for 2 months due to stress, a tutorial for the OU Financial Strategy course, a trip to Geneva to talk about EPFD (please don't ask), and of course the flight delays it was a bit of a tiring week.

Planning a nice quiet weekend to catch up and potter - like the chap above who this afternoon was seen heading up river in what looked like a coracle. Is it me or is he the same chap who was on the river bike?

BTW - another view of the flight delays last Sunday from Simon Calder, travel writer on the Independent newspaper here.