Monday, March 31, 2008

Up the Wandle

On Sunday went exploring the Wandle Trail, covering the first (or last, depending which way you look at it) third of the river from the Thames to Colliers Wood.

Its a good idea to first download the map you can get from here, as without it had to back-track a few times.

I had hoped to tell a story of rural idylls in the heart of London but all too often the river ran next to industrial plants. Below is one of the better ones - the Youngs Brewery in Wandsworth. Its been the sources of some of London's best pints for hundreds of years but recently closed.

While sad its probably for the best. It is completely surrounded by that blight on south London called the Wandsworth one way system. The council talks of redeveloping the site - we shall see......

Less attractive industry sites included a couple of sewage works, which you could smell before you could see.

Another problem was often the river went one way and the path the other. Though that did allow me to overhear in passing the best conversation of the day. Two rather pretty young women were deep in discussions and one said "I was awake but pretending to be asleep - you know, as you do - and hoping he'd go and luckily he did but the idiot left his keys behind".

Hmmm maybe he's not such an idiot!

Towards the end there were some nice bits like this:

Will have to do the rest another time.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Boat Race Wash Out

The 2008 Oxford Cambridge Boat Race was a bit of a wash out.

Firstly it was cold, wet and windy - just look at the umbrellas above. Then of course Oxford beat my old uni Cambridge.

Oh well, there's always next year!

Clip from the start below.

Sailing by St Pauls

While walking along the South Bank saw this boat sailing through the City. It went by St Pauls and then under the Millennium, London and Tower Bridges.

It came from the Discovery Scouts Project - that must be fun!

Though with the strong tide it might have been a bit "interesting" going through the bridges with the tide against them and big tourist boats going up and down. Hopefully they had an engine for those moments!

The Plastic Thames

By the South Bank there is a tiny strip of beach. If you look down you will see something the picture above - mud, rocks and rubbish. Of the rubbish the majority is non-bio-degradable plastic, the small bits that are getting smaller to the point they become ubiquitous.

There are rubbish collecting rafts, like the one below. But they only collect the larger pieces - such as in this case where the one opposite the Tate Modern contained six ring lifebuoys.

Its hard to see how the smaller bits of plastic can be removed. They will remain in and by the river Thames for decades if not centuries.

A "thing" at the Tate Modern

Was in the City around lunch time and popped over to the South Bank to see the completion of, well, not sure what to call it. But it was when the final block of ice was put into place for the Allan Kaprow "happening" called Fluids.

This will be left outside the Tate Modern to gradually melt (given the current cold weather, not that quickly): water changing from solid to fluid. More information can be found here.

To be honest not entirely sure what is the artistic value. Entertainment and I-was-there value maybe, but art?

Ah, the problems of modern cultural life! :)

Friday, March 28, 2008

US Candidates Speak Out on Sailing

There hasn't been an election like it. Not just two but three candidates battle it out for the world's most powerful position. They have been questioned on every subject from abortion to Zaire - but where do they stand on yachts and yachting?

Our roving reporter, Buff Staysail, has caught up with them and has this world exclusive!

In their own words, oldest first, its McCain, Clinton, and Obama!

Senator McCain:

To be a leader in the world of sailing you need experience and the knowledge to be strong. In the America's Cup I started sailing in my youth against Tom Lipton with the traditional J-class yachts and have great respect for the modern 12 metres and the current holders, our allies, the Australians.....


Sir, sir (whispers) pssss.... mumble.... Alinghi..... Geneva Yacht Club .....

Senator McCain:

But there is also a security issue here. Sailing is critical to the Global. War. On. Terror. Its is only by being strong and using force that we can win back the cup from those French....



Senator McCain:

We and our Navy need the resolve to use any means, any force, any weapon to reclaim what is ours, to continue the project started by our current leader. It is only through use of force that the U.S. can be respected.

It reminds me of that great song:
(sings) Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb bomb the boats!
(up a key) Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb the boats!


Senator Hillary Clinton:

I'm pleased to be able to stand here and have a conversation with you about sailing. If the call goes out at 3 am asking who is on watch, you want someone on deck with the experience, someone who has been there.

And I was there back in the "Bosnian" America's Cup where I remember so clearly the race in which I helmed America V to victory. It was a particularly tough race with not just gales but also sniper fire whenever we were on starboard tack. The other sailors were hiding behind the bulk heads but as first lady I stood tall.

Then there was the time I was skipper of the top Whitbread yacht as we powered round Cape Horn. The engines were overheating, we were driving on fumes, and there were 100 foot waves as we hit 50 knots!


Er.. mmummblle.. diary.... video clip.....

Senator Clinton:

It seems I have mis-spoken and I wasn't actually sailing those yacht. Goodbye!

Senator Obama:

I have a dream (cheers) I have a dream in which the great people of America (cheers) whatever their colour, whatever their background, not just work together but sail together (more cheers!)

I want to see a new America! To change course, to see America no longer the terror of the seas, but shining bright, the light-house on a hill, to plot a new, safe course for not just for our great country (cheers) but also for the world (big cheer).

And the Americas Cup - can we win it? (shouts of yes we can!) - should we reach for it? (cries of yes, yes!) - yes we can, yes we should and yes we will win! (huge cheers!)

For this country to stand tall again, tall as a tall ship, give me your support, so we can sail together out of the storm into calm waters sparkling under the warm summer sun (cheers)

Thank you! (cheers! and chants of yes we can! yes we can!)

How to Save the America's Cup

As the competition for the America's Cup becomes ever more a battle of lawyers rather than boats its well worth reading this, an open letter from Mascalzone Latino's boss Vincento Onorato.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Plastic and DDT on the menu

These are disposable lighters, designed to work for at most a few weeks and then be thrown away.

The phrase "thrown away" makes it sound so simple - they have gone, so we forget about them. But if they get into our oceans that won't be true.

Like so much plastic that floats around our seas they don't decay but get broken up into smaller and smaller pieces. They confuse birds such as the albatross to whom they look like squid, hence eat them possibly causing them to choke.

More seriously the small pieces do not at this point disappear, but continue to shrink into microscopic fragments, which then bind with some of the worst pollutants like DDT.

This poisonous powder is becoming ubiquitous in the oceans, ingested by sea life, which concentrates the unwanted chemicals further, until we eat them and hence consume the results of our own pollution.

And we can't stop it - there's too much out already in the oceans, and as it doesn't decay our children's children will be eating it.

All we can do is fish out any bits we see floating by and stop as far as possible anything more entering our waters.

More on this at the BBC - one the the effect of microscopic fragments of plastic and pollutants here, and on experiencing the piles of rubbish on the Pacific island of Midway here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Killing the Albatross

In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner a ship sailing in the deep south is cursed after the narrator kills a Albatross with his cross bow.

But in the middle of the Pacific today on the island of Midway a third of all Albatross chicks die, and the cause is often the same - plastic.

Not just those disposable plastic bags posted about before, but almost everything we use that isn't biodegradable, from biros and toothbrushes to cigarette lighters and bottle tops.

Of the two million birds on the island researchers reported here have concluded that every single one is likely to contain at least some plastic.

And the plastic comes not from nearby but from all over the Pacific, trapped by the North Pacific Gyre.

If you follow that link you'll see some pretty startling facts - such as:
- plastic is accountable for the death of a million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals a year
- a square kilometer of ocean has about 13,000 pieces of plastic within it
- one bird in Belgium was found to contain 1,600 pieces of plastic

This is seriously rubbish. Not so much water water everywhere and not a drop to drink, but not a drop safe for the animals to drink.

And what they eat we end up eating.

Sailors Wanted!

Fancy a life at sea - and getting paid for it? Then get ready to sign up as the world's shipping companies are waiting for you.

There's a boom in international trade and shipyards are busy building the containers to take raw materials and finished goods around the planet. But while you can build a modern ship in two years it takes ten years to train her captain.

Net result - shortages of crew and increasingly competitive wages.

More here at the FT (free registration should get you the article)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Captain Calamity says Shetlands not Scottish

You couldn't make it up.

Stewart Hill got the nick-name "Captain Calamity" after a disastrous round Britain started badly, getting into difficulties off Yarmouth, and ended badly as he was rescued off the Shetlands when his converted 15 foot rowing boat (with its windsurf sail) capsized.

And he stayed there - the Shetlands that is - where he now owes a local accountants £1,200 pounds.

But rather than paying up he's decided to argue that the contract, written under Scottish law, does not apply as the Shetlands are not part of Scotland.

The argument is that apparently "when King Christian of Denmark pawned the islands to Scotland in 1469, he was not entitled to do so as under Norse udal law the land did not belong to him". And the reason King Christian needed the money was that his daughter Margaret became engaged to James III of Scotland and he needed to pay her dowry.

However the court hearing today was canceled when the recent bad weather grounded flights - so the snow stopped the sheriff.

Can't wait to see how this goes!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday at the National

After lunch today at the National Portrait gallery (extremely pleasant and lovely views) went round the corner to pop into the neighbouring National Gallery and only had just enough time for a couple of pics so each selected one gallery or artist.

I chose the Turners and really enjoyed seeing this one of Dutch fishing boats in a storm. The waves look real and really can believe the stories of how Turner went out in a gale tied to the mast to get experience of it first hand.

There also seems to be a rather nasty port on starboard collision about to happen. The smaller boat with what we'd call a storm-jib up hasn't noticed or been unable to react to the larger one. Must have been very exposed and a wild ride on that port tack boat so there is likely to be more than a little sea sickness and intense bailing.

Clouds on a Spring Afternoon

The snow was quickly blown away by the north-westerlies leaving these clouds that look a bit Turner-esque.

Though that association could be 'cos have just got back from the National Gallery - more of this is a latter post (in time) / earlier post (in blog terms).

Heading down the river were the canoes and kayaks of the Devizes to Westminster race. Even though the schedule was changed due to the weather conditions it must have been tough out there.

I've just seen a solitary double canoe go by in the dark of an encroaching storm with torches on their helmets, out there in the middle of the river all too aware that that flash just now was lightning.

Snowing on Easter Sunday

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sailing for Landlubbers

I was thinking of going sailing over Easter - even emailing one sailing company asking about the options for the Red Funnel series, but they didn't respond.

Just as well as its freeezzzziiiinnnnnggggggggg this weekend. There were actual flurries of snow over London this afternoon. Not that it settled of course, and ten minutes later it was sunny (and another ten minutes later pouring with rain).

So instead am doing a tour of the nephews and nieces and godsons to deliver Easter Eggs plus Sunday lunch at the National Portrait Gallery.

Having more time to read the papers over the morning capuccino read this great article in the FT (I hope you can read it - if there are problems about subscription or something let me know and I'll email it).

It describes the pleasure of reading pilot books, to imagine what the places would be like, feel the spray on one's cheek, the cheerful splash of waves as the boat nods its way forward, the thrill of the storm, and the relief of port - all without moving a finger.

Indeed the author enjoys all of these from the warm comfort of the bath - risking prune like skin and damp and faded pages. I completely understand as also have a passion for charts and maps and find even the London A-Z a thrilling read.

Just as well - as it looks like the books are the nearest I'll be to being afloat this weekend.

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Commuting by Canoe

Story this week in the soar-away current bun about the commuter who forgoes the dubious pleasure of bus travel by paddling his canoe down the River Avon. Slightly more here.

But is he the only one or are there any other canoing commuters out there?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dunkirk Spirit

Commuting in London can be a bit of a pain. There is much grumbling about the long delays, random halts, packed carriages, and over-running engineering works (a special of long weekends like Easter). But people muddle through, quoting the Dunkirk spirit.

But today was reminded of the real thing. Taking the boat rather than the tube, and with the normal high speed Cabot out of service (engine problem - again - and good riddance, not that keen on it), we traveled a bit slower but in more style on the M.V. Kingwood.

At the front was a plague, "Dunkirk 1940". For the Kingwood is one of the little boats that rescued the British Army in its hour of need.

Puts the hassles of the tube into context!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Review: Sally's Odd at Sea

I've recently finished reading Sally Kettle's "Sally's Odd as Sea", which I very much enjoyed.

In it Sally explains how it was she ended up rowing across the Atlantic not once but twice, having had no real experience of rowing or crossing an ocean. The first time her partner had to pull out after a few days for medical reasons so she had to complete the crossing with her mum!

What I especially liked was Sally's frank and amusing style, telling a tale of the lows of blisters and sore bums combined with her obvious sense of fun and enjoyment of the good things of life, including paradoxically fine food and comfy beds. Knickers, pink and Bridget Jones style, also play a leading role.

The biggest question I had at the start and to a degree also at the end is "Why?" Seriously, given you can sail across, why on earth row? The wonderful thing about sailing is how the wind keeps you going day after day and it does the hard work.

But I guess there are those that say why sail when you can fly? And I certainly wouldn't exchange my crossing for any airline ticket. There is the feeling of experiencing the ocean and sense of achievement on reaching the other side that you can't experience any other way.

Maybe a clue can come from the Ocean Rowing Society's motto which is "Know thy self", for there few hiding places in a tiny rowing boat with a thousand miles water to row in any direction to get to land.

Sally also raised about £300,000 for charity - an amazing achievement in its own right.

If you're interested in rowing an ocean and want to know what it would be like or to hear the story of three and a half girls in a boat then pick it up and start reading for Sally's a good companion all the way across.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Head of River Race

Traffic jam on the Thames as the last remaining eights of the Head of River Race jostle for position to get in to the Putney Embankment.

They must have been dreaming of those cold beers - maybe even Guinness as its nearly St. Patrick's day - and chance to relax & watch the Six Nations rugby.

Full information here

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dublin to Bray

On the afternoon of the 2nd day in Dublin took the DART line train south to Bray.

This is one of those lovely railway lines that for much of its route goes along the coastline, with great views over Dublin bay out of the carriage windows.

Bray is a little sea side town, with a bit of a pebbly beach:

But there are great walks along the coast - if you have time you can walk the 6 km to the next station at Greystones round this headland:

Yachting Monthly not World

Correction: Tristan's write-up of his solo transat is in Yachting Monthly not Yachting World as previously blogged.

It's out now so go and read it!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More from Marlow (and Cookham)

More pictures from the Thames valley. Above is Marlow weir from the other side, and below a helpful sign for passing boaters.

Below is the view a little down river close by Cookham's Formosa Island, the largest on the Thames. Across the river to the right is an outpost of Cliveden.

Missing Canoeist Pleads Guilty

Remember the canoeist who was lost at sea, whose wife claimed on his life insurance, then upped sticks and went to live in Panama.

But then who re-appeared walking into a police station claiming amnesia, before it was noted he had been photographed with said wife in their Panama apartment.


Wondered what happened to them? Well this week he pleaded guilty to "seven charges of obtaining cash by deception".

Latest here.

Marlow Weir

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cookham - In Memoriam

This is a view I had forgotten yet never forgot.

Today I had a business trip to Marlow, which is one of those lovely little towns up the Thames valley. After the meeting I had a little wander around which will blog in due course.

On the way back the train went through Cookham, and I thought as the afternoon had turned out fine I'd get out, walk to the river and back and get the next train home. The town had been mentioned by Kat as somewhere her great great grandfather had once lived, so I thought she might like a photo of it.

It seemed slightly familiar - and initially put the deja vu down to Cookham being very like other towns along the Thames. But it got stronger, though it was only when I was back at the station waiting for the train that I remembered standing there some years ago waiting for another train and asking someone else on the platform "so how did you know her?"

For I had been to Cookham, for the funeral of a very dear friend. I knew the view above, had walked along river bank, and sat for the service in Cookham's church (just off picture).

God bless and rest in peace HCL.

How many pieces of eight?

What is the cost of modern piracy? This two year old article "Captain counts the cost of piracy" on the BBC web site it suggested it was in the order of 13 - 15 billion dollars / year.

Thats a lot of dollars - and as modern dollars derive from old Spanish ones, also known as pieces of eight, thats the sort of haul Long John Silver would be very proud of.

However this more recent article "No vessel is safe from modern pirates" suggests its in the order of tens of millions of dollars per year.

That seems more likely, with the previous one a typo, as it would be a hugely significant degree of losses.

Bit of a disappointment to ol' Long John - though maybe to make up for it his name is also associated with a garment of underwear.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dublin 3: Famine Ships

Down by the quay-side in Dublin there is this haunting set of statues. This is the Famine Memorial by local sculptor Rowan Gillespie.

The collection of waif like figures - maybe a family? - reminds us of a time when Ireland wasn't the Celtic Tiger it is today but when the population fell by between 20 and 25% and maybe a million died, in what became known as the Great Irish Famine.

It was also a time of mass emigration, as thousands if not another million headed across the water for a new life. But this path could be as treacherous, with over-crowded boats and insufficient food for all the passengers.

Just along from the Famine Memorial is moored the Jeanie Johnston, (below) a replica of one of the Famine Ships that took families away from Ireland to the North American countries.

In some boats the conditions were so bad they were known as Coffin Ships

Ironically the food in Dublin was pretty good. Oysters followed by rabbit, washed down by a pint of the ubiquitous Guinness.

Hopefully the memorial makes us appreciate what we have all the more.

Dublin 2: Trinity College

More travelogue from Dublin. This is the totally gorgeous Long Hall in Trinity College. There is no reflection, there really are two levels of nearly identical bookcases.

Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Elizabeth I, so pretty old, though not as old as Oxbridge. However it contains something much older, the Book of Kells, which is not something out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the most famous of all the illuminated manuscripts that came out of the dark ages.

Unfortunately there are only four of them, of which only two were on display, and only one showing the pictures, so there was a bit of a rugger scrum around it. In a way its easier to see it here, though you don't get a feel for the shear density, imagination, and richness of the original:

Its not all old though in Trinity College, there was also this statue that seemed somehow rather familiar - wasn't one just like this in Kew?

There was also this Star Wars like death-star like statue outside the modern Berkeley Library.

It was a dark and stormy night....

Honest it really was! More here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Viking Boat in Dublin

So last week I was in Dublin for a business trip - my first visit to Ireland.

One thing I was keen to see was the Viking ship currently sitting in the courtyard of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin (above), particularly as its not coming up the Thames to visit London.

This is the Sea Stallion and I previously blogged the TV program of its voyage from Denmark to Dublin.

And very impressive it was too!

When you got close there was a lovely warm wood smell:

The hull seemed very thin to cross such a wild sea full of traffic:

Maybe it was just as well they had this bit of 21st century technology - a radar:

This was the old technology that kept failing - the rope connecting the rudder to the hull repeatedly wore through:

It was a good start to the just-over-a-day in Dublin - more to come!