Monday, May 26, 2008

An indoor sort of day

It's a miserably wet Bank Holiday Monday. The sort of day when its best to get snug and warm indoors and read a book or chat on the phone.

But some hardy folks from the canoe club, who presumably hadn't seen the weather forecast, had been talking of heading up river to practice stunts where a canal meets the Thames. Rather them than me - especially as what's this above?

Yup the Thames Bubbler is out again. After all according to the news we've had a month's worth of rain today and that must be straining the Victorian pipework causing overflow into the river and hence needing its oxygen to keep the waters alive.

As for me, time for another cuppa.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Upside down salsa

Its one of those truisms that really is true - the weather does know its a Bank Holiday weekend as its sent in a cold front and rain.

So another weekend where going on the water means paddling round a swimming pool in west London.

The aim was the oh-so-cool Eskimo roll (or at least one of them, as apparently there are as many varieties as words for snow in the Inuits language).

It is a lot harder than it looks. After three different instructors all failed to get me rolling one finally came up with the ultimate exercise to get those hips moving - upside down salsa.

"Just go upside down and use your hips to wiggle from side to side as if doing the Salsa. When your ready bang on the canoe and I'll right you!"

I think I did that ok. But it was hard to say when the glasses have fallen off and pool water is heading up one's nose to fill up all that empty space!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Paddling in circles

Yesterday did my first kayak on the Thames with the local canoe club (who's photo that is above), which was great fun but spent rather a lot of time going round in circles.

When asking about minimum experience was surprised that ability to kayak in a straight line was one of them. As Top Gear would put it - how difficult can it be? And certainly in the swimming pool there wasn't much of a problem.

But then the swimming pool is so short its hard to tell as after couple of strokes you're at the far end, unlike the Thames.

However I'm told its a right-of-passage for newbies and others were piroutting more than me - and with a canoe called a "Dancer" I had a great excuse.

The swimming pool also doesn't have a constant stream of rowers bearing down on you nor, more importantly, a couple of knots of tide to battle against.

However very enjoyable in an arms-aching-good-nights-sleep sort of way, and hope its just the first of many.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Square Metre Rule Sailing

More info on the class was invited to sail this summer. It's one of the Skerry Cruisers that meet one of the square metre rules - in this case the 30 square metre.

And it should be an exciting occasion as its the 100th anniversary of the rule, and the highlight will be the Jubilee races.

We'll be doing some training off Cornwall - very much looking forward to it already!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Whats your position?

This week I got an interesting email: did I want to go sailing a friend's dad's boat on some lake?

Yes I said, wondering which one. Windermire? Somewhere in Wales?

Then I heard the lake wasn't in the UK but actually in Sweden! Hmmm......

Then I saw the boat:

So I said yes.

The only thing that slightly concerns me is they are looking for someone for the foredeck and to be honest though I've done all the rope work up front most of the time I've been at the other end - pit, helm or navigating.

Maybe its a good thing - push me to do something different. Might end up another of those learning experiences!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Transat for Robots

Forget double handed transats or even single handed - how about no hands at all?

The picture above shows tests of a sailing robot its developers are entering into the competition to sail across the Atlantic later this year.

More at this site and in this article.

Learning Experiences - The Sailor's Prayer

I can't be the only one who heads out for a start line muttering under my breath "Please Lord may I not f*** up".

For what is worse than getting cold and wet is letting down one's crew mates by making one of those all too easy to make mistakes.

But what's this all to do with Tillerman's challenge regarding learning experiences you might ask?

Well stay with me for a moment and check out the picture above of a lovely spinnaker that is happily full and in one piece. It was taken a couple of years ago when doing the ARC.

A couple of days after this picture was taken it was shredded (might have mentioned it on a previous Tillerman challenge) after being wrapped firmly round the fore stay in the middle of the night while I was helming.

In my defense the wind was light so that as the swell of the Atlantic rollers came through it would regularly collapse onto the fore stay. The prosecution might also note that I was distracted trying to tell a joke at the time while helming but lets not listen to them.

I was pretty apprehensive of spinnakers after that, but then signed up for the Fastnet. One of the things about race sailing is you push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Many cruisers do not go out at night and if they do wouldn't think of hoisting a kite.

But when racing if the wind is right the spinnaker must be up all the time day and night. So I had to learn about how to sail with them or screw up again. After many a bad night with sweaty hands upon the wheel by the end began to get a feel for how the sail was set from simple things like the heel of the boat.

So by failing, learning from mistakes, and then being pushed by the competitive spirit of racing I learnt something.

But you'll still hear me muttering under my breath as we head out "Please....."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Learning Experiences - Motivation

Tillerman has issued a new challenge - this time to write about learning experiences.

I've been pondering what to post about this but a first stab is motivation. I've twice dragged myself out of bed to do early Saturday morning canoe training sessions in a local swimming pool and expect to do a couple more.

And why?

Because I want to be in the picture above not just behind a camera and paddle up (or down) the Thames. And I'd rather not drown!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review 4 - The Storm Prophet

One of the books for the flight back from Oz was Hector MacDonald's "The Storm Prophet" which have just finished. I picked it up at the Boat Show when had an interesting discussion with the author about the relative merits of Graham Greene vs Joseph Conrad.

The Storm Prophet tells the story of how a Sydney to Hobart race got hit by a big storm causing similar devastation to the tragic 1998 race, as seen from the perspective of a local coastguard.

It's a gripping read - one of those page turners where you keep wanting to know what happens next with an interesting bunch of characters. Rather bravely the book is a first person perspective from the viewpoint of a woman - but I think he pulls it off well (though of course what do I know!)

While there is a strong sailing and boating theme, Hector never lets the subject dominate the book, which ultimately must live or die by the story he is telling, and the old themes of friendships, love and family are ultimately what this book is "about".

One of the tensions that drives the book is whether some of the key events - such as the storm - are being prophesied by an African boy or are just co-incidences. This resulted in slight hackles being raised by me with a "stuff and nonsense" response. Luckily it works out OK as Hector is in no way close to the magical realism rubbish from writers like Isabel Allande.

If I'd have any criticism is that this is a read-once book. Its a good read on a plane but afterwards there was no hurry for a re-read, even of favourite passages.

But its a minor quibble as The Storm Prophet is a good yarn and should find its way to many a ship's library.

The Bill by the River

There wasn't a movie star like Clive Owen but there were still cries of "Action!" as The Bill came to shoot a scene down by the river.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Why a 24 hour flight is really really short

It was a 30 hour journey, door to door, from Canberra to London.

Sounds a lot - but it wouldn't to the old sailors and emigrating families for whom the journey was one of months and months.

Of course there were easy and hard ways then as there are now. A port-out starboard-home (i.e. posh) cabin can't have that been that bad, but the poorest must have really suffered with just a few feet of space in the darkest depths of the ship.

And the differences remain today between economy and first class. I couldn't help but wonder about what the journey must feel like in an Airbus 380 (pictured above during transit at Sydney).

If you want to bring back the romance of air travel, then this seems the answer - private cabin for upper class passengers with champagne and a double bed!

Goodbye to Oz

It was a good trip but now its over and I'm back in London where summer has come early. So goodbye Oz, till next time.

A few last pics: above is one of the many light houses on the Great Ocean Road. The rolling landscape it goes through - like that below - reminded me quite a bit of Scotland.

This is one of the piers at Geelong where had a lovely lunch!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More - but not from Melbourne

Apologies for the break from posting - been very busy.

There's been the conference, meeting Kat over lunch (which was fab), then heading off down the long but brilliant Australian Great Ocean Road.

In total this is 273 km in length with a mind-numbing number of tight windy corners. In places the speed limit is a mere 25 km/h and that felt about right - especially with the constant distractions of the breath taking views.

The cliffs are not just impressive - they are also a serious threat to navigation, and not for nothing is this known as the shipwreck coast.

After a long day's drive reached what are called the Twelve Apostles - now sadly reduced to eight by the battering of wind and wave.

Now in Canberra for more meetings.... so alas must get down to work for the last few days before the long flight back home.

Much longer than the drive and a lot less scenic!