Recently found this great map, called "The Island" created by Stephen Walter that works on two levels.
Firstly zoom out and it shows London as an island, maybe as some would like to be. Then zoom in and its simply covered in detail, like the scribbled doodles in an artist's notebook - just look at this extract showing Putney. Places, events, people that lived there, icons, bridges, its all there crammed in.
And its online, so you can zoom in and out as much as you like, just by clicking here.
A recent trip to see The Tempest triggered an interest in the connections between the bard and Britain's maritime past, and a search of eBay was rewarded by a second hand book called "Shakespeare and the Sea" by Lieutenant Commander Alexander Frederick Falconer, VRD, MA.
It is not an easy read, more of a breakdown of Shakespeare quotes by topic, with chapters called "Putting to Sea", "Storms", "Pirates", "Shipwrecks", "Tides", "Swimming" and so on. Within each chapter there are then examples of how these themes were represented in the plays, and comparisons between the texts and contemporary accounts of sailing.
He uses this resource to support two points:
1) There are a lot of references to maritime issues, some quite detailed and specific, for example on navigation
2) The naval and maritime language is incredibly accurate, much more than other play writes of the day
Some knowledge of seafaring would be expected, as in this quote from Macbeth:
All the quarters that they know
I' th' shipman's card
Here the card describes the 32 points of the compass. But at times it is very specific, as in this woeful extract from Cymbeline:
Who ever yet could sound thy bottom, find
The ooze, to show what coast thy sluggish crare
Migh'st easil'est harbour in
Here he describes not just use of a sounding line but also arming the plummet to bring up samples, to "find", from the sea bed.
Shakespeare lived through a time where maritime power saved England from conquest, when in 1588 the great Spanish Armada was fought from one end of the Channel to the other. At such a time of national emergency many souls that would normally have remained on dry land would have volunteered to do their duty..... so could Will have been one of them?
This is where it gets fascinating, for there are in the Bard's life two periods described as "lost years", when there are no records of his whereabouts, and the latter of these two was 1585 - 1592, matching the time of the Armada, and when he was in his early twenties.
Falconer speculates he gained a rank of corporal, then a position held at sea, and there learned the trade of the sea, navigation and sailing, listened to how gunners and fishermen talked, and watched the wild vagaries of the English weather blow through.
Alas it is likely we will never know for sure if this is true, but for me it feels right that William Shakespeare as a young man sailed the seas off England, helping defend against the great Armada.
It was not just King Lear it was the greatest play write himself that spoke these lines:
Tillerman challenged us to give reasons why he should come and sail where we lived. Alas I can honestly say that is not a good idea.
Don't get me wrong, I love London and there are lots and lots of things to do, not to least this "Ultimate walk by the Thames" . But sailing the famous river has a number of problems, including:
1. Bridges: these are even prettier and photographed more often than the Golden Gate but alas are a bit lower, as can be seen by the pic above. This is particularly a problem for boats with a mast when near high water, though at low water there is another problem, namely....
2. Shallows: the river isn't actually that deep and at low water you can almost wade across. Indeed historians think that Caesar's army forded the Thames around Putney / Fulham, on his way for his date with Boudica. So either you'll run aground or be forced into the main channel where....
3. Traffic: there are a lot of big tour, party and rubbish boats that are constrained to go right down the middle and take a dim view of leisure craft that get in the way. Sometimes they might politely give those five blasts on their horn but they might also show their displeasure at being distracted (not driving obviously, more likely from thoughts about football or The Sun) to yell at you some of those ripe words that your mother would not approve of. They might have a point as why indeed were you out there when....
4. The weather: ok, its not that bad, honest. After all I barely needed my umbrella today and it rains less than Paris ("zut alors!") but really it isn't holiday weather. Given a choice between St Lucia tropical sun and warm waters and those in Britain, well there's no doubt as to which would win. Of course when it rains there's another problem, namely....
5. The water: again, it's really not that bad - unless, that is, it rains. Then the Victorian sewage system buckles under the strain and raw yucky stuff goes directly into the river. Remember that most of the time it doesn't and as to other stuff, well no one can recall the last time someone died of Weils disease. The only trouble is the contents don't flush away nicely but wash back and forth due to....
6. Tides: they're pretty intense as the river is constrained by the Embankment and so it rushes up and down at more knots that most of us can sail without tipping over and (as noted above) we don't want to do that do we. But the currents can drive you against bridges or if in a kayak sucked under a barge so all in all a bad thing, particularly if it washes you out to sea, noting of course that...
7. The sea: it is a long way to the sea from central London. According to Google Earth it is 40 nm from Putney to Canvey Island and to be honest that's not much to write home about. Unlike.....
Hayling Island! - which is in Chichester Harbour and pretty. And clean, without bridges and tour boats, though the dubious weather, rushing tides and hidden shallows will be there too. Or Fowey or any of the many other lovely places in Britain to sail.
So I hope Tillerman enjoys the sailing on the south coast and by all means visits London for its many many treasures, including fine food and sunsets, most of which can be enjoyed indoors.
But to sail on the Thames is daft, so to do so you have to be slightly eccentric and most likely a resident, and hence someone like myself proud to call themselves a Londoner.
Once when sailing someone mentioned how most photos are taken under circumstances that don't reflect the true nature of life out at sea. All too often they are in sunny weather with light winds, when hands search for something to do. There are, we agreed, not enough pictures of the many times when the winds blow and seas and skies are grey
So we snapped some pictures of each other as we raced for home in rather rough weather, all enclosed in full wet weather gear complete with safety harness.
But since then I've looked for pics to take that bring back memories of life on-board, such as the one above. It's the bowman's workplace on Aeolus, little spinnaker packed (rather roughly) and wired up ready for the hoist, with the larger one in the background, ready to be swapped in if called for. There is not much room, just crawling space, and packing during tacks is an interesting exercise.
Another key pic for memories is of the sails themselves. Think of all the time you spend staring upwards, looking at its shape and the tell-tales, eyes continuing up to check the windex at the top
And if you're lucky you'll have a memory a bit like this, looking back at the fleet....
More from the quiet weekend, and this time its from the interweb.
While surfing around found a whole series of short stories on the BBC London web site about the Thames, including on this page about:
- the barrier and flood risks
- discovery of something on the river bed
- the SS Robin
- passenger travel
- houseboat communities
I'm sure that London and the Thames together are a rich vein of themes for writers and images for artists, though I don't know the story behind the picture above. Two police boats and a lifeboat, all of which arrived at maximum speed, plus out of sight a police helicopter orbiting over their heads.
But I fear the worse.
Life in London has, as it has during many centuries past, its dark corners as well as bright lights and sunsets over the river.
A break from the Fowey Classics as having a quiet day at home reading the papers, from which found out that writer and historian Tony Judt came from Putney.
A great man and a brave man, he continued his work and lectures even when paralysed from the neck down with ALS, the disease that killed him on the 6th August, just over a week ago.
One of his last articles described his childhood by the Thames. You can read the entire piece at The Guardian here, but this is his take on living by the river:
Putney had its loose ends, too. The riverbank was still semi-rural and largely untouched – once you got past the ever-so-slightly commercialised strip near the bridge, where the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race began. There were boathouses, houseboats, the occasional tug, abandoned skiffs rotting gently into the mud: living evidence of the river's ancient business. At Putney the Thames is still actively tidal: at times a narrow stream lazily bisecting great beaches of mud, at others close to overflowing its scruffy and rather under-secured banks when a ferry or pleasure boat, on its way from Westminster up to Teddington or even Oxford, swept under the bridge and into the great bend embracing Craven Cottage (Fulham's football ground) on the opposite bank. Putney's river was messy, inelegant and functional; I spent a lot of time sitting by its edge and thinking, though I no longer remember about what.
While the High Street he describes has changed much that seems pretty much as it is today.
I too have spent a long time by the river edge sitting and thinking, and I too can not always remember what about.
I was very impressed with Fowey as a place to visit. A lovely little town of stone houses painted white beside a perfect natural harbour. The narrow streets are almost too narrow for cars which presumably saves it from the worst of the tourists hordes.
The harbour is deep enough for some very large vessels to come up. Mostly these are coming for the fine China clay, but apparently the cruise ship MS The World was able to make it up the windy channel. The local taxi drivers are still talking about the tips they received!
Must admit one of those China clay vessels gave us a bit of a fright as we crossed the harbour at night in our inflatable. I doubt it saw our dim white light, so was rather glad when we made it safely out of the main channel.
It has a long and interesting history, including (allegedly) a visit by the young Jesus, piracy, smuggling, privateering, attacks by the French and Dutch, battles in the civil war and becoming a rotten borough. Famous residents including writers Daphne du Maurier and Kenneth Grahame and a host of day time TV presenters.
The official Fowey Classics 2010 web site still seems to be down so there might be some who are interested in the results, starting with the Triangulation Race.
The course, you won't be surprised to learn, was a triangle. What was surprising was that we didn't race in classes but groups, which were basically the list of boats split into four roughly equal sized collections.
So you raced against boats completely different to you. Just to make things more complex the different classes had different courses though all within the same group started at the same time.
I think this was something to do with the "ethos" of the event, though we couldn't understand how sailing Aeolus against dinghies having to go a fraction of the distance plus adjusting the time would give comparable numbers.
Anyhow here are the other scorecards (mostly tweaked iThing pics apart from the last where the output was blurred so used the proper camera which blasted a bit with its flash):
During each race there was a short period during the pre-start when could poke my head out of the hatch (keeping it low to avoid the boom of course) and take a few photos of some of the other classic yachts.
As you can see it was a bit of a wet and wild day. We were told F5 gusting F6 but it was more like F6 with the odd lull of F5 - a lot of fun!
Must give a good word for the organisers of the Fowey Classics 2010 who did a very good job.
From welcome packs, to (cough) checking insurance, to welcome drinks, to brass bands on the water, to quizzes, cross-words, caption contests, parades of sail and..... there was something else..... oh yes, racing (see below).
At the heart was Roy - and every regatta needs a Roy: full of energy whether rowing around the boats with welcome packs, conducting the briefings or the brass band, or sailing out in the seas outside.
Though to be rather literal, booms don't feel a thing, it's people that get hurt.
Up till then everything had gone rather well - a week's sailing in which every manoeuvre, every hoist or drop, had gone to plan. On the final day we had blasted home upwind at over 7 - 8 knots most of the way. The mooring buoy was almost in sight and the week's sail was coming to an end, when we had to do what turned out to be the penultimate tack of the week.
"Ready about?" asks I, "ready" they respond, so "tacking" I say, pushing the tiller to one side.
Maybe I was leaning a little forward because then there was a bang to the side of my head, an "ow!" and I was on the floor of the cockpit with my glasses despatched to Davy Jones's locker.
Everyone was rather concerned, not the least me.
"Did you see stars?" asks the skipper.
"No" I say, "just the boom, very close up"
"Do you feel nauseousness?"
"No, rather hungry actually"
I may have got away with that one. However be on the look our for strange behaviour - inventing Australian journalists with unlikely initials springs to mind.
It might be a good time to quote Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from the Hill Street Blues:
While I was wandering around the Royal Fowey Yacht Club I overheard half of a conversation.
Said one sailor about an unknown boat "their handicap is far too low - they were right up there with Aeolus!"
As the bowman of Aeolus that was a conversation I was happy to share with my skipper and fellow crew over dinner last night.
To be honest Aeolus is rather fast and we are working pretty well as a team: all those races in Sweden for the Square Metre Rule Centenary really helped. As Tillerman recently posted, you have to work at this racing business.
With hindsight we should have flown the big spinnaker which would have put our winning margin into double figures (see above). However that might not quite have been in line with the "ethos" of the regatta.
Another day, another race at the Fowey Classics but will leave posts on that for when photos are available and we know the results on corrected time (in real time we did rather well).
In the mean time enjoy this rather elegant two master which reminds you that this is the home of Daphne du Maurier (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphne_du_Maurier) author of works including Frenchman's Creek.
The Fowey Classics is not about technology - or at least nothing more complicated than varnish. But a short post is needed to explain the lack of photos.
The problem is the iPad has no USB or SD interface, which is not helped by my camera being CF based. The only way to upload one is to take it on the iPhone and then email them to myself.
The iPhone is of course kept a long way from water hence the above is a rare exception. I understand the RFYC web site has been down due to web master holiday, but no doubt both it and this blog will have more in days to come.
However the iThings have shown their worth when we almost didn't get registered as the organisers wanted to see our insurance but we didn't have the relevant papers. Doom!
In the end we got the insurance company to email them to me, then I could download it as a PDF to my iPhone using the clubs Wifi. Cue a game of pinch and zoom with the race committee to find the relevant dates, numbers and inclusions.
Hurrah! So today we raced and we weren't bad at all.
The Fowey Classics 2010 events only kick-off this evening so we had today spare, and I took the opportunity to pop over to the nearby Eden Project. And it was absolutely spectacular.
Luckily I arrived just after it opened at 10 am so was able to go round the Tropical Biome with relative ease. When I tried again at 11.30 it felt a bit like rush hour tube, so if you want to visit, come early. This is particularly the case on rainy days (as it was) as the crowds as one will be thinking "what can we do that is indoors?"
Of course the tropical zone is very hot and humid so you will get a bit damp there, and if you have children you can expect a host of questions on the lines of "why is it so hot here?"
It all felt very space colony like and sort of reminded me of the Venezuelan rain forest, though not that much as the Orinoco delta is much wetter and flatter and the zone had flora from many places from Africa to Indonesia.
I did think to make it more authentic they could serve live termites in the cafe but alas had to make do with a cappuccino. I should have put that in the suggestion box!
But apart from the termite free cafe there was little to fault: a spectacular site very well done.
Thanks for visiting my blog.
While I try to use images that I create sometimes that is not possible and so I use publicly available ones from the internet.
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