Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The star clock

The World Cruising Club stand at the Boat Show had a short talk by Stokey Woodall on navigating by the stars, and having fond memories of the night's sky mid Atlantic boosted by reading Tristan's book on Natural Navigation, I went along for a prep.

Most of it was based upon spotting Polaris but there was one nice trick about how to use it and the Plough to work out your time.

Basically look at the night's sky and think of a back to front clock as in the graphic above, and then work out the "sky hour" of the leading edge of the Plough.

Then the time can be estimated using:
       Time = 41.5 - (2 * SkyHour + 2 * Month)

So if the sky hour is 7 at its April then the real time is:
      Time = 41.5 - (14 + 8) = 19.5 = 7.30 pm


More detail in "The Natural Navigator" footnotes for the chapter on The Firmament.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Mingming & the art of minimal ocean sailing

I had just started reading "Sailing: philosophy for everyone" but stopped to read Roger Taylor's Mingming. However they seem connected, for there is much on the philosophy of sailing in Roger's book while the following line in the former seemed appropriate to describe sailing in Mingming:

For sailors, Stoicism has much to offer as a means to create and sustain the sense of joy we seek in sailing.

Sailing in Mingming is to spurn easy comforts for the minimum necessary to voyage from point A to point B.

It is a point of principle to Roger that it is possible to achieve almost any sailing goal in a suitably prepared small yacht, in his case a 21 foot Mark II Corribee, GRP hull with a junk rig, similar to the craft used by Ellen MacArthur in her circumnavigation of Britain.

The books is a quick, easy and enjoyable read, particularly as many of the places he mentions I'd sailed to last year. With a longer time frame he was able to venture even further north, up all the way to Jan Mayen island. In other voyages he sailed up the North Sea to Iceland and back to Plymouth, and then from Portsmouth to and from the Azores as part of the Jester Azores Challenge.

He writes well, sentences enticing you further, such as this gem of an opener:

I had long harboured a burning to sail north.

Me too!

Mingming's simplicity suited Roger, and most of the time at sea was spent below, only venturing on deck the minimum required to (say) set or raise the foresail. It was like his bubble, a protecting cell from where he'd watch the endless waves and an enviable number of whales.

I must admit to a preference for double handed sailing such as Tristan and I did, together with the bonus of an engine. Yes, as Roger says, there are benefits in simplicity as there is less to go wrong and faults are easier to fix.

But our approach was that we'd take the extra gear on the understanding it could fail and we'd still be able to navigate safely. Yes, we did have the ability to download GRIBs via a satellite phone to an iPad, but when it failed we had a series of backups all the way to paper and sextant.

The opportunity to be able to know the weather a few days in advance, in particular know if a bad blow was coming in, was something that Roger lacked, and he suffered in consequence. Similarly sailing single handed on a craft without active radar or IAS he was several times surprised by close encounters with other vessels.

However you can not but be impressed at the amazing expedition style sailing he achieved to some of the most remote and wild parts of the world in such an affordable and resilient yacht.

I suspect there will be many quotes to come as part of a joint summary of its ideas and the sailing philosophy book in the weeks ahead.

A strongly recommended book.

I'll leave you with this short video that brings up many memories of when I too sailed south to Iceland out of the Arctic Circle:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roger D. Taylor's Mingming

The best bit of the boat show for the last couple of years has been meeting authors and hearing first hand about their experiences out on the water and 2013 was no exception.

In the far corner of the ExCel vastness, while still half asleep, waiting for the cappuccino to deliver its load to my bloodstream, something odd about a boat stirred a neuron or two. It was small - about 21 foot long - and had a rather odd rig. While a lot of the hull, the winches and keel were familiar the sail was junk - junk rigged that is.

As a few more neurons began to kick in I noticed a plaque:
This little yacht had gone further north - much higher, up to 80N - than we had in our expedition north: now I was definitely interested.

Waking up a little I noticed a pile of books and a man ready to sign a copy, the owner and skipper of Mingming, Roger Taylor (top).

I said hello and we had a rather unsatisfactory conversation that was really two halfs, as I explained we had gone through the Faroes and he explained he'd gone on up to Jan Mayen island, twice.

Impressed I bought a copy of one of his books "Mingming & the art of minimal ocean sailing" and its an absolute cracking read. I've already gone pass half way so there'll be a full review shortly.

It's just a shame I could have done it in reverse, reading the book first and then asking meaningful questions after. Ah well, there's always email.

Before I sign off to read another chapter or two, have a look at this fuller picture of little Mingming, which has been sailed single handed down to the Azores, up to Iceland, Jan Mayen and further, even to Spitsbergen:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Nice seat

When I say my second favourite boat at the show was a bench you can tell that I wasn't that gripped.

But made by Tristan Cockerill from wave smoothed driftwood it oozed stories of warm sandy days by the beach, cool mojito to hand.

Of course the price would make you sober up very quickly: indeed its £ 3k price (reduce at the boat show to only £2.5k) was presumably something that shouldn't be asked.

Probably the only question suitable would be whether Tarquin (or whatever your name was) would like it shipped to your Bahamas villa or the ten bed 'cottage' in the Hamptons.

Decisions, decisions.....

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Boat Show

The first boat show I went to at ExCel had a simple layout: sail boats were the halls on your left as you entered and motor boats the halls on your right. Now all types of craft fit into the right hand halls without feeling squeezed, and the left is for outdoors, bikes and adventure travel.

The internet has shrunk the need for the boat show, while the audience seems to be aging: the left hand halls also had a noticeably younger feel, with stands for students and gap year ideas.

Some segments of the market continue to flourish, such as the top end where you can buy a blingified hovercraft (above) which no super-yacht (below) should be without.
Some things never change, with the Guiness bar stuck in the centre where no sailor can miss it:

 There was a pool to race model yachts:
Outside there was real racing with the likes of Olympic medallist Ian Percy, but the snow flurries drove most quickly back indoors:
Which was a shame as I really ought to go and see the restored SS Robin:
Two things caught my eye, one an author and the other built from recovered wood, but I'll post those separately.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

London Boat Show Special

I think there were some boats there, somewhere.

ExCel London is really a big building but the space for actual boats, particularly those with flappy things to catch the wind, seems to get less each year. And the number of the shows needed to fill its quadzilion square metres - boats, bikes, outdoor and 'active travel' - seems to increase in proportion.

I seem to be able to zig-zag my round quicker each year too, despite crowds walking at the speed of geriatric zombies, and end up with fewer photos.

More to come, but right now I feel like a good cuppa.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pepys on sailing boating

Via Sailing Philosophy for Everyone, a quote from Samuel Pepys:

I know nothing that can give a better notion of infinity and eternity than the being upon the sea in a little vessel without anything in sight but yourself within the whole hemisphere.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Plum and sailing

One of my favourite writers is the word craftsman extraordinaire, P. G Wodehouse, or Plum as he was generally known.

If you exclude ocean liners then he was not a sailor himself, though there are a number of sailing connections.

For one he corresponded with sailor and fellow writer Arthur Ransome who named one of his boats (above) after Plum's character Lottie Blossom, movie star and owner of a pet alligator.

Then there are examples of sailors in his novels, such as the classic "Hot Water". In it the amiable but easily distracted hero Packy is led astray by an advert for auxiliary yawl Flying Cloud which he sails across the channel to come to the aid of the damsel in distress. Given the absence in the text of any description of crew it could well be that Packy can add single handed sailor to his sporting credentials (and yup, spoiler alert, he gets the girl at the end).

So it may be appropriate that in this evening's new BBC TV series Blanding Castle that the estimable Lord Emsworth is played by Timothy Spall who has pottered around Britain on his barge ("All at sea").

Emsworth is of course also the name of the village off Chichester harbour where co-incidentally (or maybe not) Arthur Ransome once sailed his yacht Lottie Blossom.

I say Jeeves, you are amazing, what?

Photo of Lottie Blossom from: here

Monday, January 07, 2013

Sports injuries

I'm still recovering from my ice skating smash but its inevitable if you do any sport seriously you risk getting injured.

Sam Malone knew so much about sport injuries he evan sang about them.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Ansel Adams at the National Maritime Museum

Just before the great ice rink smash up I'd been to the Ansel Adams exhibition at the National Maritime Museum.

I wasn't sure what the maritime connection was, as my knowledge of Adams was mostly linked to his great landscapes, such as the one above, but there were indeed many seascapes, including one of San Francisco Bay before the bridge was built.

It was all very impressive and there was also a looped video of an interview with him describing his method. One thing struck me: his comment that he almost only ever took one shot of each scene. There was none of this try X then Y, maybe tweak the shutter speed a bit - no, he worked out what the settings should be and then took the picture, and it was right.

Bracketing is for amateurs was his opinion: on the same trip I took over 200 pictures of which about 12 are keepers.

I'm such an amateur.

Image from: Wikipedia

Friday, January 04, 2013

Looking back at 2012

I haven't seen many blogger's reviews their posts of the previous year - so far. I hope that will change as I enjoy a good reminisce, and it was certainly a good year to look back on.

My 2012 contained both the London Olympics and also the sail to the Artic Circle, and its hard to choose which of the two was the greater highlight.

They were in many ways completely different: for one thing, one experience was shared with just one other person, namely Tristan, while the other was a celebration that brought together a whole nation.

During the Olympics and Paralympics there was so much going on in London from the torch, to road races, to the rings on Tower Bridge, to the many sport venues, to the Olympic Stadium itself, to the National Houses, the art installations to the final parade and fly by (above).

While it's hard to pick one from what were an interlocked series of events, to be in the Olympic Stadium for the Paralympics Closing Ceremony really was an incredible experience. There were steampunk vehicles, dancers, acrobats, fire, fireworks, a million watt sound system, seat pixels,  light system, Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z, together with the knowledge this was the last hurrah of a wonderful summer.

London also had the most eventful University Boat Race ever plus the Queen's Diamond Jubilee which alas I missed.

The year was also filled with its fair share of art, books and music, plus travel with trips to Helsinki and three times to Geveva.

I also, with spooky coincidence, blogged about the high stress loads and dangers of the AC72s a day or two before Oracle's big prang in San Francisco Bay. In the gap between the Olympics and Paralympics I also watched the Extreme 40's in Cardiff Bay.

It wasn't all great with too much work and recently a rather nasty smash while ice skating. Maybe we were fortunate during our sail north:
It hasn't put me off: I'd like to return, one day.

But it is likely to be a long, long time until the Olympics come again to London, and those two eulogising posts on the Spirit of 2012 and I was there don't seem excessive but rather a statement of what it felt like to be in the heart of this great city during 2012.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year!

Ok, this might not have been exactly the view of the London New Year fireworks as I saw them, but even from far off they were spectacular.

A great way to end a great year - here's hoping that 2013 will keep alive the spirit of London 2012.

Image from the BBC iPlayer stream here.