Thursday, October 18, 2018

Barentsburg: Lenin on Svalbard

Svalbard has rich seams of coal and the treaty allows these resources to be mined by any of the signatories. While many of these mines have closed, the one at Barentsburg run by Russia remains and we paid a visit.

It was a bit of a shock after 10 days in the wilderness:

There is a complete Russian town around the mine built in the Soviet area with statue of Lenin and that unique USSR style of architecture (top photo).

There are also a few older buildings remaining, though a bit run down:

The town has bars, restaurants and a hotel, and it was the last of these that attracted us - or rather its sauna so we could scrub ourselves clean.

For we were about to return to civilisation....

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The ice of Svalbard

Couldn't resist a few more photo posts

Spot what this bird is carrying:

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fridtjovhana: The best day in Svalbard

I've been asked a few times "which was the best thing about Svalbard?"

In a way its a hard question to answer as I didn't go up there for just one reason and hence there wasn't just the one best thing.

So the answer I give is to describe the best day. It was the day we anchored in Fridtjovhana (above) and for once we were alone - there were no cruise ships or other yachts to be seen. Also I was feeling a bit better, so could participate in more activities (though alas not the swimming).

We went ashore, went for a hike (I was in the short walk group), saw some interesting flowers:

Then it was back to the beach where we collected driftwood for a fire. Here we had lunch, roasting hot dogs on a stick followed by marshmallows. A bottle of rum appeared and we toasted the day and group.

Some swam while I flew the drone (without crashing) and found a fossil.

Then back to Valiente and a chance to stand on an iceberg, which some then dived off into the icy water (again, not me). We lifted the hook & went up to inspect the face of the glacier:

By now we'd gelled as a group and comfortable relaxing and chatting.

Even the sun came out and the sky was blue:

It was a good day.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sailing the midnight sun

It really was extraordinary to be on-deck at midnight in conditions like this.

Many felt it was time for a glass of something, beer or rum depending upon taste.

But even when its as bright as this, come the early hours I felt tired and the call of the warm bunk, so went below.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Latitude 80N

Look at those numbers on the chart-plotter! Furthest north indeed.

And what does one do at 80 degrees North? Well go swimming (*), of course !

(*) ok, confession time, I didn't actually go swimming as wasn't feeling well. But would have!

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Wildlife of Svalbard

The last post described two of the depressingly sights of Svalbard, namely the signs of global warming and widespread plastic on the beach, so to balance that here are some positive aspects.

As well as polar bears we saw walruses (above), seals (below), reindeer (as posted earlier), puffins, other birds (sorry bit vague on that) and interesting plants (again, alas, not my speciality).

Didn't see any whales... maybe they were too busy making their way to London?

There was this arctic fox, but rather a long way away:

The birds got a lot closer:

On land we spotted a couple of interesting plants like these ones:

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Nature's scary warnings in Svalbard

There were two very scary things about the Svalbard trip.

Firstly, the chart above. As you can see, its indicating that the ship is on land - but how can that be? We never touched bottom once.

Alas, the charts in this part of the world rapidly become out of date because of the effects of global warming. The glaciers are retreating so fast that chart updates can't keep up: each year they are further back, smaller. What we saw as two glaciers used to be one but has retreated further up a valley.

The second were the beaches: every single one we landed on we found plastic - for example, like this plastic fishing nets washed up on the beach (oh, and also a polar bear):

It was really sad & tragic how we have polluted our oceans so that even in the wilds of Svalbard at 80 degrees north there are plastics everywhere.

If you haven't seen it already, you really MUST watch the BBC's brilliant but scary documentary Drowning in Plastic. It even has a segment on Svalbard where I spotted places I'd been to and they didn't just find large chunks of plastic they found micro-plastics in the sand and gravel too.

We really have to cut out single-use plastics from our lifestyles.

Monday, October 01, 2018

The last days of the old Woolwich Ferries

A previous blog mentioned how keen I was to travel on the Woolwich ferry again - well there was a reason. The old reliables of Ernest Bevin, John Burns and James Newman, which have taking vehicles and pedestrians across since 1963, are about to be replaced.

Their last trips will be this week and then the ferry will close for 3 months from 6th October in order to change the piers for the two new vessels.

The old vessels seem to capture the 1960s, with seaside holiday wooden benches and smoking rooms and in a way its sad to see them go.

But the new ones will use a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system so will be quieter and less polluting. And at least they will be replaced - there had been some suggestions to close the route down.

So recently I made my way down to docklands for one last trip across on a 1960s era Woolwich ferry....

Update: check out this "Ode to the Woolwich Ferry" from Londonist from 2 years ago

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Visiting the International Maritime Organisation at 70

Many times, while heading up and down the Thames, I've passed the building above, headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), but never had a chance to visit - until last weekend.

The IMO is the United Nations specialised agency responsible for shipping which was founded 70 years ago. It covers everything from safety at sea, to communications and AIS to environmental standards, as described in this useful overview video:

Last weekend was London Open House, that annual event when buildings all over the city open their doors to members of the public, and this year was the first that the IMO building was added to the list.

I arrived early on Sunday, which was, as previously mentioned, very, very wet. We had to bring IDs, sign in and had our photos taken for a security check. After that we had a tour which took about an hour of the main parts of the building.

In particular we got to see the main meeting rooms, where representatives of 174 Member States and three Associate Members meet to discuss and agree documents including conventions. As a UN body, these documents can have treaty status, as described here.

I've spent quite a bit time in meetings of another of the UN specialised agencies so was very interested in how their working methods compared. I'm not sure how often the guides had been asked how to raise procedural points of order in meetings! Anyhow, I soon found the UK's card:

As well as the main meeting room there were a couple of smaller ones for technical committees and we got to see behind the scenes views from the translator's booths:

All over the walls there was art work gifted by some of the member states: I was particularly struck by this stick chart from Oceania:

We also got a quick look at their cafeteria with a large roof garden (which you can actually see in the photo at top) which on a fine day would have a fantastic view:

A fascinating visit to an organisation that has an impact on all sailors of crafts whether small or large (or indeed huge).

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Putney Foreshore Festival 2/2: Blue Light Demo

After the presentation of the SUP (stand-up paddleboard) Cup there was another lull but there was rather a lot of emergency service boats (like the one above) lurking with intent and as promised we soon got a "Blue light demonstration".

Also lurking around had been this rower who all of a sudden had a heart attack!!

Fortunately he'd learnt rule #1 to safety on the river which is have an RNLI lifeboat within 100 m at all times and soon they and a rather crowded fire services inflatable were on hand:

Quickly he was assisted ashore and had this miraculous recovery:


Then this motor boat that also been hanging around in a suspicious way (above, background) had an engine failure directly in front of Putney Embankment!!

Fortunately they too knew rule #1 so got a tow from the RNLI before you could say "staged". They also seemed to know a rule #2 which is to have an RNLI crew member on-board from the start to help with the lines:

Well planned, guys!

Alas, what should happen next but a fire broke out!!

What are the odds on that: it never rains but it pours (like it did in the morning).

Luckily they also followed rule #3 so the fire boat was immediately to hand for just such an emergency. 

Unfortunately they seem to have their water gun thing (ok pump + nozzle) set to stun and with the wind in their face only made themselves rather wet:

Finally they got upwind of the "fire" and managed to create an artistic arc over the motor yacht: unsurprisingly all the crew seemed to have gone into hiding:

Finally the "fire" was out and the canon switched off, leaving a brief rainbow:


Then the RNLI, motor cruiser and fire boat went safely on their way:

Emergencies sorted! Good job Thames Blue Light services!!

I see these guys going up and down the river all times of day and night and they do a fantastic job. 

While I've never needed them its really good to see them in action and know they would be to hand if things went wrong.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Putney Foreshore Festival 1/2: SUP Cup Presentation

I'd been at the Putney Foreshore Festival before, as posted here and here. It's part of the Totally Thames, that "annual celebration of the River Thames". In particular it seems to be sponsored by the Thames Tideway Tunnel, the team digging the famous Super Sewer.

Alas the weather was cruel, and in the morning it absolutely tipped down. All those fine words about come down and try out stand-up paddle boards were washed away and a tweet announced it would open in the afternoon.

When I went down it looked a bit forlorn, with empty marquees, as in Active360s in the photo above. But there was a decent crowd with that something's-about-to-happen air about them. So I ambled between the stalls of Thames 21 (the litter pick-up people, must do that again), RNLI, ZSL and of course the Thames Tidway Tunnel, the biggest marquee with a model of a boring machine in it.

Then something did happen, as these two started giving out these awards:

It turned out that though the weather had been grim some brave souls had raced 15.5 km on their paddleboards up to Putney. The winners were given those brown trophies (above) made from mud dug out of the Thames Tideway Tunnel construction.

The one on the left is Andrew Hodge, a TTT programme manager and triple Olympic Gold Medallist in rowing (according to Wikipedia, TBH didn't recognise him at the time) and the one on the right is the Thames Tideway Tunnel's top engineer Phil Stride

So they handed out the cylindrical things (which seemed a bit fragile. Andrew was definitely worried when I picked one up to have a look) and the Thames Tideway PR team recorded every moment:

I think there were four or five bods with cameras out there. A Sony A7Sii, a phone on gimbal, a Canon with what looked like a 70-200mm lens and someone out on a rib (more on that later).

Then the top engineer Phil Stride went off to catch-up with our local MP, Justine Greening who I totally failed to take a photo of (doh!).

It was a shame about the weather as everyone had clearly been working for some time on this (look at this long list of events). There were other events - a mass paddle board trip upriver (which I missed) and a rowing race along with the stand up paddle board race (which I also missed). The try to paddle or kayak were cancelled due to the weather and water conditions.

But strangely the weather actually proved their point better than any number of fancy marquees. For when the heavens opens it dumps so much water that the sewage system just can't cope, so rainwater and sewage overflow into the Thames. It is just such a pollution event the Tideway Tunnel is designed to stop: the largest private run and financed infrastructure in Europe.

There was one boat that seemed a little shy, lurking below Putney Railway Bridge, just visible from Putney Embankment:

This is the Bubbler (as blogged here) and it pumps oxygen into the river to compensate for that lost by the flood of sewage which otherwise would kill of the wildlife.

They say that prevention is be better than cure, and this is why the Thames Tideway Tunnel is a Good Thing.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Timisoara at night

More than a little behind on the blogging but will hold off from saying what did over the weekend (when it bucketed down and then the sun popped out) to post a few pics of Timisoara so you can get a feel for the place and judge whether it really is a "Little Vienna":