Friday, December 28, 2007

After Christmas

This is Santa's dirty little secret, this is the post-Christmas boat. Barges loaded with empty containers waiting their turn to dock at London's Western Riverside Waste Authority off Smugglers Way (honest, that is its address).

Empty containers ready to be filled with used wrapping paper, Christmas card envelopes, gift labels, tinsel, present boxes, wrapping ribbon, used rolls of sellotape, inkless pens, broken daleks, empty boxes, pages containing completed or not completed lists, plastic bags from Sainsburies, Tescos, Waistrose, Selfridges and a thousand other shops, uneated roast potatos, sprouts, carrots, the carcass of the turkey, plastic bags used to hold the veg, string bags to hold the clementines, empty bottles of cranberry and red current jelly, used batteries, batteries that have some life in them but what the hell, the plastic bowl the Christmas pudding came in, empty milk bottles, juice bottles, wine bottles, champagne bottles, beer bottles and tins, cream bottles, brandy butter, used napkins, dead candles, corks, unwanted presents, sofas to be replaced in the sales, stale ends of bread, the remains of salad that made everyone feel a bit queasy, that quiche (don't ask!), receipts (so tough if you wanted to return or change that present you already have/didn't want/doesn't fit), newspapers, the old razer now replaced with a new one, shirts absolutely ruined, broken plates, bowls, glasses, shattered Christmas tree decorations, burnt gravy, toast that no wanted, empty marmalade jar, several thousand clementine and banana skins, those little plastic envelopes washing machine and dish washer tablets come in, empty deodorant sprays, shower gel bottles, last year's phone, a printer no one knows how it works and a cable that no one knows what its used for, that old router that isn't fast enough any more, cat and dog food tins, empty bags of crisps (chips), stale biscuits and buns, couple of Christmas cards got the message wrong so had to start all over again, piles of the usual junk mail, empty tubes of pringles, silver and red foil that was around a chocolate Santa, empty (alas) boxes of chocolates, turkish delight, nuts, figs, tin foil splattered in Turkey fat, ..........

Give the Earth a year long Christmas present - and recycle!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Crisis in Pakistan

I try and avoid politics on this blog (as it leads to flames which are best left in fire places) but can't ignore the news from Pakistan.

Having visited Karachi in the autumn I've followed with interest what happens in this turbulent land, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a tragedy not just for her family but the country.

There was mixed views from those I talked to about her - some attended the welcome back rally (where those bombs killed so many) while others remembered how she left under a cloud of corruption.

But all will have been appalled by this outrageous act of violence. Where will Pakistan go in 2008? What will happen to the elections?

They are entering turbulent times and can only hope they all weather it to calmer water in 2008.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

White Christmas in the London Fog

Fog not snow turned London white today. A thick dense whiteness sat all day on all the houses, offices, shops, roads, rivers, bridges, towers and palaces of this old and great town.

It was rather wonderfully atmospheric. Biking back from delivering presents to my two godsons over in Chiswick, people would be shadows that appear out of the murk, Hammersmith Bridge materialised glowing lights followed much later by the hidden iron work.

The Thames path was deserted. It felt like being a kid again, biking home through country lanes, with the only sounds the geese of the wetland centre and distant church bells.

Happy Christmas everyone!

ps as I'm sure to have lost the bet with Turinas I propose to give the necessary donation to Shelter, as it must be horrid to be homeless over Christmas when its so cold - unless he has another suggestion!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Piracy hits Liverpool

One of the great maritime cities in Britain, Liverpool, has suffered the first act of attempted piracy in nearly 200 years.

No this is not some April fool, but yes it is a bit of a stretch to really call it piracy. As you can read here in an article in the sensational soar away Sun one of the less than competent scousers was caught and the other made off with nothing.

So less blood or victory and much more of a hot-water bottle type of pirate!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Circumnavigating: power vs sail

The time is getting close for the start of the Earthrace's attempt to beat the world record for racing around the world under power. According to this story they need to break the current time of 74 days 23 hours and 53 minutes set by Cable and Wireless Adventurer in 1998.

I've previously posted that the eco-benefits of biofuels are to say the least dubious, but at least it seemed they would be the fastest round. Now that is in doubt - as it could well be that sail remains faster than power.

For Ellen's time of around 71 days is quicker than C&W Adventurers's, and her record is currently being smashed by Francis Joyon on IDEC.

Look at his latest position from their web site:

Joyon is thousands of miles ahead of Ellen - nearly a week ahead. And his trip is truly the eco-friendly voyage, using not just wind for power but also solar panels for power.

This is sensational sailing - and he is alone, not able to go off watch like the crew of Earthrace.

Multi-hulls maybe out of the Olympics but there are showing their worth down in the southern oceans.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Xmas Lists

I like to read the FT on Saturday morning, and today in the Mrs Moneypenny column I read how some of her readers sent her some dressing gowns.

Now that is an interesting idea - readers of a column sending its writer some presents!

Of courses there's an interesting ethical issue here about undue influence and editorial neutrality.

So I'm glad (or sorry) to reassure you that this blog hasn't received any gifts from any of its readers.

However if you are just about to head out into the cold to get JP something my eye has been caught time and time again by the lines of the Class 40 yachts. The picture above is of the yacht Friends of the Earth which was owned by my friend Jonathan but he is alas selling it so no chance for a spin. There's a lovely piece in this months Yachting World about sailing them and they look an absolute blast.

Really, really wouldn't say no!

Ok - a bit ambitious and I'd happily settle for this calender from Sail 4 Cancer:
Some lovely photos and for a good cause :)

Ouzo Again

Back again to the story of the loss of the Ouzo and its crew (above).

I read this article on the BBC web site that one of the defence arguments for the master of the Pride of Bilbao was that there was a "close encounter with a yacht, but .. it was not Ouzo and that the boat sailed away safely".

So we're meant to believe there was another close encounter on the same night with a similar boat that was not reported despite the deaths and hubbub of the story in the news?

Well its possible - like its possible the Harry Potter film I'm watching now is a documentary.

Its just I don't believe it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ouzo Verdict

The verdict came out today on role of the crew of the Pride of Bilbao in the loss of the Ouzo - and it was not guilty. This was despite the fact that the yacht was clearly within at most a couple of feet of the ferry with its walls of steel and swamping wash.

Of course it is necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt to find someone guilty, and those high standards are there to ensure that the innocent do not suffer, and so it is right that if there was such doubt that the verdict can only be, as it was, not guilty.

However what I don't understand is the figure above (taken from the BBC web site) which shows the defence's claim that the sinking could be due to the tanker Crescent Beaune and happened at 01:40 after the encounter with the ferry at 0107 but further back towards port.

Maybe the figure is wrong, but the only way the Ouzo could have been at that position would have been if it had been returning to port, which would only be plausible if it had been damaged in its encounter with the Pride of Bilbao.

So is he defence's argument that though they damaged the Ouzo in a close encounter and didn't stop to assist, that is ok as the yacht would have been still afloat? Which to me would be admitting to poor seamanship even if not manslaughter.

Does anyone know any more details of the arguments other than this from the BBC site?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Solo Transat for Charity

I was hoping to catch up with an old sailing friend called Tristan at or around the Earl's Court Boat Show, but alas not a pip from him.

Turns out he has probably the best excuse ever - he's just set off to sail across the Atlantic single handed to raise awareness for prostrate cancer. This is the latest of a series of expeditions, most recently his singled handed flight across the Atlantic.

So if (as we all hope) he makes it across the Atlantic he will be one of the few people to have both sailed and flown across. Rather worryingly one of those known to have done this was Steve Fossett, missing since 3rd September. And also rather worryingly there have been number of emergencies on the ARC.

My thoughts will certainly be with him and remembering when we first met - which was actually doing the ARC back in 2003. On those many hours on watch we'd chat about everything from philosophy to Frasier. I even remember as we sailed the very waters that he now sails alone how he talked about coming back, maybe skippering a boat.

So well done Tristan for going for it and fingers firmly crossed for a safe crossing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Earls Court Boat Show Update

All week I've been getting a steady stream of emails from various yachting companies and sailing schools I've signed up to over the years. Those exhibiting at Earls Court above (*) are joining the push for punters using two-for-one or even free tickets.

They've also got links to various clips of highlights of the boat show over at Sail TV - you can watch by clicking here.

If you want to go and see this for yourself my advice would be to contact any company that's exhibiting and see if there are any of those free tickets left.

(*) As you might notice this photo of Earls Court is not actually during the boat show but that of a small but perfectly formed singer from down under. Unfortunately the ECBS web site's photos are only available in a format that's even smaller than she is!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Boat Show Shocker

This is what the Earls Court Boat Show looked like this afternoon. Empty.

The organisers were promising exhibitors 200,000 visitors, but attendance on the first day was just 900.

Nine hundred people, all day. What will it be like tomorrow, Monday, when most people are back at work? I hope those manning the stands have books to read and the Wifi works.

Its a shame as it could be a good boat show. There's the indoor marinas, there's lots of boats and exhibitors, bars, bands, massages, Santa abseiling down from the ceiling, and all the usual suspects exhibitors.

Plus there's a couple of specials. There's the Gypsy Moth (which won't be at Excel):

There was the Top Gear amphibious car made out of a converted Triumph:

Then there was the James Caird, that Shackleton sailed across the wilds of the Southern Ocean after Endurance was crushed by the pack ice:

But the famous atmosphere of Earls Court was dead. The champagne bar (below) was deserted, as were half the other bars and stands. If you want to see a boat or talk to an exhibitor then there is no queues anywhere. I was the only non UKSA staff on the Gypsy Moth

After the show closed the organisers got the exhibitors together with an open bar upstairs on the second floor. Having manned the Blue Spirit Yachting - recommended for all your yachting needs - stand for all of 10 minutes (and almost sold a day skipper course in that time) I went along.

The organisers were upbeat, talking about quality rather than quantity, and how this was the best attended of any new exhibition. But there was no doubt that the issue of "foot-falls" was at the top of everyones mind. Many of those exhibiting are small companies and such poor returns will hurt them hard.

But there are many that want this to succeed. Even if Excel has the copyrights and trademarks of "The London Boat Show" many yearn for the days when the cosy halls of Earls Court sheltered the boaties of Britain during the winter.

If you're in London, go. There's lots to see and no danger of crowds or queues. I think the exhibitors will be very glad to see you!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blog Traffic

According to this post by Elaine Bunting on Yachting World the America's Cup web site never got more than 6,000 visitors per month from the UK during the Louis Vuitton rounds. That is amazingly small for such an expensive event and maybe explains why the sponsor pulled out. Maybe the AC would have done better if they'd followed my suggestions.

However its fair to say I'm not going to get rich either writing this blog. According to Turinas on Messing about in sailboats its ranked at 1.2 millionth on Technorati with an Authority figure of 6 (whatever that means). Top is the 1,000 days at sea blog followed by our favourite sailing grandfather, Tillerman.

Three months traffic stands out:
  • October: top scoring were the series of posts about crossing the Atlantic on the Arc, which got boosted by a mention on Elaine Bunting's blog
  • August: there was a burst of traffic after writing up a week sailing dinghies in Turkey, mostly due to links from sites like One Design and admitting to my worst ever race
  • March: there was a steady drip of traffic due to Google searches of various celebrities that found their way to the entirely fictional Celebrity Yacht race
In a way it's reassuring that all were sailing related - and that a good sailing post gets noticed.

So just need to do a bit more sailing :)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Battle of the Boat Shows

Roll-up roll-up, come to see the battle of the boat shows!

For some reason London has two winter boat shows. Already the power boats covered in protective white are beginning to stack up outside the back entrance to Earls Court.

But which - if either - to go to? Many have been disappointed with Excel as a location. Its miles away and soullessly huge, like an industry convention with endless corridors of stands to "do".

And while the docks are of course great for mooring a wide range of big boats it doesn't have the magic of "gosh, there's a real marina in the middle of Earl's Court"

I wonder what the exhibitors are to do? For the small companies it doesn't become economical to hire space at both, and if the visitors split between the two then total numbers at each will be down making either potentially a bad investment, which means maybe less variety.

No doubt Sunseeker and Princess will be at both, but thats not why I go.

Which raises the question why go?

What do you think?

Cold Water

After an earlier post I had a bet with Turinas about whether I could experience three more forms of boats before Christmas. Looks like he's going to win this one!

I had banked on at least one or two in Karachi and a few weekends spare to go canoing or rowing on the Thames. Unfortunately I've been busy (which is of course a very poor excuse) and then this weekend it was to be honest just too cold.

You can see above the sturdy scullers above lining up to row up-river. What you can't see is the biting cold wind which makes me go brrr! and think again.

And do what does my second thought involve? Something like this:

Yup, somewhere warm (hammock optional).

Tempting picture from

Sunday, November 18, 2007

New look

Celebrated my new laptop - a HP Pavilion TX 1340 (which has a screen that rotates round in a very cool way) by re-doing the blog format.

And here is the same spider as the past post. But whereas the previous picture it appeared to be threatening St Pauls, here it looks like it is guarding the Tate.

Things can look differently from another viewpoint!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tate goes Crackers

I had an hour between meetings at UK's uber regulator Ofcom so popped into the Tate Modern. Outside lurked a monster spider (above) ready to devour London like some cast iron War of the Worlds.

At least it was solid, unlike the latest installation in the great Turbine Hall, which was to be honest, a bit crackers. Branching its way from one end of the hall to the other there was something like this:

The shoe (mine - to go with the "I'm going to a meeting" suit) is shown for scale.

Its really deep and apparently they had to break open the old concrete floor to some depth before laying new concrete with a built in crack.

Couple of thoughts spring to mind:
- thats a lot of work - real construction work - just to make a point about divisions
- its surprising health and safety haven't closed it down
- not only did they have to dig deep to create it but they will have to dig deep to undo it too
- there are lots of other cracks in the Tate (ok, not so crevice like) but still noticeable - wouldn't they have done?
- after walked along it from one end to the other there's not much else to say or do

So went to see an exhibition that was a bit disappointing apart from the t-shirt:

But the view across the Thames to St Pauls under translucent autumn sunshine was as beautiful as ever. With or without a giant cast iron spider.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Laptop

It's another first blog post, this time first with the new laptop. Still learning which button does what so - bother not that one - where was I - yes, so might be slow posting for a bit.

Also might have lost some data in the old hard disk which is now in the freezer (literally - its meant to be one way to recover data)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Laptop dead....

.... so there will be no posting or email for a bit while buy another one and try to recover the old hard disk

Sunday, November 04, 2007

NASA in Geneva

The trip to Geneva ended in a high with the Nasa reception at the Intercontinental Hotel. We were addressed by the astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria (above) who told us about life on the International Space Station, and talked us through a short film.

It must be a very weird life. There's the years of training, not knowing what mission if any will come. Then there's the very real risks of death associated with launch and re-entry. While up there you are constrained in this tiny tin can where nothing stays still but the views are great.

I could probably cope with that. But the worst bit comes after the mission - years upon years of receptions like this one for the good of Nasa PR. By the end of the evening after meeting and greeting with a long line with sweaty palms, smiling for dozens of snaps, and signing piles of photos his eyes were distinctly glazed.

Makes Neil Armstrong's decision to live a hermit life very understandable!

But exploring space is something that thrills us all - like many when young I wanted to be an astronaut. Its also a force for aspiration and unity in a time of gloom and disunity. To look up at the stars not down into the gutter.

So I hope they get their way and we head back to the Moon. And thanks to those who make it possible - the American tax payer.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bad week on Lake Geneva .....or how it could be worse

It was a bad week for those boating on Lake Geneva.

First up there's this, the Simplon. Its one of the oldest passenger vessels on Lake Geneva, and it plowed into the side of a dock during a ceremony to unveil the company’s newest high-speed boat (oops). According the the Geneve Tribue it was at the same place that Sissi, the Austrian empress, was assassinated in 1898.

It could have been worse - at least the boat was still afloat afterwards, unlike this one I saw on the rocks by the Parc Mon Repos:

It made an interesting spectacle for those walking in the afternoon sunshine.

But it could have be worse - at least it was in one piece, unlike this yacht just 100 metres further along the lake:

The thin hull of the yacht had snapped, leaving three pieces (the bow is just off-shot). Within a few days all was left was rubble (in particular the metal mast).

Must be sad for the skippers of both yachts - but at least it was a short leap to the rocks along the promenade and safety.

It could have been worse - this week we've been remembering the yacht Ouzo, which was almost certainly run down by the Pride of Bilboa, with the tragic loss of the three sailors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Culture, Art and the Nude

Over on the Yachting World web site Elaine Bunting got into trouble (of sorts) from some quarters for stories like this one that involved pictures of scantily clad women.

It highlighted the cultural differences of attitudes to the human form. In the international meeting I'm at I've recently become all too aware of the explosive impact of different attitudes to the simplest of things (long story not to be repeated here).

I was also struck by the attitudes in art to the common theme of the nude (see this for description of life on the front line). Take the sculpture below of a naked woman reaching for something hidden below a layer of decking, which is on display in a park in Geneva.

It is not anywhere in the park, but actually in the children's play area, which is part of a school. Around are swings, slides and a sandpit, marked as to whether they are appropriate for ages 1, 3, 6, and 8 year olds.

I was wondering how a statue and location would be received in the UK: I think it would probably be ok as we are much more European now.

How about other countries? In the US I suspect it would likely cause a scandal "placed where children can see it" etc on the lines of Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.

So what is acceptable in art museums would be unacceptable in public. It seems odd to me that a culture allows TV programs showing torture in a positive light (e.g. Lost) rejects the natural human form.

I guess that makes me European in outlook!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bienvenue a Geneve!

Some pictures from Geneva: above is the view from the top of the Cathedral's north tower of the lake and famous water jet. The Cathedral itself can be seen below.

In the old town saw a street with all these red balloons - no idea why but it added some welcome colour:

There was plenty of colour in the many parks with the lovely autumn leaves:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Secret Door

I have a memory card full of photos from a weekend in an autumnal Geneva, with blue skies and crisp leaves underfoot (including several that show the lovely colours of the trees for Kat).

But as haven't had a chance to load them on the laptop will just give you this picture, again from the hotel. In a sign of to be welcomed eccentricity and character, the manager has camouflaged this door to look like a bookshelf - but where does it go?

Answer: its the lift / elevator - rather an important door for most guests!

ps the naked pipe-cleaner man on a juicer is apparently for sale for SF 1,000 if anyone wants it

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Geneva Hotels

What is this object and what has this to do with Geneva Hotels?

Over time have experienced a range of hotels here: at the bottom end there was the hostel like Hotel du Lac (with shared bathrooms) and the depressingly sparce Hotel Crystal. The popular ones like Hotel Epson (with delightfully named Bar Sulky) are usually fully booked so this trip have had to try a new one, the Hotel des Nations.

Like all Geneva hotels the bed is rock hard and the heating turned up to sauna. However it has made an effort and liberally filled the corridors and rooms with "art". The above is in my room and is called "20,000 lieues sous l'amere" - hmmm more like a naked man made of pipe cleaners sitting on a juicer to me. Looks like another story to add to this excellent post on life in art school.

The hotel seems to have bought an entire collection - more when I get the pictures off the camera.

In the meantime the art chosen for the room is meant to have a theme - can you spot it the figure above and these two?

Me neither, but apparently its meant to reflect the manager's time in Dubai, UAE.

The only connection I see with the UAE (from my recent trip) is the overenthusiastic heating system.

!Light Bulb Moment!

I should create my own installation, in which each room of the art gallery would have its own climate, one dry and hot ("Desert") one freezing cold ("Polar") and another humid and hot ("Rainforest").

Call it "Our fragile world" and submit for the Turner Prize!

Sputnik and the Conference

This is a copy of the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, and has just been given by the Russian Federation to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its launch. Its currently sitting in the Geneva CICG conference centre which is hosting WRC '07 aka the World Radiocommunications Conference 2007 - or more simply known as "The Conference"

So what is a WRC and why do we call it "The Conference" with all those capitals? One answer is another question - how is it that if you travel abroad your phone will work?

The ability to roam around the world with a single phone is one of the tangible results of previous WRCs where thousands of delegates have argued for weeks in the bomb shelter like CICG to agree common frequencies for the radio systems to work.

Radio waves do not stop at country borders but leak into others. Therefore countries must get together to manage what we call the radio spectrum - the range of frequencies that we use for radio, tv, phones, satellite, radar, and so on.

The ITU is the part of the international framework of organisations that is responsible for this and related tasks. It is actually the oldest such organisation, with its key document, the Radio Regulations, now over a hundred years old. Its history can be read here.

The job of "The Conference" is to update the Radio Regulations, which has the status of a treaty document. So unlike normal conferences involving listening or giving papers, this is involves serious negotiation between countries, and only occurs every couple of years (four at the moment).

It is frustrating and fascinating in equal proportions. There is a delicate balance of technical and political arguments, and the RR themselves are the messy results of countless compromises in uncounted numbers of international committees

So if your 4G videophone in the future works from Melbourne to Vancouver to London it will be to some degree due to those delegates who are even now debating in the halls where Sputnik is on display.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Geneva

Currently traveling again - this time to Geneva home of Alinghi. While being home to the twice winner of the America's Cup all I've found is a shop that sells shirts, caps, and nice but very expensive models.

So little chance of an sailing-blog post, though could do a travel-blog post if there was interest - any views?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Heavy weather

I know one of the top tips I gave for the ARC was "hoist the biggest spinnaker you've got and do it from day one".

Well forgot to say don't do it in conditions like this - its a great video of Figaro 2 sailing in 40 - 50 knots.

Also a bit windy off Malta as in these photos.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sunset on London Bridge

Lovely sunset tonight and so on my way to meet a friend for drink stopped on London Bridge to admire the views.

Down river towards Tower Bridge noticed a large ship moored next to the Belfast and thanks to Google found out what it is. As you can find out here it is the Trinity House's Galatea, here for yesterday's naming by the Queen.

London can be beautiful - especially at sunrise and sunset.