Sunday, May 27, 2007

Profit ratios and the Tudor Pull

It's a bank holiday weekend here in London, which means two things. Firstly - and by definition - its a 3 day weekend, as Monday is a public holiday. Secondly - and too predictably - the British weather has responded with cloudy skies and relentless rain.

So its a day inside with the books of B821, Financial Strategy, learning about profit ratios.

However half way through Unit 2 something caught my eye out the window, several old rowing boats, like the one in the photos above, heading downstream, with rowers dressed in some sort of costume.

Outside about a dozen similar boats were braving the elements and heading towards Westminster. A quick Google revealed it to be "The Tudor Pull" - organised by the Thames Traditional Rowing Association which, as the LPA's site puts it:

The Tudor Pull is a ceremonial event for Thames Watermen's Cutters which is organised by the Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA) in May each year.

The cutters escort the Thames Royal Shallop 'Jubilant' rowed by members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen from Hampton Court Palace to the Tower of London to deliver a 'Stela' to the Governor of the Tower for safekeeping. The 'Stela' is a piece of medieval water pipe made from a hollowed tree trunk which stands on a base of timber from the old Richmond Lock and bears the coat of arms of the Waterman's Company.

The cutters are rigged with full ceremonial canopies and flags and are rowed with four oars by fully-liveried crews. In keeping with the traditions of the Watermen's Cutters, a passenger must be carried.

I watched the fleet going by and returned to my numbers. Despite the rain I think they were having a much better afternoon than me!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

10 Ways to Sell the America's Cup

On the day that Oracle BMW got knocked out of the America's Cup I watched the BBC news sport roundup. And what did I see? rugby, football, tennis, golf, and motorbikes, but no boats.

As Yachting World has also noticed, the America's Cup just isn't getting any coverage or indeed significant following. It's a shame as its one of sailing's top trophies, so what can the organisers do about it? Well apart from including a ball somewhere in the activity (don't laugh, thats clearly the common denominator in most of TV sports) how about this:

1. Make sure it's shown live. It makes a huge difference to watch recorded sailing, when you know the result, to seeing it live - and compare the figures for a football World Cup game to the replays. Make sure who ever gets the rights puts them out live (i.e. not like Sky here in the UK)

2. That means schedule the races at times convenient for broadcasters. Yes it's a bore but thats the reality of modern life

3. It also means have regular races. In the UK Formula 1 is regularly on one network on weekend afternoons, and that can build habits (and anyhow the first time half the audience will just be going "What the?")

4. Make the course shorter. The best bit is seeing the boats going round the mark raising and dropping sails and generally fighting for position. The long beat to windward in particular slooowwwsss things down. And Formula 1 has shown TV audiences are very happy watching vehicles going round and round and round and round and.....

5. Have more multi-boat races - much more exciting to see a fleet battle it out than just two.

6. Bring in cheerleaders. Just an idea.

I'd say also get more teams involved - so more countries have a local team to support - but I'm sure the organisers have been trying hard to get that already.

Of course there are also things the teams can do too:

7. Bring in the WAGS. Thats the wives and girlfriends, and it kept the UK tabloids busy all summer with their stories of shopping, clothes, drink, and general bad behaviour. At least one of the sailing WAGS should have a single out, another do a kiss and tell, and another be the subject of a reality tv show.

8. Behave badly. For heavens sake what has happened to the reputation of the sailor? In the Volvo there were all these really nice chaps spending time with their wives and being really good dads to their kids. What happened to girl in every port? Look at the England cricket team: complete failures again but Andrew Flintoff did the right thing in going out late drinking, been seen with series of girls in nightclubs, and then falling off a pedalo! Now thats the way to get a bit of attention for your sport.

9. Scandals. How about having one of the teams throw a couple of races due to a payoff from some far-Eastern betting syndicate?

10. Sinking. Why are all the boats still afloat? Surely what the America's Cup needs is a sinking or two or at least break a mast!

Monday, May 21, 2007

America out of the America's cup

Shock result yesterday when Oracle BMW was knocked out of the America's Cup by Luna Rossa (above) - or to be technical the Louis Vuitton cup.

I was surprised how pleased I was about this: maybe its yet another price the US must pay for GWB's madness.

But also its good to know that inshore yacht racing's top prize can't be bought by a billionaires' cheque book.

And as to why? Was it because confidence became over-confidence? Or were egos clashing and undermining the teamwork that is crucial for the crew to work as one?

But there's no doubt that Luna Rossa deserves its place in the final, sailing fast and well.

Cutty Sark Tragedy

This is the Cutty Sark on a happier day, welcoming Ellen back from her epic round the world record breaking journey.

But today its a smoldering wreck after a fire gutted the central area. Whether accident or deliberate either way its a tragedy.

At least a large part of the structure was not on site due to restoration work so is safe. Fingers crossed we'll yet again have a chance to visit and maybe even see this great tea clipper sail.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The American's Cup

Its been an exciting week at the American's Cup where hot favourites Oracle have found themselves on the point of being knocked out by those swarve Italians on Prada (above).

I haven't been following the Cup that closely to three reasons.

Firstly the TV coverage is restricted to pay channels such as Sky Sports and I'm not going to pay 34 pounds a month to a channel owned by Bush and Sharon supporter Rupert Murdoch just to watch one sailing race.

Secondly as an inshore round the cans race there is no opportunity to try and second guess the navigators and their tactics using the likes of the Stormsurf global wind forecasts. So it's a bit of a passive spectator look what happened role.

And finally there is of course no British entry!

Despite all that very tempted to fly down to Valencia to watch a race or two......

Sunday Mornings

It was such a lovely morning that just couldn't not go for a run along the Thames path. The sun was bright and strong but the path was cool under the shading trees, leaves freshly green.

And not surprisingly the path was packed with joggers and bikers, prams and dogs. And the river equally busy with rowing boats and support power boats (one of which got stuck in the shallows - if you ever wonder why they have on board a metal pole, the answer is they use it to push themselves off in such situations).

Now I'm back the clouds have rolled in and the temperature dropped and its time for some research. Really it should be on balance sheets as part of this course I'm doing.

But first the important question of what is the difference between Marmite and Marmite Guinness? - to which the answer is not much. The latter doesn't taste of Guinness, but is slightly less salty and creamier. Its not even in short supply as its still on sale in Putney Waitrose.

Can you guess which of the two above is spread with the original and which the Guinness variety?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another ARC story

Thanks to Tillerman we've been sharing the stories we usually tell over a drink in the bar in the evening after the days sailing. So it wouldn't be surprising if we've been selecting them for entertainment as much as embarrassment factor.

So it might be there's a slight degree of censorship. I'm surprised there aren't more stories about mooring which gives so many opportunities for cock-ups, and with an audience standing by watching.

I remember one particular time when we were heading in to refuel, lined up, headed in, and it was when we were about 3 metres out that the three of us - each who claimed to able to skipper a yacht - noticed that no one had set even a single line. We bounced rather badly and yes I was driving.

Anyhow, time for another story from the ARC. One of our crew was mad keen on fishing and had bought a rod and line in Las Palmas. We'd only been across the start for about twenty minutes and he was itching to get a line out. And after a bit of badgering the skipper agreed.

Not a good idea, as there about 200 other boats all around us, and one decided to charge its batteries by towing a generator line, and yup, we got our fishing line tangled round it. We did the decent thing and cut our line but it must have made a bit of a mess.

Anyhow within a few days we'd lost sight of all other boats and forgot all about the incident. We made our way across the Atlantic, shredded one spinnaker and one pair of hands, and three weeks later crossed the finish line early one Sunday morning.

After beers, a shower, and a good nights sleep we went our separate ways. I shared the taxi to the airport with crew from other boats heading off to the same flight and enjoyed hearing their stories.

One in particular caught my attention. "We had just left Las Palmas and was towing our generator" said someone, "and you wouldn't believe it, it got caught up in the fishing line from some idiot's boat!"

"No way!"

(my small voice from the back) "Er, that was us. Sorry"

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Midnight Shredder

Tillerman has challenged us to report our worst mistake or most embarrassing moment while sailing.

Cracking idea.....

Now was it when I crash gybed a yacht in front of a rapidly on-coming Greek ferry? (nope, just learning then, doesn't count)

Or was it on the round the island race when our navigator got so sea sick he got stuck in the cabin unable to undo the lock to get out and then missed two buoys? (nope, wasn't me, so again doesn't count).

Or broaching a brand new yacht in the Solent with an inexperienced crew including some single women who for some reason didn't want to talk to me afterwards? (nope, probably some other reason for that).

So must be the case of the midnight shredder. I was onboard Boss's Ocean Wanderer with 5 others crossing the Atlantic on the Arc - gosh, back in 2003 - and we were only about 3 days out of St Lucia.

We were feeling pretty good - even confident - which can be very dangerous. We'd had a bad accident with the spinnaker halyard shredding one crew members hands to bits the previous week but since then moral had improved and we'd just done the spinnaker gybe so one watch could go below.

It was so nice on deck the off-watch remained to chat. The air was warm and the full moon rising high in the tropical night. I was at the wheel as we headed deep downwind, and we were exchanging jokes.

My attention slipped (it must have been a good joke), just for a second. And the spinnaker wrapped itself round the forestay, and kept wrapping round and round and round.

At first we were pretty relaxed - we'd had several wrap and a bit of heading into wind, pulling on the sheets and they had generally come free. This one just kept on getting worse.

The skipper and mate went forward to have a look and were baffled: the top half was wrapped one way the bottom half the other. They tried all sorts of tricks from unwinding manually (no good, which ever way they went the other half just got worse) to letting the kite fly (no good, it acted, er, like a kite, and was caught by the wind, at one point streaming horizontal. It looked rather beautiful lit up by the moon).

Then it started to shred. Boss are well known for accounting for each paper-clip, so loss of a whole spinnaker wasn't going to look good. This had to be stopped and fast - someone had to fix it. And that meant going up the mast and coming down along the forestay, unwrapping it as you went. So I volunteered.

Thing was, I was feeling really guilty. Yes, spinnakers do wrap, but I had let my concentration slip, and had been on the wheel at the time. So I got prepared and the bo'sun's chair was attached to one of the spare halyards.

Just as we were about to start the hoist the mate managed to unwrap the wayward sail. Maybe all the flying horizontal had ironed out some of the coils, but now the end was clearly in sight and soon the sail was done on the deck where the damage could be inspected. So I didn't have to go up the mast.

It was really really disappointing. I don't mind heights that much and going up the mast would have felt like balancing the mistake. And then there would have been the bragging rights "yeh, I've been up the mast, middle of the night too, it was nothing really".

But mostly can you imagine what it would have been like with the moonlight glittering off the waves and the mast swaying gently under the rolling waves that follow the trade wind from Africa?

It taught me to focus when on that point of sail - on all the information available, from the feel of the motion under foot to the sound of wind and sail. Since then (touching wood) haven't had another problem. Indeed during the Fastnet I helmed the most during our watches when the spinnaker was up - in particular at night.

Because the important thing about mistakes is they are the best of all learning experiences and if you don't get them you'll never really be able to sail.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Thames litter and paths

A series of hiccups have stopped posting for the last week. First there was the bug (or to use colloquial English, the lurgy) then work and travel then finally my broadband went out again - the second time in a month.

Even more annoying than BT's inability to provide what should be pretty basic technology for the 21st century is their use of call centres in countries where English is a second language and the over-reliance on robot like scripts. Grrr!

Anyhow the local engineer has now replaced both the line to the exchange and the equipment at the exchange so its all spanking brand new, and, at least for the time being, working.

So two river updates:

1. Rubbish: apparently there is a charity that helps clean up the litter along the Thames - see the Thames21 web site here.

2. Pathway: there is this great web site that describes the Thames paths and how they go 184 miles from the Cotswold above Oxford to Greenwich and the sea. As well as an interactive map they have a great set of downloadable walking ("hiking") maps from which the figure above was taken.

Can't wait to get a bike and head upstream to see how far I get!