Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More from Melbourne

Yesterday morning got up with the sun to see half a dozen hot air balloons drifting over Melbourne. I spotted them again today when went for a short morning run, though this time they were drifting in the distance.

Melbourne in the morning is great though a bit chilly. The sky is a subtle pink and the river full of rowers and along the banks of the Yarra the runners mix with the megaphone carrying bikers shouting encouragements to the crews out on the water.

Yesterday afternoon took one of the famous Melbourne trams down to St. Kilda and walked to the end of its pier (below) where sometimes there can be penguins.

In St Kilda there was this statue to Captain Cook who seems to have refreshed himself with a cool tin of something. Standing still like that decade after decade must be thirsty work!

Now alas must put in the tie and go to the conference. Despite appearances this is not jolly - honest!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hello from Melbourne

Hello from down under! I'm travelling again on business - this time to a conference in Melbourne, followed by giving a training course in Canberra. And more importantly hopefully meeting up with Kat who has talked about marmite sandwiches, dancing girls and sailing :)

In the meantime trying to get over jet lag by seeing the sights of the city, starting with the view from top of the Eureka tower (below) - 88 levels above the ground, with sensational views over Melbourne, from Port Phillip Bay (above) to the mountains in the distance.

The tower has this totally freak-out-worthy feature - a glass box extending from the tower. I imagined this would be like the CN tower in Toronto which you can get serious case of vertigo by looking down between your shoes at the ground far below. No, this is much much worse.

The key feature is that the room isn't fixed, but starts within the tower and then moves, creaking with spooky additional sound effects that are so unnecessary given the general freak out nature of the experience. You can see the in-side and out-side states below:

For some strange reason I was the only person to try this! But got one of those be-a-man moments where wanted to show could over come fears.

After succeeding in this modest goal did a bit more exploring of the city. There are lots of references to Flinders - like the main station and this statue:

Matthew Flinders, RN, sailed with Captain Bligh and did much of the exploring of the coastline that Cook missed.

After a gentle boat trip down the river the afternoon was spent in the National Gallery of Victoria - where you enter by this water curtain which partially obscures the sculptures beyond:

Then the eyes started to get heavy and it was time for another 10+ hours sleep.

More to come....

Friday, April 25, 2008

To find luck on the sea

I've been wondering about the attractions of Pirates. Recently on TV there was a repeat of the program about Henry Morgan, who caused mayhem across the islands of the Caribbean and towns of Central America. The people of Panama would have been amazed at the generous tone in which his exploits of murder and rape were reported.

Maybe we've forgotten what Piracy is actually about - and it no doubts helped that Henry Morgan was on "our" side. But the reality we see off Somalia is poor desperate men robbing to survive.

But by ignoring this reality we can project an idealised view of the freedom of the high seas, and those, to go back to the ancient Greek and Roman meaning of the word pirata, who go "to find luck on the seas".

Anyhow, there'll be a short break from posting for a few days due to another form of long voyage.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sailing in Melbourne?

Today was a lovely spring day, but its still rather too early in the season for pleasant sailing here.

Its not just me - my brother-in-law's brother was meant to go cross channel this weekend but spend most of the time in Yarmouth waiting for the gales to subside.

But I'm off to Ozzie land next week in particular Melbourne, so are there any down under sailors with top tips on late season sailing around Port Phillip bay?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pirates use the "Barbecued Goat" defense

Barbecued Billigoats!

The pirates who were captured by French commandos after storming the luxury yacht Le Ponant are using an unusual defense.

In the trial under way in Paris they say they should be given credit for their awfully nice behaviour. They even - it seems - brought goats so that they could lay on a barbecue for their captives.

Slightly more here.

Nancy Blackett would be so pleased.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Swimming Pool Kayaking

So its cold, wet, and blowing bitter winds from the East and the yachting has been cancelled.... what to do with the weekend?

Solution - go boating indoors. Just after 8am this morning found me squeezing my long legs into a bright yellow kayak in a swimming pool in South West London and practicing the paddle twist and undoing that skirty thing underwater upside down.

What a lot of fun! Will have to go back again before heading off up or down the Thames.

Back for well earned coffee, the weekend papers, and to try out the infamous Tim Tam Slam.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not Sailing (Again!)

Ok a confession.

I was going to go sailing this weekend but the forecast was cold easterlies with lots of rain, and it meant missing my nephew's birthday tea.

So when heard there were too many cancellations from the crew for it to be worth taking out the boat was, I'm afraid to say, a bit relieved.

After the Red Funnel non-sail over Easter this hasn't been a good start to the year for what is meant to be a sailing blog.

Maybe I'll have to follow Turinas and have a board meeting.

Or call in those crazy celebrities......

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Review 3: The Surgeon's Log

This weekend I've kept my upper lip stiff and my shirts starched while had a spot of tiffin with the natives as sailed from Liverpool to Yokohama courtesy of "The Surgeon's Log".

It was an unexpected delight. I picked it up without great expectations in a local charity shop, but it turned out to be a bit of a minor classic. Its a travelogue, written in 1911 about the experiences of one Dr James Johnston Abraham on board the S.S. Clytemnestra between January and June 1907, and which went on to have over 30 re-prints.

Only there wasn't an S.S. Clytemnestra. After a bit of Googling discovered on the forums of this web site that the boat name had been changed to protect the reputation of its crew. Its real name had been the S.S. Polyphemus of the Blue Funnel Line, as pictured above from the book "Ships of the Blue Funnel Line" by M.M.Le Fleming.

Now this got me pretty excited as the Blue Funnel Line was set up by one of my great-to-the-something uncles, and it was wonderful to get a feel for what life must have been like on one of his fleet. Often there was mention of seeing another of the company's ship in a far off port, and the comradeship between the crews.

There was another family connection, as the doc had to hand William Dampier's writing, which he often quoted. The opinions of that "quaintly pious buccaneer", as he was described, were given on topics from water-spouts, to places like Achin, to the taste of the durian fruit.

Some aspects were less encouraging. The views and character studies of the peoples of other nations would be pretty unacceptable nowadays. Basically there is John Bull (solid, adventurous, brave, active etc), John Chinaman (respected as ok in a hard working way) and then the rest, Johnny Foreigner (misguided, devious etc). Having said that a Google for "cheese eating surrender monkeys" returns over 60,000 links, so maybe we haven't progress that far.

But there are signs his views changed as the voyage went along. In Penang on the way out he admired the white formal dress of the Brit abroad; but by the return journey in Java he was suggesting that the native dress was far superior for the climate. By then he was also more receptive, and able to spot the subtleties of local architecture and drama.

My copy of the book was illustrated with 16 photographs, though the first edition had more. One that was missing, but found on the Ships Nostalgia forum, was particularly touching. One of the ship's officers had a romance with a Japanese girl called Ponta, and there a photo (below) of her and her friend walking down the street, with umbrellas to protect against the heat of the day.

I wonder what happened to the author and what romances he had. He dedicates the book to "My Australian Wife" and my copy was published in Melbourne, where co-coincidentally I should be in a few weeks.

There is a wonderful sense of what life must have been like to have been a privileged European touring the world and getting a glimpse of life of so many other cultures. In those days wind jammers - tall ships as we would call them - still sailed the sea. Opium was not banned, just subject to a Government monopoly.

Life was indeed very different then, over a hundred years ago, in the days when you didn't have lunch - you had tiffin.

Development Insanity

A couple of weekends ago I went up the Wandle River from where it meets the Thames to Colliers Wood. On the way the Wandle passes the site which used to be the Young Brewery, and noted it was up for re-development, wondering what could be proposed for the site.

Well now I know, for have just received the public consultation newsletter for what they want to do - namely put two towers, one 32 stories the other 42!!

Are they insane?

That would make them by far the tallest buildings outside central London. Wandsworth and Putney are by nature suburban areas with typically family housing in 3ish floor terraces with the odd 10ish apartment block (guilty as charged).

Maybe I'm just getting more conservative in my tastes with age but can't help but think these towers would be totally out of place. And I don't mean trim three stories and assume we won't notice 29 and 39 stories looming over us.

I'm all in favour of tall buildings in central London, clusters of towers are rather magnificent. But placing is important - not just plumping them down in the middle of a struggling conservation area.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Plastic Rubbish story on BBC

There's this short news clip on the BBC about rubbish found on Britain's beaches.

Its worth watching - not for the message, which have posted on a couple of times - but for the slight air of chaos. The camera points at random directions as it trips over the rubbish, while the interview subject mixes up "getting worse" with "not getting better" to get the inaccurate "not getting worse" before bursting into giggles.

Golden opportunity for the Golden Hinde

Passing by the replica Golden Hinde (above) on London's South Bank on my way to a meeting at nearby Ofcom I saw this intriguing sign on its dock:

If thats true there must be a cracking opportunity to make some money.

Get Drake's old boat back out to sea where it belongs, cross the Atlantic to pick up a boat load of iPod Touchs, MacBook Airs and iPhones from NY with a) a fab exchange rate and b) no import duties and clean up!

Forget pirate parties and weddings, that would be a way to make serious money - Excel and Visio ready and waiting to put together a business plan!

France goes Pirate Hunting

Shiver my timbers, that was neatly done!

French commandos managed to get the release of the crew (pictured above) of the luxury yacht Le Ponant captured off Somalia - though for a reported $2m in ransom (doh! they should know better than that and asked for it in €)

Having got them off safely they turned on the attack and captured six of the pirates and some of the hostage money. Shame not all of the money and eight escaped, but a good start.

More here.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

RYA Diesel Engine Course

Today did the RYA Diesel Engine Course. Ok its not actually sailing but for yachting its a pretty vital skill to know. Too often something goes wrong with the old donkey and usually when you least want it. Such as when just coming into the marina or in fog in a narrow channel.

And very interesting it was too. What I liked was how we were given a guided tour of all the key components (fuel, cooling, etc) and had a engine in the classroom we could take apart and practice replacing the impeller. Particularly good were the test scenarios used to examine whether we paid attention. So you are motoring along and the engine starts overheating: what could be possible causes and where should you start looking?

What was less realistic was the engine wasn't as is usually the case on charter boats hidden away in an inaccessible space with bolts welded tight, no instructions, minimal lighting, and subject to the rocking motion of a boat at sea. I guess that's hard to arrange in a sailing club-house!

Strongly recommend the course to anyone thinking of doing a spot of yachting.

Also you might be interested in this article in the FT about the love-hate relationship between sailors and their engines. As the article ends up saying: "We should sail our sailing boats whenever we can. Otherwise, we might just as well buy motorboats and admit we were closet Hullabaloos all along."

Hullabaloos are of course the noisy stinkpots that made life so hard for the sailors of Arthur Ransome's Coot Club.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Luxury Yacht Victim of Piracy

Luxury French yacht Ponant with 30 crew has become the victim of another Somali piracy attack - breaking story here.

Book Review 2: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Another book review, and another children's classic.

This time its one of the greats of American literature: the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Unlike The Adventures of Tom Sawyer I'd never read it as a kid so came to it fresh.

Its a very different animal - less fanciful and much more real. Indeed Tom himself at the end of the story can only be described as a pain, as his fancies - which Tom himself doesn't fully understand - obstruct the urgent mission to free the escaping slave Jim. You can see why Hemingway said you should stop well before the end.

At the heart of the book are two things. Firstly the relationship between Huck and Jim, and secondly the great river of the Mississippi.

Both are warm and natural, unspoilt by the modern age, and both tell the tale of America in the mid 19th century. Its a time of riven by the curse of slavery, and you can understand how from this background race has cast such a dark shadow over American history. One of the great passages of the book is when Huck battles with his conscience about whether or not to help free Jim, actually fearing he will be sent to hell if he helps a good man escape.

While the people are enthralled by the destructive inhumanity of the slave trade, the landscape is as yet unscared. The banks of the Mississippi that Captain Sam Clemens knew so well are thick with woods and the sky is full of stars and the most magical moments are those that simply tell of Jim and Huck's journey downriver on the raft.

For it is on the river that the boy and his surrogate father are free.

Prisoner of Pirates for 47 days

Captain Darch was doing his duty delivering this tug from St. Petersburg to Singapore when he came under attack by pirates off Somalia.

When approached by a single speed boat he held them at bay using the power of his engines to threaten to sink the pirates. But when a second speed boat approached and opened fire with rifles he had no choice but to let them on-board. In total there were 20 pirates (circled in the picture above) against just the captain and his five crew.

Eventually they were let free - but only after the ship's owner had paid up a ransom rumoured to be $700,000.

More here and here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Captain Calamity Mark II

Hot on the heels of the Captain Calamity of the north (who argued that the Shetlands aren't Scottish) there's now the Captain Calamity of the south too.

Glenn Crawley has gained that nickname from exploits on his Dart 16 appropriately called Mischief after capsizing so frequently that the harbour master has banned him from sailing out of Newquay until he's done some basic training.

The problem is that he is unable to right the boat and must be picked up by the lifeboats. Once would be bad enough but this has happened some 13 times at a cost of £2,500 per call out. Now the RNLI is a charity mostly funded by private donations, and can't really afford what some have estimated as £30,000.

So what do you think: should he sent the bill? Or left to bob around and think over what he has done?

Double Parked on Putney Embankment

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Book Review 1: Moonfleet

Couple of reviews of sailing and boating books I've read recently.

First up its that classic tale of smugglers and wreckers from the 19th Century, J. Meade Falkner's Moonfleet.

I read it last many years ago when a child, and had forgotten most of the plot until pretty much the page before when suddenly it was case of "oh, of course, I remember now, the treasure is of course hidden there" (as to where "there" is you'll just have to read it to find out).

Its a thrilling boys own yarn full of adventures in boats, escaping those darn excise men, a priceless diamond, haunted church-yards, treachery, betrayal, loyalty between men and the faithfulness of a true woman.

I say boys own, as there is a distinct lack of modern female role models: I do wonder if my nieces would enjoy it as much as my nephews. Having said that one of my niece's female cousins recently said she loved it.

The plot is a bit episodic which doesn't follow the classic Robert McKee three acts and over-arching story arc but rather bounces in different directions like a small boat in a storm.

Overall I really enjoyed it and want to head down to Dorset to explore the real village of East Fleet on which Moonfleet was based.

Another good reason to buy a Sunfish....

More of the sort of advertising that money can't buy for Sunfish's and holidays in the Caribbean.

I hear you can also sail on a Sunfish!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tillerman Switches to Sunfish Shock!

There was shock in the sailing community when Tillerman announced he was giving up Laser sailing. Indeed some said it was just an April Fool!

However we are lucky to have exclusive evidence that this is no rumour, indeed that Tillerman has not just got himself a Starfish he has also lent it to an A-list celeb.

Our roving reporter Buff Staysail got these pictures of Sir Paul McCartney wooing his new lady love by skimming her across the azure blue of the Caribbean seas.

But what is this we see on the boat's prow? Is it the mark of Blogger's top dinghy sailor? Yes it is, which begs the question how does he know Macca?

Already the news is raising waves of interest around the world. I've just received an email from a mystery correspondent calling herself simply Mrs T who asks "Forget Sir Paul, whats the connection between Tillerman and that floosie?"

Can the answers be more sensational than todays news?

Tune in tomorrow!