Sunday, August 31, 2008

Square Metre Rule Range

I've previously posted pictures of examples of the 22 square metre and 30 square metre boats, but at the Jubilee regatta there were also some examples of the much larger 95 square metre boats racing - and don't they look good!

Click here for a background on the rule and permitted range of sail sizes (and other constraints).

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kayaking to the North Pole

How many explorers want to fail?

Well here's one: Lewis Pugh is planning to try to kayak 1,200 km or 745 miles from Spitzbergen to the North Pole.

And if he does it it would be bad news, another sign of the impact of Climate Change on the shrinking polar ice cap.

But its another chance for this long distance swimmer to raise the issue on the political agenda.

More here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Two Square Metre Rule Jubilee Photos

I love this picture. It was taken by M. on our boat as we raced for the downwind mark - he has a good eye for sailing photos and had his digital SLR with him.

The time when going around the marks were pretty hectic so usually didn't get a chance to look at what was going on. But at moments like this half way up or down the course had chances like the other foredeckers here to crouch in the hatch or lie along the deck and watch the other boats.

And so here we were, five 30 square metre rule boats in a line, all with white hulls and wood decks, spinnakers flying, crews willing the boat to go faster, to get to the mark first.

And from memory we just got on the inside and was first to round!

The photo below is from the upwind leg - look at the mast bend on G-71!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shipping Forecast in the Olympics

Those listening closely to the London segment of the closing ceremony of the Olympics would have heard briefly one of the most evocative series of words of British maritime tradition.

For the composer of the music used, as described here, included phrases from the shipping forecast such as "North Utsire, South Utsire and Lundy Fastnet Irish Sea..."

Its one of the greatest poems that isn't a poem, the daily ritual that saves lives at sea but is mostly listened to by non-sailors. There's something about it that is strangely soothing and yet refreshing, connecting even those deep inland to the wild seas around our coastline and is best listened to while snug under a duvet, hearing the rain and wind beat against windows outside.

But how much of those imagaries and associations is picked up by non-Brits? Does our shipping forecast mean anything to you?

Answers please!

Running past the Duke's Head....

.... nope, couldn't do it.

I should have been taken one of those water bottles that sensible people have. And it was ok on the way out, heading up river.

But on the way back it was just too tempting, so stopped for a cool drink of cider and watched the local wild life - and the heron. It's a public holiday here today, so why not stop rushing and relax for a bit?

I somehow felt you guys would understand!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Queen wins Olympics!

While Team GB did well in the "sitting down sports" at the Olympics (sailing, kayaking, biking, rowing etc) it didn't even put a team for the national game of football.

The reason is that despite the name "United Kingdom" there are separate football teams for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The background and issues are debated here at this article again from the BBC.

It all seems a bit parochial to me - I can't see the point of putting a Welsh football team into the World Cup unless you like loosing. In some quarters its related to a negative attitude towards Britain as a whole - such as the Scottish National Party's target of independence.

That attitude makes me uncomfortable as we can and do have multiple identities. I'm a Londoner, Englander and Scottish, British, member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and European amongst others.

And its interesting to see what the medal table would look like with the alternative associations. For example the Queen would win the Olympics if the Commonwealth of Nations were an entrant with 54 golds, 54 silvers and 57 bronzes making 165 in total.

Pretty impressive! But the EU would beat that easily - winning 83 golds 97 silvers 89 bronzes making a grand total of 269.

Now Boris has waved the Olympic flag and the games are coming to London.

Which leaves just one question to answer: why is it that America, a country where winning is everything and coming second nothing, uses total medal count, given that would imply that a third is as good as coming first?

Update on Ouzo

On a weekend where the coastguard strike highlights the issue of safety at sea, there's this interesting article at the FT site looking back at the loss of the yacht Ouzo almost exactly 2 years ago.

It gives a more comprehensive description of the cases put forward by both the prosecution and defence teams in the trial for manslaughter of the Pride of Bilbao's officer of the watch.

Its worth reminding ourselves of the two key claims of the defence:

1) That in a force 5 with favourable tides the average speed of the Ouzo was just 2 knots (this explains the backward position of the yacht that wasn't clear in the BBC report I referenced earlier).

2) There was another yacht similar to the Ouzo out sailing that night which had a close encounter with the Pride of Bilbao but didn't report it

Its hard to believe either claim on its own, but both must be believed simultaneously for the defence's claim to accepted.

I've seen articles saying simply "So what? Its up to small boats to keep out of the way of big ones". Yes of course you should do everything you can to avoid getting too close to them. But sometimes things go wrong - there are engine failures, medical problems, and so on - and the big boats can not just plough on regardless.

At night its hard to find the person overboard and even in August life expectancy in the water is all too short.

Safety of life is the responsibility of all at sea.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Danger in Britains Waters

Message from the coastguards to all those enjoying water sports this weekend - lets be careful out there!

For this long weekend 700 of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency staff are going on strike from tonight for 48 hours, protesting at a starting salary which is currently the extremely low £ 12,500 (fair enough if you ask me).

There will still be the RNLI lifeboats but the coordination centres will be on reduced staff.

More on this story here.

So don't go and smash your boat on the rocks, like this £200,000 boat outside Falmouth!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Britannia Rules....

What a great week its been for Team GB at the Olympics! We were pretty amazed to see Great Britain up at third place last Sunday but we're still there and there's just two days to go. So we're likely to end up above Australia, which seems to upset those down under and amused many Poms up here.

And with the sailing done and dusted there's no doubt that again its the Brits who've been ruling the waves and come, sailed, and conquered.

Its been a great feeling and there's no doubt its a huge boost to the London 2012 campaign and wonderful in silencing some of those nay sayers who mutter about the downsides of hosting the next Olympics.

So hurrah and well done to all of the 44 medal winners and feel to join in all you ex-Brits now across the water somewhere, as long as you're still up for Marmite on toast and a pint of London Pride down the Duke's Head (as I'm sure you are).

But sometimes there's this nagging feeling. If only it meant I actually had done something good, rather than just joining the reflected glory. For Paul Goodison's (above) convincing victory in the Laser class doesn't mean I can sail it any better and I'm sure Tillerman would thrash me as much as he would have two weeks ago.

It sometimes seems a bit tribal - sort of "don't mess with us 'cos we're the winners" attitude, the sort of jingoism that is still too common and still sticks in the throat.

But I guess in this era when geopolitics has returned to the great game days of the 19th Century - that turned out to be not so much fun in the years 1914 to 1918 - it's at least welcome that we can compete in a less bloody way.

And our success does have real positive messages behind it - a country that has learnt from past failures and had the cash and will to fund a vigorous, intelligent, focussed campaign. So maybe it can be seen as a reflection of wider success of UK plc.

So hurrah again for our sailors, kayakers, bikers, and rowers - those that have sat on their bums to win Gold, Silver and Bronze for Britain and made us proud!

Here's one sailing, kayaking, biker who has been thrilled to bits over the last 2 weeks.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sailor's Gold Medals put Team GB third at Olympics

Yesterday's promise was today's gold, with two sailing medals to add to Team GB's total, putting us a rather amazing third. As its probably not going to last I did the following screen grab:

Today was a complete contrast to yesterday - strong winds and big waves must have made a nice change from the calm of Saturday. I did see a couple of articles complaining about the selection of Qingdao for the sailing events as being unable to guarantee wind, but to be realistic is the south coast of the UK going to be any different in 2012?

This summer we've had just that type of range of weather conditions within 24 hours - plus the tidal streams around Weymouth will add another interesting twist to the competition.

There's a couple of nice videos on the BBC's Olympics sailing page here.

The Olympics have been an interesting pointer to the benefits of internet TV: while I'm sure there is some sailing on broadcast TV (especially given the photogenic nature of our Yngling trio) it can require patience.

Video over the internet however lets you choose directly the sport and clips of interest, and on the BBC site all for free. This in general is a very good thing and hopefully a sign of things to come, especially the free bit.

And the gold medals should also raise the profile of the sport in the UK and guarantee continual support heading towards 2012.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Natural Navigation

I've always enjoyed navigation whether on land hiking up hills or on the water, checking marks and setting a course to a distant over the horizon destination.

And its a lot more fun to use numerous cues from the world around than just taping in lat / long into the GPS.

I remember one case climbing the Paps of Jura. These are wild and almost untouched by mankind. There are no paths or trails with signposts, steps, and handrails laid on by National Trust volunteers. You just look at the way ahead and pick a route that looks right.

Its harder but more rewarding. Once the mist came down and we had not only no GPS but no compass either, so I had to navigate back using contours alone, and was very pleased to come out of the clouds and find out we were exactly where I expected to be.

These forms of skills make up the basis for a new school of navigation here in the UK - the Natural Navigator. As its web site says:

The Natural Navigator is a small school that specialises in training natural navigation.

Natural navigation is the art of being able to find your way solely by reference to natural clues. It encompasses using the sun, moon, stars, weather, water, land, plants and animals.

Our courses are designed for those who enjoy the outdoors: walkers, sailors, pilots, expedition members, adventurers, travellers and explorers.

By spending time in our classrooms our students become better connected to the world around them as they learn skills that few others possess

The course is run by Tristan Gooley, who is one of the few people who have sailed single handed across the Atlantic and also flown single handed across that ocean.

Appropriately I first met Tristan as he was one of the crew of the boat that I joined to sail the ARC a couple of years ago. During the day he'd be the one taking sights using the sextant and at night checking the constellations against the astronomy book.

I'm going to sign up for the 1 day course as it sounds fascinating.

Light Winds stop GB Sailors

Team GB's sailors are in a good position at the Olympics this weekend for a couple of medals but light winds we will have to wait another day to see what they are.

Ben Ainslie called it "massively frustrating" in this article of the BBC web site, so things remain as in this video round-up from yesterday.

Good luck to him and the others such as Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson below:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Turmoil and Tranquility

As still recovering from the racing, took today off and went down to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich for an exhibition called Turmoil and Tranquillity.

The exhibition covers art from The Netherlands between 1550 and 1700 and how they represented the sea. I really enjoyed it - not just the theme was sailing related but its not too large yet had a variety of good pieces.

My favourite was the one above one by Willem van de Velde, the Younger called "Two English Ships Wrecked in a Storm on a Rocky Coast". There were quite a few ship-wrecked-in-storms themed paintings, often with allegorical meanings related to the struggles of life and religious messages.

It was interesting how though painted by artists from The Netherlands, the ships were English. Some of the artists indeed travelled to London and worked in the Queen's House where the pictures are now exhibited and had a major influence on maritime art in Britain.

There were many battle scenes that for some reason didn't grab my attention. But some of the smaller works were gems - like this lovely capture of a squally afternoon:

After a walk round the sad sight that is the scaffolding hiding the blackened ruins of the Cutty Sark it was time to go home for a nice cup of tea.

It's smashing on the foredeck

This is the foredeck of the 30 square metre rule boat we sailed last week in Saltsjobaden

It was smashing in three ways:
1) Had a great time
2) Got bashed about a lot
3) Still feel rather tired

I've needed a holiday to recover from that one!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saltsjobaden Big Boat 1: VOR 70 Ericsson

Also in Saltsjobaden while we were there for the Square Metre Rule Jubilee Regatta - or at least for a few days - was the Volvo 70 Ericsson from the previous race. Its been supporting the new two boat campaign to tune up for this autumns start. Apparently the two new boats are blowing it away, which is just as well as it didn't do that well against the old ABN Amro One. This boat is now called Ericsson 2 and is part of the four boat campaign - they are taking this very seriously!

On the principle that if you don't ask you don't get asked the skipper if could have a look around and he was kind enough to say yes. Having just got off the Volvo 60 Pindar / News Corp it was noticeable how much bigger it was - in particular beamier, even though it was less beamy than the ABN boats.

One of the problems we had when sailing Pindar was whoever was trimming bumping elbows with whoever was grinding, and it is clear that having a larger working area on these later boats can only help, especially when everything gets busy and the seas are large.

However below deck it remains as spartan as ever:

More from Ericsson Racing Team here.

Saltsjobaden Big Boat 2: Royal Blue

This is the second offshore racer we saw in Saltsjobaden while there for the Square Metre Rule Jubilee regatta. Its the 80 foot maxi racer Royal Blue, formerly known as Nicorette, under which name it won races such as the Fastnet and Sydney to Hobart.

Behind you can see the Saltsjobaden Observatory.

If you want to charter this boat click here.

Saltsjobaden Big Boat 3: Spirit of Titan

This is the first of the three big racers that were moored in Saltsjobaden while we were there for the Square Metre Rule Regatta. Its the ORMA 60 trimaran Spirit of Titan.

Very cool piece of kit. We did wonder if anyone would notice if we just took her out for a spin and then spent the next ten minutes wondering which rope to start pulling first, and how to get her off the quay against the wind.

While it looked black carbon fibre state of the art we couldn't help but noticing the seats for whoever is helming were more basic, looking like standard office plastic:

Wonder if they need seat-belts?

Boat web site here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Two pairs of paddlers

It wasn't only sailing - the Swedes are into all forms of outdoor activities. It was a shame only had a short time there as could easily have spend the rest of the week in idyllic Saltsjobaden.

I was going to caption this as "The Swan of Tuonela" but found out on Wikipedia that this was of course a Finnish legend. The Sibelius piece of that name was originally an overture for an opera called "The building of the boat" so maybe there is a sailing connection somewhere.

Also wanted to see some Stindbergs having seen them at the Tate, but again no time.

Must go back another time - a seriously nice place to visit and I dare say live.

Dinky boat, friendly tender

More from Saltsjobaden: is that a very small yacht or covered up dinghy?

Will post the big boats that were moored nearby later this week.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Saltsjobaden Sound Track

This was the song that got lodged in my head as we raced this week in the Square Metre Rule Jubilee Regatta:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Square Metre Rule Jubilee Day: Afterwards

Afterwards we sat and listening to the rain as we had our dinner - for me it was steak and chips and a cool beer - and felt we had had a jolly good time. After the rain stopped the sun broke through with a glaring red lit clouds as if there the Grand Hotel was on fire.

All we had to do now was get the boat back in one piece and nurse our bruises. The knee pads were a big success and I'm very pleased with them, but they couldn't stop this bash to the upper arm!

Square Metre Rule Jubilee Day 3: The Luck of the Cornish

Saltsjobaden, Sunday 10th August:

Yesterday the weather was just right for a lovely sail - white clouds drifted across blue skies with a gentle breeze. In other words it was terrible for racing, particularly for those of us in a heavy boat.

It was almost disastrous. The first race we started badly and got progressively worse as the wind dropped till we could watch the bubbles slowly glide pass at half the speed of a baby's crawl.

Our first break of luck was when after an hour and a half of racing no one was close to finishing so the race was abandoned. We all drifted for a bit and had a spot of lunch and a cup of tea (we are English) while the wind did another major shift and the marks were re-positioned for a shorter course.

The second race was going only slightly better when half the fleet fell into a wind hole and a shift gave us another single tack to the wind-ward mark leg. In other words, we got a bit of the "luck of the Cornish" as one of the crew put it.

There was a bit of argy bargy around what should have been the downwind mark - which was now more to windward as we could raise our kite on the way back from it to the line - but the nearby boat was one which had previously ignored our cries of starboard causing us to tack twice, so we were in no mood to give an inch more of water than the rules said we should.

After the race the wind dropped again and boats could be seen drifting towards the marina, some attaching their outboard motors, to give the committee a hint as to the consensus in the fleet. It must have worked as the flags were raised that announced end of racing and we headed home, just in time to miss the rain.

In the end there were only 7 races but we competed in all and got our decent result of mid-pack in the 30 square metre class and most importantly was the fastest of the British boats.

The skipper and I spent three long hours in the tent waiting for the prize giving ceremony listening to the pouring rain outside. The main reason for the wait was to hear the protests, which made everyone a bit grumpy, in particular the chat sitting next to us who had been accused of touching one of the marks.

A slight regret was not socialising with the other boats as much as we would like, especially as by the end the names and faces were beginning to become familiar. In the tent we saw the Germans, the Hungarians, the Swiss, the Americans, the other Brits, the many Swedes, the TV crews, the foredeckers, the skippers, the organisers, and so many others.

Now we all go our separate ways and the centenary celebrations are over. We have all had a cracking time and apart from the first day felt we have done the best we could against strong competition in variable conditions.

And the location, sailing within the pine scented air of the Swedish archipeligo, staying in the Grand Hotel Saltsjobadan, was superb.

It was grand sailing.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Square Metre Rule Jubilee Day 2: A better day

Saltsjobaden, Friday the 8th of August

The second day of the Square Metre Rule Jubilee had pretty much everything in it - sunshine, calm, rain, wind, and massive wind shifts. And some really good races.

The fleet assembled and manoeuvred off the committee boat around 11 am this morning as the overnight rain dried off and the sun came out. We had our best start yet and was admiring the mess caused by four boats getting glued together in one impressive start line pile up and was thus slightly peeved when the race abandoned flag was raised due to a massive wind shift.

Actually we should have been pleased, as immediately after the wind dropped to pretty much nothing and we all bobbed around doing nothing, particularly in our boat which is very much a strong wind boat.

The wind kept on rotating round and round, a bit like us, until it went through pretty much 180 degrees. There was time for not just a cup of tea but lunch as well.

But we got all three races in, all in the afternoon, and the first one was our best yet. The wind picked up to force 6ish (well in the gusts) and we had a good start and no obvious clangers all the way round, ending up in the top third of the fleet. It was helped by the wind continuing to shift so we did the windward leg in one tack and didn't really need the spinnaker to make the so-called down-wind mark.

The problems of yesterday had been pondered and discussed and the conclusions were as follows:
1) It isn't a good idea to fly the large light winds spinnaker in strong gusty conditions! Enough said.
2) If you do a gybe set of the spinnaker and then move the jib to the other side its sheets will be in the wrong position whatever unless you undo the bowlines and re-feed them in the right places

I'm sure there are those who for 2) who go doh! but thats all part of the learning experience. Anyhow now we know what not to do we don't do it and so it was all pretty smooth.


The second two races weren't quite as good so we ended up so far mid-pack, but we're relieved we are getting our act together and sat on the boat this evening with a bottle or two of Chateauneuf du Pape and felt pretty good about the world.

Some more from yesterday. It all a bit frantic at times what with the gusts and eagerness of all concerned. There was two general recalls from the last race and apparently one boat got a hole on one side due to a collisions, and this is the remains of one boats mast.

Two more races to go tomorrow.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Race day 1 - Confessional

First day of races and the good news is we completed all three and didn't come last.

Bad news is I didn't sail as well as I'd like too - which means feel a bit bad, wondering if let the rest of the crew down. I don't mind not winning, and I certainly don't mind the fact it rained most of the day (this is sailing we are talking about).

But the foredeck wasn't a smooth place which could react as fast as the skipper's tactics, leaving the big spinnaker worse for wear. Ok it was probably too big for the wind conditions, but the difference between an ok sailor and a good one is the ability to handle these edge conditions.

If you only sail a few times a year its hard to get a rhythm that can do gybe-hoist-gybe or gybe-drop-gybe in quick succession as smooth as a simple hoist or gybe on its own.

We certainly were not alone as there other boats battling at the marks - and one that lost its mast in one of the mornings stronger gusts.

Oh well.

There are at least three silver linings. Firstly we learnt a lot. Secondly we did finish all three races. Thirdly, there is a hot bath all waiting for my weary limbs.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Square Meter Rule Jubilee

This year is the the 100th anniversary of the square metre rule class or Skerry Cruisers and in the Jubilee Regatta is just getting underway here in Saltsjobaden.

I'm here helping to crew one of the 30 square metres taking the unusual (for me) position of foredecker - hence the change to the banner at the top.

Saltsjobaden is an idylic corner of Sweden just outside Stockholm, dominated by the Grand Hotel were many of us are sleeping - that is those not on the boats.

Outside the marina has been cleared of its usual yachts and is packed full of classic boats - plus a few others like a maxi trimiran and some serious offshore racers (more on this later).

The good news is the boat arrived in one piece as did its crew and important cargo (case of red to avoid the scandelously high prices here). The bad news is we didn't do that well in the first test race this afternoon. So its back to life as normal at the rear end of the fleet.

Of course in an ideal world all the other boats would be crewed by Swedish blondes who who approach us saying "we do not understand this sailing, please you show us and we explain to you the sauna, ya?"

Alas the crews are made up of two categories: firstly there is the grizzled local who has sailed these waters since he was four and knows the wind shifts before they happen. Then there's the athletic semi-pros with their wrap around sun-glasses and t-shirts from tournaments they have competed in.

As one other Brit captain put it - "They're pretty good, aren't they?"

But everyone is very friendly. So sailing along this afternoon another classic boat glided by and we were hailed by a call of "Did you fix the rudder then?". After our skipper goes "Eh?" the other explains "Its Eric - I built your boat. The rudder wasn't quite right last time I saw her".

Yes, we explain, we have fixed the rudder. But to do well in the races tomorrow we're going to have fix a lot of other things.

Tony Blair's sister-in-law sailing to Gaza

More on this story including those crewing the boats here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Racing a Volvo 60

Just after 7 am on Monday was waiting at the Red Funnel terminal at Southampton, hungry and sleepy having had just a coffee for breakfast. Looking around could see wall to wall Henry Lloyd and Musto, men and women with shorts and red cheeks blasted by the sun. It was time to go sailing. It was time for Cowes week.

I've never done Cowes week before and not sure I can say I've done it now - just visited. There are so many classes and so many races over so many days. But I've got a flavour of being at the centre of British - or even world - sailing, with thousands of boats and their crews rubbing elbows in the bars and hospitality tents.

I'd signed up for a Rock up and Race day with On Deck Sailing who had chartered Pindar's Volvo 60 for the day. We were taken out in a RIB and loaned the oilies and shown the ropes.

While huge and impressive, the slightly reassuring thing about Volvo 60's is how much is familiar - main sheet, winches, halyards, jib & spinnaker sheets, trimming... - though of course with much greater loading (though of course have sailed her before).

We were given the crewing roles and during the day I had a go at grinding, jib sheets, spinnaker sheets, spinnaker trimming, spinnaker packing, and a spot of helming. Oh, and a lot of sitting on the side admiring the view.

It was very enjoyable, even if we could see the competition sail over the horizon. The TP52s were, as Yachting World put it, smoking, as was the maxi Alegre (below)

The day started sunny with about 20 knots of wind but strengthened to 30 with nasty wind against tide, and in the afternoon we didn't fly the kite and talked about reefing. There were some interesting "experiences" such as the unintentioned heave-to, and one of the jib sheets getting caught and shredding in seconds. Both times the lee rail left was deap underwater, crew members caught there wet to the waist.

One of the crew works for a local radio station and rang in a story of her experiences only to be slammed in the head by the hatch being closed by a crew member halfway through. A true trooper her only regret was that it wasn't live as her cries of pain and complaints would have made great radio.

Other boats were less happy. Around us we could see broaches, broken masts, torn sails, and there are stories of worse.We got through ok - at one point hitting 15 knots. The fastest I helmed her was about 13.5 knots (the instruments needed recalibrating so its hard to be accurate).

But we got that cool feeling of leaving almost all of the boats in our wake, powering through a fleet of Sunfast 37s with ease.

Afterwards we sipped champaigne and re-lived the best bits of the day. We all agreed it had been a great experience - and that is what life is all about. To try out all that life can offer, and that day we got a feel for life on these great ocean racers.

Trimming Bart

The Volvo 60 Pindar we sailed yesterday was originally called News Corp, and in honour of its most favourite character the big kite had a picture of Bart on it - which has mostly survived down the years.

Spend quite a bit of time looking at it yesterday as one of the cool jobs got to do was trimmer on the downwind legs.

Other jobs were less glamorous - such as the re-packing which took a long time below decks (made interesting by being flung from side to side by a couple of tracks) and involved large quantities of knitting wool!

Again, more later......

Monday, August 04, 2008

Coming last at Cowes can be fun....

.... when you've been sailing a Volvo 60 (above).

More tomorrow after a good nights sleep!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Book Review: Mate of the Caprice

I've just finished reading "The Mate of the Caprice" by Gordon Brown (no not that one) which gives a fresh insight into what life would have been like for Thames barge sailors between the wars.

Its the autobiography of a lad who left the training ship Cornwall to take up the position as mate of a barge - having failed to get the preferred positions on a private yacht or in the merchant marines.

Over the following years he learnt the ropes and took cargoes from upriver at Putney down to the estuary and round the corner into "the other river" or the Medway. It was a hard life, with back-breaking effort required for very little pay in poor conditions. But the skills required were high - to able to navigate downriver by dragging the anchors in a thick pea-souper of a London fog, often single handed.

It was clearly a rough life and the river folk a lively and characterful community. He admits he was skilled with his fists, and had occasion to use it. One source of ongoing battles were the farmers - particularly up the Medway - as river crews felt they had rights to take what they could from the fields they sailed through.

Initially a reserved and blushing lad amongst the ladies he tells the tale of "a young mate" he "had in mind" whose shyness was overcome when his skipper arranged for him to be met in his cabin by a young "long haired mate" named Rabbits who was completely stark naked. And in the book there are other stories of "long haired mates" who came aboard for a voyage along the Thames.

The book rings true of what life must have been like for those skilled Thames bargeman, ploughing the waters for their employers in all weathers carrying all cargos.

The author worked his way up to become a skipper, though a twist of fate meant his command only lasted a short time and he was forced to leave the river life though clearly the memory of it never left him.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Different Voyages

Two different stories this week, two different voyages.

Firstly the news that the couple at the heart of the 1,000 days at sea are now parents, with the birth of a baby boy to Soayna - which more than explains the decision to leave the boat earlier this year. Many congratulations to both!

Of course if this had been a real journey to Mars then we would have our first space baby!

The other trip is more serious - to sail to Gaza to bring much needed supplies and to raise awareness of the Nakba and the decades of occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.

Both journeys have a desire to more than just watch the world but to in some form or other change it and for the better. And that - despite those that would scoff both - I respect.

Tin tack Thames

Was out for a paddle on the Thames on Thursday, heading up river to Barnes Bridge and back, and it rained.

That wasn't a bad thing as it had been a hot and sticky day with little wind and it was pleasantly cooling. But at least initially it was quite heavy with large heavy drops.

And where each one fell it left a shape a bit like that above - a sharp spike of water. And these spikes covered the surface of the Thames, which was otherwise calm and flat, as far as the eye could see. It was like a floor covered with tin tacks, all pointing upwards.

It only lasted a few minutes but was another of those gosh-look-at-the-river moments.

Then it was back to normal.

Actually there was another story from the paddle. One of the group is very keen on shouting out "rower" whenever one of them heads our direction and did so with a vengeance causing another kayaker to swerve off towards the shore so rapidly she ran herself aground. On inspection she found herself jammed on a falling tide at the outlet of a sewer just before a rainstorm hit the region.

Much amusement from all involved - though it might be one of those stories you had to be there to appreciate.