Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Leadership in a storm

The extraordinary political chaos and financial meltdown yesterday got me thinking about two scenes from the film "Master and Commander".

The first is not in a storm as you might expect but in the comfort of the rear cabin as Captain Jack Aubrey entertains his senior offices to dinner. He poses a puzzle to his friend and ship's surgeon Dr Stephen Maturin.

Given two weevils that have crawled out a piece of bread he invites Stephen to choose one. After much consideration the doctor says that one is larger and healthier than the other and hence would be his choice as it would sustain him longer.

"Wrong!" proclaims Aubrey, "In this service you must choose the lesser of two 'eevils!"

Cue much merriment, followed by songs and heels thumping hard on deck. However a short while later in a fierce storm (above) the Captain is indeed to make a hard choice. Weckage of a mast about to threaten the whole ship to capsize and sink, but attached to it is a crewman.

Aubrey can either save the one crewman or the whole ship, and selects the lesser of the two evils.

Yesterday the political leaders were given a similar choice involving not ships but a staggering $700 billion. But by doing nothing share values fell world wide by a greater amount.

It brings to mind the whole question of what is leadership? What makes, for example, a good skipper?

A number of things come to mind. Competence and understanding of the business in hand are essential, but there are a range of other abilities - to delegate, to inspire trust, to not buckle under pressure, to be able to decide and prioritise, to motivate, to concentrate on getting the job done, to be focus of life, and many more.

Similar skills are needed in many other places - from running a small business to working out what to do with a trillion of dollars worth of toxic debt. I hope a bit more of these leadership skills will be visible when the congressional leaders roll into their offices tomorrow morning at 8am.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Natural Navigation

I am a Natural Navigator!

On Friday was lucky enough to learn the principles and practice of natural navigation at the first public course of its kind, run by my old sailing chum Tristan Gooley.

There were six of us around tables at the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, the building where legendary explorers like Shackleton made their plans, pouring over maps in the great library.

It was fascinating, and the course was built about a framework of connecting the basic principles and theory to the employment of them in practice. It drew on all of the senses - not just sight, but hearing, touch, smell, and even taste!

So for example Tristan got me to walk towards a wall with my eyes closed and hands behind my back to the point I was not confident about hitting it any more. He then got me to walk again but this time saying "la la la" and successfully showed how I could confidently walk closer to the wall, relying bat-like on the sound reflections to give basic navigational information.

He also tried to re-create the smell of land that we experienced after crossing the Atlantic on the ARC - which for him was a mixture of grasses. Alas my nose must have been deadened by the rich aroma of six-sailors on a boat to remember it clearly.

And it was not surprisingly the sailing that most drew my attention. I was really enjoyed hearing about the early sailors - such as the extraordinary voyage of Pytheas the Greek who went out through the "pillars of Hercules" into the Atlantic and on not just to Britain, but maybe even to Iceland!

In those old days most journeys were within sight of land during the day, picking up reference points by sight.

But how did the Polynesians manage to cross the Pacific? One of the high spots of the course to me was discovering how they used the variation in oceanic swell to gain information about their location, taking into account changes in waves near land, the reflection of swell towards the direction it travels, and the diffraction of swell around an island.

The why? was also important. Its not just the safety aspect - though that's important because electronics such as GPS can fail (and did for a time for us on the ARC). And even a basic compass (such as in the picture above sitting on the certificate) can become disorientated.

But more importantly its about increasing your experience and awareness, relating your mental map of where you are to the greater world around you, to realise you are journeying across a globe that is spinning in space around our sun hanging in the deepest of dark space surrounded by millions of stars.

Strongly recommend.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Harry Potter Goes Sailing

Hermione was not amused. "You're not doing it right, Ron", she said.

Ron shrugged. "But this is how wizards and witchs sail" he said.

"But we are meant to be learning about muggle sailing" Hermione said, "and muggle boats float in the water, not two metres above it. And the sails are all wrong as is the replacement for the diesel engine."

Ron turned to Harry. "What to you think?" he asked.

Harry sighed. It was meant to be a pleasant day out to recover from the battle to defeat ultimate evil himself, Voldemort, but as usual his friends bickering put a damper on it. Would they never get to see the Chesapeake Bay's legendary fire crabs cake-walk?

"Well Ron", he said, "I can see what Hermione means about the sail. Replacing a Bermuda rig and custom North Sails by a Pirates of the Caribbean style square rigger with sails full of hole's isn't that authentic is it?"

"But it looks better! Much more spooky - and we are being propelled by magic not aerodynamics so what do the holes matter? Anyhow, you must admit the backup engine is a lot better than diesel".

Harry said nothing. In his heart of hearts he had to agree that a Bulgarian dragon attached to a tow rope was a lot cooler than a Volvo Penta engine.

At that moment the ship juddered to a halt.

"What the?" they said as one.

Harry waved his wand as he had seen Dumbledore do. He frowned "Seems like we've been stopped by powerful counter-magic spell".

Herminone waved her wand as Dumbledore actually did it. "We have encountered a level 2 African charm to prevent witches from approaching a certain....". She waved her wand again and out of its tip swarmed fire flies that darted from side to side until arranging them selves into the letters "S A R A H P A L I N".

There was silence for a moment, then Ron said "So there's nothing to stop wizards then".

Harry glared at him but it was too late as Hermione said "No there isn't Mr Ron Weasley and if you feel like that I turned down an invite from Ginny to go to a Weird Sisters concert and if I'm not wanted here then I'll see you later". With a flash she had disparated and was gone.

"Oh" said Ron.

"You've done it now" said Harry, as the boat started to move again.

"At least we'll get to see the fire crabs"

"Yup - but will Hermione forgive you?"

There was a silence, till Ron said wistfully "Maybe its time to practice those African counter charm curses!"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sailing Expert Advises Republicans!

Howdy folks, its Buff Staysail here, Buff by name and Buff by nature!

Well ol' JP has his feet up with what those limies call a bit of a lurgy so its up to yours truly to take over and post on his behalf. Don't worry, JP, there's no need to hurry back - just you rest!

Well I've been out and about reporting on sailing and the US elections and boy has it been a whirl-wind of a ride! And that was before the financial markets tanked causing all sorts of casualties even in the normal placid world of sailing.

Yes, that's right, even Tillerman has been affected, temporarily retiring to the bar for a pint or two of the amber nectar.

And why not -after all that's my natural home. And it was with tinnie in hand that I come up with my greatest ideas, and this was no exception.

What, I pondered after a couple of swift ones, could the US elections learn from sailing? Bingo - it came to me!

In a flash I rang the Republican contact I got at the convention and asked for Sarah. Alas she was too busy listening to talk, but her aide said he'd pass my message on and would get right back to me. Of course it would be a shame to leak what surely will become Republican strategy to the liberal media, but JP's hit count is surely too low to be of concern.

So my magic idea is this - bring in the idea of the race "discard" into the presidential election. Lets say you've got a problem - call it "troopergate" - or you can't remember how many houses you've got. Bit embarrassing isn't it?

However in the new Buff tactics you just call it your discard and with one bound you're free to go on the attack again!

And why stop there? The current election process with electoral college has come for some criticism, maybe for being too simple, so why not introduce a discard there? Each candidate counts up the votes it wins from each state and then discards one or more with the lowest votes! Think of the tactical opportunities there!

Yup, amazing or what! Buff, says I, give up this sailing writing lark and get a job as a GOP lobbyist!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Angry Sailor

This is Griff Rys Jones racing his classic boat for the BBC TV series "Three men in another boat". Things didn't go very well, so he did this whole angry sailor act shouting at the crew.

Only it wasn't an act. Griff admitted to flying into a rage, loosing control, not just on this race, but on others, as well on dry land.

And in another program yesterday his examined the subject of anger, how controlled - for example at injustice - it can be a motivator, but uncontrolled it can destroy, literally and emotionally.

I'm sure we've all heard of cases of those with short fuses and those that change from mild mannered Dr Jekyll to raging Mr Hyde when the 5 minute gun goes, though in general I've been very lucky in avoiding such types.

It really doesn't help anyone. When crises hit - like the Square Metre Rule foredeck mess up posted earlier - I just knuckled down and did what ever had to be done, even though was aware that later would feel not so good about it. For me the focus was on the task to hand.

But others like Griff loose it, the pressure of the race getting too much. What was interesting was how he kept put the blame on others saying "he made me angry" rather than accepting the true source of the anger.

There is also the martinet - the type that remains in controls but shouts a lot often with a stream of four letter words. Again very much doubt that is effective: some crew just put up with it but in other cases I've had to negotiate between crew and over driven skipper whose behaviour bordered on the bully.

I remember being woken in my bunk in the early hours of the morning mid Atlantic by a cry of "All hands on deck- all hands on deck, please!". Together with the rest of the crew we scrambled into clothes and safety harness and went out to fix the broken guy, and that last word made a lot of difference.

Whether Captain Bligh was a saint or a sinner even the historians can't decide. But its certainly true there are angry sailors out there and they aren't one of the great sailing inventions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Square Metre Rule in the Media

Last month's sailing regatta in Saltsjobaden, Sweden, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Square Metre Rule has been written up in Classic Boat.

This month's edition has a short report including photo of the boats lined up in the marina (on p10 if you want to find it quickly while browsing at the news agents).

Its a shame there it isn't given more space, but if you want a final fix from this year's race check out the photos on the sites here, here, and here.

Special bonus to who ever spots the photo with my ankle!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Grasshopper and John Harrison

"What's with the grasshopper?"

I could understand the question. Cambridge's Corpus Christi college spends £1m (about $2m) on a new clock to show on the world famous Kings Parade, that took 8 engineers five years work and contains 24 carat gold, even getting Steven Hawking to open it, and at the top is a huge ugly bug of a grasshopper.

The crowds admiring - no, inspecting- it on Saturday were not at all sure. I muttered something about it was eating up time, but that didn't cover it really. It is actually rather amazing in a gothic sort of way, surprising large and you tell the time using blue lights in the slits in the face.

But apparently its a homage to one of Britain's great engineers, who solved one of the great problems of navigational safety, and should have been awarded a great prize by Parliament.

For it was John Harrison who solved the problem of determining longitude at sea by creating clocks of sufficient accuracy.

And one of the keys to his clocks was the grasshopper escapement that releases a clock's gears at each swing of its pendulum.

And it was this grasshopper that inspired John Taylor to design the Time Eater clock.

I rather liked it!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Punting Pic

My kayaking friend R. was asking what is this "punting" that I keep talking about and that, together with another glorious weekend, was excuse enough for another trip to Cambridge yesterday.

Cue much nostalgic walking down the atmospheric alleyways between colleges remembering student days, which now seems too long ago.

You can never go back - but you can still go for a punt, and the backs were as wonderful as ever.

So at the request of Tillerman here's me pole in hand driving the boat forward - and note how its one of the authentic wood ones!

Special bonus prize to the first to name the bridge behind me.

Random Sailor to Circumnavigate by Chance

Ok, this is a weird one. Rob Clark (above) wants to sail single handed around the world. Yawn you go, join the queue.

But he wants his route to be decided by a combination of chance, at the throw of a dice, and by the collective will of the sailing internet by voting on his web site.

To be honest to me it makes Big Brother seem sane, but maybe I've missed something.

More here.

Dunkirk Rescue Medals Rescued

In these troubled times when around a trillion dollars has been bet and lost in the financial markets and the tab passed to us the taxpayer, a heart warming story to cheer you up.

Last week as part of the Thames Festival as well as the Great River Race there as also a celebration of the little ships that saved the British Army from disaster at Dunkirk in 1940.

As Charles Brown, one of the veterans of those dark days, got aboard one of the little ships at Kingston he alas lost two rows of medals, including those from Dunkirk and Normandy landings and also his OBE.

On hearing of Mr Brown's distress the local RNLI at Teddington sent scuba divers to undertake a finger tip search in the muddy and murky waters of the Thames.

Happily this story, like that of Dunkirk itself, had a happy ending, with Mr Brown re-united with the medals rescued from another potentially watery end!

Friday, September 19, 2008

London Pirate Festival

Lock up your boats and your daughters too, it be Speak like a Pirate day today, the 19th of September! Aye, it be, so avast there!

Even the lowest of low landlubber can join old deck hands and speak like those tars with the freedom of the seas.

After last week's Thames Festival we celebrate in ol' London Town the wild debauchery of the "London Pirate Festival" - have a grog goggled eye full of Mad Cap'n Tom and Sailor Girl who have taken over The Golden Hinde!

There are pirate skirmishes, rum tasting, burlesque, comedy, and much much more!

By the powers, tip me the black spot, due to prior commitments (again) will be unable to swash any buckles.

But watch out, ye water folk of Cambridge, as Cap'n JP is heading your way! Again!


(Surely that's enough pirate talk for not just one day but one entire year)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Traditional Punting

Was in Cambridge last weekend for the annual visit to friends and take them, their children and their dog, whimpering with fear, on a punting trip.

We were offered the choice of a wood or aluminium pole and chose the former, being the more traditional if heavier and more likely to cause splinters.

As we headed up the backs by St. Johns and Kings Colleges we were over taken by a number of kayaks, which given my recent paddles on the Thames brought mixed emotions.

On the one hand it would be a great place to explore by canoe or kayak, able to navigate up the smallest of tributaries, ported over weirs, and a lot less likely to cause river traffic jams due to tourists inability to propel their punt in a straight line.

On the other hand, a kayak is hardly the most traditional of craft for the Camb. And you can paddle on many a river but the Camb is one of those just right for punting, being slow moving, not too deep, and mostly having a gravel bottom.

They say when in Rome do as the Romans do, so when in Cambridge I'll continue to do the right thing and stand in my bare feet on the raised stern of a punt to propel it with a wooden pole, gliding down passed the timeless colleges.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

US Candidates Sailing Top Five

Our roving reporter, Buff Staysail, recently had an exclusive opportunity to interview both candidates to be VP, and ask them about their views on sailing. Alas ol' Buff was to distracted by a certain lady to remember anything about what they said regarding policy and the two party's positions on the US's Olympic sailing strategy.

As BS has gone awol, saying something about shopping, we sent an email to both Biden and Palin asking them for their top five sailing inventions.

And they replied! So in alphabetic order its Biden first then Palin.

Our top five sailing inventions are:

5) Reefing, that allows a single sail to change its area, to keep the ship safe during the stormy periods such as we see now

4) Watch systems, that allows the crew to change over, allowing a fresh crew to take over, full of renewed energy needed to keep the ship going forward

3) Cabin, that allows a crew to go below, get a warm drink and change of clothing, protected from the harsh elements

2) Rudder, that allows a ship to change its course, to get clear of the rocks and out of the storm, and into the calm and safe waters under a strong Democratic leadership

1) The Flag, US of course, the one thing we'd never change!

Well g'day to you! Our five are:

5) Guns: you never know what dangers you'll come across when you leave the safety of good ol' American waters - pirates - or even worse - Muslims! Even on a Laser there's room for a handgun, and there's no doubt that they would reduce the need for a protest room! Remember - an armed race is a polite race!

4) Mums: there's a lot of talk about soccer mums or hockey mums, but lets not forget the sailing mums! Bringing the boys and girls their apple pie down by the slipway!

3) Water boarding Well the liberal media won't let me say that, so on I'll go with the Republican candidates previous suggestion of Bombs! With the war on terror and the French out there you can't go wrong with a bit of bombing - so look out Geneva Yacht Club! Good way of catching fish too!

2) Knives: when you've got the fish how do you gut them? With a knife of course!

1) Our flag - we are proud of our country where you are free to sail with guns - surely sign that we're on a mission from God!

Great River Race - Video

This is what the Great River Race posted earlier on looked like

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nearly best sailing invention - ever!

Tillerman's planning on giving not just one but the top five best sailing inventions, which naturally got me wondering what mine would be. Of course the best ever is the triangular sail, so that leaves just four to find.

To make it interesting I decided to not post any that I'd read elsewhere. So no bowlines and no breathable oilies - even though both are brilliant.

The running up four, from 5 down to 2, are:

5) Winches - they have gears and can self-tail, and sit all shiny and compact on every yacht. We couldn't wind in a fully loaded sail without them.

4) Depth sounder - when we crossed the Atlantic we had an electrical failure that wiped out our instruments. Mostly we could do with out them, having the windex and compass. But nearer the coast sailing without an idea of how much water there is under the keel would have been almost impossible.

3) Tell tails - great and so simple. Couple of bits of string attached either side of the sail and you can learn so much from them about how to trim it - brilliant!

2) Compass - fixed into the mind of the sailor is basic orientation, wondering where is north? where is the wind coming from? what course to sail. How can the compass not be on the list?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Great River Race

At the last moment remembered the Thames Festival was on and a quick look on the web found out that one event was The Great Race: a maritime rowing marathon down the river from Richmond to Greenwich, and it started at just after 2pm this afternoon.

The idea came from the old tradition of boats that would take passengers up and down the river - the black cabs of their day. And so entries are restricted to traditional-style, coxed craft powered by a minimum of four oars or paddles. And, in keeping with the historic responsibility to apprentice and licence Watermen to carry passengers on the tidal Thames, each boat has to carry a passenger.

Cool! Well, thinks I, haven't seen any boats going by, so maybe they haven't got here yet: time for a cup of tea.

And there was. First there were the race officials in their RIBs, then the first one or two, then there was a flood of rowers, all heading downstream. Just look at the picture above!

This is the greatest of all such river races, with nearly 300 boats entered, thousands of competitors.

And you can following it all on an online Google maps mash-up here.

Pretty much every type of craft was represented from traditional rowing boats to dragon boats, such as this, the Sisterhood boat I posted earlier.

Sometimes the river was really quite congested, as the boats raced against each other (under handicap):

Some were particularly elegant and historic:

There was even this one gondolier!

And these ocean rowers seems pretty relaxed! I wonder if they knew odd-at-sea Sally?

Congratulations to all participants! Must have been great fun - maybe should add rowing to my list of water sports?

Celebrating the Thames

This weekend it's the Thames Festival!

There are events up and down the length of the river all weekend, from music and spectacle, to river races, Thames barges, kayaking, and fireworks.

I almost forgot all about it, even though put a note in my calender. Alas too busy to do anything but spectate the Great River Race, but if you are in London its worth poping down to the river bank in the centre of town to see what's going on.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Best Sailing Invention - Ever!

Another month, another Tillerman group writing challenge. This times it's the "Best sailing invention - ever!"

First impression is doh! Its the sail stupid - after all we couldn't do anything without it. And the great thing about it - compared to say kayaking - is how having hoisted it you can just sit back, enjoy the view, open a beer, or gaze into the distance trying to work out what on earth to blog about on your return to dry land.

Of course you with good memories will recollect that Caveman's got invention! competition when the sail, mast, and rigging went head to head as water sport inventions of the year and all lost - to the rudder (though there were those that wondered whether fowl play was involved given the judge was later seen with three chickens and goat). And it isn't sailing without a sail of some form.

So if that's out, what in?

Take GPS - absolutely brilliant and makes offshore navigation a doddle. But its a general navigation tool, not just sailing. Ditto with radio communication's ability to keep you in touch where ever you are in the world (thanks Iridium).

Is it the lifeboat (Coastguard) service that's there to help you when things go wrong. Luckily I've never had to use them but there's no doubt they are a genuine life saver.


Actually I'm going to go back to my original answer - its the sail. But not just any sail. I think sailing's big moment was the transition from square rigged pushing sails to triangular pulling sails.

The pushing, square rigger sail is pretty intuitive: if you stand up against a strong wind it will push you along.

But the aerofoil shape of the triangular sail, how a piece of fabric can pull something as big as a boat - even now I find that amazing.

And it opens up the seas. The old ships were driven by the wind, from Vikings to tea clippers, windjammers following the trade routes. You just had to see those old sailing pictures of ships on a lea shore to know the terror that came from being unable to claw to windward.

It must have been a real eye opening, the first time someone hoisted the sail the wrong way up and say "hey guys, you'll never guess how high I can point now".

According to Wikipedia the triangular sail was first invented by the Arabs around 2000 BC, though only became common in the 17th Century.

So its my answer - the best sailing invention ever is the triangular sail.

Monday, September 08, 2008

US Election - Update

There has never been anything like it! the US election continues to show its ability to bring surprises and controversy.

We have been following the twists and turns closely and the policy proposals from both sides. But what have they to say about sailing? How would they help the US team win more sailing medals in the 2012 Olympics?

Our roving reporter, Buff Staysail, was lucky enough to get EXCLUSIVE interviews with the three leading candidates back in March, namely McCain, Clinton, and Obama. The views of each of these remain on record, and can be found here.

But now its September, there is under 60 days to go, and the two remaining competitors have chosen their running mates. So we sent ol' BS out to the conventions, to ask both Palin and Biden what they would do to help the USA Sailing Olympics team.

Take it away Buff!

BS: Hi JP, Buff here, Buff by name and Buff by nature. Isn't she great! I mean I actually got to talk to her! And she talked about sailing - just listen to this:

Sarah Palin:

Well, G'day to ya! How ya' doing?

Can't say I've done much of this sailing - I'm a hunting and fishing gal myself.


But these Democrats say that someone like me from small town America can't sail and shouldn't represent our country at the Olympics!


I won't say anything about bad about this Tunnicliffe women - though her name sounds funny and foreign, European even - but is she a real American?

We want someone with American values, who knows what life is like as working mother, taking the kids to hockey, someone who isn't a cosmopolitan east coast intellectual.

Or elitist - 'cos this Anna woman seems to think that she is better than anyone else!


So I propose that in 2012 we send a sailing team that represents this great country, a hard working woman like me from Middle America.

Our candidate for the Laser class in the next Olympics can only be - Marge Simpson!


BS: See JP - she's the one for me! Marge! Sailing in the Olympics! Isn't that inspired! Who can knock the mom-next-door?

BS: I was lucky to be there at the Democratic convention to hear the great speeches. Obama - the tears are still in my eyes...

JP: Er, Buff, what Biden say about sailing?

BS: .... and then to see both Clintons of the stage...... healing wounds...... single voice..... though as Fox TV said, why didn't she deny those rumours of Obama's Islamic baby eating ceremonies and gas chambers for those telling the truth about socialisms imposed by climate change lies....

JP: Buff - did you actually meet with Joe Biden?

BS: Yes.

JP: So what did he say?

BS: er... he said... hmm - Obama.... ah... change.... Nope its gone

JP: So you can't remember anything about Democratic policy on the Olympics?

BS: er.... did you know I've got my mum glasses just like Sarah's! Only cost $700!

JP: Sorry about that folks - we'll have to prompt BS to go out there again to find out the truth

BS: Yes! I can get to see HER again!

JP: Oh my God! You don't mean to say that Buff is....

Sunday, September 07, 2008

How deep is the Thames - Part II

The previous post about the depth of the Thames considered the depth when the river is at its shallowest. Of course there are big variations a couple of times day, as the Thames is a tidal river.

The depth of water at any particular time can be calculated by adding the current depth of the tide to that of the underlying chart datum. The various concepts are shown in the figure below and described on the Port of London Authority site here.

You can get the tidal range from a number of sources, my favourite being Easytide which can be found here. It gives plots of the tide against time for up to 6 days (free) adjusted if required for summer time, and also the times of high / low water and the sunrise / sunset times. As well the standard ports it even does points on the river such as Hammersmith Bridge (as shown in the figure at the top).

So if the chart datum is 2m and the water height for now is about 4m, then the current total depth of water is 6m - simple!

There's a lot of other resources available - in particular on the PLA site which includes time tables at this site here.

Of course these are predictions, and the reality can be very different. Atmospheric pressure varies depending upon the weather - something we have a lot of here - and effects the height of water in the river. A massive storm with low pressure in the North Sea can push a wall of water up the estuary.

And you can watch this happen, as there are live tide gauges on the internet, so you can compare predictions against the reality - cool!

To get a great feel for the great range between high water and low water, watch this time elapsed film

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fording the Thames

Yesterday I posted about how the Thames is in places only a few metres deep at low water, which raises the question, could it be forded in the past?

The river has changed dramatically over the centuries, with marshy land and soft natural banks replaced by hard embankments built ever outwards, pinching and narrowing the Thames. While today there's a strong current with tidal range of 6m in previous years it was a broad meandering river with a tidal range of just 3m.

I could have a look at what Peter Ackroyd would say about it in his book Thames, Sacred River, but no doubt rather than giving a direct, straight forward answer he would be diverted into talking about spiritual character of fords contrasting with the secular nature of bridges blah blah blah, and anyhow a friend has borrowed it.

But along with Google I've a copy of Crossing the River by Brian Cookson, which starts the story of the bridges with how the Thames was without them.

An authority no less than Caesar reports that in 55 BC the Thames was fordable around where London would become at just a single point. Alas historians referenced by Cookson are unsure exactly where though Bentford and Westminster are candidates.

This site gives a wider range of candidates, including:

...established Iron Age ford such as at Brentford, Fulham, Battersea or Westminster where concentrations of antiquities in the river bed show that fords probably existed. An absence of prehistoric finds in the river around London Bridge, however, suggests that there was no ford there.

However the Romans were to build their capital at London, and a bridge, the first of many London Bridges.

The Romans in Fulham angle is echoed in the sword above which was found in the river and now can be found in the British Museum.

So maybe when dangling upside down in a kayak, in the river near the banks of Fulham, I might have been within feet of Roman artefacts, and could have reached out to grab swords and stirrups from the army that marched with Caesar himself.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How deep is the Thames?

Have you ever wondered how deep is the Thames as it runs through central London?

I certainly wondered about that when doing the kayaking two star course as had to go upside down head towards the river floor which often seemed not that far away.

So was interested to see this chartlet from the Port of London Authority which shows the shoals around Battersea.

It can be seen how large parts of the river dry at low water, and how even in the middle of the river in places there is sometimes only 2 metres at most.

Keelboats - lets be careful out there!

Update: part II of this post can be found here.