Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How clean is the Thames?

Earlier this year had the dubious pleasure of rolling a kayak in the Thames, and getting much river water up my nose, in order to show I knew enough rescue technique to get a BCU two star qualification. Two of the group refused, having heard bad things about the water.

However nothing bad seemed to come of it (that I've noticed anyhow) so wondered if the Thames has been maligned and left it at that.

On a separate tack had also been wondering what the tourist boat commentary is as they go up river to Kew. They go past and all one can hear is "On you left waw waw waw", so intrigued I decided to pay the ten quick or whatever it was to get a bit of education.

However I seem to be very unlucky. Having got on Westminster, we headed up past Parliament, on to Vauxhall without a single "waw" let alone more useful instruction. On asking it turns out to be a voluntary task the crew can do or not do as they wish, and in this case they "couldn't be arsed" in the colourful phrase of the chap who served coffee. In their defence a particularly noisy bunch of school kids meant very little of what would have been sent would have been heard.

Was therefore forced to pay another 10 quid on another weekend and pretty much the first thing on getting onboard I did was to ask and yup due to public pressure we got a most excellent commentary - well at least for the first half of the trip.

So to date still don't know what the "to the left waw waw waw" is for the river around Putney and no doubt will have to wait till next year.

But one gem they said was about the river and how clean it is. "Just get a bucketful of water" we were told "leave it overnight and all the mud will drop out leaving sparkling clear water"

This I had to try. Buckets being a bit heavy this scientist went down to the slipway by The Boathouse jam jar in hand to get his sample and took a picture the day before and the day after (above).

And Yes! it is clear that most of the murk is indeed due to mud that will settle given time without the constant swirling of the Thames.

Alas that's not enough to recommend partaking in this particular brew. Because anyone who was been on the river for more than a little time will have spotted the odd condom floating by, or wondered where the sewage waste goes from all the house boats dotted along its banks.

But it doesn't seem to harm the very plentiful fishes or the river birds that feed on them (as posted earlier). And I've twice now heard stories about rowers drinking the stuff in the days before water bottles.

So if pushed to drink Thames water (and I would have to be pushed) my choice would be to let it settle overnight, skim off the clear upper bit, and then boil it like there was no tomorrow.

The pirate gets the girls

Interesting story about the reality of the life of the modern day Somalian pirate here on the BBC web site.

The motivations are the same for many a man anywhere "They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns".

Though to be honest that about new guns isn't that common here in blighty land.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to fish in the Thames on a wet Sunday

Step 1: Get your mates in a line across the river with a falling tide so the fish come down river to you:

Step 2: If you see something move in the water below you, duck down and grab it:

Step 3: Make sure you don't do this if its a bit of man made rubbish (such as this discarded plastic chair):

Step 4: Repeat from Step 1.

VOR Game

I was really looking forward to the VOR game. In case you haven't seen it, the on-line simulator allows you to match your offshore racing skills against the wider sailing community from the comfort of your arm chair. You can choose course and sails, and plan your tactics to beat the real boats to Cape Town.

Alas last few weeks have been firstly sick and then having to catch up at work and then have a forthcoming return business trip to Australia for a rather scary 6 day single-handed presentation (for which really must stop blogging and start preparing).

So the good ship Dampier (my ship's registered name) never got its instructions and is now heading straight into the St Helena high and certain doom of coming in last if at all.

But have enjoyed hearing about those that having been doing it right - such as over on EVK SuperBlog, who's dedication has led to interrupted sleep and meetings.

Good luck to all of those competing - especially those doing it solo.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Corporate IT sinks Volvo Viewer

Previously I posted how the wonderful Virtual Spectator software (above) used in the Volvo Ocean Race 2004-5 isn't being made available for the current race, and what a shame that was as it was simply brilliant.

Well I emailed VOR HQ and got the following response:

"We require a browser-based flash raceviewer for this race, because one of the most constant complaints we received in the previous race was that race fans were unable to download and install the Virtual Spectator programme at work.

Virtual Spectator have supplied us with their latest 3D product, which unfortunately has been experiencing technical issues and it is taking time for the VS technicians to work out the problems and make fixes and improvements.

In the meantime, TracTrac have provided us with their 2D viewer as a back-up raceviewer while we find a solution to the raceviewer difficulties, and you may have noticed that new features are being introduced on this 2D raceviewer as the race progresses. "

Now there's no problem downloading and running VS on my work PC as I've given myself Admin rights, and anyhow we're a small company. But we've heard of cases where users of our software not only can't install it themselves but get an internal charge from their IT department to do something they'd rather do themselves.

Its a shame that such a good piece of s/w should be hobbled because of over controlling corporate jobs-worths.

Of course not getting access to a race viewer (which BTW surely is two words not one) or having an inferior one means higher productivity at work and less time spent following the action, but you wouldn't have thought that was something VOR would like to see.

And even if the Volvo site had an improve web based viewer, surely that wouldn't stop the old software still being available?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do you dream of sailing?

Last night I dreamt of sailing. For all those amateur dream psychologists out there, this is what happened.

Together with my brother-in-law and a few friends we had chartered a yacht and were having a fun afternoon sailing around the Solent or somewhere similar. Then we found there was a spinnaker on board and so decided to give it a go. I showed them how to rig it, found the guys and sheets, and was all ready to give the go for a hoist.

But the water was so busy, not just with boats but even swimmers, we were always dodging around them and never got a nice clean run downwind in which to hoist. At which point, frustrated, I woke up.

So what's that all about? The daily sardine packing in London's commuter system finally getting to me?

So how about you? Any sailing dreams that have got you wondering?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Putney Sculpture Trail

Welcome to the latest Putney attraction, a Sculpture Trail where nine works by local artist Alan Thornhill are on display to anyone walking along the Thames path. Just the thing for a crisp autumnal weekend, so print off the program from here, wrap up warm, and head off for a cultural walk by the river.

The one above is called Fall but I think that's about dynamics rather than the time of year.

Next heading up river is Pygmalion:

After which it's Nexus:


Just outside The Boathouse there's the Punch and Judy:

On Putney High Street you get to Turning Point:

The other side of Putney Bridge is Load:

Rather appropriately by the Duke's Head there is Horizontal Ambiguity:

And finally Exodus:

That was fun - now its time for a cup of tea!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why change the Volvo's Virtual Spectator?

Why did the Volvo - or Virtual Spectator - change the race viewer? The figure above is what they are proposing we use to follow the fleet.

The last race had this superb 3D viewer than enabled overlays such as isobars and wind speeds. It worked really well and greatly enhanced the experience of following the fleet.

The software would have only needed a minor update for the latest race - such making it run a bit better under Microsoft Vista (my old copy is a big clunky on my new laptop).

But instead they've gone for a new web based architecture that is a backwards step with inferior graphics and controls.

This is what it used to look like:

Isn't that much better?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Comfort reading and British Martime History

When hit by lurgies like the recent 'flu I tend to retreat to bed with a bit of comfort reading, which for the last few weeks meant Arthur Ransome. Of course they've all been read many times but two less familiar and hence selected were Secret Water and Great Northern?

What struck me was how in the nautical adventures of the children Ransome tapped into different aspects of British maritime history. Of course some are obvious - such as the influence of pirates and the book Treasure Island in particular.

However Great Northern? has parallels with the great scientific voyages of Captain Cook and Darwin on the Beagle, which are hopefully as meaningful for today's kids as they ever were.

It was harder to connect to the themes in Secret Water's - mapping and the culture shock of western explorers encounters with savage tribes. In the book the Swallows spend most of the week mapping the Hamford Water using the same survey methods used for such engineering triumphs as the Great Trigometric Survey of India.

Its hard to image a modern teenager bothering, saying instead something like "you, like, just use iPhone maps". There would probably be a similar blase attitude to the remote tribes who even in the deepest Amazon seem to have agents nowadays to manage the stream of TV documentary makers.

And the scene where they pledge to be tribe brothers by exchanging blood, sorry that's just a total yuck no go - not just unhygienic but pretty dangerous.

But one sub plot remains as plausible today as it ever was. Any time two dinghies are heading in the same direction its a race, and there are rules like port must give way to starboard.

And racing boats can lead to great things - as we were reminded of this week when the Olympic gold medallists including sailors paraded through London.

GPS and satellites can map the world at a touch of a button, but trimming and race tactics - that's still hard!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Leaves in Putney

Sailing Bucket List

Tillerman rather cheekily accused the sailing blog community of apathy in the lack of response to his latest group writing project, namely the bucket list of sailing things to do before heading down to Davy Jones's locker.

In this case it was the difficult combination of trying to run a small business while fighting a lingering 'flu virus which has delayed this post.

So in no particular order here are some items on my sailing to do list:

1. Join local dinghy sailing club. No excuses here, have missed it for two summers and there are three sailing clubs close by. Actually that's sort of an excuse - how on earth to choose?

2. Finish the trans-Atlantic by sailing from England to the Canary Islands. For the ARC we started at Grand Canaria so actually it was a mini-transat, and any how the cross Biscay voyage would be "interesting".

3. Do the Antigua Sailing week - big boat sailing in the Caribbean with lots of parties in the sun - how can that not be a good idea?

4. Sail high latitudes. This one goes back to adverts from Challenge Business for sailing one of their 72 foot steel boats up by Spitsbergen or Svalbard, which ok would probably be very cold, but also fascinating.

5. Sail some more big boats. I've sailed a Volvo 60 and would like to see what its like on either a Volvo 70 or Open 60.

6. Sail the Scottish islands. Its just beautiful up there and pretty unspoilt and not crowded like the Solent.

7. Follow in my alleged ancestor's William Dampier's footsteps in some of his round the world voyages. Couldn't do the whole thing as he spent something like 12 years travelling but it would be fascinating to experience first hand the places he sailed to. I imagine them as exotic Pacific islands like the picture above.

No doubt what I actually do will be very different!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn in Putney

It may have been financial melt-down over the last few days but it was lovely weather for it, with beautiful autumnal colours of the trees in the parks.

Putney Embankment was all go too .....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A bad week

No posting last week due to being sicker than the financial markets, and without a Government support package worth £ 500,000,000,000 (I think that's the right number of zeros).

Normal service will resume shortly, hopefully. Ditto to the markets.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Silent, upon a peak in Darien Iceland

I'm not a great fan of poetry, but love the following:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise–
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Even more dramatically, Darien was one of the causes of the end of Scotland as an independent country.

Back in 1695 Scotland was worried it was falling behind England in the race for overseas trade and colonies. So money was raised to send an expedition to Central America, with the aim of creating a trading base to Asia as well as plantations, forts, towns, and canals.

It all went horribly wrong, and all the investment disappeared into the jungle, along with thousands of brave Scots.

Scotland was broke, owing millions to countries abroad, including the Bank of England. The solution was to merge with England in the 1707 Acts of Union that formed Britain and was to change both countries - in my mind for the better. Together the two countries were the foundation of the British Empire.

Those events, almost exactly 300 years ago, came to my mind reading in the newspaper this weekend about the credit crunch and Iceland.

In the last few weeks a storm has gone through the financial markets, dragging stocks and banks down like trees in a hurricane. And one of the worst effected, though not so well reported, is Iceland.

The three largest banks of Iceland owe the equivalent to 8 times that countries GDP. If they were nationalised the debt repayments would take up roughly all of the countries output.

So what is the solution? Well one would be to follow the example of Scotland those many years ago and merge with a more solvent larger country. Its not total fantasy, as there have already been discussions about Iceland turning tack and joining the EU.

Maybe the UK should have another punt on another Act of Union. After all we reasonably close, with the Shetlands actually closer to Iceland than London. And it would be a good long term investment: lots of geothermal energy, fishing rights, and when things get hot with global warming its climate will seem a bit more tempting. It is even expanding in area due to volcanism.

Not a bad place for the Government to put my taxes. Except.......

... oh dear......

...the articles also say that the "situation is more serious in the UK than in Iceland"!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Changing Volvo for a changing world

The Volvo Ocean Race is back again. Today we had the first in-port race and next week the fleet of eight will be heading off on the first leg to Cape Town.

And that town is one of the only one that is unchanged from previous races. Gone are stop overs, starts and finishes in Portsmouth, New York, Melbourne and the like - indeed there is no representation from either Britain or Australia.

As we keep reading in the Economist the pendulum of power is moving and the growing economies are the famous BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the economic power houses of the 21st Century.

And they are all represented in the course for the 2008 - 2009 Volvo, with Brazil's Rio, Russia's St. Petersburg, India's Cochin, and China's Qingdao.

Things are going to be different in the future, so we better get used to it.

But it needn't all be bad. I read about economist lecturer who made a joke that though the UK had had a hundred years of relative decline, London is still a pretty good place to live so maybe the US shouldn't worry too much. After the talk a member of the audience approached him and said he was from the Netherlands, and they had had three hundred years of relative decline and they still felt things were pretty good.

There's something in that, so rather than muttering and complaining I'm going to sit back in my armchair and over the next 9 months enjoy some classic offshore racing - even if it doesn't come back home to Britain even once.

Ting Tings for a safer towpath

Alas this blog entry is a blatent use of a river and canal story to post a celeb pic.

Apparently the towpaths of London have become a battle ground between the over eager biker and the slower moving pedestrians. And so a "towpath ranger" has been appointed to monitor traffic and patrol the city's canals to prevent accidents.

Bikers are requested to make their presence known by ringing their bell.

So its a bit of "Ting Tings" for a safer London.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Twilight on the Thames

Its a cold clear night this evening in London, one of many we've been lucky enough to have over the last few weeks.

There's been a bit of an Indian summer with day after day of sunshine, though each day was just slightly colder than the one before.

Two weeks ago today I was out kayaking on the Thames at about this time, leaving in the last moments of the afternoon before heading upriver towards the setting sun.

Then there was the most magical of times, twilight, when all of a sudden the waters are glowing gold like in the photo above. During the day and during the night the river is dark and brooding but for a few moments around dusk it is alight.

Then it was dark, and we paddled along with lights on our heads to warn other boats of our presence. It was surprisingly unspooky to be out of the black waters in the night, indeed it was rather glorious to speed under the lit up Hammersmith Bridge with the tide at ones back and to look up and see Jupiter high in the sky above.