Sunday, November 30, 2008

Earl's Court "Boat" Show

Last year we had a battle between Earl's Court and Excel as they competed to be the premier boat show of London. Dockland's Excel won hands down as the old halls in Earls Court were empty and deserted - see the post here.

I was interested to find out if there had been any improvements this time round so spent this afternoon in Earls Court (above) and found that a few changes had indeed been made.

Firstly the exhibition had been scaled back to just the one hall, the smaller of the two, and not quite filling it either. Secondly the name had been extended to cover now the Sail, Power & Watersports.

And there were more people there: not exactly packed but not the ghostly halls of doom of last year.

Though all wasn't going that smoothly - clicking on the web site to find out the news & events got this appropriate message:

I got the strong feeling the event is struggling. Part of the problem is pre-Christmas most people are more focussed on the coming festivities rather than planning for next year, and thinking more about spending on presents than sport - if indeed if people are spending at all in these credit crunch days.

Maybe that's the reason that more than a few stands seemed to have nothing at all to do with sail, power or watersports.

I tried to find the least relevant stand and it was a close run thing, with those for perfume, toy helicopters, bean bags, Italian scooters, and racing cars, but the winner was the one for a lap dancing club!

An update on the more appropriate stands tomorrow.

Exciting Weather!

A recent post showed how popular is the weather as a topic for discussion. Well today we were lucky enough to see some classic November weather in old London town. As you can see from the above 3 hourly forecast, we saw a great variety too.

It started off a bit damp, then there were the odd drops leading up to a sprinkling followed by a drizzle. Then had a gentle shower after which there was some light rain. There was a time when it was nice for ducks, before it settled in for the day.

And the temperatures rose to an almost nearly heading towards sultry 5 C before falling back to a chilly 4 C.

See! All those different conditions, all in one day!

Weather, like irony, is alive and well old Blighty!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Postcard from Hong Kong

Its a bit chilly here so reminding myself of the warmer places visited recently.

Ready for Olympic sailing

The London 2012 Olympics has always been controversial. Not everyone felt it was worth all the billions needed to build the facilities - and that was before the credit crunch and the Government decided to buy the banks, slash sales tax, and put us on track for a trillion pound deficit (truly scary).

So its good to hear that the first Olympic facilities are now ready, and were finished not just on time but actually ahead of schedule, namely the Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy.

As there is still three and half years to go before the games begin that is pretty impressively early. Hope that long training time helps us keep our holds on those wonderful gold medals such as in the Yngling class (above).

More here including video.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Vendee Globe Picture

I decided to get a new background picture for my PC at work.

I could have used that rather fetching picture of Sam Davies on Roxy, but decided it might result in a significant drop in productivity.

So instead am currently using the photo above from the Vendee Globe web site. I like the feeling of space, the boat in the immensity of the sea, sailing towards the horizon, with the sun bursting though the clouds.

The competitors on the Vendee Globe are still experiencing weather worth talking about. There's a weather system coming up from the south west and they must work out how much its worth trying to head west to meet it or keep going and let it catch up.

I've been trying to work out what would be the best analogy for this situation. Would it be deciding whether to go for the first but slow train rather than waiting for the later express? Or is like wondering whether to accept the current relationship rather waiting for the perfect "one"? Or maybe neither?

Anyhow, worth keeping an eye on either way.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Talking about the weather

We Brits like talking about the weather.

"Nice day, isn't it", "bit chilly for the time of year", and "scorchio!" are the phrase that oil the conversations across our little land.

And even if it never gets that hot or that cold, there is a lot of weather to talk about, as fronts come off the Atlantic, from the North Pole, or from the European land mass.

I hear there are countries where talking about the weather is thought to be boring. I even heard that argument used as the poorest of poor excuses to not talk about Global Warming!

But the weather is a connection between us and the world around us, and the planet on which we live. And it can have dramatic effects on the life we live.

To take just one topical example: the St Helena high is in the wrong place, and that's about to stop the Vendee Globe fleet in its track.

The figure above shows the wind arrows and fleet just off the web site, and there is great uncertainty about where best to position to take account of the stronger pressure when it comes.

I'm sure there is lots of talk and thinking going on about the weather now amongst the captains down there.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Henry Hudson - Dreams And Obsession

Second book review, this time of Henry Hudson - Dreams and Obsession. Alas can not give such a good report as for the First Fleet in the last post.

The book tells the story of the search by Henry Hudson for the North-East or North-West passage across the Arctic to Asia. Or at least that's what the front and back covers say.

But the author meanders off in all directions and seems more interested in the tangents than the core story. I'm sure you all know someone who can't tell a story, but keeps getting distracted by side issues. Well the author Corey Sandler has that bad.

So after a brief bit of Hudson there is intermiable long pages about domestic US environmental politics involving something called "Superfund" law which he assumes we all know about. Then when Hudson goes north there is long description of the agreements between Canada and the native people and differences between Cree and Inuit cultures.

Indeed for a book with an international topic it has a very domestic US feel to it. Even though Hudson was a Brit who was born in London and lived in Britain his Dutch wages are converted into dollars not pounds. And units are in feet and pounds (yuck).

And while North American subjects get the full mention-every-possible-fact approach, elsewhere is a different story.

At one point he says the way to Asia was difficult because of "Muslim pirates". This is a new term to me and I've read a lot of pirate books. What does this mean? Would he say that William Kidd was a Christian pirate? Given in Hudson's time Islam was a major religion from Morocco to Indonesia this could mean anyone over a range of over 12,000 km.

Its the sort of lazy line that Fox TV "news" uses to propagate its prejudices.

So its been a slow read. Unlike the First Fleet each chapter has dragged, and looking at the page number at the bottom has led to a "are we there yet" attitude.

And again the maps were a disgrace.

So unfortunately can't recommend this book.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book review: 1788 - The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet

Two sailing history book reviews, both of which have read recently.

First up is 1788: the brutal truth of the First Fleet, which got from Kat (thanks!) after a flying visit to catch up during the down under trip that finished not so long ago.

It tells the story of a fleet of eleven ships that took fifteen hundred people, of which about half were convicts, from Portsmouth in England to the far off Botany Bay.

I really enjoyed it. It was one of those books you think "hmm.. just another couple of pages" and later on "oh, better slow down as it will be finished soon".

It helped I was in Australia in the time so was able to look at the landscape south of Botany Bay (which is now where the international airport is) which is pretty unspoilt and imagine the boats sailing along the coast after their 8 month voyage.

And it was initially a hard and unforgiving landscape. Despite early promises and despite the move round the corner into Port Jackson, the land wasn't that fertile and so the colony was often close to starvation. The rescue ship sent packed with provisions alas hit an iceberg deep in chilly Antarctic waters.

It was only when land to the west of the new settlement in near Parramatta was openned up for farming the new colony became secure.

The book is well written and structured so that it flows nicely. It mostly takes a no nonsense linear with time just tell the story approach, and the tale benefits from it. It covers the many angles of these dramatic years, from the convicts stories to the impact on the existing inhabitants, the Aboriginal people.

Its interesting to see how it was political pressure to solve the problem of over-crowding in jail led to such drastic actions, and so the key figure was the home secretary. His name was a certain Lord Sydney!

My only complaint was the scarcity of maps. I don't know why some people can write about sailing voyages and not put in detailed maps of the routes taken.

But that is a small point, overall if you'd like to find out more about what brought the first Brits to Australia this is a very rewarding and readable book.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hardy Girls

At what point do you say "Brrr! its too cold I'm staying in"?

Today started with freezing winds and a light fall of snow, which for me is a good sign to stay indoors and update those blog links.

But these hardy girls were out for a practice row - well wrapped up its true but out nevertheless.

I was rather impressed

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Extreme Kayakers - a Clarification

Some of you might have seen the video above of extreme kayakers descending the spillway of a Welsh reservoir.

Such behaviour is of course not just dangerous, its possibly illegal.

It might be worth therefore clarifying a few points.

In no way were any members of any canoe club I know involved. None of them have been down the spillway and certainly not twice and definitely not last Sunday.

My reaction would definitely not be to say "Hey guys how cool was that". Their kayaks are not now know as the Jesus boats and that is not related to what they would say as they hurtled down the spillway (which of course they didn't).

It is of course worth reminding one selves of the dangers - see Bonnie's post here - even if a site inspection at the time of running (should anyone have been there, which of course they weren't) suggested that the water was flowing through steadily with little danger of getting trapped in flow-back.

They didn't try to get JP to roll this weekend (unsuccessfully) and this post is not in any way trying to get any reflected glory here (because of course they didn't do anything).

Hope that is entirely clear.

Vendee Globe vs Volvo

While been busy working and travelling the Vendee Globe has started and joined the Volvo in racing round the world.

Having missed the first leg of the Volvo and initial excitement of the Vendee had a little think about which feel is the more exciting and involving to this armchair sailor this time round.

And the clear winner was the Vendee, and here are ten reasons why:

1. Its a single handed epic adventure, non stop around the world

2. You get to know key sailors as individuals, rather than merged together as a crew

3. The competition includes both men and women (see above)

4. The Open 60 class is the standard for offshore racing

5. It sticks to the traditional route each time

6. It dives into deep southern ocean, iceberg territory like true global races should

7. It's got a better race tracker - in particular it shows wind forecasts. In my mind the Volvo made a big mistake by not continuing the Virtual Spectator from last time. More positive comments about their web site from Adam here.

8. It's got a bigger fleet

9. The competitors get to try out their sexy French accents

10. Er... running out of ideas - any suggestions for a 10th reason?

Home Again

Its dark, its cold, its damp, its early in the morning.

Oh its good to be home.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tai Po and Plover Cove

One of the things about travel is it addictive - you just want to see one more sight. But even the longest trip must one day end.

The last day in Hong Kong had a meeting in Tai Po and then the rituals of check in at the airport. But there was time for one last hit, namely seeing Tai Po itself and the nearby Plover Cove.

Tai Po is in the New Territories (well they were new in 1898 in this case) and was a small market town until the growth of Hong Kong turned it into a satellite dormitory town.

At the heart is still the street market above - I must have looked a bit out of place wandering along it in my two piece pin stripped suit ready for the presentation.

Below is the river that has been given concrete banks and in the background some more concrete apartment blocks and the MTR into Hong Kong.

After the meeting my client heard me asking about the nearby Plover Cove and kindly took me to see it.

It was a good place to say goodbye to Hong Kong. The city is rightly known to be crowded, with millions packed in so tightly it must grow vertically higher and higher.

But the rocky peaks that squish in the buildings are also an escape valve, where at weekends hikers can be found stretching their legs.

And not just hikers, at Plover Cove there are also water sports with boats and kayaks for hire.

Another thing for "next time".

Farewell Hong Kong.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hong Kong Railway Museum

Just round the corner from the Man Mo Temple in Tai Po is the Hong Kong Railway Museum, and I had just enough time to pop in and see it before heading off for my meeting. Indeed without having spotted a taxi rank in the central square would probably have had to give it a miss.

Which would be a shame as always had a soft spot for train as form of transport. Unlike (say) coach travel, trains are fun - the children in the photo above were having a great time playing around the old coaches and balancing on the rails as they walked along the tracks.

In the modern age we have the wonderful Eurostar that whisks us from London to Paris in two and a half hours at a breath taking 186 miles per hour.

There is also a more than a little romance about train journeys. Consider how Hitchcock used trains as meeting places, from Cary Grant's encounter with Ava Marie Saint in North by Northwest to Hannay meeting Pamela on his way to the highlands of Scotland.

And that romance is no doubt the reason there was a host of wedding photos being taken in the museum while I was there. Were they real couples or a magazine shoot I'll never know but striking anyhow:

This one seemed on her own:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Temples of Hong Kong and Macau

One of the pleasures of Hong Kong is that often you'd turn a corner and there would be a temple in front of you, exotic mix of gold and red, smelling of incense. Its part of the mix of old and new I mentioned before that is one of the attractions of Hong Kong.

So here are the top three of those I saw, starting with the Tin Hau temple (above) that was just around the corner from my hotel, so was one of the first things I saw on my visit. Its not that large and surrounded by tower blocks (such as, er, my hotel).

It is dedicated to the patroness of seafarers (hurruh!) and initially wondered what it was doing hundred metres or so from the sea, but apparently it used to be water front before a round of land reclamation.

Next up is the A-Ma temple in Macau (below), which is opposite the Maritime Museum. Apparently when the Portuguese arrived they asked the name of the place and was told it was A-Ma Gau (Bay of A-Ma) from which they derived Macau.

A-Ma is known in Hong Kong as Tin Hau - so this another temple to seafarers, including fishermen.

There are various stories behind her, some of which are on in Wikipedia here, but the guide book also had another, based on how she wanted to travel to Guangzhou but the rich junks refused to help. A poor fisherman was prepared to give her passage: during the voyage a storm blew up and wrecked all the junks but saved the little fishing boat. On arrival after this miracle she ascended to heaven and the temple was built on the spot

Within the complex there is a large boulder with a traditional sailing boat embossed on it:

There are temples to many other causes than seafarers: for example this elegant temple was in the New Territories at Tai Po and is dedicated to Man Mo, and as such dedicated to the gods of literature and war.

To me thats an odd combination, but there's no doubt its a lovely building. There was another Man Mo temple in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district I never got round to seeing (another next time) but I was in Tai Po on business so seemed a good chance to drop in.

It had this impressive drum and bell combination that wish had a chance to hear:

More on Tai Po later....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Boats of Hong Kong

Some pics of the boats saw while in Hong Kong.

First up, above, is the most spectacular, which saw gliding through Victoria Harbour one evening as sat in my room working on the laptop. I'd love to have been on board, but just looking at it gave a lovely feel for Hong Kong of the 19th century.

Having done some googling think its a reproduction of The Bounty that is based in Discovery Bay on nearby Lantau island. Unfortunately the only side to Lantau had a chance to see was the airport, so the sights there like this remain on my "next time" list.

Below of course is the iconic Star Ferry that are continually crossing the harbour:

For longer distances there are the fast cats - like this TurboJet preparing to leave Macau:

On the way there and back passed a couple of these fishing junks - wonder if that's where my sardines came from?

Back in Hong Kong had a chance to see the junks up close moored in Causeway Bay. It was glimpse of a traditional way of life, a bit anachronistic amongst the gleaming towers of steel and glass, but that mixture is part of the attraction of this city.

I think they can make their money taking tourists out for tours, and in which case maybe the more grimy the more "authentic".

Of course this being Hong Kong, where there are more Rolls Royces than anywhere else, there are also fleets of shiny Sun Seekers:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Three Macaus

On Saturday I took the fast cat over to Macau - or at least two of the three Macaus.

The first Macau, and for me the main draw, was the old Portuguese settlement with churches, some ruined like St Paul's above, barracks, offices clubs, forts and the like. The connections with Europe go an awful long way back - 1557 according to my guide book.

And it was a major early trading base with the whole of south east Asia, connecting countries like Japan Indonesia and India. It was also a base for the Jesuits who took a significant role in the settlement, including one of the order firing the cannon that saw off an invasion of Dutch!

It was at a Portuguese restaurant I stopped for lunch - Afonso III - where had some lovely sardines.

Increasingly though the old Macau is being lost within the second city. Just as if we humans were to disappear our cities would soon be lost within the undergrowth, so the colonial buildings are islands within the Chinese city it really is:

The streets were packed with shoppers and tourists buying foods and gifts that meant nothing to me. They were also crowds in front of the huge screen in the main square following the Grand Prix that was being held here this weekend.

There is a third Macau, one which left me cold. For its a great gambling centre and there are these huge casinos that intrude on the sky line and suck money out of those that come over.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hello from Hong Kong

The view from Hong Kong peak is as spectacular as you might expect. Hong Kong radiants wealth and a dynamic energy as it enters the 21st Century.

It brings a bit of city envy - in London we had docks, now we have Docklands, but here there is a huge working port. London might have the longest underground railway in the world, but the MTR is air conditioned, has wireless coverage, and animated route maps showing the train location as a flashing light.

But after nearly 3 weeks away beginning to long for the cold wet streets on old London town. But have a presentation to give in the New Territories tomorrow, so time for a short stop over sight seeing.

The island whose handover in 1997 marked the formal end of the British Empire, with Britannia sailing off into the South China Seas as the heavens opened and the rain came poring down, was won under the most inglorious of ways.

Its hard imagine now the circumstances that led 19th Century Britain to go to war with China in order to have the right to sell heroin, but they did, and not only did the gunboats succeed but also they gained this superb harbour into the bargain.

But the city has moved on, English is spoken much less (taxi drivers and restaurant menus have both proved a problem) and the city is most definitely part of China.

So anyhow took the tram to the top:

... and took a Star Ferry across the harbour:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dinner is served

When Tillerman announced this month's group writing project was "Guess who's coming for dinner", to select the one sailing-related guest you would invite to a dinner party, for me there was only one choice.

It wasn't that it was allegedly my great-to-the-n-th uncle, he is also a real legend, but a legend about whom as an individual there would be so much more to learn.

We know he was the first person to sail twice round the world, and then topped that by doing it a third time. And that was in late 17th and early 18th century, the days of real sailing - square rigged, oak and tar, scurvy and rats.

There were no grib files to forecast the weather - it was unknown all the way round. But he was a pioneer that helped change that. He wrote the book on oceanic weather systems - literally in this case, the "Discourse on Trade Winds" that was used by the British Navy for two hundred years and read by Captain Cook on his explorations years later.

He wrote many other books, including his "A New Voyage around the World" which was again literally a best seller, making him a celebrity of London. He dinned with Samual Pepys and knew the world of restoration England, again a time I'd love to hear about.

I'd like to hear more about his life - how he met his little mentioned wife, why he left her for so long, of the friendships and romances he had on his journeys.

And also he must be a source of endless stories. Of his piracy days and the pirates he knew. Of sailing adventures across the Atlantic to Africa, around the Horn, across the Pacific, the far East, landing on Australia (the first Englishman to do so), to India (where he was in charge of the guns at a fort) and on to Cape Town. Of how he was part of the expedition that marooned Selkirk on the one of the Juan Fernandez islands and also on the one that picked him up, and how that led to the story of Robinson Crusoe.

Pirate, buccaneer, slave trader, Naval Captain, navigator, writer, explorer, scientist, hydrographer, husband, friend, and much much more.

I'd like to hear about all of those, and fill in the gaps he left out in his published books.

I'd open my door and welcome him in, that old sailor, William Dampier.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Goodbye Canberra

Being a tourist

Some more pictures from Canberra, doing "the sights". Its funny how it felt less fun than simply going for a random ride around the lake!

On the go again

I am now the right way up having crossed the equator again.

But also not home yet - indeed visiting somewhere new to me.

So will post a couple of Canberra pics before moving on and also answering Tillerman's group writing project.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Visiting the Canberra Yacht Club

Next stop was the Canberra Yacht Club - after all how could I with time on my hands and a bike to get me around not have a try having a sail?

And they had a whole rank of Hobie cats just itching to be taken out:

So I hired one and headed out. They say Hobies can sail even in the slightest whisper of a breeze and that's just as well as it was one of those still days when its more a case of drifting than zooming across the lake.

I'd be looking at the flags go see if they'd tell me where the wind was coming from and er, that didn't really help:

But it was fun as always. I got to practice my steering with my feet while lying flat on my back staring at the blue sky, and found out what happens if you let go of everything and let the boat find its own way.

Every now and then there'd be a gust and there'd be that wonderful trickling sound under the hull and hopes would be raised but then it would disappear.

But hey! it was sailing and about a million times better than working on that document and I'm now a bit sun blasted.

So I did a bit of tacking then some gybing and then headed back in.

Biking to the National Museum of Australia

The original plan was for a six day presentation but luckily the client seemed happy with "just" the five so had a day off. Even better the document was meant to be working on next was lost somewhere back in London so really nothing to stop a free day seeing the sights of Canberra.

So I headed down to "Mr Spokes" bike hire by the edge of Lake Burley Griffins. Actually it was Mrs Spokes who fixed me out with helmet and gear speaking slightly quietly as little baby Spokes was sleeping out the back. It was a very friendly, family run business and they also serve excellent ice creams, so big thumbs up.

First up was the National Museum of Australia (above and below) just along the lake. The best bits were:
- Circa, a multi-media story of Australia in a rotating theatre (cool)
- Aboriginal artefacts and history
- the Garden of Australian dreams (below)

This picture below is "the map" - weaving together a standard map of Australia, Horton's map of Aboriginal boundaries, vegetation, soil, geology, electoral boundaries, exploration and road maps all together in a huge plaza in the centre of the museum:

I always like maps, and having one in an art installation where it takes time to work out exactly what you are looking at was fascinating. Actually you can see it most clearly on Google Maps - click here.

This photo and the one above are taken from the "top end" of Australia looking south:

Outside there are these huge modern sculptures curling into the sky like a surfer's dream wave:

I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more on the early explorers and first fleet, but more on that (and other sights of Canberra) later.