Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten favourites from 2009

So its the end of another year and time to look back and reflect. Overall 2009 ended up being a good year despite swine flu, a broken toe and bad reaction to a yellow fever jab.

One of the reasons was there was a lot of good travel to some really interesting places, and those posts certainly are high on the list of favourites of 2009. On reflection there weren't many sailing and kayaking ones on the short list. Partly this was because of the travel and injuries didn't do that much, but also because there are other blogs out there that cover these topics a lot better.

What I've enjoyed doing and posting are the travel stories and fiction, though usually with a water sport related angle.

So enough of the analysis and on with the list:

1) In March / April went to Venezuela which was a fantastic experience. The high spot was the trip to the Orinoco Delta where was woken at dawn by howler monkeys before heading off for a fly by of Angel Falls (or Kerepakupai-Meru as we must learn to call it).

2) In April posted a natural navigation picture puzzle relating to how far the trees on either side of an avenue in a London park had come out. It generated a lot of good suggestions and ideas and was eventually solved by the Natural Navigator himself.

3) In May I broke my toe which put a temporary end to sailing and kayaking so instead got on my bike and headed up river for a great ride to Kingston and back.

4) In July in response to one of the many great group writing exercises put together the Ultimate Walk by the Thames, 50 top sights on a trail from Westminster to Tower Bridge which strongly recommend to those visiting London for the first time

5) Also in July did a bareboat holiday in Greece about the time that Tillerman asked for a review, so posted a point by point breakdown of the Sunsail charter complete with a star rating.

6) In August there was another group writing competition which resulted in a post on the JP Blog Experience. However that entry didn't make the top 10, but the account of what happened when the venture went on Dragon's Den does.

7) In September the blog's roving reporter Buff Staysail was lucky enough to go on Tillerman's Laser Experience training program and apparently came back a winner. It wouldn't be fair not to mention ol' BS at least once (or be worth the inevitable complaints)

8) In October the weather started to turn and it was time to head indoors to the Tate Gallery. The seascapes of Turner and the Masters was a thought providing exhibition about art, artists and the development of artistic ideas which was well worth catching.

9) Also in October in response to O Docker joining the blogging world forgot what my notes meant that hinted at a great post. However it spurred the creative juices to come up with the Blog Code of the Woosters.

10) Last but not least was the trip in November to Azerbaijan and Georgia which was spectacular. There were a host of posts and pictures that will treasure for a long time but the clear winner for me was the Tsminda Sameba Church, high in the Caucasus mountains. Simply amazing.

Some were popular with Google (Navionics reviews) and some like Top Yacht I enjoyed but were too long for this list (and received little feedback).

The picture above is from the snow in February which felt suitably wintery.

Thanks to everyone who dropped in and read or commented - its been fun. See you in 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peter Pan - Boxing Day Panto

One of the many rituals of a British Christmas is a trip to the Pantomime - particularly if you have children in your party.

I was thinking that no explanation would be necessary but the Wikipedia article on pantomime or panto seems to imply its mostly a British and ex-pat plus a few ex colonies like Australia that have experienced this unique music theatre event.

Pantomime is most definitely nothing to do with mime but a starts with a traditional tale like Cinderella, Aladdin or Dick Wittington. The story is usually simplified and then told with a mixture of song and dance, with added dollops of slap-stick and a heavy dose of double-entendres.

A key part is audience participation with calls of "behind you" or "oh no it isn't" nearly guaranteed together with a sing-along where left and right sides of the audience compete.

One of the other conventions is that of the Pantomime Dame which is a bloke. We saw Peter Pan and the fairy was not Tinkerbell but Tinkerbelly, a rather fat man in a bizarre pink outfit.

At the top is a video of the cast including Peter Pan, Wendy and Tinkerbelly. While the show did involve pirates and mermaids it must be admitted that this wasn't the Marlow Theatre's greatest hour, but the kids enjoyed it. It didn't help that as the theatre is being re-developed the show was moved to a temporary circus like tent in a nearby site.

Often this is a chance for TV soap stars to earn a little extra and this can include Australian favourites like Neighbours, but all we had was Adrian Edmondson from The Young Ones as Captain Hook.

Oh well, maybe it will be better next time.

As we filed out a new crowd was turning up for the next show - roll up roll up and keep them coming, for the show must go on.

Christmas Day BBQ

On Christmas day we went to the beach. It was nothing like the Australian summer sun experience, rather a huddling from a biting Arctic wind deep within coats and woolly hats behind a sand dune, hands stretching towards the warmth of the disposal bbq.

But all the same it was strangely satisfying and we were not the only ones battling the elements. As we went down to the sea to dip our walking boots in the sea three horses were ridden by, galloping along the shallow waters.

Then back to have a couple of too quickly cooked charcoal covered sausages:

And with a brrr! that was enough and we returned in doors to light a proper fire and open those presents.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mince pies and the best of 2009

Hope everyone is now happily full of their favourite things, whether it be mince pies, chocolates, turkey with stuffing or the warmth of human happiness.

So having travelled, eaten, washed up (many times) and successfully shown nephews and nieces the correct way to fly a model helicopter am now back in JP HQ ready to catch up on what the blogsphere has been up to.

And there are already some very nice best of 2009 posts to read, including (in no order apart from tabs of my browser):

First up there's H2uhO's comments in the original post that focus's on iPhone apps (which is something should look into and post in near future). He also posted some sailing reflections from 2009 which sort of count too.

Adam's Moments in Sailing Blogging in 2009 which includes the NY meet up (what a great idea), Bowsprite's great paintings which make even the most humble tug look beautiful, the definitely worth subscribing to Keep Turning Left YouTube videos, and many others.

O'Docker goes back to his roots in commenting on others blogs, and if you haven't read that fantastic book "Blog Commenting for Dummies" you should order your copy asap from the author - magic stuff

Bonnie, apart from tempting us with freshly baked bread (oh, I so want smell-o-vision) and a fantastically Christmas / The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe picture, reminded us how great Tillerman's challenges have been and her experiences in dinghy sailing (woh! not kayaking you ask? - well go and read).

Tillerman himself gave us three mince pies which included two of my favourites - the 10 reason why almost gave up sailing and the Laser experience. Actually the latter is Buff's favourite as one of the few who claim to have finished it (but then he does claim a lot of things). I was meaning to comment on the 10 raisins list but was travelling at the time as its something that could also apply to me.

And last but by no means least so far is Carol Anne with 10 high spots of what otherwise sounds like not a good year. Luckily it includes two of my favs, namely the "This is awkward" writing competition, which had fun in responding to, and the sailing light bulb jokes which recommend heading over to straight away for some post Christmas humour.

Any more out there?

Oh yes, mine. Well that's one of several posts over the last few days of 2009 including one about a man in a pink fairy costume.

Update: some stats, the top ten posts, and a favourite from Tugster here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Christmas 2009

Happy Christmas!

There is a debate of course about what to say with the corporate friendly choice being Happy Holidays. But this blog is not a business by any measure, and for me a holiday involves travel somewhere new, probably with boats or discovering the people and geography of a country.

This break involves family and presents, decorated trees and a turkey (*), carols and children, and all the trimmings of a traditional English Christmas of the middle classes in the home counties, which is of course all very pleasant.

The Christmas vs Holidays choice reminds me a bit of the integration vs multi-cultural debate, whether the (mostly) American approach of all celebrating the universal against the (mostly) European alternative of keeping separate cultures in a single country.

My feelings is that I'd be very happy to receive an invitation to enjoy a happy Hunakkah or Eid from those for whom those are special events, so I should celebrate the day that is important for me.

But what picture to show? In the end went for this slightly abstract crescent. It's the sun glinting off a lake large enough to be counted as a sea, but not on Earth.

For this is the Sea of Krakens on Titan, where one day robot explorers might sail the liquid methane seas.

And this is appropriate given the BBC's big pull out all the stops Christmas special this year is the first of a two parter end of an era last David Tennant as Doctor Who. Can't wait!

What ever you are doing over the next few days hope you have a great and very enjoyable time.

I'll be back posting sometime next week with my list of top blog entries of 2009

(*) I hope - for the last 3 years have always had something "different" which is really nice in its way, but it is the season of tradition

Friday, December 18, 2009

Your blog in 2009

It's the time of year of lists - cards to write, presents to buy and what to bring to which event.

It's also the time of year for mulled wine, for uncles to "test" presents for nephews and nieces, and visits to far flung relatives.

All of which means that blogging might become a less frequent, but there is one post was thinking of putting up sometimes over the festive fortnight.

I was thinking of going through the blog posts this year and picking out a couple of my favourites as a flavour of what you can expect here.

But then I thought - it would be great to have something to read after stuffed full of mince pies, and what better than the cream of the crop of other blogs.

So how about this - anyone who's interested lists their top blog entries of 2009. It can be the top favourite, the top 3, 5, 10, or any other number that takes your fancy (though anything over 12 will be considered excessive).

I'm not going to judge or award points or top ten top tens or anything anal like that - there are clearly experts out there at that field.

It's just a "how about it" suggestion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A White Christmas?

It snowed today!

Ok, it was nothing like the epic dump we had in February (as in the pic above) and it melted almost at once, but for getting into the Christmas spirit it was just great if cold.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.....

ps - if anyone has any ideas or suggestions as to why the comments tool isn't working that would be very welcome!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's in a name?

What's a good name for a yacht manufacturer? I was thinking this as read December's Yachting World and there was an article about a Wally doing the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).

That was all very fine and good but the inner school boy in me never stops having a silent snigger as the phrase "what a wally!" echoes through the head. Maybe its just me.

It clearly doesn't have the same ring as (say) Oyster, as in pearls, fine food, or the world is your.

Does it matter? Clearly not as they are a hugely successful company, and as Juliet - or rather Shakespeare - once said "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

However the bard hadn't heard of word association marketing strategies (lucky chap). I once saw in Germany a tour company with their name along the side of the bus, namely "F**kers". Clearly there would be a certain difficulty in bringing that brand to the UK market.

But maybe it isn't important to those that matter. Those who can afford to buy and run a Wally probably don't feel they have anything to prove.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tillerman's Painkiller Count

So O Docker wants to know how many painkillers Tillerman had during his vacation in the sunny Caribbean?

Obviously one problem is having absolutely no data to go on. However one of the advantages of a career in Consultancy is that one learns ways around what otherwise would be something of a stumbling block.

The key is to have a methodology which ensures there is documentary evidence that can be presented to the client prior to invoicing to demonstrate that work has been done to an assured quality level (we luckily don't have to say what that level is).

In this study we propose to use the following methodology:
Stage 1: identify the possible activities or behaviours that will lead to Tillerman requiring to take painkillers
Stage 2: identify for each possible activity a probability or alternatively the number of cases that will occur during his vacation
Stage 3: identify for each possible activity the number of painkillers required
Stage 4: numerical compute from the data collected (see, even without actual real data we have created some!) the total number of painkillers.

This methodology can be submitted to the client at the kick-off to get sign-off, and ensure they can say to their stakeholders they are operating an evidence driven decision making process (ha!). For the sake of argument the vacation is considered to start at arrival at the airport and end at return.

So lets start with Stage 1, identification of things that might require painkillers:
a) The terminal (either ends) is crowded and noisy
b) Tillerman drinks and flys (not a good idea, given dehydration effect of altitude)
c) A crying baby is in the seat next to Tillerman (either direction)
d) The road to the hotel is very bumpy and the driver speeds, so his head hits the roof
e) During his stay he bumps his head on the boom of the boat he is sailing
f) During his stay he falls asleep in the sun
g) During his stay he has a celebration involving too many drinks including rum
h) During his stay there is a steel drum band playing as he is trying to sleep
i) He is caught by Mrs T checking out the local ladies on the beach and his excuse involving research for the blog is not accepted
j) Alas there was something in the water/salad/fruit which didn't agree with his stomach

Ok, that's pretty comprehensive list, so on to stages 2 and 3. Here we use the model to develop (good word that, doesn't imply anything made up) the numbers, and fire up Excel, the consultants friend.

Of course there are some issues about concurrency i.e. probability of two events at once, but that is covered by the half a pill factor. There are also other activities that are likely to only happen once (activities f. and i. spring to mind).

Hence using a formalised, quality controlled methodology and a mathematical model we can derive the answer.

Properly this should of course be given in a PowerPoint presentation which sticks to that great recommendation of tell them what you're going to say, say it, then tell them what you've told them.

But as this is an unpaid study lets just jump to the answer: 18

Drum roll or address to send invoice to please.

Any questions?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More Turning Left

Another plug for the great Keep Turning Left videos on YouTube which if you haven't subscribed to yet, you really should.

This video is from The Naze, and with its Google Earth spin arounds and discussions on the geophysical origins of sand banks is much more than your average cruising log.

Highly recommended.

New laptop, old Virtual Skipper

Last week my laptop failed, again. This time it was the power system, so can now measure its lifespan in the capacity of the currently charged batteries.

It was made by HP, which according to this report has the lowest reliability of any of the main manufacturers. And having had another replace-the-motherboard level of failure earlier this year was a) not happy and b) not prepared to go through that process again.

So CC in hand splashed out on a new one (not from HP) and spent the last few days transferring the data across and re-loading programs.

And under a pile of archived CDs and DVDs found an old copy of Virtual Skipper, namely version 2. So loaded it up and had fun thrashing a couple of simulated ACC boats.

I wonder if there is an upgrade path to the most recent?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The White Cliffs of Dover

For O'Docker:

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see

I'll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I'm far away
I still can hear them say
Bombs up...
But when the dawn comes up

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see

There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
When the world is free

The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see...

London to New York by Laser?

The previous posts came out of wondering if the trans-Atlantic voyage by Laser is feasible - even if not by the Top Yacht trio - and can see no reason why not.

After all Michael Blackburn managed to sail across the Bass Strait in a Laser (above), which is 117 nm of open waters. It took him 13 hours to cross, at an average of 8 knots.

So the Iceland to Greenland crossing of 150 nm is a bit more but still doable. With the same average speed that would take nearly 19 hours - tough, but a single sailor could do that with a lot of coffee to keep them going.

By linking up a whole series of hops like that I can see no reason why a London to New York voyage couldn't be achieved.

But can guarantee it won't be by me!

Coastline Cops vs Sea Patrol UK

A choice on marine related TV tonight:

ITV, 8pm: Coastline Cops: The work of police officers patrolling Britain's shores, beginning with terrorist threats at Cowes Week


Channel 5: Sea Patrol UK: An emergency towing vessel rushes to the aid of a stricken chemical tanker drifting towards a sand bank

What to watch...?

It's Coastline Cops in the lead so far with that Cowes week story, but with the remote to hand the game is open.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Top Yacht: The Less is More Challenge Ends

Ext: Icelandic beach, our three presenters and Lisa the Laser

Clarkson: Right, this is the big one, the crossing to Greenland, over 150 nautical miles of open water in the little boat that James insists on calling Lisa.


Clarkson: To be honest none of us are looking forward to this, its so far we will have to sail at night and its freezing cold waters that can turn storm like at a moments notice.

Hammond (in a dry suit): But we've come so far so here goes, again its up to me to start us off

He gets in the dinghy and heads out to sea.

Clarkson: Right, off to the support boat

May: I have a very bad feeling about this

Ext: offshore, May is sailing the Laser.

Voice over (Clarkson): Initially all went well, made good time and no one fell in. Then it got dark, the wind got up, and yours truly found himself in a bit of a pickle....

Ext: view from webcam attached to base of Laser's mast. It has capsized so horizon is a vertical line. Clarkson is swimming in a survival suit.

Clarkson: [Beeping] [Beep] [Beep]. This is seriously bad news. A gust plus freak wave came out the darkness and there was nothing I could do. Now I can't get back in, can't get the Laser back up and I think the light at the top of the mast has gone out - water damage no doubt. Oh [Beeb]

He tries again to get back on the Laser but is too cold, tired, inflexible, and constrained by his survival suit.

Clarkson: How can they find me in the dark now? Just have to try the old fashioned way

He cups his hand over his mouth and cries out "Help!". As he does so he lets go of the Laser which drifts away.

Clarkson: Oh my God!

Int: Support ship, sleeping quarters, May is sleeping when he is waken by Hammond

May: What now?

Hammond: This is serious, we've lost Lisa and Clarkson, its night, its cold, and survival times are pretty low at the best of times

Ext: support boat, May and Hammond rush on deck and try to scan the water with torches.

Hammond: Sh! I can hear something!

They listen and can just hear a whistle blowing in the dark

May: That must be him! Quick lets take the RIB and search for him

Ext: Clarkson is helped onboard, wrapped in blankets and rushed below

Int: Main cabin of support boat, all three presenters around a table, Clarkson drinking hot tea.

Hammond: You have no idea how lucky you are that we didn't miss you in the dark

Clarkson says nothing, just nods and shivers

May: Poor old Lisa...

Ext: coastline of Greenland, waves pounding on cliffs,

Voice over (May): Eventually we found Lisa, but it was too late, she hadn't survived the journey, being broken in two by the hard, icy cold shoreline. We had failed.....

Int: Top Yacht Studio. Audience applauds, all three presenters shake their heads.

Clarkson: Yet again we were ambitious but crap

Hammond: Forget that, you almost went the same way as Lisa and ended up smashed to pieces, drowned, frozen or simply lost at sea

May: Crossing the Atlantic by Laser might be possible but it certainly is very, very dangerous. Maybe those health and safety people have - for once - a point.

Clarkson: And with that bombshell, its good night!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Top Yacht: Sailing Star in a Standard Laser

INT: Top Yacht studio, usual three presenters, studio audience, various boats hanging behind etc

Clarkson: Before the final clip from our Less is More Challenge it's time to put a Sailing Star in our Standard Laser. This week we have a legend of offshore sailing - ladies and gentleman, Mike Golding!

Audience applauds.

Clarkson: Mike?

May and Hammond appear instead

Clarkson: What are you doing here? Where is Mike?

Hammond: There's been a little hiccup

Clarkson: What?

May: Well he was about to start out when a fluke burst of lightening hit a tree which then crashed onto his car

Hammond: He tried to call for a cab but then really unluckily a meteorite hit the local telephone exchange.

May: So he ran 5 miles to the nearest train station where due to a bizarre sequence of events involving goats and the overflow from a sewage works all trains were cancelled.


Clarkson: So he's not coming?

Hammon: No, he says sorry - next time!

Clarkson: Well, they don't call him the most unlucky sailor for nothing.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Top Yacht: The Less is More Challenge Part 2

Ext: Sandy beach in Orkneys: Our three presenters are standing with their backs to strong winds and rain. Waves are crashing on the beach behind them and sand is being blown almost horizontal.

Clarkson: Ok, so here we are in the Orkney islands about to take up Hammond's simply stupid challenge to sail a Laser-

May: - called Lisa -

Clarkson: - to sail a Laser with the stupid name of Lisa across the Atlantic and from here its an 88 nautical mile passage to the next stop, the Shetlands.

Hammond: That's not too bad, really, don't laugh, in a decent wind that's a 12 hour or so sail and if we take in turns that 4 hours each, look we can do that!

May: But not in this howling gale.

Hammond: Ok, maybe these aren't the ideal weather conditions

Clarkson: Who's going to join me in a cultural exploration of the Orkneys?

May: If you're thinking what I'm thinking, then yes!

Clarkson: Where to go first? Highland Park or Scapa?

May: Neither, a pub which has both whiskeys!

Clarkson: You're on, lets go somewhere dry with a roaring peat fire.

They head off, fade out.

Fade in to: sunny day, blue skies, gentle breeze and a sandy beach where Lisa the Laser is on her trailer.

Hammond (in a dry suit): Ok, so this is it. The weather forecast guru's have said we have a 24 hour window to do the crossing: if we leave now we'll get the tide and should be at the Shetlands by sunset.

May: And as it was all his idea, Hammond goes first

Clarkson: Me and May will stay safely in the support boat.

They launch the Laser, Hammond climbs on and sails off.

Hammond: I'm off, next stop the Shetlands, see you in 4 hours for the handover!

Clarkson and May watch him sail off.

Clarkson: We could just let him do it himself and head off to the pub again.


May: But you did get banned from every pub on every island


Clarkson (sighing): I guess we better go.

They climb in the waiting RIB and head out to the support boat.

EXT: Hammond sailing along in the open see.

Hammond: This is just superb sailing. Moderate winds, gentle swell, making nearly 10 knots, should be there in plenty of time.

Voice over (May): All went fine for Hammond's leg, then of course it was Clarkson so things went wrong.

EXT: Inside support boat by radio set

Clarkson voice from radio: Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

May: Oh sea-cock, what's up now

They go outside and look over side at Clarkson, who seems to be sailing along quite nicely

Hammond (yelling): What's up now?

Clarkson: There's a shark - I saw a shark, I promise you!!

A fin breaks the surface just past Lisa

Clarkson: Look - look!!

Hammond (quietly to May): This is too good to waste, lets tell him its a great white.

May: No, he'll only panic

Hammond (shouting): But its a basking shark you wally, won't hurt a fly!

Clarkson: But its huge!!

Shark swims off.

Clarkson: Ok, that's it, time for May to take over.

Cut to: May comes on deck in dry suit and climbs into the RIB which heads over to Lisa and then Clarkson and May swap places

Clarkson: It's north remember, north, which is that way (he points)

May: No problem, see you at the Shetlands

May sails off. Cut to:

Ext: Beach on the Shetlands at sunset. Lisa is being sailed towards the beach by May. As it comes ashore with a crunch:

May: And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do that!

Clarkson (opening a champagne bottle): We did it! We are ambitious and not crap!

Hammond (taking a glass): Hate to break it to you but we have two more hops to go before we get to Iceland, and that's only the beginning...

What will happen next? Can this trio really cope with the longest leg of all, from the Faroes to Iceland, 240 nautical miles non-stop across some of the most treacherous waters on the planet?

Tune in after the advert break to find out....

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Top Yacht: The Less is More Challenge Part 1

INT: Top Yacht studio, usual three presenters, studio audience, various boats hanging behind etc

Clarkson: Now earlier we described the latest of the Top Yacht Challenges. This one was bigger and no doubt crazier than anything we had done earlier - to sail across the Atlantic by Laser. And can I just add - it was all Hammond's idea.

Hammond: But it wasn't all in one go but in six stages and with three sailors taking it in turns to sail our little Laser, which of course May decided to give a name and called her Lisa.

Clarkson: So Lisa set off from Putney with Aqua Stig, Ben Ainslie and Anna Tunnicliffe taking turns to sail her. First leg was along the East coast of England and Scotland up to the Orkneys.

May: And an interesting time they had of it. They got stuck in Aldeburgh when conditions in the North Sea were a bit dodgy, almost got run over by a container ship outside Newcastle, got told off for not showing enough lights in the Forth, and by the time they got to the destination they were quite glad to hand Lisa over to us to do the offshore leg to Iceland.

Clarkson: 677 nautical miles in 7 days was pretty good going, but we had a lot tougher challenge ahead of us. 834 nautical miles to Iceland, with two long offshore legs from the Orkneys to the Shetland Islands and then from the Faroes to Iceland.

Hammond: The last of these was 240 nautical miles of open water. Arctic conditions where storms can appear without notice and where survival times in the freezing water was measured in minutes.

May: It was therefore with much misgiving that we packed our dry suits and fly off to the Orkneys to take up the challenge.....

Pindar in Iran

Quick break from Top Yacht for a news flash.

It's always a jolt to see something or someone you know in the news, and it was a bit like that when saw that the ex Volvo 60 Pindar has been caught after apparently drifting into Iranian waters.

I've been on her twice, both times day-sails in the Solent, and she is a lovely craft, fast and responsive (see video above). There was one long term crew on both days called Olly, and there seems to be not one but two Ollys in the crew currently being held in Iran, so it seems likely that at least one of them I know and have sailed with.

At this moment in time I'm not that worried for them. It clearly is a civilian craft and was there by accident not malicious intent. Iran wants the recognition and respect it feels it deserves as a regional power, and that is more likely to come from making a point over capturing them in their waters but also releasing them afterwards.

It's a county I'd like to visit and those friends who have in recent years have all come back having had great times. But as tensions could erupt into something more at short notice it can surely wait.

Fingers crossed for a happy resolution, but we might have to be patient and play it cool.

Update: oops, it might be another boat. Just seen a news program that implied it was an Open 60 not Volvo 60, will looking to this further.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top Yacht: The News - America's Cup Update

INT: Top Yacht studio, usual three presenters, studio audience, various boats hanging behind etc

Clarkson: More news - an update on the America's Cup

Audience groans, May and Hammond shake their heads in disbelief and Clarkson holds up a piece of paper

Clarkson: The latest press release. I'm losing the will to live let alone read it

May: Does it mention lawyers?

Clarkson (looking at paper): Yes

Hammon: Does it mention any sailing?

Clarkson: No - so its clearly of no interest

He scrumples it up into a ball and throws at the audience.

Clarkson: This is beyond a joke, its... what's the word?

May: Foolish?

Clarkson: No, worse than that

Hammond: Stupid?

Clarkson: No, worse than that!

May: What's worse than foolish and stupid?

Hammond: Us!

Audience laughs and claps

Clarkson: Yes - even we couldn't [beep] up the America's Cup like this. I mean really how hard could it be to come up with an idea? When it comes to that, what was wrong with the last one?

Hammond: Nothing, great racing, good winds, excellent really

May: ...and Valencia - excellent food and wine!

Clarkson: Yes, May, that's what's important on a program called Top Yacht! But he's right, you're right, why not just do it again, every four years.

Hammond: Plus talk to the Vendee Globe and Volvo lot to make sure each are every four years but not the same year.

Clarkson: Yes! So we'd have the America's Cup, the Volvo, the Vendee, and then what for the last year?

May: The Olympics of course

Clarkson and Hammond: Yes!

Clarkson: So there you are, if we three bunch of ambitious but crap sailors can sort out the mess there really is no excuse.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Top Yacht: The News - Man Overboard!

Top Yacht logo & post advert theme

INT: Top Yacht studio, usual three presenters, studio audience, various boats hanging behind etc

Clarkson: Welcome back! We'll catch up on the Top Yacht Less is More Trans-Atlantic Laser Challenge later in the show but first its the news.

May: And we kick off with a sobering video from the Clipper Round the World race. Arthur Bowers was racing on Humber and Hull....

Hammond: You mean Hull and Humber!

May: Do I?

Hammond: Yes.

May: Ok, well anyhow Arthur Bowers was racing in the Clipper Round the World Race on Hull and Humber when he got washed overboard in the South Atlantic during a storm.

Clarkson: Now I'm not one for these health and safety wallies but when it comes to clipping on during a storm this is a definitely no brainer. All I can say is do watch this video and see what happens when man overboard is not a drill.

Click here for the video.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Top Yacht - The Less is More Challenge

Top Yacht logo & post advert theme

INT: Top Yacht studio, usual three presenters, studio audience, various boats hanging behind etc

Clarkson: We're back! Yes it's time for a new series of Top Yacht!

Audience cheers!

Clarkson (waving in his hand a piece of paper): And we start with a letter from a viewer, an American - apparently they do a bit of sailing over there - who calls himself Tillerman. And he asks why do we muck around in big boats rather than the wonderful Laser? Haven't we ever heard of the concept that less is more?

Camera viewpoint lowers so Clarkson at 6 foot 6 inches towers above the viewer.

Clarkson: This is clearly complete bollocks. And I mean a Laser, the designers obviously hadn't realised that people grow up

May: And I agreed - after all what good is a boat that's too small for a kettle to make a nice cup of tea! So if it had been up to us the letter would have been crumpled up into a ball so we could play a quick game of football.

Hammond: But luckily it wasn't opened by these two oversized morons but by me! I've always liked the Laser as its clearly the right size and terrific fun to sail. But how to show these two sceptics there is more to it than meets the eye? So I had this idea, a challenge: starting, say, from Putney London, how far could we sail a Laser?

Clarkson: So what do we think? From Putney how far could we sail a Laser?

Voice from the audience: Putney!

Clarkson: Oh very funny! Ok, hands up all those that think we could get to Tower Bridge?

Most of the audience put their hands up.

May: Slightly worried that not everyone thinks we could even sail a Laser from Putney to Tower Bridge!

Audience sniggers.

Clarkson: Ok, how about a bit further, say Greenwich, that's 11 nautical miles?

Some of the audience put hands down.

May: What about the Tilbury Docks, that's nearly thirty nautical miles and pretty much out to sea?

All of the audience now have put their hands down.

The three look at each other smirking.

Clarkson: Go on, you tell them.

Hammond: Well I decided that in true Top Yacht tradition we should be really ambitious and suggested New York.

Gasps, a few laughs, then silence from the audience.

May: You might think he's joking, because we certainly did, but then he explained.

Hammond: The key bit was that I asked how far we could sail the Laser - we, us three. If we took it in turns and had something a bit like a watch system, could we together sail this little boat across the wide Atlantic?

Clarkson: Of course at this point the health and safety idiots got involved and this being the BBC we couldn't just set them on fire or something and ignore all that stupid stuff about the dangers of sailing a one person dinghy in a gale at night.

May: To keep them happy, as well as a watch system we were allowed to go to the nearest land and pull the Laser up the beach as long as we launched at the same point.

Clarkson: Then there was the issue that we of course are very busy people with supermarkets to open, adverts to do voice overs for, that sort of thing. So for most of the actual sailing we'd need stand-ins to take the place of us three.

May: And the three we got were Aqua Stig, Ben Ainslie and Anna Tunnicliffe, as they sort of know a thing or two about Lasers. But the key offshore legs would be up to us.

Hammond: So there you, the Top Yacht sail a Laser across the Atlantic challenge!

Advert break. Are they mad? Could you sail a Laser across the Atlantic? Could those three? Keep watching to find out the answer....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Love and Sailing - what happened next?

In yesterday's post on the less than romantic voyage of Alan and Cleo, Adam, who appropriately blogged on the start of this year's ARC, asked whether there is a part 2?

Well that is a good question, far too good for just me, so what do you think happened next?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Love and Sailing

Alan sat at the navigation table, wondering what he should do. Absent mindedly he twirled a winch handle round and round like a football rattle. Suddenly it reminded him of his youth when his Dad took him to watch Leeds United play in some half remembered northern darby: guiltily he stopped.

Cleo came down the companion way to join Alan in the main cabin. “Time for a drink?” she asked.

He nodded and watched as Cleo mixed two G&Ts. He seemed loss for words, unsure what to say to his wife of 18 years.

In recent years he seemed to know her less and less. He had been distracted by his business which had taken all his time as it had grown and expanded until a major competitor decided it was cheaper to buy him out than battle over margins. That deal had taken time too, late nights with lawyers and accountants, then handling the hand-over and tying up those final loose ends.

This was meant to be his reward – and hers. After all that grind, after seeing the kids head off to university, to live the dream and sail off into the sunset. So he bought a yacht called My Fair Lady and talked her into leaving their plush Surrey home for the cramped quarters and hard slog of a double handed yacht.

“Do it for us” he had argued “Give it a chance – give us a chance. Be adventurous for once”.

It was probably the last little dig that had done it. He suspected she couldn’t face being considered less adventurous than him. He’d always felt a bit second rate to her and her family: they were all professionals, lawyers and academics, while his business – though successful – involved equipment hire to construction companies. They met with politicians and journalists, doers and makers, while he met with builders.

So here they now were, starting off on the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the ARC: three thousand miles of blue water with the warmth of the Caribbean ahead, and just each others company for the next three weeks.

“What are you doing down here?” she asked “Its lovely up on deck with the sun just about to set”.

What was he doing? Was he hiding from her? Frozen for a moment he then thought of something.

“Wanted to listen into the radio net” he said “They often have a get together this time of day”.

He turned on the SSB radio and they started to listen in.

“Howdy sport” said an Australian voice “How’s life on X-Change?”

Alan started. “Wasn't X-Change on the berth next to ours?” he asked.

He could picture them clearly. The skipper had been an ex-city type called Hugo who had insisted their two boats crews should have a dinner together and then patronised Alan for two hours before he’d managed to escape back to the boat on the excuse that he had to check the lightening conductor was properly earthed.

“I’m in the dog house” replied another Aussie voice “Skipper’s not forgiven me for walking in on him shagging that Cleo from My Fair Lady”.

Alan snapped the radio off. His inside tightened as they got colder and colder and then his stomach churned acid. His hands clenched tight around each end of the winch handle and he found his teeth were grinding as out of control cheek muscles pulled his face into a grimace.

He finally looked up at Cleo. He could see that her hands, wrapped around the drinks glass, were shaking. Her face had gone paper white that made her lipstick appear to be floating above her face. Her eyes were locked on his, and looking at them he felt that for once he could actually see her, not the mask she normally wore.

Then the mask snapped back and her chin rose slightly.

“Well” she said “This is awkward”.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The "Love and Sailing" non post

Ah, the romance of sailing!

Anchoring in some isolated coral atoll where there are no lights apart from the fireflies ashore, chink of champagne on ice, bbq on the beach, stars overhead, warm water, skinny dipping and comfy bunks for just you and your loved one....

Nope, never happened, sorry Tillerman.

Now of course there is the tale of [deleted] which was very amusing and how could I forget about when [deleted] and [deleted] which was rather steamy..... but that's some one else story, and they might not be too pleased to have it blogged.

So alas guys it's not going to happen - will just have to blog something posted earlier for what I think was a Carol Anne inspired group writing exercise.

Recycling may not be romantic but it is not just environmentally friendly but also work overload friendly!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Not an apology

Our ex supreme leader, Tony Blair, had this way of giving an apology that was nothing of the sort. Being an ex-lawyer it would sometimes take some time to decode the layers of waffle to work out that what he really was sorry about was that no one realised that he, as the supreme leader, was right.

But I'm not even going to try to match TB's non apologies and just say I am really glad not to have been on the water this weekend.

It was really really wet, really really cold and really really windy. On Sunday it went from F4 to an estimated F8 in a couple of minutes together with horizontal rain that reduced visibility to 100m or so.

Those that signed up for the Hamble Winter Series (I mean, honestly, doesn't that name tell you everything you need to know) reported back:

"You get up at a most unsensible hour to sprint down for the Hamble Winter Series, only to get there and be told at 7.20am "all racing is cancelled". You look at the weather and think how the dickens could they not see this coming and cancel it the night before"

Instead on Saturday I went to one niece's birthday party and then on Sunday to another for "the twins" spreading a cloud of presents behind me like a good uncle should.

Forget wet and dry suits, this is winter and I don't want to go out there!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One hundred thousand martyrs and a blessing

I followed the icon and attending monks from the Georgian Orthodox church down towards the river. First they were joined by another procession and then all were submerged into the huge crowd waiting on the Metekhi Bridge.

This was clearly a major event, but what? Again language was a barrier to comprehension so all I could do was soak up the atmosphere and relish the experience.

One side of the bridge was reserved for a line of dignatories, and demarked with an array of banners, flags, icons and crosses. They made an impressive sight against the backdrop of some of the top sights of Tbilisi.

The bridge is at the heart of old town: on one side of the river was the Metekhi Church and statue of King Vakhtang Georgasali, while on the hill above the other were the Narikala Fortress and Church of St Nicholas (above).

The icon I had followed passed along the line of banners to the square just on the left bank of the river where there was the mass of the crowd and a marquee (below).

There were TV cameras on a crane above the crowd and others posted at strategic places such as below the statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali (see more pictures here).

The crowd were very patient and after about half an hour a service began, led by none other than the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Illia II himself.

To flash forward to what Google told me later, this was an open air service to commemorate the One Hundred Thousand Martyrs. It relates back to 1227 when Sultan Jalal al-Din of Khwarazm and his army of attacked Georgia where he drove the inhabitants onto the bridge and ordered them to walk and spit on their holy icons.

One hundred thousand of them refused and were beheaded, with their remains being thrown into the river below! As I'd noticed before, in Georgia martyrdom and faith seems inextricably linked together.

The service included many moments of the beautiful Georgian plain chants from several choirs, prayers, responses and readings. The Patriarch gave part of the service in the marquee but then led a procession with icons and senior clerics to the bridge itself.

It was quite hard to see what was going on, though got this glimpse of the Patriarch. You have to look closely but he is stepping down from the marquee:

The crowd around me had bunches of flowers and candles which they kept lit through out the service. This was not simple, for despite it being a lovely evening there was a bit of a breeze and one lady next to me seem to use up all her matches and had to get her candle re-lit by the help of others.

It was very packed and at one point another of the ladies shawls caught fire! It was quickly put out by the hands of those around her.

At the end the soldiers keeping us back from the line of barriers melted away and their was a scrum to the bridge. Here the congregation threw their flowers into the river to commemorate those martyrs way back in the 13th Century.

In the midst of all this pushing and shoving one of the senior clerics made his way back towards the square. The mass of people parted in front of him, a line of empty space that went just passed me.

As he walked along this line he placed his hands on the congregation and blessed each one, including me.

It and the service were both very moving experiences.

I left the bridge and joined the throng of good people of Tbilisi returning back to the city.

It was the end of my time in Georgia, and the memory card in my camera was a full as my heart.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Quest - part 2

On the last day in Tbilisi I was going to head up the funicular railway to the Mtatsminda Park to get the view over the city, but on arrival at the station at the base it was clearly shut for winter.

Plan B was to try again to see the grapevine cross of St Nina, so instead went on the quest over to the Sioni Cathedral.

But on arrival while there seem to be a flock of priests (if that is the right word) the gold doors into the alter were closed.

It was clearly not going to be the day to see the holy relic, and was thinking that maybe it was time to call it a day and go back to the hotel to pack.

Then I saw this procession walking through the nearby streets including an icon and several clerics, so decided to change the plans (again) and follow them to see what was up.....

Friday, November 20, 2009

A wedding at the Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

After hearing that the cross of St Nino made from grapevine and bound by her own hair was to be found at the Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral, I tried not once but twice to try to see it.

It was almost like a quest to see this holy relic. And like with all quests it was the searching that mattered not the finding for both times I failed but was rewarded in a different way.

The first time it was by being present at an Eastern Orthodox wedding. Well, to be accurate it was three weddings for there were a trinity of couples there.

Of course at first I had no idea what was going on, and there didn't seem to be any exclusivity in use of the cathedral. There remained the usual flow of mostly elderly women who'd come up to their chosen icon for a prayer and reverential kiss, or light a candle.

I hope the people there don't mind these photos - in general I try not to post picture of people without their permission.

So the first picture above shows the three couples with the candle that is Declaration of Intent and Lighting of Candles (all info from Wikipedia which of course was the first port of call back in the hotel).

After that there was the crowning:

According to Wikipedia:

After prayers are offered on their behalf, the groom and bride are crowned by the priest "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". These crowns have two meanings. First, they reveal that the man and woman, in their union with Christ, participate in His Kingship. Second, as in the ancient Church, crowns are a symbol of martyrdom.

Hmm... there it goes again, Georgia and martyrdom.

Anyhow then there was the Epistle, the Gospel, the Common Cup (i.e. wine) and then the Dance of Isaiah in which all three couples process around three times to reflect the Trinity:

Then there was the removal of the crowns and greeting of the couples.

Finally they went outside where there was a final stage in the ceremony that Wikipedia didn't mention but I think you can guess what's happening here:

For those that haven't worked it out, look at what is just to the right of the street light in the top left of the picture!

Scoop from our source in the Caucasus!

As a leading blog this writer is often approached by those with a story that needs a wider audience. All too often alas this involves the supply of suspiciously cheap pharmaceuticals from Canada.

But sometimes there's a hot tip, a story that needs to be revealed, and we are willing to break the unpleasant truth to the world - to campaign for what is right and fight what is wrong.

According to a source which contacted the blog recently but who wishes to remain anonymous, there are plans to develop the idylic surroundings around the holy Tsminda Sameba Church with apartments!

This project is clearly the work of corrupt officials supported by the Russian Mafia and we must at all costs make sure they don't find out the name of our contact.

Fortunately I on principle would never reveal whether he came from East or West Coast America, let alone whether he Bee a blogger, and certainly not hint about docks and letters somewhere between N and P.

Keep sending in those scoops - while you still can!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Travel Planning and Travel Agencies

my2fish asked how I was able to find all these places, which is a good question.

I've done a bit of travelling on business and the key is preparation: find out before had what it is you want to do and then work out how to get to them.

In this case it was a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan that was the starting point. Its a bit out of date but was able to get a list of top things to see.

How to get to them was harder. My uncle had a motorbike and knew Russian. Having only English and no transport it was clear that the best approach was to get a local agent. This is more expensive but for someone time poor and otherwise stuck it was by far the best way forward.

A local UK travel agent put me in touch with Caucasus Travel and they certainly came up trumps. No hesitation in recommending them.

But getting lucky helps: having such superb weather was exceptional, particularly for a time of year when sites are mostly empty of tourists.

Its also a good idea to following your hunches and not having too fixed a plan - as will explain in the next couple of posts.

Shopping on the Dry Bridge Market

After the spiritual highs of two days of monasteries and churches it was time for a bit of more worldly excitements, in this case shopping at the Dry Bridge Market.

This is an area of central Tbilisi when anyone (it appears) can turn up and lay out their wares and sell pretty much anything.

The standard tourist fares are silver drinking goblets out of cow horns and long ornate silver daggers, neither of which was tempted by. Nor was I tempted by the rather bizarre art, funny hats, or glass tea cups that visitors are meant to purchased.

Some items would have been hard to bring back to the UK - such as a complete bear skin or a stuffed baby bear. Then there was a wide array of CDs and DVDs, some poor quality, others dubious morality, but no doubt all illegal.

There was an area dedicated to electrical components where you could stock up with old fashioned valves. The saddest item was a short strip of solder - value probably a few pennies.

But what I did find interesting and indeed tempting were the wide array of Soviet era emblems, badges and medals. In a way it was tragic you could pick up old WW2 medals from epic and bloody battles such as Stalingrad from the side of streets in a country that strongly rejected Russian rule.

Others seemed less loaded with history, so let the inner space cadet loose for a short while and wondered around saying sputnik and cosmos and ended up with a handful of Soviet era space badges which now must find a place to store.

For England and Georgia!

One of the strange things about travelling in Georgia was seeing flags that were almost but not quite the same as England, namely white with a red cross.

For the two countries have a patron saint in common, namely St. George, here slaying the inevitable dragon high above Tbilisi's Freedom Square - or Tavisuplebis moedani for those with knowledge of Georgian.

For those with Soviet era memories it was previously known as Lenin Square and during those times it was the bearded Russian not the Palestinian errant knight at the top of the pillar.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The tragedy of Davit Gareja

After venturing into the snow and ice of the high mountains the next day went into the semi-desert wilderness, this time to see the monasteries in the Davit Gareja site on the border with Azerbaijan.

The earliest of these date back to the 6th century when Davit (or David) Gareja and others returned from Palestine to spread Christianity in Georgia, with the monasteries at this site their base.

The life was if anything even harder than for those in the freezing churches perched upon mountain tops. The area is incredibly dry and in summer temperatures are in the 40 - 50 degree C range. The monks living spaces were spartan, being caves they cut themselves into the sandstone.

Here they would lead a frugal life often fasting for days surviving just on the limited rain water they would collect in cisterns cut, like almost everything here, out of the rock.

There are actually a number of monasteries dotted over the landscape of which the two most commonly visited are Lavra (above, where you can see Davit's cave) and then if you climb the hill behind and descend the other side you'll get to Udabno with staggering views over the plains to the border with Azerbaijan:

You can see the path snaking away just below the cliffs at the top of the hill side, and to reach the caves you then had to scramble up over the rocks.

This time there were just the two of us, my guide and me, as the driver stayed at the base of the hill with a solitary monk. There were again no other people, but we were joined by a dog. He was known to my guide and seemed happy to follow us on the trail, jumping from rock to rock with ease.

It was a grand site, but also tragically sad. Partly this is because of the history: as in much of Georgian history it involves sacrifice, invasions, death and martyrdom. For example the complex was sacked in 1615 by the Persian Shah Abbas and all 6,000 monks killed. The story is that two ran away but then saw the souls of the 5,998 ascending to heaven as silvery clouds and so returned to join them.

Alas my 21st century response was, if that was the case how do we know this story? Was there a third who just kept running?

A similar tale was told the previous day in that some holy relics and gold were hidden in the hills above the Tsminda Sameba church by two Georgian soldiers who then killed themselves to keep the location secret - again, how do we know?

The other tragedy is the state of decay of this historic site. Being sandstone the caves have in many places collapsed and to be honest the climb up to then would have a health and safety worry bag get out their clipboard and go "no, no, no".

And then the fantastic frescos are being washed away one by one. Take this lovely one below: the smear through the centre is a new feature due to recent rain and the guide could remember when it wasn't there:

This sort of water damage is continuing all the time and there seems to be no resources to halt it. Maybe in a few years it won't be there at all.

The picture by the way tells two stories. The one to the right shows the deer that saved the monks when they were without food and water by being tame enough to be milked.

The one on the right shows a dragon that was terrorising the deer and promised to leave if Davit would let it reach the river in peace. Davit agreed but before it reached there a bolt of lightening killed it and an angel told Davit it was an evil that would have destroyed the world if it had reached the river.

My guide and I climbed our way to the top of the hill where we could look out over this amazing site and eat our pack lunch. The dog sat a few metres off and chewed discarded sandwiches, taking out the ham and leaving the bread, damp with its saliva.

Above we saw half a dozen eagles spiral round and round in a thermal.

It was another good moment to savour, before descending back to the waiting 4x4.