Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weekend Puzzler Part 2

O'Docker nicely pre-empted the second part of this weekend navigation puzzlers, by raising the very valid question - does it matter?

For as you see above the PLA vessels that was surveying the Thames to ensure charts are up to date (and hence was displaying the restricted ability to manoeuver shapes) sped off at the end of the day no doubt to have a refreshing cup of tea without taking down the shapes.

And they are not alone as I don't think in all my sailing I've ever seen the sailing vessel under power shapes, despite often seeing and being in yachts motoring along.

There are two schools of thought. Firstly there is Commodore of the fleet (retired), owner of the Pedant of Cowes, author of many a letter to Yachting magazines complaining of the lax behaviour of the youth of today in not flying the correct signals.

Then there is the O'Docker school of thought - look, we're grown up, we have eyes, for heaven sake this is meant to be an escape from the button down rules on land (I paraphrase, maybe a spokesman or alumni of this school could chip in some words of wisdom).

So which side of this fence do you sit?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weekend Puzzler: Navigation Shapes

Ok, pop quiz for all you expert sailors.

1. What do those three black shapes in a line on this vessel mean?

2. What would this boat show at night in addition to its standard running lights?

3. What is it probably doing?

Follow up, more general, question tomorrow!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Art Playground

As so many have asked so many times before, "but is it art"?

This may look like an adventure playground in high demand over the school half term but its actually the current exhibition in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall called "Bodyspacemotionthings".

It could also be called "unsafeforbrokentoethings" but I guess that doesn't sound quite so good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quick review: Navionics iPhone Charts V2

Quick update as just downloaded the latest version of the Navionics iPhone charts application. The ongoing laptop problems mean probably didn't downloaded as soon as possible (sorry to those Googling for reviews of it)

It's a full point update, to V2.0 no less. There is an argument you should never buy release 1 of any software so now is a good time to look again at it.

And the initial impressions are good - we have waypoints (hurrah, pic above), there is the ability to track the ship's position on the screen, you can also select cruising speed and fuel consumption (see below)

Fuel consumption sounds like Navionics are aiming more at the motor boat market than sailing.

I've been trying to do things like enter way points directly as lat/longs which is pretty crucial, and move them around having created a route, but all have managed to do is create a lot of new way points. Maybe because of that there is a very useful "undo" feature - kudos to Navionics for that as undo is not as easy to implement as it is to use!

I've also been trying to find the "all new" tide display tools, but that seems to need the full charts rather than the free ones, and those files are so large that it requires the laptop to be ready to download from the Apple store.

More later when had a chance to download the software for the full charts. I might (gasp) even have to see if can find a User Guide (the horror, the horror)

Note: update with more screenshots here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

High Water

Oh no, we're run out of water to sail on / path to bike on!

What on earth can we find to do while we wait the hour or so until that water goes away?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peace and Duels in Battersea

This is a long weekend, with tomorrow a public holiday, or as its known here, a Bank Holiday. While the official explanation relates to the closing of banks, and the historical story relates to need to get some cricket practice, the modern reality is one of rained out bbqs.

The urban legend is that if its a long weekend then it will inevitably rain, and there is some scientific support for this. The heat and pollutants from business can influence the weather, causing a statistically significant increase in wet days.

However this weekend so far has been rather blissful, with blue skies, warm airs, radiant sun, and mellow evenings. So today was in Battersea Park having a picnic in sight of the Peace Pagoda (above). Rather ironic, given that Battersea Park was once known as a dueling ground, including the memorable show down between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchelsea.

Tomorrow we expect that normal service will be resumed, with a cold wet front approaching.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ocean Racing's Not Coming Home

Here in blighty land sailing, alas, can no longer claim - if it ever could - to be the national sport, which arguably is football.

It is therefore paradoxical that there is no national, as in British, football team: for political reasons the "nations" here are England, Wales, and Scotland. Where Northern Ireland fits in I'm not sure but there's this great Wikipedia article that explains the various combinations and what is included in each.

But football was invented here, in England to be precise. And for that reason one of the favourite songs sung by the English fan is the catchy tune with chorus "Football's coming home, its coming home, its coming home". Almost invariably of course the England team fails to live up to these high hopes, and the trophy heads to other shores.

And ocean yacht racing has followed suit, as there are no stopovers in the United Kingdom for the first time since the Volvo Ocean Race (nee Whitbread) was invented, again here in England. The fleet of Volvo 70s will end their crossing of the Atlantic by turning up in Galway, Ireland sometime over the next day or so.

I'd like to say that there's no difference, as Galway is part of the British Isles or Europe, and so either way it's still home. But the regional identity of "Europe" is still too fragmentic and weak to be convincing.

This time around, ocean racing is not coming home (it's not coming home).

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Great Game and the Windjammer

An early post today as this evening going to the theatre to see the third set of plays about Afghanistan at The Tricycle Theatre. The cycle is called "The Great Game" and consists of twelve short plays by twelve different writers, four per evening, and covers the history of the country in three different eras:

PART 1: 1842-1930 Invasions & Independence
PART 2: 1979-1996 Communism, The Mujahideen & The Taliban
PART 3: 1996-2009 Enduring Freedom

It's been brilliant so far, gripping and informative. It spurred me to watch a program that's been sitting on my PVR for a few months which was all about a travel writer who made his reputation in that country. He tried to reach the summit of one of the unclimbed mountains of Afghanistan, which he described in a book called "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush".

The program was presented by a modern day traveller and writer, who tried to follow in his footsteps in modern day Afghanistan. It seemed almost entirely unchanged, except it has become a lot less safe so that the present day journey had to have a guard armed with a Kalashnikov.

The name of the writer of the original book was Eric Newby, who's first travels were on one of the last windjammers, Moshulu, which he wrote about and photographed in that amazing book of the final days of the great sailing ships, "The Last Grain Race".

An amazing man, and quintessentially British in his approach to travel.

Coincidently he grew up in this corner of London, living in sight of Hammersmith Bridge (below).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The return of the Bubbler

Also back this week is the Bubbler.

This is the Thames Water boat that pumps oxygen into the river to make up for the loss due to bugs gorging on raw sewage that has flowed into the Thames. This happens when in heavy rain - like we had last week - our Victorian infrastructure fails leaving the excess no where to go but the river .

So if you go out on the Thames tonight and fall in, keep your mouth closed.

I wish I could take that risk, as would be happy to out paddling this glorious evening, bubbler or no bubbler.

Can you fix broken bones with a spot of superglue?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The return of the Bike Boat Bloke!

Yes, like the first cuckoo of spring, he's back, the man who bikes up the Thames!

Since last time spotted he's now got an inflatable in tow as well - useful either:

- if your bike boat is moored on a buoy mid stream and you need an inflatable to get to it

- if you should accidentally get tipped over by the wash of a passing boat and that old dry capsize drill doesn't work out as planned

Monday, May 18, 2009

When is a lock not a lock?

This is the Teddington Locks, where the Thames finally stops being influenced by the tide.

But further downstream there is this - and if it is not a lock, then what is it?

It is Richmond Lock, which is technically a half-tide lock and barrage. You can sail straight through at high tide and about two hours either side. Its there to keep the waters between here and Teddington a depth of 1.72 m or more.

It is the only lock managed by the Port of London Authority (PLA), the others being the responsibility of the Environmental Agency.

The point on the river where the remit of one ends and the other begins is marked by this obelisk, which many on the tow path no doubt go passed without noticing.

I did - which was another reason for heading back this weekend!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ring my bell - Part 2

After last week's trip to Kingston and back made another trip, this time to Teddington lock and back (post of which in due course) and it was a good chance to try out those suggestions about how a biker should get the attention of absent minded pedestrians.

There was a majority vote in favour of singing but alas that is not a feasible option. Many years ago while at school I volunteered to join a group that was raising money for charity by singing Christmas carols. It was surprisingly popular, which might be down to a selfless wish to do good for the community, but more likely because it was a joint group with the local girl's school.

One practice session the choir master came and listened carefully to me singing, and afterwards took me to one side and asked whether I'd like to help out with the collecting. He was a wise man, an ex colonel with the British Army and had managed to take a group of us on a school trip round the Eastern Mediterranean without major incident, so I took his advice.

However the bell option is still not really working. For example after ringing it for a family of two adults and three small children, the parents seemed oblivious until their children started a chorus of "daddy, there's a bike".

Then it started to rain, which I hoped might clear the track, but alas British walkers are an all weather army that has been bred like the SAS on a diet of marmite sandwiches and tea, so soldiers on regardless.

My research, however, has identified one possible solution. The most effective form of alerting walkers was a polite but firm Jeeves like throat clearing "ah-hmm" noise, which even the most distracted walker seems to notice. Someone should manufacturer a bike bell that makes a sound like that!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

List 2: Why Dinghies are better than Yachts

1. You can just go sailing at any time without fussing with getting a crew together

2. Its a lot more economical than a yacht - don't you know we're in a recession?

3. Where would you rather be at 3am - all cosy in your own bed or on watch somewhere out at sea, three hours into a four hour watch?

4. Dinghies are more exciting than yachts - you are more in touch with the wind and waves, and really feel the speed

5. With yachts there's always the fear you are judged by how big it is, and unless you are an owner of a major software company you will lose.

6. You can explore beautiful rivers and inlets where a yacht would be hard aground

Any more....?

List 1: Why Yachts are better than Dinghies

1. You can cross the oceans and travel the world in a yacht - unlike a dinghy

2. Yachts are romantic, allowing you to sail your love off into the sunset or find a quiet cove to go skinny dipping in

3. Yachts are for grown ups: look you're no longer 14 and really can't fit under that dinghy's boom any more

4. You make make a cup of tea or mix a perfect G&T in a yacht while moving

5. Yachts stay upright and don't randomly tip you over into the water

6. You don't need a horrid clingy smelly wet suit

Any more....?

Friday, May 15, 2009

That's where James Bond has got to....

So the reports were that Somali pirates have a cell working in London gathering intelligence.

But where is James Bond, this blog asked, earlier this week?

Why, there he is!

It must be the taking-over-the-world villain has entered the Fastnet and he's going under cover.

"Meeestaa Bond, veee match race at last!"

Sailing the Palestinian Archipelago

I was fascinated by this map, as it combines two so disparate angles. Firstly there's the creation of imaginary maps and lands, and what could be better for a sailor than an archipelago.

But while imaginary its also saying something very true, for its what's left of the West Bank after you've taken out Oslo's Zone C land - Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and the illegal barrier, settlements and roads to connect them. Very appropriate thought for the day to remember the Naqba.

More on its background at the Strange Maps blog.

It reminded me a lot of the Banksy mural:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Message to Walkers on the Thames Path

Look, it isn't working is it.

I mean, I do everything you say I should - slow down, ring my bell - and its not enough. Four times on my journey to Kingston and back I heard mutters about bikes.

In particular two of those complaints were that you "can't tell where the bell is coming from". Well, big hint: look behind you!

Yes I know you are busy nattering away and having a bell go off at random intervals probably does interupt your conversation, but two little points for you:

1) bikes are allowed on the Thames Path - it says so on a sign

2) biking is faster than walking - its one of the benefits

So you will be overtaken every now and then. If the whole slow down - ring bell - look behind - stop - work out which way to jump - start again routine is something that worries you then maybe you could make sure there is room for bikes to go by and not take up the whole path?

Then we wouldn't have to ring our bells and you could keep on talking without interuption.

Just a suggestion - its really up to you

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Putney to Kingston and back by bike

Last weekend decided not to risk the broken toe with either kayaking or sailing as just knew that at one point I'd put some weight on it to avoid (say) tipping upside down in the Thames.

So instead decided to bike along the Thames path, heading off from Putney upriver aiming to get to Kingston before heading back.

Just past Barnes the path narrows considerably, with wall on one side and the river of course on the other. And it was here that met two police horses and riders:

"How nice" you probably think, and they were, as they let me go pass. But one of the horses was less so, as heard the policeman tell the policewoman that his was "a bit crotchety" that day.

They were by no means the only traffic on the Thames path that day. It was in a word chocker - endless streams of bikers and walkers battling it out for space.

Ok, it wasn't packed all the way along. This bit was just beyond Kew Gardens and could get a bit of speed up. But usually had to go slowly ringing my bell clearly.

It was particularly busy at Richmond, where saw this boat being built using traditional methods. Its a copy of a 12th century vessel carrying 22 people and will be used in a film, which will have to keep my eye out for.

Richmond was rather posh - even their canoe club was clearly very upmarket and had an awesome array of kayaks on display in a lovely brick building with wooden doors, very unlike our container with couple of racks on either side.

At Teddington, where locks signal the real start of the non-tidal Thames, began to wonder how much further it was, so stopped to check how far had to go on using the iPhone's Google Maps and GPS. Not far to go now!

Finally arrived at Kingston, where stopped for a refreshing ice cream (dark chocolate Magnum) before heading back.

All the way there and back the river was busy with boats of all sizes, types, and shapes. Just messing about.......

I will get back on the water soon - grrr that toe of mine.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Navionics iPhone Charts V1.6 (again)

I got all excited over the weekend when iTunes downloaded an update to my Navionics chart application but on examination not sure what has changed - indeed it is labelled V1.6 just as the old one ones (probably part of ongoing laptop malaise which you don't want to know about).

However no harm in showing it again as have only just worked out how to get screenshots without using a camera. Ok, call me slow, but holding down the Menu and Off buttons at once doesn't seem to be the most intuitive of interfaces.

The first two pictures show the feature which tints locations for which there isn't sufficient depth blue. In this case they are around Cowes, with the picture above depth set to 2m and below to 5m.

But, and its big but, it uses depth of water given by chart datum, not taking into account tides.

Given the extreme tidal ranges we get - for example 6m on the Thames in central London - that is rather a significant flaw. And in theory Navionics software should know about tides.

However the tidal flow rate algorithm it uses appears to be bug ridden, so I for one wouldn't trust it. The figure below shows the prediction for a point off Portland Bill, near Weymouth Harbour (ignore that Plymouth text). Note the rather strange discontinuities.

I'm still hoping it will be updated at some point to full iNavX style functionality, but looks like will have to continue being patient.

Update! Version 2 software first impressions and screenshots.

Older posts on Navionics were as follows:
- Review: Navionics iPhone Charts V1.6
- Review: Navionics iPhone Charts Update
- Review: Navionics Charts

Somali Pirates - in London!

Oh no! The long arm of the Somali pirate has reached all the way to London, where an intelligence team armed with a satellite phone is reportedly sending information to the "business" end over in the Indian Ocean.

What ever happened to that chap, what's his name - ah yes, Bond, James Bond? This would be just the thing for him.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who Bent the Boat?

If you're wondering which of the summer's art festivals to check out this year then how about the 2009 Estuaire contemporary art exhibition on France's Loire estuary.

Works include this wacky installation of a bendy boat from Erwin Wurm.

Volume 1, Edition 1: Ladies who Sail

Welcome to this the inaugural edition of the latest of new media web 2.0 twitter friendly next generation sailing web site. Say goodbye to Jensen & Hawley debt collectors banging on your door annoying the neighbours and say hello to the sensation that is "Ladies who sail",

Thought up by none other than sailing journalism legend Buff "BS" Staysail after 5 too many mojitos during the recent Antigua sailing week, we are on to what can only be a blogger hit count success, as research amongst regulars at The Rum Barrel Bar showed that after a cool one the topic most on the mind of these sailors was a hottie.

We kick off with Samantha (above) who lists her hobbies as sailing around the world and speaking French! Samantha has a degree in engineering from Cambridge.

Look out for more ladies who sail in future editions - bookmark us now!

And if this doesn't float your boat, don't forget to check out our "brother" site "Sailing Men".

Update: Oh no! Seems like our burn rate has been a bit too high and operating a top of the line media site with no actual income is not a valid business model. Unless some VC comes forward with more working capital within the next 30 seconds this will become the first and only edition of "Ladies who Sail".

Update Update: This is an official message from the receivers who have been appointed to forclose on "Ladies who sail". Anyone with a claim should contact us at O-Dock, San Francisco, USA.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Natural Navigator on TV

I've just managed to catch up with the Natural Navigator's latest media spot which was on the BBC's Country File program.

Here he gave Jules Hudson a few lessons in the lore of the NN, one example of which can be seen in the picture below.

This tree is a classic example of the northern hemisphere asymmetry, with more branches on the south side than north, and typically angled lower.

Using clues such as this Jules was given the task of navigating from A to B using the clues around him, and managed to make it too - though as can be seen on the figure below there were a few detours on his route (yellow) from the NN ideal (blue).

All good fun but if you want to see the show and have access to iPlayer hurry up as it will be gone within a day!

Missing Email Alert

Ok, boring techy story for you.

Over the last few months my main laptop has been sick. The symptoms were simple - no wifi. It's funny how accustomed we become to tapping away where ever we want whether in one's favourite chair, lounging on the sofa or even in bed (and no, not telling which post that was).

After trying re-installing drivers bla bla tried got a new wireless card which was just as bad as the old one. In the end put it in to a workshop that said it was a hardware fault that would require a new motherboard, costing more than the value of the laptop itself.

So have just bought a wifi express card and bob is your uncle (or not, depending upon who you are) I'm tapping away again feet up on a full sized keyboard rather than RSI inducing intsy weany netbook.

But, and this is the point of this diversion, while the main laptop was out I've let the email stack up and this week it hit the ISP's limit and so emails have... it's going to be hard to say it for an online junky like me.... they have gone missing!

There, I've said it. But of course I don't know who emailed me and whether it was important. Hopefully if it was they'll email again and I can check a few of the likely suspects, but its slightly unnerving.

What you need is a like status flag for email so people know there's been a problem - something like the status on social networks. Alas my presence on Facebook and Twitter amounts to little more than a test login for both.

However what I do have is blog!

So if there is anyone who a) has emailed me in the last few days and b) reads this blog - I have a message for you: Please send the email again!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

London Celebrates Navy Centenary

Today was the 100th anniversary of the British Navy aviation, which was commemorated by a visit of HMS Illustrious (Lusty to her friends) to the capitol, and a fly by of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

The Sea Harrier was not permitted to join the fun and games on the grounds that if its single engine cut out it would crash into London (which would spoil the day for many).

But a parade of 17 helicopters flew by the carrier and then headed across London following the course of the Thames upriver.

As luck would have it I was working at home and wondering what on earth that racket was outside was amazed so see them go by in a long snaky line.

The pilots followed the river closely, and it was incredible to see how much the line of 'copters wiggled from side to side. At one point I was sure they had given up and headed off to base, but no, the river really is that far from a straight line.

Alas didn't manage to take any photos as was too open mouthed and exchanging excited "did you see that!" with neighbours, but later some of them came back down and caught the four above.

There's been some nostalgic stories on TV of the historic days of maritime aviation, when now elderly pilots flew fragile biplanes out across the cold Atlantic to attack the Bismark.

And the story itself is reported by non other than Falkland war veteran "I counted them all out and I counted them all back" Brian Hanrahan.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Oh bother!

Arsenal get hammered by Man U and I've broken one of my toes, so those kayaking and sailing plans will be put on hold for a while.

But the bluebells were very pretty in the Dorset woods last weekend

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sailing Canoe

Recently I spotted this canoe with sail on the Thames, and wondered how useful it would be given the party was heading downriver, which at the time meant going into the wind.

That might be why I saw it on the river bank not mid stream!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Friday, May 01, 2009

What makes a Classic Sailing Story?

The awfully dated nature of "The Treasure Trove of the Southern Seas" got me wondering about what makes a classic sailing story, one that will stand the test of time.

What is it about "Treasure Island" for example that has allowed it to survive as an eternally popular story, that seems to gain new life with each generation that finds it?

Two answers spring to mind, depth and universality.

Depth first. One of the problems of Treasure Trove is the lack of depth of the characters. Goodies are all good, and have just one of two emotions:
a) Gosh this is ripping!
b) I wonder I'll be up to the challenge of the storm / cliff edge / sharks / another storm / native running amok with a sword / pirates etc etc etc (the answer is of course yes to all of them)

The baddies too are pure nasty - pantomime characters to call out booo! hiss! to.

Compare this to young Jim and Long John Silver, with the complexity and nuances of the relationship between them. Silver has a back story of a pub and a sweetheart - an interesting example of a mixed race relationship in literature of the time. A ruthless pirate he was, but also wise, intelligent, a leader of men and confident to Jim. And he was rewarded by Stevenson who let him escape not just with his life but three or four hundred guineas.

Then there's the universality. Treasure Trove is a product of a very definitive time, class, and world view, and one that is very different from the universal values that will bring recognition and connection to readers over the centuries.

Yes, Treasure Island had a specific background, but consider the role of class within it. While the squire is landed gentry socially far above the likes of Ben Gunn, they are written as being very similar characters: both lack self control, so that the Squire blabs the mission all over Bristol and Ben Gunn spends his share of the treasure "in nineteen days".

So there is a degree of psychology that drives the characters in Treasure Island, rather than characterised and rigid roles specified by a persons race or position in the class structure of inter-war Britain.

A truly creative original, Treasure Island is a quest and a coming of age story, with characters that ring true and for those reasons deserves a place on the bookshelves of the 21st Century as it did in the 19th.