Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sailing in Greece - Ionion vs Aegean

None of us on the boat had sailed the Aegean sea before.

We had all at one time or other sailed in the Ionian sea - myself once about twenty years ago a few few years ago while "the girls" as they were known had both worked as flottila skippers there for a season or two for one of the big sailing holiday firms.

And to be honest none of us would go back as it was just what a sailing holiday in Greece should be. Isolated bays or little harbours with white painted houses, mooring up with plenty of spaces just along side a row of tavernas, good food, local fish from the clear waters.

Ok it was at its best, being warm yet not high season as the schools hadn't broken for the long summer break. But in the Ionian even at this time of year the marinas would have been packed.

For the record the route below was about 160 nautical miles and we stopped at Oreoi, Koukounaries, Steni Vala, Skopelos and Pigadhion.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sailing in Greece - what and where

This is the boat we were sailing. No, not that one (which is for sale - check the sign), the one on the right (which is for sail - groan, sorry about that).

It was an Oceanis 423 with three double cabins and three heads, and I had an on-suite all to myself which is just plain decadant after previous hot bunking in cot bunks.

And we didn't even do any overnight passages nor needed a watch system. Felt a bit like a holiday!

Ok, it was a holiday.

It was a Sunsail bareboat in the Greek Aegean sea, and we pottered around the islands as in this Google Earth pic:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mamma Mia Sailing

This picture comes from the film (movie to you non Brits) Mamma Mia! which has become the best selling movie (film to you Brits) in the UK.

It managed that feat despite being loathed by about half the population, for I've yet to meet anyone who is male and liked it. Phrases like "ghastly" and "worst film I've ever seen" are typically what they will say, and I count myself fortunate to not have been dragged to see it.

But there clearly are those that differ, and in particular the female film goer.

I'm not entirely clear about the plot, but understand its some form of Rom-com around the songs of Abba, and was originally a musical. One thing I do know about it is that it was filmed in Greece, and in particular around the islands of Skopelos and Skiathos, which was where we went sailing last week.

A host of posts to come, which will aim to avoid the "Sailed to Skopelosseloss. Moored up. Had dinner. It was fantastic...." bla bla bla.

But there will be the story of Nemo (as in the finding of) and the sea urchin, plus some playing dolphins, thunder and lightening (very very frightening), and selection of pics.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back from sailing.... where?

Just got back from sailing and no rest as busy this weekend so no time for more than a brief post. Ands its another weekend puzzler, namely to work out where I was sailing.

Clue one is that it was in the Med, and the second clue is above.

This is a very female friendly quiz, as there is a huge gender divide on this topic.

Most blokes will at this point hear a wooshing sound as it goes over their head, and they are the lucky ones as those that do get it will probably be shuddering at the memory.

Alas sailing in the area there was no escape as the music above was pumped out at a moments notice.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Off Yachting

Ta ta for a while.

I'm off to the Med to do a bit of yachting......

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Night on the river

My digital SLR can do so many things it often seems a shame to leave it on auto mode and use it as a point and click. But recently skimmed my way through the user guide and configured the program mode, setup for low light situations with an ISO of 1,600.

And this is one of the results.

It's of the police RIB that every now and then sniffs around the moorings late at night, looking for who knows what.

There must be the inspiration for a story there somewhere!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Fall of Icarus

For the last few months my laptop has been the source of endless grief - one long battle against drivers and settings to get the wireless to work - a battle that was only won (if indeed it is has) by a re-start to factory settings and replacement of the motherboard.

But now it is almost recovered to where it should have been back in January, and to celebrate I've changed my desktop picture from the a Vendee Globe photo to "Landscape with the Fall of Icaras", above. Originally it was thought to be the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, but now that is considered doubtful.

What is most interesting about this picture is how Icarus is such a small part of the overall work. He has done something legendary - together with his father he managed to fly, soaring so high towards the sun that his wings melted, as if the gods themselves were displeased by the audacity of humans.

But all you see of him are his feet and legs in the moment of splash! before he disappears under the water for ever. The rest of the world goes on regardless, the ploughman and his horse, the shepard and his flock, and the boats sailing in the bay.

And why this picture? Well it was a clue in a competition to win a bit of modern art, the cover of the latest album from the band called "The Hours". While I didn't win anything it was great fun, and introduced me to their two albums, which have really enjoyed.

One of the best songs is called "Icarus" and the lyrics has an interesting take on the story.

Like Icarus he flew too close to the sun-
I know he fell but for a while there, he must
Have had some fun

I like that: you never know what will happen in life but give it a go, aim high, and try to have some fun on the way.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Running Aground


Not a good day for keeping boats off the rocks. Check out this video of a sailor who got into trouble while attempting his ambition of sailing round Britain. A combination of engine failure and fog resulting in him ending up on the Dorset rocks.

Sounds like a good example to add to the collection of Total Loss.

Evidence that even the most pro of professional sailors are not immune can be seen in the picture above of Telefonica Blue on the rocks after starting the latest leg of the Volvo. No engine failure or fog here.

While not a total loss it must be "like, totally embarrasing!"

The war on fish

I'm currently watching the final episode of the BBC nature program "South Pacific" which is pretty terrifying.

Purse Seine nets are the latest in fishing technology and they can hoover up whole shoals of tuna, a hundred and fifty tonnes in one go, including the young before they have a chance to breed (and in the filming of South Pacific also a film crew).

If this goes on, there will be nothing left. Nothing.

A global tuna collapse, the Newfoundland cod bank disaster worldwide, followed by other species.

At the same time a film has been released called "The End of the Line" which has already had a major impact here in the UK.

The sandwich retailer Pret A Manger has already banned the most at risk blue fin tuna from its shops.

Not all tuna fishing is bad. But unless it is clearly labeled line caught from substainable sources I'd say don't reward this stupid, short sighted, destructive, act of vandalism.

3 Light Bulbs

I have spotted a common theme in my three attempts at light bulb jokes. As they are in three different comments on two blogs to help spot the common theme I've reproduced them below.

1. How many iPhone owning sailors does it take to change a light bulb? None! You just download the torchlight app dude!!!

2. How many luxury super yacht sailors does it take to change a light bulb? None! There are staff to do that for you.

3. How many America's Cup sailors does it take to change a light bulb? None! Everything is done by lawyers now.

See what I mean?

Actually it could be a coded eco message - those old incandescent bulbs are very inefficient compared to other technologies.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Growltiger’s Last Stand

Of all the arts its poetry that interests me the least. The BBC's Radio 3 is currently having a poetry season which to be honest has left me cold.

However there are exceptions to this rule, of which T.S. Eliot's cat poems are good examples. And as Carol Anne pointed out, one of them even has Thames and nautical themes, namely Growltiger's last stand.

So here it is:

Growltiger was a Bravo Cat, who travelled on a barge:
In fact he was the roughest cat that ever roamed at large.
From Gravesend up to Oxford he pursued his evil aims,
Rejoicing in his title of ‘The Terror of the Thames’.

His manner and appearance did not calculate to please;
His coat was torn and seedy, he was baggy at the knees;
One ear was somewhat missing, no need to tell you why,
And he scowled upon a hostile world from one forbidding eye.

The cottagers of Rotherhithe knew something of his fame;
At Hammersmith and Putney people shuddered at his name.
They would fortify the hen-house, lock up the silly goose,
When the rumour ran along the shore: Growltiger’s on the loose!

Woe to the weak canary, that fluttered from its cage;
Woe to the pampered Pekinese, that faced Growltiger’s rage;
Woe to the bristly Bandicoot, that lurks on foreign ships,
And woe to any Cat with whom Growltiger came to grips!

But most to Cats of foreign race his hatred had been vowed;
To Cats of foreign name and race no quarter was allowed.
The Persian and the Siamese regarded him with fear —
Because it was a Siamese that had mauled his missing ear.

Now on a peaceful summer night, all nature seemed at play,
The tender moon was shining bright, the barge at Molesey lay.
All in the balmy moonlight it lay rocking on the tide —
And Growltiger was disposed to show his sentimental side.

His bucko mate, Grumbuskin, long since had disappeared,
For to the Bell at Hampton he had gone to wet his beard;
And his bosun, Tumblebrutus, he too had stol’n away —
In the yard behind the Lion he was prowling for his prey.

In the forepeak of the vessel Growltiger stood alone,
Concentrating his attention on the Lady Griddlebone.
And his raffish crew was sleeping in their barrels and their bunks —
As the Siamese came creeping in their sampans and their junks.

Growltiger had no eye or ear for aught but Griddlebone,
And the Lady seemed enraptured by his manly baritone,
Disposed to relaxation, and awaiting no surprise —
But the moonlight shone reflected from a hundred bright blue eyes.

And closer still and closer the sampans circled round,
And yet from all the enemy there was not heard a sound.
The lovers sang their last duet, in danger of their lives —
For the foe was armed with toasting forks and cruel carving knives.

Then Gilbert gave the signal to his fierce Mongolian horde;
With a frightful burst of fireworks the Chinks they swarmed aboard.
Abandoning their sampans, their pullaways and junks,
They battened down the hatches on the crew within their bunks.

Then Griddlebone she gave a screech, for she was badly skeered;
I am sorry to admit it, but she quickly disappeared.
She probably escaped with ease, I’m sure she was not drowned —
But a serried ring of flashing steel Growltiger did surround.

The ruthless foe pressed forward, in stubborn rank on rank;
Growltiger to his vast surprise was forced to walk the plank.
He who a hundred victims had driven to that drop,
At the end of all his crimes was forced to go ker-flip, ker-flop.

Oh there was joy in Wapping when the news flew through the land;
At Maidenhead and Henley there was dancing on the strand.
Rats were roasted whole in Brentford, and at Victoria Dock,
And a day of celebration was commanded in Bangkok.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review: Total Loss

This is not a fun read.

It could also be called rather predictable as at the end of every chapter a boat is lost. It might be rocks, sand, storms, fire, explosion, collisions, leaks, breakage, or another of the many ways in which a sailing vessel can change from a thing of beauty and motion to a wreck, but without fail it is lost.

There are 40 stories - and in the latest revised edition 45 - and they are all first hand experiences from the skipper or crew that got into trouble. Fortunately the editor selected those stories where no lives were actually lost.

Having said all that I think its probably essential reading as a reminder of what can happen.

It is hard to fully understand the power that the wind and sea can unleash without experiencing it first hand. There are some good videos over at The Horse's Mouth you can see by clicking here.

One story was of a boat that sailed into the heart of a hurricane, and despite all the crews efforts and a brave boat there came a time when the hopes and prayers that it didn't get any worse were not answered. In this case it was estimated that the wind speed was 175 knots when they abandoned ship.

One hundred and seventy five knots.

It is not surprising that a common theme amongst the stories is of winds and seas increasing beyond the tolerances of crew, boat, or circumstances. A particularly deadly combination is bad weather, night time, and tired sailors, whose brain and muscles are struggling.

There are also stories of boats holed beneath the water line after collisions with underwater objects, sleepers below deck woken by a crash and then water flowing in faster than the pumps can cope.

It brings home how the flares and grab bags are not there just to fill the ticks on the charter companies list but for a reason.

And how we can all make mistakes, take a risk that doesn't come off, or just be plain unlucky.

So let's be careful out there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Navionics Screenshots

Recently I was reading about sailing on England's east coast and it was fun to be able to pull up the charts of Felixstowe just like that using my Navionics charts on my iPhone.

I've done a bit more exploring of the V2 update but to be honest kept on wondering if it was me or the software that wasn't quite right. In the end checked out their help pages (which you can find here) and decided it wasn't me.

What I was trying to do was set the waypoints at specific lat/long points, or move existing ones set to new locations, and was not successful.

But there are definite plus points for this release, like the new tide graphics that show direction and strength:

You can move the little sniper sights circle to the time you're interested in which is fun. There is also a water height screen:

If you want the raw numbers just like in the almanac well here they are:

There's also a screen with the way points on them and heading / distance for each segment, which would be a good place to put those waypoint editing screens (hint hint):

I had terrible trouble with the way point edit function and basically decided the only option was to do it right first time, which given the imprecise touch screen is pretty unlikely.

While the tide prediction seems to have lost the implausible discontinuities of previous versions the feature to highlight areas with insufficient depth seems to have its own bugs. In the pic below there are all sorts of dangerous banks outside Felixstowe, and Navionics seem to truncate them.

Interestingly if you zoom in the fill is correct.

I did try and show off the "Track" option which shows a wiggly line of where you've been (ok, if you steer brilliantly maybe you'd get a straight line). I did this on the train to work (check out the times of the screenshots) and it was a dismal failure.

There are two problems:
1) Was very rarely able to get GPS lock in the train carriage
2) The iPhone kept switching into standby to save power

So what? you are probably thinking. Well if you use the GPS a lot and stop the going into standby then the iPhone battery will drain like there is no tomorrow. So the only way of really doing the track is to be plugged into a power, such as by the nav station, which of course would be useful place to see it.

But of course the nav station is below deck, and so there would be some attenuation of the GPS signal, maybe not as much as in a train but certainly some.

Hence what you want is outdoor electrics, which you don't often do on a sail boat but might on some form of gin palace.

Together with the inability of the depth colour feature to take account of tides makes me wonder if the target market is motor yachts in the Med.

Co-incidently Navionics is an Italian company!

Note: newer Navionics iPhone post here and previous post here

Monday, June 08, 2009

The rise and fall and rise again of the Thames

This post industrial waste land is located in one of the most valuable parts of London, which is one of the most expensive cities on the planet, and tells a story of the changing relationship between the city and the Thames.

In the far off days of courtly London the many palaces of the royals, earls and dukes could be found dotted along this ribbon of water. Think "Shakespeare in Love" but for hundreds of years. The banks of the Thames was where anyone who was anyone lived.

Then the industrial revolution came along and London got big, full of people all doing what people do. So all the waste from the people plus all the waste that comes from the factories and power stations ran or was pumped into the smelly sewer that was the Thames.

So the river died, physically and socially.

All those that could moved away from the river, off to the smart squares near Hyde Park or to the high ground of Hampstead, and London turned its back on the Thames.

And so it remained for decades until the industry started to die, road replaced the river, and Mr Bazalgette had a great idea involving burying pipes in the ground to take the sewage out to the estuary.

Gradually, over many years, the Thames awoke, and wildlife returned. After the fish came the riverside appartments.

The photo above is of the Lots Road Power Station. Now derelict it is awaiting to be demolished to be replaced by skyscrapers, shops and offices.

For this is Chelsea Creek, where the river meets the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

Soon it will be developed to be the new posh pads for the new elite, the international jet setters who need a place of marble and gold platted taps to be their London base.

Welcome back, old father Thames.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Painting the Thames

The photo above is what the Thames actually looks like - well this afternoon anyhow. And this below is how Canaletto would have painted it:

Ok, maybe he was a bit better than a JP doodle, but you get the idea. Basically its a series of lines showing cuts through waves when actually they are three dimensional moving shapes.

Looking again at the photo above I found myself seeing not lines but patches and blobs, lots of them with subtle differences in tone and colour.

I began to look at it in the same way as the impressionists did - as you can see from the Monet below that I posted some time ago.

Though I think even Monet would agree there's nothing wrong in Canaletto's buildings!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Group Writing Projects

Another weekend another Tillerman group writing project and none other than Mr T himself is asking why we join in.

Oh no! Is the effort of thinking up new ideas getting too much or - OMG! - the reading?

Now assuming it's not a critical review, how should we answer? What, indeed, is the attraction?

It's worth going back to the why-blog angst post in January when one objective of this little corner of the big wide world web was to be part of the sailing blogging community (what ever that might be).

But that's not enough, for if it were I'd be happy to do one of those Mexican Waves that was shown on Bonnies blog rather than grumpily mutter I'll stand when I want and jolly well sit if I'd rather.

The main reason to do the group writes because they're interesting.

Its partly the challenge. Can I think up something different that's reasonably readable about this subject within a few days, fitting around the rest of life.

And something so far has popped out of the subconscious, maybe in relief at being able to contract out the task of having to think up a blog subject.

No guarantees that will always be the case!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Canaletto in London

Recently some friends sent me a card with this picture on it, and it now sits on my desk, a happy distraction from work.

Canaletto's The Thames and The City shows London in the middle 18th Century when St Paul's had been completed and looms high over a city that had fully recovered from the infamous fire.

I've spent far too long admiring how much detail can be seen. A panorama of church spires, red tiled roofs above a maze of street, with the odd tree signalling a square. It makes you want to stride out and explore the London of King George II where Samuel Johnson was about to start work on his "Dictionary".

But... but.... there's something wrong.

Firstly lets look at the river - check out the water close up. Basically Canaletto painted a sort of light blue and then did those wiggly lines that even I do in the odd doodle. The river actually doesn't look like that as there are patterns in the ripples and lines from hidden vortices of wind.

Canaletto's lines are like those theatre props in which a series of wiggly card outlines moved up and down to give a feeling of waves. But in reality waves are not two dimensional but three - just looks at the lovely rollers here courtesy of Turner:

I get the feeling that there's something else wrong with the Canaletto but I can't put my finger on it exactly what it is apart from some of the boats just don't look right.

They might well be sufficiently detailed that you can believe the artist was painting exactly what he saw but the perspective feels "odd". Maybe its hard to get the scale right when all the boats are different types, sizes and orientations.

Lovely picture though: just a shame it's in Prague

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sam and Dee sailing again

Our favourite sailor, Sam Davies, is off again, and this time she has company.

Together with fellow Vendee Globe competitor Dee Caffari she will be sailing around Britain, trying to beat the current record of 7 day and 4 hours. Sam has done the round Britain before back in June 2007 when she helped set the record for an all female crew.

There was some debate during the Vendee Globe as to which was getting or should get the most attention. Letters were sent to Yachting Monthly on the subject - ok, well there was this one that they published, which said that Dee got too much and Sam too little.

In reply the editor of that journal pointed out that Dee had the large PR publicity machine while Sam had just the single person. And that was my impression too: for example the Vendee Globe program on TV here had lots on all the British competitors except Sam, who always seemed an after thought. Sam got all her publicity through her own writing on her web site.

Anyhow now that's all history and they can share the story together - when the weather forecast suggests a record breaking voyage is on the cards.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Asparagus clouds anyone?

Out at sea there are no shortage of clouds to look at.

With horizon uncluttered by buildings and trees you see a full hemisphere of sky, and learn to read not just where the wind blows from now, but where it will in the future.

But have you ever seen an "Asparagus" cloud? According to the Cloud Appreciation Society (no, not making any of this up) our standard definitions of cumulus and cirrus are insufficient and there is a category missing, with an example of this gap above.

This of course has nothing what so ever to do with the imminent launch of that society's latest publication, the Cloud Collectors Handbook - though that raises a more worrying question of how do you actually collect clouds?

A good time (probably the only time) to quote Basil Fotherington-Thomas "Hello Sky! Hello Clouds!"

Monday, June 01, 2009

Three cheers for London's Parks

Aren't London's many parks great?

Maybe its because there are so many of them that we all too often take them for granted. It's not like New York's Central Park, rightly called the green heart of that city, as there isn't just the one.

The eight Royal Parks, which includes Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James's Regent's Greenwich and Richmond together add up to over 20 square km of greenary, and that does not include many others including Battersea Park, Hampstead Heath and Kew Gardens.

The pastoral grass lands seen above is actually in the very heart of London, namely Hyde Park which I biked through yesterday. Very summery it felt too and I almost burst out with a rendition of Gershwin's "Summertime" but alas there are reasons why that's a no go.

Three cheers or even a meadow worthy "moo" in their honour.