Friday, July 31, 2009

Many ways to travel

Only a short post and might be a gap before the next one as off on a long weekend.

So far have travelled by walking, tube, train, car, plane, bus, ferry boat, tractor and am hoping to add bike and dinghy!

However even after all that travel haven't escaped the rain.

Oh the joys of a British summer!

Update - yup, now list is: walking, tube, train, car, plane, bus, ferry boat, tractor, dinghy (Wayfarer) and bike.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Scenes through a Sunsail Window

The comment from Navionics about suggestions and ideas for updates to their iPhone charting application has got all sorts of mental cogs wizzing away, with sketches of screens, interactions, fields, parameters, etc etc to make it just what any offshore sailor would want, but alas these are still at the moment scribbles in a day book.

So today will just post these three pictures, which I'm calling Scenes through a Sunsail Window.

Basically while on holiday in Greece I'd look out of the little window each morning, and sometimes like the picture above we'd be moored all by ourselves and so just see the sea.

Other times we'd be moored stern too with other boats so could see them:

While at Skopelos was woken at dawn by this great big ferrry!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seeing a Man about Not Sailing

I have been getting these emails, tempting me.

No, not those sorts of emails. They come from one of the clubs I'm a member of announcing opportunities to sail, journeys coming up, races entered etc.

And today there was this one announcing there is a last minute drop-out by someone who was to do the Fastnet this year and hence there is a crew place available. And there was another email about the Mid Sea race later on, in October.

They would both be fab!

Alas by a sad misfortune for both weeks I have work commitments that can not be re-arranged (visitors from outside the EU, visas, letters to embassies etc).

But this evening felt had to go drop to say hello and sorry wish could go off racing and maybe next time.....

On the way back spotted the Bateaux London trying to could squeeze itself under Hammersmith Bridge. It inched its way upstream, but it was just that bit too high, so it was back up river for it and its dining passengers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Navionics Charts V2.2.1

There's been another update to the Navionics charting software from V2.1 to V2.2. Just as had got round to updating my iPhone there was another to V2.2.1

Traditionally versions of the form a.b.1 are a bug fix of the a.b release, so hopefully only need to do a single post.

So whats ah.... I'll find it in a moment .... yes - there it is!!

There is a new button to upload routes to Facebook: hmm... that would be very useful if I ever needed to upload a route to Facebook. But I don't so to be honest thats not such a big deal.

Not entirely sure where Navionics are going with their updates. I mean there's so much that should be done with waypoints and working out COG etc for sailors and racers, but it seems like they have someone else in mind.

Someone who has a motor yacht, potters around the Med, spot of fishing, likes to brag about their exploits to their mates, posting pics and routes on Facebook and probably is impressed rather than put off by the latest scandal from Italian PM Berlusconi.

I guess the rest of us will have to keep waiting......

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Captain Peg-Leg's War

When I picked up Peg-Leg at a local second hand book stall I was worried it would be another "Treasure Trove of the Southern Seas". After all both were from the inter-war period, in the last days of British Empire when the worst form of jingoistic prejudices were on display.

And it ruined Treasure Trove which, as reviewed here, was found to be ridden with blatant, transparent, race and class prejudice. Peg-Leg might be free of such flaws - but would that make it any good?

The book tells the story of Captain Peg-Leg of the British Merchant Marine and his attempts to bring much needed food and supplies to the desperate people of Savonia. This imaginary country is suffering a civil war in which out side powers are attempting to over turn the elected government - a thinly disguised Spain of the late 1930s. His adventures are hampered by various gangsters and ruthless foreign agents while supported by a cast of youngish men.

It was written by James Lennox Kerr under the pseudo name Peter Dawlish and a nice biography of him can be found here. He came from a working class background, a butcher's boy who ran away to sea aged 15 pretending to be 18. His voyages were interrupted by times ashore, where he lived as a tramp (in Australia) and hobo (in the US).

And there are passages of rough and tumble that reflect this more gritty background. The fights are particularly well written - so realistic that it seems likely the author was drawing on personal experience. The scenes in London's old docklands (as in the picture above) seem similarly based on reality, even if spun a bit for excitement. There is a mix of classes and no inevitability of one being better than the other, unlike alas Treasure Trove.

The bio by Dr Bigger referenced earlier describes him as between Arthur Ransome and Malcolm Saville, and concludes that it is a shame that his works are now forgotten.

I'm not so sure, as there are aspects of the book that wouldn't work on a modern audience. It is not the plot, as the story of a boat bringing much needed supplies to deprived and suffering civilians is as relevant today as it was in the time Peg-Leg was written. You could easily re-write the story to be in 2009 onboard the ship the "Spirit of Humanity" as it attempted to break the blockade of Gaza, and whose capture could be called an act of piracy (see the video here).

But the characters in the book just don't work. There is the upper class son of a judge who goes into action singing chorus tunes out loud. Peg-Leg is so irascible and plain rude that its hard to see that anyone would ship with him. And none of them have any back-story or what any creative writing course would recognise as depth.

So not a bad book, but then again not an undiscovered treasure. While I hope there were those that were cheered by its simple tale in the dark days of the war, it is not one I will be giving to my nephews and nieces.

There was one character however did spark some recognition. There was the engineer, who was a Scot, and had lines like: "They engines were made on the Clyde or they couldna hae stood what they did".

Now who does that remind you of?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Left on the Shelf: Fifty Places to Sail before you Die

I picked up this book in a local shop and then put it back on the shelves, not tempted to buy it.

The main thing that put me off is that it had several entries for the UK, including sailing locations as disparate as The Solent and South Georgia, and a separate one for Scotland, namely The Clyde.

Sorry, that is just plain ignorance, and inexcusable in a book that should be written by someone reasonably good at geography. The lack of charts of each of the places also put me off.

Having checked on Amazon here in the UK seems like I'm not the only one. One reviewer, who gave it only one star, said:

"Bought this on impulse (to top up to free postage!) without reading reviews. A mistake.

All you need to know is:
1) The author's previous books were Fifty Places to .... Play Golf / Go Birding / Fly Fish etc .... before you die
2) The USA based research is so exhaustive that the British Virgin Islands and South Georgia Islands are listed under UK, but Scotland is not (meanwhile each USA state is treated as a nation)
3) Different rent a contributer provides each section - so the author probably never even visited the locations
4) Pictures are few and mostly could be anywhere"

There are a lot of good sailing books out there, like the "Over the Edge of the World" reviewed yesterday, and my pile of unread books is too high already.

Might have been a lucky escape.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Review: Over the Edge of The World

This is a great read.

"Over the Edge of the World" by Laurence Bergreen tells the story of the first circumnavigation of the world by a fleet led by Ferdinand Magellan. In the end he was not one of those circumnavigators, being cut down and killed in an inglorious battle in the Philippines.

It is a fantastic story, starting with a devious power battles in the Spanish Court and leading on to storms at sea, mutiny, strange foreign lands, discoveries, desertion, hardships, orgies, death, and finally triumph.

The first chapter tells of this triumph as the handful of survivors, as thin as skeletons, drifted along in a boat whose hull had rotted and sails were torn and bleached by the sun. Just 18 of the original 260 men that left in a fleet of five boats made it home in that, the Victoria. Its hull was packed with a fortune of spices - the driving motivation behind the expedition.

We know a lot about the voyage from first hand accounts by those that sailed with Magellan, most importantly Antonio Pigafetta.

Pigafetta was 28 when he left Spain, and his writing has a young man's enthusiasms in it, including graphic and detailed descriptions of anything relating to sexual customs of the cultures he encountered or practices of the crew upon encountering uninhibited women on tropical islands.

The voyage was quite an achievement given the relative small sizes of the boats and how little they knew, such as the causes of scurvy that caused the death of many of the sailors (though not the officers who had a supply of quince).

You can imagine the amazement and wonder of these Europeans so far from home, meeting peoples and cultures so different from their own. Funnily enough it made me think of Star Trek - "to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before!"

There were also parallels to modern day problems, in that Magellan kept on getting involved in local politics, taking sides, stirring things up, and then having to fight wars such as the one that led to his death.

Well written and structured it is a good holiday read and informative on this, the first circumnavigation and one of the greatest of all voyages of discovery.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cloud Collecting

A few weeks back I posted on Asparagus clouds and wondered how and why one would start a "Cloud Collection"?

Well that question was answered by this rather nice little interactive description of some of cloud collector Gavin Prector-Pinney's favourite clouds.

I was pretty impressed by his arguments that cloud watching is very democratic, as everyone has an equal seat, and also very personal, as cloud formations never exactly repeat.

So here are some of mine:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Celebrate Ocean Day by Protecting Bluefin Tuna

Today is one of Japan's national holidays: it is Marine or Ocean Day, which is meant to be a day of gratitude for the blessings of the ocean.

And yet it is Japan's love of one of the seas greatest blessing, the bluefin tuna, that has the potential to lead to a catestropic collapse of their numbers, potentially even to extinction. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature estimates that unless fishing is halted, breeding stock of the bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean will be wiped out by 2012.

In London, the Fisheries Minister has joined British activists, writers, actors and artists in calling on the Japanese fish restaurant chain Nobu to stop serving endangered bluefin tuna. He joins celebraties like Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron and Sting who are saying they will boycott the chain until it removes bluefin from its menus.

So come on Japan: make this Ocean Day special by joining the UK and France in listing bluefin tuna as an endangered species and so making it illegal to sell.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Escaping London, in London

After yesterday's list of points of interest along the Thames walk from Westminster to Tower Bridge, time for a change. As promised its time for the "I don't want to be a tourist, tell me about something different" post.

As with the last post this was a real question asked by a friend coming through London who had headaches from spending too long looking at laptop screens in meeting rooms and sore feet from treading along the absurdly long walk suggested by ... er ... someone, and wandering around museums and art galleries: "What I want is some exercise and fresh air - any suggestions?"

Yes! - and here it is:

Take the tube to Putney Bridge - its on the District line (thats the green one) but make sure you take the right line as after Earl's Court they head in all directions: you might have to change there.

At Putney Bridge tube walk over the bridge (no prizes for guessing its name) until you get to Putney Cycles marked with an "A" in the map above. Here you can hire a bike costing £5 per hour or £ 30 per day, and that includes helmet and lock (though check the lock as the one we were given was jammed locked).

You will need photo ID and they lend out bikes on a first come first serve basis, so worth being a bit prompt.

Then you are free to explore the wonderful Thames Path, 294 km from source to sea, and heading upriver from Putney it is almost entirely car free, apart alas from the first 100m.

Once on Putney Embankment the bike route is very simple: keep the river on your right and don't fall in! (this is not a joke: at high tide there are places where the Thames Path is deep under water). At the moment Barnes Bridge is under repair so you will have to go on the road for a 100 m or so.

The simplest route is just to head out and return along the same route, but there are lots of options as to how far to go and when to stop, including:

- The Duke's Head, Putney: this is too soon! You haven't got started! Leave it till later after you have returned the bikes!

- The Wetland Centre: this is also a bit soon as its just after Putney before you've got to Hammersmith Bridge. But it is an amazing place for wildlife, in particular migrating birds

- One of the many farmer's markets along the way. Just up river from Putney is Barnes which has a market on Saturday. On Sunday you'd have to cross the river at Hammersmith Bridge to get to Chiswick. Details of various markets available here.

- Have a picnic! Having stocked up with lovely food and drink at the farmer's market then of course you'll want to lighten the load by actually eating it. There's lots of nice places to rest your bike and lie out on the green grass or even sit on one of the benches

- No farmer's market? You then have a great excuse to stop at a pub on the way - and there should be plenty of choice in the villages of south west London such as Barnes, Mortlake, Kew, and Richmond

- Explore Kew Gardens - superb, wonderful gardens, though you'd have to pay to get in and it would mean more walking. Nice place for bread and soup or cake and tea.

- Stop at Richmond - nice restaurants and places to hire rowing boats.

.... you want to go further? Wow, impressed!

But remember that bike has to be back in Putney, and as noted earlier, there's a good pub by the river where you can drink your pint and think about your day while watching the river flow by.

Hopefully you'll enjoy your day out of London, without ever leaving this great city!

Updated: An alternative source of bikes in Putney are the newly expanded Boris Bikes (technically the Barclay bikes) which are now available near Putney Bridge and Putney Railway station. Check the web site for the latest location.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Ultimate London Walk by the Thames

I have business colleagues that come to London and ask for advice about what to see. Typically they only have a short time, maybe in the evening after the meeting, and want to get a feel for the city. And the suggestion is always the same - walk by the Thames from Westminster to Tower Bridge.

This route goes along side the River Thames and on the way you can see a large chunk of central London's sights in one go. It's mostly pedestrianised (apart from some of the bridges) and there are tube stations at either end.

So here is the route in detail, and 50 top things to see on the way, including monuments, buildings, art centres, shops, eating places, and great views. The walk is about 5 km long, though with diversions that probably creeps up to 6 km. If there's isn't enough time then a shorter route is from Embankment to London Bridge, which is about 3 km straight, 4 km with diversions. You can of course do it the other way round!

Westminster Tube

Coming out here you'll be surrounded by crowds of tourists and with good reason, as this is one of the hearts of not just London but Britain. Stand in the centre of Parliament Square and look around and you'll see:

1. Westminster Abbey: Every sovereign but two (both Edwards) has been crowned here since William the Conqueror in 1066. It is also choc-a-block with burials and memorials of Britain's great and good from Dickens to Darwin (full list here). Rather annoyingly you have to pay to get in - there should be a discount at least for Londoners!

2. Houses of Parliament: this comprises the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and technically is called the Palace of Westminster, but that term isn't used much. Most of what you see is the gothic work of Sir Charles Parry in the early days of Queen Victoria, after a fire destroyed much of the old building, though parts like the Westminster Hall survived. You can queue up to go to the Visitors Gallery, though if its anything interesting being debated (e.g. the Iraq War) the queue will be very long!

3. Big Ben: this is the name of the bell not the tower, though in practice (again) everyone calls it Big Ben not "The Clock Tower". The clock and tower are one of the icons of London, but the lovely chimes well worth listening out for too.

4. Statue of Churchill: there are lots of statues all over London and in Parliament Square there is one of the most famous: Sir Winston Churchill.

5. Protests: there's almost always a protest outside Parliament so it's worth catching a flavour of the political issues here

Ok, that's enough gauping, time to move on. Next head south till you get to:

Westminster Bridge

Almost all of London's bridges have fine views and this is no exception. As well as all the Westminster stuff look out for:

6. Statue of Boudica: Queen of the ancient Britons, you won't be able to miss her riding on a chariot at the north end of the Bridge

7. Westminster Pier: a good place to get river boats to other destinations, including upriver to Kew or downriver to Greenwich.

On the other side of the bridge you start the south bank part of this walk.

London Eye and Around

8. County Hall: this isn't the most glamorous of buildings but once was the home of the Greater London Council. In the '80s it was a hot bed of socialism led by newt enthusiast Ken Livingston, who got under the skin of Margaret Thatcher on the other side of the river in Westminster. Maggie was so incensed she disbanded the GLC, and London went without a governing body for 14 years until a new one was created, this time further down river by Tower Bridge so not to be too close to Parliament. However Ken Livingston had the last laugh by becoming the first Mayor of London.

9. London Aquarium: this is in the old County Hall and has around 400 varieties of fish. I've never been and those that have been come back saying "its ok....", so probably one of those things to save for a rainy day.

10. Dali Exhibition: this too is in the old County Hall (there's also a hotel there). I've never been and don't know anyone who has, so maybe its another rainy day project unless you're a Dali fan. There are apparently 500 exhibits so should be enough for a really surreal experience.

10. Updated: alas Dali has gone to Venice and not been replaced so instead I'll mention the Barclay's bike scheme aka Boris bikes which are a great way to get around London. Registering to get an access key makes it even better.

11. The London Eye: This is the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe and is just brilliant. Even Londoner's do this - and more than once. There are great views both during the day and at night, though rain does make it less interesting. Don't worry if you don't like heights as the movement is very slow (it takes half an hour to go round) so the pods feel very stable almost like standing in a building. However the queue can be very long, so it's a good idea to book in advance and not for (say) 3 pm in summer when it will be packed.

Ok, time to move on to the next section:

Embankment and Around

This is an alternative starting point from Embankment tube station. The north and south banks of the Thames are connected here by a railway bridge and on either side of that (i.e. upriver and downriver) by pedestrian bridges, called the:

12. Golden Jubilee Bridges: These have great views upriver to the Wheel and Westminster and downriver to St Paul's. So you can cross firstly on the west side and then again on the east side.

13. Ocean Leisure: on the north side underneath the railway arches is a shop for all things water related, from sailing to scuba diving. Bit pricy but if you really want that glossy book about the Volvo Ocean Race, this is the place in London to go.

14. Snack bars: you're going to need sustenance for this walk, and this is the first place to stop. Just outside Embankment tube in Villiers Street which heads up to The Strand. Here you can find lots of places where you can get sandwiches: my favourite is Wasabi which does interesting sushi like smoked eel (of course you can't do tuna anymore).

15. Embankment Gardens: if you want somewhere to sit and eat your snack, next to Villiers Street / Embankment tube is this little garden. As well as being a nice quiet green spot, it is useful to mark how much wider the Thames used to be before the Thames Embankment was built, constraining the river into a much narrower space.

16. Cleopatra's Needle: time to walk south again across the other side of the Golden Jubilee Bridge. As you do you'll get a good view of Cleopatra's Needle. It is very unlikely to have had anything to do with Cleopatra but was a gift from Egypt after Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile. It's had a perilous history as it almost sank on its way to London and during the First World War one of it's associated sphinx suffered bomb damage - the shrapnel marks can still be seen.

On the southern side of the bridge you will find:

The South Bank Centre

The South Bank Centre was built after the Second World War using modernist principles out of concrete, which does eventually grow on one. It's a good place to get a dollop of culture what ever your tastes, and there are often buskers or organised free concerts. It comprises:

17. Royal Festival Hall: largest of the halls used for big orchestral works like symphonies etc but also has been used by Motorhead and Jarvis Crocker.

18. Queen Elizabeth Hall: middle sized hall which makes it very flexible so can have chamber or orchestral music there, plus of course many other things such as the last ever performance by the legendary Ivor Cutlor (which was sublime and surreal).

19. Purcell Room: the baby of the three, used for smaller performances including chamber music, poetry and jazz.

20. Hayward Gallery: a good place to go for modern art. They have had some notable exhibitions - my favourite was the magnificent Gormley show that spread out of the building into the roof tops all around - superb! At the top is a kinetic light sculpture.

21. Eating at the South Bank: lots of choice here from sandwiches to chains to upmarket restaurants. The best there is "Skylon" (used to be called The People's Palace) which can get crowded so its worth booking ahead. More of a special occasion place than quick snack.

Nearby the South Bank Centre

In the vicinity of the South Bank Centre you will find:

22. The London IMAX: you know the score, huge screen, immersion experience. Again can be good for wet days.

23. Second hand books: under Waterloo Bridge you'll find many stalls selling second hand books which is a great way to spend many happy minutes browsing away

24. The National Theatre: one of London's top theatre going destinations, where many, many award winning plays have been shown. Worth checking out what's currently available.

Across Waterloo Bridge

25. Waterloo Bridge itself is arguably the point to get the best view of London - its from where the picture above was taken. For some reason it is even better if you are in a black taxi cab crossing Waterloo Bridge.

26. Somerset House: On the other side of Waterloo Bridge is the lovely Somerset House where you will find the Courtauld Art Gallery. The central courtyard has a water fountain display in summer and ice rink in winter. The courtyard has also been used to stage concerts for the likes of Goldfrapp and C4 films use it as an open air cinema. On the river side there is also a very nice restaurant called The Admiralty in recognition of the previous usage of the building.

Beyond the South Bank

Continuing along the south bank of the Thames you there is a stretch of walk between the National Theatre and the Tate. Along this section you will find:

27. Gabriel's Wharf: this is a collection of restaurants and arts & crafts shops if you're into that sort of thing.

28. Sand art: by Gabriel's Wharf at low tide there is some sand which makes a nice beach area. This is sometimes used by artists to make very short term art - it will all be washed away as the tide comes in. In fact all along the South Bank walk you are likely to encounter random buskers and street artists.

29. Oxo Tower: run by Harvy Nicks, this is home to one of the best restaurants in London. To be honest there are those that are underwhelmed by the actual food but the stunningly lovely view always makes up for it. A place to pop the question or entertain your favourite friends and family. There are two parts - the "real" restaurant or the brasserie, which has the same kitchen and view but is a lot cheaper.

30. Blackfriars Bridge: stop for a moment by this bridge and remember the lurid tale of how in 1982 "God's Banker" Roberto Calvi was found dead, hanging underneath this bridge. While officially considered murder, no one has been found guilty though suspects include the Mafia, the Vatican, and the P2 Masonic Lodge.

With that thought its time to move on to:

The Tate Modern and Around:

31. The Tate Modern art gallery is brilliant. The re-developed power station sits at one end of the Millennium Bridge facing St. Paul's Cathedral. A lot of it can be seen for free including whatever is currently in the Turbine Hall plus the permanent galleries, though the exhibitions typically have a charge. There is a good restaurant at the top, though you can't book, just take pot luck. There are also snack bars, a comprehensive art shop, and great views towards St. Paul's.

32. Millennium Bridge: also called the wobbly bridge as it's original design was flawed and heavy movement dampeners had to be fixed. Now boringly solid it lives up to its other nick-name of blade of light, as it uses remarkably minimal supports.

33. St Paul's Cathedral: the Millennium Bridge is aligned with a impressive view up to Sir Christopher Wren's great St. Paul's Cathedral. Its a bit further off than it looks so I wouldn't recommend heading off towards it unless you've had enough of the Thames bank walk as its an either / or. Development regulations limits the size of buildings nearby so its dome does still stand high on the skyline.

34. Boat to Tate Britain: There is a neat way of getting to the other part of the Tate Museums, namely Tate Britain, which is a dedicated river boat that shuttles between the two, though there is a minimal charge. The pier is just downriver of the Millennium Bridge, near the Globe.

35. Shakespeare's Globe: This is a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre that opened in 1599. It isn't actually on exactly the same site, but it was nearby also on the south bank. It is a great way to see the best ever playwright's work as it was originally devised - though you are taking a bit of pot luck as it is open to the elements (except for some of the seating area which is covered).


Next along from the Tate / Globe you'll go under Southwark Bridge to Southwark, where you'll find:

36: The Anchor Bankside: This pub isn't that brilliant but is on the site of the old pub where Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London in "a little ale house by the river". It's a good spot to stop for a pint and watch the world go by.

37. The Clink: this is the original prison from which comes the term being "in the clink". There's a tourist attraction there which have never been in, but its the place to remember that the south bank was traditionally the seedier side of the river, where the gambling houses and brothels were to be found.

38: Winchester Palace: just passed The Clink you'll see some ruins, flint walls and a rose shaped window. This is what remains of the Winchester Palace, built in 1109 by the Bishop of that name.

39. The Golden Hind: this is a re-construction of the boat in which Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world between 1577 and 1580. You can go on board and there are special events for kids such as sleepovers with pirates, that sort of thing.

40. Borough Market: foodie heaven! You can wander the stalls and shops and delight your taste buds. Try interesting cheeses, sushi, fresh fruit, and lots of take away snacks from chicken sati to scallops with lime. Yummy!! The market is quite historic, probably going back to Roman times.

41. More restaurants and wine bars: good places to stop for a bite here - just wander around Stoney's Street or up above the market to the Roast Restaurant.

42. Southwark Cathedral: one of London's oldest churches, going back to at least 1220, though the site itself has probably been used for much longer. A nice place to sit down, take the weight off your feet, and reflect on life. If you lucky you might catch a concert.

If you want this is a possible place to stop and catch the tube at London Bridge. If you're still up for it keep going and cross:

London Bridge and the City

43. London Bridge. Today this isn't that exciting a bridge, packed with traffic and commuters heading off into the City along the A3 road. But its history is linked to London's as a whole. In times passed London was clustered around this, at the time the one and only bridge across the river. There have been many bridges on this spot over the years, including one that was burnt down as a way of protecting London from a Viking invasion - hence "London Bridge is falling down, falling down". Nice views down river to Tower Bridge.

44. The City. Ok, it just looks like a concrete jungle, but this is worth a second look. Firstly the City is London, the old London before it expanded west to Westminster. Secondly its banks and finance houses comprise a huge part of Britain's economy, where the currency exchanges transactions can hit a trillion dollars a day. Of course the credit crunch etc has slightly put a damper on the party.

Having crossed back to the north bank of the river, continue the walk down river towards Tower Bridge

London Bridge to Tower Bridge

45. The Monument: just on the north side is the column called the Monument which marks the spot where the terrible Great Fire of London started in 1666. Until recently it was covered in scaffolding as it was renovated but now it is open and you can climb the narrow staircase to the top.

46. HMS Belfast: on the other side of the river you'll see the great battleship HMS Belfast. It saw action in WW2 including the engagement and sinking of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst and bombarding Normandy during the invasion. You can go on board for tours.

47. Custom House: its easy to forget that London was once home to the world's greatest port, with boats in their hundreds packed along the shores of the Thames or the docks further down river. A reminder of those days is the impressive Custom House just beside the Tower. On the other side of the Custom House is the Old Billingsgate Market - look out for the lovely details such as the two fish weathervanes!

48. The Tower of London: another icon of London, this is where traitors were held before execution, and the crown jewels are kept safe by the Beefeaters. Lots of gory details and wow amazing stones for kids to be impressed by.

49. Tower Bridge: the final icon of London on this walk is this bridge with two castle like towers, a lifting lower level and upper walk way. You can explore inside to see the mechanisms. Recently a motocross champion leapt across the opening - see the amazing video here.

50. Haagen Dazs: and enough is enough, time for a break. I once took one of my nieces to Tower Bridge on a winter day where enthusiasm disappeared like our misty breath into the freezing cold air. Smiles were restored by a stop over in this nearby ice ream parlour. Yummy!

50. Oh no! That particular Haagen Dazs has closed and its now a cafe. Instead, why not go a little bit beyond Tower Bridge to see the "Girl with dolphin" sculpture, as in this photo here.

Ok, that's the tourist trail for today - find the nearby Tower Hill tube and make your way home.

Tomorrow there'll be the "I don't want to be a tourist, tell me about something different" post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When you're tired of London...

Another suggestion of a group writing project from Carol Anne over at Five O'Clock Somewhere. This time its travel related.

Here's the challenge, to: "Tell about activities that can be done close to your local sailing venue, besides sailing".

Well, I live, sail, and kayak in London, and that means there's quite a lot of things open to do! I love this city, am proud of it, and happy to babble on about all the many different things one can do.

But it is a good question, and one that I've been asked before. Of course there is a huge depends - are you into Musicals? The Arts? Roman History? Medieval History? Royalty? Shopping? Activities? Museums? Concerts? Pop? Films? Drama? Architecture? Boats? Trains? Dinosaurs? Harry Potter? Shakespeare? ... well you get the picture.

While there are the obvious ones of the British Museum, The Wheel, Parliament etc (see above), there are two things that spring to mind as recently I did have a friend coming through London and this very question came up.

So over the next two posts I'll give two different answers to that question.

Macmillan Cancer Support Boat

Not sure why a boat is going up and down the Thames with "We are Macmillan Cancer Support" on the side, but happy to give them a plug as they are a great organisation who help the sufferers, their friends, and their family when most in need.

More on their main site here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fear of a Lightening Strike At Sea

How scared are you of lightening at sea?

On the Greek sail trip we had a spot of bother with a storm as we approached Orei. To the south west were dark clouds lit occaisionally by brief flashes of wriggling white lines.

It didn't go down well with some of the crew: "Let go of the bimini - its support has got metal in it!" I was told.

I've been unhappy at the sight of lightening mid channel, where it is clear that our mast is the only thing that is both a) metal and b) above sea level. But in the middle of the Greek isles there are loads of mountains and buildings, some with lightening conductors that must be really tempting for those electrons high in the clouds.

And then take as an example what happened to Liza Copeland and co on "Still Cruising" when they were struck by lightening off South Africa. No one suffered in the blast though ok almost everything electrical was fried.

So relax, it will be ok.....but... OMG!!! I had this terrible thought...

What about my iPhone??? It will become an expensive slice of toast!!

After a moment of worry it was suggested that the solution was a Faraday Cage, an enclosure made of conducting material which ensures that the electric field within it is constant - see the Wikipedia article here.

But how many yachts go to sea with a Faraday Cage? Ah-ha, another thought - what about the oven?

So it was that in the midst of the thunder storm my precious iPhone was stored for safety in the yacht's tiny oven.

In the end we didn't get struck by lightening, and to this day I have been wondering..... would it have worked?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Aegean Mini Pilot: Pigadhi

Its the final day of the sailing blogs review group writing challenge, and its also the last of these mini pilots from the Greek Aegean. For those wanting more, you could check out the cruising wiki site here though it seems a bit out of date and the Orei page doesn't mention the magnificent marble bull.

The final port of call was the fishing village of Pigadhi on the mainland and an easy sail to the Sunsail base. Maybe because of that it seems all geared up for the many flotillas that find it a conveniently easy short day sail (as in this write up in the Daily Telegraph travel section).

As you turn into the bay in which it nestles as in the Navionics chart picture above, you can check where you are going the right way with two convenient landmarks.

Firstly there is a rectangular tower on the top of the hill to the left: this commemorates the local legend that Pigadhi is where Achilles left to fight the Trojan war. Secondly on the headland to the right there is what is known as Toad Rock:

Hmmm.. could be a bunny rabbit as well.

Pigadhi itself is a small fishing village, basic rather than pretty. Maybe because of the regular visits from the flots it didn't feel like it had to make much of an effort.

Yes a local did rush out to help with our lines, but there was a clear quid pro quo in that he just happened to be the owner of a taverna, and a taverna with a big Sunsail! flag, and with menu order forms conveniently labelled with boat name (useful for the larger flots).

And the food wasn't that great, either in range on the menu or quality when it turned up.

It was a winding down, tomorrow's the last day sort of place.


Harbour fees: none

Rating: *****

Best bit: er..... hmmm.... let me get back to you on that one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Aegean Mini Pilot: Skopelos Town

Skopelos is a movie star sort of town. Actually it really is, being yet another of the places that was used as sets by the (in)famous Mamma Mia!

It really is very pretty, where the paint salesman asks whether you want your house painted in white or, er, white. And the pretty, white, houses are stacked up a hill, with lots of little alley ways between them.

And to make it even prettier there are churches. Lots of churches. In fact there are meant to be 123 churches and chapels in Skopelos!

Anyhow some pilot stuff. The port is very well protected against wind from every direction, with hills on most side, down which Katabatic winds come pouring down. But only for a short time, as always in Greece it quietened down in the evening.

There is a long quay side which gives plenty of room for a full flotilla plus the odd boat like us to get in with plenty of space for others. There are also protected anchorages where a big Oyster 65 decided to keep well away from us plebs: they even had staff in uniform with a tender to woosh the guests in for dinner.

And thats a very good idea - the dinner bit I mean - as there are lots of lovely bars and tavernas in this really amazingly pretty town:

The only down side for me was at this point my sea urchin embedded foot was beginning to say Oi! You! Stop walking, swallow a bucket of paracetemol and go to bed!

Fab town though.


Harbour fees: there were some! For our 423 it was maybe all of 2 Euros

Rating: *****

Best bit: The view from the bar we found (see pic above)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Aegean Mini Pilot: Steni Vala

We weren't sure how far we'd get and at one point almost stopped at Patitiri, but it looked too busy and not that attractive so pushed on to Steni Vala and we were so glad we had.

Steni Vala is a lovely little harbour half way up Alonissos with almost nothing there. In the Navionics chart above all you can see is that there is a submarine cable marked. It's almost as if its their secret hideaway and they want to keep it like that.

To be fair there really isn't that much there: a concrete quay side with mooring rings, a couple of tavernas, a few bars, a couple of shops, and thats it.

Oh, not quite: there are a couple of paths out, like the one below that takes you over a headland to a beach with crystal clear water.

And the tavernas and bars were just right: great food, friendly staff, so we had lovely fried battered cougettes, more sea food and chips and then headed off for a night cap beer under the stars at the bar at the far end.

I'm guessing it might get a bit packed if more than a few boats head in there. There were only a few while we were there, including a Sunsail cat with four young Italian couples who wore swimwear all the time - so "ciao" to them.

Three words of warning:

1) There are rocks close to the quay that mean the depth guage can be misleading. We parked so that the rudder was just over this lump that we bounced on once or twice and had to move out a few metres. But the water is very clear so you can look under the hull to see them

2) The water maybe lovely clear but there are sea urchins there too!

3) The bars mix a mean gin and tonic.

Steni Vala was our favourite stop anywhere, even with sea urchins.

Just look at this water....


Harbour fees: none

Rating: *****

Best bit: Steni Vala was the best bit

Friday, July 10, 2009

Aegean Mini Pilot: Koukounaries

After Orei we next stopped at Koukounaries on the south coast of Skiathos. It's main claim to fame is is apparently "one of the top ten beaches of the world", so you'd have thought it would be a good place to stop.

Alas we were not that impressed. Firstly there was the problem of where to park - check out the chart extract above from Navionics. The harbour was tiny and of the limited space about half was taken up by fishing boats, while the rest during the day is taken up by day tripper tourist boats.

As they leave in the evening there was a rather inelegant rush to get one of the two or three berths along side the quay. We decided not to join the scrum and anchored off the south side with shore line wrapped round a lamp post.

It was rather exposed especially to the south and alas that was not only where the wind was coming from but also a mysterious tsumani like short burst of swell (probably from one of those fast ferry cats passing by way out to sea).

It felt very dramatic as the yacht bounced up and down and waves crashed onto the rocks but a quick check of the depth guage showed we went from an even 2m under the keel to ranging between 1.8 and 2.2 m.

Not knowing when it might hit us again we decided laying the kedge as well would be a good idea:

After all the day trippers had gone home the bay quietened down considerably and it was time to check out the famous beach.

While we had our faithful Nemo to hand, but of course to one who will happily jump into piranha or sea urchin infested waters there was clearly a better way to get to shore.

The water was lovely and clear and it was noticable how much warmer it got the closer in we swam.

But when we got there it was just another beach, with a slightly forlorn, deserted feel to it: empty sunbeds, closed stalls and sun shades angled at random.

So it was back to the boat for dinner on board while the sun set and the stars came out.


Harbour fees: none

Rating: *****

Best bit: the peace and quiet in the evening after the day trippers have gone

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Aegean Mini Pilot: Orei

First of a series of reviews of the places visited in the Sunsail bareboat sailing trip, which I'm calling a mini Pilot as aspire to a Pilot Book level of detail but alas only have a time to type a few paragraphs. But hopefully they will be of use to someone nethertheless.

Anyhow starting off with the chart above, thanks to the Navionics iPhone app. As you can see there is good shelter when winds come from most directions apart from the south-west, and when we were trying to get in there was a thunder and lightening (very very frightening) coming from the - you guessed it - the south west. Our first two goes at mooring up were the stuff that is more fun to watch than execute.

However as happens most of time the clouds blew by leaving a nice sunset and we were soon walking along the quayside.

Orei isn't a particularly pretty town: more workmanlike than picture postcard. However there is a nice pedestrianised stretch of road by the water's edge with many tavernas and comfy chairs that tempt the passer by to linger over more than a few glasses.

We were promised a good (as in cheap) supermarket but think the "super" is over doing it as it wasn't much different from the stores at the other places we went to. It was however definitely cheaper than the shop by the Sunsail flotilla base, and they threw in a six-pack of water bottles free.

The supermarket can be found behind the church (the northerly one on the chart above) which is pleasant rather than amazing and there was a service just finishing as we walked by so heard some nice Greek Orthdox plain chant.

The best reason to go to Orei is the Hellenistic statue of a bull (below) which is on display in a glass and wood display just next to the church.

It is a full size marble bull full of lovely details that dates from the 4th Century BC, and was dredged up from the harbour.


Harbour fees: none

Rating: *****

Best bit: the marble bull so if that doesn't float your boat go elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Review: Sailing with Navionics iPhone Charts

Before heading off for my Sunsail bareboat charter holiday reviewed earlier, took the time to download some Navionics charts. It was an even better deal than before, costing around US $10 for the whole of the Meditarranian.

So what was it like to use it actually on a boat?

We had effectively three different navigation tools:
1) Chart, Pilot Book and eyes
2) On deck chart plotter
3) iPhone Navionics charts Version 2.1

The chart plotter and Navionics both showed similar chart data as can be seen by the screen above. We could have put in way points to Navionics but to be honest as have mentioned before have found it a clumbersome process, so didn't bother to test that functionality.

I did switch on the "Track" function and it does work as can be seen in the screen shot above. The track is shown as a red line and then the arrow shows the direction of travel based presumably on the last few fixes.

However that only works if you keep the iPhone switched on and if the power saving mode switches it off you end up with big jumps, as in the figure below:

The 255V socket on the boat didn't seem to function unless we were connected to shore power so wasn't able to charge onboard (this wasn't a problem as could just plug it in to recharge at any restaurants we stopped at).

The chart plotter had a very useful predicted line based upon current COG (course over ground) which Navionics does not, and in general it is very helpful. However there was some debate over accuracy at one port where our COG on the chart plotter intersected the land but simple eye-balling suggested we were just fine.

I'm not sure whether that was due to there being a lot of lee-way or due to inaccuracies in the GPS (which we should never forget can have significant errors in its data).

But there was a bigger question here - why use GPS, whether chart plotter or Navionics, at all?

Because in practice we were doing day sails island hopping and we could almost always just look up and see some form of easily identifiable landmark. The pilot books in particular had a wealth of information including historical points of interest and even the names of the taverna owners.

And there is a danger of always looking down at the instruments, not least we spend our working days gazing at a screen do we really want to spend our holidays doing the same?

Having said that there was point at which the Navionics iPhone application proved its worth. There was something on the paper charts which might have been a reef or it might have been a smudge due to a retsina spill, but which was it?

Out with the iPhone, couple of drags and zooms, and yup it's a smudge!

Phew - and so we sailed on with confidence.

Angels cross Indian Ocean

Congratulations to the Ocean Angels for successfully rowing across the Indian Ocean!

This morning the all female crew arrived in Mauritius after a 78 day row from Western Australia. The straight line route would have been 3,132 nautical mile but as can be seen from the course above the wind and current pushed them off the rumb line.

I was lucky to meet one of them, Fiona, at the boats and other things show in Earls Court December last year.

As well as an amazing personal achievement they have made their way into the record books being the first all female crew to cross that Ocean and also aim to raise £ 50,000 for the charity Breast Cancer Care.

I think they have totally deserved the cold beers that must have been waiting for them on arrival!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Review: Bareboat Sailing with Sunsail in the Greek Aegean

After the last sailing blog group exercise of thinking up sailor-changing-light-bulb jokes (to which my answers were none, none, and none) - its on to the next which is to write a review. Pretty much any post can be made into a review (e.g. the sunset here tonight gets ***** i.e. 3 stars out a possible 5) however that is not much use to the general reader.

But having just got back from a Sunsail bareboat charter in the Aegean, that might be of interest to those who are thinking of doing the same. So here it goes, looking at flight out, the boat, water and wildlife, islands and towns, the weather, and an overall score.

1. Flight Out *****

The flight was with Thompson and was pretty awful. Firstly there's the lack of leg room which means that anyone over 6 feet are forced to sit bolt upright to avoid grazing their knees on the seat in front. At which point the head rest is pretty irrelevant and so you'll end up dozing with a crick in your neck.

Also there is a proper meal for some but they don't tell you if it's you until it arrives towards the end of the flight - after they've gone around selling sandwiches. So you can take pot luck and hope you are one of the "lucky" ones with a microwaved in-flight reconstructed meat or play it safe and buy some of their sandwiches or do as we do and buy a sandwich and regret it as to full to do more than poke at the unwanted plastic tray afterwards.

You arrive at the tiny airport at Skiathos where there is only room to park 3 aircraft and the island is only just big enough for the runway so take off and landing are interesting (the pic above is of another charter company that took and landed at London Gatwick with 15 minutes of us).

2. The Boat *****

We had a Oceanis 423 which was very comfy with three large double cabins and three heads so that was pretty much en-suite. There was a good bimini, huge fridge and well stocked kitchen (ok, it had the most important thing which was a cafetiere). No choice of sails - just main with 3 reefs and furling headsail. There was a single reasonable sized wheel with throttle nicely placed on pedestal so could easily manoeuvre her forward and backwards. The on deck chart plotter was rather cool though to be honest rather unnecessary given the distances sailed.

There was one big failing, which was that the anchor chain was not the right size for the windlass which was totally rubbish as meant couldn't get the anchor in as the chain kept slipping and had to resort to manually pulling it up. We guessed that someone had lost the anchor and chain and Sunsail had just put one on that was close but that's really not acceptable given how important an anchor is, hence the one star less.

There were some minor things which bugged me but everyone else just shrugged there shoulders:
- If you have GPS and DSC it makes sense to connect them up - after all it is a lot more useful if you hit the DSC button if people know where you are rather than just "there is a boat in trouble somewhere in VHF range". However the Sunsail rep and my two ex flot sailing friends didn't seem that bothered
- The instruments didn't have a lot of the numbers needed while racing like true wind angle & speed let alone VMG. Ok, this is a relaxing cruising holiday but it can be fun to play around with trim...... ok it is fun for an ex-racer!

3. Water and Wildlife *****

Again pretty good: the water was lovely and crystal clear and we were treated to dolphins playing around the bow. If you looked under the water at the harbour you could almost always see lots of fish of a range of sizes.

The one star is taken off as didn't see a huge amount, though maybe if we'd gone further into the national park we'd have seen more. For example we saw a hut where we could learn more about seals - but alas it was closed and we didn't see any.

4. Islands and Towns *****

It was lovely sailing - a number of islands with pretty little Greek villages, all white painted with Greek Orthodox churches scattered around like pebbles and rows of tavernas along the water front with fresh local food. You'd see fishermen out catching the dinner for tomorrow, and go behind the counter with the taverna owner to select your fish and haggle over price.

There were antiquities if you are interested (though not that many) and clubs for those of that nature (well is Skiathos anyhow). And unlike the Ionian it wasn't crowded out - we could always get into which ever harbour we wanted.

Lovely - really can really recommend it as a sailing area.

5. Wind and Weather *****

Mostly ok. The pattern was for no wind first thing in the morning, then gentle, then around 4 - 5 ish in the afternoon it would really blow for an hour or so, sometimes with exciting storms with thunder and lightening (some on our boat used words other than exciting).

After the blow it would settle down and by late evening it would be quiet again. However we learnt that mooring up time was often "interesting" and it can be useful to get in earlier or wait outside till the wind drops (which it will).

We did once put in a reef when it was F5 or something but to be honest if anything felt we could have done with a bit more wind, though again it might depend upon temperament.

The only annoying time was the day we had a nice blow but it was directly on our nose all day long and it was a very long leg so we couldn't afford to tack tack tack hence motored. Boring.

6. Overall *****

There were some niggles - the flight and the anchor / windlass problem springs to mind - but there were minor. The price off season was particularly good, so we paid about half what the Sunsail web site is currently quoting for August. Though of course you with children at school will probably be muttering at this point, so what can I say but sorry.

In general very happy with the package and would be happy to sail with them again.