Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blog's 5th Birthday

INT: RECEPTION ROOM. Balloons etc everywhere, tables with white cloth covered in used plates and half drunk wine glasses. At the top is a stage with mic and spot light, into which comes the familiar form of Buff Staysail.
Howdy folks, Buff Staysail here! Buff by name and Buff by nature!

We're here to celebrate a very special occasion! No it's not that ol' Buff has got that opening as Aqua Stigg on Top Yacht - or at least not yet!

We're here for a special party for JP to celebrate the 5th anniversary of his blog! And what an exciting five years its been - well for me at least. Probably rather boring for poor old JP who didn't get to go to Valencia for the AC33 like yours truly.

But anyhow, good to see so many of you here today for this party and prize giving bash. So without further ado,  come on up JP, you've a cut to cake!

JP (off stage)
Er... cake to cut?

Whatever, just get up here

JP (joining BS)
Gosh, this so unexpected. I'd like to thank you the readers for making this all worth while and off course for making all this possible.....err....hmm.. I'd also like to thank my agent but alas don't have one...err...hmm.. think that's it

Gee, couldn't think of more to say than that? Anyway, don't go away JP because we have arranged a special prize for you!

What can it be? What prize can ol' Buff be thinking of? Stay tuned for more.....

Friday, October 29, 2010

Picture Quiz

Can anyone guess what these white dots are?

It is in focus and taken around the same time as the Moon photo with similar settings.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rowers Reflected

Some rowers for Chris.

Another Moon

Another clear night so another Moon photo. But this is no quick and easy post as there were many trials before took this one.

The moon is rising very far to the North at the moment - an explanation at the Natural Navigator site here, though to be honest I can't quite get my head around it so will email Tristan for more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Olympic Rower killed by Weil's Disease

Shocking news today that Britain's double Olympic rower Andy Holmes has died after contracting Weil's disease. This is a water borne bug that can go from infected animal urine into the system if you drink polluted water or have a cut.

According to the BBC it kills 2 to 3 people a year and infects 60 - 70, more than I expected. I've heard warnings of Weil's disease so many times without hearing anyone who suffered from it that began to take a relaxed view on it: clearly that was wrong.

One reason I probably haven't encountered it is that the bug likes stagnant water, not flowing tidal ways like the Thames. According to the Guardian he died after sculling in Boston.

Lets be careful out there.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shooting the Moon

In a post at the start of this year I showed my failed attempt at photographing the Moon. Using the default settings the exposure was ludicrously long, leaving the heavenly sphere little more than a white circle.

However knowing that this evening the Moon would be both visible and the skies clear I did a bit of Googling and came up with this great article on top tips, first of course to manually set the exposure.

And after a couple of cycles of go-out-get-cold-come-in-check-pic I ended up with the above, which is a lot better!

For those wanting technical details it was my venerable and soon to be replaced Canon 350D together with Sigma 70 - 300 mm lens, 400 ASA, 1/1250 sec exposure F/5.6.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sailing away for the right reasons

Yesterday's post was a sad story of what happens when the dream of sailing away to a new life in the sun goes wrong. A combination of escapism and lack of skills combined to push a family to the brink of bankruptcy and divorce before they had even left the shores of England.

However the series, called "My Family's Crazy Gap Year" had another episode, and its instructive to look at that to see what went right, for the Lawrence family did manage to sail all the way from Cowes to Sydney.

Maybe that word Cowes gives a clue: this family had done a lot of homework and were very well prepared. It wasn't explained in the program but the web site gave some history, and they had sailed as a family for over a year, starting with the inter-coastal waterways of the American east coast, and then sailing back to Britain.

So when they set out they knew the ropes, knew their boat and knew what to expect. Interestingly they didn't have exactly the same motivation: for Jason the skipper it was about achieving the goal of sailing around the world, while for his wife Amanda it was more about the experience, the cultures they meet and the beauty of the Pacific islands.

Of course even with preparation there were hard times. The first few days crossing Biscay were bumpy and the skipper was worn down by a combination of responsibility, worry and lack of sleep. The latter wasn't helped by having two youngish boys on board, and one of the key skills to learn was how to manage their energy and occupy the time. One mechanism to control bad behaviour was the ability was the good and bad mark board:
What was interesting was the program included clips they took of their journey after the documentary crew stepped off and so you got a chance to see how they evolved.

For me it was striking how Jason was able to relax as his knowledge and experience of the boat deepened, and this changed his motivation. Maybe this was something I could relate to: at the start of a voyage the worry about what can go wrong dominates and it is only later that the tension eases. And as it did his motivation aligned more with those of Amanda and it strengthened the family unit.

It could be argued the boys would have benefited more if they had been a little bit older, but they certainly grew into it:
It does sound like a great experience, warts and all. In journeys like that some of the bad days can lead to good stories, though the one about them misidentifying a fish they'd caught as edible doesn't sound that great even in re-telling.

I wasn't sure about their choice of catamaran as always felt a mono-hull would be more secure in a blow. But then looking at this picture its hard to argue:
That for me captures what sailing away should be about, and its good to hear it can be done.

Just remember to do your homework.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sailing away for the wrong reasons

There's many a sailor that's dreamed of sailing off to warm tropical waters. But its not a decision to take lightly, as was shown in a TV documentary broadcast on C4 this evening.

Gary Fisher (below) dreamed of exchanging his welding job in the run down and depressing (his word) north west of England for life on a boat in the Caribbean, beer in hand. First step was to buy his yacht, but after that his plans weren't so clear.

It wasn't sea worthy enough to cross the Atlantic, and there was an awful lot of work to be done plus a new rig and set of sails. He didn't have much money, couldn't sell the house - oh, and lets not forget (for he seems to at times) he had a wife and two children.

I felt for his long suffering wife Anne Marie (at top, having seen the "almost ready" boat) who was left with the children as Gary took the family to the brink not of adventure but bankruptcy and divorce. For he didn't have enough time and money to do the job, nor from what one can gather the planning and self-awareness skills that is so necessary for such a large task.

After two years the yacht only made it as far as Plymouth - and then only on the back of a lorry. His mates in the marina refused to sail the yacht down there and as Gary admitted - on a local radio show at that - he had no offshore sailing experience.

While doing the boat up in Plymouth Gary vanished for five days and later admitted to having an affair, leaving the marriage, let alone the voyage, on the rocks.

For at the end of the day Gary didn't want to sail to somewhere, he just wanted to get away from somewhere: away from being squeezed into a terraced house with two small kids and a job he didn't enjoy, and away from the grey skies of Liverpool.

It was a sorry tale of how the sail away dream can be all wrong: for balance another story tomorrow, but with a happier ending.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Group Writing Project - Fiction!

I am not doing NaNoWriMo - that's National November Writing Month for the uninitiated. For one thing that is far too many mixed caps for this touch typer.

The thing is 50k words seems an awful lot for a month that will no doubt also contain four and a bit weeks - that's 22 days - of work plus three nephew and niece birthdays plus visits to some of the relatives I've failed to keep in touch with due to work plus.... well, you get the idea. That leaves about 3 days free, within which I'd realistically expect to be able to ponding, dream, structure, write and then review 5k words, an order of magnitude too low.

But to join in the likes of Carol Anne how about we all try our hand and write a bit of fiction. It doesn't have to be long and can be done any time in November, so this is a laid back anyone can contribute group writing project.

It's just got to have something involving sailing or kayaking and be made up, that's it, any format that takes your fancy.

Any takers?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More Round Britain Kayakers

I'm looking forward to hearing from Bonnie about a kayaking circumnavigation of Britain earlier this year by Marcus Demuth. Amazingly he managed all 2,468 miles in just 80 days.

Co-coincidently when I opened the paper on the way to work yesterday I read about another circumnavigation of Britain planned for the new year, also by kayak, this time a tandem. The duo are raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Even though they plan to use kites to speed their way, the projected completion time is higher, at 90 days. However unlike Marcus, who did his journey in May they will leave in February, when waters are cold and the storms fierce.

Good luck to them anyhow!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Sailing absolutely changed my life"

So said Morgan Freeman, who I read in today's Observer magazine is into sailing. A great actor - and I now know what to talk to him about in the unlikely event our paths cross.

I wonder what other celebs are sailors - or should that be sailors who are celebs?

They'll be bluebirds...

A pic for Tillerman.

This was taken on the 50th anniversary of VE Day and if you look really closely you can spot the Queen and Queen Mum out on the balcony. Just before they came out for a bit of flag waving entertainment Dame Vera Lynn sang, her last public concert.

I'm chocking up just remembering it.....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Olympic sailing for £55

Sailing is an expensive sport, we all know that. Just look at how many zillions it costs to win the America's Cup - or indeed find enough goodies to tempt the winner to hold it in your city.

But to see the Olympic 2012 Sailing Final will cost you the punter merely £55 and you can get a view of the preliminaries for just £20!

Actually slightly puzzled by the concept here of final - surely there will be multiple races with points and discards and stuff - this isn't like the 100m. Maybe they mean last race, though that could indeed be the decider for medals.

Rowers will have to have deeper pockets - up to £ 150, but that's what you get hosting them in Eton.

However to put things in context the athletics "super-finals" (they mean the 100m) will be a whopping £750, though that is nothing compared to a ticket for the opening ceremonies of up to £ 2012 (geddit!)

Full list here, so register now as the tickets go on sale in March 2011.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Serpentine Pavilion

The "Turning the world upside down" installation in Kensington Gardens was organised by the Serpentine Gallery, which is to be found in that park.

Each year the Gallery organises an architectural commission for a Pavilion, and this year's design, a wonderfully vivid red construction shown in the photo above, is the work of Jean Nouvel.

A stunning series of buildings have been on the site - as can be seen here. But at the same time as welcoming the creativity there is also a feeling of loss at all that effort (and money) being spent for something that only lasts a few months.

I suppose the answer is to see it while you can in order to maximise its "value" - if so hurry as you only have until this Sunday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The winning Thames

I have in my hand the envelope with the name of the winner of the International Theiss River Prize 2010 and without further ado, ladies and gentlemen I will open it [scuffling sound]

And the winner is (drum roll please) ......


Yup, old Father Thames is alive and flourishing with "125 species of fish swim beneath its surface while more than 400 species of invertebrates live in the mud, water and river banks" according to the Telegraph here. And of course lots and lots of birds, including the one above that had just popped up after hunting for a spot of lunch.

Hurray! Another bit of good news (along with the rescue of those miners in Chile).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turning the World Upside Down

Yesterday's photo was taken from the "Turning the World Upside Down" installations by Anish Kapoor in Kensington Gardens, in the heart of London.

Doing a tour of them was a very nice way to spend Sunday, especially as the weather was brilliant and all the better for biking there.  The "C curve" above was for me the star, turning you upside down and stretched on one side and compressed the right way up on the other.

It had one of those do not get too close signs that usually is there to protect the art work but here was to protect you from the art work. The concave mirror concentrated the sun's rays so much it actually caused the concrete to explode.

This one is meant to be a red mirror, but looked just rusty to me:

This one, though described as a "Non object (spire)", was a rather good object to me:
The final one was the biggest, called "Sky Mirror". However on a perfectly sunny day the side pointing at the sky was featureless.

Anyhow very big and impressive, as can be seen from the side pointing at the ground.
They'll be in the park until next March so plenty of time to see them - indeed you could go many times to see how they reflect the changing seasons. An interesting video can be found here.

Though on a sunny day remember to not get too close to the "C-Curve"!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tahiti girls and British sailors

"This new sight attracted our men's fancy a good deal, and the natives observed it, and made the young girls play a great many droll wanton tricks, and the men made signs of friendship..."

So records George Robertson, Sailing Master of HMS Dolphin, 23rd June 1767 in his journal, the source of the book "The Discovery of Tahiti".

However both the girls of Tahiti and the sailors of the Dolphin would have to be patient, as after this encounter relations between the two parties become cold then outright hostile. After things had calmed down the peace enabled trade and trade brought trust.

And with trust came shore parties. One was led by the Gunner, responsible for trading for victuals. Another was the sick, who swore that they would recover quicker ashore and that "a young girl would make an excellent nurse" to which the Doctor seemed supportive.

The opening of relations was almost certainly kept from the ship's officers, but there are signs in Robertson's journal. The Gunner's trading was going slowly, suspiciously slowly and in one the journal of one Henry Ibbott he writes "the women were far from being coy" but the Sailing Master's thoughts were on overhauling the rigging.

On his first walk ashore he went exploring a mile up the river they were watering from together with a party of seamen. On the way back "three very fine young girls accosted us, and one of them made a signal and smiled at my face". The sailing master, able to calculate longitude from a partial eclipse, was unable to decode their gestures and asked his men to explain. In a scene that could come from from Carry On Tahiti they professed not to know.

Fortunately he was not in ignorance for long, as the Gunner explained in some detail what was occurring, including that the rate was currently a thirty-penny nail and that those seaman knew very well what the gestures meant.

Returning on board Robertson called a conference with the Captain, lieutenants and the Doctor, to discuss whether to detain the liberty men. The Doctor spoke on their behalf, saying that confining them on-board would ruin their health, and that none of their disorders were communicatable.

And so the sailors and the girls of Tahti became better acquainted, old suspicions were forgotten, and HMS Dolphin began to receive visitors. One party consisted of a family of a "handsome little woman in a canoe with her husband, father, mother and a young girl".

The handsome woman's husband was curious about everything, and they nick-named him "the carpenter" for his interest in chairs, tables and measuring their dimensions. He was alas far too curious, and followed his wife into a cabin into which she disappeared with a friend of the sailing master. She was not at all happy at this, so went on deck and cast loose their canoe and then waited until it had been blown off by the wind some far distance before calling to the carpenter.

The carpenter wasn't so keen on jumping into shark infested waters but the handsome woman harangued him so much he ended up throwing off his clothes and leaping in. The moment he was swimming for the canoe the handsome woman stepped with the friend into his cabin, "enjoying the reward of her art".

When the swimmer returned his mood was improved by the sight of a few large nails that she had gained in his absence!

But these nails, as posted earlier, were to lead to problems, as soon the ship was becoming stripped of them. On discovery the Sailing Master called back the shore party, and said there'd be no liberty parties until he found out who had taken the nails.

Naturally this led to much muttering and denials, but it was clear even to Robertson they were all guilty, and after much discussion 6 of them were put on trial. Their crime? They had offered not the hammock nail but rather the larger spike nails, and thereby spoiled the trade for all. Two cleared themselves "by proving that they got double value for their spikes" and three others also had excuses, leaving just the one to be made an example of.

The punishment was to run the gauntlet three times and unsurprisingly at first the sailors were very merciful until Robertson ordered stiffer punishment. Finally he made it clear that any more of such behaviour and there would be no liberty trips for any, and the sailors were quick to agree.

And so they went on their way "getting value for their nails" until it was time for the HMS Dolphin to head off into the wide Pacific. The parting appears to have been hard for both sides, in which "our seamen went into the woods singly and traded with the natives" for the last time.

Then it was time for the Sailing Master to "take charge of the ship and carry her out to sea", a job which he carried out with his customary professionalism.

But there many on-board who wished to stay, and those on-shore that wished to join them on their voyage. It does seems to have been truly a parting "in great sorrow".

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Book Review: The Discovery of Tahiti

Had yet another Saturday working (alas) but there's just time for a review of The Discovery of Tahiti, apart from some of the more "interesting" stories which I'll leave for another day.

The books is the journal of the sailing master of HMS Dolphin, George Robertson, on that boats second circumnavigation. Both trips were hunting for the mythical Terra Incognita, the mysterious land that was thought to exist deep in the south Pacific.

Instead this and the following missions, including Captain Cook's, were to find a string of islands and of course later Australia and New Zealand.

But what wonderful islands they were, the jewel of which was arguably Tahiti, which came to symbolise an attainable paradise, lands of beauty and peace, where the water is blue and warm, the soil rich and fruitful, and the nights full of stars and love.

The journal covers life on the Dolphin from 19th June to 27th July 1767, from initial sighting to departure. George Robertson seems to be one of the foundations that kept the Dolphin working, always solidly trying to do what is right. He was hindered by the captain and other officers of the ship being often off sick, incapable of reliably doing their job, and a first lieutenant who he nick-named "old growl" with apparent accuracy.

The journal is very much the viewpoint of one responsible for the ship, with many comments on wind direction and strength, the hunt for a good anchorage and resupplies. I did see one reviewer who was unhappy with the limits of that perspective, but for me that actually added to it. It gave the recollection colour, of life on board a ship of the King's navy back in the 18th Century, out discovering the world.

But it does restrict it to a one sided viewpoint of the encounter between two peoples, a relationship that starts with curiosity, moves on to open warfare, then a cautious truce, on to courting, coupling and finally a sad departure.

It is remarkable how the mood changed from early days in which the British ship fired its canons in self defence, killing several locals, to the last few days where the woman Robertson calls their Queen is openly tearful to discover they are departing.

As is well known, the sailors were to find the local girls very welcoming, in particular with exchange of much sought after iron nails. Indeed after they had helped themselves to please these girls (and it must be admitted themselves), the carpenter was forced to reports that "every cleat in the ship was drawn and all the nails carried off"

After only a few weeks, re-supplied and re-watered but much reduced in nails the Dolphin sailed off.  George Robertson was later promoted to Lieutenant and served his country in those troublesome American colonies.

He must have had many memories, but few can have compared to those days walking upon Tahiti, and in his journal those experiences come through clearly, bringing the wonder and warmth of the southern seas with it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Thinking of Tahiti

For obvious reasons this is one of the most popular photos on this blog, but its appropriate as I've got Tahiti on the brain at the moment.

Firstly the big exhibition in London this autumn is the Gauguin at the Tate, which of course will be full of pictures that capture the dream of the islands of the southern seas. Sounds like a must-see.

Secondly I'm reading a book called "The Discovery of Tahiti", from the journal of the sailing master of HMS Dolphin, first western ship to reach the island in 1767. There are many good stories, most involving nails, which will post on shortly.

Finally the weather forecast for the weekend is for it to be unseasonally warm, sunny with temperatures in the 20s.... if only I had a canoe to paddle!

Blast at Karachi Shrine

Its always a shock when a place you've visited is in the news for the wrong reasons. Yesterday the 1400 year old Ziarat to the Sufi Abdullah Shah Ghazi was the victim of two bombings with many dead.

I visited the shrine three years ago (seen in photo above with more here) when things were more peaceful. Its sad to think of such a scene at Karachi's seaside Clifton beach, which should be a peaceful escape for Pakistanis from the difficulties in their lives.

Updated: good article on Pakistan from the Independent's Patrick Cockburn here - well worth a read.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Plum Crumble

Bonnie has posted a rather frosty desert, not quite right given the current autumnal weather.

Instead I've made myself the above, plum crumble. Yum!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Book Review: The Odyssey

The wet weather over the weekend was a perfect excuse to put my feet up and read The Odyssey. Not in the original Greek of course, and not just a translation, but a retelling for the "young adult" market by Barbara Leonie Picard.

It was a gripping though surprising read. I'd heard so much about Odysseus's journey, of the battles with one eyed monsters, witches, sirens and the six armed Scylla that I thought the wanderings would be the meat of the book with the return a neat way of wrapping up the story at the end.

But I discovered that the odyssey (as we use the word) is only about a third, with another third describing life in his home just before his return, as his son reaches manhood, and the final third the unification of the family.

For this is not a book about travel, it is a story of return, of home and the gap that is left by a traveller. The emotions of Odysseus together with those of his wife, son and friends are crystal clear even after 3,000 years, and that makes it all the more real.

The text by Barbara Leonie Picard is wonderful. You get a real sense of life back in 1,188 BC for the farming and fishing communities of Greece, when each island had its king. Small details catch the imagination -  the affection that Odysseus's son Telemachus's old nurse shows towards him, Telemachus's wonder at his first journey by chariot on his way to meet his father's old friend and the legendary Helen, and one of the evil suitors for the fair Penelope tossing the dice from hand to hand, unable to reply to her taunts.

My only complaint is that she re-structured the story into chronological order. In Homer's original the order is 1. Life at home reaching a crisis, 2. The story of Odysseus's travels and 3. The return and death of the suitors.

However the Picard text has this in order 2-1-3, which is less interesting and it seems a bit ironic that modern audiences are thought to have difficulty with use of flash backs - or indeed the multiple layers of flash backs that Homer used to such skill. For in that order you are initially like Telemarchus uncertain as to what has happened to his father, and we can see the threat to him and his mother from the uninvited guests.

It was particularly interesting to read after Travelling Heroes, reviewed earlier, which gives a historian's analysis of these stories and what they say about the ancient Greek's world view.

A classic story, well worth reading in one form or other (translation of the original here) and the Picard book is great - apart of course from that re-structuring.

One question remains unanswered: what on earth did Odysseus say to his wife about where he'd been for the last ten years? "See I spent a year with this beautiful woman called Circe who was in love with me..... but you must understand she was a witch, so had no choice ..... then five years with a nymph called Calypso who was also in love with me..... but honest I had no choice! She was an immortal!"

Monday, October 04, 2010

Trinity Buoy Wharf Pics

Some more pictures from the opening of the Time and Tide bell. Above is a poster for the performance of Longplayer - you still have time to have a listen.

Below was some boats out for a sail.
And here are some rowing boats - remember these were taken before the Great River Race

Sunday, October 03, 2010

For whom the bell tolls not

Two weeks ago I was at the ceremony for the unveiling of the "Tide and Tide" art installation on the banks of the Thames at Trinity Wharf. It was a great reminder to the difficulty of predicting the tides: as Tristan over on Natural Navigator points out, it can be very hard to calculate how weather and gravity will drive the tides.

The idea is that the bell and its clapper beneath are set at a height such that the movement of the waters at high tide rings the bell, and that only the highest tide at that. As the waters rise due to global warming this would occur more and more often and not just at the highest tide, a warning to us all.

Alas the date and time chosen for the ceremony, namely mid-day on the 19th of September 2010, was no where near the highest tide you can get on the Thames. Indeed a check (on the iThing) of the PLA's tide table quickly showed that though high water was 10:54 GMT i.e. six minutes to mid-day BST it was merely 5.8 m at Tower Bridge, unlike the spring highs of 7.5 m.

However apparently the clapper can be "tuned" by increasing its length and hence reducing its height above chart datum. But another check of the PLA's site, this time the live tables, showed that the river was about 8 cm below predicted levels, most likely due to the weather system over the North Sea.

Hence we were to miss the bell ringing of its own accord, and so the artist, Marcus Vergette, was forced to ring it by hand. But there was free champagne on tap even for random spectators such as myself and everyone seemed to enjoy the moment.
Marcus gave a speech which I recorded on the trusty iThing and if you are patient you can listen and watch here:
Indeed please do watch, as it was the wait to have time to upload this video that meant this post is two weeks late!

The weather forecast

This morning I saw not one but two groups of kayakers head down river with the tide, possibly going as far as Greenwich before returning with the flood propelling them back to Putney.

Despite this being the first work free weekend since August I did not join them - the reason being the subject of this classic 80s video from Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Free to sail, free to blog

September was a tough month at work, squeezing out many better ways of spending my time. But a couple of news stories around the world helped put things in perspective.

Starting with the picture above, of the catamaran of Jewish peace activists, including a holocaust survivor, trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Take a look at the picture above, in particular the two yachts towards the distance.

Even though this photo must have been taken in the waters off Gaza I'm sure those two yachts were not Palestinian. For if they were the yachts would have been not detained but shot at before they'd sailed 30 minutes from shore. Palestinian fishing folk are often killed while within the minimal (and illegal) 3 mile sea boundary of what is the world's largest prison camp.

And then the story of Hossein Derakhshan who was sentenced to over 19 years in jail in Iran for blogging. He used to write occasionally for The Guardian, and ironically one of his stories was about the blogging revolution in Iran.

Let's be grateful we are free to travel whether by yacht or kayak, we weren't ethnically cleansed into refugee camps where hundreds of our children are then killed by bombs dropped by F16s and where we can blog without fear of anything more than the grammar police.