Sunday, March 27, 2011

9 year old girl wins for Britain!

It's a great day for Blighty, as a nine year old girl from Britain wins big in an international competition here on the Thames!

Yes, it is with great pride that I can reveal that Saffron Sollitt, from Wallingford, beat 500 other competitors from around the globe at Days Lock in Little Wittenham, near Abingdon, on the River Thames.

We have retained that key trophy - forget your cricket world cups, forget those cycling world golds in Sydney, Britain is top where it counts - Pooh Sticks!!

Good for you Saffron - you've made Britain proud!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Cambridge boat

Well this clearly isn't going to be my year .... this is the Cambridge boat before it lost. But it was fun - sort of - to stand in the freezing cold watching the start.

Oh well, there's always next year.

It's boat race day!

Yup, its time for what likes to call itself "The Boat Race" but to be a bit more accurate its the annual Cambridge vs. Oxford University Boat Race sponsored by Xchanging.

I've just gone for a run along Putney Embankment and the preparations were well under way, with lots of "testing, testing..." going on.

Good luck Cambridge!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Aurora

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

For an explanation as to why this is the limit of my blogging at the moment, check out the most recent Dilbert.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Moon photo for Super Moon Day

Today is not just any full moon, its a super full moon!

Well to be precise it's a full moon when it is also at its perigee i.e. nearest point to the Earth, and hence is just slightly bigger than normal. It is not actually the nearest so don't fear Hollywood style destruction, as it will be closer still in 2016.

The above photo was taken yesterday when the moon was nearly but not quite exactly full. It's also not quite as sharp as I'd like and I'm wondering why. I tried getting the exposure time down to reduce motion blur, but that didn't help so I'm wondering if its a sign of weakness in the lens.

Its a rather cheap and cheerful 70 - 300 mm Canon lens, the bottom of their range, and with a new 18 megapixel camera that is likely to be the weakest point. So I have been checking out options on and as always the best lenses are the most expensive and heavy, which is not helpful.

One question I'm not sure on is whether it would be better to go for a higher quality lens at 200 mm or a not quite so good lens at 300 mm - any suggestions? I really do not want anything too big or heavy - or silly expensive.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Taru wanted for Buff's World Tour!!

G'day all! Buff Staysail here, Buff by name and Buff by nature!

Well JP's eye has followed Tillerman's to the web site of Alex and Taru currently doing a world tour in a Hallberg Rassy 352 - and a great circumnavigation that looks too. And for once ol' JP and Buff are in total agreement - that looks a lot more fun than the daily commute to the office!!

Now while JP is tied to his desk and the need to provide support for his rather unwell family member, yours truly has no such worries and can head off at a moment's notice. But says JP, you're not cut out for single handed sailing and you're not currently in a relationship.

Well of all the cheek! Ta very much you winging pom says I, but then you can't keep Buff down for long. Couple of swift cold ones and it comes to me: use the power of the web and advertise!

Think, thinks I, of Castaway. Now Oliver Reed was no spring chicken, more a mature man of my own age, and he put the advert in Time Out "Writer seeks 'spouse' for year on tropical island" and ended up with none other than the lovely Amanda Donohoe!!!!

So how about it fair ladies of the web: legendary blogger, writer, journalist Buff Staysail seeks lovely lady to sail around the world. Please send all applications WITH photos of self to JP.

I can see myself now, walking along the beach on some tropical island of the southern seas, hand in hand with some lovely lady - but who?

Eager with anticipation, this is Buff Staysail, over!! That's right, today there's no out!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cutty Sark update

Back in 2007 the famous tea clipper the Cutty Sark, which had survived intact since it's construction in 1869, was badly damaged by an accidental fire.

Fortunately funds were found for it's reconstruction, and work is well underway. For an update on progress check out this BBC news clip.

....unless you just have an iPad of course because your broadband is out!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Olympic ticket choice

As a distraction from the horrors from Japan, the Olympic 2012 web site is now open for ticket applications.

The way it works is that over the next 6 weeks applications are collected together and if demand exceeds supply then there's a ballot. So you might get nothing - but should you apply for lots the danger is you could end up winning them all.

But the question remains - what to apply for? Above is a screen grab from the site at (apologies relying on iPad at the moment to blog).

Sailing of course, but which class? And what else - athletics is likely to be popular, as will be beach volleyball (for some strange reason), or canoeing, biking (UK gold target).... or?

What would you apply for?

Monday, March 14, 2011

A sense of scale

I've been feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the planet, and its not just the sight of O'Docker's yacht in the midst of the wide seas.

I've been walking the streets of London imagining raging waters the height of three story buildings blast everything in it's path, racing up the Thames swallowing bridges and house boats with ease.

Then there's the picture above. It's a famous one, called the pale blue dot. And that one pixel is us; it's Earth.

In fact we are not even a single pixel, maybe 0.12 of a pixel. At this scale even if the whole of Japan has been shifted 2.4 m (a mind blowing concept) it would be invisible.

But what is even more amazing is that we can engineer a craft to travel 6 billion km away, command it to turn round, take a picture, then radio it back to us - and then be alive and conscious, able to wonder at it.

We might be tiny compared to the world, but as they say: size isn't everything.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Terrifying Tsunami

I've been watching the videos of the Japanese Tsunami and pretty terrifying they are too. Reminded me a bit of my dream. Apparently the quake was 1,000 times the recent one in Christchurch.

Updated: the pictures are getting worse every time turn on the TV. Thoughts and prayers with those in range of this horrific quake and the tsunami.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Holy Crepe!

So did you celebrate pancake day yesterday? As you can see above I most certainly did, and fab they were too.

A couple of equally quickly consumable stories:
- Nautical chart with "Giro bay" gets the thumbs down
- Sea levels rising even faster than previously thought - think 475 gigatonnes per year
- Four men on a raft blown backwards with update here

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

I had a dream....

I had a dream last night. It seems to be the thing now to blog one's dreams, so here goes.

I was about to go kayaking on the Thames, so no surprise so far. It wasn't the river here in London, but rather upriver where went last year, the Thames of The Wind in the Willows.

I was there with my brother and sister, and we were discussing whether to use an inflatable kayak or not - again can see where the subconscious got that from.

Then we got to the river, and we didn't face the usual tranquil water drifting by but a raging flood of angry, boiling water, like the picture above.

We looked out at the torrent and were stumped as what to do next, so I woke up.

But what does it all mean?

I'm going with it implying that  me and my siblings are feeling rather overwhelmed by the speed at which Life (with a capital 'L') is rushing us along.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Buff Competition Service

G'day all! Buff Staysail here, Buff by name and Buff by nature!

Well I see that over on Proper Course Tillerman has announced the winner of the navigation competition. Well I must admit to being a spot disappointed - not 'cos missed out on winning as I've borrowed ol' JP's copy (JP: bring it back!!) - but because Mr T. didn't use the services of Buff Enterprises to run the competition and award ceremony.

Yes, here at Buff Enterprises we can offer a full range of services whatever your budget!!

1. Coach Level ($)

This is your basic package: you get a blog (natch!), twitter feed, facebook page, bots to flood the internet with comments, premium rate number voting lines, a lady with a home-made sign (her above) & guests arrive by inflatable dinghy.

2. Gold Level ($$$$)

This is where it gets interesting. In addition you get camera crew and YouTube uploaded video, lights that swivel up and down, theme tune that goes De-De-De-Dah as per Who's a Millionaire, dedicated hosted web site on own domain, clips of Simon Cowell saying rude things about the entries, runner's up play-off, generic winner trophy etc etc, guests arrive by launch.

3. Platinum ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$)

This is what it should be about, the works! You get full networked TV coverage, guest judge Simon Cowell (for real), presenters Charlie Sheen (includes free beeper, note: no-non-appearance insurance cover, drinks bill NOT included) and Anne Hathaway (multiple costume changes must be negotiated separately), red carpet, fireworks, after event party, guests arrive by helicopter, customised gold plated trophy etc etc

Extra services ($$$$ variable)

Just ask and we can arrange:
- Lady Gaga performance with bizarre but publicity raising costume
- Costume malfunction (note does not include FCC or other regulator fines)
- Charity auction of places on day sail on AC33 winner USA-17
- Buff Staysail as after dinner speaker (DJ / tux included!!)

Yes, let Buff Enterprises take over the competition and award ceremony and we can make "The Tillies" the competition event for 2011!!

This is Buff Staysail, your host for the evening, over and out!!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

North heading West

Oh no! Another navigation post - surely its time to move on!

Well that's exactly what the North Magnetic Pole is doing. According to this article from the Independent it is heading towards Russia and speeding up as it does. It's now racing at about 60 km/year.

Hold on to your hat and do adjust your sets.

Rather appropriately currently watching right now in HD the latest Brian Cox TV series, the Wonders of the Universe, where have seen a brilliant description of entropy through use of a sand pile and castle (you'll just have to watch it) and hence explain why there is an arrow of time.

Of course there must be an arrow of time: how else could we - or rather he - say "Things can only get better"?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Marmalade day

Today was an exciting day.

I've been busy with a family illness, work and general life, and so for for the last six months I've missed marmalade day. Marmalade day is the first Saturday of each month where outside St. Mary's Church in Putney there is a stand where you can buy jars of WI made jam.

The Women's Institute's of Great Britain are apparently the protectors of a secret recipes of preserves, for what they cook up is far better than what I've had to rely on for the last four months, which came from a supermarket.

After stocking up I went along Putney Embankment to watch the boats out on the river, knowing that on Sunday I'll have proper marmalade with my breakfast toast.

Tomorrow will be an exciting day too.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Boating, iPads and Bloggers

It's Friday evening and rather than blog another book review I've concocted a scrap-book post of shorts:

1. Recently saw The Social Network on blu-ray which was great,  involving tech start-ups, blogging and rowing in one Aaron Sorkin scripted gem - definitely worth a watch.

2. The film's rowing angle came from the Winklevoss brothers, interviewed here in the Telegraph talking about another lawsuit and preparing for the 2012 games.

3. I've also just watch Ellen McArthur inspire some school drop-outs that they have a second chance in Jamie Oliver's Dream School - watch this weeks episode on 4OD here (might be UK only).

4. This week saw the launch of the iPad 2 - or iPad 1.5 as El Reg put it. It was also the week that the FAA decided that pilots could use them rather than paper maps, which means it must be ok for ships, right?

5. Californians have been boating for 12,000 years or so according to this story on the BBC. That would explain the natural amphitheatre no doubt.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Book Review: The Real Ancient Mariner

On the 17th February 1709, in the blue waters of the Pacific off the Chilean coast, one Simon Hatley transferred from the English privateer Duchess to its companion, the Duke. Already on-board were William Dampier and Alexander Selkirk, and together they completed a remarkable trio of literary inspiration.

It was Alexander Selkirk who had been marooned on the Juan Fernandez Islands and would later became the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. Meanwhile William Dampier, navigator, explorer, buccaneer, writer and triple circumnavigator, was to become one of the inspirations for Gulliver's Travels.

The third, Simon Hatley, was the sailor that would go on to shoot an albatross and became immortalised by Coleridge as the Ancient Mariner.

This book is the story of Hatley's many voyages, including the one where he joined William Dampier and Alexander Selkirk on a raiding expedition that captured one of the Spanish Manilla Galleons, returning to London in triumph.

For me it was like meeting again an old friend, for I've read many a book about William Dampier and the sailors of late 17th Century, early 18th. It was period of wild adventures across all corners of the world by men (and it was mostly men) who you wouldn't like to meet down a dark alley after they've drunk one or two bottles of rum.

Of course there was many changes from hard fact to fictional character. In the famous poem the hardest trial is against the forces of nature while in reality Simon Hatley's nemesis was his senior, Captain George Shelvocke. Furthermore there was no taboo at the time in sailors shooting the albatross.

The book also tells the story of how Colleridge came to write the poem including his friendship with Wordsworth, whose idea it was to use the story of Hatley's deed as the turning point and moral heart. It was written some fifty years later, when the "golden age" of the buccaneer had already become history.

It was a great read which I enjoyed a lot, though must admit it did make me feeling slightly jealous. Again and again there were photos taken by the author Robert Fowke of ports and bays that Hatley had visited and read that he received a grant to fund his travels across South America. Now that must have been a lot of fun!

Above all it left me with that picture in my head: William Dampier, Alexander Selkirk and Simon Hatley on board a privateer sailing the southern seas, hunting for treasure, going on to inspire the literary gold that is Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe and The Ancient Mariner.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Review: The Barefoot Navigator

I bought this book at the Boat Show in January and rather topical it turned out to be. However given the flood of other navigation posts decided there'd be no harm in pushing its review into March (golly have two months gone already?)

This book's subtitle is Navigating with the skills of the ancients and as you might expect has a lot in common with Tristan's The Natural Navigator. Indeed Tristan includes it in his bibliography and references it a couple of times.

So there are similar chapters on navigational skills of the Polynesians, able to sense the presence of islands by changes in the swell, and celestial navigational techniques using the sun and stars - all good stuff.

But there are also differences. The Barefoot Navigator is firmly focussed on finding your way on the great oceans while the Natural Navigator is more holistic, covering land as well, such as showing how trees often can be used to find south (in northern temperate latitudes).

A more intriguing differences is where each considers an acceptable level of technology. Where Tristan is a purist, Jack Lagan, author of the other book, allows some of the early navigational tools, including a compass and rather controversially a quartz watch.

For there is a very specific application that the book aims to address: what do you do when things go horribly horribly wrong at sea. The author clearly has a wealth of experience in sailing in waters from the Atlantic to the Pacific and high on his list of priorities is what do you include in a grab bag.

Yes of course you should include GPS but if you are forced into the life raft you might well not have it or at least only as long as the batteries last. But with a compass, a watch and a bit of understanding you will still be able to a degree answer the key questions of where am I and where is it I want to go.

I am not going to say which book is better because of course you should have both on your bookshelves.

There is one final point to consider. At the back of the book are instructions on how to make a sun-shadow board together with sun declination and equations of time tables, with a comment that more can be downloaded from his web site at

But the site is no longer to be found, sadly replaced by one of those standard "sponsored listings."

Technology is great.... but it is not infallible.