Saturday, December 31, 2011

After rowing to the pole, a rowing race across the Atlantic

One last post to slip into 2011 with a seasonally chilly feel.

The three men yawn-fest might have disappointed but afterwards the iPlayer suggested I watch a documentary called "Rowing the Arctic" and that was a lot more interesting.

It described the expedition last summer to row to the North Pole, highlighting how global warming has reduced Arctic summer ice cover.

However it should be pointed out that in this case they meant the magnetic North Pole, and in particular the 1996 magnetic North Pole which was somewhere at the top of Canada.

You might remember the route as the one that the Top Gear team followed a few years ago in 4x4s, though they chose to drive in Spring when the ice is at its thickest.

In this case it was August when 6 rowers, explorers and Arctic specialists set out from Resolute Bay to row the 450 NM to 78.595°N 104.1983°W. After 28 days of hard work and battling ice and polar bears they made it.

Led by polar veteran Jock Wishart the crew included Mark Beaumont who you might have seen in the TV series The Man who Cycled the Americas.

Now Mark has just announced a new project - to try to beat the record for rowing the Atlantic, and cross in under 30 days. Given it took us on Ocean Wanderer 21 days sailing that seems very ambitious to me.

But then I haven't rowed to the North Pole, though I have just been ice skating again at the Natural History Museum, rather wobbly.

You have to start somewhere.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Three men yawn-fest goes to America

I'm not sure how they do it. Ok, I can see technically how its done, but what's the key to unlocking the Beeb's purse to be paid to say the most mundane dialog on a series of rather nice boats.

Every year its the same, and the only difference is location. This time the three men were in east coast US, pottering down to NY for the flotilla to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.

There is no edginess to it, apart from the setting-teeth-on-edge type. To make it interesting they could have wheeled on Newt Gringrich and sent him in a time machine to 1775 where he could have told George Washington "There is no such country as America and no such people as Americans" just as he said about the Palestinians.

There was this fictitious task that they must find a boat and then convince the owner to sail it down to NY the very next day. But given that the boats were the likes of the lightship Nantucket you'd have to be a GOP candidate not to realise this was a gigantic fix.

On the plus side there were cheerleaders:
They were rather good, there should be more cheerleaders in sailing programs. They did this routine about "give us a J, give us a P...." - no hang on, that's my imagination.

At the very, very start there was a very, very short clip of the three men actually sailing:
Sailing programs, after all, should actually have some sailing in them.

But there wasn't nearly enough: much better to instead watch on iPlayer a great Great Expectations.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cathy and Heathcliff - lost on the moors!

EXT: the moors where Wuthering Heights was filmed. Visibility is poor but improving: out of the mists come HEATHCLIFF and CATHERINE.

Oh Heathcliff my love I fear that we have made a grievous error and are now lost upon these desolate moors! We shall die forsaken: what a terrible fate! But be comforted by the fact that we will be together, forever!

Alas it is worse than that - I will miss the footie!

But what is this? A tree? Will it be a better signpost than those false rocks?

We must hurry though, the kick-off is mere minutes away.

So what can our heroes learn from this tree? Can you help them reach safety in time for Heathcliff to see the kick-off?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wuthering Heights - Naturally

EXT: Moors where they shot Wuthering Heights. Moody sky with dark clouds driven by a fierce wind.



They run towards each other and embrace.

Oh my beloved Heathcliff, what raptures it is to be in your strong arms, to feel protected against the harsh world alone with the wind and clouds for company, my love growing stronger, wrapping around your soul to gain the nourishment that mere food can not compare.....

Fade out, then fade into:

...and so my beloved Heathcliff my love is as strong as those rocks whose countenance is so like your manly face engraved as it is into my heart, by spirits climb as a lark blown across the stormy sky....

Fade out (seems like we were a bit hasty). Lets try again and fade into:

CATHERINE love, my only one, for whom I live, for whom my soul breaths, and without whom life itself meant nothing, to be with you is to be complete!!


And I think you're right fit, lass


Oh alas, woe is upon us, for as we have been engrossed in our love a mist has descended, cutting us off, as even an island with two occupants upon a sea of heather! How are we to find our way home to Wuthering Heights?

But what is this? A path, bound by dry stone walls on either side! And 'tis good stone work that, nicely laid.

Aye, maybe these two walls can aid us in our hour of need! Tell us your secrets, oh ancient stones: which way be west?

So readers, can you help our young lovers? Which of the two walls should be on their left and which on the right if they are to make their way west to Wuthering Heights?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Theatre review: Swallows and Amazons

Better drowned than duffers; if not duffers won't drown

The staged version of Swallows and Amazons, currently on at the Vandeville Theatre, London, starts as it should with the telegram to the Walker children from their father.

It works wonderfully, telling the famous story over a few brief hours to an enraptured audience of children and their parents, grandparents, aunts and of course uncles.

Adults act all the parts, as can be seen by the Swallows above. But they capture the spirit of each child so that Roger is Roger-like, and Titty is Titty-like. The fact that the smallest child is played by the largest adult adds to the magic - and humour.

The scenery and props are deliberately sparse, with gaps filled by the audience's imagination - which is as it should be for a story where camping becomes exploring and sailing becomes pirating. So waves are a pair of blue ribbons and the boat a skeleton so you focus on the essentials of sail and heel.

A few changes to plot were required to fit it into an evening and songs were added, but all in a seamless and supportive way. One line caught my ear, sung by the Amazons about how they grew up wild:

with only the clouds and a four bedroom house for shelter

That nicely summed up the spirit of adventure and middle class background of the families!

A wonderful evening that adds rather than subtracts from the book. At least one of my nephews now wants to read the story and my brother to read it to him.

All in all a great success.

Some reviews from Telegraph, FT, Evening Standard and Guardian. Also check out these this video and this one.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Volvo activates cloaking device

The first Volvo Ocean Race boat has entered stealth mode which is a fancy way of saying they're not telling us where the boats are. So you might as well stop going to their web site and instead read boating blogs like this one while eating a mince pie or two.

This was the locations this morning when the fleet could be seen heading NNE towards the Maldives and British Indian Ocean Territories.

Even here the information available was reduced, as according to my calculations the DTL was based upon a test point just in front of the leading boat i.e. not actually very helpful at all, though it must be admitted the scenario is hard to compute when all boats are close to a line (large GDOP in GPS terms).

The only one that is clearly where it should be is Sanya which is here:

All graphics thanks to Google Earth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Review: To the Lands of the Vikings

This book describes Trevor and Lesley Hodgson's voyage across the Atlantic the hard way, the way the Vikings did it.

Starting at Hull they cross the North Sea to Norway before heading west, first to the Shetlands and the Faroes, then Iceland and Greenland to finally arrive at Canada and in particular Newfoundland.

As they go they keep an eye out for remains of Vikings travels and places they mentioned in the sagas, and in particular those relating to the early voyages of discovery to Vinland.

It was clearly an amazing voyage undertaken by an adventurous retired couple who clearly are experienced sailors and have a good boat, Symphony.

However if it were me I wouldn't have written it in the present tense, as that becomes disconcerting to the reader after a while. It could also use a bit of trimming and more photos - plus it would be useful to have some dates, just to get an idea of the time of year they reached each location.

But I certainly enjoyed learning about life on those cold dark northern seas, as Trevor and Lesley sailed in the wake of the norsemen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ice skating at the Natural History Museum

Breath deeply and you can almost smell the mulled wine and minced pies!

Yes, Christmas is just a week away and JP's been off ice skating.

No, not Somerset House this time but the rink outside the wonderful Natural History Museum. It was great though a bit smaller and more crowded.

The presents have been bought and wrapped, the tree decorated and sparkling, the cards written and ready to post, so:

let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Buff completes a "Volvo Circumnavigation"

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

Well there's a bit of good news! Seems like Buff can claim to have done a circumnavigation of Australia - a "Volvo circumnavigation" that is.

But what is a "Volvo circumnavigation" you might ask? Well check out the latest race's leg 2 to see for yourself. Rather than sailing all the way to Abu Dhabi the yachts are only sailing the start and end bits and in between the boats are loaded onto a ship while the sailors rest it out.

Now that is the Buff style!

It reminds me of that summer when Brucy, Wes, Dave-boy and me, all good mates, got totally wasted and after jeez knows many tinnies promised to take Wes's Laser dinghy from Brizzy to Perth.

After one last sail - yours truly included - we stacked the ute with XXXX and headed off to the outback. After many adventures (see route above - got a bit lost around Alice to be honest) we ended up launching that ol' dinghy into the Indian Ocean and saying hello to the Fremantle Doctor.

Then it was time to return back home as me ma was having one of her turns.

But Buff had sailed the start and end of the journey on both sides of the lucky country - so in other words I had done a Volvo circumnavigation of Australia!!

Classic or what!

This is Buff Staysail, Volvo circumnavigator, over and out!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where's the Volvo going?

I'm having a problem understanding the point of Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Ok, maybe it means something to those actually sailing it but to us watching we have no idea what is going on.

In theory its from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi but because of pirates its actually sailing to [CENSORED] at which point the boats will be put on a ship and ferried through the danger zone before being dropped off at [CENSORED] for a final sprint.

But as we haven't been told which "safe haven port" is the destination we have no idea who is in the lead or what routing tactics should be used. To further hide from us what is going on, we don't have distance to finish, though we do have some basic (lat, longs) and DTLs.

Ah-ha captain, this be solvable, this be. Yeh be a problem with two unknowns and five pieces of eight information, it be!

So I did wonder if the destination location it could be reverse engineered from parameters available and had a quick hack with C++:
According to this rather rough and ready code the destination is (-20.104, 57.531) which looks like Mauritius.

But if the organisers are so worried about security then surely they'd have thought of this reverse engineering trick and put in some randomisation to throw the calculations off the sense. Therefore the DTLs are either a security risk or meaningless.

So instead of a sailing competition this has turned into a game of bluff and code-cracking, not what the Volvo should be about.

More James Bond than Peter Blake, alas.

Updated: working from the (lat, longs) and DTLs tonight (Sunday 18th) we have a new destination, namely the Maldives as per this Google Earth map:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Google Earth and Pilot Books

Its been a bit nippy recently, though some have braved the elements and gone out for a sail.

As keen readers might have noticed amongst the distractions involving rat matadors and lego Christmas Tree was a brief mention that JP might possibly be venturing out for an unseasonal excursion - for a good reason of course.

The where's and when's will remain TOP SECRET until planning is a bit further advanced but as to who is involved in this scheme if I say there's a Bond connection that might possibly be a clue.

In the mean time I'm having a lot of fun considering possible routes and even destinations, mucking about with Google Earth (above - note the Fastnet Race route is purely there as a red herring) and even buying pilot books.

Its a great way to pass an evening indoors when its dark outside.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MONSTER lurking in Olympic river

Der-dum, der-dum, der-dum!!!

London's geese have another thing to worry about on top of it being the season to roast them. An unknown KILLER is on the loose on the river Lea and it is grabbing geese and pulling them underwater to their DEATH.

The River Lea seemed placid enough when I saw it where it joins the Thames at Trinity Wharf but before that it goes through east London, looping round the Olympic site, and that's where the ATTACKS occur.

So what is the aquatic fiend? Could the MONSTER be an ALLIGATOR or a CROCODILE - or even an escaped PYTHON? Or maybe its a giant pike, terrapin or mink?

Truth is no one knows so watch the skys waters!

Der-dum, der-dum, der-dum!!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Buff salutes Ben Ainslie

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

Thanks goodness at last those pommie sailors are showing some balls! Way back when ol' Buff was a lad sailors were sailors and had a girl in every port and would drink rum without coke. But the last of the old school were the Whitbread legends, and now its gone all pro like - you know, boring.

It's all training and families, good clean stuff, but not the sort of thing that get headlines. And what happens? Sailing gets a mere paragraph somewhere lost in the back pages. Jeez, journos like me deserve better.

So raise your sailing hat to Ben Ainslie for going mental and getting into an argument with a media boat. Buff says respect, mate!!

Look at those England football players - getting pissed, being caught with tarts, fighting (Arsenal even took on the US Marines), breaking things - and the fans love it!

In - ger - land! In - ger - land!!!

That's why Buff say's good on Ben and his brawl for raising sailing's coverage - BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, trending on Google News and Twitter - its PR gold!

I can hear it now, the sailing fan's chorus: all together now:

Sailings coming home, it's coming home!!!

This is Buff Staysail, reluctant pom supporter, calling out one more time:

In - ger - land!!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Tragedy on the ARC

It was with shock that I read on the World Cruising web site of the death of one of the participants on the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).

It wasn't the first death there's been on the ARC alas, but this caught my attention as the casualty, Andrew Nash, is thought to have had a heart attack while sailing on the same boat that I completed the ARC a few years ago, Ocean Wanderer.

I have almost entirely good memories of Ocean Wanderer (above, having arrived safely at St Lucia). It took us three weeks to cross, twenty ones days locked in a our little world, seeing nothing but water in all directions during the day and the endless stars at night.

But what will memories will it have for the current crew? And more importantly what will be the impact on Andrew Nash's wife and family, to whom he will never return and for whom Christmas is cancelled?

I am so sorry.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night and Captain JP said to the mate "Tell us a story mate", and this is the story told:

It was a dark and stormy night and Captain JP said to the mate, "Tell us a story mate", and this is the story told:

It was a dark and stormy night and Captain JP said to the mate, "Tell us a story mate", and this is the story told:

It was a dark and stormy night and Captain JP said to the mate, "Tell us a story mate", and this is the story told:


Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

America will see all episodes from epic Frozen Planet series

I've just watched the seventh and final episode of the BBC's series Frozen Planet, and what a wonder it has been. David Attenborough (officially a national treasure) has for most of my life been presenting great natural history programs and this must rank as one of the best.

It has humbled as it has amazed and fascinated, leaving us the viewer awestruck, and every week has been a gem, especially when seen in the HD it deserves. I'm glad I managed to see every single episode, and will feel its absence next Wednesday.

But not everyone will see all seven, for some countries will only see six episodes, rejecting the final one, the one that talked about the polar regions warming.

Warming is an observation, what the team (and others) have seen. Such as the difference between the picture above of a glacier in Shackleton's days and the same one more recently, below:

Other observations are again just that, such as that military in their submarines have noted that the Arctic ice is in places half the thickness it was in the 1980s. Another is that the polar regions are heating many times - up to 10 times - that of the rest of the planet.

It is also a simple fact that the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in 2002 and afterwards glaciers sped up six times.

But initially the Discovery channel in America said it would only transmit the first six, reluctant to broadcast those facts - or maybe it was those two dangerous words that David Attenborough said, namely "global warming".

Fortunately its been announced just in the last few days they will after all show the final episode, so Americans can decide for themselves, but its crazy it was even an issue.

Earlier this year I reviewed Simon Winchester's Atlantic including the catastrophic over-fishing of the Newfoundland Grand Banks which I described as "rather stupid".

I fear that we humans are about to be "rather stupid" on an epic scale.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Save the Putney River Bus!

Oh no!

I read a sad story in today's Evening Standard: there's a serious danger that the river bus that connects Putney to central London will be closed.

For those that haven't had the joy of commuting by river bus (as above in the morning mist) it is by far the best way to get to central London during rush hours. You always get a seat and a great view with free coffee thrown in, and arrived feeling you've had a treat rather than been squashed in a sardine tin.

But it's quite expensive as its not subsidised and when the contract went up for renewal the present owners, Thames Executive Charters lost to Thames Clipper. Now this wasn't necessarily bad news as the clippers are a faster fleet of newish catamarans but alas they decided to send them only as far as Vauxhall.

A new pressure group has been formed with web site here that points out that the present service takes 3 million passengers per year.

Save the Putney River Bus!

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Christmas Tree

"I saw three ships come sailing in.....

Christmas is definitely on its way.

While it can still be a pain, such as when supermarkets pipe xmas songs in their stores (yes, I mean you Sainsbury's), the boxes from Amazon have begun to be delivered filled with good things for my nephews and nieces.

Unlike shopping to ghastly music some things do bring a bit of that seasonal magic, such as this tree, currently gracing one of London's great railway stations.

It's just a tree, maybe you're thinking. No, this is a very special tree indeed, something that made passers by stop and go wow.

But what makes it special? Any good googlers out there?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Hurlingham Club

This is arguably the best address on the tidal Thames. It's the Hurlingham in Fulham, a private member's club based in this stately house on the banks of the River.

It goes back to Victorian era where it was founded as a place to shoot pigeons, and at its height hundreds would be blasted from the sky by the likes of the Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales.

It hosted the polo Olympics the first time the games were in London, way back in 1908 (we won - ok all three teams for some reason seemed to come from Britain). Now offers its well healed members some of London's best dinning and sporting facilities including tennis and croquet.

Back in September there was an open day in which non-members were shown round, but even then it was exclusive, with just the two tour times. It was very impressive, but I did feel it wasn't for the likes of me, which was just as well as the waiting list is estimated as 15 years.

But they keep a part of the river bank green and free from developers which is definitely a big plus.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

When rats attack! ... or the rat matador and other stories

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man ..... oops, slight distraction there. What meant to say it's well known that JP doesn't do frost-biting.

Or at least hasn't - there are plans, wheels within wheels, the game's afoot etc - but more on that another time.  So without anything boat related here's the first of three London tales, starting with a long grey tail.

Yesterday I saw a rat, a big one, and it saw me. But rather than running away (it that is, not me) the darn thing charged straight at me. Fleet of foot I jumped to one side like a rat matador only to see the little blighter swing round and have another charge.

Hello, hello, hello, thinks I, what's all this? I remembered an urban myth about squirrels in Brixton getting addicted to crack after digging up drug dealer's stashes and wondered whether I was facing a rat having a bad trip or just your everyday demonic possession.

Thinking on my feet I crossed the road and in the swirl of traffic it got distracted and was last seen squatting in the middle of the tarmac chattering to itself (probably something on the lines of "I told you it was a bad idea running a budget deficit of 4% of GDP at the height of a boom" but I don't speak rat).

Maybe it was just hungry but it didn't look thin: rather plump actually. I'm told that rats were considered a delicacy on board naval ships in the time of Nelson, but today you can get many things at your local farmer's market, such as pheasants (above), but not rat.

I know this for sure as today I went to my local one in Barnes and jolly good it was too, especially at extracting £20 notes from my wallet. I got some fish, some naughty but nice chocolate thing, some soup and some bread from a stand very like this one from the Bursledon Blog.

Then back to JP HQ and a quick trip to YouTube to watch again that sketch from Armstrong and Miller called "The Farmer's Market".

Then for some reason checked out the trailer for Ratatouille......