Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas at Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… 'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Poem by the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kayaking on the tidal River Thames

Excellent article on kayaking on the Thames in central London on Canoe London.

Good stuff about not stopping by the MI6 building as they get twitchy (alas I already did that when hunting for rowing pictures) and not going out when its been pouring with rain (like, er, yesterday and overnight) for reasons best left unsaid (search for the bubbler).

The photo above is from earlier this year when the weather was much, much nicer!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What's your background picture?

I, like so many, spend far too long in front of a computer screen.

No longer do we need screen savers to protect our bulky CRT but virtual desktops can easily be customised with a background picture.

Mine is shown above, a golden sunset over the east coast of Greenland. If you look closely you can see icebergs floating down from the north.

So what is your background picture? Is it a favourite view? A beloved boat?

Post and tell!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Christmas Bear Speaks


All I wanted was a bit of time off, some quiet, to catch up on my sleep, but no such luck.

No, that Hare would only go and wake me up. And why? To see a tree with a couple of lights on it.

Seriously? Is that it?

I've spent years travelling the wild forest; endless, countless green trees reaching up to a moonlit sky, with the flames of the aurora flashing across the sky. Now that is a sight worth seeing.

"Well now you're up" said the Hare. "You can help out."

So I wrote what felt like hundreds of cards, wrapped dozens of presents, cleaned and pealed the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts, put the stuffing in the Turkey (poor bastard), basted the roast, prepared the onion sauce.....

Then there was the moment for the Christmas Spirit to bring in the presents, which I'd imagine I'd do rather well, but the Hare said it was speciest for the Bear to play that part so the Hare did it while I brought in more firewood.

After dinner the Hare went off for a snooze but I had to entertain the smaller animals, which left my fur sticky and smelling funny.

Then the Hare came back refreshed with a new list of tasks to do.

I could see outside the sky crisp with stars, one of those magical nights promising shooting stars, and I wished I was out there. Or asleep.

Preferably asleep.

But no.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Thames, then and now

I'm always fascinated to see how the Thames has changed over the years.

Recently I've been reading about one of Britain's great merchant liner fleets and it was shocking how rapid it declined and then was absorbed by another after the container revolution.

But you can see what it would have been like in Docklands in this lovely little video from the BFI taken back in 1935 - and there are others too, such as this one from 1959 (notice the buildings bombed out between these two videos) and this from 1963 (complete with visit to The Dove pub).

And you can return to the some of the same locations in the comfort of your own easy chair using Google maps which has recently photographed the Thames:
Using a camera on one of the PLA boats it captured the Thames from Richmond down to Woolwich.

Jump aboard by clicking here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The ice returns

I've been keeping an eye out on the ice charts published by Norway here which show that most of the east coat of Greenland north of Tasiilaq has now been locked in.

Any boats still in Scorsby Sound or the amazing Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord won't be going anywhere for a couple of months.

And maybe longer than they planned - for apparently the northern ice sheets have bounced back with an average 50% more cubic kilometers of ice in October than the low in 2012.

Sounds good news doesn't it? Well it depends which year you compare the ice levels to.

If you use the 1980s as the baseline then ice levels have fallen a whopping 55% to 9,000 cubic km, just 45% of the 20,000 cubic km it used to be.

It will be worth keeping an eye on those ice sheets in 2014 to see whether this year is indeed a good news blip or a pause on a long term bad news trend.

And if you are iced in Scorsby Sound or Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord, hope you are snug and warm because it looks like you're going to have to be patient...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pippa sails with Sir Ben

Hi Guys,

OMG!! I am like soooooo jealous. Ok Pippa is like my BFF since waaayyy back but life is soooo unfair!

She's only gone out sailing with the winner of the America's Cup (Ed: er, Sassi, you might want to tone that down a notch) and best sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie.

Ok maybe Pippa has sailed the Atlantic or something but duh! was she BBC presenter for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee or on Team JP for the Olympics? I don't think so!!

So Ben how about going off sailing with your's truly? YOLO!!!

Luv yah (Ben that is not Pippa (*))

Sassi xxx

(*) only kidding Pippa - that ski trip is sooo on and you can tell me all about it then.

Updated: Well Ben did pretty well on SPOTY last night. Given its sailing and Brits like their ball games he wasn't going to win but he managed to nearly tie with none other than Mo Farah to come 5th overall.

Friday, December 13, 2013

How to get the Nexus 5 battery to last 3 to 4 days

I month or so ago I upgraded to a Nexus 5. While there is much to like about this phone there is one thing that is really bad - the battery life. Let's be honest, the Nexus 5 battery is too small.

Initially it struggled to survive a single day and it was only after a lot of Apollo 13 style "Shut it all down!" that I managed to get a more reasonable 3 to 4 days until reaching 15% left.

As part of this blog's public service tech support, here's how:

1. Turn the screen brightness down. The screen might be lovely but it eats a lot of juice so set the brightness at a minimum (Settings->Display)

2. Turn off Google Play updates. You don't need the latest app update immediately, and you don't even need to know that an update is available. So save yourself a lot of power and only update when you have both wifi and shore power (Google Play->Settings)

3. Switch off Google Now. I was preparing to leave to meet a friend for lunch when I got an alert saying it was time to go (which I obviously knew already). It was pretty smart and accurate but then I didn't need that message and to generate it there must have been all sorts of processing including requesting travel times off London Transport and location fixes which drains the battery. Clever but not worth risking an empty battery for

4. Switch off location services. GPS really does take a lot of power and you know where you are (its called "here"). If you are really lost (i.e. don't know where "here" is) then at that point switch in on but until then save the battery for when you really need it (Settings->Location)

5. Switch off Auto-Sync. Do you really need to know right now that an email is waiting for you? Surely its better to take control of your inbox and check it at a time that suits you rather than being a slave to the notification flashing light and save battery at the same time (Settings->Data Usage->Settings menu->Auto-Sync data)

6. Switch off various apps sync features such as, for example, Facebook updates. I'm pretty sure that photo of a baby with a cat can wait to be seen (Facebook->App->update)

7. Don't play graphics intensive games or watch videos. Yes I know the Nexus 5 can double up as a games console and video player but the battery simply isn't sized for those applications.

If you want the phone to still be working after a few days then "only" do the standard email / web / news / camera / photos / travel / weather / facebook / twitter / texts / phone calls / evernotes / ebooks (limited) / wikipedia / music player (downloaded not streaming) / alarm clock / solitaire / calculator / contacts / calendar etc.

You could also reboot to make sure all those settings are fixed and clear out any unwanted processes.

It probably helped that I live & work in areas with good LTE signal as the battery dropped a lot when I took the tube a couple of times. If you do that a lot it could be worth considering:

8. Switch airplane mode on when you go on the tube to stop it using a lot of power trying to keep the connection even when deep underground.

I don't think the answer is replaceable batteries as who wants to spent their time carrying spare batteries? The answer must for handset manufacturers to install larger batteries - at least 50% bigger than the one in the Nexus 5 and preferably twice the size.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Foggy Thames, misty Mars

The last few mornings London has been covered with a thick blanket of fog, causing the Thames Clipper to sound its horn as it felt its way carefully up or down the river.
And it appears that the Earth is not the only planet to suffer from the seasonal vapours as can be seen by this photo from Mars which show the canyons covered in mist:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sunday, December 08, 2013

London's Flood Risk

Last week a storm together with high tides drove seas up the funnel of the Thames Estury to threaten London with devastating floods.

Fortunately London was ready, and the Thames Barrier was raised in time to protect the capital.

But what if it hadn't been there? How bad could it have been?

Well the answer is pretty bad as can be seen by the image above released by the Environment Agency which shows how most of Docklands and huge swathes of East London would have been under water.

The headlines could have been so different, with less talk about Christmas Dolphins, and more about disasters and devastation.

Updated: Google thinks that this picture needs snowflakes:
Err.....Mr Google.... are you sure that's a good idea?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Porpoises spotted in the Thames

Hi Guys,

OMG!! Don't you just lurrrve dolphins! They are the cutest and have this great smile and just muck around all day with none of that boring work!!

I mean take JP: he was at this meeting in central London and there were these five dolphins (Ed: Sassi, I think you'll find they were porpoises) swimming up the Thames just outside and he didn't even look!!! (Ed: unfair - I looked all the time!).

Now they've reportedly gone further upriver to Battersea!! They could be going to Putney!! What are you doing in the office!! (Ed: actually Sassi I think you might have a point).

What's your porpoise in life?? Geddit???

Luv ya

Sassi xxx

Updated: yesterday those tough guys at the Marine Policing Unit showed they had a soft spot for our five friends from the sea with this tweet: "another day shift to news that the #christmasdolphins were spotted in the Putney area overnight". Alas no news since then...

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Shipwrecks 1, Dimbleby 0

I was planning on blogging Dimbleby's Britain and the Sea earlier but something more interesting came up.

I can't remember exactly what it was - maybe washing, or was it cooking? - for the problem is there isn't really enough meat in Dimbleby's show to keep one's attention focussed on whatever it is meant to be about.

I remember reading a review of the show asking what was the point? Or, to be a bit more accurate, "where is it going?", as the key thing about a TV documentary is to identify what it was meant to achieve.

Keep the focus must be a good message, as can be seen in another BBC documentary which is also about Britain and the sea though with a tighter remit.

In a program with a title like Shipwrecked: Britain's Sunken History you won't head off on tangents (such as Dimbleby's tours of an old castle's surprisingly boutique bathroom) but can expect some good stuff about the Spanish Armada, Shakespeare's Tempest, the castaway Selkirk and how a staggering one in five ships in the great age of explorers never came back.

A definite high spot was "Navigator and maritime adventurer" (what a great intro) Tristan Gooley showing how to measure your speed with knots and the latitude with a backstaff:
Definitely worth coming back for more in the weeks to come:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good sailing movies - let's not get serious

Tillerman wants us to blog our favourite sailing movie and its a been tough assignment.

The problem is there's no really great ones out there and the bad ones aren't heroically awful either.

I did a google and came up with this list of sailing movies and not one would be on my desert island five - or even ten or twenty.

Lets consider a few of those on that list which I have seen:
  • Hornblower: ok but a bit wooden acting and the book was better
  • Master and Commander (above) is probably the best of the crop, a good film but not great
  • Riddle of the Sands: again, the book is better
  • The Life Aquatic: weird
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: its soundtrack has become the inevitable backing music to any TV show involving boats. BTW having holes in your sails makes the boat go slower not faster
  • Castaway: is there any sailing in this film? There is of course a lot of Amanda Donohoe
So no real classics and those that are something else (a book or a show ground ride) are better in the original. Anything based on Treasure Island definitely falls into that category.

And of course some are not on it, such as the previous blogged surprisingly debauched Swallows and Amazons (again, the books were better). Other films and TV shows have moments on boats, such as the Wedding Crashers and Cheers.

There seems to be a gap in the market for a good sailing film as there don't appear to be any classics out there, though I'm willing to give All is lost a go when it comes out here.

But there was one film involving boats and sailors that I enjoyed more than any other, despite being not authentic or serious - well actually because it wasn't either of those things and instead a total hoot.

So prepare to go "Aarrrhhhh!!!" and head off for an extra gruesome adventure involving hams, dodo like parrots, Queen Victoria and Darwin with The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sensational finish to Clipper Race Leg 4

It's been a gripping end to leg 4 of the Clipper Round the World Race with boats finishing within minutes - and even seconds - of each other after 5,000 NM.

It must have been a rollercoaster of a ride through winds over 100 knots and those legendary southern ocean seas.

I've recently received a new laptop and am catching up with a backlog of 23 GB worth photos and videos (far, far too many) and came across the one above.

This shows Great Britain (hurrah huzzah) in front of the Tower of London (ditto) back in September for the start of the race, the parade of sail through the Pool of London.

No danger of its crew being sent to the Tower as they've done blighty proud by coming in first. Rule Britannia etc.

What little I've managed to achieve in the last two or three months seems to fade in comparison to these boat crew member's achievements.

No duffers there.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor Who and the first America's Cup

This morning I received a video message stamped "Top Secret: 50 year time lock". I was thrilled to discover its secrets....

Doctor Who opening credits, music. Cut to Tardis front door which opens to show CLARA in Victorian clothing (again).

So yachting, that's a new one for you, Doctor. 

THE DOCTOR (following CLARA and adjusting his bow tie)
I can't be battling Daleks all the time, Clara, I need the odd day off and what could be more relaxing than a gentle sail in the Solent.

They go up some wooden stairs onto deck and are blinded by the sun.

Any this isn't any old boat: we're racing in the very first Americas Cup. However I landed us on one of 15 British boats so theres no chance of winning, but we'll be less conspicuous coming second. Or third....or forth or... Well you get the idea.

We should be about half way round and the Americans will already be out in front.

The DOCTOR peers ahead, searching without success. CLARA taps him on the shoulder.

Look behind you!

She indicates the schooner America trailing far behind.

But that's not right, its against the standard time line and fundamentals of hydrodynamics.

He gets out his sonic screwdriver and scans the hull.

THE DOCTOR (muttering)
.... carbon fibre, nano propellers, fake matter... this is way beyond nineteenth century technology.

The DOCTOR and CLARA are interrupted by various SAILORS of the ship's crew.

Wakey wakey Doctor, we have company

Who are you and how did you get aboard?

THE DOCTOR (waving a bit of psychic paper)
I'm the Doctor and Queen Victoria's personal physician. She gave us permission to visit and have a picnic.

Well tell that to the captain then.

Yes, I want to meet who ever can explain this boat.

They ascend to the quarterdeck and are brought face to face with captain of the ship

So you have decided to join us, Doctor, on the Day of the Master!! 

(for it is he, the DOCTOR's nemesis)

You! You can't do this! The first Americas Cup is a fixed point in time, it can't be changed without scaring space time for ever! 

That's a bit rich. Your death was meant to be a fixed point in time - as was the destruction of Gallifrey.

THE DOCTOR (waving hands in a timey wimey way)
That's so... You're missing the point. The question is why? What's so important about changing who wins the first Americas Cup?

When I win I will be introduced to Queen Victoria, and all I need is one meeting with the most powerful person on the planet to make it mine. Well that and this ultra-hypno projector.

He waves a ray gun looking device.

You forgot that I am the Queen's personal physician. 

Addressing the sailors

Arrest that traitor!

THE MASTER, waving his own psychic paper
I am an admiral of the fleet and out rank a mere doctor: arrest him instead.

Well I can top that as I married Queen Elizabeth so I'm a royal!

Really? I didn't see that one coming

To be honest, who did?

The sailors move to arrest THE MASTER.

You might have won this round, but I will return. I will take a new form and new name, and in the future win the America's Cup and use it as a stepping stone to controlling the most powerful leader on the planet!!

THE MASTER jumps overboard and starts swimming to shore.

All this saving the world gives me an appetite. How do you fancy lunch - in France?

Ooh la la!! Defeat the Master by a DNC and nice nosh: what a good day!

In the mean time I feel like a nice cuppa tea. Better make it Liptons: I think the old buffer's going to need all the support he can get.

CLARA and THE DOCTOR sail off together.

Cut to a beach in the south coast of the Isle of Wight. A figure crawls ashore and collapses close to an old fisherman. The figure starts to glow and THE MASTER regenerates into a form familiar to sailors.

Who you'd be, aye, yon glowing figure that be washed ashore like a sea drenched ship's rat?

THE MASTER (for it is he)
In this form you may call me - Larry Ellison!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Swallows and Amazons meet DEBAUCHED pirate!

Along with many boaters in blighty I have fond memories of the Swallows and Amazons series of books by Arthur Ransome.

Rather than having our eyes glued to playboxes or xstations our heads were full of phrases like "better drowned than duffers" (call child protection services NOW!) and "we didn't mean to go to sea" (honest mum!) before being pushed out of doors to get some fresh air while parents reveled in the peace and quiet.

There was even a film (trans. movie for you yanks) of the first book which was ok but not great, partly because it's the first of the books and you got the feeling Ransome was learning the writing ropes and discovering his characters.

While the children, their mums, the lake and the boats were all as I imagined them, the uncle, aka retired pirate Captain Flint, wasn't quite right.

But according to an ebook recently published by the woman who was Titty (above front, titter ye not) it turns out he was channeling the pirate spirit all right with numerous drunken sessions. The grown up multi-talented Sophie Neville said:

“The film ends with Ronald Fraser playing 'What shall we do with the drunken sailor?' on his accordion. As a twelve-year-old I noted in my diary that he was completely sloshed at the time.”

As you might expect when shooting in the Lake District, rain stopped play (or rather filming) rather a lot.

There's more over on the Telegraph web site and some real gems on Sophie Neville's site including a catch-up with the actor who was Captain John. She asked how he spent the fee they earned and he replied:

‘Oh, sailing dinghies.  It was good to know I had £500 in the bank around the time I was heading towards the British Championships. You know, at first we had ply board hulls but the time came when I needed to buy a fibreglass boat.’ 

It was with this that he became the National Optimist Champion.

Ransome would so have approved!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'll wait until I've seen another of the Dimbleby programs before commenting but in the previous blog I commented that Aunty Beeb really ought to have a regular show about all things boating.

Maybe that's harking to an old day, for the new modern way surely is to have niche programming not with the traditional broadcasters but on distribution channels such YouTube. However recently I've also found one on Catchup TV.

Catchup TV is the badly named service to stream live TV in the UK to browsers and smartphones and at its core are the Freeview channels of the terrestrial broadcasters.

But there are also some specialised channels such as Sail.TV that as you might expect has nothing but yachts and dinghies getting wet and wild.

Of course there's a lot of repeats and programs you might have seen before (America's Cup anyone) or could see on YouTube (er, same again, and above).

But for those days when you are stuck at home with a lurgy (which no doubt will come at some point if the freezing weather currently smiting blighty continues) it could be a nice distraction for an hour or two until you've looped all round their shows for the current month.

I have feeling that Buff Staysail would approve of this new trend and ask for me to plug his very own Queensland Community TV's America's Cup show, but I've told him he has to tell me the web link first.

Maybe its fortunate for us all that for the time being Buff remains a niche far off the beaten track.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The uses of duct tape

Duct tape is wonderful and one of the sailor's most versatile tools.

Tillerman is so keen on it he is thinking about making a boat with it and giving it (either the boat or just lots and lots of duct tape) to his granddaughter for her birthday.

It has also been holding together the back of my iPhone for a couple of months after I found out that dropping it while out for a run was a bad idea. But even duct tape will only last so long.

There really was a reason for upgrading to that Nexus 5 Chris! (*)

(*) Not that I'm saying that this was a good reason. I could have applied another coating of duct tape. But I was well past the upgrade time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sailing and boating on the BBC

There's a sailing program on the BBC this evening but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

The problem is that the BBC hasn't got a good track record when it comes to the nautical. Where as French TV has regular shows about their maritime tradition, the Beeb seems to look down on such things.

Case in point is of course the ghastly coverage of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant while events such Round the Island and the Fastnet are ignored, plus the whole Three Men in a Boat yawn-fest.

But David Dimbleby’s Britain and the Sea is starting this evening and I'm open to giving it a try. On the plus side David's view of the coverage of the Pageant seems spot on:

I was very, very cross about that. I thought it was the worst-handled day of broadcasting from the BBC in some time. What I was particularly angry about was not the wittering on, but that the whole history of Britain’s seafaring was assembled, and all ignored.

However I fear a dumbing down for mainstream TV with the focus on side issues such as David's tattoo posted yesterday.

The BBC is also meant to have a pair of programs about the Clipper Round the World yacht race in the pipelines, which would be interesting.

But given this stream of stories (Fastnet, America's Cup, Dimbleby, Clipper, Boat Race etc etc) why oh why isn't there a maritime equivalent of "Countryfile" ?

Just as there's a regular series about our countryside, I think there should be a regular series on the BBC about our seas and waterways and the many activities that happen on them.

Not to forget of course Top Yacht.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Audience Review: Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians

Most music reviews focus on the musicians and the pieces they play, but not this one, oh no.

This review is of the audience to last weekend's performance of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank.

There seems to have been a change in policy at the RFH and it now seems to be ok to eat and drink during a performance, and the lads to my right were taking advantage of this.

They had some wine and some cups and when the latter was empty they'd be whispers along the line and gurgle of liquid from a bottle followed by drinking. Or maybe not, for the chap next to me spilt some on his shirt which then had to be brushed off, leaving an aroma of a late night wine bar. The whispers about refills were added to by others about the technique of the percussionists, which apparently couldn't wait until the end.

On my left were two women who carefully bought their ice creams at the end of the interval so they could eat during the concert. When they finished they drunk from their water bottles. My understanding is that the human body is able to survive without drinking water every five minutes, but my neighbour seemed to take another view.

In the row in front was a little girl about seven I guess and her dad who thought that an hour and ten minute work of minimalism was at nine in the evening just the thing for his daughter. She was as you might expect restless, moving between her seat and his lap, with urgent whisperings to and fro.

But at least she was better than the couple directly in front of me, for I think he had ADD. He was unable to sit still for more than 60 seconds, being constantly figtiting, whispering to his companion, scratching himself, scratching her, kissing her, reading the programme, waving himself with his programme, and then videoing chunks of the concert with his phone.

I thought that that too was something that the RFH frowned on, but maybe concentrating on the music and listening to it isn't their priority any more.

As to the actual music and performance, well I really can't tell you anything useful, as I seem to miss large chunks of it.

My recommendation from the evening is to avoid the RFH and instead watch the piece undisturbed in full in HD - on YouTube.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tom Cunliffe sails to Greenland

It's been a manic work week here, hence the lack of posts, but all through today's lunch-time telecon I was itching to race to the newsagent to pick up the latest Yachting Monthly.

After the article in the last but one edition about our sail to the Arctic Circle last year, this one describes how Tom Cunliffe (above centre) sailed from Iceland to Greenland - just like this year's sail.

Where as we sailed along the coast, Tom explored the huge Scoresby Sound, which sounds great, particularly the way it is out of range of telecons and emails.

Like us there was lots of fog, rock and bergy bits but unlike us no polar bears or whale meat dinners.


Now its back to work....

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Best Camera Awards

So my awards are:




BEST CAMERA for SPONTANEITY: whatever you have with you, which for me is is most likely for me my iPhone Nexus 5

Rather spookily that's similar to what Tillerman was suggesting in his comments yesterday. But which is the best overall? Well even more spookily, that would be what O'Docker said.

I'm pretty convinced in terms of picture quality the order is:
1) Canon 550D
2) Sony Nex-6
3) Olympus Tough TG-1

However at the same time the order in terms of lightest to heaviest is:
1) Olympus Tough TG-1
2) Sony Nex-6
3) Canon 550D

In terms of weight the Olympus and Sony are close and in terms of picture quality the Canon 550 and Sony are close together.

So the Sony Nex-6 does seem to be a great balance between picture quality, features and weight.

My take away thought from this process is that the Sony Nex-6 should be able to do almost everything that the DSLR can, and there are features such as setting the exposure time, focus selection (as per O'Docker's comments) use of RAW images etc that I ought learn how to do without each time struggling with the UI.

As I posted yesterday, reading the instruction guide is a must for today's feature packed cameras, particularly if you want to do anything more than point and shoot.

Finally, to misquote Jane Eyre: reader, I bought the Sony Nex-6, and I'm very happy with it.


(but read the manual)

Friday, November 08, 2013

What makes a good camera - and how to make yours better

In the last blog I posted three sets of pictures from three cameras, the Canon 550D, the Sony Nex-6 and the Olympus Tough TG-1, and Tillerman commented that in terms of blogging there didn't seem to be much of a difference.

It was a good point: there were some minor differences in that the resolution on the Canon (if you zoomed in) was a little better and it's colour was more accurate (the sky colour should say cold & November).

The problem was that none of the images challenged any of the cameras, so all were effectively ok.

But what about more difficult conditions? Alas I haven't more interesting scenes taken with all three but here's some examples of what I think they'd show.

Firstly above is Hammersmith Bridge at night taken from the Thames on the Olympus Tough TG-1. I had so many problems getting the camera to focus and zoom and was twirling round and round in the kayak struggling with settings and in the end it was out of focus and noisy.

Compare that to the scene below taken with the Sony Nex-6 in Geneva:
Despite being taken by hand on a whim it is sharp, in-focus and just as hoped.

This camera has a larger sensor than the Olympus and so there are more photons per pixel and better noise reduction - which means better night images.

So to take more challenging pictures you need a camera with more functions and abilities.

However there's no point having all those bells and whistles if it takes so long to configure each shot that by the time you are ready the moment has gone.

For the sailing photography course with Rick Tomlinson the key instructions were to set the exposure time to 1/1000th of a second and then watch, to be ready to pounce on the flighty image.

And the Canon 550D was ideal for that, as it was quick to zoom, focus and snap, capture the image:
I'm happy with this: the spray has been caught in mid-air, along with the action of the crew and foredecker reaching for the spinnaker pole.

At the other end of the time scale the Canon be set for exposures of 2.5 seconds and capture this celebration of the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes night:
So, yes, a basic camera will have no problem with most images but there's likely to be a time you'll reach its limits, while a more capable camera would have been able to take the shot.

But there's no point having the feature if it takes so long to activate that you miss out: user interfaces really do matter.

However, and this gets to the most important point, there's no point having a camera that can do fancy things if you don't know that it can.

My top tip is this: you can make your existing camera better without spending a dollar if you:


Then of course go out there and play.

Over on Windtraverler Brittany has been having some fun with the Dramatic settings on her Olympus camera. Apparently mine has that too - who knew? Well I guess if I'd read the manual I would have.

And if I'd read the Sony Nex-6 manual I would have known how to set the focus to manual when in the helicopter in Greenland.


But yes, some cameras really are better than others.

So, drum roll please, the JP's best camera awards go to.....


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Image comparison Canon 550D vs. Sony NEX 6 vs. Olympus Tough TG-1

So here are three photos from Putney with each of the Canon 550D, Sony Nex 6 and Olympus Tough TG-1

Canon 550D:

Sony NEX 6:

Olympus Tough TG-1

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Camera Review: Olympus Tough TG-1

This camera is marketed as being both waterproof and shockproof and in Greenland I was to test both of these and it passed with flying colours.

This really is a camera you can take when out on the water and not worry about what would happen should you go swimming, either intentionally or unintentionally, let alone the odd wave or spay.

It's a compact unit which you can stuff into a small pocket and not notice the weight or mass.

But you won't be surprised to learn that the picture quality suffers accordingly. Detail is blurred, either out of focus or noisy, and low light images are particularly bad. There's also a ring around the lens which keeps popping off which is apparently to allow attachments (e.g. a zoom lens or fish eye) but is all too likely to fall off at just  the wrong time.

Zooming in and out is via two buttons which feels slow compared to a DSLR's quick lens twist.

It's basically a fun camera for the beach, one you can take what ever sport you do and be sure that it will take ok photos, particularly in bright sunlight.

The battery was the weakest of the three, and on several kayak trips it reported battery flat somewhere on the return leg.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Camera Review: Sony NEX-6

I took two cameras to Greenland, and one of the them was the Sony NEX-6.

The idea behind the NEX-6 is to have all the power of a DSLR built around a similar large sensor but in a smaller, lighter package.

There's no mirror which means no optical viewfinder, but instead it includes an electronic viewfinder, which worked well enough. Even in bright sunlight when the screen on the back was all washed out I could still frame the scene, though often I had to shield my eyes a bit.

However there were downsides, mostly from the user interface. In the helicopter from Tasiilaq to Kusulak the auto-focus kept locking on the control panel inside rather than the landscape outside. I wanted to switch to manual focus but spent ages mucking around without success.

As it happened it had been pre-set so that the Fn button had been mapped to the focus options, but even then you have to hit Fn, scroll to the option you want on the screen, then hit select. It's just a bit more a palaver to do anything - and its the same for setting the flash to be on / off / auto / fill / slow-sync etc.

Changing ISO is only sometimes possible and the manual options are slightly less flexible. Colour reproduction was a bit off compared to the DLSR.

But overall in terms of features & photo quality versus weight it was pretty good. Battery life wasn't quite as good as the Canon 550D, which could be because the capacity was smaller or the electronics were trying to do more (e.g. keep that screen lit up).

Two problems were my own fault: firstly I purchased it just before leaving so didn't really know my way around and rule #1 for new owners of a camera should be to spend time learning how to use it.

Secondly I only bought the one lens which was ok for landscapes but its zoom end was really limited and the moment I saw that polar bear I knew I'd made a mistake. With hindsight I should have ordered the twin lens kit with the beautiful 200 mm lens (above).

But in general I was pretty pleased and I can see how it won the T3 camera of year award.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Camera Review: Canon EOS 550D

I love this camera. It feels great in your hand: rock solid with controls just where they should be and the pictures are gems.

You want to switch from auto to manual focus? The switch is on the lens.

You want to change the ISO? There's a button labelled ISO.

You want to set the exposure to 1/1000 of a second but get the camera to do the rest? One flick of the top dial to TV.

You want to set all the settings manually? Select M-mode and play away.

You want to zoom? Its a quick and intuitive twist of the lens

Battery that lasts several days, vast range of lenses to chose from, optical viewfinder, quick focusing, good colour reproduction.... the benefits go on and on.

DSLRs just are the best tools for the photographer.

BUT - there is a reason I didn't take it to Greenland, for there is one unavoidable downside: the weight.

The camera body plus two lenses (above) weighs 1.9 kg, and after lugging that collection around Australia and China I'd had enough. It had to stay behind.

So what did I take to Greenland and why?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Which Camera?

I own three cameras as shown in the photo above (which was taken by my new Nexus 5, so to be accurate I really have four). But which is best?

Of course that depends upon the criteria, so lets do three reviews and then compare their strengths and weaknesses.

Note that I'm more interested in photographs than taking video so the reviews will focus on images even though all are able to record in HD.

First up the Canon 550D, then the Sony Nex-6 and finally the Olympus Tough TG-1.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

8 years later....

It's blog-anniversary day again! Yup, 8 years ago today this blog began when the dolphin photo above was posted, so its time for a little whoosh through the archives as Buff, Sassi and me share "remember whens?".

Year 1

Things started off bright-eyed and nicely on-topic, with posts on sailing from Lisbon to Gibraltar via Cadiz, the Volvo in-port race in Portsmouth and sailing a Volvo 60 with Emma Richards.

Year 2

"G'day all" said a certain someone as Buff joined the team and things were never quite the same again. Oh, and there was sailing an America's Cup yacht in Sydney and a non-laser sailor sailed a laser (I remember those bruises).

Year 3

JP goes racing: another day out racing on a Volvo 60 at Cowes week followed by the 100th anniversary of the Square Metre rule in Sweden. In America there was an election in which sailing played its part.

Year 4

It's TV time as we launch Top Yacht and JP goes on Dragon's Den. Plus we reveal the Ultimate Walk by the Thames and go on a Sunsail Charter holiday in Greece. Then there was a bit of travel to the Orinoco Delta (possibly with a bit of boating involved) and the mystery of the lost blog post.

Year 5

It's America's Cup year and of course Buff's got the scoop. He also comes with the Buff phonetic alphabet which is Facebook Apple Britney! JP unfortunately turns to the DARK SIDE and is punished for it by a bang to the head by a boom. He also discovers how lambs are navigational hazards and goes up a mountain to meet a monk from south London.

Year 6

It's a great year for Buff: he has his own America's Cup TV show and reveals that JP is a foredeck slacker, but the less said about Buff's phone hacking scandal the better. JP leads the interweb in post-planking stocking, paps Pippa and was not bad at the Fowey Classics Regatta.

Year 7

OMG! It's only Sassi! Yes, we have a new member of the team and what a year it was! There was the Diamond Jubilee, the sail to the Arctic Circle, the Olympics, the Paralympics.... gosh, we're all welling up with emotion at the memories. Plus Buff went swimming and gave us the 50 rules of boating, JP went skiing, visited Helsinki, baked some ship's biscuits and blogged from spaaaaace! OMG!!!

Year 8

So here we are, year 8. And JP's been to Greenland where he had to tow a yacht out of icy fjord after engine failure - which was nothing to Buff's America's Cup adventure. Buff also gave the world his America's Cup drinking game while Sassi got excited when a woman had a baby. JP also got some top tips of sailing photography from Rick Tomlinson, went on an Australian paddle steamer and discovered the answer to the ultimate question was 41.5.

Doesn't that just take the year old ship's biscuit?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

41 Top Tips for Geneva

Lists are so in. Buzzfeed has built an audience of millions, partly thanks to its love of list - especially ones that involve cat gifs (LOL!!)

So I've made a list of top tips about the Swiss city of Geneva, where I worked for far too much of October:

1. Top sight is the water jet (above) otherwise known as the Jet d'Eau. It used to be on always apart from when it was icy or windy but recently it seems to have been switched off quite a lot

2. The city is built at the far end of Lake Geneva, known to the French as Lake Leman

3. You can go on boat tours of the lake or down the river from the Quai du Monte-Blanc

4. Another must-see is the old town clustered around the St-Pierre Cathedral (below). You can climb to the top of the Cathedral tower for great views

5. Nearby is the picturesque town hall or Hôtel de Ville

6. There's a nice walk from the Cathedral passing the Hotel de Ville down to the river along the Rue de la Cite:

7. Another nice walk is to the end of the Jetee des Paquis jutting out into the lake where you can see a great panorama of the Cathedral and the water jet

8. The cold clear waters of the river Rhone flows fast splitting Geneva in two, with the old town on the left bank (looking in the direction the river flows) and the station plus international organisations on the right

9. You can go to classical music concerts at the lovely Victoria Hall

10. Many of the big names in rock and pop pass through on their tours, usually playing at the Geneva Arena by the airport. Back in the 90s I saw Oasis there

11. You can go to smaller gigs at a number of places including the Pickwick pub on Rue de Lausanne

12. But be careful, I know of someone who had their pockets nicked in the Pickwick

13. However Geneva is generally safe

14. The best moules are to be had at a restaurant called Francis on Boulevard James-Fazy

15. You can get a good steak and chips from either the Cafe de Paris (by the station) or L'Entrecote (across the river) - and that's all those two restaurants serve

16. I've been told that the best croissants are to be had at Le Pain Quotidien but having tried them I feel that further research is required as Geneva has many many very good bread and cake shops

17. If you detect waffs of smelly socks fear not, it's probably just means you are walking past one of the many fondu restaurants

18. One of the local specialities is fillet du perche which used to come from the lake but nowadays are imported

19. The local yacht club the Société Nautique de Genève (had to get a sailing link in somehow) won the America's Cup in 2003 and then defended it in 2007

20. If you're into shopping then you can get most things in Geneva, particularly on the street between the old town and the lake appropriately called Rue du Marche

21. The usual gifts from Geneva are watches, chocolate and Swiss army knives

22. Most shops are closed on Sunday

23. On a wet day you can go round the National Art and History museum just off the old square

24. A little bit beyond the museum is the Russian Orthodox Church with its classic onion domes

25. Geneva is full of parks which are very pretty at this time of year:

26. The best way to travel the short way from the airport to the city is on the train

27. From Geneva main railway station you can catch trains to nearby towns including the lovely Lausanne and Montreaux

28. From the bus station or Gare Routiere you can get buses up to the ski resorts and the ticket includes the ski pass

29. It's easy to get around town on the buses and trams: when you check into a hotel you will get a free ticket that lasts the duration of your stay

30. However Geneva is very walkable so I don't usually bother

31. Its a bit of a hike to the Place des Nations but worth it to see the old League of Nations building and the giant Broken Chair aka the memorial to victims of land mines

32. A great day trip from Geneva is to visit CERN but I've never managed to get there as you MUST book ahead

33. The best hotels in Geneva are down by the lake side - for example the Beau Rivage, Richemond, Four Seasons etc. For obvious reasons I have never stayed in any of them

34. In the Tintin book "The Calculus Affair" the professor stayed at the Hotel Cornavin which is a real hotel by the station and has a small Tintin display in its reception:

35. Hotels charge an arm and a leg for washing so instead why not try the Salon Lavoir behind the station for your clothes washes, pressing and dry cleaning - all with friendly service

36. When all the rich meals get too much, you can go for a great jog along the lakeside by starting at the Mont Blanc bridge and keep going along the Quay Mont Blanc

37. They drive on the wrong side of the road so look both ways when crossing a street just to be sure

38. While they speak French in Geneva, their English is usually pretty good

39. France is very very close, with Geneva Airport straddling the border

40. The currency is the Swiss Franc and it has become very strong so everything seems expensive. However Geneva is a sensible city so you don't have to worry about that stupid tipping nonsense

41. You can visit Geneva many times and still be discovering things - even if, like me, you've been there 41 times already.