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.