Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Are you a boat stalker?

Tom Wilson racing British Swan 44, Selene
 Credit: Ted Martin/Photofantasyantigua/Antigua Sailing Week

You know when you hear that name and you get an emotional response. You remember her, she was important to you, but now she's gone.

No, I'm not talking ex-es, I'm talking boats. Not ships by night but ones you've spent time with, got to know and now miss.

I got that feeling when I read this article about Antigua Sailing Week which showed the image above, a lovely Swan 44 called Selene.

Now I know Selene a little having sailed her from Cascais, Portugal to Gibraltar. Owned at the time by a friend of a friend, it was part of a delivery from the south coast to Malta for the Mid-Sea race.

And a very nice delivery cruise it was too, stopping every now and then to sample the cuisine of Spain and Portugal.

Since then she's been sold but every now and then I hear of her. I think its ok to admit that.

I wouldn't like to become a boat stalker.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Walker's Guide by Tristan Gooley

Oh joy, look what arrived in the post this weekend, fresh from printing!

It's my next read and I have a very good feeling about this already.

The review in today's Sunday Times was pretty good.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Favourite Sailing Books: Part 2

So what are those favourite books and why?

We didn't mean to go to sea by Arthur Ransome. I was talking about this book with a college friend and she said that even now if she starts it she can't stop until the end. The best of the Swallows and Amazons series, a simple clear premise: four children drift out to sea in a small yacht into fog and a storm. Be honest, you already want to know what happens next....

The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. Ok he is a sailing mate but there's another reason for this being on the favourites list. In the era of GPS and chart-plotters you lose something if you spend your sailing time staring at screens. Look out at the world around you and learn from it and your sailing will be the richer for it.

A Pirate of an Exquisite Mind by Diana and Michael Preston. Another confession, William Dampier, the subject of this book, is an alleged relative. But its also a great read about a fascinating man who should be as well known a Captain Cook. I mean as well as being a writer, scientist and explorer he was also a buccaneer and pirate. Triple circumnavigator, he had dinner with Samuel Pepys and stormed the town of Panama with the likes of Bartholomew Sharp - what a life!

Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen. This history of the first circumnavigation by Magellen really has it all. Death, sex, mutiny, triumph, exploration, discovery, wars, wealth... and crackingly well written too.

Sea, Ice and Rock by Chris Bonington and Robin Knox-Johnston. I read this on my return from Greenland and it describes these two old bearded buffers attempt to climb the Cathedral Peak in that very country. Indeed we anchored in Suhali bay in Robin's own Clipper 60 and were equally amazed by the stunning scenery of Kangerlussuaq fjord. What's most fun is the two experts teaching the other the ropes of their speciality and grumbling that the other is doing it all wrong.

Ming Ming and the art of minimal ocean sailing by Roger D. Taylor. On returning from my double handed sail to the Arctic Circle I read this account of a single handed voyage to destinations even further north. In today's well travelled oceans it seems ever harder for the cruising sailor to stand out and not sound like a tourist brochure but Roger manages to do just that, munching nuts and watching for sea birds as he sails alone up to 80N.

A Viking Voyage by W. Hodding Carter. I took this book to Greenland and found I had to ration chapters it was that good. Farting, beer, whale meat recipes, rudder failure, storms, boredom and icebergs - surely the first Viking crossing to Newfoundland was exactly like this. Like a modern saga but much, much more fun to read.

The Surgeon's Log by J Johnston Abraham (that's the blue book bottom right). Ok this is pushing Elaine Bunting's request that the book still be in print but its a classic that I enjoyed so couldn't help including (though note the attitudes to race are very dated). Its all too easy nowadays to forget Britain's amazing merchant marine history and this gives a glimpse of life in one of the great lines, the Blue Funnel, when it was at its height in 1907, joining the ship's doctor on a voyage East to Japan and back. Pack your starchiest collared shirt, climb up the steamer's gangplank and prepare for a spot of tiffin...

UpdatedDancing on Ice by Jeremy Scott. A recent find about the British Arctic Air Route Expedition to Greenland in 1930 - 31. Young men from Cambridge took their country house lifestyle with them, such as trying to teach the Inuits the steps of the Charleston on the sea ice. But for the lone occupant of the weather station high on the ice pack it was to be a fight for survival...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Favourite Sailing Books: Part 1

What are your favourite sailing books?

That was the question posed by Yachting Monthly editor Elaine Bunting on Twitter this afternoon, and a very good one it is too, just right for a grey and damp Friday evening when there's nothing much on TV.

I have over three shelves of sailing books, many of which have just been removed from their place and are now piled high on the kitchen table. Most so selected, I've noticed, are non-fiction rather than fiction.

There are a number of series of sailing novels which are all very readable, but in the end didn't quite make the favourites list. C. S. Forester, Patrick O'Brien and of course Sam Llewelyn are all fine writers - the latter in particular has almost single handedly created a new genre of sailing novels.

Then there are the big names of professional sailing, such as Ben Ainslie and Ellen MacArthur, for whom I have three books between them, one of them signed with a nice message. All are must reads for anyone seriously interested in sailing, and that should be enough without being labelled as favourite.

Then there are the classics over the years: The Last Grain Race, Around the World in Wanderer III, Fastnet Force 10, Longitude.... which should be on a sailor's reading list. The writings of Tilman, Tristan Jones and Liza Copeland.

So what makes a favourite? Its usually a combination of writing and subject, a tale that grabs you and text that is a clear window not an obscuring fog.

But favourite means more than that - it implies an attachment, something that makes the book personal, not just another book.

So favourites can - indeed will - change as you change.

The books above, then, are the favourites as of April 2014, as will be blogged tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Painted Hall, Greenwich

How is it I'd never been to the Painted Hall in Greenwich (longitude = 0) until a few weeks ago?

Ok, London is big, too big to see everything, and the phrase "painted hall" doesn't really sell it. It could mean anything - I mean, my hall is painted, whose isn't.

You could see how me aged 8 or me aged [deleted] might think "I've seen the Cutty Sark / Ellen McArthur presentation / Turners / whatever .... now's the time to go for an ice cream / beer / get the train home".

But I'd watched one of those Dan Snow TV history programs, probably the one about Royal Navy, in which he'd shown us around, waving his hands while the camera panned over the absolutely incredible oil paintings (above, below and yesterday) so this time I thought I'd have a look.

And golly what an impressive scene. To call it simply the Painted Hall is a bit like calling the Taj Mahal just a tomb.

Seriously designed to impress it was found to be too grand for the original purpose, namely where the Greenwich Pensioners would eat their meals.

It really should be used to make foreign dignitaries to the court of George I feel about the size of a mini-fig as they bow before a royal party and look up to see this:
Here, according to this excellent guide, you can see the triumph of Peace and Liberty over the forces of Tyranny. In particular:

Enthroned in heaven are King William and Queen Mary. Above, the sun god Apollo sheds his light, while Peace, with her doves and lambs, hands an olive branch to William. He in turn hands the red cap of liberty to the kneeling figure of Europe. Below William’s foot, clutching a broken sword, is the defeated French ruler, Louis XIV.

Take that, les froglegs!

The Spanish get their turn too, as there are men-of-war at either end, one:

a captured Spanish galleon, full of booty, at the east, while to the west the Blenheim, a British man of war, has gun ports open ready for action.

Rule Britannia! etc

There's nothing halfhearted about the statement here and you can see it would be the right place for Nelson's body to lie in state before his funeral.

It's free, so if you're in Greenwich and, like me, haven't actually been in then you have absolutely no excuse to popping your head in the door and then gawping upwards going O! M! G!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Picture puzzle

Another picture puzzle for those that enjoyed the last one.

Simple really: what's the longitude of this ship and why?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Devizes to Westminster and a sea of bluebells

There are many ways to spend the Easter break.

Some, like the two above, kayaked or canoed the 201 km from Devizes to Westminster as part of the "DW".

This year the race was delayed by two hours by the discovery of a body in the Kennet and Avon canal.

My weekend was a lot more peaceful, surrounded by a sea of bluebells:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Download these: British Sea Power

Must admit my favourites of BSP are definitely the album Open Season and the mesmerising documentary video From the Sea to the Land Beyond but live some of their more rocking songs really work.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Download these: Editors

All the albums are worth checking out, The Back Room, An End has a Start, In this light and on this evening and The Weight of Your Love.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Download these: Wild Beasts

So many good tracks, where to start? Top albums Two Dancers, Smother and Present Tense. Download them all!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

British Sea Power in Camden

When I went to see Editors in Brixton back in November I arrived just at the end of the support act and saw a bear on the stage.

My heart sank, as that could mean just one thing: I missed a chance to see British Sea Power.

In my defence my ticket just said "and support act" without saying BSP so I wasn't to know, but I left determined to keep an eye out for their next gig.

I was not successful, as shortly afterwards I missed what sounded like an epic event: a showing of the mesmerising film "From the sea to the land beyond" (as blogged here) with BSP playing live underneath the Cutty Sark! How cool would that have been.

So when I heard they were playing in Camden last week I went along to hear them for myself and discovered that they are one of those bands that are even better live.

Indeed Rolling Stone magazine once wrote of the Reading Festival "F*** this puerile drivel, we’re off to see British Sea Power”.

BSP have two sides to them. Firstly there is the lyrical, such as the song of the Great Skua, and who else could get away with a wordless song about a seabird played with video of the bird in the background? Or the one above with star fields and Polaris (above)?

Then there are the full blooded anthems to get the mosh pit moving - and it seemed to be mostly comprised of middle aged men trying to recover their youth and memories of being at Oasis gigs in the '90s.
No I was not one of them, honest!

As I said BSP are great live, full of live and character, not just with the brown and polar bears but decorating the set with twigs (no I don't know why, they just do).

My only wish was there had been more from my favourite album "Open Season" (blogged back 2008 here) which veers to the lyrical side with songs of Victorian Explorers, the Larson B ice shelf, North Hanging Rock and True Adventurers.

It was one of the albums I took on the Arctic Sail so has lots of good associations.

As I posted back in 2008 the sleeve notes (yup, old fashioned CD then) said:

There's hardly anything more impressive than a great sheet of water which is motionless and soundless. At such rare moments at sea it is almost frightening - and then when the moon comes up, then it is truly a shining level

I think that's something that Turner could have related to.

A great evening out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Turner Picture Puzzle

What's the connection between the scene above and this Turner:
Bonus question: what are the further connections with the Editors, Wild Beasts and Docklands?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Turner: mugs not nothing

Towards the end Turner's style changed yet again to an impressionist style. Swirling clouds, indistinct boats with a stream of smoke and merging sky and sea, as famously in this Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth.

It was very different from the early days and not everyone liked it.

Indeed William Hazlitt described Turner's experiments as "pictures of nothing" as if they were the 19th C. equivalent of Seinfeld.

Oh, how very wrong Hazlitt was.

Turner knew what he was doing, and, as posted earlier, he was an excellent sailor. Famously Turner is said to have himself "tied the mast of a ship in order to experience the drama" of the elements during a storm at sea.

When he went to see Fingals Cave at Staffa island it was so stormy several boats were unable to land - and you can feel the changeable waters and sky in the scene he captured of it:
I just loved this picture which is hanging at the end of the exhibition and spent ages staring at it.

To be honest quite a bit of that time was trying to answer which direction the boat is heading and why there was a red light on what looked like the starboard side (reflection I guess).

In fact I liked it so much I bought the official "Turner and the Sea" mug with this image wrapped around the outside.

Not nothing indeed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Turner the "excellent sailor"

After the wonderful Turner and the Sea exhibition (only a week to go before it closes!) I wanted to know about this remarkable artist and so browsed the shop for a bio to read.

The one I picked up was the Peter Ackroyd "Turner" on the grounds that he can be a rather entertaining writer and, more importantly, it wasn't too long. I don't feel I have to know everything about Turner: just an overview, and fun one at that.

I've passed the half way point and its already been worthwhile. For example I've learnt that Turner was an "excellent sailor".

Once they went out to sea and the swell became rather "boisterous", causing some passengers to feel rather unwell.

However according to one observer Turner "sat in the stern sheets intently watching the sea, and not at all affected by the motion... when we were on a crest of a wave, he now and then articulated to myself - for we were sitting side by side - 'that's fine! - fine!"

So when you see a picture such as the early "Fishermen at sea" (above, from 1796) you can believe that he had been out there and seen it for himself, maybe with those actual fishermen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sassi lurves Kate loving sailing!!!

Hi Guys,

OMG! How much do I luurve HRH Duchess of Cambridge, oh yes I'm talking Kate here!!!

Not just a maternal angel and queen to be, she can not only sail as well!!

Here she is at the wheel-thing of an America's Cup yacht (is that right? can't see any of those foils JP was babbling on about) in Lord of the Rings land New Zealand.

And our Kate beat Will with score 2-0 on the waters off Aukland. She knows a thing or two about boats as apparently she sailed Challenge 72s in her gap year!!

She is a sailing queen-to-be of hearts!

Luv ya!

Sassi xxx

BBC here:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Two sides to Turner

Yesterday's post showed one side to Turner's pictures: the stormy scene full of drama. But there was another aspect to him, as he also often painted tranquility with meaning.

The classic example is above, The Fighting Temeraire, shows the old three decker being towed off to be scrapped at the end of its glorious life. This was painted in 1839, many years after the Wreck of the Transport, which is dated from 1810.

The symbolism, with the modern steam tug and the sunset in the background is clear, even if the geometry is suspect (if the tow was up the Medway heading west the sun should be behind the observer). Note also the horizon line at about 20%, giving plenty of room for a sky with sunset, clouds and a new moon.

Seeing the picture in the flesh also made clear other details, such as the way the waters were beautiful still in the foreground but then disturbed by the wake of the steam tug, again highlighting the disruptive nature of change.

Turner was often anti-social and took long walks, and there was clearly time for much thought about how to improve his art, and it is shown in the later more complex structures.

Another example is Keelmen heaving in coals by night, below, from 1835, close in time and feel to The Fighting Temeraire.
Again we have in theory a tranquil, moonlight scene with calm seas.

But the moonlight divides the picture into two unequal parts. The smaller to the left shows tall ships heading out to sea, taking advantage of the tide (visible around the buoys).

The greater half to the right shows coal being loaded, again a sign of modernity. Where as the sailing ships are angelic white heading towards the light, the night works are a fiery red.

Turner would have been in his early 60s for these two pictures and it isn't much of a leap to guess at the psychology involved.

But he wasn't necessarily rejecting modernity, for two of his greatest pictures are from his final years and showed him embracing new techniques.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Turner's Wreck of a Transport and The Hobbit

Turner is known for his seas - and his great skies.

As I wandered round the Turner exhibition at the National Maritime Museum I'd try to estimate where the horizon line dividing the two was on the canvas.

Usually the picture was dominated by sky, with land or sea only taking 20 - 40% of the picture, giving lots of room for big billowing clouds framing beams of light.

The Wreck of a Transport, however, had almost half sea - implausibly wild waves that an admiral agreed would be unsurvivable for the transport ship here.

To be honest this one didn't feel convincing: it felt like a normal storm with the height scale pushed up to 11.

It reminded me of why, unlike Lord of the Rings, the two Hobbit movies failed. Both ended with chases that defied belief, pushing beyond the book's solid story into extremes and implausibility.

But it shows Turner's desire for drama, to catch the eye and make a statement, and of his love of sea and boats.

So if this was a lesser Turner, what makes a greater one?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Turner and the Sea at the National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich is currently showing an exhibition called "Turner and the Sea" and it is absolutely brilliant.

Ok, I might have to qualify that with the proviso that you must like art and J. M. W. Turner the artist and his sea works in particular. If you like (say) Old Masters or want to see Turner's "Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway" then you're going to be disappointed.

But I loved it and made lots of notes which might leak out over the next few days but the main point of this post is that the exhibition closes on the 21st of April so there are less than two weeks to go.

This might not be much help to those who aren't in the UK now or over the next fortnight, but if you like sailing and art its not to be missed so plan your trip over to Greenwich now.

I went Saturday afternoon which to be honest meant it was a bit crowded but there was plenty of time to have a good close look at favs like this one:
There was the Turner and the Masters on a few years ago at the Tate and this exhibition complements that one nicely.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Thames Flying Squad

After the Boat Race the Thames River Police, technically the Marine Police Unit (MPU), turned their RIB's nose downriver and opened up the throttles.

The results were rather spectacular: I'm not sure what the official line is on power boats racing on the Thames but its said that all you need for a race are two boats heading in the same direction and in this case there were three of them.

I don't know which one won, but I'm guessing their colour would be black.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Wash out boat race

Oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.


Well at least there was national treasure Clare Balding:
I can see fireworks somewhere upriver: I can't imagine what they are celebrating.

Time for stiff G&T.

Updated: also spotted Olympic medallist Katherine Grainger, who I last saw at the London 2012 Beach Volleyball.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Rigging the mast boat race style

Also spotted behind this classic car below were the Cambridge crew.
Ok, you can only see their boots, but trust me on this.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Pre-Boat Race Photo Shoot

It's The Boat Race this weekend, and the two teams have been out on the Thames.

Here we see Cambridge out for a practice with some paps taking some close-up action shots.

There was probably the other team out there somewhere who alas are the bookies favourite.

Good luck Cambridge!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Editors in Brixton

I thought I'd follow up yesterday's post on Wild Beasts at the Brixton Academy with some pics from the Editors playing there from back in November 2013.

Rather a good gig it was too: I think the Editors songs work rather well with the Brixton Academy's sound system as they are rougher and rawer than those from the more delicate Wild Beasts.

But it got at least one rather snooty review - I'd certainly say they were better than "adequate". It's interesting how perspectives on the same concert can vary: so much of how you experience music depends on mood, expectations and how familiar you are with the songs.

Maybe the Editors should have used some lasers: everything is better with lasers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Wild Beasts in Brixton

Oh joy, Wild Beasts have got themselves some lasers, and, like dinosaurs, everything is better with lasers.

Previously heard in Shepherd's Bush, Wild Beasts were last night to be found in the bigger and bolder O2 Brixton Academy.

The gig came shortly after the release of their latest album, Present Tense, and that was both a good and bad thing.

Good, because its great to hear some new Wild Beast songs, but bad because I don't think they've got the hang of which ones work best playing live, and how best to perform them. It didn't help that the Brixton Academy's raw sound system can hide some of the nuances of their more subtle tracks.

[Updated: it appears I'm not alone as the Guardian here isn't that impressed by the Academy's sound system, calling it "muddy"]

It could be me as I've only just downloaded the album to be honest and already I can hear that likes of Wanderlust, Sweet Spot and Palace are great songs.

But we all loved the favs from past albums like Hooting and Howling, Lion's Share, Bed of Nails and Reach a bit Further.

They ended, as they did at Shepherd's Bush, with "The End Comes too Soon", which is more than just a song. They play it like a sonic installation, hanging chords in space.

It's hard to describe, but you can get a flavour from this YouTube video of how they did it in Shepherd's Bush (so I must have been in the audience nearby somewhere) - listen to about 4:40. What you won't get is how it moved around, circling the audience: totally mesmerising.

Review from the Indy here and some pics here.

Well worth the trip over to Brixton:

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Facebook buys out Buff Enterprises!!

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

Put the amber nectar on ice, the next rounds on Buff!! I knew that one day Buff's boat would come in and ma would be proved wrong!!

Cast your mind back to 2011 when your's truly came up with Buff's Brilliant Buoys (TM) - put a vending machine on a buoy so you can get a cold beer when ever you wanted it out on the water under the hot sun (not much danger of that in pom land of course).

There'd even be an offshore version with wifi to allow the likes of JP to download GRIBs (plus of course keep the wine cool).

Well it turns out that that tech giant Facebook is looking for a way to connect the world up to what ever it is it does (haven't got round to signing up yet though ma is always going on about it).

And they want to buy Buff Enterprises to cover the oceans!!!

This is huge. I must be loaded now or something - just look at What's Up? (Ed: you mean WhatsApp)

I'm off for a celebratory beer and you're all invited!!

This is Buff Staysail, zillionaire, over but most definitely not out!!

Updated: oh dear, I've just had a look at the email that Buff received and it was actually a spoof from his mum trying to trick him into joining Facebook so she can keep track of him.

Sorry Buff, better luck next year.