Sunday, August 31, 2014

Shurely Shome Mishtake?

Pretty sure it's not meant to do that.

Ok it was a bit blustery but don't think its a good sign when the sail says goodbye to its boom.

Well recovered who ever you are.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Assent and Willy Ker

Really interesting multi-media YouTube clip of an interview with high latitude sailor Willy Ker, famous for his single handed expeditions on his yacht Assent, by Jessie Rogers, wife of Kit Rogers, builders of the Contessa range of yachts.

When doing the Arctic Circle sail our Contessa 32 was checked over by Kit Rogers and we used Willy Ker's pilot book to the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland on the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Day Skipper with America's Cup Jubilee

Some time after the yacht race fiasco I thought it might be useful to learn a bit more about this sailing lark.

The RYA provide a whole range of really good courses, from competent crew to yacht master, and I decided to do the Day Skipper over two long weekends.

It was great fun. We practised MOB, mooring up to buoys and pilings, navigate by day and night and the rules of the road.

By a lucky coincidence the second long weekend coincided with the 150th anniversary of the first America's Cup and the Solent was packed with amazing yachts, such as J-classes (above).

We moored up in Cowes surrounded by famous names. One of the day skipper tests was to check our rowing skills, so the examiner created a rather special course.

"Row to Australia II, then over to Black Magic, then return here."

I'll never do a row like that again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

JP's first yacht race - Part 3: The Vote

In my experience it is not helpful when during a yacht race your navigator is so seasick he goes below for a rest and then gets himself locked in a cabin.

He got our attention by lots of banging and luckily your average Sunsail fleet yacht is not so robust that its cabin doors can't be broken down by well intentioned force.

We weren't doing that well: on the long leg from St. Catherine's lighthouse down to the Needles we'd dropped down to second from last, but we'd eventually turned the corner and were sailing back into the Solent.

It was dark already and we hadn't even completed a single circuit of the island by reaching the start near the forts. The second lap would be in the dark and cold.

The VHF was hopping between C16 and whatever the race channel was and it squawked into life: it appeared that one yacht hadn't gone round the mark near Lymington.

This was all news to me: as lowly ballast I had no ideas about marks - surely if you're racing around the Isle of Wight that is enough instructions?

The navigator, however, looked even more sick than normal: uh-oh.

It appeared we had a choice:

  1. Turn back to Lymington, go round the mark, then sail for hours and hours through the cold dark night to an almost guaranteed last place
  2. Retire and just make last orders at a pub near Gunwharf Quays

There was a vote of all on board and it was unanimous.

So we had a pint then returned to Port Solent for a good night's rest and a hot shower.

Best of all, the next day I could have a proper breakfast.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

JP's first yacht race - Part 2: Learning

Sitting on the rail for my first yacht race was a bit of a learning experience.

Firstly I learnt about what happens when you miss the most important meal of the day - you get very hungry.

Then I learnt that sitting still looking at grey water on a grey September day can lead to you getting cold despite having what felt like lots of layers on.

Later I was also discover that even if it was a grey September day you can still get sunburn.

I hadn't been much involved in the rope pulling side of things. There had been a rush when the spinnaker had been hoisted (above) but this was clearly complicated and the newbie's input hadn't been welcomed.

So I learnt it would be a good idea to do some yacht sailing courses.

Bored of sitting still I chatted to one of the crew. It turned out he lived very close to my sister and I was hopeful that this would be an opening but alas he had an important task to perform.

He went all round the rigging of the yacht wrapping masking tape (or duct / gaffer tape, I wasn't sure which) around the shrouds and their connections to the deck.

I was very intrigued by this. As the newbie, hoping to learn from these experienced sailors, I wanted to learn what the benefit was in wrapping masking tape around the shrouds and deck mountings.

Even after many many years I am still trying to understand this.

Was it a distraction from sea sickness maybe?

He wasn't the only one. The navigator had been feeling a bit dodgy and had gone down for a lie-down and we hadn't seen him for a bit.

Then there were some bangings from below: it appeared the navigator had locked the door of one of the cabins and now couldn't get out.

I was pretty sure this wasn't a good sign.

Concludes here

Saturday, August 16, 2014

JP's first yacht race - Part 1: Breakfast

I'm still off sick and have recently passed the time by digitising old photos, including the one above of my first yacht race, over 20 years ago.

At the time I was working for software house Logica and saw an ad for the company's sailing club asking if anyone was interested in joining a race around the Isle of Wight as part of the "Industry Challenge".

I hadn't done any proper yacht racing (a regatta in Greece didn't really count) but it sounded like fun so signed up and was soon rung to be told I had the spare place. I could hear a mixture of doubt and surprise in the skipper's voice.

My role, I discovered on our test sail on a rather fancy ex-Admiral's Cup yacht, complete with coffee grinders, was to sit on the rail as ballast.

I could do that.

The actual yacht we were to race in were less fancy: identical 35' boats from a Sunsail fleet based at Port Solent.

The race was to be twice around the island and it was critical, if I was to be competent ballast, to have a proper breakfast.

I can still remember the picture I had in my head of the feast. There would be bacon, sausages, beans and potato cakes at the minimum with lots and lots of hot coffee.

However the rest of crew didn't seem that interested. There was always something else to be done and food was not the priority and all too soon we were heading through the lock out to sea, my stomach already complaining.

Later I found out that pretty much all the rest of the crew got seasick and so didn't want to eat anything prior to the race.

I'm pretty sure that explained some of what happened next.

It was to be a learning experience...

Continued here

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George

So what happened after the end of the general cargo line merchant fleets such as Blue Funnel? Well that is covered by Rose George's very readable book "Deep Sea and Foreign Going".

Confusingly this book has another cover and is called "Ninety Percent of Everything" in the US.

Modern shipping seems to have lost a lot of its mystique and the container mechanisation has driven the industry towards the lowest cost which involves flags of convenience, wages not being paid, negligible shore leave, limited facilities, long, long hours and dismal food.

The core of the book is the description of the author's journey on the Maersk Kendal from the UK to Singapore through pirate infested waters off Somalia, where she also joined one of the navel vessels patrolling those waters.

The Maersk Kendal sounds like one of the better run, with skipper with four decades of experience, who did actually respond to a mayday when he heard one (and not all do). But it is a hard life, with just 21 people running a ship with 6,188 containers.

No longer the crew can look forward to extensive time ashore while the dockers struggle to empty and re-fill the holds. Cranes swap containers in and out, and often there is only a few hours, hardly enough to leave the acres of the docks, just time to pick up a sim card and batteries at inflated prices.

One crew asked Father Colum Kelly at the seaman's mission at Immingham (as seen on this week's episode of the BBC's Coast series) if they could help them walk on grass, just to make a change from metal and concrete. The mission is funded by a £ 10 voluntary charge on each ship: and all too often that little amount is rejected by the cost cutting shipping lines.

Modern shipping is boring and fascinating at the same time.

I wouldn't want to work on one of these hard driven shipping assets but wouldn't mind experiencing what it is like to travel on one.

However that is increasingly hard to do and so reading this book is a recommended alternative.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Books on the Blue Funnel Line

For those wanting to know more about the Blue Funnel Line there is a reasonable range of books on this topic, including those in the photos above and below. I've only reviewed two of them, though more might follow in the future.

Company Histories

Three of these books are histories, that set out to record what happened in the company over specific times, and each achieves its goal:

  • Blue Funnel, A history of Alfred Hold & Company of Liverpool, 1865 - 1914 by Francis E. Hyde
  • A Merchant Fleet in War, Alfred Holt & Co 1939 - 1945, by Captain S. W. Roskill
  • The Blue Funnel Legend, A History of the Ocean Steam Ship Company 1865 - 1973, by Malcom Falkus

Travelogues and Life on Board

Two are highly readable descriptions of life on-board a Blue Funnel ship as it travels between Liverpool and the Far East. The first one is disguised but apparently is S.S. Polyphemus in 1907 and the second an amalgam of several voyages on similar vessels in the 1960s:

Reference Books

Finally there are reference books with lists of ships often with photos:

  • Blue Funnel Line, A Photographic History by Ian Collard
  • Ships in Focus: The Blue Funnel Line by John Clarkson, Bill Harvey and Roy Fenton (below)
  • Ships of the Blue Funnel Line by H. M. Le Fleming
  • Merchant Fleets 6: Blue Funnel Line, by Duncan Haws
  • Blue Funnel & Glen Lines Bulletin: Centenary Edition 1865 - 1965

Let me know if there are any others out there I should be collecting or if you'd like more detailed reviews.

Note there is an update on this post which can be found here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The end of the Blue Funnel Line

The Blue Funnel Line rebuilt after the Second World War, but the fifties and sixties were to be the last great decades of this company, as the winds of change were blowing.

The most significant of these was the switch to containerisation, which required huge capital expenditure to invest in new ships and new port facilities. That meant that shipping lines had to work together, to create new lines in which Blue Funnel were just shareholders.

Then Blue Funnel was itself changing. It had lost its family connections with the retirement of the last Holt or Hobhouses and become a new life as public limited company, corporate, open to take overs, looking at short term balance sheets and managing risk.

It merged with other companies, spreading its expertise more thinly, and eventually its fragments were bought by a range of other companies including P&O and DHL.

The company founded by Alfred Holt (above) is now just a memory.

But there are many books on the subject for those that are interested, as will be blogged tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Blue Funnel Line at War

At Tillerman's request its back to maritime issues and the Blue Funnel Line. Coincidently the next stage of Blue Funnel's history involved conflict.

As a maritime trading nation Britain is dependent upon its ships, which made them targets.

In both the First and Second World Wars the Blue Funnel Line suffered grievous loss of life and vessels.

The casualties in what was then called the Great War (which started a hundred years ago this summer) were 16 ships and 80 officers and men. The Second World War was worse, with 41 ships and 324 lives lost.

During the Second World War Blue Funnel Line ships saw action in many of the key theatres, from Dunkirk, to Malta, to the North African Campaigns, to D-Day.

Again and again ships were hit by torpedoes fired by U-boats and crew scrambled for life boats. Casualties were particular high amongst engineers working below the water line.

There were many stories of quiet heroism in the small boats, such as how crew and surviving officers protected the ship's master from being taken away by the U-boat.

As Blue Funnel was a truly global shipping line often the sinking was far from land and the survivors had to navigate their way to land, often using basic techniques, such as timing sunrise and sunset to measure longitude (such as for one of the life rafts of the Medon, above).

But they never faltered and played their part in the great effort that would eventually bring both conflicts to an end in victory.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Buff in Gaza: the 6 billion dollar question

Darn it, by the time I got back Clemmie had gone. Shame, she seemed pretty cool in every way.

I ended up playing a game with other journos in which you chose the best way to spend 6 billion dollars from:

1. Rebuild Gaza, spending $5b on housing and use the rest for infrastructure, schools, hospitals, power plants, sewage works and a working sea port
2. Nearly a year's worth of Israeli support for its settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), every one of which is illegal under international law and an obstacle to a just peace
3. Two years worth of the $3b / year US's military support for to Israel to assist it in demolishing Gaza and committing war crimes
4. Sixty America's Cup campaigns at $ 100m a pop

Ok, that last one was my idea, and it didn't get many votes.

Maybe I should have said 30 campaigns at $ 200m a pop to have a chance to win.

Time for Buff to check out that port....

To be continued...

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Buff in Gaza: Talking to Hamas

Woo hoo! Buff's found a hotel!

It was great to have a proper bed though water and power are still luxuries. There's also all sorts of fellow journo's and bloggers here.

Over coffee I got chatting with Clemmie who was from Code Pink and admitted I wasn't sure about Hamas from what I'd read in the papers.

She laughed. "Buff, you shouldn't believe all the MSM's nonsense. Our founder, Medea Benjamin, is an American Jew and she came to Gaza to meet Hamas and they treated her with respect. They said repeatedly it was Israel policies they had a problem with, not Jews."

I thought about that as I read what my Norwegian doctor chum (who I met at the hospital) Mads Gilbert (great name btw) had said. 

He reminded people about the time that Norway had been occupied and how they hadn't like that either. Not that Israel has reached Nazi levels but that occupation makes people angry - like in France in the 40s or Kuwait when Iraq invaded so it will be the case while Israel occupies Palestine.

The CEO of Buff Enterprises is by no means a commie, but the presence of communists in the French Resistance was not a reason to support the Germans in their occupation. The French Resistance didn't "renounce violence" while France was occupied so why should they?

And Hamas have said many times they would accept a two state solution based upon the 1967 borders - unlike Israel - and seem to be better at keeping ceasefires:
People are people, kids are kids, the world over.

Surely at least worth talking to?

But first Buff's going for another coffee....maybe Clemmie will still be there!

To be continued...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Buff in Gaza: The people of the wastelands

Woo hoo! Ol' Buff's just had a great nights sleep!

Then it was time to head out to meet some of the people of what can only be described as a wasteland (above, from here), a landscape of pulverised buildings, courtesy of Israeli F16s.

I got chatting with some of the locals, asking them who they blamed. Silly question really, given whose F16s it was that did this to them.

They seemed a good bunch of cobbers and I constantly met highly educated people who spoke English: a "cheerful and friendly people".

And it was clear they weren't going to just give up on fighting for their rights, one way or other.

The problem, as they put it, was that Israel wants land more than peace - just look at how Israeli settlements increased constantly during the talks that went nowhere:

But an end to Israel's occupation of Palestine, so all can have peace, sounds like a winner.

If even Buff can get it, why can't everyone else?

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Buff in Gaza: The Siege of Gaza

It was a bit quieter this morning so I could get out and about.

Jeez, what a catastrophe.

As well as journo yours truly is of course CEO of Buff Enterprises so I tried to find a fellow executive and bumped into Mohammed who was in charge of a biscuit and fruit juice company.

Well he was, as it too has been flattened. It was the biggest in Gaza but Israel wants to "destroy the economy" - why else are businesses and the power station targeted?

Even the sewage works was destroyed, targeted again and again by Israeli tank fire.

As a jet setting CEO I know it is crucial to be able to trade freely, but look at how Israeli has stopped exports since 2007:

This is an example of what they mean by the siege of Gaza: collective punishment of an entire population.

The key Palestinian demand is freedom, what we take for granted, which Israel denies them, and apparently that demand is considered unacceptable.

Why? I just don't get it.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Buff in Gaza: Hospitals under Attack

After the school massacre I went back the beach and found washed up on the shoreline some of the medicines that had drifted away after the Israeli's bombed our boat.

It was time for Buff to do good so I took them to a hospital.

Jeez, what chaos, even here we weren't safe from Israeli attacks:

Later Clemmie was to tell me that over half Gazan hospitals had been hit one way or other.

There was one glimmer of light - a baby born of a women killed by an Israeli attack (top), kept alive in an incubator.

Then the Israelis bombed Gaza's power station and the electricity went, and then the baby followed her mother.


What sort of country bombs power stations, schools and hospitals?

And what sort of country arms them, then re-arms them?

To be continued...

Monday, August 04, 2014

Buff in Gaza: Carnage at School

I have to say that after the modern Guernica bombing of Shuja’iyah even a tough old journo like Buff was shaken.

Jeez, this was just crazy, homes being bombed, women and children killed.

In a daze I found myself in a school where I met this brit, a chap called Chris Gunness. I thought he said Guinness to be honest, which was a word with some good memories, but even so he was a sold chap, a bubble of sanity.

I needed somewhere to sleep so crashed in his office.  I thought it had to be safe given it was a UN run girl's school and Chris had told the Israelis 17 times where they were and what they were.

Then the Israeli bombs fell, shattering bangs splitting reality from the dark country.

Many Palestinian children died, the survivors covered in scars like the one above.


There are no words, though Chris had a go:

To be continued...

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Buff in Gaza: A Modern Guernica

I ran and ran.

Jeez, I'm not built for this exercise but when there are Israeli snipers somewhere around killing civilians - even children - ol' Buff makes an exception.

When I reach this place Shuja’iyah I was stopped, and someone asked where I was from: "America?" they asked.

"No. Australian" I said.

He nodded. "F16. American" he said, pointed at the the sky.

Then the bombs began to fall and the buildings around started to collapse, pulverised by those F16s high in the sky.

Women started crying and their children screamed.

What sort of country does this? What sort of country arms them?

To be continued...

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Buff in Gaza: No one is safe

I ran from the beach looking for the Australian Embassy, without luck.

It appears the international community has turned its back on these people.

At one corner I was waved back by a man in a green t-shirt and jeans. I didn't get it - we were both civilians, surely we'd be safe?

Then without warning an Israeli sniper shot him and he fell to the ground. He struggled but they shot him again and again.

Dead, just like that.

Later Clemmie was to tell me Israeli soldiers in an earlier war had said that they'd kill a three year old girl so what hope would there be for ol' Buff? Now there are Israeli mobs opening calling for "Death to Arabs".

I turned the other way and ran, following a sign to somewhere called Shuja’iyah...

To be continued....

Buff in Gaza: On the beach

I don’t know how I escaped being picked off. Maybe the sleeping bag I was still stuck within was enough of a camouflage. Maybe they mistook me to be one of the boxes that were drifting like me away from the wreckage.

I kept my head down, not wanting to draw attention to myself, until I saw the crowds from shore become people, individuals, scavenging the packages of medicines and surgical supplies. Then I freed myself from the sleeping bag and swam the final few yards to the beach, feeling the sand beneath my feet.

Turning I could see Luna Rossa captured by the Israeli naval vessels: it seemed mostly in one piece. Somewhere on board was my camera and the lower half of Rachel.

For a long time I could say nothing but just sit there, staring out to sea, watching the yacht be rescued while the bodies floated away. I kept hoping against hope that the others would have escaped to join me on the beach. Maybe Ali or his sister Doha, big man Michael, singing joker Samar, the watcher of Team NZ Isaac, the quiet farmer Ghazi or Gideon, surfing his way to shore.

But all I saw were bodies with holes and faces with vacant eyes.

I had to get away, so I ambled down the beach towards some kids playing with a football. They were laughing, as kids do everywhere.

Then there were explosions all around, and there were children dropping to the ground in pieces. Out to sea I could see an Israeli warship firing round after round, like death stalking its victim.

As the surviving children ran the shells followed them, cutting them down one by one, leaving a trail of little bodies.

What was going on? I ran, terrified, into a sprawl of buildings.

Just take me to the Australian embassy.

To be continued...

Friday, August 01, 2014

Buff's America's Cup Adventure: Gaza Arrival

As the planet turned towards the sun, light returned showing us the faint outline of a coastline, Gaza, a dusty silhouette against the red sky.

Smoke rose upwards, explosions busting left and right, home after home bombed into rubble (above).

“We did it” breathed Ali.

“You did it” said Rachel, and for him that was what mattered.

It was so close now. We could see waves breaking on the beach, we could see the entrance to Gaza’s harbour, we could see crowds waiting for us, children playing on the beach.

I watched this from inside my sleeping bag, lower half kept warm while my head popped out to watch our arrival, our triumph.

No boat could catch us now, for we’d outrun them all, their navel boats gunmetal grey smudges miles behind us.

I looked up at the massive wing glinting in the first rays of this, the new day. There was a line of holes from the encounter in the night, bullet holes. I shivered and snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag.

It was reflected in its mirrored surface that I first saw them. A pair of American supplied Cobra helicopter gunships, racing towards us like Terminator wasps, angry and dangerous. 

Everyone watched them, unsure of how to respond. They’d been focussing for so long on sailing they’d forgotten there are other ways to travel.

“We keep going” said Michael.

“I will tell them who we are” said Rachel.

She got out the VHF again.

“I am Israeli, there are three Israelis on-board. There is a journalist on-board. We have no weapons, no fight.”

The helicopters tracked us, the speed we were so proud of nothing to their air frames, even though they were dwarfed by our wing.

Rachel raised her passport high in one hand.

“See” she said. “We mean no harm.”

She raised other hand high as if to surrender, and it was then the gunship opened fire. A stream of shells cut her in two, her top half tumbled overboard while the legs remained lying on the netting.

There was pandemonium, chaos in which they lost control of Luna Rossa, the giant craft nose diving into the waves, fling me headfirst into the surf. Bullets and shells continued to fly, picking off the others as they dangled on the netting, their screams cutting short one by one.

To  be continued....