Friday, January 30, 2015

Churchill's Funeral Remembered

The 50th anniversary of Churchill's funeral was commemorated today with a repeat flotilla on the Thames.

It was led by the boat that carried his coffin back in 1965, the Havengore, followed by representatives of the RNLI, the PLA (founded by the man himself), the river police, the fire boat and this dinky little launch from Trinity House:
But we mustn't forget that there was more to Sir Winston Churchill than his greatest years from 1940 - 1945. There are skeletons in his closet, including allegations of racism and the disastrous campaign of the Dardanelles. His name gets overused, all to often to justify dark actions, aggressions and even war crimes.

But today Tower Bridge lifted, the guns on HMS Belfast were fired (bit of an underwhelming bang to be honest) and bagpipers battled against the noise of the helicopters:
On this cold January day London paused to remember what Britain went through in those long war years and the man that led the fight.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Arctic Labyrinth by Glyn Williams

It's the time of year when Tillerman has to dig himself out of his house and here in London we even had a 10 minute flurry of snow (that was gone 10 minutes later).

But what is better when its cold and dark than a book about travelling to where it freezes really hard and long, where ships get locked in ice for years on end and whole expeditions just vanish.

I really, really enjoyed Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage. I've sailed to the Arctic Circle and to Greenland but this is in another league: the European exploration of the high Arctic.

And there were so many expeditions, each discovering just a tiny bit of the sprawls of islands, rocks and channels between what is now Canada and the Pole. They were hunting for a route to far Cathay, but often found just myth or loss.

Step by step each voyage turned the unexplored into charts. Davis Straight and Baffin Bay, then Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. A long time exploring around its edges, into the heartland, following rivers to lakes and then down again to strange unrecognised shores, the first hints of the eventual Northwest Passage.

Sometimes you got a strong hint as to what each mission would find by the choice of captain, for they were not shy about the cartographers equivalent of the selfie. Which island, for example, do you think Captain Vancouver would find himself sailing to?

Many would end up locked in the ice for winter after winter, but most returned. Of course Franklin and crew famously did not, leaving just a series of grisly clues as to what happened. But they so nearly did find the NW passage, as one reason they were not found was they had gone further than anyone thought possible.

It was to be left Amundsen to finally get through in a small boat and copying Inuit methods, taking twelve sledge dogs with him.

It also reminded me of Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday, where the Swallows, Amazon's and D's would leave messages in a cache: this practice was apparently common amongst the real polar explorers.

The north beckons many, heading for those empty spaces untouched by modern life. Yet it is due to human driven climate change that those waters are opening up, even to adventurous cruising sailors.

If like me you can't quite see how you can sail away from work long enough for a NW passage try this book.

Curl up somewhere warm and dream of lands cold but wonderful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not So Great Expectations

London's docks never died, they just migrated east towards deeper water. One of the largest is the Port of Tilbury, nearby Tilbury Fort.

Alas containerisation means ports create relatively few jobs, and Tilbury itself appeared to be more struggling than prosperous. There was a Dickensian feel to the landscape: large skies, mudflats and marshes, where folk work hard for not much in return.

Indeed it was in these waters that Dickens set the scene towards the end of Great Expectations where Pip rowed downriver with escaped convict Magwich to board a steamer to safety. While waiting they made their way ashore to a public house, one "I dare say not unknown to smuggling adventurers".

There was indeed a pub dating back maybe that far near Tilbury Fort called "The World's End":
It felt appropriate, next to the fort that marks the end of London's Thames.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tilbury Fort

Towards the end of last year I took advantage of a fine day to take the MV Pocahontas from Gravesend across the Thames to visit historic Tilbury Fort.

Founded by Henry VIII it has been defending London and the Thames estuary for a timespan that covers both The Armada and the Second World War with its Blitz.
 It's still in pretty good nick, partly because it worked so well as a deterrent it didn't see much action, though according to Wikipedia it did shoot down a Zeppelin in the First World War.
It's also close to where Elizabeth I gave her famous speech to rally the troops against the threatened Spanish invasion.

It's quite impressive and worth visiting though alas the famous Water Gate was closed as it had become dangerous (and also was flooded).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flags stop bad guys

"Fun with flags!" as Sheldon Cooper would say if he spotted this flag on the Tilbury to Gravesend ferry, the MV Pocahontas.

I'm sure the bad guys are even now quaking in their boots.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thames Cable Car by Night

Having left the London Boat Show earlier than expected (probably missing stuff though) I decided to take the cable car (above) across the river to the O2 Arena.

There was a fair old wind and the car was swaying a bit from side to side but the view was pretty good:
There was no queue and you could pretty much bag a cabin all to yourself so worth a go if you're down that end of London.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rowing the Atlantic

I must admit I don't really get the attraction of rowing across an Ocean.

Yes, there is the feeling of finishing a great task and achieving one's goal: the harder the challenge, the greater the feeling of achievement. But surely there other more rewarding and interesting challenges.

Anyhow, there's been a tradition of oceanic rowing boats and their teams on display at London Boat Shows and this year was no different.

Here are two of the Ocean Reunion team planning to cross from the Canary Islands to Antigua later this year.

It's all for a good cause as they're raising money for Teenage Cancer Trust and Cystic Fibrosis, and I wish them a lot of luck with that.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The London Boat Show "4D Experience"

One of the advertised "attractions" of the London Boat Show was something it called the "4D Experience". According to the blurb it would:

challenge your senses as you walk through a number of nautical locations. From the heat of the tropics to the cold icy blow of the Arctic, through the beauty of the Northern Lights, the 4D Experience will assail your senses with sampled sounds of the various scenarios, sea breezes brought to life with computer controlled fans targeting your torso and all brought together in a stunning HD experience

Sounds good, eh? Alas....

Ok, this is what it actually involved. Inside there was a walkway with projectors on either side giving a near 360 degree azimuth, 180 elevation view of various scenes. You stood on gratings through which blew air plus the odd cloud of mist in a rather underwhelming way.

The biggest problem was that to create the 360 degree azimuth view they had to cut holes in the screen on either side for projectors to light up the other side. So it didn't actual feel like you were somewhere else as everywhere you looked there was a projector.

Then the "at sea in a storm" segment was really odd because the walk-way didn't pitch and roll as a proper boat did. It felt like you were just looking at a video of the sea, which of course you were.

It would have been better to be slightly more modest and have a 180 - 270 degree coverage with all the projectors behind you, especially as you can't actually see all 360 degrees at once.

It wasn't exactly over-run with crowds as you tell from the pic above, so I don't think that's going to be the saviour of boat shows.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Some Boat Show Things

Foils for a AC training cat (above), flying floating rocket ship, a bit like the foil free rocket car (below):
This sailing dinghy won't go quite as fast:
There are usually big sailing boats outside but what I found was this: a surprisingly empty quay-side:
 It was rather freeezzzinnnggg..... so could see the benefit of this:
Which was big enough for this real sailing boat:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Boat Show People

Why go to boat shows? Why not just Google whatever it is you want to know or buy it on Amazon?

My answer is the list of some of the people I've met at Boat Shows:

  • John Blake, author of The Sea Chart (above left)
  • Bob Shepton, author of Addicted to Adventure (above right)
  • Elaine Bunting, editor Yachting World
  • Tom Cunliffe, author 
  • Will Stirling, boat builder
  • Sam Llewellyn, editor Maritime Quarterly
  • Skip Novak, around the world sailor
  • Stokey Woodall, sailor
  • Roger Taylor, sailor of Mingming up to 80N
  • Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were captured by pirates
  • Geoff Holt, paraplegic sailor
  • Peter Webb, sailed round Spiztbergen in an open boat
  • Liza Copeland, author of the Just Cruising books 
  • Sally Kettle, author of Sally's Odd as Sea rowing the Atlantic
  • Hector Macdonald, author of The Storm Prophet
  • Jo Rogers, one of the Sisterhood
  • Jock Wishart, Arctic veteran 

Plus I've met up with old friends, and made some new ones with whom I've sailed with across the Channel and between Lisbon and Gibraltar.

For me the boat show isn't about things - boats, gear or even Guinness - its about people.

Each year the Boat Show seems to shrink a bit, become a bit smaller and the organisers must be wondering how to boost it, to make it relevant again.

I say focus on the people of sailing, the men and women who have stories to tell who we'd like to meet and hear from. Create a series of talks by writers and adventurers, with lectures and Q&A sessions.

This always so much interesting stuff going on - just think about what's in the news, with the Volvo, Extreme and America's Cup. There's clubs full of people worth hearing from - I had a great chat with someone at the Cruising Association stand.

That is something you can't get on the internet, something unique about being there in person, something to answer that question: why go to a boat show?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Buff's Boat Show

Yesterday Buff and I went to the London Boat Show.

You can guess where Buff went first, second and last.
Ok, he might have gone to this stand for a short while:
But did he miss out?

In the internet age where you can get YouTube video walk throughs of almost any boat, what is a modern boat show all about?

Possible answer tomorrow...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Buff's Boating Blog Drinking-Game Game

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

Buff's been totally getting into the voyages of the S\V Delos! This is my sort of cruising! Warm, clear blue water, drinks to hand, home-brewed hooch and girls in bikinis!

Ol' Buff wanted to join in and found a way to do that - the Delos drinking game! It goes like this:

  1. Line up a row of shots in front of you
  2. Play the video (e.g. the one above)
  3. Everytime someone says "sweet" you down a shot


But it got me thinking: surely you could do the same for other blogs? So I came up with the Boating Blog Drinking-Game Game.

Basically try to find the word that one blogger is more likely to use than another and then that's the drinking game cue. But what word to use?

This is where ol' Buff needs some help - suggestions please! Should it be "spam" for Bonnie? Should it be "rowlocks" for Chris? Should it be "hike" for Tillerman?

And what about JP?

So over to you and this is Buff Staysail, over and - hic - sweet - out!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pocahontas and Paddington

This is the MV Pocahontas, the ferry across the Thames that connects Tilbury to Gavesend, final resting place of that famous Native American Pocahontas.

There's a slightly desolate feel to estuary Thames as it is which the story accentuates. Poor Pocahontas was on her way home, leaving London to return to Virginia, when she fell ill and died in Gravesend aged only 21 or 22.

Then there's the name, Gravesend, which sounds like something out of a Victorian Gothic novel.

For anyone needing a cheer-up I can suggest another visitor to London who came to these shores by travelling across an ocean, namely Paddington.

The latest film is a joy, though to be honest the sailing connection is sparse. Indeed if it wasn't for Pocahontas I don't think even I could have spun it.
According to the film you can stowaway on a cargo ship and live just on jars of marmalade - who knew that?

In the film Paddington arrives by boat to the London Docks (whatever that means) and then in a post bag which is dumped at the famous railway station, which gets round the problem of the books which is why did he end up in that station?

Lets look at the main ports:

  • Liverpool - trains go to Euston
  • Southampton - trains go to Waterloo
  • Tilbury - trains go to Liverpool Street
  • Glasgow - trains go to Euston or Kings Cross

So why Paddington Station?

My guess is that the marmalade eating bear did indeed take the boat to Liverpool (the port) but got confused with the trains (easily done) and so ended up at Paddington after taking a roundabout route - something also very in character.

His view on arrival would have been rather special (from a trip last year to Liverpool):

The film misses this but there is a taxi journey (number plate CABBIE) that takes in the main sights of London which I thought was fab.

This is one of the trailers, but there's something wrong with it? Any guesses?

Updated: the answer is that Colin Firth was Paddington in this trailer but not the release movie as his voice wasn't felt to be quite right.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Bells of St Paul's

On the way back from doing a spot of wassailing I heard a familiar dong.

It was the bells of St. Paul's Cathedral, echoing over the Thames.


Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Green Man and the Boat Wassail

Wassail! for the Green Man has cometh to Bankside!

Apparently this old pagan wassail celebration is "bouncing back" according to The Independent.

There was certainly a decent crowd waiting by the Thames for the Green Man to arrive courtesy of the Trinity rowers. It was rather cold and so there was much rejoicing when they were finally spotted:

The junior town crier seemed a bit unsure about all this. I was standing on the wall with a long drop to the swirling Thames to my right so I was a bit unsure too.

Then we Wassailed the departing Thames Cutter Trinity Tide as follows:

The Boat Wassail

Blowe wind boat bear well
Ride well on the tide
Every beam and every sail
Bear the crew bravely home
Each sailing day!

I hope they heard us as they battled traffic on the busy river, the cold and the tide:

Apparently you can Wassail pretty much anything so at this point I decided to leave and Wassail Waitrose. It was rather cold and I was getting hungry.

Thanks to the Lions Part for all the entertainment in this Twelfth Night (or nearest Sunday) ritual which I also enjoyed last year.