Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: One Wild Song by Paul Heiney

The 7th of May 2015 was a busy day.

Not only was there a general election but also another excellent talk at London's premier ships chandler, Arthur Beale where attendees voted for who'd they most like to skipper their boat (see below for result).

The talk was by Paul Heiney describing the voyage which was the subject of his book "One wild song". Paul and his wife Libby Purves are keen sailors but this book is not about their voyages together as much as the aftermath of a tragedy in their life, the suicide of their son Nicholas at the age of 23.

The voyage from the UK to Cape Horn and back was a tribute and a way of remembering their son. Most of the voyage Paul took single handed, though for critical parts such as the rounding of the Horn there were crew.

More than just another story of sailing to high latitudes this book tells of emotional loss and recovery. It also works as it shows the difficulties and worries of the skipper on the long voyage.

Down to Cascais (and a £2k marina bill), further to Morocco, Cape Verde islands, across to Brazil where he and his crew got mugged, Uruguay and then on into the deep south.

Here he would explore the beautiful Beagle Channel and make his rounding of Cape Horn, to discover, as his son had written, "The silence at the song's end".

A moving story, well told.

Election result: Ellen MacArthur of course

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich

You'd have thought that a book with sub-title "Seven Seasons in Greenland" would be right up my street.

However I got as far as this description of ice that "has melted and looks floury, like an unnecessary word that adds confusion to insight" and decided this book wasn't for me.

Others were also concerned about the language, such as this review commenting about the author: "she is also described as a poet and her book is, to my taste, fatally congested with 'poetic' language. Metaphors abound, several to a sentence, until it becomes quite difficult to discern any sense at all".

In this book it is the writing that is floury not the ice so I got no further than page 4.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: Captain Margaret by John Masefield

Its the time of year to curl with a book and so here's the first of a couple of reviews from 2015's reading, starting with John Masefield's Captain Margaret.

Now John Masefield is the author of the poems Sea Fever and Cargos and children's book's A Box of Delight and Jim Davis, so this should have been a cracking read, but, well, lets try a multiple choice quiz.

You're in command of tall ship, off to the Spanish main, commission as a privateer, hull full of stores and arms, to cause confusion to the Dons and glory to blighty. Do you go to sea with:
a) Jolly tars
b) A one legged cook and bunch of ruffians
c) Your sweetheart and her swine of a husband on the run from debtors?

Your captain's name is:
a) Hornblower
b) Flint
c) Margaret?

Maybe if you remember the defeat of the flying pickets on the northern fields you might have picked c) but this Margaret's name was Charles and he did indeed take his sweetheart Olivia and swine of a husband Stukeley with him.

The story does include battle scene, the storming of a town under sultry Caribbean skies, waters pure blue and macaws echoing in the wild forests, but that's only about 5% of the text, most of which relates to the emotional strains on-board and the mischief the swine Stukeley gets up to (assault, forgery, theft, attempted mutiny, betrayal, drinking, wenching etc. etc.).

The ship's master Cammock was an ex-pirate who's spent some time timbering along the Campeachy coast of Mexico, and reminded me strongly of my alleged ancestor William Dampier.

So a puzzle which could be counted a learning experience for Masefield as it was one of his earliest works. A curiosity but alas not the greatest of reads.

ps. The photo above is from my archives taken at the end of the ARC at St. Lucia and was one of the boats seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Christmas!

Unseasonably warm here in London so no sign of snow but this was last month just outside Geneva where it really was properly deep and crisp.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The PLA's Thames Vision

Today the PLA opened a consultation on its Thames Vision, looking at how the river will be used over the next 20 years.

As you might expect there are goals (6) and action items (24) but I checked and there is no mention of consultant speak like "forward looking" or "strategic objectives".

It sounds pretty good - the goals include: the busiest ever Port of London; 20 million passenger trips a year; more goods moved by river; the cleanest river since the Industrial Revolution; and more people than ever enjoying sport and recreation.

The approach to sports and recreation is to focus activity on selected "sport opportunity zones", in particular: from Kew Bridge to Richmond, Putney Bridge to Chelsea, and east of Greenwich.

Hmmm.... what about between Putney and Mortlake? I understand that's a patch rowers are pretty keen on.

Lots of different types mucking about are covered, with:

more rowing, kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddle boarding at Kew – Teddington; more kayaking at Putney – Chelsea; and more kayaking as well as sailing at Greenwich – Crossness, particularly in Gallions and Barking reaches. Further east, there are opportunities for more yacht clubs serving  sailing and motor boating as well as kayaking, and for rowing and paddle boarding in Benfleet Creek.

Interestingly no mention of more sailing around Putney, you know, this sort of thing:
Which brings me on to water quality - and more good news here too. To be precise the action item is: Water quality improves to ‘good’

So not very good or excellent, and the key action is the infamous Thames Tideway Tunnel, a super-sewer to be dug below the Thames itself. This has follow on consequences, such as the development of new wharfs at Hurlingham (for the waste from that tunnel) and others such as in Battersea for soil removed by the Northern Line extension.

A lot to digest but it does sounds pretty positive, the Thames at a heart of the growing London, connecting east and west, old and new, business and leisure.

For anyone with something to add, the consultation is open until 15th February 2016 and available here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Jimmy Cornell at the Cruising Association

Jimmy Cornell has had the impact on world cruising for which words like "legend" start being used. His World Cruising Routes is said to have sold 200,000 copies and is on Brian of Delos's Required Reading List.

He set up the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers which I did many years ago (totally fab) and a week ago gave a talk in the Cruising Association about his successful transit of the North-West passage.

However initial impressions were not of a hardened sea salt but a fussy man, complaining that the meal was being served before the talk not, as is usually the case, in the interval. "Its not right" he muttered, as knives and forks clattered on plates. Plus the lights were all wrong as was the microphone. He decided to wait until people had finished eating then began anyhow.

He started by describing his trip to Antarctica and Cape Horn plus his totally dream-worthy Exploration 45 foot aluminium yacht Aventura IV (above, which I so want).

Then it was off from London, heading out under the Tower Bridge which lifted in salute on the 31st of May 2014 for his first attempt at the NW passage. They sailed up to Orkney and headed west, as the southern tip of Greenland has almost the same latitude. Up the west coast then across to Baffin Island, polar bears and the first serious ice.

It turned out to be more than just serious, as 2014 turned out to be a bad year for ice and they had to turn back. Even so they almost got iced in, with Cornell's granddaughter, one of the crew, fearing they'd be stuck there for 10 months.

This year he tried again from west to east, which has the advantage that the ice tends to clear in that order and to cut a long story short was successful, sailing through to the Atlantic and then down to London, to head under Tower Bridge on the 18th of September.

There were some more interesting moments, such as how he admitted he did the cooking as he is fussy (his word this time) about the mess that others cause. He also admitted he'd become a sterner skipper. "Can't afford to be nice all the time" he said, not with ice around.

In the Q&A session one question was particularly interesting: what were his over-wintering plans?

Didn't have any, he said, which puzzled me. If I were heading into the NW passage where ice is unpredictable and risks of wintering, while low, are definitely not zero, I'd have a plan.

But it was a key to his character, namely his confidence in himself and his determination. He'd find something, he was sure: he was prepared to make mistakes but stubborn so able to find a solution. That, coupled with a Romanian fatalism "if its going to happen, it's going to happen".

"Don't always think of consequences, otherwise you'd do nothing" he said.

For a potter round the Solent, maybe, but a trip into the NW passage with your granddaughter?

Maybe the "hmm.." I'm mentally thinking now is why I've never sailed around the world once let alone three times, nor set up several hugely successful yachting rallies, let alone completed a NW passage.