Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Christmas!!

Right, its Christmas Day, its sunny, lets go for a walk! We'll just walk along the Thames Path, what can possibly go wrong..... oh....

Well Putney maybe flooded but it looks pretty:

Maybe its a sign to go back and check how the roast is doing:

That looks ok!

Time to press on & make the trimmings....

Ah! That's good!

Now put one's feet up (the washing up can wait) and watch The Queen:

Fab job, your Maj! Seriously, who thumb's down The Queen?

BTW, if you want something magic to watch this Christmas, you must see the absolutely brilliant and lyrical The Last Igloo:

Partially filmed in Tasiilaq, which I remember visiting.

Happy Christmas everyone!!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Great River Race 2019 - The JP Blog Awards!

Today hundreds of rowing boats were seen on the Thames taking part in the 2019 Great River Race. Apparently there were up to 330 entries from all over the world rowing 21.6 miles from Millwall Riverside in Docklands up to Ham House, Richmond - see the official web site here.

Yet again JP supported by ol' Buff Staysail and Sassy Tweet were on Putney Bridge to watch the teams go by and award the JP BLOG AWARDS!!!

First up was BEST BOAT NAME, which was won by the one above - bravo! Great name!!

The next award was for BEST BOAT BUNTING, and this entrant was a clear winner:

There was another clear winner in the BEST FLAG award which literally put the others in the shade:

The most closely fought award was the one for the BEST COSTUME. This is always a tough to judge and Sassy agonised for ages (more abetted than aided by Buff) and in the end decided that the following ARE ALL WINNERS:

The one on the right here:

Buff wanted to choose the award for the HOTTEST ROWER but a committee meeting was held and it was decided to instead allow him to offer the award for the BEST T-SHIRT which accordingly went to this one:

Moving on quickly we have the awards for the BEST STEERING POSITION and BEST DRAGON DRUM:

Finally we have two other closely fought categories. Let me say, the judges argued strongly about this one but in the end Sassy had her way in the SOCIAL MEDIA AWARDS:

Runners up, to those live Tweeting or Instagraming the event:

But the winner went to the boat recording the whole show using an Insta360 - nice!

The final award is an all time classic, namely the BEST PIRATE BOAT award.

The runner up was this one:

Classic! Alas they were beaten by this winning entrant which HAD A CANNON IN THE BOW:

Great show!!

In fact, congratulations to all entrants for you are all winners: rowing all that way is a real achievement!

It was also a great spectacle so thanks to all those like the PLA & RNLI that help arrange and organise this. Plus the weather was for once just lovely.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Save the Chalk Streams of England!

The number one top priority of our age must be the environment. We see the heroic efforts of the likes of Greta Thunberg to push reluctant leaders to doing the right thing at a time when the Greenland ice cap is melting and the Amazon burns.

But there is an environmental problem much closer to home that needs attention too, namely our chalk streams. Of the 210 known globally, the vast majority of them, 160 in total, are in England. They represent a unique and precious environment.

Yet the vast majority of them are in poor state due to water extraction and pollution, typically sewage but also agricultural waste. These include the Cam (above) and the Nailbourne (Little Stour). This map from a report by the WWF shows the state of the rivers at the time it was written:

Since then things have only got worse, and a more recent version of this map can be found here. This shouldn't happen as the Environment Agency exists to manage our rivers - a task for which it has clearly failed.

One pushing for change is Feargal Sharkey, once of the Undertones, who is now campaigning on behalf of these lovely rivers, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

A good summary of the problem can be found in this article in the Observer.

Save our Chalk Streams!!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Buff sells Greenland!

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

You might be wondering why ol' Buff has been off the radar! Well its simple - I've been working for the Trumps!

That's right, the top man, Mr T himself in Washington DC has recruited Buff Staysail into his team. Buff is head of strategic thinking and advanced planning and I'm sure you can tell how things have been turned around by checking out Mr. T's improved hair-piece!!

He recently sent me down to his Florida golf course to check some paper-work and report back. This insurance bozo (yawn) went on and on about how global warming was raising sea levels and so the flood premium was going up.

"Soon, with Greenland melting" said the suit "half of Florida will be underwater.  But then it will be so hot everyone will have moved north anyhow."

I've had a crack at this golf lark and let me tell you, its tough enough getting out of the sand castles (Ed: is that right?) but if the green is under water your's truly will be rightly stuffed.

So I told the boss his golf courses were about to be flooded due to Greenland global warming and he was devastated.

"Best golf club ever" he said. "Flooding would be SO SAD!!"

He munched on his burger and fired off some tweets.

Then he perked up.

"So this Greenland place, its up north, it'll be cleared of all that ice, it won't get too hot. Lets buy it and create the new Presidential Golf Course".


And it's the family way - buy property on the up, early. And the best way to make Greenland valuable is to burn lots of oil and coal, kick climate change into gear, then clean up when the ice melts and its coastline becomes water-front property heaven!

With Buff in charge of strategy, what can possibly go wrong!!

This is Buff Staysail, over and out!!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Book Review: The Way to the Sea by Caroline Crampton

I've previously reviewed "Estuary" by Rachel Lichtenstein and had what is best described as a mixed response. One of the problems about that book was Lichenstein clearly didn't actually like being out on the water, which was a bit of a handicap given the subject involved. There was also a relaxed attitude to historical facts which I found frustrating.

But the Thames Estuary is a topic that clearly deserves a book, and in "The Way to the Sea" Caroline Crampton has nailed it. For one thing, Crampton is totally at ease out on the waters that she has been sailing in the family yacht since she was a little girl.

The book is also a story of her family and her parents arrival by yacht to London, first mooring in St. Katharine Dock. Many of my favourite topics are covered, from Bazalgette's sewers and the wonders of the Crossness Pumping Station to the London Stones and the Dickensian landscape around them.

There were even some odd coincidences, such as how her parents have sailed a Contessa 32 and sailed up to the Arctic Circle.

Well written and illustrated, flowing smoothly as the river it describes, this is highly recommended read for anyone interested in the Thames, its environment and history, from the source to the invisible and undefinable point where it is transformed into the sea.

Monday, June 17, 2019

I blame Game of Thrones

I've been neglecting this little blog and I'm going to blame Game of Thrones.

It's a topic where there are strong opinions. While I'm not one of the GoT-ending haters, the final two seasons were definitely rushed. Even though the script wasn't as nuanced as the book based episodes, the overall arc satisfied, completing the major story lines. It ended as all good GoT seasons should: with major characters heading off to create new stories. Bon voyage...

Anyhow, three months ago I was overloaded at work (with quite a bit of travel) and wanted to catch-up with GoT before the ending so spent the evenings watching from series 1 episode 1 rather than blogging. And I didn't finish catching-up until the beginning of this month.

It was rather nice to take a break from blogging.

But now I have a book I want to review, and some travel pics to post, so its back to the keyboard...

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Memories of offshore sailing

If I can't go offshore sailing then at least I've a lot of great memories including:
  • learning to sail in the Solent during the America's Cup 150th anniversary, Cowes packed with legendary yachts
  • sailing the Atlantic on the ARC
  • the first night of the ARC, with phosphorescence in the water, the stars above and a ring of yacht lights around the horizon
  • the night's sky offshore, particularly on the ARC, with Orion leading the way and the flash of shooting stars
  • swimming around the yacht mid-Atlantic, with a thousand miles to any land and 4 km of water beneath me.
  • flying the spinnaker by moonlight across the Atlantic
  • arriving at St Lucia and that all important first beer
  • competing in the RORC series of races, dashing around the Channel at night
  • rounding the Fastnet Rock (above) during that race
  • sailing from Lisbon to Gibraltar, stopping at Cadiz and seeing Tall Ships and fine sunsets
  • sailing around the Greek Islands, finding Nemo and some lovely tavernas
  • sailing double handed from Scotland to Iceland via the Arctic Circle
  • spotting the Faeroe Islands appear out of the clouds
  • navigating through the Faero Islands in the early hours of the morning (below)
  • seeing the sun above the horizon at midnight, sign we were truly in the Arctic Circle
  • that good watch as we sailed south out of the Arctic Circle round the north-west of Iceland
  • sailing into uncharted waters in the north-west fjords of Iceland
  • entering Reykjavik harbour, successfully completing our Scotland to Iceland voyage
  • leaving Ísafjörður, heading for Greenland
  • seeing icebergs appear out of the mist as we crossed the Denmark strait
  • watching a polar bear tear chunks from a narwhal
  • visit the hot springs of Greenland
  • kayaking amongst the icebergs of Greenland's amazing Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord
  • departing out of Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord under sail, dodging icebergs on the way
  • sailing down the coast of East Greenland
  • entering Tasiilaq in the early hours after seeing both noctilucent clouds and the northern lights
  • sailing round Scorsby Sound in a tall ship seeing a polar bear and northern lights most nights
  • sailing round Spitzsbergen, seeing many polar bears and the remains of many expeditions
  • ....

Many of these I've posted about, but I've included no links because these are memories.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Goodbye to offshore sailing?

I had to cut short my sailing trip along the coast of Morocco due to illness and it wasn't the first time this had happened. Two trips I'd cancelled before leaving, another I flew to the start and then got sick so flew straight back, while another I'd managed to get round by staying in my bunk for a few days.

Maybe these problems are a message, that offshore sailing isn't for me. It would be a tough to accept, as I love offshore yacht sailing.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Rabat: arriving and leaving

The next day we arrived at Rabat. I'd been very much looking forward to arriving at Rabat as I'd been there before (as blogged here) and really liked it. I'd planned to setup the GoPro to do a timelapse of entering the passage, passing the Kasbah of the Udayas (above) and entering the marina.

But alas was feeling really rotten so only just about made it up on deck in time to take the photo above.

From the Rabat the sailing would get harder, longer legs, more night watches and I alas decided with my lurgy it was time to be sensible.

So I collected my things and left Oriole:

It was to be an eventful stay in Rabat as one of the other crew broke her wrist but with great fortitude decided to continue onwards.

But for me it was to be the last port of call:

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sailing from Tangier to Rabat

After Tangier we headed south. There was enough wind to leave under sail, though it was rather weak and from the wrong direction. So in the end the engine was started and we motor-sailed down the coast of Morocco.

I was beginning to feel not great but was determined to do at least one night watch. There was a lovely sunset which brought pretty much everyone on deck:

There is a magic to being on a yacht offshore at night.

The night's sky is amazing - full of bright stars, the Milky Way clearly visible. Old friends like Orion, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia ... (and all the other ones I should really know), the North Star on its own, pointing home, a crescent moon and even a shooting star. I tried to remember the equation of the star clock, but failed.

We had to dodge a couple of fishing boats but the ones we saw had lights so that was pretty easy.

I wasn't sure how much of this offshore night-time sailing I'd be doing in the future so tried to capture the moment in my memories before heading down to my bunk...

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Exploring Tangier

We had a full day exploring Tangier, though it was shortened as we found there was a Cafe Paul in the marina which felt like an excellent place to have an extended breakfast after a refreshing shower.

The marina is pretty central so it was only a short walk to the centre. Our first stop was the fish market (fascinating!) and then headed deeper into the Medina heading up to the Kasbah.

I head someone playing the guitar and stopped for a listen:

It was a lot less touristy than (say) Marrakesh, with people just living their lives:

Some went shopping while I visited an art gallery before returning to the boat and the amazing dinner the skipper magicked up from ingredients bought in the Medina we'd visited earlier.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Sailing from Cadiz to Tangiers

Back to the Morocco sailing trip....

Can you still call it sailing if you motor most of the way?

It was, alas, rather a calm day when we "sailed" from Cadiz to Tangiers. We started early in the morning, so we could see that lovely pre-dawn glow over Cadiz and then the sunrise.

It was fun to be back at the helm of a sailing vessel, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, helping with the passage plan and keeping an eye out for the passing ginormous merchant vessels.

Alas due to the constraints of GDPR (and general concern for the privacy of others) I'm not going to go into details of crew but just say one in particular entertained us by acting out scenes from Moana.

After successfully crossing the strait we had to dodge lots of small fishing boats (above) on our way into Tangier.

We arrive in the evening and had a long, long wait for our passports to be checked. The key question was "have you visited Morocco before?" to which my answer was of course "yes" (for example as in this plot post).

Having officially arrived, we could relax and have dinner, listening to the sounds of the call to prayer from dozens of minarets and watching the new moon slowly sink:

Tangier has a brand new marina with excellent facilities so its worth visiting if you're heading by. The calm waters reflected Oriole's colours wonderfully:

Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Review: The Seabird's Cry by Adam Nicolson

If you are interested in seabirds then I can not recommend Adam Nicolson's The Seabird's Cry highly enough. It is fascinating, researched with many details and shows a great depth of understanding while remaining poetic, not dry. It combines scientific analysis with a passion for the environment.

Each chapter describes a different seabird, including:

  • Fulmar
  • Puffin
  • Kittiwake
  • Gull
  • Guillemot
  • Cormorant and Shag
  • Shearwater
  • Gannet
  • Great Auk and its cousin Razorbill
  • Albatross

A key concept is that of Umwelt, which means "surrounding world" and is about how each animal lives in its own world, driven by its needs, skills and environment.

At first I was thinking to write about each bird, folding down corners of pages of interest. But there were too many amazing moments and the edge of the book is now full of gaps. To pick just a few, flicking through at random:

  • How gulls can turn into sociopathic cannibal superkillers
  • How the fishing patterns of kittwakes follow the phases of the moon
  • How puffins can dive up to 220 feet over two minutes
  • How albatrosses tack their way around the southern oceans
  • How boobies are traumatised to turn psychopath and even rapists
  • How shearwaters fly between 10,000 to 20,000 miles a year by understanding the trade winds and knowing their location by its smell
  • ...

The final chapter, named the Seabird's Cry, is about how we humans are destroying our planet, with global warming, loss of habitat, depletion of fish stocks and endless plastic waste. It is a call to action to help protect these incredible animals.

Full of details and personal experience, maps of routes of seabirds gathered using GPS trackers,
this is an brilliant book, a masterpiece even.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Photography Blog: A6500, GoPro 5 and DJI Osmo Pocket 4k comparison

Following on from the blog post "Do you need full frame?" here is a short video of a bike ride in Richmond Park on New Year's Day that gives a comparison of the output from three cameras.

It was made using the Sony A6500 (with 18-135 lens), head mounted Go Pro 5 and the DJI Osmo Pocket, and hopefully you can see the difference. The most stark is between the A6500 and Osmo Pocket, particularly when videoing wildlife like deer where you can see much more detail on the APSC camera.

The Osmo Pocket shows the deer fur as being a bit mushy, without much detail, but despite that it can be used to tell the story of walking towards the herd.

Partly the difference is sensor size, partly lens and partly better processing (i.e. higher data rate capture)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Visiting London's Underground Farm

More adventures underground, this time visiting the Growing Underground farm in a WW2 bomb shelter in south London.

I'd been down the Clapham shelters before for an art installation (natch) and was told tunnels nearby were being used for a farm. That intrigued me so when tickets appeared for a visit I snapped up one quickly.

The aim is to produce low emission high quality food within urban areas. The idea came from the vertical farm but the initial concept in that book has difficulties, not the least cost, but also temperature control.

Using empty tunnels is not just cheaper, it is actually beneficial to keep the plants to the required temperature, particularly if horizontal (like here), rather than a shaft, as there is less height differences and hence less temperature difference.

In the racks shown above, salad is being grown, and the colour isn't wrong, that's what it looks like: the LED lamps only emit the frequencies used by plants i.e. excluding green.

The seeds germinate in one hot and humid tunnel (below) that still looks like the air raid shelter it is, before being transferred to the growing tunnels such as the one above.

The seeds are "planted" on what looks like carpet with the roots below picking up nutrients directly using hydroponic techniques:

We got to try some of the crop and wow! was it tasty! Intense flavours - my favourite were the pea tips.

It was all very high tech, indeed these types of farms are being studied by NASA for future space colonies.

But its also potentially very useful here on Earth. The two biggest environmental problems with have are global warming and loss of habitat, and farming contributes to both of these. Putting the farm underground means land can be returned to wildlife (surely better) and the LEDs can be timed to come on when there is spare renewable energy (e.g. wind farms at night).

And there are lots of potential sites for expansion, from cold war bunkers to coal mines. According to this BBC article, in the UK there are 25,000 km^2 of disused mines and tunnels. And with the potential to have up to 60 crops per year, that could be very productive.

Plus, have I mentioned it was delicious? Already its products are being used in restaurants, and one of their advisers is none other than Michel Roux Jr.

Absolutely fascinating, another of the wonders beneath the streets of London.