Dinghy desire paths

GPS tracks of sailing the river blackwater

GPS tracks after 3 years sailing the River Blackwater.

I bought Wanderer 446 (a 14 foot sailing dinghy) nearly three years ago.

She’s given me much joy as we’ve explored the River Blackwater in Essex.

We do day trips, each destination determined by state of tide, wind and mind. The picture above shows desire paths of moon, mood and meteo.

“You get to this nowhere land where your brain is utterly disconnected, and I think…I think that [is at] the root of all this… obsession. It’s trying to get into that little slot of your brain where things don’t exist and yet they’re working perfectly. It’s a sort of heaven. A nirvana.” – Alexander Waugh

Sailing home to Bradwell...

Sailing home to Bradwell…

“Let’s prod the beast, and see if it’ll move”

In last week’s Spectator there’s an article by Peter Lilley. It is subtitled thus:  “Today’s MPs are no longer scared of the whips. Instead, they are scared of their constituents. That’s a good thing.”

The piece heralds the role TheyWorkForYou has played in helping constituents hold their MP to account.

Good.

It’s ten years since we* started building TheyWorkForYou – a decade’s lag between cause and effect.

Back in 2003 our aim was to force MPs to remember who they worked for. As in, us. Not their party. Not the whips. Not the executive. But us, their constituents.

For Stef and I, the motivation came from having prodded the parliamentary beast while using the web to educate MPs on the importance of sane digital legislation.

As the TheyWorkForYou ‘About Us’ page  puts it:

For all its faults and foibles, our democracy is a profound gift from previous generations. Yet most people don’t know the name of their MP, nor their constituency, let alone what their MP does or says in their name.

We aim to help bridge this growing democratic disconnect, in the belief that there is little wrong with Parliament that a healthy mixture of transparency and public engagement won’t fix.

Hence this website.

It took a while, but job done, I reckon.  The beast moved.

Early sketch of TheyWorkForYou, then using working title of EasyParliament

Early sketch of TheyWorkForYou (working title was EasyParliament)


* “We” were a bunch of about a dozen volunteers. Most of the legwork was done by the likes of Francis, Phil & Matthew. The charity mySociety kindly took over the site in about 2005 and has since expanded the concept internationally.

_

Google Earth as a tool for planning dinghy cruises

I enjoy cruising my sailing dinghy around the rivers and coastline of Essex and Suffolk, and have recently discovered a feature in Google Earth which makes planning trips that little bit easier.

Google Earth now has a ‘historial images’ tool, which on my mac is in the form of a clockface-meets-arrow icon, and brings up a tool looking like this:

The 'historical imagery' tool on Google Earth

Moving the slider lets you change the date of satellite images.

Somewhat wonderfully for sailors on the River Blackwater, and seemingly also for most of Essex and Suffolk, a couple of the recent series of images seem to have been taken at spring tides, both high and low.

For shallow draught dinghy cruisers, happy to dice with a mudbank or two, this lets you now plan new routes thanks to the offer of accuracy with which a nautical chart can’t compete.

For example, to the south west of Bradwell Waterside, on the River Blackwater in Essex, there is a large mudflat, through which flows a narrow and winding channel known as St Lawrence Creek.

At anything other than high or low tide, this route is a bit iffy, since it’s hard to know when you’re in the channel when the whole mudflat covers with water, albeit not to a depth to let you sail safely.

This is a shame, as it’s a nice shortcut home to my base at Bradwell Waterside, where I keep my 14 foot Wanderer sailing dinghy.

Here’s the Navionics chart of the St Lawrence creek:

Navionics chart of St Lawrence Creek

(Check out the new, free Navionics chart web app – it’s great, as are the Navionics smartphone apps)

Now, here’s the same area at spring low tide from Google Earth, complete with a series of waypoints which I then use on my GPS to let me follow the channel whatever the state of the tide.

Following this route carefully means I don’t have to worry about my rudder hitting the bottom were I to stray onto barely-covered mudbanks at mid-tide.

St Lawrence Creek at low tide

To be fair, there’s no need to follow this route at or near high tide, shown below, as there’s enough water everywhere. But at mid tide, it’s a reassurance that you won’t hit the bottom.

St Lawrence Creek at high tide

I’ve tested the route a couple of times mid-tide, and am happy to share waypoints if anyone’s interested (YMMV, mud shifts etc).

Ansel Adams on digital photography, from 1983

Ansel Adams exhibition banner

An exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs is on at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich until April 28.

We duly took our eldest, who likes to take the odd photo.

Sadly, the exhibition was heaving. There was neither space nor time to dwell.

So we escaped into the side room showing a 1983 BBC television interview with Adams.

I struggle to think of another artist able to explain their creative process with such easy grace. Grayson Perry, maybe?

Whatever, we were entranced, notably by this clip, in which Adams gets excited about the new creative opportunities about to be opened up by what he terms ‘electronic’ photography.

This was from 1983, remember. Adams was 81 years old.

He had spent his working life slaving in darkrooms and under the hood of quarter plate cameras, perfecting his craft. Yet his mastery of an analogue craft counts for little compared with his excitement about the new frontiers of his artform soon to be opened up by digital technology.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

In praise of Malcolm Barnsley

A decade ago I read an article about two men setting out to break the outright world speed sailing record – then just over 45 knots.

They were proposing to build a radical new kind of sailing boat.

There were pictures; a remote controlled scale model, clearly sailing at high speed.

2002model

Wow. My inner engineer stirred. The forces on such craft were, at least in theory, as balanced and as aligned as possible. Balanced. Aligned. Zen sailing. Fast.

The piece also included a photo of the two men behind the bid, taken at the 2003 Southampton Boat Show

2002southampton2

Last weekend, the man on the right, Aussie Paul Larsen, finally helmed Vestas Sailrocket2 to a new world record of over 65 knots.

sailrocket2_2

For decades the 500m record had been inching up in tiny increments, fraction of knot by fraction of knot. Assorted kiteboarders were the most recent holders. Sailrocket2 obliterated the record by over 10 knots. Paul, an Australian, put it thus: “We’ve smashed the arse off it!

Indeed, Sailrocket2’s peak speed was 68 knots. That’s 78mph. Over 125 km/h. Wow.

You should read Paul’s blog, watch the video and thank Vestas Wind Systems and the team’s other sponsors. The whole project fills me with joy.

But I want to return to the other man in that 2003 photo. He’s on the left in the photo below, wearing a wooly hat. He and Paul are walking back up a Namibian beach. They’re carrying the all-important GPS data logger so the new record can be verified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.

sailrocket2_ppl

His name is Malcolm Barnsley. He’s a British engineer. He designed Sailrocket2, and she’s very much his baby. Malcolm has spent most of his adult life trying to break the speed sailing record, and for over a decade has doggedly been tweaking and fettling this particular design.

It’s not always been plain sailing. The first version of Sailrocket proved somewhat unstable.

Paul found himself underwater, unconscious, after that one. Many designers would have given up. (Many helms, too!)

You can tell from the photos and videos that Malcolm doesn’t much fancy the limelight. He’d rather be designing foils, or modelling cavitation, the sworn enemy of all speed sailors. He’s very keen on proper attribution, notably for Bernard Smith, whose musings Malcolm has made real.

fortyknot

But the brutal fact of the matter is that ideas are cheap. Malcolm spent a decade making a potentially great idea work.

This wonderful bit of video, shot straight after the record breaking run, is purest engineering valediction:

“All those bloody sums… and all that stuff… it does actually mean something in the end. But you’ve got to do a lot of work to make it mean something. And we’ve done all the work.”

Malcolm Barnsley, I salute you.