An elderly pencil

We have had the decorators in and everything but everything has been boxed up. The job has been so long that all our cardboard boxes are now hidden wells of discovery,  Looking through one such box. I found this pencil.


Walter Brennan taught me to sail. I was 13 or 14 at the time – so the pencil is a little over 50 years old.

It was inexpensive – free, in fact, because he gave them away. It hasn’t been used constantly but it has survived over the years where a number of expensive and increasingly sophisticated computers have not. And whereas those computers became obsolete, this piece of kit will still do what it was designed to do – act as a printer for whatever is going on in my head.

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Obviously it is ancient hardware and I don’t offer it as an alternative to a computer – (certainly not with my brain!), but as a design that stands the test of time.

Having found it again, I am able to use it instantly – no recharging,  no cables, no wireless router, no waiting for startup, no searching for software and apps, no need to update.  It is portable and versatile. So is my mobile phone – but I guarantee my pencil will outlive my mobile too. (And I can’t chew the end of my mobile).

On the boat, I have three versions of gps – plus a clutch of 2B pencils.

If you’re younger than thirty you possibly don’t care. That’s ok. But at the weekend I watched my three year-old grandson climb the stairs while watching a television programme on the iPad he was holding. He had found the app and opened the programme himself. I don’t suppose he will be impressed if I leave him my pencil in my will. However, my pencil will last longer than his iPad.

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Perhaps the pencil will be the shape of computers to come.

Who knew they would reduce a computer to look like a large postcard?

Who knew a smart phone would become the size of a small chocolate bar?

All power to the pencil.

Rhumb Line

So I woke up in the middle of the night wondering whether ‘about 1900 nautical miles’ was really the distance from Steeple Point to Quirpon Island off the northern tip of Newfoundland or whether I had been sloppy in using the Google Earth ruler to measure it. This got me to thinking about rhumb lines.

The Wikipedia definition of Rhumb Line is:

  • “In navigation, a rhumb line . . . is a line crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle, i.e. a path derived from a defined initial bearing. That is, upon taking an initial bearing, one proceeds along the same bearing, without changing the direction as measured relative to true north.”

My measurement wasn’t “a line crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle” but a line crossing all meridians of longitude at the same latitude.

There will be a difference in the lengths of these lines. How much longer will depend how far north the lines are drawn, because of the spherical nature of the earth. The question for me was whether the Google Earth ruler measurement differs from other means of measuring the distance.

So, I reviewed the measurements.

Firstly, for my latitude line, I needed to be more accurate in my landfall in Newfoundland.

The coordinates for Steeple Point are: 50 52 34N  004 33 39W

For Cape Bauld Lighthouse on Quirpon Island the northern tip of Newfoundland: 51 38 24N  055 25 36W

If we move 55 miles south as the crow flies, we come to the harbour at Conche – the coordinates  here are: 50 53 09N  55 53 22W – very nearly on the same latitude as Steeple Point.

The Google Earth ruler gives a length from Steeple Point to Conche of 1,915 nautical miles.

I looked for a site that calculates the Rhumb line and came across this one Movable Type Scripts.

Entering the coordinates for Steeple Point and Conche gave me:

  • Distance:            3,536 km (to 4 SF*) – 1,908 nautical miles
  • Initial bearing:     290°02′46″
  • Final bearing:     249°13′06″
  • Midpoint:            53°38′41″N, 030°17′27″W

You will notice that, whereas the distance is fairly accurate, this isn’t strictly a rhumb line because the bearings are not the same.

Best I can do for the moment.

By the way, Conche looks a good place to visit in summer.

South Devon sunrise

There are a few occasions in the year when my journey to work coincides with sunrise.

from Labrador Bay, 1st December 2009

These are the ships I mentioned in a post from Southwold last September – still there, still waiting for trade.

I have learnt more about them since, in particular the concern they have created in some quarters – here.


Fifteen minutes later, five miles further on, the sun higher, the perspective lower, the same ships . . .

from Meadfoot Beach, 1st December 2009

On sailing a Folksong – of dolphins and speed

AA has come up with an answer to my ‘the speed of dolphins’ question via this link.

Under the title “Dolphins swim so fast it hurts” the author reports:

“What is the fastest a dolphin can swim? Near the surface, no more than 54 kilometres per hour. Why? Because it hurts it to swim faster.Those are the findings of a pair of researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.  But tuna, they say, do not suffer the same problem. Gil Iosilevskii and Danny Weihs carried out a series of calculations to model the tail and fins of fish such as tuna and mackerel, and cetaceans such as dolphins. The aim was to determine what limits the maximum speed at which these creatures can swim. The researchers found that although muscle power is the limiting factor for small fish, this is not the case for larger and more powerful swimmers such as tuna and dolphins. . . .”

Citing cavitation – (the same problem that causes erosion in propellers), as the painful limiting factor, they give 10-15 metres per second (36-54 kilometres per hour) as a maximum.


So how does this tie in with man’s maximum speed on water without an engine?

For that, you have to look at Hydroptere achieving 51.3 knots over 500 metres

It seems they built an aeroplane and then found a way of gluing it to the surface of the water.

By the way, if you are a wooden-boat person, don’t for a moment think that boat-builders haven’t for ever been constantly developing their skills and technology to improve the speed and/or capacity of their craft, especially where commerce or glory were involved.

It’s not for nothing that the organisers of class-racing have had to place limits on boat specifications to make racing fairer – and don’t for a moment think that individual racers aren’t for ever looking for ways to quietly (very, very quietly) improve the performance of their own boats.

Hopefully, technology will come out of Hydroptere that will filter down to the rest of us.

(And let’s hope they continue to sail where there’s no traffic).


Which brings me to Blue Mistrss and a more prosaic rate of travel!

When the Folksong were built, one of the accepted methods of calculating maximum boat speed was as follows:

“The speed that a yacht’s hull can be made to travel through water is related to waterline length.

The formula for an average sea-going yacht of conventional shape is:

Speed in knots = 1.4 x Square root of the L.W.L. in feet

The multiplier is altered according to the type of hull. It may range from 1.25 for a tubby hull to 1.5  for a large racing yacht.”

Therefore Blue Mistress’ theoretical maximum speed at L.W.L 19’ 8”: (I have made no allowance for hull shape)

= 1.4 x square root of 19.66 ft = 1.4 x 4.434 = 6.2 knots

I guess there are several other calculations now, but that was then.

The maximum speed (recorded on my handheld gps) on last Sunday’s sail was 6.8 knots.

The best ever is 10.4 knots, remembering that this is speed-over-the-ground rather than speed-through-the-water, i.e. there was an element of tide in the speed recorded – and in the case of 10.4 knots it was a spring tide plus surfing that helped, which makes it even slower than Hydroptere where, presumably, for their record to stand, the water was slack.

Oh, and also not forgetting that my numbers would have to be achieved for a mere nano-second to satisfy the gps, not a timed distance over 500 metres!


But there’s one distinct advantage for Blue Mistress here  – I bet Hydroptere’s crew didn’t have time for the dolphins.

On Sailing a Folksong – back to the beginning

“Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you” – Aldous Huxley.


Well. it’s happened, as it was bound to. Having spent the past three years focusing on doing Blue Mistress up, all the feelings about it have changed. It’s as though, having reached the top of the junior school, we are now moving on to bottom of the senior school – from the top of one learning curve to the bottom of the next.

I “celebrated” this by arriving back at the mooring on Friday to find the engine and the inside of the engine housing covered in oil. More on that later.


Is the boat finished? No, but we have reached a level where I can enjoy doing all those small jobs that I haven’t been able to do up to now. It’s no longer a ‘this-is-what-it”ll-be-like-one-day’ dream. I am no longer letting jobs ride “because I will sort that out later when such-and-such has been done”.

Looking back over the past three years, there are, broadly speaking, four areas of owning a boat that I have been learning about. Although the headings were originally applied in a different context, they can be loosely described as:  health, comfort, function and appearance.

Health: The fundamental integrity of the hull and rigging. We had some major leaks to fix in the deck. But none in the hull itself. The rudder caused concern. Some of the rigging needed updating. The sails were ok. And, up to last Friday, the engine had given no trouble.

Comfort: Safety: I have gathered together the basic safety features (including learning how to stay on board). There are one or two extras still to go – that’ll be more money out. We can find out where we are –  there are no less than three different gps systems available – and now a chart table to lay out a chart on. The head is satisfactory. The galley works nicely too – we can boil a kettle quickly, cook up some soup or anything else should we feel inclined. Stowage has improved.

Function: This is where we go back to being bottom of the school. Experience up to now has been one of getting to know a boat as she was updated. What seemed like big adventures last year and the year before, seem like small ones now. Certainly the investment of time, energy and money require more use of Blue Mistress and I hope for plenty of sailing this year and next.

Appearance: Get form and function together and any boat is almost bound to look good – well, almost. I thought the appearance was good to start with, but it has got better as different problems and improvements have been tackled.


And the engine?

On Saturday, in light winds, we had a gentle sail to a couple of miles off the Mewstone. In the early afternoon, we watched Rame Head, then Cawsand, then the Breakwater disappear as a line of fog/low cloud drifted along the coast. We decided enough was enough and motored back to the mooring.

I asked Pete to close the seacock for the seawater coolant. He said he got oil on his hand doing it. I said that was not possible. We opened the lid of the engine housing . . .

We looked at it, and we looked at each other. We both knew we had no idea what had happened or how bad it might be.  We decided the engine was still too hot to work on. Silently, we closed the lid, rowed ashore and drove home.

Yesterday, I spent several hours upside down with my head in the bilge. The cause should have been immediately obvious, but it took me a while to find it because I wasn’t expecting it. Embarrassingly, it turned out to be a schoolboy error on my part. In my hurry to check the oil, I thought I had replaced the dip-stick correctly – but hadn’t. In my defence, the dip-stick is fairly long, the hole is flush with the casing and invisible from the front of the engine. It’s easily missed and the stick slides tightly alongside the engine casing – but that’s no excuse . . .

And now we have learnt a thing or two:

Do you know where oil goes if you leave the dip-stick out? . . . everywhere!

It completely coats the inside of your new engine housing (and I mean completely). It completely covers the engine (and I mean completely) – all those little screws and bolts and inaccessible corners where dirt builds up, between all those cables that have been cable-tied together, behind the engine where you have to do impossible contortions to reach  – and, of course, into the bilge.

I now know the outside of the engine intimately. I know how good the heavy duty oil remover is. I also know that, if you lay an oil-soak mat in the bilge, and settle back for lunch, by the time you have finished it will, remarkably, have soaked up most of the oil. I also found a short stainless steel strop that went missing during our first major refit two years ago. The bilge is the cleanest it has been for some years.

Luckily, not all the oil came out  – what was left came just above the minimum mark, and the engine (a Yanmar 1GM10) still runs remarkably smoothly.

Just as, when driving, I am constantly checking my rear view mirror because, thirty years ago, someone ran into the back of my car, I will never rush to check the oil again. I shall replace this particular dip-stick very, very carefully.

That’s experience.

A World Of His Own

On 22nd April 1969, a third year student in London, I watched Robin Knox-Johnson return to Falmouth on television.

His feat made a lasting impression. Like Sir Francis Chichester, he represented a spirit of adventure born of individual skill and personal endeavour. The essence of the achievement? No large back-up team, no communication for much of the voyage, no modern navigational aids – one man running with the elements, (and often against them).

Nowadays, it is difficult to describe his achievement without dropping into the world of spin and hype. They have stolen all the superlatives. Too much has been attributed too often to lesser deeds.You have to read his story in his own words to understand the man and the task.

And, for the rest of us, whatever our sailing ambition, he will be one who went before.

Are there words that sign-post what he did that may work for us now?

Napoleon Hill showed a feel for it early last century when he wrote:

“Whatever you want, oh discontented man, step up. Pay the price – and take it.”

Sir Robin stepped up, paid the price with perseverance and stamina and took his prize – the first to sail non-stop solo round the world.

Because he showed the trip was possible, others have followed with increasing confidence  – as well as with many, many more technical aids, and achieved successes of their own

Now, forty years on, general expectations are such that completing a solo navigation goes largely unmentioned – you have to be a record-breaker (or fail spectacularly) to get noticed.

But remember this: taking the prize may be the headline, but it’s the stepping-up and paying the price that’s the real challenge. And that’s the Knox-Johnson legacy.

All power to him this anniversary.

(Follow the links to see what others think – start here or here)

On sailing a Folksong – update

Blue Mistress has twenty lockers with removable lids, twelve of them in the bunks. Laid out across a worktop and painted white, the lids looked surreal – bright islands in a dark sea.

There is a new folding lid across the stove as well as one above the portable loo. (Before, both these lids were a little tight to remove. There was a trick to it –  meaning that I could manage them fine because I knew how to do it, but the occasional crew didn’t. Therefore, they found the loo difficult to use . . . and said so.)

The varnished trim around the bunks has been matched along both sides, but is yet to be fitted.

The chart table has been revamped.  The old one was slightly too big to keep shipped all the time, although it was a very good dining table. Unfortunately, it also had a split in it. So it has been shortened, reworked with fiddles and, although still removable, will be fitted securely across-ships.

There is a concern that giving. the main cabin an eggshell white finish makes it look clinical. Well, not with all the gear I put in it it won’t! At the moment it looks stark but the cushions and trim will soften it. It’s a boat with a parlour in it, not a parlour with a boat around it.

But it is a boat of just under 26 foot with less than five foot headroom in the main cabin. We are not talking ‘large yacht’ we are talking ‘making a small space as comfortable as possible in circumstances that can be quite uncomfortable’.

Therefore, the art of stowage is magnified here. I have only a hazy idea how the long distance voyagers manage their stowage in boats of this size. A lot of gear must be piled on spare bunks, every nook and cranny filled. Single-handed, it must be tight; two of you must be very tight.

Stowage is not a static art – hiding things away in the bowels of the boat. It’s a dynamic art. Everything has to be accessible, able to be reached when needed and moved to wherever it’s used – sometimes in a hurry.  It’s about lockers that open easily (but not too easily in a sea). It’s about knowing where everything is, and having an instinctive ability to move around the boat to reach it.

It’s about establishing regular habits to be able to give measured responses to irregular events.

It’s about seamanship – handling yourself, handling the boat, handling the gear.


This week, I have noticed a sea-change in my thinking.

For the past four years, I have been concerned about the fabric of the boat – “should we do this or that, change this or that, keep this or that the same, or what?”  Each year, I have concentrated on one part of it. Each year I have taken countless images and studied them for this or that reason. I have sometimes followed outside advice, and sometimes followed my own intuition  and, with the help of Richard Banks at DickyB Marine, we have progressed.

There’s plenty still to do – it’s a boat, there’s always plenty to do . . . and even more to learn.

But the major work is over. From now on, “it is what it is – get on with it”.

I am looking to get Blue Mistress  back in the water and go sailing.

Book sailing – “Only So Many Tides”

I have been reading and enjoying Jon Wainwright’s book. He spent nearly four decades sailing a traditional wooden boat – locally referred to as a nobby (although he wasn’t totally convinced) from the north west, which he brought through the canals across England to the east coast and down to Felixstowe and the south east.

Aged forty he found himself getting excessively tired and discovered he had a heart condition. This had the prospect of slowing him up considerably. Nevertheless he kept sailing – both cruising and racing with the Old Gaffers.

A particular passage resonated:

“Obviously, time was not on my side, and it made me realise that there were only so many tides that Deva and I were going to catch. That is the problem of having a real concept of mortality. I see so many people who embark bravely on big rebuilds of smacks and other larger vessels, reckoning to take five years and often taking ten or more. I could not conceive of that possibility. Even if I survived the effort of rebuilding a boat, how fit would I be to sail for much longer afterwards? Some of the rebuilders who are fit when they start probably are not so when they finish; the broker’s advertisements feature vessels from such situations. But they do not see it in that way. They laugh about being knocked down by a bus, but do not believe it will happen to them.

So my situation meant that work on Deva is not a cabinet-maker’s standard. It is fit for purpose, not built for posterity. The decks are painted, not laid teak. Some jobs are neglected . . .”

I know how he felt.

Time and tide . . .