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Captain's Blog

Patrick O’Brian knows nothing about sailing

February 3rd, 2009

That’s the story according to billionaire sailor Tom Perkins, anyway.

 Tom Perkins, one of the founders of hugely successful venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins, invited the octogenarian and his novelist for a fortnight sailing on his Perini ketch, the 154 foot Andromeda la Dea.

The cruise was for two weeks, starting in Port Vendres in south-west France. Perkins reports that O’Brian “suggested a cruise circumnavigating Sicily, a stop in Greece, dropping by Beirut and winding up with a comprehensive tour of the Balearic islands… he added a desire to drop the hook in Naples, Capri and Tangiers as well.”

Perkins was amazed at how little O’Brian, the doyen of sailing adventure and the author of books such as Master and Commander and The Wine-dark Sea, knew about the practicalities of sailing and passage planning.

The whole article “Cruising with Patrick O’Brian – The Man and the Myth” from Latitude 38 is well worth reading.

Australian Navy rescue Vendee Globe competitor Yann Elies

December 20th, 2008

The Vendee Globe solo round-the-world yacht race is a gruelling race through the Southern Ocean.

And sometimes, things go wrong.

34-year-old Yann Elias broke his thighbone when a wave slammed into his yacht while he was changing a sail, and the Australian Navy has sent HMAS Arunta to assist.

 In the 1997 Vendee Globe, Tony Bullimore was rescued by the Australian Navy when the keel snapped off his boat and his yacht capsized.  There was uproar in the Australian press that this was an expensive waste of military resources. The Australian Admiralty pointed out that it was extremely useful training, and nothing builds esprit de corps like the feeling that an entire ship’s company is working together for a positive outcome.

I do hope that they respond the same way this time.

The role of jargon

July 3rd, 2008

I’ve had a letter in defence of jargon published in the Financial Times today.

Michael Skapinker wrote a piece talking about the role of jargon. I pointed out that when sailing, jargon has its place: it enables experienced sailors to communicate clearly, succinctly and with no danger of misunderstanding. It is offputting to novices, but that is not the point – in the long run, everyone is safer at sea when communication is clear, especially in an emergency.

 The full text of the article is below. You can also check out the Sail in Mallorca handy guide to sailing terms.

 * * *

From Mr Nicholas Lovell.

Sir, I am a regular sailor, and I think that sailing is an exemplar of Michael Skapinke’s issues with jargon (“The plain and simple truth about jargon”, July 1). On the one hand, new hands on board ship are confused (and sometimes angry) at the use of strange words for everyday things (galley for kitchen, heads for loo, sole for floor).

They then normally turn their ire to the ropes, none of which is called a rope. On even the smallest sailing boat there are sheets, halyards, warps, kicking straps, outhauls and more.

“Why can’t you just say ‘the blue rope’?” they ask.

The answer is clear. Every rope on the boat has a name based on the function it performs. Bring another sailor on board, shout at him to loosen the mainsail halyard and he will instantly know what the skipper wants him to do, even if he has never been on board this particular boat before.

When sailing with novice crew, I am very lax about using words that everyone understands (it’s perfectly OK to say ” I’m going to the kitchen, does anyone want a cup of tea?”). But I work hard to teach people the jargon that would matter in an emergency.

Nicholas Lovell,
London SW1V 1JF, UK

Becoming a published journalist

July 1st, 2008

I have had my first article accepted by Practical Boat Owner. The good news is that it showcases Tripitaka, Mallorca and the wonderful sailing to be had there.

 The bad news is that it is a story about lack of seamanship (my seamanship) leading to going aground on a lee shore.

 Still, it makes a good tale, and will appear in news-stands in early August.

Going sailing!

May 9th, 2008

First trip of the year tomorrow. Spending a week with a mostly novice crew, probably spending most of our time on the south coast of Mallorca.

Should be fun. Can’t wait.

Massive site update

April 22nd, 2008

Sail in Mallorca has been through a massive overhaul. New sections on sailing terms, itineraries and an updated information page on chartering my yacht Tripitaka.

And overall, I’m quite pleased with the mashups squeezed into the site :-) .

The Balearic blog of Kalessin

April 22nd, 2008

I’ve been reading the blog of Kalessin, a 33ft Westerly that has been travelling around the Med for a while, and spent most of 2007 in the Balearics.

They’re committed bloggers – even on Christmas Day. It’s worth checking out.

Cello music for sailors – especially Stephen Maturin

April 21st, 2008

I stumbled across this youtube clip of the cello solo that Paul Bettany plays on board the HMS Surprise in the film version of Master and Commander. It’s so beautiful I had to post it.

Cowes out of season

April 8th, 2008

I was in Cowes today, taking the fast Red Funnel jet from Southampton. It’s very early in the season, and I’ve rarely been there like this before: no sailing boat in the marina, no stores to buy, few other boat crews in because it was a midweek lunchtime andthey were out on the water.

It was pleasantly empty and quiet, apart from a pushy racist saleswoman at Pascall Atkey, the yacht chandlers. (Unfortunately, I suspect she was the owner from the way she behaved.)

Still, I felt a little out of place. It’s a place for sailors. I wasn’t a sailor, and I felt slightly lost. At sea, you might say.

The joys of sailing

April 3rd, 2008

Patrick O’Brian discusses the lure of the sea extensively in his Aubrey/Maturin novels, putting most of the reflection in Stephen Maturin’s inner thoughts.

He particularly identifies the lure of the now. Sailors have little time for regret when afloat: what’s done is done and the boat, weather, tide and circumstances have changed. With unpredictable weather and fickle winds, there is little point in worrying about the future more than a day or two hence.

So a sailor lives in the now, in a moving band of time that is rarely more than 24 hours long. Not a time of irresponsibility, to be sure, but a time where long term worries have no place.

 What a delightful contrast to shore-based life, and one of the many, many joys of sailing.

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