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Saturday, 29 January 2011

My kingdom for a loose footed sail

The news is all from Egypt. From all Arabia.
Greek fishing boat off Corfu
The puzzling mix of dead calm, mercurial zephyrs and sudden downward blasts of katabatic wind hurling downhill like invisible avalanches - often out of a clear sky - and tidelessness, make this kind of vessel, prior to the regretted internal combustion engine, ideally adapted to Mediterranean weather, in my case the vexing Sea of Kerkyra, a deceptive lake-like space between mainland Albania and Epirus and sickle shaped Corfu, with a narrow channel between Pantokrator's slopes and Butrint on the Albanian shore. This wooden vessel is relatively easy to row, ideally to scull with a long oar off the overhanging stern; her hull being streamlined underwater gives her ease of passage in smooth water - rowing or sailing, but being flared as it rises to the strakes gives buoyancy in the typical short steep seas thrown up by squalls or longer blasts of strong wind - especially if running before or hove to, perhaps with a small foresail aback and no mainsail; and here's the greatest advantage, the loose footed lateen sail which can be dropped in an instant when that strip of ruffled water is seen hurrying towards the boat that a moment before had been coasting or becalmed on amid the lightest of airs.
Boat race off Corfu
In addition the gaff can be set at various angles - dhows and feluccas - invention of the Arabs long long ago to passage the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, India and East Africa, to sail up and down the mighty Nile, voyaging across the deep ocean with and against prevailing winds - so that the large light sail can be hauled almost vertical to present a leading edge to the wind that almost matches a modern Bermudan rig, or certainly a windward driver with a much longer leading edge than on a normal gaffer; or it can be strung almost horizontal to run downwind, and all the angles in-between. Finally, the sail being loose footed is easy to reef and also has a generous belly which gives these boats just the lift they need on a reach or closer to short seas to allow them to make way where a tighter less bellied sail tends to drive a boat this small into the waves, stopping a vessel dead, catching it in stays. 
English rigs 
The Bermudan rig, particularly the modern sail of high aspect ratio, is a very powerful sail and a very pressing one indeed. It is a sail without 'life' and 'lift.' driving the boat through the seas rather than helping her to fly over them. Those of us who, before the motor-boat became ubiquitous, were privileged to sail in the big open boats of the Navy, remember the enormous lifting power of the big loose-footed lugsails. Ch 4, p.34 Denys Rayner Small Boat Sailing. Collins 1962
I haven't even got onto the extra virtuosity that comes with the second mast. This delightful Greek fishing boat is both a yawl and a cutter - see the halliards for two head sails, and the second mast at the back - both incidentally quite stubby; easily shipped compared to the far taller mast required to carry a Bermudan sail. A great combination of canvas can be adjusted to respond to and challenge the pesky weather of the wondrous land. Sprits for and aft add to the versatility - adjustments to clews, pulling the sail foot in or out, can allow the boat to sail itself, reducing or increasing weather helm. Square-rigged Odysseus could have done with such technology, even if Penelope had many oars and men to pull on them. I detest fossil fuel engines but acknowledge the difficulty of relying on sail and oar alone in most modern sailing boats. Oh that someone would sell me a boat like this, or even that I might find one still exists in the Ionian Sea.


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On Friday I cycled along the canal - my favourite route to campus to meet Dhiaa who's leaving for Baghdad. He's already made one short visit to be seen by the Prime Minister, take the oath, prepare his office and meet his staff. In a very short while he takes up his job as a Cabinet member without Portfolio in the government of Iraq. He's offered me his bicycle which he can't risk using in his own country. We met under the Muirhead tower and cycled to University station and took our cycles into town for a last coffee and snack and conversation.
Coffee with Dhiaa in Birmingham - 28 Jan.  Dear friend, How are you doing? I have started my work two hours after my arrival in Baghdad on the 30th of January. Everything is going well but slowly. Please, give my best regards to family. Warm regards, Dhiaa - 30 Jan
We spoke of the astounding principle of indeterminacy - an idea I'd encountered in conversation long ago with my friend Tony Scoville after I'd sailed to America -  Dhiaa's theme, how Shia Islam has been historically accustomed to protest and opposition rather than governance, of the growing acceptance that Islam need not be compromised by the separation of church and state, of lessons from Islam about deficit economics and other ways to think about loans and credit and of course of events across the Arab world, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, across Europe especially in Greece and about what seems to me the daunting challenges of his role in government. "The problems are wicked" he said using the mathematical meaning of that term to describe an issue that presents almost intractable challenges; demands persevering courage and wisdom as much as technical and managerial know-how. "A wicked problem is one that changes
My kind boss - Russ Ackoff - when I was at the University of Pennsylvania in my first job as a lowly researcher for him at Wharton School:  'Every problem interacts with other problems and is therefore part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems…. I choose to call such a system a mess.' Ackoff, R, Systems, Messes, and Interactive Planning in Chaps 1 & 2 in  Redesigning the Future, New York/London 1974
 "So how can you...will you work?" "It will be with humility, working in one place and seeking to address the challenges there, always learning and recognising that every place is as unique as the people in it." I spoke of regularity frameworks, of audits. "There's a tradition of governance in Iraq that has in other times risen above family and tribe, while respecting both." It was Dhiaa, who via conversation and the opportunity to read chapters of his continuing Phd. work who introduced me to the scope and depth of the scholarship of Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, murdered by Saddam in 1980:
Islamic theory rejects monarchy as well as the various forms of dictatorial government; it also rejects the aristocratic regimes and proposes a form of government, which contains all the positive aspects of the democratic system...Lastly, I demand, in the name of all of you and in the name of the values you uphold, to allow the people the opportunity truly to exercise their right in running the affairs of the country by holding elections in which a council representing the ummah (people) could truly emerge. Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, London: ICAS, 2003, p.15
Dhiaa gives me his folding bicycle
I spoke of my hope of seeing with him the site of Ur on the bank of the wide Euphrates, to walk beside the great Ziggurat, where some say Abraham was born. "I would like to do that very much. We will." We embraced and parted, two bikes squeezed in the back of my taxi to Handsworth. I asked Dhiaa soon after we first met what gave him most joy about his country - so devastated by tyranny; how he felt when he returned. He replied "Seeing the countenance of my countrymen"
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From The Corfu Blog 28 January '11:
The blood bank at the Corfu General Hospital is in desperate need of donors. The donation department is open every day at the new hospital at Kontokali from 8.00am to 2.00pm and again from 4.00pm to 8.00pm. The whole procedure, including a quick blood test takes around 20 minutes, and is on the lower ground floor of the hospital. 
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I have met, via the Kantounista thread on Facebook, Peter Papageorgiou who manages a chandlery I've visited between Kontokali and Gouvia. He saw this photo I took 49 years ago:
Xύτρα 1962
Mag Magmag and Peter Papageorgiou like this.
Hi Peter. On the voyage back to England, sailing from Athens to Italy in August 1962 - long time ago - we were becalmed off the southern Peloponnese, out of sight of land for many hours over many days. On a hot morning somewhere between the Aegean and the Ionian seas, south of the Gulf of Messinia, we saw this island rising from the dissolving mist. I've always thought it was Antikythera, which has one main island - Galaniana - but now I'm uncertain. It may be the largest of the rocky islets north west of Galaniana - Thumb Island. The island stayed in sight most of the day before fading into the haze. I so hope to see your wooden boat. No you are not crazy for taking on one, or only as crazy as someone who finds the time to grow their own fruit and vegetables or make their own wine. My dream would be to have a boat like one of the old lateen rigged loose-footed sail boats
Peter Papageorgiou Wow!What a wonderful story behind what appears to be a simple snapshot... And I think I may have an answer for your mystery island! I am almost certain it is CHYTRA (XYTPA) island off the southern tip of Kythera, so called because of its shape. You were actually very close to Kythera at the time!
Simon My lexicon and dictionary are unhelpful. Does Χυτρά mean 'pot'? Ι am embarrassed by the sheer scale of the Greek vocabulary, struggling to learn. Enjoyable but also painful.
Peter ha ha! yes Χύτρα means pot. Xύτρα ταχύτητος means pressure cooker for example. I didn't realise you had Greek on your PC! As for the Greek vocabulary...a large part of is part of the English one too, especially the scientific one... Although i suspect you already know that...:-)
Simon What is your wooden boat? I sent a picture of my dream. The puzzling mix of dead calm, mercurial zephyrs and sudden downward blasts of katabatic wind hurling downhill like invisible avalanches - often out of a clear sky - and tidelessness, ...See more (above)
Peter I can tell you are in love with the idea!! Yes classic boats are wonderful, so much more to them than a just means of enjoying the sea... My wooden boat is a King's Cruiser 28, designed by Tord Sunden (co-designer of the folkboat) and built in 1965 in Sweden out of mahogany planks on oak frames. Fractional rig, TROLL as it is called, had only two owners before me... both German. The daughter of the last owner, brought the boat to Corfu some years ago, however they have since moved to the BVIs so they needed to sell the boat to someone who would look after it and keep it going...and that's where I came in! I'm in the process of a restoration of sorts, as the boat has been out of the water for more than 4 years. Considering the time, the hull is in great condition! And I am enjoying the work as much as I am sure I will enjoy the sailing...It is a Zen thing. Ha ha!! When are you coming back out to Corfu, you must come have a look, and we must meet anyway... Regarding getting a traditional Greek boat, I think the best opportunity might be to pick up an old kaiki and converting back to the traditional rig. I'll ask around. By the way, boats are my business too, I own a chandlery...
Simon Wow! What good fortune I have in my meetings! We are in Corfu from 9 Feb through to 13 May and then again from September on until late Oct. Our boat's at Ipsos - Summer Song. 27 foot Snapdragon (be nice to her, Simon). We live next the church of the Archangel Michael on Democracy Street, Ano Korakiana, neighbours Leftheris and Vasiliki and family. More on my blog
Peter I've seen the boat! You bought it from Norman! I've known him ever since he was first here... I used to work with him for a winter in the boatyard...i thought the name of the boat sounded familiar...
Simon We came to Corfu and changed our lives after my daughter sat at the kitchen table in Birmingham said Mum 'look at this' and Lin said 'Simon look at this' and I clicked buy now! So how dare I be a bit rude about Summer Song, who bought us Kerkyra and much joy. S

Peter Yes Corfu has that life changing quality about it... regardless of the problems, there is something about the place... I grew up here of course. But I see it all the time. Here is a favorite saying of mine, from the Vikings: "Bound is a boatless man".
Simon Vikings - good on quotes. I'll steal that...Where's the chandlery? Gouvia. I've probably been there. In fact of course I have - watch this (at 1.49 for a few seconds)! Well well well. S [Boatman's World]
Angela Papageorgiou I love this photo - something very Homeric about it - the small wooden boat, a wine-dark sea, a glimpse of a mirage-like island tempting Odysseus to make a landfall there.
Peter Well, well, well indeed. Not only we have met but you have filmed me at work too... Well I never... That's so funny...
Simon Small island. Why I prefer to arrive by ferry rather than plane. If you become friends with Lin and me you'll have to help us learning Greek. That could be torture for you so beware (:)) S
Peter No problem!!
Simon Can you give me a Greek translation for 'Bound is a boatless man'
Peter I can try... "Δέσμιος είναι, ο άνθρωπος χωρίς βάρκα" would be a pretty exact one. can't think of something better right now. 
Simon Thanks so much. Now I wonder (I did mention torture) if you could introduce alliteration as in 'bound' 'boatless' - could you bring in a phrase like "δεμένος στο βρακί της μάνας του ...ο άνθρωπος χωρίς βάρκα" I know that must sound ridiculous but I wondered about combining βρακί and βάρκα without sounding sexist (:))

Peter What about: "Βράχων δέσμιος, ο άνθρωπος χωρίς βάρκα..." ‎:-) am i standing up to the challenge?

Simon I am loving this. I'm still too ignorant about Greek to judge but delighted you're working on that great Viking phrase! Oh and I just read on your twitter there's ice on the sea near you at Gouvia. 
Peter That was few days ago! Quite amazing really I could not believe it until I saw it. "Βράχων is the plural genitive form of βραχος (rock) so i think it is quite fitting. By the way i must warn you I have no formal english schooling so I am not familiar with some grammatical terms. for example i was not sure about alliteration but understood from the example. :-) 
S: Ha! Alliteration - you got it at once - is (checking my dictionary of English etymology) from Latin 'alliteratio', but via 'agnominatio' to the Greek 'paronomasia' which partly connects to 'λογοπαίγνιο' - I mean - 'παρονομασία'
<Βράχων δέσμιος, ο άνθρωπος χωρίς βάρκα>
S: I meant παρονομασία. I hope yopu don't mind I'm transcribing our conversation to my blog
P: not at all! I find the whole situation, amazing, amusing, enjoyable, educational and a great example of how the internet has the capacity to enrich our lives and allow people to "connect" on a previously unknown level...
S: The moment you used that word 'rock' I thought of locking into the mountains and guess where that went...God my Master Builder, You built me into the mountains
‎P: :-) A song which is part of Greece and Greeks. 
S: You could have said that in Greek and made me do some work! 
Ενα το χελιδόνι κι η άνοιξη ακριβή
για να γυρίσει ο ήλιος θέλει δουλειά πολλή
Θέλει νεκροί χιλιάδες να 'ναι στους τροχούς
Θέλει κι οι ζωντανοί να δίνουν το αίμα τους.

Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μ' έχτισες μέσα στα βουνά
Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μ' έκλεισες μες στη θάλασσα!

Πάρθηκεν από μάγους το σώμα του Μαγιού
Το 'χουνε θάψει σ' ένα μνήμα του πέλαγου
σ' ένα βαθύ πηγάδι το 'χουνε κλειστό
μύρισε το σκοτάδι κι όλη η άβυσσος

Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μέσα στις πασχαλιές και Συ
Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μύρισες την Ανάσταση


Lone is the swallow and costly (precious) the spring,
For the sun to turn it takes a lot of work,
It takes a thousand dead sweating at the wheels,
It takes the living also shedding their blood.

God my Master Builder, You built me into the mountains,
God my Master Builder, You enclosed me in the sea!

Magicians carried off the body of May,
They buried the body in a tomb of the sea,
They sealed it up in a deep well,
Its scent fills the darkness and all the Abyss.

God my Master Builder, You built me into the mountains,
God my Master Builder, You enclosed me in the sea!

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Life in Cairo as it comes:

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Linda and I have at last removed and replaced several square feet of kitchen counter - chip board which after thirty years had rotted and separated from its formica surface, leaking washing up water into the cupboards below. As the damp spread we prevaricated, not liking DIY, until Lin found a 'new' stainless steel sink with a double drainer on eBay for £11. A favourite plumber did the pipework, after I failed to budge the joints on the old sink taps. We jigsawed a sheet of MDF to fit the odd shapes either end of the sink, bought tiles to cover it - cutting them with the diamond disk on my angle grinder, fixing and filling gaps with grout;  finishing with varnished quadrant and D-moulding on back and front edges.
Lin continues making needle-felt bears, for family, friends and to sell on commission - also making cats, seagulls. rabbits and chicks.
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An interesting piece in Feb-March '11 Cycling, magazine of the Cyclists' Touring Club, (pp.46-48) reporting a study by the Transport and Health Study Group, strongly pro-cycling but not pro-helmet. It's called Health on the Move 2011 (HotM); authors Steve Watkins, Director of Public Health for Stockport,  Prof.Linda Jones, School of Health and Social Welfare, Open University and Dr. Jenny Mindell, Clinical Senior Lecturer, Dept of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, London. The authors argue that one of the key difficulties of encouraging more people top cycle is the perception of its hazards, and a key driver of such opinion is the endless focus on head injury and cycle helmets. HotM examines risk and helmet effectiveness. The study concludes that the health benefits of cycling are so large that the issue of risk is 'in effect, a non-issue'. This is why the authors do not support promotion of helmets, though those who just counted head injuries or hospital admissions held that helmets and laws compelling people to wear them were effective. By increasing the public perception of cycling as dangerous continuing dispute over whether or not cyclists should be compelled to wear helmets has ended up as a threat to public health by deterring cycling. HotM's research showed that in no cases did an increase in cycling lead to an increase in serious injuries, in fact reduced risk - safety in  numbers -  was a consistent result.
Cycling gets safer as more people do it. The better health from regular cycling is such a powerful benefit that arguments over risk are simply wasted time. It is very disappointing that the DfT, rather than building on these advantages, instead scares youngsters from cycling by portraying it as unsafe and needing helmets. 
HotM don't support helmets for cyclists any more than for pedestrians, indeed if risk was assessed correctly the first candidates for helmets would be young males when driving cars. We have a long way to go to get a cycling culture. The public opinion changes that would support more cycling and walking. Safer roads and better health will not happen with more helmets, but with more people riding bicycles more frequently on roads where drivers behave more responsibly (see in an earlier blog - public cowardice).
31 Jan '11: Northern Ireland Assembly on compulsory helmets for cyclists
***** ******
E-mail from my friend in New England whose opinion on Egypt and beyond I sought:
What about Egypt???  My sense is that the old order goeth.  Each new demonstration in one country feeds the realization that others can do it too!  It goes like wildfire. Probably a damn good thing but it will make for VERY dangerous times--especially if a Khan like figure (in Pakistan) decides to open a black market in nuclear weapons.
Meantime he has gently corrected me:
Actually...what I was interested in is called the (Heisenberg) Uncertainty Principle not the Indeterminacy Principle.  However, it implies indeterminacy in the sense that nothing has simultaneously an infinitely precise momentum and position or energy and location in time. All this is a consequence of the fact that everything comes in units (even though the units are very small).  Alternatively one can say that information always comes in bits.  There is no ½ bit!  As a consequence, between the expression of one bit and the next one cannot say whether the value of the next observed  presence of an object will  express x or y bits of information. Actually, as I learned much later when I read the work of cosmologist/ mathematician John Barrow (Cambridge) the Uncertainty Principle is a misnomer. (He is superb.) It should be called the Certainty Principle because only the uncertainty of position and momentum gives rise to the stable orbits of electrons around atomic nuclei etc.  Without which no stable chemical atoms and hence life would be possible. Will explain on Corfu suspended under a sunset to the  accompaniment of many a glass of retsina with you and Lin!
It was via the writing of Richard Feynman that Tony S introduced me to the unfathomable and wonderful mystery of Quantum Theory. As well as being musically illiterate (to play rather than to listen) I am innumerate. I could do enough astral navigation to use a noon sight to get me across the Atlantic and I got my required A grade on Statistics 101 on a second try. Mathematics seems to penetrate - is that too strong a word?... Maths seems to map the enduring mystery I encountered as a toddler - that the universe, the full starred heavens, are no roof above but go on for ever without the beginning or end that circumscribed my little existence on a veranda with my atheist great grandmother still observing wartime black-out. Little does Tony know that proper retsina is now, so far as I know, impossible to find. It's become a nostalgia-drink of which the Greeks are slightly ashamed, as the Spaniards became of that fish and chip accompaniment once called 'Spanish plonk'. But we can rely instead on Leftheris' wine, made next door.

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