Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Mission Control

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The latest acquisition for my DVD library is a British-made documentary called “Mission Control.” Made by the same people that produced “The Last Man on the Moon,” it tells the story of the unsung heroes of America’s Apollo moon landing programme – the engineers, scientists and backroom boffins who made it all work, using archive footage cut with present day interviews. If you’ve seen the 1995 hit movie “Apollo 13,” you’ll recognise some of the names of the men remembering their roles, including Flight Director Gene Kranz, John Aaron and Sy Liebergot. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke and Gene Cernan also take part, while British audiences will be delighted to see several clips featuring James Burke, presenting the BBC coverage of the Apollo moon landings.

It has a special resonance for me, as my interest in spaceflight goes all the way back to 1957, when at the tender age of four I was taken into our back garden one night by my physicist father so we could see the bright light of Russia’s Sputnik 2 – the dawn of the space age – tracking across the night sky. I followed Apollo throughout my school years, and in 1972, my first solo trip abroad was to the USA to see the launch of Apollo 17, the last flight to the moon, remembered in this blog from eight years ago. The trip also included a visit to Houston in Texas, where I got to see Mission Control for real, and sit in the viewing room at the back of the nerve centre.

“Mission Control” covers the history of the space race, the tragedy of the Apollo 1 launchpad fire which defined the way the whole programme was subsequently run, the historic first landing on the moon, and the nerve-shredding moments and sheer hard work and tenacity that saved the crew of Apollo 13. Excellent viewing for space geeks. Available in Blu-ray or DVD.

Bear visits boat

Friday, April 28th, 2017

It would be nice to say it was a pleasant surprise, but it had actually been on the cards for some time. Even so, when renowned TV adventurer Bear Grylls paid a visit to Team Britannia‘s round the world record-attempting powerboat, under construction at ABC Marine on Hayling Island, it was still a nice boost for the project, making a story in the Portsmouth News. It was quite a coup, too, for Team Britannia’s PR director’s young son Edward. He managed to land a Cubs’ communication badge when he interviewed the Chief Scout on a wide variety of topics.

Team Britannia skipper Alan Priddy had remained in touch with Bear ever since 2003, when Alan, Jan Falkowski and I made a northern crossing of the Atlantic in the round the world RIB Spirit of Cardiff, just ahead of Bear’s own attempt via a similar route in an open RIB. Our crossing was quite a bit quicker (we set the unofficial record for a fastest transatlantic by RIB), but to be fair, we had a cabin and Bear didn’t, and that does make a big difference. And of course it wasn’t us that went on to make TV survival programmes which included the US President!

Needless to say we were delighted to welcome Bear to the boatyard, where apart from seeing the boat, he got to meet some of the injured veterans who will form part of the crew. He was also extremely interested in all of the project’s environmental angles, which include the fuel-saving hull design, the pollution-busting Clean Fuel, and our plan to monitor suspended plastic content in the sea throughout the circumnavigation.

Panto season

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few comments on my spectacles, mostly making some comparison with John Lennon. Throughout the 1980s I went for efficiency, with aviator-style glasses providing maximum coverage. But since then, I’ve been wearing Savile Row Panto, indeed, a model once worn by John Lennon.

In fact, there’s a long list of famous people who’ve had their faces graced by Savile Row Pantos – Johnny Depp in “The Ninth Gate,” Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the Indiana Jones movies, not to mention Captain Mainwaring in “Dad’s Army,” the original TV series and recent movie. The classic round Panto design dates back to the early 1930s, and the frames are all hand-made to order from 18 karat rolled gold.

I’ve never been a slave to fashion, and while my Savile Rows have a timeless charm, I look upon them as an investment. Your average mass-produced frames don’t take much before they fall apart. I have two pairs of Pantos, both around 20 years old, and still going strong. I’m sure they’ll outlast me!

Hog roast in action

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

When Team Britannia‘s round the world superboat was turned right side up – once described to me as “like a giant hog roast” – at the beginning of December, we had no shortage of still photographs showing the hull at different angles through its 180 degree turn until she was resting on blocks looking much more like a boat. But this recently released video conveys something more of the drama and tension of the day – a day with one or two moments where it looked as though things could have gone horribly wrong. But the professionalism of the skilled workers at the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company shone throughout.

Since my last post about the project, team boss Alan Priddy has also confirmed that the round the world attempt will now take place in October 2017. A variety of technical problems have contributed to delays so far, and after the boat was turned, a couple more came to light which have since been rectified. But that, combined with the Christmas break has meant we would be pushed to be ready to go in the spring weather window. At the very least, if we went at the tail end of it, we would be looking at a bumpier and therefore slower circumnavigation – not what we want at all!

With the boat not far from completion, we’re still hopeful of getting her in the water by the end of March or early April, and sea trials including a couple of world record runs before basing her in Gibraltar.

Onboard video

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

This rather handsome beastie supplied by Wex Photographic in Norwich is going to be my main camera on board Team Britannia‘s superboat when we circumnavigate the world next year. It has a number of features which make it my perfect choice, including enhanced focus and aperture control, dual-codec recording, fantastic low light performance, very good built-in image stabilisation, and abilty to transfer files direct to a USB drive without using a host computer.

Rather than filming a typical “point and shoot” adventure documentary, what I have in mind will be somewhat more cinematic in style, which I suppose may come down to the fact that I’ve been an avid movie-watcher my entire life!

One good turn

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Monday 5th December was quite literally a pivotal moment for Team Britannia. It was the day the hull of the round the world superboat was finally turned right side up. Since construction began in June at the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company on Hayling Island, the internal framework and hull plates had all been assembled with the boat upside down, purely because it makes the job a lot easier, with gravity lending a helping hand as well. With all the continuous welding completed, the lower part of the hull was sanded down and given a coat of primer.

The actual process of turning the boat was painstaking, and took a whole day. The boat had already had parts welded on at bow and stern to support it during its rotation, held up at the bow by an “A” frame, and at the stern, suspended from a crane. But before the “giant hog roast” took place, the upside down hull had to be jacked up on wooden blocks before the crane took over. Team Britannia boss Alan Priddy admitted to one or two nervous flutters during the operation, but was delighted with the outcome.

With the boat finally the right way up, one gets a much better appreciation of its size, and that’s still without the wheelhouse, which has been assembled in the unit next door. Apart from craning the wheelhouse and fore and aft decks into place, the internal fit-out will be preceded by fitting the six massive fuel tanks, the engines and jet drives.

Gibraltar charity fundraiser

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

The end of last month should have seen Team Britannia set off from Gibraltar on our bid to break the 60 days 23 hours 49 minutes record for circumnavigating the world by powerboat. After a week of festivities in Gibraltar, we’d planned on holding a gala dinner on board the five-star Sunborn floating hotel the night before our departure. Of course, we could have just cancelled everything, but we decided to get something positive out of our delay.

So the two days of Thundercats powerboat racing went ahead, along with a music festival. Instead of the gala dinner, we held a champagne and canapés reception on board the Sunborn, and we turned the event into a charity fundraiser benefiting our chosen charity Blesma, and Gibraltar’s Calpe House Trust, which provides a home from home in London for any Gibraltarians who have to visit for medical treatment.

Earlier in the week, some of our team had met crew members from the Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond, in port in Gibraltar after two months in the Mediterranean. They were lucky enough to be invited aboard for a tour of the ship, which included looking at things team photographer Chris Davies wasn’t allowed to take pictures of! The courtesy was returned when Commander Marcus Hember and a sizeable proportion of his crew came to our reception, looking fantastic in their Number One dress uniforms and medals. The charity auction was pretty amazing, too, raising over £15,000 to be divided between the two charities.

My “day off” in Gibraltar saw me taking a little hike – first to the nature reserve on the Upper Rock, then to the top of the cable car station. It was here whilst photographing one of the famous Barbary macaques that another jumped up at me and scratched my arm. Had it bitten me, it would have entailed a trip to Gibraltar’s hospital, but I managed to escape that. And while the tourist areas such as St Michael’s Cave see queues of taxis and tour buses, I managed to avoid them on a delightful footpath taking me down to Jews’ Gate Cemetery, a recently renovated historic burial ground. Past the Pillars of Hercules and I had the wind in my sails, so I carried on south to Europa Point, whose Trinity House lighthouse will be Excalibur’s timing mark when we do eventually set off around the world next year.

Inferno

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

As Ron Howard’s movie of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel “Inferno” comes out this week, I’m reminded of a couple of years ago, when the original thriller was republished as a hefty illustrated coffee table version. It was a surprise to me, as it included a couple of my photographs of the Vasari Corridor in Florence.

I confess I have yet to read this fourth mystery thriller featuring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, but I’m rather more likely to see the movie, which stars Tom Hanks. And I shall be fascinated to see how the Vasari Corridor is woven into the plot.

One kilometre long, the Vasari Corridor is an aerial passageway built in 1565 by artist and architect Giorgio Vasari for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I. It linked the Tuscan Government offices (hence Uffizi, the name of the art gallery) in the Palazzo Vecchio, then a public building, and the Palazzo Pitti, the Medicis’ home. Apart from allowing them to walk to work and back without having to mix with the hoi polloi, and thus obviating the need for any special security measures, it was also a potent symbol of Medici power. They were, quite literally “up there,” with the masses down below.

Even now it’s still quite elite. It’s the longest single passageway of paintings and portraits in the world, and to see it, you have to book up months in advance, not least because the short-staffed Uffizi Gallery has to send escorts along with each party that goes through.

Around the world in 2017

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

You’ll probably have gathered from previous blog posts that things were getting tight with the construction of Team Britannia’s round the world superboat, but we were still moving heaven and earth to get the boat finished in time for our planned departure from Gibraltar on 23rd October. We’d already eaten into a lot of our contingency time when we discovered last week that a couple of hull plates needed re-cutting. As we’ve found previously, the place in Southampton that does this is extremely busy, and there’s now no chance of getting the new plates for several weeks.

So Alan Priddy made the only logical decision to postpone the trip. The most favourable times to attempt a circumnavigation of the world are spring or autumn, and after our meteorologist in Gibraltar analysed 10 years-worth of weather data, our revised departure date is Sunday 12th March 2017.

In the meantime, we expect the boat to be in the water by the end of November, which means we’ll have the time we always wanted to complete full sea trials, which now may include a record run around Britain. There’s a good chance, too, that we will be able to display the boat at the London Boat Show in January. Yes, it’s a disappointment to have another delay, but bearing in mind that by the time we do the trip, this project will have been on the go for eight years, it’s not too desperate a burden. At least this time we actually have a boat!

Team Britannia – nearly there!

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Followers of Team Britannia will doubtless have noticed that while we were booked for the round the world superboat Excalibur to make her first public appearance at the Southampton Boat Show, we didn’t quite get there. We moved heaven and earth to get the boat finished in time, but an accumulation of delays during her construction got in the way. But in a sense, they were all a good thing.

The fact that the boat is intended to take passengers throughout its life means it has to be built to a commercial coding, which means every major stage of the construction had to be signed off by an independent surveyor, along with any changes in design. They included welding 1,560 additional small reinforcing plates not in the original design, one at every point where a stringer crossed a frame. Agreed between project boss Alan Priddy, the boatbuilders and surveyor, it was a time-consuming job, but proved that there’s no cutting corners when it comes to safety.

We also ended up having the aluminium for the wheelhouse cut and preliminary welding done in the Netherlands to save time, with the parts shipped in a giant kit form to ABC Marine on Hayling Island to assemble in a shed next to the one containing the hull. Since the beginning of this month, the boatyard has been operating pretty much 24 hours a day. So we may have missed the Southampton Boat Show, we’ll most likely miss the Monaco Yacht Show at the end of September, but we will be OK to set off from Gibraltar around the world on 23rd October. If it all sounds a bit last minute, bear in mind that in 1998, Cable and Wireless Adventurer set off on her record-setting circumnavigation of the world pretty much straight from the boatyard.

There’s an awful lot more still to do to prepare for this momentous voyage, but once we get the boat to Gibraltar in mid-October, we’ll have plenty of time for any fine-tuning. But for now, with just over a month to go, I’m starting to feel the weight of the hand of destiny on my shoulder!

 

Download the latest Team Britannia newsletter here.