28 February 2013

Holland-America Line

A curious cup base, in the form of ceramic tile, was a token from a Holland-America Line Captain, some months ago. By far the most original gift I've received in this professional life, it was also a surprise, since, until then, I believed the tile tradition to be mostly a Mediterranean one. I've learned later that the Dutch share with us that passion for centuries. In fact, one of their Masters, Willem van der Kloet (Rotterdam, 1666-1747) was one of the most respected in his era and he left extensive work also in Portugal.

Tide watches - Are they reliable?

Well... yes... and no!
But before you move to another blog, allow me explain my (modest) opinion. Professionally speaking, the tide measurement standards worldwide are defined by and the responsibility of each coastal nation's hydrographic offices. In UK that's a responsibility of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, in the States that responsibility is shared between a civilian authority (the NOAA's Office of Coast Survey) and a naval one (the Naval Oceanographic Office) and in Portugal the competent authority on the matter is the Instituto Hidrográfico (IH), in Lisboa.
So... everywhere in the world (at least on the seaside world) the standards for tide prediction are defined by a government agency or institution. Meanwhile the UK's UKHO somehow assumed a hegemonic (no critic intended!) position in the world and has a protocol with most of the maritime nations to use their data and publish what is now considered worldwide as the most complete and extended collection of nautical publications. Their Admiralty charts and Admiralty publications (covering the entire planet) are a standard of excellence recognized by the industry and, therefore, considered equal to every nation's material.
Meaning that, if you want to navigate on the safe side and be legally protected on the eventuality of a grounding (knock on wood!) with your vessel or boat, you better stick to this tide tables and nautical charts while making your navigation calculations. Any deviation from that and you will face yourself alone in a maritime court, accepting the full liability for the damages.
But many years ago the electronic revolution took place and those winds of change also arrived to the navigation world.
The sextant was replaced by the GPS, the paper charts were replaced by the electronic plotters (ECDIS) and the computer based tide calculation programs started to appear. These were basically the current tide tables programmed in an informatics form. There is nothing against it. The only question here is the quality of the end product. It all depends of the programmer. If he has done a good job you'll have a reliable tool. On the other hand if he didn't know what he was doing or if he was using inadequate data for the programming (garbage in... garbage out!) you'll have an unpredictable tool. If your life depends on that (and at sea normally does!), it's better not to rely on it.
Having said that, where does this leaves our tide watches?
Well, to the best of my knowledge not a single one on the market today assumes that their calculation algorithms are based on the official data collected from the official institutions. Therefore not even one amongst them can be recognized as a certifiable nautical tool. If you search a little on the net, you'll see lots of posts regarding these equipments. Most of the times with people complaining about their inaccuracy, while the watchmakers sometimes claim that their programs are even more accurate than the official tide tables and that they totally rely on the competence of the hydrographic technicians that produced these informatics appliances.
So... where does this leaves us?
Well, if you want to be on the safe side, if you are navigating in unknown waters or if you have to plan a route that you know in advance that will be delicate in terms of tide prediction... stick with the paper tide tables. And use your head for the math.
This was my first tide watch, bought in Brasil about seven years ago: the Casio G-Shock G-Lide GL-150-2V, here showing its tide table window.
This is not really a true useful tide watch, since you cannot, at any moment, check the accurate height of tide and corresponding times of highs and lows. The only thing that you have is a curve showing the present (not so accurate) tendency of the tidal movement and even that is divided in two-hour intervals. It has, nevertheless, a precise calculator for sunset and sunrise time (accurate to a couple of minutes) which I use quite often in my professional life. The calculator for moonrise and moonset, together with the moon age, share the same precision. However, as a tide watch it's nearly useless.
Sadly all the tide watches from Casio (and they are a few) suffer from the same problem: an overly simplified tide function. Which is a shame. After all, in many aspects, these guys rock when we speak about digital watches.
But its design is gorgeous, isn't it?

Finally, needing a more accurate tool for my work, I ended up buying, last year, the Quiksilver Moondak. The main reason was that this watch had the port of Funchal on its data bank and, hence, the information was straight-up. Therefore, I'd be relieved of additional mental calculations from a close-by reference port. In my case it could easily be Lisboa, five hundred miles away. I think you can get the picture!.
I'd much prefer to have bought their Deep 300, a more quality piece of watchmaking. However I was not aware of their precision and wasn't prepared to spend 300 Euros in a product that could be deceptive.
On the other hand... 100 Euros for the Moondak... well... what a hell!
Conclusion? Actually, I'm quite happy with the equipment. It turned out to be much more accurate than my wildest dreams.
Want an example?

Tides for Funchal, 24, February, 2013:

From the IH website:                  Quiksilver Moondak:
00h 54m - 2.22mts (HW)          00h 51m - 2.31mts (HW)
07h 07m - 0.46mts (LW)          07h 03m - 0.51mts (LW)
13h 12m - 2.12mts (HW)          13h 10m - 2.23mts (HW)
19h 12m - 0.47mts (LW)          19h 10m - 0.51mts (LW)

 As you can see, there isn't a lot separating the official numbers from a wristwatch calculation. However, you even cannot rely on the differences and use them as standard corrections. I've found that a difference of two minutes and five centimeters today is not, necessarily, the same tomorrow. So, use the data prudently.
The Quiksilver Moondak, showing its main menu, with time, day of the week, moon phase, date and tide curve. The real gem, however, is its Tide Menu, where the most detailed tide calculations are made. A good example of what a tide watch is supposed to be. By a mere hundred bucks.

27 February 2013


* Means "Hello!" in Tuvaluan.
I've finally finished my three weeks at work and I'm proceeding in a very quick order for a couple of weeks of relaxation.
My service period ended, as usually, with a fully dedicated week to the port of Caniçal and today, the last day, I've finished my duties for now with three manoeuvres. Three departing vessels.
The first of them was the Paula C, a small ninety meters' bulk carrier with wheat as her cargo. Coming from France and bounding for Spain, they enjoyed almost five days alongside to "recharge the batteries".
We, seamen, all know that ships are not built to be alongside. They are made for navigation. If we could resume in just a small sentence the meaning of commercial shipping it would be "the least time navigating and the shortest time alongside". Thankfully not all cargoes are equal and, most of the times, bulk cargoes usually take longer to load and discharge. Therefore crews working on these vessels normally enjoy some "quality" time while alongside. And I place the adjective between commas so that you don't get the wrong idea: that being a seaman is like being in an endless cruise. It's not. True, we still can find a little bit of time to visit, to explore, to enjoy our own slice of the globalization that we helped to create. However those moments are getting shorter and shorter, as the commercial pressure builds up around ships and crews.
Thank God that was not the case for Paula C and her crew during the past weekend. Her last visit to Caniçal was probably around two years ago. Coincidentally on both occasions the Captain was the same and so was the Harbour Pilot (me!).
So it was a good surprise to meet once again Captain Kolapi Utime, who is, proudly, the only Merchant Marine Captain from the small island nation of Tuvalu.
And since it is not usual to meet a colleague from such an exotic location, we ended up having a cool chat after the arrival manoeuvre was done, and before he went ashore to enjoy his dinner and taste once again those "delicious Portuguese fish dishes".
When I inquired him about the population of the island he told me that they are about ten thousand citizens. "Well... presently one less, because I'm here!", he laughed.
Captain Kolapi Utime and me on the Starboard bridge wing of the M/V Paula C, before her departure manoeuvre from the port of Caniçal, yesterday afternoon.
Pilot Card:
Ship's name:
M/V Paula C
IMO number: 9373553
Type: General cargo ship - bulk carrier
LOA: 89.80 mts
Beam: 14.50 mts
Summer displacement: ?
Max draft on manoeuvre: 6.40 mts (arrival)
Propulsion: Diesel engine, one variable-pitch propeller, total propulsion power: 1980 KW
Pitch: Behaves like a right-handed
Rudder: 1 - Flap rudder
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 250 KW)
Stern thruster: N
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3 and post-processed with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

22 February 2013

Once again in Porto Santo

A few days ago, I went to Porto Santo, during our usual one week stand-by period Pilotage duty on the island. What I was expecting to be a rainy and windy time there turn out to be a couple of days with peaceful weather, resembling the best mid-May to mid-July Spring climate that we can expect in the "golden" island.
Two ships (the M/T Madeiro - IMO nº9418913 - and the M/V Funchalense 5 - IMO nº9388390) were my only costumers during that 24 hour period on the island. However, since I've arrived quite early to the island and the fist manoeuvre was only after lunch, I placed my luggage on the hotel room and went for a stroll.
Contrary to our seaman's mentality (always be prepared!) and out of laziness I forgot my swimming trunks at home.
Nevertheless, the water was scary cold. So I took some photographs instead.
Arrived early (as always) to the "golden" island. First flight in the morning from Madeira (Santa Catarina airport) to the fabulous 3000 mts NATO runaway of Porto Santo. The island itself, when seen from the air, resembles a rocky aircraft carrier since all the man made shapes are not visible from the air, exception made for the big and conspicuous runaway. Luggage placed in the bedroom... first breath of fresh air on the balcony... and off I went for a walk on the Promenade.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and Raw file processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.
Butterfly and Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira or Massaroco) near the promenade, in Vila Baleira, the main town of Porto Santo island. My first attempts on macro photography with this particular camera gave me the impression of being a very capable equipment, with a very sharp lens. The butterfly was a mere 2 inches from the lens. Not bad for a 500 USD compact.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and Raw file processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.
"The Boatman" statue facing the ocean. An homage from the people of Porto Santo to the professionals that (until the seventies of the past century) used to connect both the islands of the archipelago with small open deck wooden boats (called "Carreireiros"). The extension of sea between the two islands (called "A Travessa" in portuguese, or "the crossing") can be rough in Winter time, with the seas rising sometimes up to seven meters. So it's no surprise that these professionals were considered heroes.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and Raw file processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

17 February 2013

Casa das Mudas - Calheta

Casa das Mudas, in Calheta, is one of the most handsome cultural centers existing in Portugal. Sadly, its location, about 40 kms away from the main city Funchal, does not really help to attract visitors. On the other hand, we can always say that the few that appear are the good ones ;-). And for them, the people that enjoy cultural atmospheres or just a coffee at sunset with a magnificent natural scenario and a fabulous architecture, this is the right place to be.
From the few exhibitions that I had the pleasure to see in Casa das Mudas, Man Ray's was, by a fair margin, the best and most frequented.
On the opposite side, my latest visit was some weeks ago, with two friends, to watch the projection of Leo McCarey's Love Affair (the 30's version, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne), a session inserted in a much bigger cinema retrospective of movies partly or totally made in Madeira. If my memory doesn't fail me we were six persons on the theatre. But it was fun anyway.

15 February 2013

Ponta do Pargo lighthouse late in the evening

Ponta do Pargo is the main lighthouse in Madeira island. With time to spare in the afternoon, I went to the West coast of the island looking for some nice light. Conditions were not the best. Quite a dull sunset, actually. But this lighthouse is always spectacular.
Technical details:
Name: Ponta do Pargo lighthouse
Location: West point of Madeira island
Position: 32º 48' 49.77''N 017º 15' 28.02''W
Year first lit: 1922
Height: 14 mts
Focal height: 312 mts above sea level
Range: 26 NM
Intensity: ?
Optics: Barbier, Bernard & Turenne (Paris), Fresnel lens, Second-order
Characteristic: Fl (3) W 20s

Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 70-200mm f/2.8D APO HSM DG. Manfrotto 055 NAT2 tripod and Junior geared head. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

12 February 2013

Sunset over the central massif - Ilha da Madeira

What I find passionating about mountain landscapes is how they can reinvent themselves on a moments notice. It doesn't really matter how many times have you done a certain trail, visited a certain place. Rigged your tripod in a certain spot. It will always be different. We just have to wait. For the magic hour. For the right (or just the best one available!) light. And click the shutter.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

10 February 2013

Much ado about (almost) nothing

I lived my teenage years through the eighties. So, like the most part of my generation, I received a strong influence from the arts of that era. I guess, somehow like the generation preceding us and the next one that followed ours, we were, up to a certain level, shaped by the music and cinema of that Era. Which was great, in my modest opinion. Particularly the cinema.
Every young person has the ability to dream. Sometimes even wide awake.
Among all the cinema genres, one comes to our mind as the epitome of dreams: the Science-Fiction. No other genre demands more from our imagination, bringing to us (to the best of the film crews knowledge) the utopia (or the dystopia) of the distant future (or, also, the distant past).
Among the many directors that shaped the visual perception of my generation Ridley Scott has, undoubtedly, the highest honours.
I was quite young when Alien (1979) appeared. Nine years old at the time and with no cinema in my home town, I had the pleasure to watch this movie only in the small tv screen, about five years later. And the experience was for me (and to many others, I guess) a mind-changer. I would never look to a sci-fi movie the same way. That first vision of Scott's work led me to search more and to follow his work during the following years.
And despite the post-Blade Runner erratic career, he remained, much credit to his unique cinematographic vision, one of my favorites directors.
During my younger years I must have watched "Alien" dozens of times, rewinding the poor VHS tape to exhaustion.
During those younger years the experience was mostly visual. I was simply amazed with the cinematographic language: the game of shadows, the subjective camera, the artistry placed in the model constructions and filming, the perfection of lighting and camera movements.
Later, I started to admire the actor's work and finally, in my adult years, I began to explore the subtleties of the plot, of the script.
Nowadays, after being professionally at sea for the most part of a life's decade, I can't stop being amazed for the precision placed in the character's construction. If there is a Merchant Fleet in the future, this is how its crew will look like. As you may have noticed, the "Nostromo" was a commercial (space)ship. And we could see already on her, in the future, the silent manning revolution that started in the eighties of the past century: the reduction of the crews to levels never seen before. In fact, the "Nostromo" was what we call presently a deep-sea tug, towing a refinery and a mineral ore loaded "barge" back to Earth, when the crew is awake of their sleep to attend a (supposed) SOS signal coming from an unknown world.
And in such a small crew, the different personalities start to emerge when facing this new reality. Pretty much like I've seen at sea: the practical mentality of the Engineers, whose only concern is the ship itself and its mechanics and couldn't care less for the romantic chase they embark into, the robot placed on board as a direct representative of the shipowner and carrying a hidden agenda on board of cynic monetary interests, the Captain (Tom Skerrit) that just flies the ship, assuming the passive position that, sooner or later, every Captain has to face in his career, when being confronted with his personal interests from one side and the shipowner's on the other.
The movie was, in fact, a sociological case study of interaction within a small group of humans confined in a narrow and very isolated universe for a very long time (a greater example of this situation was later achieved by John Carpenter on his 1982 work-of-art "The Thing").
So I had great expectations about "Prometheus". Upon seeing the trailer in the cinema, I was quite motivated to spend eight Euros to watch the latest creation of Ridley Scott in the big screen. Thank God I did not. The latest of the "Alien"series is a dull movie in almost all the senses. The crew is composed mostly by young actors that try desperately to shine, whereas on the first film all of them were seasoned actors with dozens of years of experience between them. The only exceptions are the ambiguous representations of Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender. The later one, as the robot "David", gives a good performance, although not near as great as Ian Holm representing the Android "Ash" on the first movie.
All the rest is a not particularly enlightened lesson in CGI (how we miss the magnificent scale models of the dystopic Los Angeles on "Blade Runner") and various ridiculous special effects (the worms that they step on during their WMD cave exploration look like common garden worms). The astronaut costumes are a bit silly and they drive very fast space cars... yay! Also the all plot of meeting our maker doesn't really convinced me.
Saving the film from total disaster, the magnificent photography of  Dariusz Wolski (great and natural Icelandic landscapes) is the only thing that truly worked. All the rest is cinema for (quite probably) the I-Phone generation. No credible argument, absence of quality acting... but lots of bells and whistles.
Come on, Ridley Scott. You can do better. You've done it before.
Or maybe I'm just getting too old.
Michael Fassbender in a notable interpretation as the android "David" on the latest Ridley Scott's space opera, "Prometheus": "Big things have small beginnings!".

Casio Edifice EF527D-1AV with Slide Rule

If you are looking for a (very, very) cheap alternative to the almighty Navitimer, this lovely model from Casio might just be the machine that you're looking for. Rated at just under 100 USD on the Amazon.com, this timepiece has the usual famed Casio quartz precision associated to a quite precise slide rule computer.
Besides the slide rule, it has a chronograph function (no split time, tho), a screw-lock crown and it's water-resistant up to 100 meters, which is more than enough for a watch that is not intended for underwater activities. There's a very interesting review of it on the Forum Watchuseek, posted by the user Nanok.
Although fun to use, the slide rule is not that intuitive. You have to train to understand the logic within it. The Casio Web Site has a page loaded with simple examples here.
And if you look at the Wikipedia, you'll find this page loaded with information about it. If you dig deeper, and also in the Wikipedia, you'll find a page devoted to the E6B flight computer. This later one is, basically, the slide rule that is present on this Casio watch.
This is a very handsome watch and my personal experience with it is quite positive. For such a cheap equipment, its precision is astonishing, either in the quartz machine and in the slide rule computer, which is quite accurate (it's Japanese, after all). Although with a large dial, this watch is quite light on the wrist. Doesn´t bother you at all. The luminescent hands, however, are not the best. In fact, they are quite weak. So, it's not that easy to see the time at night and in an unlit neighbourhood. Also my 43 years old eyes are no longer what they used to be, for very short distances viewing. So be warned about that if you suffer from the same problem, because the slide rule engravings are really small. I think it's time for me to buy my first glasses, since I'm reaching for a loupe quite often, when using this watch for calculations.
All in all a nice piece of watchmaking. A great one, if we consider the price. It's a Casio, is it not?

06 February 2013

Praia da Conceição, Olinda, Pernambuco

Facing the ocean.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

02 February 2013

Volcanic Earth

Massive telluric forces shaped the face of Madeira ages before we humans started to walk on the surface of the planet. Even today, while hiking in the pristine central massif of this highly humanized island, we have the feeling that we are facing the dawn of the Earth. We just need to climb above the clouds.
Picture made with Nikon F100 and Nikkor 28-105mm AF f/3.5-4.5D kit lens. Kodak Ektachrome 100VS scanned in Nikon Coolscan VED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.