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Monday, May 31, 2021

Giving up in fine style


I love Bluff oysters, too, so have every sympathy for this fellow's last repast before giving himself up to the police.

        By Natasha Frost for the Guardian

For many, it would be a welcome getaway: a week’s retreat in a log cabin deep in the New Zealand wilderness, followed by a scenic helicopter ride, a platter of oysters and a bottle of Champagne.

For James Matthew Bryant, 32, a fugitive from the New Zealand authorities, the eight days he spent at a privately owned, open-access hunter’s hut in the remote Waianakarua Scenic Reserve constituted a literal getaway.

Since April, Mr. Bryant had been on the run on charges of wounding with reckless disregard, possession of a knife, three counts of harmful digital communications and failing to appear in court. But he ended his fugitive status in dramatic fashion on Thursday, when he chartered a helicopter to turn himself in to the police, making him something of a media sensation in New Zealand.

Mr. Bryant had been a fugitive for about three weeks wandering in the South Island before he appeared as a wanted criminal on an evening news crime show, “Police Ten 7.” Somehow he heard that an informant had told the police of his whereabouts, and that the show had described him as dangerous. He doubled down on his flight, walking for two days until he reached the hut in the forest. (The hut is free. Anyone can occupy it.) There, he passed his time doing yoga, he later told reporters, and considered his next move.

Finally, fearing a potential showdown with the police, and thinking of the possible repercussions for his young daughter, Mr. Bryant called Arthur Taylor, a former career criminal and an advocate for prisoners’ rights who is well-known to the New Zealand authorities. Mr. Bryant once helped him create a website.

The local news media reported that Mr. Bryant’s alleged crimes involved a violent argument between roommates that ended in cuts to a person’s head. Mr. Bryant faces up to five years if convicted of the charges. Mr. Taylor said by phone on Friday that he had been motivated to do right by the victims of Mr. Bryant’s crimes, who he said had been “quite terrified,” and who had spent a week away from home following the incident.

Mr. Taylor said he told the fugitive: “‘Look, mate, my best advice to you is give yourself up. You might go to jail for a few years, but it’s not the end of your life.’”

Then, Mr. Taylor recounted, “He called me back and said, ‘Arthur, I’ve chartered a bloody helicopter.’”

In a scene worthy of an action movie, that helicopter retrieved a rather hirsute Mr. Bryant from the forest on Thursday. “They circle overhead, and he comes running out of the bush,” Mr. Taylor said. “The chopper lands, picks James up, brings him back.”

The owners of the hut had not known they were harboring a fugitive. “Just because of the time of year, we don’t normally have many trampers coming through,” Steve Joyce, one of its owners, said by phone.

After the helicopter dropped Mr. Bryant off, he was driven to Mr. Taylor’s house in the city of Dunedin. There, Mr. Taylor said, the fugitive, who clearly appreciates the finer things in life, made quick work of about 30 Bluff oysters, a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne and a little of Mr. Taylor’s Cognac before turning himself in to the authorities.

Mr. Taylor said he didn’t mind: “Having spent a bit of time in that prison, I know the kind of crap they feed them, so I was very sympathetic, shall we say, to his desire to have one last decent repast.”

Had Mr. Bryant not opted to get his own helicopter, and the police been forced to undergo the two days’ walk to extract him from the hut, events could have ended more nastily, Mr. Taylor added.

“They’d have been very angry police,” he said. “From having hiked all that time, they’d be armed to the teeth, anything could have happened. A very volatile situation.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Dunedin Central Police Station on Thursday, Mr. Bryant, wearing a blue surgical face mask, a Gucci T-shirt and Versace sunglasses, spoke highly of his time in “the middle of nowhere.”

“It was real good; I did a lot of yoga,” he said.

Then he stepped through the sliding doors and gave himself up to the authorities.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Rockets can't afford to land in Wellington


NewsHub reports that there were some hilarious reactions to the news that the bits from the Chinese space rocket happened to miss New Zealand.

As we all know, the out-of-control rocket zoomed back to earth, and there was some speculation about where the bits would land.  And, instead of expressing great relief that New Zealand was given a miss -- despite our world-shaking reputation right now -- commenters gave rein to the odd Kiwi sense of humor.

"Is it weird that I'm disappointed that #LongMarch5B didn't land closer to New Zealand?" one person asked on Twitter.

As others pointed out, it meant that no nosy reporters were given the chance to ask the stray bits what they thought of New Zealand, and how did they "feel" about the unscheduled crash.

"Rockets can't afford to land in Wellington," another remarked.

Though another did meditate that it would have been very disappointing if his house was demolished before he had had finished the cheesecake in the fridge.

"It would be really inconvenient for my house to be hit by a satellite on a Sunday when the metal recyclers are closed," another wrote.

Remnants of China's biggest rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, with the bulk of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, according to Chinese state media, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit.

Parts of the Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 am Beijing time (2:24pm NZT) and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, Chinese state media cited the China Manned Space Engineering Office as saying.

The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Seafaring superstitions


Sometime in the 19th century, the Royal Navy attempted to finally dispel the old superstition among sailors that beginning a voyage on a Friday was certain to bring bad luck. To demonstrate the falseness of this belief, they decided to commission a ship named HMS Friday. Her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, and she set sail on her maiden voyage in Friday the 13th, under the command of a Captain James Friday. She was never seen or heard from again.

Don't bother to look this up.  It's false, but a good story all the same, and a good illustration of the superstitious natures of seafarers.

It reminds me of a Wiki Coffin short story that was published by the prestigious Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, in which he was able to break the alibi of a captain who claimed that he could not have committed a murder, because he set sail that day. That day was a Friday, and Wiki knew that the skipper was constitutionally unable to sail on that day of the week.

Italians have it even worse.  Di venere né di marte ci si sposa né si partethey say, meaning do not sail on a Tuesday, either.  

This may be because of their Roman background.  An ancient Roman skipper got very upset if you sneezed, swore or danced on board of his ship.  How he punished a poor sailor for that incontinent sneeze is unknown, but the ancient Greeks launched their ships over a row of bound slaves, which might be an indication.

Mind you, the Vikings were no better.

As for contrary winds, the French sailors believed that it was because someone on board had not paid his whore. Had paid with the topsail, as they used to say. Well, as in all things in this world, it eventually comes down to sex.

A superstition that Wiki Coffin, that seafaring Maori detective, knew well was that hatch covers should never be left upside down.  The logic escapes me, but it was a widespread belief.

I was once informed by a seaman that it was bad luck to carry bananas. So how do bananas get exported? By parachute?  And the French did not like umbrellas brought on board, and again the reason is unknown. 

Animals had a bigger part to play in seafaring myth and legend. Many cultures painted (and still paint) eyes at the bows, so the vessel can "see" its way.  There are lots of landbound superstitions about cats, particularly black ones.  Sailors, as contrary as ever, thought black cats were lucky, and made great efforts to get one on board. 

Dogs, particularly Jack Russells, were also popular. According to a seafaring woman's journal I read once, in New England Jack Russells were deliberately bred to have a patch over one eye, to give the right piratical appearance.  But dogs were carried for their rat-catching skills, not because they were lucky.

And women. This one comes up all the time.  Were women unlucky on board ship?  Well, Horatio Nelson carried various "dollies" on board, including, most famously, Lady Hamilton. Did "the sainted Emma" bring him bad luck? He seemed to do pretty well until he was shot. And it should be borne in mind that busty women were featured in thousands of ship figureheads, many of them naked.

Seriously, this thing about women is a fishing superstition, harking back to the old fleets in the Shetlands, and it was applied to redhaired women.  If a redhead even crossed the fishermen's path as they were carrying their nets to the boats, the expedition was given up, as doomed.  Or so I was told.

So were there redheaded figureheads on any ships? Who knows?

Finally, if you ever get on a cruise ship again, don't cut your nails or your hair in fine weather.  It is guaranteed to turn the weather bad. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Snake lurks in lettuce


I have a rabid fear of snakes (New Zealand does not have any), but I do buy a lot of cos lettuce (what Americans call 'Romaine'). New Zealand also imports a lot of vegetables and fruit from Australia, which I suppose is a two-way trade.  

So, does our cos lettuce, the kind where you get two in a plastic bag, come from Australia?

According to the Guardian, a fellow fan of cos lettuce, who happens to live in Australia, bought a bag of two lettuce heads in an Aldi store.  Then he put his shopping in his backpack, and cycled home. And apparently it wasn't even a smooth ride.

Then, as he and his partner were unpacking their groceries at home, out peeped this little snake.

One really has to admire the coolness and savoir faire of Australians.  Alexander White said that he only realized that it was a little snake (and not a big worm) when it kept on flickering its little tongue.  So he phoned the snake hotline, and was told it was probably a baby eastern brown, one of the most venomous snakes imaginable.

Well, I would have freaked out.  He did admit that he would have been more comfortable with a worm, but still thought it was cute.  He and his partner took many photos, and shared video chats with it with their children, who missed the big treat because they were away on school holidays.

Then the snake hotline got back to them, and informed them that it was a juvenile pale-headed snake, which was "medically significant."

Alexander thought that perhaps this meant it produced something useful for medicines, or something like that, but no, it apparently meant that if the snake bit him, he was to get to the hospital as soon as humanly possible.  And it was a surprise that it hadn't had a go, because pale-headed snakes are nervous by nature, and likely to strike out if agitated.

This must have been an unnaturally placid little snake.  After poking its front end out and having a look around, it retreated back into the lettuce and went to sleep.

So the couple put the lettuce bag in a tupperware container, leaving a little gap for air, so the snake wouldn't suffocate, and then checked the rest of their groceries, which were, thankfully, reptile-free.

Eventually, rather late at night, a snake expert turned up to take over the snake.  The delay, apparently, was because the snake people had been checking with the Aldi store to find out where the lettuce came from.  They wanted to take the snake back home, you see.  It turned out to be a town I have never heard of, called Toowoombah.  So off the snake went in a heated container -- and the couple washed the lettuce and ate it.

They have stronger stomachs than I have, that is for sure. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Wellington's "sealion" ship ordered to sail away


From Radio NZ

She has been a feature of Wellington's downtown waterfront for many years.  Eighteen, to be precise.

She has a lot of history, too.  Originally a World War II construction, built in Adelaide and intended as a supply ship, her job description changed when the war finished before she was launched.  And so she became a mine sweeper.  And then a squid boat.  And then a house boat.

Currently, four people are renting the house boat, living within walking distance of most of the capital's attractions, including high-end shopping.  They have to live with the constant sound of pumps, as she is taking on water, but they have fun presenting her as an arts venue.

"We've had a number of one-off gigs out here, where we've just had a band set up here and the audience on the wharf, with 50, 80, 100 people coming down and engaging with their music which is great," said one of the boat's occupants, Simon Van Der Zeyden
Residents of the boat Simon Van Der Zeyden (left) and Dylan Pyle.

Residents of the boat Simon Van Der Zeyden (left) and Dylan Pyle. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"It's a beautiful open-air DIY gig opportunity that we've been thoroughly enjoying." 

Van Der Zeyden is one of four of the boat's occupants, who organise the boat as an arts space, organising film nights, games nights and live music. 

But all that is now under threat.

The boat is taking on water. While four pumps are being used to ensure it doesn't sink, the boat is classified as "non-seaworthy". 

That's why the City Council - who are taking over the mooring contracts on the Wharf - has decided not to offer one to the Sealion

Centreport are planning on tugging the boat to Glasgow Wharf by next week. 

Van Der Zeyden and co-housemate, Dylan Pyle, have started a petition, which so far has over 850 signatures.

"What we're looking for with the petition is an engagement of discussion is brought upon us, where we can lock in a feasible timeline that allows everyone to have a sense of satisfaction and safety," said Van Der Zeyden. 

"Instead the decision has just been sprung upon us." 


Meanwhile, the owner Selwyn Findley - who lives in Nelson - said he was loving the boat's current use.

"It struck a chord with me," he said.

"When the old owner said there's people onboard, I thought that's kind of good, and it's being used for a creative space. 

"I've been to concerts on board, and it's like a nice little intimate club down below, and it just suits it." 

Findley has only owned the boat since the new year, after it was sold by a fellow Nelson man. 

While his long-term plan was to do it up, then take it across the Cook Strait to enjoy in the Marlborough Sounds, he was in no rush. 

"When they first sent the letter to me, I was sort of, I guess, stunned a bit for a couple of days. 

"I just thought it was a shame. There's always going to be something that comes along, but it's just disrupted things, and put pressure. Financially it'll be hard.

"It's just involved a whole rethink." 

Inside The Sealion.

Inside The Sealion. Photo: RNZ / Sam Rillstone

Council spokesperson, Richard MacLean, said the boat isn't fit to stay put. 

"I'm no nautical expert but the thing is, Queen's Wharf is not there to be a permanent home for a vessel that clearly can't get around the harbour." 

He was unsure of the inhabitants' description of the boat as an arts and community space. 

"We're puzzled by that, we're a bit taken aback. We tend to think that people are overstating the importance of the Sealion in Wellington's community sector really." 

But the boat did feature an evening DJ every night as part of the Council-funded events programme "What If the City Was a Theatre?" 

And they also had plans to take part in June's Jazz Festival... but with the boat now moving on, those plans are sinking fast.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Tim Severin, seaman, adventurer, author


I was saddened to learn that Tim Severin, a truly remarkable man who was a living inspiration, passed away last month.

The Irish Times has a feature on his life, focused (of course) on his first big hit, The Brendan Voyage. 

Tim was born in Assam, India, the son of an English tea planter -- that planter being an employee, not the owner of the plantation, as his son was always anxious to point out.  As was usual in those days, Tim was sent to boarding school in England at the age of seven.  One cannot help but wonder how his mother felt to wave goodbye to such a small boy, but it is easy to imagine how tough it must have been for the boy himself, English boarding schools being notorious.  Was he bullied?  Probably.  There would have been an emphasis on toughness and survival instincts, which would have served him very well in the strange adventures ahead.

His first was as an undergraduate of an Oxford college, when he followed in the wake of Marco Polo -- on a motorbike.  The next was to follow in the wake of the Spanish Conquistadors, down the Mississippi, this time in a boat.

His big inspiration evolved in 1976, when he decided to try and prove that St. Brendan could have sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland in a leather boat.  As always, his research was intense -- he intended to recreate the voyage as exactly as possible.  So off he and a small crew sailed, bailing madly all the way.  And on June 26, 1977, they made port in Newfoundland, proving that St. Brendan could have definitely done it, 900 years before Columbus.

The books that gripped my imagination were The Sindbad Voyage and The Spice Islands Voyage, which can read with Alan Villiers' Sons of Sinbad, as a perfect entry into the craft and seamanship of the Far East.  Ever since, I have been photographing prahu and pinisi (and writing about them, too, in Eleanor's Odyssey and the Wiki Coffin mystery stories), and Ron painted and drew them.

The books poured out of Tim Severin -- more tracings of ancient voyages, novels about Vikings.  I remember him for his kindness, his helpfulness, and generosity to someone faraway who was seeking answers to the same sort of questions.  His eyes were those of a navigator or a mountaineer, always seeking a new horizon.  He will be greatly missed.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Are blogs still relevant?


Having just come back from 8 days in the South Island of New Zealand-Aotearoa, I thought about blogging ...  

Normally, I have lots to say about what I have seen and experienced, but is that suitable any more?

News about Covid dominate the world, so that carefree jaunts seem both irrelevant and inappropriate.

It is worth noting, however, that people are turning to books more than ever, and books about leadership failures and successes have more personal impact.

I guess that is why I came back to find that a host of reviews of my book about castaways, desolate islands, and leadership, ISLAND OF THE LOST had materialized while I was away.

And here is a little sampling. 

From Canada

Reviewed in Canada on January 1, 2021
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I didn't buy this book expecting to learn anything more than about shipwrecks and survival, but there are so many other intriguing pieces to it, like the sub-antarctic sealing industry, that there is no question that I will be expanding my reading to learn more about this time period.

The book's synopsis is a bit misleading; yes, there were two shipwrecks on the island that overlapped much of the same time period, but the focus is on the wreck of the Grafton and its small crew. There are also very serious environmental and seasonal factors (timing) that contributed to the shipwrecks survivors; differences in leadership played a part of how well each group succeeded, but was not the only defining factor in my opinion. As well, and something that the pulled the book together for me, each wreck had at least one individual who had a level of resourcefulness that contributed greatly to each groups survival. The forge building or the coracle building as examples!

The author's ability to meld two separate incidents and her writing style that is highly engaging and to the point, made for a relatively quick read and I look forward to reading more of her work on naval history.
Highly recommend this book if this topic or region of the world is of interest. However, would caution that there is a great deal of emphasis on killing seals, especially pups, as a main food source and this may be a big turn off to some readers. As the author notes in the afterword, one group of survivors were mentally prepared to kill seals. This was the one area of the book that I was not mentally prepared for myself!

From the United States

Reviewed in the United States on January 1, 2021
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Reviewed in the United States on December 30, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on December 28, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on December 27, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on December 26, 2020
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More about the trip -- and the old steamboat Earnslaw later