Thursday, December 20, 2012

Another Brick In The Wall Part 2

Aerial view of Stanley Park seawall
Without question, Vancouver's most popular attraction, for locals and tourists alike, is the seawall, a 22 kilometre source of civic pride running along from its starting point at Coal Harbour, around Stanley Park, along English Bay and Sunset Beach, all around False Creek, and the Olympic Village, and finishing up at Kits Beach.  Vancouver's newest billionaire, Dennis "Chip" Wilson, of Lululemon fame, has reportedly offered to help finance the extension of the seawall to its logical end at Jericho Beach, a 2.5 kilometre extension that would also connect with Spanish Banks.   If and when that's completed, the walkers, joggers, cyclists, boarders, roller-bladers, dogs, babies in carriages, and tourists will have an even more unparalleled route for taking in the waterfront scene and city views.

Storm damaged old seawall
But, while the new bits of the seawall are getting all the attention, with each section looking even better than the one before it, the original part of the seawall is really starting to show its age.  A couple of years ago an effort was made to repair some of the badly damaged sections (see my previous posting Another Brick In The Seawall;postID=2302302061745537069 ) but a recent very typical Northwest wind storm, combined with the highest tides of the year, quickly managed to create havoc along a number of other sections.  In doing so it also exposed the questionable construction techniques used in building and maintaining the seawall.

Storm damaged old seawall
While the City and the Parks Board have no problem coming up with novel ways to spend taxpayers money for bike routes and greenbelt initiatives they never seem to find the money to properly maintain one of their most important assets.  They also seem to have a double standard when it comes to safety concerns.  There are no railings to protect people from falling onto the rocks and water below and, on the busiest stretch of the seawall between 2nd Beach and Sunset Beach, there are no street lights, never mind the rest of the Stanley Park section.

Storm damaged old seawall
Putting up a sign that persons using the seawall do so at their own risk would be just another ignored distraction like the signs pointing out the speed limit and directions for cyclists and separation lines for pedestrians.  Even if it's for aesthetic reasons I don't see how the City can simply ignore the obvious need for a railing along the seawall.  Perhaps when a group of school children hurt themselves they will sit up and take notice.

Old seawall meets newly repaired seawall
The lack of street lighting is even more alarming when you combine this with the absence of a railing along the seawall.  Officials argue the cost of wiring up the seawall is prohibitive, not to mention the added electrical bill that would result.  But street lighting costs could be contained by installing solar and/or wind powered lights instead of miles of electrical conduit.  There would also be the added benefit of folks being able to go for walk in the dark without fear of assault or robbery.

Combination wind & solar powered street light
Railings and lighting are not as sexy as a seawall extension but maybe "Chip" could consider "chipping in" for this project as well and shame the City & Parks Board into following the same standards they impose on anyone else developing land next to the seawall.  Why is it that anything done by the private sector is so first rate but anything built or maintained by a government department is so sub-standard and shabby looking? Compare any stretch of the seawall in Coal Harbour or False Creek with the seawall on park land and you can see how it's really starting to show its age which, in some sections, is almost 100 years.

Coal Harbour seawall

False Creek seawall
English Bay seawall

Beach erosion 
Even less sexy, but more important, is the way drainage issues along the seawall are addressed. Not that it ever rains in Vancouver but, for those occasional months of the year when water is making a mud pit out of the poorly designed lawns and dead end walkways leading to English Bay, it would be nice if the water was directed to the storm sewer system instead of allowing it to erode the edge of the seawall, puddle on the walkway, and degrade the beach itself.  Even if the City & Parks Board doesn't care about the residents you think they would at least be sensitive to the impression it makes on the tourists.

Dead end walkway to the beach
So my Xmas wish for 2013 is the City & Parks Board not only announce a plan for expanding the seawall but also one for rehabilitating and modernizing the existing sections that need attention, particularly along English Bay.  Maybe they can even get Dennis Wilson to head up a fund raising campaign and get people to pay for a street light that would be named after themselves.  All in all after all we're only looking for another brick in the seawall.

Current & proposed seawall route

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Swim Don't Run

Michael Phelps swimming butterfly at 2012 London Olympics
Everyone has their favourite sport and, while the Olympics showcase just about every sport that exists, my favourite events of course are the swimming ones.  However, after watching the awesome performance of Michael Phelps in this summer's Olympics, I was struck by the fact of how few people there are who take up the sport of swimming.  This in spite of the fact 3/4 of our planet is covered in sea water and 80% of the world's population lives within 60 miles of the ocean.

100 million years ago mammals became the dominant animals on earth, the culmination of a 500 million year struggle to climb out of the primordial swamp and evolve into land based creatures. While mankind only started making its appearance in the last 200,000 years I guess it's no surprise that, after spending this much time getting onto land, the first choice in sports usually involves running in some form or another. There is some sort of innate reluctance for most mammals in general, and humans in particular, to get wet even if they are quite capable of being very good swimmers.

Nonetheless, in spite of finally getting their feet on dry land, an interesting thing happened about 50 million years ago when some of the mammals decided they wanted to get back into the ocean.  The reasons aren't exactly clear, but the most obvious one is that it was easier to get a bite to eat. Even today fish still provides the majority of humans with their protein, in spite of overfishing and everything else we've done, and the ocean, with its plankton based ecosystem, continues to support an incredible number and variety of fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.


There are three main groups of marine mammals; the sirenians (manatees & dugongs),  pinnipeds (seals, sea lions & walruses), and cetaceans (whales, dolphins & porpoises), though polar bears and otters are also starting to be classed as marine mammals.  While pinnipeds spend most of their time in the water they are only considered semi-aquatic because they still have to mate, breed, and molt on land.  Sirenians and cetaceans on the other hand are fully aquatic ocean dwellers.

Stellar Sea Lion

In evolutionary terms it didn't take that long for the land based ancestors of cetaceans, sirenians, and pinnipeds to get back into the ocean (about 15 million years) but they didn't turn into fish and they still need to breathe air from the surface.  Amongst other things hands and feet adapted to become flippers and tail flukes for propulsion, lungs and other internal organs evolved to facilitate the high pressure of  being underwater for extended periods of time, and they developed blubber as a means of conserving heat and providing insulation.  Mankind, on the other hand, has been a little faster adapting to the ocean thanks to inventions like wetsuits for warmth, SCUBA gear for underwater breathing and, most importantly, developing a variety of swimming techniques that allows us to use the arms and legs we already have without waiting for them to turn into flippers.

Blue Whale

There are four primary swimming strokes now recognized by FINA, the international association that administers swimming competitions; backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle which is normally front crawl  but can be any form of swimming style.  It has taken approximately 100 years to develop these distinct swimming strokes and they continue to be refined and improved upon even to this day as scientists and coaches gain more knowledge about propulsion, hydrodynamics, and conditioning. Butterfly, the newest stroke to be developed, is the closest swimming style to that of the marine mammals and, in retrospect, given man's capacity to copy Nature, the one that should have been developed first.


From ancient pictures and drawings showing people swimming a primitive form of breaststroke it would appear this was the first stroke humans learned and it was certainly the most common stroke for most of the world until the 20th century.  By 1844 the sidestroke had also been developed and, along with breaststroke, were the only strokes used in swimming competitions organized by the National Swimming Society in England, in spite of being beaten by North American Indians who used a swimming style that resembled what would soon become known as front crawl. By the 1900 Paris Olympics an early form of backstroke (essentially an upside down breaststroke) was also a recognized swimming style.


By 1895 the sidestroke had evolved to an overarm sidestroke and, in 1901, the forerunner of front crawl a stroke called the trudgen, was introduced (after John Trudgen who copied it from South American Indians, using a hand over hand style combined with a scissor kick). In 1902 the trudgen was modified  to combine an up and down kick with an alternating overarm stroke and became known as the Australian crawl after the Australian Richard Cavill who swam 100 yards in 58.4 seconds to win the International Championships. Cavill's technique had been inspired by a Solomon Island native who in turn came from a long line of Polynesian swimming tradition that was far more advanced than the Europeans. An upside down version of this stroke then became the new style of backstroke pioneered by Harry Hebner.

File:Freestyle swimming.gif

In the 1933 the breaststroke was modified by Henry Myers to use an out of water butterfly style arm action with the regular breaststroke kick and was called butterfly breaststroke. The dolphin kick, invented in 1935 by Jack Sieg, was not allowed to be combined with the butterfly arm action until the 1950's when it was finally recognized as a separate stroke for competition. Breaststroke then went back to a stroke with the arms recovering in front of the breast and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics was the first year the four recognized competitive swimming strokes were on display.

File:Butterfly stroke.gif

Johnny Weissmuller
The first person to break the one minute mark in any 100 metre swim was Johnny Weismuller in 1922, a man more famous later for playing the role of Tarzan in the movies, than the freestyle swimming record he held for 12 years. It took until the 1960's before anyone swimming butterfly or backstroke could break the one minute mark, and it took until 2001 before the one minute mark was broken for breaststroke.  Since then the constant refinements of various techniques in each of the swimming strokes has led to new records being broken almost every year with the exception of the occasional superstar like Mark Spitz who held  the butterfly record from 1967-1972 and the freestyle record from 1970-1975.

Mark Spitz
The current swimming champion of the world is Michael Phelps with his record Olympic medal haul and domination of the butterfly, his signature stroke.  The attention he has drawn to this stroke has made it a favourite of swimmers everywhere, even if it is the most difficult one to master.  With its perfect symmetry and close resemblance to the swimming style of all other marine mammals it may one day be faster than front crawl. 

Michael Phelps

But swimming isn't all about speed.  In fact most swimming is about keeping a measured pace for a certain period of time with perhaps only occasional bursts of speed.  With the exception of perhaps water polo, swimming is for the most part a solitary sport and, even if people are swimming with someone else, there isn't much opportunity to chat.  Swimming can be done in pools or in open water, but it's in the open water where the solitary nature of the sport really catches people's imagination particularly after Byron made his famous crossing of the Hellespont in 1810, a distance of between 1 -3 miles depending on current and the actual entry & exit points.

Captain Mathew Webb
But whether it's romantic inspiration or simply folks wanting to pit themselves against the open water, the most famous open water swim is of course the English Channel.  The narrowest point between Dover and Calais is 21 miles and the first person to succeed was Captain Mathew Webb in 1875 and it took him 21:45 hours doing breaststroke.  By 1923 the record was down to 16:33 hours until Gertrude Ederle completed it in 1926 in 14:39 hours becoming not only the first woman to complete the swim but also the first person to do it using front crawl. When she returned home she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York City and more than 2 million people who turned up to see her.  It was her second ticker-tape parade in two years when she was also part of the one given to the illustrious 1924 Paris Olympics team that also included swimming team-mate Johnny Weismuller.  The English Channel swimming record is now 6:55 hours and held by Trent Grimsey, an Australian.

Gertrude Ederle

Another great female open water swimmer is the Canadian Vicki Keith who not only holds the record for crossing all five Great Lakes, she was also the first person, in 1989, to swim the English Channel doing butterfly.  She holds the record for the longest solo swim distance (94 km) longest solo swim time (63 hours 40 minutes) and the greatest distance, male or female, for butterfly (80.2 km).  This marathon swimmer comes closer than anyone else on earth to being a human marine mammal, and demonstrating that butterfly is the new stroke.

Vicki Keith

For men or women swimming is a great sport and wonderfully kind to bones and joints because, unlike running, there is no impact with any hard surface.  You can go as fast and as far as you want, do it solo or with as many others as you choose, and you can be indoors or outside.  Of course I would suggest that outside is best but, for those who haven't taken to the water already, it's time to get started, you've got four different strokes to choose from.  Swim, don't run.

Nelson doing butterfly in English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Living in downtown Vancouver with its close proximity to the ocean and some of the most magnificent cruising grounds in the world, I feel extremely privileged to own a boat, our modest 28 foot Crown Jewel, and be able to spend time exploring the waterways of our coastline. While the cost of moorage, insurance, and maintenance can certainly be cause for grumbling, not to mention the fuel bills, it all seems to disappear once I drop the hook somewhere, fire up the BBQ and pour myself a drink.  It's hard to find anything else that can match the pleasure of being on the water.

Crown Jewel
Obviously I'm not the only one who feels that way, and the various marinas of the lower mainland are filled with motorboats and sailboats (stink pots and rag hangers as they affectionately class themselves) of various styles, but most of them under 50 feet/17 metres in length.  Though technically speaking these boats can be called yachts (a word that comes with connotations of luxury) for the most part these boats are more like floating cabins with each owner working hard to keep them as comfortable as their budget permits.  The word "yacht" defines any recreational boat over 24 feet/8 metres in length, a mega yacht as being over 98 feet/30 metres, and a super yacht as being over 164 feet/50 metres.  If super yacht isn't big enough there is a new term, giga yacht which refers to boats over 220 feet/67 metres in length.

Nova Spirit
At 150 feet in length, Jimmy Pattison's Nova Spirit was for a long time the biggest boat in the Vancouver harbour.  As befits our famous, self-made, local billionaire, the luxurious interior demonstrates the world of difference between the merely fortunate and the truly rich.  Even so, this boat only makes it to the mega yacht category.

Inside Nova Spirit
Our beautiful cruising grounds attract boaters from around the world and this past summer the 135 foot Komokwa and the 163 foot Casino Royale were in town and moored close to Jimmy's yacht providing a little competition and giving something for all the gawkers around Coal Harbour to stare at. But it was over on Lonsdale Quay where the super yachts the 180 foot Galileo and 199 foot Meduse were in town, that really upped the ante.  One can only imagine the luxurious amenities and other creature comforts these yachts offer.


Casino Royale
What makes Meduse so special, apart from the helicopter pad and built in recording studio amongst other amenities, is the fact this super yacht belongs to Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and that it's the smallest of his 3 yachts.  The other two, the 303 foot Tatoosh and 416 foot Octopus have also visited Vancouver in the past.  At one time Octopus was listed as the largest yacht in the world, it's now #12, and it comes with a swimming pool, 2 helicopters, recording studio, 7 other boats, a 10 man submarine and accommodations for 26 guests within its 41 suites.  The other rooms are for the 57 crew members.  Presumably this is now enough boat for Mr. Allen so the Meduse is up for sale for $55 million and Tatoosh #35 for $163 million if you are interested.

The largest permanently moored boat in Vancouver now belongs to Dennis Washington, owner, amongst other things, of Seaspan.  His latest boat Attessa IV is a stunning 330 foot super/giga yacht that is # 27 on the list of the biggest yachts in the world.  Over a 3 1/2 year period Washington spent millions refitting a boat originally called Evergreen and turning it into a masterpiece of design.  Good thing he had his own shipyard and staff to do the work.  For more pictures of the interior check out the link below.

Attessa IV
Another notable super yacht that came to Vancouver a few years ago was Le Grand Bleu a boat once owned by John McCaw and then sold to the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich who then had it refitted as well.  But at # 21 of the world's largest yachts this 370 footer clearly wasn't good enough and so Mr. Abramovich has now taken possession of the largest private yacht in the world, the Eclipse.  At 538 feet in length it is the largest and most expensive boat ever built and comes with a submarine, 2 swimming pools, 3 helicopters and room for 36 guests and 70 crew members. Not sure if it will ever come to Vancouver but you never know.

Le Grand Bleu
To even make the top 100 you need a boat that starts at 247 feet/75 metres and the price to build them averages $500,000.00 per foot.  Annual maintenance is usually around 10% of the purchase price, and then there is the fuel they burn.  Of course if you have to worry about fuel costs then a giga yacht isn't really  for you.  While these dreamboats are truly something else I'm glad I can still get around in my baby yacht.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I Can Hear Music

If I'm not swimming in the ocean I'm often walking along the seawall and, like so many other people these days, I'm usually listening to music at the same time.  As I pass others coming and going I've noticed that most folks are using the same ear bud style headphones and they are either black or white in colour.  White presumably being the colour of the Apple crowd, and black being that of the Android set.  Of course it's hard to say with any certainty these days, given that everything is so interchangeable, and the devices people are listening to their music on could be either an iPod, cellphone or something else entirely.

Listening to music while walking has been around for a long time, at least since the 60's when the portable transistor radios first came out, and I got my first one in 1968 after saving up my paper route money.  Back then it was only AM radio that was initially available, though it later expanded to FM as well, and there was only one earphone because AM sound was mono, not stereo.  Curiously enough the size of the device then wasn't much different than the iPod or any of the new cellphones available now; it was something that could fit inside a shirt pocket.

Sony was the dominant portable transistor radio manufacturer in those days, and it also later came out with the famous Walkman that allowed people to listen to their own recorded music on a cassette tape and then, later still, on CDs.  The next wave was the MP3 or digital media player, but this time it was Apple's iPod that really took control of the market and put something new into everyone's shirt pocket.  By combining the MP3 player with a cellphone they also eliminated the need for people having to carry two devices around with them, three if you counted a camera. Other manufacturers quickly caught on, mostly powered by the Android operating system, and now the fashionistas of the world are divided into two main camps; Android or Apple.

One person's music is another person's noise and for that reason headphones are a blessing for everyone, even it means we are somewhat disconnected from other people around us and the sensory experience of wherever we happen to be walking.  But, whether the music is meant to soothe, pump up the adrenalin, or simply help us escape, the appeal is universal, and the selection now available is almost limitless.  The little device in your shirt pocket can play music from AM/FM radio stations, live streaming of any genre off the Internet, and of course whatever music you've already downloaded.

As popular as these new combination phone/camera/music devices are it's worth noting that the humble transistor radio is still the most popular communication device ever invented.  There are an estimated 7 billion of them floating around the planet and they continue to be made in spite of their seeming irrelevance.  But whether you pick an Apple, Android, or something else to plug into your ear it doesn't really matter as long as you can hear the music.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Smoke On The Water

Celebration of Light barge photo by Junie Quiroga
Every year around the last week or so of July a barge gets towed into English Bay and placed in position for staging the annual fireworks display.  Originally called the Symphony of Fire, but now known as the Celebration of Light, this annual orgy of competitive pyrotechnics has been going since 1990 and has featured entries from countries around the globe, most notably China, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Brazil, and even Canada.  Spread out over 3 nights it has attracted practically everyone in the Lower Mainland at one time or another, and always brings in an estimated crowd of  300,000 - 500,000 fans.

Fenced gardens photo by Junie Quiroga

But it isn't just the barge that needs to get set up for the fireworks display, it also means putting up protective fencing around all the carefully planted gardens, objects d'arte, and nearby restaurants.  As a resident of the west end with a perfect view of the fireworks from my apartment, I also have a perfect view of the disruption to my neighbourhood caused by this annual invasion, not to mention the aftermath of the event with all its litter and trash.  But one person's garbage dump is another persons treasure chest and, along with the temporary workers recruited in the early hours, things do manage to get pretty much cleaned up in time for my morning swim.

Man with metal detector & parks board cleaning machine photo by Junie Quiroga
In spite of the disruption to the neighbourhood, the food merchants are more than happy to have customers lined up for dinner.  Between the hot dog vendors, new fusion food carts, sushi shops, and doner/gyro/shawarma rotisseries there is a tasty fast food item to satisfy every taste and plenty of fancy restaurants for those with more refined tastes.  In fact, catering to the well heeled has become an ever imaginative and expanding aspect of the event.
Fenced in art photos by Junie Quiroga

In earlier times it was first come first served when it came to finding a spot on the beach or the grass, never mind the food outlets, but now there are bleachers set up with reserved seats, VIP seatings at the Boathouse, Keg Lounge Bathhouse, and the Cactus Club and, for the truly special, a new private dining barge in the Bay off of 2nd Beach.  Mind you, the really special folks simply fire up their own boats and cruise out into the harbour where they can then jockey for whatever they consider to be a good viewing position.  Money, after all, is no object when it comes to fireworks displays like this one which cost millions to stage.

Bleacher seating photo by Junie Quiroga
Private dining barge photo by Junie Quiroga
Meanwhile, back in the shadows, the emergency services crews are busy taking up position in preparation for any mishaps.  With its checkered history of crowd control, Vancouver has to employ an army of police on land, rooftops, water, and in the air to make sure everyone behaves reasonably and the streets are cleared in good order when everything is over.  They also have to deal with the inevitable medical problems that occur in such a large gathering of people who have been soaking up the sun and booze for so many hours.  It makes me shake my head when I compare the behaviour of our citizens in a public setting to those in other countries but there isn't much that can be done unless the city closes itself off to the suburban rabble who make a sport of invading the downtown on any pretext.

Emergency services command centre photo by Junie Quiroga
English Bay crowds & boats photo by Junie Quiroga
Nonetheless, as the day progresses and the crowds of people and boats starts to build, so does the anticipation until finally at 10pm. the lights on the barge go off and the show begins.  And what a show it always is for the next 30 minutes as all the carefully packed skyrocket cannisters are exploded in a synchronized pattern of noise and light with brilliantly coloured spiders, peonies, palms, rings, and crossettes, humming, whistling and banging into the night air.  The oohs and aahs accompany every shell burst as we collectively imagine the universe being created and destroyed until it finally ends in a wonderfully orgasmic finale, and all that's left for another year is the smoke on the water.

Fireworks photos by Junie Quiroga