Misuse of social media by politicians:

The destruction of democracy?

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Over the last four months the Guardian newspaper has published a series of articles that have shown how the UK Vote Leave campaign and Donald Trump have used your social media data to win their respective votes. They used this data to send fake news to you, and made a lot of people go against their better judgement to either not vote, or vote against something that they may have previously voted for. In short, by using all sorts of very personal data about you they manipulated their elections so they would win.

Targeting on social media

During my last County Council election campaign I paid Facebook to send adverts to around 1500 people across South and West Dorset. As you will see in the image above I had all sorts of choices as to whom to approach – Conservative Party voters, Lib Dem voters, people who supported the NHS and schools. I did much as a company would that wants green / left customers to buy their goods. Anyone can do this.

A new profession has emerged over the years called ‘social media managing’. This isn’t just about writing posts designed to get you commenting and liking on a company’s timeline. Much of it is working out quite narrow demographics as to whom should see the posts they write. As an example, BMW in selling its electric i3 car may put up some social media posts that only go out to people who like Tesla. Tesla fans will see an alternative to their dream car and may one day end up buying a BMW instead. This is all well and good, and everyone does it.

Blogging and multimedia

One of my paid jobs is to write controversial feature stories for clients who will post these to social media and get people commenting on them. The idea is that in doing so people will interact with and ultimately buy from the company.

Facebook is awash with 30 second to minute long video clips looking at everything from cats having meltdowns to Theresa May trying to smile without turning people to stone. This is designed to get you onto a site or to do something such as vote for a political party.

Targeting, blogging and social media

The two techniques above can lead to a process where someone like me will write an article that may influence someone from a particular demographic to do something. If I wrote something about cuts to school budgets for Labour, they would post this specifically to parents of all party political persuasions and you may have a debate going on on Facebook and Twitter about the cuts to school budgets affecting your kids’ futures.

Astrophysics

So, we’ve covered the ground of good modern marketing practices that are used in all sorts of businesses around the world. The Guardian however exposed some malpractices that were used by the Trump and Brexit campaigns that have caused political earthquakes to happen through taking these practices to a level where really only people with PhDs in astrophysics can fully understand.

The Guardian showed how a piece of research was done perfectly legally by a group of scholars in Cambridge University that showed that by taking data on the posts you like and comment on, the subjects you follow, the posts you write and share on social media, as well as your age, profession, sexuality and even race and a huge number of other things people casually use there can put you in quite small groups of people. I’m a left leaning 42 year old proud father of a 2 year old who likes sailing and who lives in a leafy suburb of Dorchester. That would put me in a group of maybe 1000 in Dorchester. If I went on about my serious breakdown in my 20’s, that I am mortgage and debt free, and a writer on electric vehicles, sailing and adventure sports would put me in ever smaller groups, perhaps down to 100 or so across the UK.

Getting this data is perfectly legal and is how the likes of Facebook and Twitter make their money. What the astrophysicists did was to run this data through computer systems to accurately describe groups of people and what they would respond to. This is called ‘micro-targeting’. After publishing their research the academics went off to work on this for private companies. The private companies have been exposed by the Guardian as being run by a bunch of very right wing billionaires who support Trump and Brexit.

‘Fake news’

Speak to someone in the UK about disabled people on benefits and you will likely as not hear a story of how they know someone ‘swinging the lead’ and cheating benefits. Disabled people were once considered people who needed support from the state yet are now treated as lepers. More than 7000 people have died after being rejected for welfare claims, yet were bullied and harassed until they drew their last breath by the state. People who don’t have a job were once seen in a reasonably relaxed way – in order for an economy to grow you need people out of work so they can take the jobs created as businesses grow. Now they are being hounded by the state and labelled ‘scroungers’ and ‘lazy’ by a hateful media. Nurses who use food banks ‘aren’t budgeting properly’. Surveys have shown that the public perception of welfare cheating is far removed from the facts – only 0.7% of claims are by cheating scroungers yet surveys show people believe this to be 25% or more. This is due to fake news that has been circulated around the UK since around 2007. Those who may once have had a more egalitarian left wing outlook are now blaming scroungers and disabled people for the financial crash induced government debt that billionaire bankers in fact created.

If you Like the racist far right page Britain First and are on a low income, and perhaps have a disabled family member you may find stories about immigrants stealing your jobs on your timeline. Cambridge Analytica would have narrowed you down to a small group of people and sent you multimedia posts showing how the NHS would get £350 million a week when we left the EU and stories about Poles stealing your job and perhaps how cutting immigration might help you get a better job one day. This heavily contributed to the UK voting to leave the EU.

In the US the Trump campaign sent out stories about how there would be two days of voting – one for the Republicans (on the right polling day) and the next day for Democrats who may then have turned up to the polling station only to see it closed and Trump in power. In the UK we have laughingly sent posts like that for UKIP voters in jest but no one believed them. In the US many people did (and posts like this designed to stop them voting for Clinton), and this contributed to the relatively low voter turnout that swept Trump to power.

Democracy subverted

None of what we have described above is actually illegal. It isn’t illegal to lie in a speech from the soapbox (politicians have done this since the dawn of time) and it isn’t illegal to paint a bus with a lie about the NHS. It also isn’t illegal to tell a biddable young voter that since they are voting Democrat they should vote on Friday as all Republicans vote on Thursday.

There were malpractices alleged by the Guardian showing that a number of Leave campaigns coincidentally paid the same social media companies to do very similar jobs (no smoke without fire) and this was playing havoc with UK electoral law. The US companies paid by the UK campaigns aren’t governed by UK law so could stick 2 fingers up at the police from across the Atlantic. Police investigations are ongoing, but after we have signed Article 50 and are on the way out of the EU.

What has been shown by the Guardian article is that democracy has been subverted in both the US and UK by people who threw hundreds of millions of dollars at a bunch of brain boxes from Cambridge to win their campaigns in a novel way. Much of this stuff is unethical and should be against the law. It would be incredibly difficult to legislate on this, and given that many of the politicians in power today are in because of these dodgy tactics, it is extremely unlikely that they will change the law to stop themselves from doing it again.

In short? We’re pretty screwed due to social and mainstream media manipulation by some pretty rich people paying brainy people to mess with our heads.

Grand Tour of the Great Divide and a grand bike for it…

This blog was originally published on Cycleinjuries.co.uk in 2015. I have reproduced it for my site as an example of some of the adventure sports writing I have done.

 

Fancy taking a month off to ride one of the greatest mountain bike routes in the world? Need a bike for the job? This blog will look at the challenge and at a machine that’s just been developed specially for it…

The Grand Tour of the Great Divide

This is a 2745 mile cross country mountain biking route from Banff, Alberta in Canada to Antelope Wells in on the border between New Mexico and Mexico. In order to get on the leader board you must do the route within 1.5 times of the course record – in other words, just over 25 days for men and 29 days for women. In short, a bloke needs to do over 100 linear miles a day in the saddle, while a woman would do well to do the same.

You will climb over 200,000 feet during this ride, and don’t expect lovely paved roads as you do it – expect gravel, mud and slog. Even so you will see the Great Continental Divide that splits the US and Canada in two, in all its glory.

Navigation is one of the important parts of this – you won’t be in a peloton with 100 other riders, and again unlike the Tour de France it must be entirely self supported. Since on many days you won’t even see a town, you’ll need to carry enough water and food for the days of solitude. Where the riders of the Tour de France have special chefs and specialist maintenance teams, you will only be allowed to refuel and repair your bike using outlets that all other riders have access to. The same applies to accommodation – yes, you’re allowed to sleep in a hotel but not (as with Team Sky) on a bed designed for you and imported into a team house…

Over such a ride, expect to meet nature face to face. This is mountain lion and grizzly bear country and as you enter the southern US, you may see the odd rattlesnake too. This is a chance to see and feel the America of ancient legend in a way that the settlers saw it in all its glory and hardship.

Why isn’t there a media frenzy over it? One of the mountain biking Race Rules forbids spectators unless they’re resident of one of the towns on the route. Don’t expect a 6 figure sponsorship package or to be modelling clothes as so many road tour riders seem to do these days… This is about you, the bike and the road – there isn’t even a prize for coming first!

Looking at the website describing the challenge, honestly I’m ready to pack my partner and child off to her mother and get preparing for the mother of all midlife crisis adventures…

The Cutthroat bike

The GTGD ride has been running for the last seven years. Mountain bike technology has had a couple of major leaps forward in that time, including the advent of the disc brake and the 29 inch wheeled mountain bike (the ‘29er’).

The Cutthroat is one of the first in a series of ‘adventure mountain bikes’ that is coming onto the market. This is a carbon fibre framed 29er with drop handlebars and a number of refinements for comfort, reliability, refinement and efficiency.

Your ideal mountain bike should be light to get it up those hills, be comfortable enough you’re not walking like John Wayne after a decent ride, and be reliable enough that on the GTGD you’re not having to carry it 50 miles to the nearest bike shop. It needs to be efficient too – getting you up those hills and shaving seconds off the ride every hour could translate to hours and even days shaved off the adventure…

The drop handlebars give you more positions to be comfortable. Loaded up with the gear for this epic, you will need to adjust to a variety of positions to help with the pain of pushing so hard for so long. On this machine there’s a vibration reduction system known as the Class 5 VRS, that smoothes those gravel tracks out.

Finally, the front triangle is as large as possible. This is to give space for the in frame bag you will use for the adventure – more space inside means more volume for what you need.

Ready to pack your family off?

The top spec bike sells in the US for USD $4,000, on which you’d need to pay import duties to bring into the UK – unless of course you bought it in the US, rode the route, and took it back used and abused so no duty would apply…

Honestly? Given the wherewithal and ability just to disappear for a month or two, I’d be tempted. Very tempted…

Let’s start a revolution in Linden Lea – 100% voter turnout!

There’s an election on May the 4th. I’m running for Labour at the Linden Lea Dorset County Council division and even with a 100% voter turnout I probably wouldn’t win even if I had run a hard face to face campaign. Some people ask me why I bother standing? We need an opposition to make those in power accountable. If I came within a hundred or so votes in Linden Lea against the incumbent Tory, you never know – they may work harder for their votes next time…

During my movements among people who identify themselves as ‘left wing’ I far too frequently find them non-voters. If the non-voters voted we wouldn’t have this silly Brexit rubbish as the far right dismantle the United Kingdom and destroy our economy. Looking to the US, we wouldn’t have the Toddler In Chief Donald Trump threatening to nuke North Korea, and potentially have a sane and stable president in the White House Instead.

That’s bonkers!

Among all the hand wringing and ‘remoaning’ going on there is a stark fact – that those who didn’t vote are predominantly young and the young predominantly wanted to remain in the European Union. Never mind that far right ogre Nigel Farage – it is the young who didn’t get off their bums to vote that led to this awful crisis we’re facing today. According to the London School of Economics, “those who did not vote were, by a ratio of 2:1, Remain supporters.” In short, yes we would be run by a pig loving old Etonian and his clueless Chancellor today but we wouldn’t be watching the people who dress up in jackboots and leather in the Tory playpen running the joint, with David Cameron walking out of Downing Street.

We are watching the news in South East Asia as the US President Toddler Trump handles nuclear button happy North Korea with all the deftness and diplomacy that my 2 year old daughter does our cat. Yet, again the statistics show that it would likely be President Hillary Clinton at the helm if US voters had bothered to vote on the day. Forbes Magazine stated, “The story of Hillary Clinton’s defeat, then, is not the Trump Movement erupting in the ballots, nor the fable that some “Reagan Democrats” flipped again from Obama to Trump. The story is altogether different, and very simple: the Democratic base did not turn out to vote as it did for Obama. Those sure-Democrats who stayed home handed the election to Trump.”

Some reasons

The US is somewhat different to Brexit. There is definite evidence that the Democrat establishment fixed the Democrat Primaries so Bernie Sanders didn’t get in. Their meddling really alienated many voters and Sanders voters didn’t support Clinton.

The UK is more nuanced and there is an awful lot of history to really do this section justice. I will touch on some of it in broad terms. Firstly, Tony Blair abandoned the left wing of the Labour Party. We can see this in his ignoring the million or so who marched over the Iraq War, and the advent of the middle class champagne socialist. According to a blog in the New Statesman written by Graham Jones MP, “Rather than serving as a vehicle for collective empowerment, the party strayed towards managerialism, centralisation and statism. For some of a younger generation, Blairism changed the path of their lives, giving them university dreams and the belief they could live lives more prosperous than their parents. But, for too many, it left a sense of detachment and disappointment, with leaders and ideas that could never relate to the realities of life.” Many never voted again.

I even hear today some people who say they support Jeremy Corbyn also say that they won’t vote because he won’t get in. Let’s face it, the newspapers and even the BBC hate Corbyn with a passion. They are for the most part run by upper middle class and the top 1% who would stand to lose out from someone genuinely interested in bringing equality back onto the UK political agenda. Given he wants to tax multinationals to the same extent that shopkeepers are and not let them dodge tax, I can’t say I’m surprised as they would have to pay up to £35 billion a year between them. News International is one of those, and the Barclay brothers who own the Telegraph aren’t short of a bob or two. The Guardian? Given its plummeting sales, is it even part of the argument? The Independent has gone out of circulation. The Mirror is owned by City shareholders and thinks being left wing is to be to somewhat to the left of The Sun. The BBC? It used to be a news organisation of standing, once upon a time…

Linden Lea – where a revolution began

TUC bannersIf you read the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs you will see that my division once spawned a national movement that is still extremely powerful today. Due to them, being a member of a Trades Union became legal, and the Trades Union Council was in a large part responsible for the formation of the Labour Party. When you see Jeremy Corbyn in Tolpuddle you will see just how much the man owes to the young farm labourers in that village. It may be argued that because of those farm labourers getting together and asking for collective bargaining from their employer, we have the NHS and Welfare State today where no one should go hungry and the best medical care available is given to everyone, free at the point of demand. These systems are being demolished by right wing haters.

Can we begin a revolution again in Linden Lea? Can everyone of voting age get to the polling booth on May the 4th and vote for the party that represents their views? Could they vote again in 2020 and have a government that represents them in power? It would be no bad thing if we had a 100% voter turnout in each election as you really wouldn’t believe the power of an X in a box. The Tories might be put in their place for good!

Printed by R Shrubb, 4 Bellever Court, Poundbury, DT1 3ST.  Promoted by D Rhodes, on behalf of R Shrubb, both at 5 Old Vicarage Close, Charminster, DT2 9TN.

Linden Lea bus problem?

Empty bus stop

There’s a common misconception that buses really aren’t necessary in rural communities, or so it appears as Dorset County Council routinely slashes bus services around Linden Lea. Looking at Crossways, a very working class community in Linden Lea, we will examine the cuts and show how it impacts us all.

£1.85 million cuts to transport budget

Earlier this year Dorset County Council has said that it is to cut all but two of the bus services it supports around the rural communities, including villages of Linden Lea, the council supposedly serves. Among those services to be slashed is the 101 bus from Crossways to Dorchester.

In a statement the Tory Cabinet member for Transport Peter Finney said, “As agreed by the county council last year, we need to save a further £1.85million from our public and schools transport budget in 2017/18 on top of the £500,000 saved from our subsidised bus routes in 2016/17… Our approach aims to develop a sustainable transport network for Dorset by prioritising the remaining subsidy on routes that serve the most people and contribute the most to Dorset’s economy.”

Very young and very old don’t contribute?

Dawn Badminton-Capps, Bus Users UK Director for England told the Echo: “All councils have a duty under the 1985 Transport Act to provide ‘socially necessary’ buses. These services are a vital lifeline, particularly to vulnerable people.”

As Tories seem to love to do, Finney is hiding behind the figures and ignoring the human cost of the cuts. Young people and old people use buses often because they haven’t driving licenses. Not everyone can afford a chauffeur when the DVLA takes their license away, and kids like their freedom to hang out in town. While poor pensioners and skint teenagers don’t ‘contribute most to Dorset’s economy’ they value their freedom. My stepfather lost his license recently due to a heart condition and my 82 year old Mum was terrified when the DVLA started asking questions about her eyesight. She saw herself permanently stuck in her home.

There is a growing tradition of families moving to the countryside to bring their children up and then children escaping to the cities as they reach a certain age. Many kids view the countryside as ‘boring’ in part because they just can’t access the towns they live near. The result is that communities don’t hang together in the way they used to as young adults of working age leave for good.

Subsidised bus services are there for a reason. They may never be full, yet serve those most in need. This is why we pay our taxes – to look after the vulnerable, young and old.

Contribution ain’t just money

Thatcher once happily claimed that society is dead. That meant that she had killed off the very social fabric that once held us together. This has been borne out in the spike in physical abuse of disabled people, the ‘scrounger stories’ you read in the papers, not to mention the bigotry and racist abuse that has become a real problem in the country.

No matter what the Tories will tell you, there are ways beyond the economic that everyone has to contribute to society. The elderly have wisdom and knowledge. How often does a new mum call their own mother or grandmother for help with their baby? Children who stay in their communities develop deep social networks that serve to help them and their communities. While sometimes village life can be a bit too cosy with everyone knowing everyone else’s business, this can be a good thing too. If someone hasn’t been seen for a while people will notice and check on them. The vulnerable are looked after by their peers.

There are things far more valuable than money in this world, and destroying the infrastructure that helps its very fabric to remain is unacceptable. Many of these cuts come from the top in distant London through this rubbish ‘austerity programme’, and we need to start fighting back.

What you can do in Linden Lea

Vote Richard Shrubb for Linden Lea this May the 4th and you’ll see a vocal opponent against the cuts that are serving to slash the very fabric that holds our society together!

Vendee Globe Grand Finale – a Geek’s View


Having had a whale of a time in the run up to and start of the Vendee Globe, and seeing that Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss had an outside chance of being the first non-Frenchman to win the race, on impulse I dropped everything and headed to Les Sables d’Olonne on the Tuesday before the race finish…

At the stage of the race, Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire were within just hours of one another, fighting an epic battle that had people enthralled since they passed South Africa. Banque Populaire had at one stage a lead of 800 or so miles and in interviews later Thomson had said that he had basically given up on victory but wanted to finish second.

Heading up where the South East Trades should have been, Armel Cleac’h hit a dead spot of wind. Thomson managed to find wind where his rival hadn’t and after a charge up the North Atlantic got within 30 miles of his rival.

Off we go…

As the gap closed, I couldn’t bear to be at home to miss history so told my clients I was going away and packed for France. I managed to get a hotel room for around £60 a night within a short ride of the village (one of the last – I met people who’d booked just hours later and had to travel much farther!) and the ferry wasn’t a bad price.

I live around 456 miles from Les Sables d’Olonne including a 420km drive down the autoroutes of France and a six hour ferry ride. Leaving at 0400 local I got there for 1900 local. A brute of a journey but well worth it!

In country

For the French, the Vendee Globe is a major national sporting event where, importantly the French still routinely win. The Tour de France by comparison has had a long drought since the French won that. Les Sables d’Olonne is otherwise known for its fantastic beach and small world atmosphere full of history (apart from anything it was part of Britain for many years). They construct a village for the event that includes a beer tent where for €13 a round you can swill as much beer as your wallet allows while listening to talks about the race from experts at different times of the day…

Over before it was over

The bizarre weather that sent the race off in its first ever nice sailing day put a high pressure over much of the area, so while sailors usually head in direct from the ocean, this time they were forced almost to Lizard Point in the UK before turning south. Alex had three problems – an increasingly malfunctioning autopilot (that slowed him down even while he got the race 24 hour record of 536 miles!) and his AIS transponder had gone down, meaning he had to warn ships he was coming at them by radio. Carbon fibre yachts have virtually no radar signal… In addition, for the final run in he would have to sail on the side where he had lost his hydrofoil off South America, just days into the race.

At 1700 on the Weds Armel Cleac’h found enough pressure to turn right for the finish, and Alex had to follow suit – overnight with his damaged AIS, wobbly autopilot and without the foil that would have made him competitive for the final run. Turning earlier geographically than Cleac’h, he had less wind too. That night, losing ground to his rival hand over first, he conceded defeat.

La Grand Finale

Crowds gathered up the coastline to see the returning hero aboard Banque Populaire cross the line at around 1600 having smashed the race record for completing the Vendee Globe by just over three days. At L’Armandeche lighthouse, we saw a shadow on the horizon. The tide would have to rise for around six hours before he arrived so there would be
plenty of time to get tired and emotional. Thousands did…

In quite a state of disrepair we arrived in the village just in time for the crowds to welcome the French hero. The village bar did very good business that night, and was full even when Cleac’h’s boat was escorted to the pontoon. My American friend and I were one row behind the barrier and a could hardly see a thing except on the big screen in front, despite being about 20 metres from the boat. A good 50,000 tired and emotional French were waiting too – quite a crowd…

At this stage, a very tired and emotional woman holding a load of balloons tried very hard to get to the barrier. The tired and emotional crowd matched her loud talking and she ended up on her backside with just the balloons marking her spot in the crowd. Perhaps aware that the security guards may take an interest, I said in my best British accent, “No rioting please, we’re English!” Despite the language barrier quite a few people understood the jollity in my voice, laughed and sent the barrier crasher back to the back of the crowd.

Not understanding much of what was going on, so we followed soon after and hit the bar.

Addled mind, addled decision

I was a little addled when I went to bed and got into my head that the next high tide would be around 0500 so was up at 0430 and full of caffeine, rode to the village. No one was at the gate so I went through it anyway and after five minutes wondering why there was no security personnel found a security guard who seemed to think I shouldn’t be there. Through the language barrier we established that Alex was due in around 10 that morning and he escorted me out… As it turned out, Alex was two hours sailing from the finish at that point!

The Brit arrives

One more hour in bed, some breakfast and I was on the dock with a very good view of dawn at around 0900 on Friday. It was -8 degrees C at sunrise, rather cold even for an addled and sleep deprived Brit. Maybe a thousand people were there to welcome him, a large part from the UK, Netherlands and Germany. You can see the video of him below. After such an enthralling race, it was privilege to see him indeed.

Overall?

Was the trip worth it? I got to hang out with friends connected to the race. I enjoyed the buzz even if I didn’t understand most of the French being spoken. (Next time I had better start speaking expert sailing French to really appreciate it!). Finally, I saw the Brit entry who had given his all to win the race and but for equipment issues didn’t quite ruin the French day.

Will I be back in 2020? Definitely! There will be at least two foreign contenders and potentially another Brit in the mix to win it. It would be great to have a foreign 1-2 in the foremost French round the world yacht race, and I will be definitely there to witness history!

Steve White – round the world the wrong way

Steve plans to sail round the world on a boat like this

A central Dorset sailor is planning to break the record for sailing solo the wrong way round the world next November. Steve White is an experienced solo sailor having come 8th of the 9 skippers to complete the Vendee Globe in 2008-09. 30 boats started the race, showing what an achievement it is to even make it home solo the ‘right way around’. He plans to sail 24,000 miles on his own on a former Volvo Ocean 70 Grand Prix racing yacht, against the prevailing winds of the Southern Ocean.

This is no mean feat. Where the east about record is 57 days 13 hours, the west about round the world record is 122 days and 14 hours. This requires great feats of physical and mental endurance and success will allow him to join a group of only four who have broken that record.

What is the wrong way?

Weather systems travel around the Southern Ocean from west to east, meaning that the ‘right way’ is to follow the weather systems on their endless path around Antarctica. Over 200 people have done this as a solo trip, with the fastest solo east about round the world time being just over 57 days.

Where 200 sailors have sailed around the world ‘the right way’, only five have attempted to sail around the world solo the wrong way – west round the world. You need a totally different set of kit to do this – where the right way can be done on a huge trimaran you can only really sail the other way on a mono hull as they can sail so much closer to the wind.

Another thing about going the right way round the world is that because the current record is so fast, Steve White explained to me, “there are a lot of people building very huge trimarans for this, and you could spend many millions of pounds and make it around only to be 10 minutes too slow!”

This is not to say that going into the wind for over 12,000 miles is a gentle stroll. The winds and waves are hammering the boat and it will be extremely uncomfortable. If it was easy, many more would have attempted it – as is, more people have walked on the Moon than have made this record attempt.

Who is Steve?

I met Steve a few weeks back the night before the start of the Vendee Globe solo round the world yacht race in Les Sables d’Olonne on the Biscay coast of France. I was introduced to him by my hosts, who have lived in the small fishing town for many years and are connected to the race. Beers were drunk and he came back to my hosts’ place for dinner where he told some of his back story.

Steve wasn’t born to sailing. He was a professional horse rider based in Mid Dorset for many years and one day bought himself a small boat to sail with a friend. He got into sailing for fun, and one day his boss at the stables offered him a chance to sail on a BT Global Challenge 60 footer as a passenger. To cut a long story short, Steve loved it so much he quit his day job and became a professional sailor.

Fully qualified and with many thousands of miles’ experience under his belt, Steve signed up to race the Vendee Globe in 2008. To survive that race and make it home is no mean feat. To be one of the nine who made it with a 70% attrition rate among the fleet shows just what an achievement this is.

The 2017 round the world campaign

This is the boat’s cockpit as she is now. Needs a lot of changes for Steve White to sail round the world alone…

Steve plans to convert a Volvo Ocean 70, not unlike the former Telefonica boat in the images here, to be sailable by one person. These boats are designed to be sailed by 10 people and are blisteringly fast in the right hands – they sail on ‘apparent wind’ in much the same way as the Americas Cup catamarans do, and can sail at speeds in excess of 25 knots in 20 knots of wind.

Doing this won’t be cheap, but will be chicken feed by comparison to a typical Volvo Ocean Race campaign for example. Where Steve estimates the total cost will be in the region of £1.4 million to get the boat ready for a solo sailor, to pay for a personal trainer to get Steve physically up to the job, do a trans-Atlantic shakedown trip and then to do the record attempt itself, a Volvo Ocean race campaign will cost in the region of £12 million. Steve joked, “No one’s getting fat off this campaign!”

Those sponsoring it should see very good returns – on Ellen MacArthur’s 2004-05 solo round the world campaign it is estimated that the sponsors Kingfisher got £100 in publicity for every £1 spent on her campaign. Not a bad return on investment!

There is no fixed date for the record attempt – he will wait for the right weather and then set off. The weather needs to be just right for Steve to blast out of the English Channel and south west across the Atlantic to catch the Trade Winds south to the Equator. It needs to be in the Southern Hemisphere summer so he will leave in around November 2017. He explained to me, “We will go on standby on October the 12th for a November start. Ideally I need to go in November as recently there have been little Low Pressure areas in the South East Trade Winds in the early part of the year that could delay me coming back from the South Atlantic.”

A large part of the campaign is being on the right side of the weather and given that he plans on making time on the record attempt by getting maximum speeds in the charge south to the Southern Ocean and then north back to Portland in Dorset, problems with the weather could stymie his attempt.

The calling…

The sea gets under your skin and as I have found, once you have been out there you want to go back time and again. Where I am a very experienced cruising sailor I am pleased just to walk in the shadow of the giants who race around the world singlehanded.

It seems for them too, once you have done a solo round the world race you get called back to do it by something mysterious and greater than yourself. Even at the age of 44 Steve wants to do another Vendee Globe campaign in 2020 when he’s 48, beginning his preparations as soon as he returns from the record attempt.

Age isn’t a problem when it comes to racing around the world – indeed it can be an advantage. Pointing out that the oldest skipper on the current Vendee Globe is Jean Le Cam who is 57 years old (and currently in 8th spot on the fleet), Steve said to me, “It is not only a physical sport but a cerebral sport and to that extent you get better as you get older. If you look at the ultra-marathon runners and other endurance sports competitors they tend to be older and that comes with mental toughness!”

Wishing him luck!

As with all major feats like Steve White’s, you can prepare for every eventuality but it is down to the cooperation of the weather and sea whether you make it or not. I for one hopes he achieves this – if he manages to beat the current record he will be among the upper tier of the giants of ocean racing.

Watch this space for developments in his campaign – I for one will be following it closely… For more details of Steve’s campaign visit www.whiteoceanracing.com or watch this video

A sailing geek’s view of the Vendee Globe…


A few weeks ago I discovered an old shipmate of mine from my square rigger days lives in Les Sables d’Olonne, home of the Vendee Globe singlehanded round the world race, and has connections to one of the teams, as well as one of the two Golden Globe entries from this quiet fishing town on the Biscay coast of France. I messaged him by Facebook and got an immediate invite to be a part of one of the greatest sailing events on Earth.I am a bit of an elite sailing geek. When I’m not getting depressed as hell about the destruction of the NHS and welfare state on Facebook I switch over to my passion of following the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean and Vendee Globe – not unlike a footie fan switching off by following their team. I’m lucky enough to have a few regular sailing writing clients too, so in some ways I can indulge my passion through my profession. This trip though, was purely social.

Everest my arse

People often speak of climbing Everest as the greatest physical challenge to man. It isn’t. I discovered today that something like 3500 people have summited the mountain and survived. Did you know that in the last 150 or so years, only 41 people have sailed around the world singlehanded? Most of those have done it in the Vendee Globe, though you have the odd record attempt such as Ellen MacArthur in 2005. With only 12 people walking on the Moon, a solo circumnavigation is closer to a Moon landing than Everest in terms of numbers of people who have actually done it.

The madness began…

I warned my clients, including my sailing writing clients, that I was off for a few days to indulge my passion, and got in the car last Friday on my crazy adventure. Accuse me of being a midlife crisis boy if you wish, but I’m not going to get a replica boat and wear replica gear and go to sailing event ‘sportives’ like middle aged men in Lycra (Mamils) do on their racing bikes. I was just going down to see and taste the madness around the event. I left at 5 in the morning and got there 15 hours later and caught up with my host who I hadn’t seen since we were hard drinking 19 year old tall ship crew in the US Northeast. Bed (finally) after a 22 hour day…

Golden Globe? A race for real men…

Outside the village was ‘my friend’s’ Golden Globe boat, a very sturdy and very slow 32 footer that is set to sail its occupant and a steady pace around the world in 2018 in around six to eight months. Unlike the IMOCA 60 Vendee Globe boats, its autopilot is controlled mechanically by a wind vane and its navigation systems are a sextant, speed log, magnetic compass and a paper chart. The racers will leave Falmouth in 2018.
The last Golden Globe was completed by only one man, Robin Knox Johnson, while the rest of the competitors sank, retired or committed suicide. Six months alone at sea is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one.
Into the village…

The village…


My friend and I went down to the race village with our access all areas passes, and joined the crowds. It was estimated that 70,000 people turned up the day before the start – the picture above is just the press to get through security at the gate!

It was an opportunity to see the boats close up, though understandably with 24 hours to go you had to have a wristband as well as an access all areas pass to get on the dock. Our passes gave us access to the press area and a chance to breathe in air that wasn’t flavoured with red wine, garlic and cheese…

Even though I have an aversion to crowds I caught the bug of enthusiasm from the French there. The symbiosis between the town’s government and the Vendee organisers made it a real success. Two months after the summer season petered out, so the local tourist businesses got full tables at the restaurants and many a bottle of wine was sold for a solid week. UK seaside councils could replicate this and really benefit – offer free entry to a global event and let your local businesses have a field day. UK councillors generally don’t understand that events such as this have a direct impact on their tax revenues…

Beer o’clock

After going sailing on a classic boat that afternoon, so the time came to socialise. We met a Vendee veteran from the UK who was ploughing through the beers, who told us a few stories. While racing on your own you never sleep for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. Alex Thompson, skipper of Hugo Boss, has a shock watch that gives him a jolt if he has been still for more than 30 minutes. My new drinking buddy explained that there’s no sense in practising sleep before – he spent the week before getting drunk and making last minute decisions before waking up at early o’clock and getting into routine once the race had started.

The Vendee Globe begins…

After another extremely late night I was up at 0800 on the Sunday. Coffee and cigarette in hand, I noticed cheering from a crowd. The coast was half a mile away and clearly many of the 350,000 spectators had found their spots many hours before and were using wine to fend off the cold.

The family had national TV breakfast news on and all the skippers were interviewed before they headed out. The French take this event at least as seriously as the Tour de France (unlike the cycling event they have a chance of winning it) and I know that the Vendee Globe race tracker will get millions of hits a day.
I’d paid €75 to join a spectator boat myself. A week earlier and I may have got a €230 place on a boat with lunch but it is worth shopping around – it isn’t just the Vendee organisers who run the boats. Anyway, the ten vessels left the dock after the 31 racers, and the dangerously drunk crowds on the shore cheered us as if we were in fact going around the world…

We passed some of the competitors as we went to a holding area, around a hectare of sea where ten, 100ft ferry boats jostled for a view of the start line. If you imagine a dancefloor full of pissed hippos, then add in the 1200 lives aboard, you can imagine just how nerve wracking watching the other boats was… Whenever a boat tried to get sea room, the French Gendarmarie boat jostled us back into the pissed hippo mosh pit.
The gun went off and suddenly everything changed for the spectators – the ferries’ bows turned out to sea, and throttles on full ahead as we just about kept pace with the IMOCA 60’s. In sunshine and on a broad reach in F5 winds, this was the best ever weather for a Vendee Globe race start. People explained to me it is usually into F7-9 head winds and big seas that break half the fleet in a few days.

Not today – we blasted out to sea in perfect conditions. With 1.5 metre swells those on the bow got wet, while those with hangovers or prone to seasickness soon lost their lunches. An hour later we slowed, and headed back to port at a cruising pace. I’d been told we would be out until 4 and we were home by 3 but I had a massive grin – it was brilliant fun and something I plan to do again.

Overall?

Beer and food until the wee hours, and up early for my drive home. 16 hours after my return I’m still a bit of a wreck from the weekend.

I write this with a note of sadness though. I’m from an island nation that once ruled the waves. With regard sailing we might as well be a central European nation with no sea whatsoever. We ignore our sailors by and large, who are still some of the best in the world.

From a business perspective, the likes of Weymouth, Plymouth or Christchurch could run an event such as this and make their local businesses very happy indeed. Make it free, and get a buzz going: watch the cash flow in by the kilo. I hope one of my old home towns Falmouth does the Golden Globe like Les Sables d’Olonne does the Vendee Globe, as it could inject tens of millions into their coffers through business rates.

The UK has the resources to make sailing big again. It just needs the bollocks to go for it.

Click here to see a short film of it…

This is no get rich quick story – how to become a successful writer!

How do you become a successful writer? Be modest and hardworking. It will come.

In the modern world we writers are just as challenged by celebrity and success as almost any other field. Let’s face it – most people won’t make £100 an hour unless they are very lucky and skilled. After 10 years in the business I am making a living – I can meet all my bills and feed my family from the work I do. Here is an honest and realistic set of tips and tricks to work toward the level of modest and honest success I have achieved over the years.

1. Be prepared to work hard

There is no way to succeed in life without really going at it. To be a successful writer you will begin by earning far less than you want, but in doing so you are developing your skills. Very few people can honestly say they started out as a brilliant writer and developed from there – everyone starts at a baseline and as they get more commissions, so their skills improve.

2. Invest time in your clients.

Don’t be afraid to work silly hours to produce the quality you want to impress your new clients. I call that time spent, ‘investing in the client’. With all new clients you will have to spend that extra bit of time to get what they want from you. In return you should get a loyal and regular client – loyal and regular clients pay your bills at the end of the day! Equally be sensible – don’t work for less than £7 an hour and work on the basis that as you get to know your client’s business, you will speed up!

 

3. People Per Hour

Over the years one of the best sources of work for me has been through People Per Hour. There are other portals such as Guru.com. Focus on one of these and bid for work. Though many of them can be criticised for allowing a race to the bottom in rates, they are a source of good work. Don’t be frightened to bid relatively low at first – your aim is to develop your portfolio at the end of the day and by winning bids so you can get that essential paid portfolio under your belt. I still use the same portal and charge the rates I need to live on, which are certainly not £7 an hour!

Bid regularly for your work. If you are on Tax Credits or the Jobcentre is breathing down your neck, you can justify the time bidding as time working – if you don’t bid at the end of the day you won’t get commissions.

Another point to consider is to write original bids every time. People hiring get used to seeing the standard format approaches. Make it personal to them!

 

4. Get in with an agency

If you can get writing for an online copy agency early on in your career, this may well be a good idea. They chuck all sorts of commissions at you and you can develop your ability as a general copywriter from there. Their chief weakness is that they can only charge so much for the copy you write for them, so you will get a relatively small income. They can really help you develop your portfolio however, and get you used to writing good copy under some time pressure.

Though not something you want to be doing in 10 years’ time as a writer, agencies are a very good bunch to write for. They take away the need to constantly pitch for work, and can leave you just focusing on quality output. It is that quality output that you can use to drive your career forward.

A lot of agencies come looking for writers through portals such as People Per Hour. Regular writing gigs are what you want at the end of the day!

 

5. Website

You need a strong online presence to show off your work. Start with a free website such as wordpress.com and show off your best work from there. My own website here is a development from that. It shows my best work over the years for a huge range of titles I have written for. Ideally it should be search engine optimised – considering much of your work will include key words and human readable text for Google you should be fairly good at optimising your own work!

 

6. What are your niches?

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Write about you know is an age old adage that still holds true to this day! The better and more specialised your niche the better your chances at getting work. I used to be a top UK mental health writer but honestly, this is where thousands of others compete in. I am now a reliable sailing writer that many people contact direct for my knowledge and skills. I maintain an interest in parcels and global logistics writing – these have always brought home the bacon.

Try to tread the untrodden path. Millions write in fashion, health, diet and automotive. Do you have an interest in writing about heavy goods vehicles? What about gardening? Could you write about the latest fiction books on the market every day? Find a couple of tight little niches and make them your own!

 

7. Get a lot of clients

We all dream of that golden client we can rely on who gives us piles of copy. This isn’t always a good idea. Relationships change and things get stale. My oldest writing relationship is 10 years old this year but I hardly produce anything for them as my interests are elsewhere. Many of my current clients are 2-3 years old and we’re going great guns, and I still have the bug to write for them. One used to give me £300 a month worth of work but now it is less than £100 as their needs changed. By having 15 clients so your different relationships can change and you can better survive the peaks and troughs of work. Some disappear for months and then reappear to give me piles of the stuff! It soon mounts up.

Will you be a millionaire?

I’d love it one day if a client felt that my work was worth £100 an hour and they wanted ten hours work a week from me. It hasn’t happened yet! I’m comfortable enough from what I produce from my online copywriting that I don’t worry how I’ll pay the rent this month. I’m actually saving for my retirement and planning for the future now. If you go through this life telling yourself you’re not good enough, you’ll go nowhere fast. If you constantly seek to improve? You won’t do badly!

Richard Shrubb and sailing writing

 


The saying goes, ‘write about what you know’ so that’s why I am a good sailing writer and blogger! What… you want more?

At school sailing was my passion. It was my escape too, with no way to go home from a very large public school where I was bullied extensively. I sailed in all conditions on Toppers – from weather where all the other boats were turned turtle, my surviving the gusts by easing sheets and bearing away, to glass calm over at this website. There I was there, and school was in sight but out of mind.

The bigger the wind the better to be honest as in glassy calm my mind would return the quarter mile to school, but in a blast you had to be switched on to an extreme level of consciousness to get around Alton Water, and if a thought of the hell ashore crept into your mind you’d lose it and have to sort out the capsize.

 

A year before the mast on HMS Rose
I probably got straight E’s at A level due to sailing. Through connections stateside I’d landed a gig as a Smallie Boy (an apprentice crewman) aboard the 186 foot tall ship Rose, then out of Bridgeport CT. The management of the school apparently feared me going on a 3 week drunken rampage after the exams finished but school continued. I should have attended Speech Day and Commemoration Sunday (a 200 year old tradition at the school) but for some reason I was allowed to fly to the States early… Why did I fail? I had a series of leaving parties before the exams and was sloshed when I sat them. That’s my excuse anyway…

I flew to the States a big shot and rapidly learned that once again I was the little boy who knew nothing and had a lot to fear. Forgetting the way I disgraced myself on the final night in Erie PA (how I remember is anyone’s guess) I had to get my head around 4 miles of rigging, rigging that went via a 130ft mainmast and a 119ft foremast. I brashly say it took me a week to be any use up there (it was probably two) but soon enough I learned enough to teach.

The year was a crazy adventure, and where I’m sure many an anecdote I regale you with is blown out of all proportion it certainly did mark me for life. Chasing the chilli up and down the mess table in 50mph winds when a 65-70 knot gust hit, rolling us hard. Someone came down below to the Great Cabin and said quietly, “Captain, we have a bit of problem. Would you come on deck please?” Much of the crew had dashed on deck at the same time as Captain Richard Bailey, and we all saw the 65ft, 18inch thick main course yard had snapped in two and was swinging above our heads, held up by the Dacron sail. That was a bit stressful!

The one thing I did carry away was the ability to write. I was trying to woo an old friend from North Carolina into becoming more than friends through an ancient art form – letter writing. I didn’t succeed but she gave high praise for my beautiful writing. We remain good friends to this day.

 

Sailing days since

I sailed whenever I could depending on my lifestyle afterwards. I have a BSc (Hons) in Maritime Studies from what is now Solent University in Southampton. It was the only sailing degree at the time and because I lost my way I didn’t take full advantage. I am open about the fact I was losing my mind in those days and freely admit my foot was hard on the accelerator on the road to hell. Many a 20 something loses their way and 1% of us end up with the illness I have.

My parents bought a house in Spain with a dock and for many years I sailed with them and friends on various boats out of Roses in Catalonia. When I was diagnosed and treated, so I was told to write therapeutically. I saw this as a way out and took an adult education course and then an MA in broadcast journalism to get away from the disabled world. At Falmouth I raced in the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, and did a delivery from Spain to Dartmouth. Playing catch as catch can with a tanker in a F7 headwind in the wee hours of the morning on the Bay of Biscay put me off sailing for a while. I felt this was a major argument with my old friend Neptune. Proper friendships never die from one screaming match…

 

Sailing journalist – Weymouth 2012
I moved to Weymouth with my wife and cats in 2010 to land a writing gig and hopefully cover the Olympics. None of the obvious doors were open to me, but by chance I started writing for Boating Times Long Island. In late 2011 I discovered that there were two Long Islanders who were bidding to get into Team USA. I watched the Olympic Trial for the Eliot 6 metre match racing from a press boat with a journalist for Sailing World. Stu Streuli seemed to like my work and determination to write for the big boys, so gave me the ability to pitch to the magazine.

I pitched to several other titles – have a look at my sailing portfolio to see how well I got on! The pressure was phenomenal. Working from 8 in the morning for UK clients, and working with US clients from 1400 – midnight on some nights. Chatting up sailors from around the world, staying onside with various teams. I may have cracked the big time?

I won’t recount why I didn’t here. Perhaps ask me in person?

 

The road since?

I have owned and sold a boat in Bedfordshire since. I write for Boating Times Long Island and blog for The Boating Hub still, and have done a number of one off gigs for a variety of clients including the America’s Cup World Series hospitality team and a few sailing businesses.  If you want me to blog for you? Contact me through my website – I’d be happy to discuss terms!

Richard Shrubb’s adventure sports writing

Richard’s adventure sports writing comes from his need to get out and explore the world.

It is all very well watching something – many get a thrill from that – but what about doing it? What is it like for your body and mind to scream “NO MORE!” yet to still push to your destination? At sea, far from the nearest port there is no way of getting off the boat unless you’re so hopeless you decide to quicken your demise by going over the side. Far out in the countryside on your mountain bike you could be miles from mobile phone reception when it goes tits up so you just need to repair and recover.

Adventure sports are not always great for TV. Indeed, there are at least two sailing events I know (The R2AK boat race annually, the Golden Globe next year) that eschew continuous coverage altogether. They do need covering though, and who has done adventure sports before and has a passion for the genre can write about it in a way that brings it to life.

Over this piece I will write about my own experiences and show that someone who has been out there can be the best adventure sports writer for your website or magazine…

Life at the edge

Some kids find that they are good at sprints. They may have good agility and be able to do great things with a football. They worship teams of men who get paid millions to chase a ball around a pitch. I understand the camaraderie having stood at the Fratton End of Fratton Park watching Portsmouth play.

Others like a bit more substance. They are loping, long distance runners, cyclists and sailors. They enjoy asking questions of themselves – can I climb that mountain? What’s in that bay? Can I run 15 miles at a rate of 5 minutes per mile? Once you take those first few steps to answer those questions, so a physiological and psychological battle begins. Initially you’re going well, and then the pain sets in, grinding you down and asks your mind, “Can I do this?” Your mind has to respond, “I will assess in a few miles” or you could end up finding your way home with your tail between your legs.

I had a collision with a runner while on my bike last summer. He ran in front of me, I locked up and we both went down. I shouted, “Jesus Christ! You OK?” as he ran off. I thought my arm was a bit bruised but felt alright otherwise, and cycled on another 14 miles. It wasn’t until I had had a bath and tried to drive my car later that I discovered the adrenalin had got me home and that something wasn’t right – an hour later I was treated for a broken elbow at the local hospital.

Over longer distances and journeys, the weather and nature will play a part. You need then to assess whether your body is good enough to tackle the new conditions and progress. It is safer to run for port than get your arse kicked at times. Others? You believe you have the skills to make it. Crossing the Bay of Biscay in 2005 over two days and two nights in a 32ft yacht with 30-40 knots of wind on the nose, seemingly every other wave breaking over the cockpit, we knew we could do it slowly and gently. Dodging 500ft tankers that were driven by autopilot and getting far too close for comfort in the middle of the night sharpened the senses, and extreme tiredness made it a lot harder. You walk away from that and you believe in yourself a lot more than before the adventure.

spirit-1It ain’t all bad!

There are real highs to be had – blasting up the west coast of Scotland on a brisk, sunny day with waves breaking 50 feet up the deck from the bow of the schooner, spray flying and the crew grinning like Cheshire cats. A day crossing Lake Erie aboard a 186ft square rigged sailing ship (and my home for a year) in perfect winds in 30 degrees C of heat, all sails set and the crew thinking collectively, “This is what I signed up for!” Seeing parts of Dorset that few others have the privilege of seeing, only an hour’s ride from home.

At the end of the best adventures you walk tall. You know the challenges you have faced, scrapes you have got into, and know that nothing will stand in your way in the real world. If you can walk the length of the topsail yard, 75 feet above the deck while in a rolling sea without using your hands to balance you, you may have a little too much confidence, but the respect of the trainee you have just spent half an hour guiding up to that point.

How does all this translate?

Those who know what they go through to achieve their own adventures can get a good idea as to what others must do to achieve their own. If your legs feel like fire as you climb a 400 metre climb on your mountain bike then you look on in awe at Chris Froome who leads the peloton by half a mile as he climbs Alpe D’Huez. If you’ve crossed Biscay in a storm then you can imagine what your hero is doing on Hugo Boss in the Southern Ocean on the Vendee Globe single handed round the world race.

Get in touch today!

Among the adventure sports I have done, I have done kite buggying, sailing, cross country mountain biking, hang gliding, run half marathons, and climbed mountains. I have canoed down the Shenandoah River over five days. I have done all this in Europe, the Falklands, Caribbean, and the US. I am a paramotoring writer, cycling writer and sailing journalist. From these references I can write about your adventure sport too!

Contact me via my contact page and I will be to discuss your requirements!