Saturday, 10 June 2023


I'm currently sat at my desk, sipping my morning cup of tea, thinking I ought to get my kit together, because in half an hour I head out to karate, and then straight from there to the sailing club to race this afternoon. The club has somehow persuaded the Flying Fifteens fleet to lend their boats to the juniors, and I've (been) volunteered to crew for one of them.

After that, it's home and then straight back out for tonight's gig.

The trouble is, I can't currently move because I have a puppy asleep beneath my desk with her head nestled on my feet and I don't have the heart to move her.

I sometimes wonder who owns who. Actually, I don't. The answer is pretty obvious

Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Freefall: Saturday night

A clip from our gig last Saturday at The Railway Tavern in Bristol, a cover of "America" by a band called Razorlight. All the usual cautions as to being judicious with your volume control apply should you chose to play it. 

Think I've mentioned before how much I enjoy this venue. And, true to form, they were once again a lovely, lively crowd.

And nobody threatened to "do me in" this time, which is always a happy bonus!

Tuesday, 6 June 2023

business as usual

You know it was a good weekend when you have to pause to try and remember what you got up to Friday evening. Turns out it was just the usual date night with Lottie, which was just me and my girl this week as our son Ben and his fiancé Hannah had told us they were planning to drop in, so Nik stayed home to wait for them.

They were still there when we got home from dog training. They're both teachers at a school down in Bristol, so we only ever get to see them at half-term which, apparently, was last week. It was lovely to see them again however. Jack was particularly pleased.

Saturday morning was the usual session at karate; I briefly entertained the idea of heading down to the lake to race the Laser Saturday afternoon, but with a gig planned for the evening in the end opted to stay home, cook me and my youngest son, Sam, some lunch and string a guitar.

The gig was a mad, crazy affair. One of our favourite regular venues, The Railway Tavern in Fishponds, Bristol; when we arrived to set up at 1930 the bar was deserted. We mused that it might turn into a quiet night. Warm, sunny days can be like that, as people tend to end up peaking early so don't necessarily stay out. 

We couldn't have been more wrong. Within an hour, they started to filter in from the street and pub garden, and by the time we started, just on the back of 2130, the place was heaving.

So we had a good gig. Well, most of us. My brother Jamie, our bassist, did not. Early in the first set one of the tuning peg holding his bottom E string snapped, so he had to manage the rest of the night on just three strings, transposing almost everything on the fly.

The crowd didn't care, except for the one or two at the front that were seriously impressed that he made an almost flawless job of it. But self flagellation is his speciality, and he was quite mortified by his own assessment of his performance. 

It's just one of those things. I break strings all the time, so have spare strings ever to hand and if one goes I can generally have it replaced before the end of the song without interruption. I even have a spare guitar near to hand, if it comes to that.

That's not how the bass guitar works though, and in more than thirty years, Jay's not broken a string on stage, let alone the tuning machine peg holding the string in place. I felt for him, but he did good, held himself together and got on with the show. And the crowd loved it.

I was home and finally in bed by about 0400 Sunday morning, so when the alarm went off at 0830, it felt particularly brutal. The evening before, I'd toyed with the idea of taking Calstar out with Dad; a spring tide with low water around 1400, if we'd locked out at 1030, we could've made it down channel, around the Holms and back up. 

The forecast was in the high teens, which in itself was not a problem, but the wind direction was from the north east where, annoyingly, it has sat for quite a while now. Rounding the Holms on Sunday would've meant running down to Flat Holm with the wind and tide, and then turning to beat back home again against a fresh north easterly set over a flooding spring tide. 

So Sunday morning I left Dad in peace to recover from the night before (I actually can't remember the last time he missed a gig) and set off to South Cerney to race my Laser on the lake. A gusty, shifty day with bright, warm sunshine, the racing both morning and afternoon was fun and challenging, if occasionally frustrating.

Three races, two in the morning back to back, followed by a ninety minute pursuit in the afternoon. I didn't win any of them, but managed a second place in the afternoon, beaten by Ali and Cat in their Merlin Rocket in the last fifteen minutes. I snapped the primary line on the Laser's cunningham early in the race, which made the beats tricky and inefficient and cost me a dry capsize. But I can't blame my kit, the Rocket sailed a good, fast race, so would've caught me anyway.

In any case, a day out on the water playing with the Laser was a perfect finish to a good weekend.

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

weekend statistics

Amusingly, according to my so called "smart" watch, being dragged around a busy market and then a forced to endure a foot-sore tour of Stratford-upon-Avon is significantly less "stress" than spending the following day sailing.

Although in fairness, as previously mentioned, Saturday's compensation was a very good lunch, so maybe there's something in it.

Although, as Benjamin Disraeli, or perhaps it was actually Mark Twain, once observed, there are "Lies, damned lies, and statistics".

Anyway, a satellite view of some of Sunday's stress:

Some other random statistics: between the Albacore and Laser on Sunday we sailed 17.3 nautical miles over four hours and twenty minutes. That's almost enough to get me from Portishead to Cardiff. 

Clearly, it's a tough life.

SCSC: pick and mix

It's been a lovely weekend. 

Friday evening was the usual puppy training. I say "puppy" but Lottie is now, of course, just over a year old so it's more like stroppy teenager training. In any case, barring gigs or sailing, it remains our regular Friday night date and she is, all things considered, turning into a very well behaved young lady. 

Who mostly ignores what I say unless I have her ball in my hand. In which case, she's super, super attentive to the least lapse in my concentration, at which point I really have to watch out for my fingers.

Saturday I took one for the team. Nikki had the day off work. She's been saying for a long while now that she and her friend, Lisa, want to visit Wellesbourne Market. Which, as Nikki doesn't drive and Lisa is, at best, a reluctant driver, means that she wants me to take them. Needless to say, none of the accompanying photographs were taken on Saturday.

Wellesbourne is over near Stratford-upon-Avon, so about 90 minutes away, so I've successfully fought a rear-guard action across the last few months by arguing it was unfair to make me drive for three hours and drag me around a market if I'd then have to make it to a gig that same evening.

With the guitarist and drummer away, I'd pencilled this weekend out in the band's diary so that I could go sailing. Nikki, of course, has access to that diary, and therefore instead decreed that this little piggy would go to market with her.

I suppose it was one step better than being forced to go to a car boot sale. But only just. That kind of crowded, noisy, dusty environment is close on to my own personal definition of hell. But Nikki, Lisa and Paul (Lisa's fella) enjoyed it. And I have a terribly patient, forbearing wife who puts up with a lot from me, one way or another, so I think this one was fairly owed.

In compensation, the market is held on the disused part of an old airfield, part of which is still active, so I did get to distract myself as I tramped around the market watching, albeit a little envious of their freedom, a succession of small light aircraft taking off.

And afterwards, we finished the day with a trip into Stratford-upon-Avon and a late lunch in a lovely little restaurant called The Vinter. We had a very nice table in a bay window where I could watch the world go by outside as we ate. The food was delicious and the service exceptionally friendly and welcoming, even if a miscommunication involving changeover of chefs in the kitchen meant that they almost forgot to serve us our main course.

But they'd acknowledged the mistake, apologised and explained the extended wait before we'd even really noticed quite how long our food had been delayed, it was that comfortable a spot and cosy an atmosphere.

Sunday, Nikki went back to work, and I went sailing.

The morning was bright and sunny, with a slowly building breeze blowing out of the east. It made for shifty conditions on the lake, but the Race Officer and his assistant did an excellent job of setting a course that included a couple of good beats and set the start-line well.

Amanda and I sailed the Albacore for the two morning races. We'd fixed the broken toe-straps earlier in the week so it was the first time we'd had it out together for quite a while. I made a complete hash of the first start, getting myself stuck to windward of our friend David in his Aero, who therefore mercilessly pushed us up and over the line.

As the starting gun went, it was immediately followed by another to warn that somebody was OCS ("on course side" or, in English, had crossed the start-line too early) but it wasn't clear to us who. On the rational of better safe than sorry, we tacked as soon as we could make some space, ran back to the line and gybed to restart.

It was inelegant and annoying, but didn't cost us too dearly. We beat our way back through the pack to salvage a respectable finish from the race.

We were much more conservative with the start for the second race. The wind was picking up, which made for some energetic beats, the odd hairy roll-tack, and one or two fun reaches where we got the old boat up on to the plane.

Both races saw some fun, close racing between ourselves, David in his Aero, Al and Fran in Al's Scorpion, Gary in his RS300 and a couple of youngsters, Monty and his crew in what I think was the Club's RS200.

I can't be certain, because a fault with the Club's website means that the results haven't actually been published yet, but I think we managed to beat them all, except for Monty & crew; we lost them in the first race after they infringed on our starboard beat to the windward mark and had to take penalty turns, though I'm not sure we lost them by enough. And they sailed a very good second race, so I won't be at all surprised once the results do come out to find that they beat us all soundly after our times were adjusted for handicap.

Amanda's recovering from a sore neck and didn't want to push her luck with an afternoon race, so at lunchtime we landed and put the Albacore away and I got the Laser out, turning the day into a pleasant pick and mix of dinghy sailing.

The Sunday afternoon race is a ninety minute pursuit, which is my absolute least favourite format. The best part of a pursuit race is in the last ten minutes as all the boats theoretically converge on each other. By stretching the race out to ninety minutes rather than an hour or forty-five, you simply prolong the fun bit.

It's also a bit of an endurance test for the slower boats, especially if it's a breezy day, so I wouldn't be surprised if the format puts more than a few people off.

Compared to the morning, the day had clouded over for the afternoon and the breeze, still in the east, had freshened considerably. Pursuits at South Cerney are run from the shore, which means that if the wind is in the north or east then it's a downwind start.

It's not a huge problem for a pursuit, as long as the course resolves back into a beat somewhere. Everybody starts at their own time, according to their boat's handicap, so the start-line is rarely congested. I was the only Laser sailing, chasing a couple of Solos and being chased, in turn, by a couple of Flying Fifteens and an RS200, so I had the line to myself.

Which turned out to be a bit of a problem. The thing is, even if it's a downwind start, you still need to set the line roughly perpendicular to the first mark. Some sort of confusion with the race committee had resulted in the first mark being laid parallel to the line, leaving me to take my best guess as to which way I needed to sail through it to start.

Having done so, rounded the first mark and half way down a very fast reach towards the next, the Safety Boat caught up with me to pass on a message from the Race Officer that I hadn't crossed the start line.

I beat back to the line, in complete confusion, very frustrated and unable to establish with the slightly bemused safety boat crew exactly how I'd got it wrong. I sailed back around the pin and restarted, into the face of the oncoming Flying Fifteens and the RS200, at which point they told me I'd gone the wrong way through it.

So I tacked under a Fifteen and sailed back through the line the opposite way, restarting at the back of the fleet and trying very hard not to let the pair of much bigger Flying Fifteens simply roll over me.

I nearly threw my toys out of my pram in a fit of frustration and retired. My Laser's much slower handicap means that I should have almost a ten minute head start on the Fifteens, and the job of a pursuit is to maintain it and stay well away from them. Starting in the thick of them, almost a whole lap behind the couple of Solos I needed to catch, it felt like an impossible task.

And then, back on the reach to the second mark, another big gust slammed in and my little Laser all but took off as she leapt up onto the plane. And I decided then that things were still fun enough to make it worth sticking around.

Turns out ninety minutes is a long time to have to fix the misfortunes of a lousy start. The conditions were very shifty, the gusts frequent and hard, and the final beat took up the entire length of the lake, giving plenty of opportunity to make good on the lifts and headers to pick the best course. And plenty of opportunity for myself and others to pick it wrong.

The sailing was occasionally challenging, often exhilarating, and with the gusts frequently touching the low twenties, just on the edge of what I could handle with the Laser's standard rig. Over the next hour and a half I slowly managed to pull away from the Fifteens and catch up with the Solos, eventually even managing to lap the slower of the two as they ran into difficulties dealing with the shifting vagaries of the breeze in the lee of the Clubhouse at the windward mark.

All in all, it was a good finish to a great day's racing. 

Friday, 26 May 2023

FOSSC: back under the blue

In change from the usual Wednesday evening hotdogs, the last couple of weeks have been a bit of a trip down memory lane. It feels like a lifetime ago now, but it was only at the end of 2019 that Amanda sold the Enterprise we'd been racing together at Frampton-on-Severn Sailing Club and we bought the Albacore and moved the focus of our dinghy sailing over to South Cerney.

Prior to that, I'd spent the ten years previous racing Enterprises at Frampton, first with my friend Hels, and then later with Amanda.

Much as I love the Albacore and enjoy South Cerney, I have a lasting affection for Enterprises and their lovely blue sails, and a particular fondness for the club at Frampton. The lake holds so many happy memories; sailing with Dad, sitting on the patio in the summer's warm evening sun with Mum and a glass of red wine, the boys learning to sail, the dogs swimming in the lake. We had some superb racing over the years, and made so many good friends.

So when one of those old friends, Geoff, asked if anybody was available to crew for him in his Enterprise at Frampton the Wednesday before last, I couldn't resist.

It was a good evening's racing, repeated again this Wednesday just gone as Geoff's normal crew, Sue, was still elsewhere disposed. It was great to see Geoff again, and very nice catching up with (and in a few regrettable instances, being overtaken by) lots of other friends that I've not seen in quite a while.

The lake is exactly how I remember leaving it. Which is to say, sadly blighted by weed, even this early in the season. The water is too shallow, too rich with nutrient, and the club's hands too tied by bureaucracy, with limited options currently available to them to do anything about it. 

The main problem is the lake's SSSI status as designated by Natural England; it's a "Site of Special Scientific Interest", as I anecdotally understand it, because of a rare type of weed which grows there. Which, ironically, is being pushed out by the invasive elodea (Canadian pond weed) that now chokes the lake across the spring, summer and autumnal months.

I really enjoyed my visits back to Frampton, it's been too long since I've crewed a dinghy or raced an Enterprise. But I am looking forward to getting back to the deep, clear, weed-free waters of South Cerney this weekend and racing the Albacore with Amanda on Sunday. SCSC has become as much a home to me as Frampton was in it's time.

But if FOSSC ever did manage to sort out their weed problem, and from talk at the club, it does actually seem a possibility that some day they might, I'm pretty certain I'd re-join like a shot. I reckon there's room in my life for two clubs.

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Laser: bailing out

A week ago last Wednesday. It was another of those "don't know which sail to use" kind of days at the lake, with the wind forecast to gust into the 20's, but actually averaging in the low teens.

Despite my misjudgement of the previous week, in the end I elected to stick with the standard rig and threaded on a slightly heavier mainsheet. Boat rigged and readied on the shore, I then headed back to the clubhouse to get changed.

In the time it took me to get my sailing kit on, the heavens opened and rain bucketed down. The squall passed through quickly enough, but by the time I was back on the foreshore with the boat, the cockpit had all but half filled with rainwater.

So I did the sensible thing, undid the bung, drained the boat, then launched.

Forgetting, of course, to put the bung back in.

In a little boat without a bucket or a sponge you only have a couple of options with respect to bailing. You either put the bung out and hope you can get enough speed for the auto-bailer to work. Or you tip her onto her side and let her drain out.

It was a good race. With the cockpit once more dry, sticking with the standard rig proved the right choice in what turned out to be a very variable evening's wind. Twenty-three other boats on the start line with me, and by the end of the evening I'd managed to keep the Laser upright through the gusts and beat them all.