Thursday, 19 April 2018

Frampton: when it all goes right

Spent a lovely evening charging around the cans at Frampton last night. The weather has suddenly flipped, and gone from bleak mid winter straight up into the twenties, so it was my first race of the year in shorts and tee-shirt. Hopefully, it won't be the last.

The entire day had seen a stiff, steady southwesterly breeze accompanying the sunshine and, like the temperature, tripping up into the twenties. Thankfully, it lasted through until the evening.

We sailed Amanda's Enterprise. The boat needed a few repairs to the kicker and flyaway jib pole, and a replacement burgee, so despite getting to the Club early we were last out onto the water. We made the start line with a few minutes to spare however, so all good.

The wind had backed (presumably) between the race committee laying the course and commencing the start sequence, which put a huge bias onto the line that nobody else seemed to notice. Consequently, they all massed together for a conventional starboard tack start, labouring simply to lay the line itself, and Amanda and I, holding well back from the line and away from the crowd until the last thirty seconds, made a charge on the pin end that came off perfectly, hitting the line at full speed on port tack just as the starting gun granted us the all clear.

I've never actually successfully pulled off a port flyer at the start before. I have to admit I wouldn't have tried it with a larger fleet, and there were a few regulars missing last night who would never have let me get away with it had they been there. But it worked, we were halfway to the windward mark before the rest of them even cleared the line to join us in the race and the feeling was delicious.

We raced for the next fifty minutes in warm sunshine and clean air, never needing to look back; the rest of the fleet never even got near us.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Calstar: Winched

I'm the first to confess there's not a lot I know about winches. I'm not of a naturally mechanical bent, you don't find them on dinghies, and despite my logbook showing that by the end of last year Dad and I had sailed a grand total of 2130.5 nautical miles with Calstar now, that's still where I've done most of my sailing over the last fifteen years.

Interestingly, and a complete aside, those 2130.5 miles have been covered over 251 hours and 43 minutes of being underway. That works out at an average speed over ground of 8.5kn, which I think is rather impressive for a 26' bilge keeled Westerly Griffon.

Then again, that's the Bristol Channel tide for you. I expect the average is going to drop somewhat now.

Anyway. Calstar, of course, has winches. They've just worked without any stress for the last three years, except for one brief episode last spring when the starboard genoa winch stopped gripping. I smacked it with the winch handle, and that sorted the problem out. Had meant to look into servicing them, but then other things got in the way and we forgot about it.

I should add we have winch covers for each of the winches, and they are religiously put back on and secured at the end of each day's sailing, so they're not left exposed. That's probably they only reason they've kept going so well despite my neglect.

On Saturday, whilst on the way out towards Eddystone, the starboard winch slipped once more. It took a couple of bashes with the winch handle to get the ratchet to bite again. Sunday morning, as a solid 20 knots was blowing through the Sound and we were packing up to come home, I checked the winch again, and it was slipping under my hand and intermittently refusing to bite. Smacking it was beginning to have unreliable results.

It's a an old Lewmar 30 Two Speed winch, not self-tailing, and probably as old as the boat. It's always looked like a bit of an impenetrable unit to me, with no obvious clips or screws or bolts to effect its disassembly. After clearing out the rope locker and climbing in to get at it from below, I discovered there's no way into it from down there either.

It is good for the soul to clean out the rope locker every once in a while, however.

Then Dad spotted the circlip  that holds the top plate on, and after a bit of finessing the thing with a little screwdriver, it came free and the whole thing lifted apart.

In amidst the grease of the ratchet mechanism were clogs and clumps of what appeared to be dog hair. I'll swear the stuff gets everywhere. No metal shavings or obviously worn gears however, so that was a good thing.

We picked the rotten stuff out, leaving the good grease in place and handling the whole mechanism very gingerly in case we accidentally knocked anything and the whole lot sprang apart in our hands. Then we reassembled it. All appears to be working, although it's obviously well overdue that service.

Now we've unravelled the mysteries of disassembly, I wasn't particularly phased by the thought of servicing the thing. However, back at home and now quite swatted up on the matter via YouTube and Google, Dad has meanwhile had a word with the John at Allspars (the folks that stepped our mast for us) and has now told me they're going to do it for him.

It's like he doesn't trust me or something?

Now it has to be said, playing with grease and diesel and springs and ratchets isn't my idea of a good time; it strikes me that an awful lot can go wrong and if it does, replacing a main winch is going to cost £600+ a piece. Plus I bite my nails (an intentional habit; best way of keeping them to length for the guitar) and discovered on Sunday that grease tastes horrible. However, paying somebody else to do it for us does feel a bit like cheat mode.

A bit like driving the boat over to Plymouth on the back of a flatbed rather than sailing her around. Although on that one, I have to admit Dad was right. If we'd tried to sail her, we'd still be stuck now in the Bristol Channel dreaming of blue water, rather than sailing on it.

So I'm going to give his wisdom the benefit of the doubt on the winch servicing issue. And at least I know how to get into them myself now if we ever find we have to

Calstar: Eddystone

It was a good weekend. Sure, the conspiratorial weather forecast for Sunday and Monday derailed our original plans, but Saturday was as gorgeous as promised.

Bright sunshine, blue skies and a fresh breeze coming into the land from south of south east, the local forecast was F3 gusting 4, more in the west, and expected to build into the afternoon. Wanting to do something more than just sail around the Sound again, I considered sailing out to Looe to the west, but with east in the wind, didn't fancy a long, uncomfortable beat against the tide to get home again once we got there.

The Eddystone Rock is a reef that lies about eight nautical miles off Rame Head (the headland that shelters the western side of Plymouth Sound) and is marked with a significant and quite distinctive lighthouse. Charmed by the thought of leaving the land behind us for a while, Dad and I settled for a trip out to see it.

We cast off a little before low water at 1030 in bright sunshine and a lively breeze. Clearing the Mountbatten breakwater, we had the sails up within ten minutes of dropping our lines, a cautious first reef in the main and a full genoa. The wind was a lively F3 from the south east and the little yacht felt very lively as we fetched across the Sound towards the Western Entrance.

The sun was warm, even if the sky was a little hazy, and for the first time this year we were sailing without our waterproofs on. Twenty minutes later we left the Sound via the Western Entrance, and hardened up on to a tight reach to lay Eddystone, some ten miles distant, and very much still lost out of sight within the hazed horizon.

The tidal flow runs east until HW-3, when it reverses to the west after a period of slack, so for the run out we enjoyed the lift of having the tide on our lee bow. By 1142 we were six and a half miles out, covering 6kn  over the ground, so close enough to hull speed, with a first reef in the main still and now a single roll in the genoa.

As the land fell away astern, much of the other yacht traffic that had surrounded us during our departure disappeared behind. We were briefly overhauled by a J80 with a crew of three, before they tacked off to the east. They seem to be quite popular little pocket racers, there were a few at Portishead and Penarth, and there are a number in QAB. They do look like fun. I like the accommodation and comfort of the Westerly, and really do enjoy just cruising from harbour to harbour in her with Dad and Nik.

But were it not for the regular fix I get on the lake with my Enterprise, I'd really miss racing. The 8m J/80 looks like exactly the sort of little keel boat I'd love to race with. The other one that appealed to me was the 7m Hunter Sonata; Ben and I crewed a race on one in Falmouth a couple of years ago.

Over the next hour, the wind and sea gradually built and the sky greyed over. Chilled, I conceded to the fact that it was still early spring and pulled my waterproofs on for their extra warmth. At 1245, the Eddystone lying abreast of our port beam, we tacked and started back.

Aside from the whole "slack water" thing that I've mentioned previously, there is another aspect to sailing here that is markedly different to sailing in the Bristol Channel. Tacking angle. Making passage from Portishead to Penarth on the ebb into the inevitable south westerly with 7 knots of tidal flow running with you, the tacking angle of a Westerly Griffon is a miraculous 20 to 30 degrees or so, as your course is measured over the ground.

In the English Channel, without the help of a Bristol Channel tide, the tacking angle of a bilge-keeled Westerly Griffon really isn't that.

We'd been set on a close reach to get out here, so I'd half expected anything from a beam to a broad reach would take us back, and was in fact nervous about sailing too high in case the run home became too much of a downwind, genoa smothering slap for comfort.

As it turned out, once we'd tacked through the wind, to lay the Western Entrance and not get caught having to beat back up into wind to get around Rame Head, I had to set the little yacht hard over on a close hauled beat. Cracking off just a point or two added a respectable knot to the boat speed, so I settled for slightly less height to our course in the hope that the wind would lift closer in to shore.

By 1253 I'd put a second roll into the genoa. We were still covering just shy of 6kn over the ground, a little less now through the water as the tide started to turn against us, and Calstar was taking a lot of spray over her bows, soaking her sails and the coach-roof, but she's a very dry, comfortable boat if you're in her deep, sheltered cockpit. Even with the genoa rolled down, she was still hard over and sloughing off to leeward in the bigger gusts, so I gave in to the inevitable and put the second reef into the main. It knocked half a knot off our boat speed through the water, but our speed over the ground hardly dropped, the reduction in leeway we gained by stiffening her up with reduced sail must've more than compensated for the loss of actual speed.

For the first hour of the trip back, the wind was cold, the sky grey and visibility murky; no more than four of five miles at best. It didn't rain, but a lively sea on Calstar's starboard shoulder slapped lots of foaming spray over her. We remained sheltered within her deep cockpit however, and didn't even feel the need to pull the spray-hood up, although I did slid the companionway hatch shut.

As we closed with the shore, the murk receded to haze and the sun reappeared in the sky, easing the chill out of the wind as the land re-emerged from the haze. Still holding a point or two off of close-hauled to keep the boat speed up, our course lifted just enough to clear the headland and lay the western entrance and we re-entered the sound amidst a scattering of other yachts and fishing boats at 1445.

We held our course across the Sound back towards QAB, running parallel with a couple of other yachts and getting ducked by a big racer, close-hauled and screaming through the water on port with a full compliment of rail-monkeys hiking out on the windward guard-wire, the helmsman giving a cheerful wave as he ducked, scraping past our stern with about half a boat length to spare. Dad was below at the time so rather than worrying him by mentioning it, I took a photo to show him later.

We dropped sail at 1500, a little early but straying intentionally onto the conservative side, then gently motored in, dodging all the traffic going with, against and across us. It was an understandably popular day out on the water.

We slipped into our berth at 1524, just shy of 5 hours underway, most of that under sail, and 25.8 nautical miles of water having slipped between our keels since we'd set out that morning.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Conspiracy theory

It is as if there's a conspiracy against me.

Sunday has been looking rubbish all week, but Saturday looked nice, so I made arrangements to have Monday off work, theory being we could sail to Fowey on the Saturday, shelter there through Sunday, then come back to Plymouth on Monday.

And then, slowly as the week wore on, Sunday has stayed bad, but Monday has gradually got worse and worse until the point where it looks no better.

Saturday still looks nice though. So it looks like this weekend will be yet another potter around the Sound, too wary to go anywhere because we won't have time to get back.

The plan is to drive straight down to Plymouth after tonight's gig so we're there first thing tomorrow.

I am wondering what the English Channel looks like with 30 knots of onshore wind. Not as bad as the Bristol Channel, I suspect, but I still rather suspect I shouldn't drag Dad out into it unless there really is no other choice.

And there is always another choice.

Saturday, 7 April 2018


What she said: Can we go to Cabot Circus? Would it be okay if Lisa came with us?

What she should've said: I want to spend my birthday shopping with my best friend Lisa. Could you give us a lift to Cabot Circus and then come pick us up again when we're finished?

There is so much else I could've done today. Instead I've spent the day wandering aimless and alone around the streets of Bristol. They ditched me, not unreasonably, about five hours ago outside Dorothy Perkins. A day mismanaged and miscomunicated. I should've gone sailing. The gallantry of trying to spend some time with your wife on her birthday is clearly overstated.

I'm ranting on here because she'll never read it. I'm sat on a stone seat in the middle of a Bristol shopping mall, and in a minute I'm going to call Nik and say it's time to go home. It's her birthday, so I'm going to smile and pretend I've had a lovely time too.

Could've been worse. Could've been sat on a stone horse in a Bristol park with a seagull on my head.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Calstar: A weather-bound Easter

The original plan for Easter was to head down to the boat with Dad and Nik on my birthday weekend, head west in to Cornwall for the week and then head back at the end of Nik's birthday weekend. Work commitments originally put paid to that, as I couldn't afford the four days away from the office due to various projects in hand.

Still thought we'd make some good inroads into Cornwall across the four day Bank Holiday weekend we would have for Easter anyway, so I wasn't too sore. I'd be quite happy just to get as far as Fowey.

We were defeated by a combination of weather and wiring.

Friday would've been a good day to sail out, but the electrician Dad had been talking to about the birds-nest of wires as the foot of our mast had got waylaid, so instead of turning up to rewire the mast electrics first thing Friday morning, he wasn't able to get to us until last thing Friday afternoon.

And although he got the electrics sorted out, it turned out we had the wrong socket for the VHF aerial, and it was by then too late to go out and buy the right one.

So yes, Friday would've been a good day to sail, but instead we spent it kicking around Plymouth waiting for the wiring to be done. We did find the Plymouth Gin Distillery though. Nik had bought be a bottle for my birthday. Ironically, from her shop in Gloucester. Although the gift was much appreciated, I didn't bring it with me to the boat. Felt a bit like taking coal to Newcastle ......

Incidentally, I learnt that "Navy Strength" is 57% alcohol by volume, and distilled to that strength because it used to be kept safe the powder room and if, by chance or mishap, it got mixed with the gunpowder, at 57% the powder would still ignite.

Saturday first thing we hit the local chandleries to find the right socket for the VHF. Before we were done, the weather had closed in, unseasonably cold with heavy wind and rain; certainly not the sort of conditions you want to introduce your neophyte sailor of a wife to the joys of sailing the Cornish coast in.

In any case, it turned out that as well as needing to fit a pug to the bottom of the mast head antenna cable, the coachroof socket needed replacing, and once we'd removed that, it transpired that the run of cable from the roof socket to the VHF had rotted and had no slack left in it to cut out the rot, so had to be entirely replaced. Which involved removing a lot of panelling from inside the heads and main cabin and some fiddling wire stripping and soldering to fit the new sockets.

It kept us occupied for most of the day, but by the end of it the ship's radio was once more fully functional.

By Saturday night the rain had eased off so we braved a walk out of the marina to find supper at an an Asian street food restaurant called Suphas. A Saturday night on an Easter Bank Holiday Weekend, they were exceptionally busy and as usual we'd not thought ahead to book a table, but the owner took pity on us and just squeezed us in at the end of the evening's service.

Dad had crab and Nik and I both had sea bream. The collective opinion was that it was all utterly delicious. If a little bit on the messy side to deal with ......

There was a small break in the weather for my birthday on Sunday morning, before the forecast promised things would turn nasty again as yet another front moved through in the afternoon.

So we cast off early and went for a sail, eight miles over a couple of hours, out through the Eastern Entrance of the Breakwater then back in through the west. Extra interest was added by the need to dodge a big ship coming in with attendant pilot boat as we were exiting, but there really is plenty of room in the Sound.

The highlight was out beyond the breakwater when something plummeted from the sky and hit the water with a splash. A minute later a very smug looking gannet resurfaced, clearly having had its breakfast, and bobbed around for a moment or two on the building swell before taking to the sky again. I've never really seen one up close before, only distant, airborne and in silhouette; they really are quite graceful creatures, sleek white bodies with streamlined, black tipped wings.

It was an onshore south-southeasterly wind that built steadily through the morning. We were back alongside our berth a little after midday and on our way into town to look for lunch. The rain started quite literally as we left the Marina grounds, spotting at first then quickly developing into a heavy, constant downpour.

We constrained our wanderings to exploring a couple of pubs in the Barbican and fish and chips for lunch, before returning once more to the boat.

Saturday night we ate in the Marina restaurant again, the weather too wet to venture far. We had the place to ourselves.

By Monday morning the conditions were quite rotten. The rain had backed off, but the onshore wind, gusting to 40 knots out beyond the Breakwater, was pushing a nasty, uncomfortable chop into the marina. Although relatively sheltered behind the significant bulk of the wave screen, it's not like the old docks at Penarth or Portishead, and Calstar was snatching petulantly at her warps.

The solution was a belated birthday present by way of a couple of rubber snubbers from Dad, bought from Force 4, the on-site chandlrey, and rapidly becoming a more regular haunt for us than the pub. They made an immediate difference to the comfort of the boat as she rode in her berth. They've got handy plastic inserts that mean you don't need to thread the entire mooring line through them, making them very quick and easy to fit. Can't help but wonder how long it'll be before I drop one of the plastic inserts in however.

I wonder if they'll float? I doubt it somehow.

Having sorted out the mooring arrangements and made the little yacht as snug and as safe as we could, we capitulated to the weather and headed home.

The holiday traffic turned the two hour fifteen minute journey into a three and a half our slog, but to be fair, we've had worse trying to get home just from Cardiff on a bank holiday, so the journey times so far to and from Plymouth have really been quite tolerable.