Wednesday, 12 June 2019

FOSSC: cecarial dermatitis

Bottom line up front: a swarm of microscopic parasitic tadpoles were too dumb to realise I wasn't a duck.

With that out the way, before I explain further I should probably warn that whilst I’ll try not to be overly graphic, this post is probably not for the squeamish; aside from ducks, it involves an aquatic snail parasite and a nasty rash.

So you might want to stop reading now, extend me your sympathies and rest assured that we've got everything under control.

Basically, on a Monday night about three or four weeks ago, as I got ready for bed I noticed something of a rash developing across a significant area of my torso. No fever, no discomfort, it didn’t even itch. So I noted it as something of a curiosity and then proceeded to ignore it. As I tend to do with most injuries or ailments. I'm not in any way suggesting this is responsible behaviour however.

It didn’t go away though, and over the next few days became inflamed and now, some weeks later, is finally healing but is very, very itchy. So much so that I didn’t get much sleep last night. Or the night before.

Across the following weeks I also noticed the same around my lower legs and then again, on a later evening, my left forearm, albeit in this latter case it was only the beginning of a rash, an irregularity of the skin, and didn’t develop further. But this happened on a Wednesday evening after I’d been sailing the Enterprise. 

The Enterprise is a much dryer boat than the Laser; on a gentle day, if goes to plan, the only part of you that gets wet is (yes, you’ve guessed it) your left arm, when you push the rudder down into position after launching.

So the source of this nuisance rash was becoming pretty clear.

It turns out to be cercarial dermatitis. Something more commonly known as “swimmer’s itch”. 

I say “commonly”, but I’d never heard of it before. 

I’d guessed it was something to do with the lake; essentially any areas not covered by my wetsuit have been affected. Which at this time of year is a three-quarter length set of hikers, leaving my lower legs, upper abdomen, torso and arms directly exposed to the water. 

I’d assumed it was something to do with the water chemistry. The water levels are low  (as I’ve moaned about before) the lake is choked with weed (as I’ve moaned about before) and the margins of the lake were buffered with bales of barley straw in the Spring to eliminate the blue-green algae of previous years. If that’s not messing with the chemistry of the water, I don’t know what is.

But no. It’s not chemistry. It’s biology. It turns out it’s a parasitic worm.

Not a parasitic infection, I should hasten to add. I’m just collateral damage, a misfire. Unlike some other parasitic worms, this parasite can’t infest humans.

It infects the blood of waterfowl. Said fowl then excrete eggs, which hatch into larval miracidia which then infest aquatic snails. Of which you’d think there would be a fair few in the lake, given the abundance of vegetation for them to feast on at the moment. The miricidia then develop further in their molluscan hosts until they are excreted as microscopic, tadpole-like larvae called cercariae.

These vicious little beasties live in the water for about 24 hours, during which time they swim around the lake hunting for waterfowl to infect and thus begin the whole happy cycle again. Yep, this is the Circle of Life, in all it’s gritty, itchy, tadpole-like glory.

Unfortunately, their hunting instincts are not all they should be, and if they mistakenly land on a person’s skin, like mine whilst I'm swimming back to my capsized boat (again) they’ll attack and burrow in, presumably thinking you’re some kind of big, pink duck. Or goose. Or something. Let's say a swan. I'd much rather be a swan.

Which is unfortunate for them, as they can’t survive in humans. They die. There is zero risk they'll infest your blood or you'll in anyway harbour, host or pass them on. Unfortunately though, you can develop an allergic reaction to this failed invasion.

Thus this rather uncomfortable rash I’m currently having to endure.

I guess it’s good news that it’s not infectious. And good news that the parasite can’t actually infest humans. I picked up a ringworm infection when I was a kid from a stray kitten a bunch of us kids adopted, and one parasitic worm infection in a lifetime is more than enough for me, thank-you.

Not so good is that there is no way to prevent it happening again, other than to avoid contact with infested waters.

Which would mean not sailing at Frampton. So obviously that’s not going to happen.

So I’m taking daily antihistamines to try and prevent or reduce any future reactions, and the chemist has given me chlorphenamine tablets (a generic, non-branded Piriton equivalent) to take four times a day to deal with the present situation, along with the advice that I can use them again if it reoccurs. And a cream to use twice a day to try and reduce the itching. Which, of course, I’m not allowed to scratch.

But scratching feels sooo good. Why are all the good things always bad for you?

Obviously, not capsizing or otherwise limiting my exposure to the water would help. A drysuit or full wetsuit on the rougher days perhaps, but I do like my hikers when I’m sailing the Laser. And my full wetsuit or the drysuit is a bit too much on a lake during the British summer, quickly becoming something of a boil-in-the-bag situation unless it’s pouring with rain. Which, funny enough, doesn’t actually happen all that much in this country, contrary to any impressions we have have given otherwise.

Apparently, these infestations are more likely to occur on bright, sunny days, and when the water is very clear. Exactly when I don’t want to be wearing a wetsuit. And exactly when you want to be out sailing and enjoying the lake.

I’ll just have to settle for a new pair of waterproof socks to give my legs some protection whilst launching, and try not falling in.

We shall see how it goes. 

Anyway, there is a race this evening, so if you want me, you know where I'll be.

Monday, 10 June 2019

FOSSC: wetwork again

I’ve been on a bit of a winning streak for the last few weeks at Frampton, so if I’ve done my sums right, I could probably afford to take next Sunday off and not bother to sail either of the final Class or Pursuit races next weekend. I’m not going to though. That would be silly.

This Sunday was a lower turnout for some reason, perhaps the weather, perhaps because the current Spring series is now drawing to a close. Three Lasers raced in the Class (although the lake was, of course, busier than that because both the Solo and Handicap fleets were also racing). Eight boats sailed in the Pursuit.

I won both, but they made me work for it.

In the class race, Mike got a much better start and took an early lead, leaving me snapping at his transom for most of the hour that followed. I got past him on one of the beats mid-race, but he took my wind on the run that followed and won the overlap at the leeward rounding, nipping back out in front of me again.

Then I got lucky on the last beat of the final lap. With me still just snapping at his heels, he rounded ahead and held onto the starboard beat, presumably to secure height on the layline on what had now, with the wind backing through the race, become something of a close fetch instead of the beat it should've been. With no other real options open to me, I tacked off straight away, and Mike was just a little slow to respond and cover me. I then got very lucky with a lift that let me lay the windward mark in one and easily clear it ahead of him. 

I was then able to maint the lead through the final minutes around the last couple of marks to cross the line clear ahead of him.

He was good humoured about it, but understandably frustrated I think. I almost felt bad taking the win from him.


The wind backed considerably for the second race, a pursuit, and strengthened, some of the gusts giving some very exhilarating down-wind sailing. I managed a much cleaner start, pulling ahead of Mike straight away and making it around the windward mark first, after which I slowly consolidated my lead on him, picking off the slower boats ahead of us one by one.

Then it all went wrong. About half way through, now out in the lead, I got caught in a nasty gust running downwind towards one of the gybe marks. The boat screamed along, on the edge of being out of control, but I just about managed to keep her on her feet. As the gybe mark closed fast, with plenty of room between myself and Mike, tailing me in second, I decided to play it safe, and instead of gybing, hardened up to wear the boat around with a tack.

With the sail controls all set for downwind and the daggerboard still halfway up, still caught in the teeth of the gust the boat hit weed and stopped, dead head to wind, caught in irons. I frantically tried to back the boat out, to get her back off the wind and sailing again, but in the time it took me, Mike had caught up.  As I left the gybe mark to port, he was no more than a boat length behind me and moving fast.

Reaching down to the leeward mark at Yellow, still not settled, with the sail controls all out of kilter, I tried to make the necessary adjustments and, head in the boat, got smacked hard by another gust coming at me unnoticed from astern. We lost control and capsized to windward with a smack.

Kicking myself, desperately grabbing for anything to stop the boat from blowing away from me and trying to secure my plastic drinks bottle back into the cockpit before pulling myself around the stern of the dinghy and back up to the daggerboard to begin the recovery, I kept expecting Mike to go screaming past me at any moment. Instead, Rob went tearing mast in his Solo with a big grin on his face. I pulled myself up onto the daggerboard, and as the boom swung over with a crack, I saw Mike  still behind me, his own Laser tipped ignominiously onto its side, as he struggled with his own capsize recovery.

My mast to windward, the mainsail was pinned by the wind to the water, and reluctant to come up at first. But when it did, it came up fast with the full weight of the still gusting wind behind it. I slipped over the gunwale and into the cockpit as she swung up, grabbing the tiller as I went and throwing my weight out the now windward side to arrest the roll. As the boat levelled back out, just barely avoiding a second capsize, she was already facing downwind in the direction I wanted to go, and moving fast even before I could sheet in on the mainsheet and bring the sail back under control.

Astern, Mike was also now back on his feet, but his boat facing the other direction and stuck in irons, losing precious moments to me as he struggled to bring his boat through and off the wind and get her sailing again.

The rest of the race was spent catching Rob back up, and then once past him again, struggling to break clear. Upwind I had a clear advantage, pointing higher and sailing faster, but down wind he was more than a match for me in boat speed. He clung tenaciously on to my transom throughout the remainder of the race, always threatening, until the very last lap when I finally broke free into clean air and secured my lead.

It was a good afternoon. Low numbers out on the water, but good, close racing throughout. I can almost forgive Frampton the weed and the water levels. Almost. Although the combination of the two is having a detrimental effect on the water quality as well now. It’s a real pity. I know the Club’s committee are doing what they can, but our hands are tied by Natural England as the lake is a designated “site of special scientific interest”.

Ironically this is, in part, due to some of the vegetation that grows there. Or did so once. To my own uninformed eye, everything seems choked out by Elodia (Canadian pond weed) these days.

Freefall: a Hungarian flavour

Saturday night at Over Barn in Gloucestershire; the band to play for the wedding of the new Mr & Mrs Jakab-Hall. They put the band up on a balcony in the barn, overlooking the main barn floor below, a bit like a minstrel's gallery I guess. Definitely a little bit different.

Although his lovely bride Charlotte is Gloucester born and bred, the groom, Krisztian, is Hungarian. So the whole wedding and party had definite Hungarian theme to it, which brought a certain pálinka and goulash flavoured novelty to the proceedings. Pálinka, for the benefit of the uninitiated, is some sort of very potent, clear Hungarian alcoholic spirit, drunk out of shot glasses; Krisz was very specific in his instructions; down it in one, and then immediately breath slowly in through the nose.

It was quite the party.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Monday, 3 June 2019

FOSSC: Sunday Class & Pursuit

Sunday morning saw a weather front barge through bringing change; from the warm, balmy night we'd enjoyed for the gig on the banks of the Severn, we were now looking at heavy rain, a chilly drop in the temperature and blustering, squally winds frequently gusting up to F5.

I, of course, went sailing.

It was only a small turnout for the fleet, but fun, with Jon and Andrew, their Lasers rigged down to a radial sails, giving me a good run for my money with my standard rig in the class race at 2pm, and then Ian and Jon leading me a hard chase in the pursuit race that followed.

I caught them both in the last ten minutes of the second race, but on trying to pass, Jon aggressively luffed me up to try to stop me getting an overlap at the leeward Yellow mark. He failed to prevent or clear the overlap, but pushed me far enough over that I went by the lee, accidentally gybed and capsized on top of the mark. Ian, pinned on the outside during the run down tried to sneak in through the inside, but had to abort and tack around to avoid t-boning my upturned hull. I'm very grateful at least one of us was in control!

I thought that'd be it. By the time I was back up and going, they were both across to the other side of the lake, bearing away around Red-White and once again well ahead of me. But a good lift on the next beat up to Red graced me with a little bit of luck and let me close the gap up nicely, then on the fetch across from Yellow to Red-White that followed (Yellow being the leeward mark I'd previously wiped out on on the last lap), I went low and free, clearing Jon's lee where he couldn't touch me and then just pinched enough to get around the mark hot on Ian's tail, without needing a tack.

I caught Ian on the run down to Green, securing the inside overlap by the time we had to gybe at the mark, and pulling ahead into clean air to consolidate the lead in the final five minutes.

It could so easily have gone either way.

Freefall: Lydney Yacht Club

Saturday night's gig was one of the good ones.

Earlier in the year, an old friend from Lydney Yacht Club got hold of me and explained (in what he later described as his "steroid induced frenzy") that once he'd finished the roller-coaster of chemotherapy he was at that point riding, he wanted to throw a party, a "survivors ball" and he wanted our band to play for it. He was pretty sure he could persuade Sarah, LYC's commodore, into letting him have it at the club.

We picked a suitable date out of the few remaining Saturdays in the band's diary, one well enough clear of the end of his treatment to be sure he's be back on his feet and well enough to enjoy it. The date also turned out to the the date of a 70th birthday for Barney, another LYC member and a friend and the club's bar manager to boot.

photo: adie cooke
Bean, our drummer, stood us up at the last minute, and parachuted in a dep called George. In fairness to Bean, had George not been available, he'd have foregone his ticket to the cricket world cup that he was standing us up for and turned up to play anyway. Instead, he promised us George was very good and went off to get mashed in a field somewhere. I can't think of any other reason to watch cricket, personally. Didn't even realise they had a world cup.

Turns out George was very good and did a cracking job of covering for the AWOL Bean. Lydney were up on their feet and dancing from the first song, and danced through the setting sun and long into the warm night.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Fowey: British Moth Sea Championships

If I was a little battered and sore from the last weekend I was still in much better shape than my mobile phone, which simply died on me for no reason on Sunday morning. The alarm went off at 0730 as per our usual morning ritual, but the phone was in the main cabin charging off Calstar’s battery, and so out of reach for me from my bunk in the forecabin to complete my side of the ritual bargain and hit the snooze button. I am horribly addicted to the snooze button. The alarm on my phone is programmed to allow me no more than three on any given morning. Wonderful thing, technology.

In any case, out of my reach, it seems it snoozed itself. Or, to put it more succinctly, crashed and died, as technology is wont to do at times.

The replacement arrived today. The old phone did, happily, save all the photos I’d taken of the weekend up and until to then onto the cloud. It does mean that my photographic record of the last weekend terminated abruptly on Saturday evening.

Again, wonderful thing, technology.

Friday 24th May
Plymouth to Fowey
(29.2 nautical miles, 7 hours 46 minutes under way)

The sail out to Fowey on Friday was good. The wind was west of north-west as we cast off from QAB at 1130, but as the passage wore on, it veered into true north-west, lifting us towards our destination, so for most of the duration we remained settled on a close-hauled starboard beat that ran almost parallel to the Cornish shore, needing only the occasional tack onto port to keep us reasonably in touch with our intended course.

There were a couple of brief lulls where we succumbed and engaged the engine to keep to a reasonable ETA (one day I shall sail unenslaved to those three letters but not, I suspect, whilst I still have Dad or Nik aboard, so it's a necessary compromise), but each lasted only 12 minutes before conditions strengthened and we were back cleanly under sail again.

Other than those lulls, the wind held to a pretty constant F4 for the most part, although it was gusting to F5 for the first hour after our departure. It settled nicely for a few hours after we cleared Rame Head, and then finally picked up again for the last hour or two between Polperro and Polruan, gusting frequently up into a F5 from about 1630 onwards.

The wind would typically veer with the gusts though, lifting us even better onto our layline for Fowey. And despite the breeze, the wind direction brought it to us over the land; in the lee of the windward shore the sea state was very slight for the wind strength, so we made our way under full sail, the little yacht mostly heeled over to her sweet spot of around 20 degrees.

I always get anxious when my boat heels, though oddly not when I’m aboard anybody else’s, but this passage was easy in that the wind strength and direction were so constant. Typically, after a short while at 20 degrees I get used to the lean and the anxiety fades. And when the gusts hit later in the day, the sea was so smooth, I felt comfortable letting her tip over further with them just to see what she’d do, albeit hand never very far away from releasing the mainsheet, just in case.

As you’d predict, and as I've always known she should but can never quite cling to the idea as an article of faith, she’d be perfectly fine until she hit just over 30 degrees of heel, when she’d then benignly round up into the wind before finding her feet again as the heel reduced; then she'd bear away once more back onto her proper course.

A Westerly Griffon is a very forgiving boat.

We landed in Fowey at 1910, putting onto the Berrill’s Yard pontoon for the night, so were able to walk ashore and go find the friends we were meeting from the British Moth Fleet, gathered in the bar at the FoweyGallants Sailing Club.

Saturday 25th to Monday 27th May
British Moths Sea Championships & Mini-Race Series
(21 races, 30.9 nautical miles, 10 hours and 11 minutes under way)

I think I’ve explained before, but it bears repeating, the British Moths Sea Championships is a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek affair amongst friends. The British Moth is a 1930’s design; a very manoeuvrable but over-canvassed eleven foot dinghy originally intended for narrow rivers with high banks and light, shifty airs. Although modernisation to the design make them much more manageable on open water they are not a sea boat and their rounded scow bow (designed for tacking close in to the afore mentioned high banks) does not take kindly to waves.

But they are (mostly) pretty little boats with lots of character sailed by (occasionally) ugly sailors with character to match.

This is the ninth (almost) annual such event (it took a couple of years for them to invite us back after the first one) since a bunch of us from the Frampton Moth Fleet first brought our boats down to sail at the invitation of the Fowey Gallant’s John Burford. John has hosted us ever since. It’s been a few years since I last owned a Moth, but for the last couple of years I’ve still joined in as a guest, typically coming down to enjoy the weekend with Nik and so only sailing for half a day in a borrowed boat.

This year Ray, a friend from Chelmarsh Sailing Club, offered to bring a boat down for me to sail for the whole event. Feeling obliged to therefore use the boat properly (although I suspect Ray, being the kind of guy he is, would’ve probably brought it anyway and been content if I’d only sailed a morning with it), I discussed it with Nik, and she opted to stay at home for the weekend. There’s only so much you can do to distract yourself in a small town like Fowey for three days whilst your other half is out playing with boats. My wife’s interest in dinghy racing begins and ends in the Clubhouse bar.

Dad on the other hand was more than content to find his own distractions and was happy to sail over with me with Calstar; so that was boat, travel and accommodation sorted out.

We raced Saturday, Sunday and Monday; the racing was split into the Sea Championships proper which took place in the open harbour and a series of mini-races that we ran, for the most part, further up river. A total of 21 races all together, none of them were in particularly rough conditions although it did get blustery at times; I actually managed all three days without a single capsize, which has to be a first for me.

It wasn’t without incident.

During the harbour racing as the safety boat were setting the start line, I failed to notice they were streaming the pin end mark behind them, and managed to pick up its mooring line on my rudder. They very nearly awarded me newly inaugurated “The Ugly Scenes Trophy” for that but as I’d donated it (technically, stole it from my Mother-in-Law; it’s a wooden pig to which the Race Committee had added lipstick and a British Moth insignia painted onto its rump) they (thankfully) felt they couldn’t give it back to me. So Jenny got that one for falling, for no apparent reason whatsoever, out of the back of her boat.

Later during another harbour race on Sunday, I managed to snag the top of the mast of our youngest competitor on my shroud. Said youngster is a fine sailor, but a Moth is too much for him to handle comfortably in the harbour so he was racing against us in his Topper on an informal handicap; essentially a four minute head-start. I say “I managed to snag him”, but actually I was very clearly on starboard, sailing down my proper course, and he was, unfortunately, beating up to the windward mark on port.

However, whilst it was clear that I had right of way, there was a level of feeling amongst one or two of the leading boats that it was poor form to tangle with an eleven year old. I don’t disagree, and had I seen him in time, I would’ve gone out of my way to not collide with him. In the event, the lad was as nimble as a monkey, scampering onto the side of his boat to balance it as we pirouetted around each other in the harbour. We went around twice, inexorably attached, before his mast head slipped free of my shroud and be both crashed back down flat and continued on our respective courses.

There was later some discussion as to whether a 720 penalty turn counted if you were still attached to the boat you’d hit, but in view of his age and my arguments in his favour the benefit of the doubt was given (although his dad did argue against it briefly, claiming “They’ve gotta learn sometime”) and he wasn’t disqualified.

I’m employing some rather artistic licence in my recollection and depiction of events here, but I think I capture the spirit of the thing; nobody was hurt, nothing was damaged and neither of us capsized.

The shifty conditions and tendency of British Moths to all gather up on one another on the start-line gave me a couple of lovely port-flyers that won their respective  races. Much easier than on the lake; there’s plenty of room to hit the pin end with a minute to go, sail upwind for 30 seconds, then gybe and reach back for the pin, controlling your speed as you get closer and approach fast in the last few seconds to harden up close around the pin just as the gun goes, passing clear ahead of the entire fleet on port, remembering to look back and grin at them as you do.

I tried it with three out of the four or five Sea Championship races; the second time they shut me out of the line, but with the relatively small fleet it was easy enough to bear away behind them and then cross at the committee boat end in clean air on port and still make the best of it. I didn’t win that one, but had a credible enough finish that, when taken with my two wins before and after, gave me the British Moth Sea Championships Trophy.

Much to the good-natured consternation of New Boy (that’s been his affectionate nickname ever since he first joined the Moth Fleet at Frampton more than ten years ago); he came a reluctant second. Which was made all the more amusing by the fact that “ASBO”, the boat I was sailing, was his old boat before he’d sold her to Ray and commissioned himself a new Moth, “WooWoo”.

Monday concluded the official sailing programme with a series of mini-races. Three took us up-river in stages, then a couple of conventional courses were laid and run just below the village of Golant, before a couple of final races took us back down river to land back on the slip at Caffa Mill. It was a weekend of port-flyers for me, with another in the first race below Golant giving me a very credible win. I won the second Golant race as well when Gary, my nearest competitor, grounded himself in the shallows of the creek where the race committee had laid the wing mark of our triangular course.

On landing back at Caffa Mill I was then informed I’d been (quite fairly) disqualified from the mini-race series, as it was, in the spirit of the event, considered unsporting to win both that and the Sea Championships.

The three days were an absolute blast. There was across the three days some great sailing over 21 races with just shy of 31 nautical miles covered in just over 10 hours out on the water racing.

I’ve been on a bit of a winning streak of late, but in case I start to sound a little smug I’d like to stress that I’ve just been lucky. Lucky with the weather, and for this weekend, so much more of that luck was down to the boat, ASBO, and a quality sail, which of course Ray had leant me, and the carbon spars Mark (aka “New Boy”) had generously lent and rigged her with for me.

The front of the Fowey fleet, Gary, Andrew, Nicola and Mark, are all faster, more experienced Moth sailors than me all things being equal. It was just pure luck and good kit that gave me the day. And, according to New Boy, the sympathy of the race committee, although I would dispute that; John does not play favourites!

Tuesday 28th May
Fowey to Plymouth
(23.5 nautical miles, 5 hours 23 minutes under way)

It's funny how different the sailing is down here compared to the Bristol Channel. The biggest factor seems to be the sea state. It felt much more predictable in the confines of my old sailing area where the tide has a huge effect on the sea, but the waves are smaller and shorter, although often sharper, and it does mean that you get where you're going (as long as you stay in one piece and don't fight the tide) because you've generally got about six knots of tidal stream to pull you along regardless of what the wind is doing. And each change of tide felt like a reset to the sea state, at least in the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel.

But it wasn't unusual to have the second reef in the main and the headsail reduced to a postage stamp back when we were sailing out of Cardiff and Portishead, or to have spray crashing over the coach-roof . I don't think I've yet had to put the second reef in the main on the south coast. Even during the last stretch yesterday, beating into Plymouth Sound, the sea sheltered by Rame Head but the wind gusting up to a F6; with a single reef in the main, I just had to reduce the headsail and then play the main through the gusts as if Calstar were a dinghy to keep her on her feet.

The forecast was a north-westerly F4, gusting to a 5, but off the land, so the expected sea-state wasn’t more than a meter or two. Much more than that, or with the wind on a more south-westerly fetch straight in from the Atlantic, I might have delayed our departure. As it was however, it didn’t feel too bad on paper, and was only expected to get worse across Wednesday and Thursday.

So at 0630 Tuesday morning we cast off, heading home for Plymouth.

The sky was a heavy grey, thick with moisture and threatening rain. The sea was at first slight, but built as we left Fowey Harbour and turned east. We had a single reef in the main, and adjusted the roll in the headsail periodically to keep Calstar moving nicely, reducing it when the gusts built and started to trip her off her feet. A Furlex roller-reefing system on the headsail is an absolute blessing. That and the in-line reefing on the main means that I rarely have to leave the refuge of Calstar’s cockpit.

We held course on a deep port reach, tweaking the Raymarine auto-helm periodically to keep her bearing away from the shore as best we could without the shadow of the main collapsing the headsail, trying to lay the distant bulk of Rame Head and so avoid the need to gybe and stand off from shore to clear the headland.

As Fowey fell gradually astern, a stubborn sun struggled to break through the clouds to the east. Behind us, against a black and gloaming sky, a gorgeous rainbow arched across the horizon. The darkling sea was now carried serried ranks of lightly breaking waves bearing down on us from astern, driven by the wind, the foam breakers glistening in the watery, occasional sun.

Off the pretty harbour town of Looe, just under halfway through our passage and making good time, a squall hit, deluging us with thick, heavy rain.  As the wind increased with the downpour, it veered into the north-north-west, setting us onto a beam reach that would easily clear the still distant headland, and letting me overtake a small trawler slowly dragging her net between us and the land, leaving her clear to port. The downpour lasted no more than fifteen minutes and then cleared, leaving the climbing sun once more trying to break through the thick clouds overhead.

As we sailed across Whitesand Bay on the final approach to Rame Head, we were easily laying the headland on a beam reach, the wind now built to F5 gusting 6. Our ground speed crept over 6.5 knots at times, a respectable pace for our little bilge keeled yacht with her very grubby bottom. Rounding the headland, the sea smoothed in the lee of the land, but the wind continued to bluster.

Hardening up to lay the western entrance to the Sound, I reduced the headsail down to half, left the autohelm to take care of the course but played the main by hand through the gusts to keep Calstar on her feet, heeled between 20 and 30 degrees. Our speed continued to touch 6 knots over the ground through the more boisterous gusts, the leeway not too severe as long I kept her course cracked a few degrees free of close-hauled. The sea in the shelter of the land was perfectly smooth.

We brought her home onto her berth in Queen Anne’s Battery without mishap at 1155, after just under five and a half hours underway, and twenty three and a half nautical miles behind us.

It was fine sailing. And if you count the blasting around Fowey in a Moth in with the trip there and back with Calstar (which I shouldn't, but I shall for the fun of it), we covered 81.6 nautical miles and enjoyed just under 23 hours of being under sail.

So that made for a very fine weekend.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Calstar: F9wey

I’m heading down to Plymouth with Dad. Tomorrow we sail with the tide for Fowey.

This weekend the British Moths are holding their “Sea Championships” in the harbour. It’s a very grand name for a very light-hearted affair. 

I took the photo above whilst hanging out the side of a Moth this time last year when I briefly joined them racing around the harbour. 

They are small, single-design, snub nosed, single-handed dinghies with over-powered, high aspect rigs; highly manoeuvrable, they were designed for the light fickle airs of narrow rivers with high banks, and whilst various changes to modernise the design have made them easier to manage in flat, open water and blustery conditions, they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sea boat. 

But Fowey has a certain charm that suits the little boats, and after a group of us ventured down for a weekend's camping and sailing some ten years or more back, it eventually became something of an annual affair and was adopted into the class association's official calendar. This will be the ninth such event. 

So the British Moth Sea Championships is more of an excuse for a bit of fun and a lot of party than a serious racing event. An excuse to catch up with old friends. But there is racing, and British Moths do so take their racing seriously.

A very generous friend is bringing a "spare" Moth down to Fowey to lend to me for the weekend, so Saturday through till Monday I’ll be racing with them. Dad will either join in helping out with the race committee or chill out in the harbour aboard Calstar. He'll join in fully with the partying, I'm sure. Nik has elected to stay at home this year. Too much of me sailing for her to enjoy it.

The weather looks very promising for the sail over from Plymouth and the racing across the weekend. The plan is to sail home with Calstar on Tuesday, and at the moment, the forecast is not looking very comfortable for that. I really ought to be back in the office for Wednesday, but there are options available if Tuesday’s forecast doesn’t mitigate as we get closer to the day. 

Leaving Calstar in Fowey and coming home by land without her is really not one of them, however.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Monday 20th

On Monday evening we gathered around Dad's house for supper. My brother and his wife, all three of my kids and Ben's lovely young lady. The only one missing was my daughter Tasha's fiance, Dan, who had to work.

Dad roasted a couple of unfortunate chickens; unfortunate for them I mean, fortunately for us they were delicious. 

We sat out on the patio and talked as the sinking sun set a luminous orange glow into the broken clouds above. The sky was promising rain, and against the gloaming of the clouds the moisture in the air set off a lovely triple rainbow arcing skywards from the eves of the houses; a beautiful streak of colour defiant in the face of the setting sun and encroaching dark of the night.

A transitory pleasure, the camera on our phones couldn't capture it to do it justice.

Up until my mid-twenties, I used to view my life in five year cycles. Change is rapid when you're growing up, and keeps up the pace whilst you're still young. Every five years I'd look back and muse that I wouldn't be able to recognise myself or predict my situation had I been able to look forward and see myself from there from five years previous.

Schools changed, homes changed, countries changed, friends changed, pets changed, jobs changed. Very little remained constant.

Change has slowed down. I've been in the same house now for twenty years, and have been fortunate enough to hold the same job now for a little bit longer. I've been with the same lucky girl (yes, I kid myself, I'm fully aware I am the lucky one in this equation) for even longer than that, although married to her for a little less, if still a bit more than twenty years (don't ask me to put an exact number on it right now)

On Monday evening, Dad settled down to supper with his children and his grandchildren. Our dogs wrestled for space amidst the forest of our legs beneath the dining room table. It was a picture Mum would have been fondly familiar with.

On Monday evening, at the turning of some unwatched hour across the course of that night, it became five years since we lost her.

Five years on, and so much has changed. And some things have stayed the same.

I am reminded of how lucky we are to have each other.

FOSSC: drifting ahead

If Friday night was a late one, Saturday night wasn’t much of an improvement. A bit of a different theme: posh frocks and expensive tickets, it was the Gloucester Civic Charity Ball organised by the Mayor of Gloucester. Black tie, chains of office and even a town crier in full regalia as master of ceremonies. But after they’d eaten their supper and played their after-dinner games, they then danced the rest of the night away to the band. It was a good night; a lovely, appreciative crowd, raising good money for a good local cause, The James Hopkins Trust.

Sunday morning was still and bright. I blearily dragged myself out of bed late morning. It’s not just a lack of sleep from the late nights, but arms ache, back aches, fingers are sore, throat is hoarse. I do so suffer for my art. But, as my wife Nik will quickly point out, it’s entirely self-inflicted so I deserve no sympathy.

It would’ve been easy to have stayed at home and cut the grass. But I packed my sailing kit and headed down the Club regardless. Like I said, I suffer for my art. And like she said, still just as self-inflicted.

The Laser seems to be the perfect boat for the lake at Frampton. 

When I used to race my own Enterprise, I used to look forward to drifts like the one we were faced with on Sunday. A little bit more wind and the Lasers would begin to plane, leaving the heavier double-handed Enterprise behind. But in still air, you can ghost the Ent through the mirror smooth water; the two blue sails, if deftly handled, and the inertia inherent in a heavier hull, are just enough to give the advantage, I guess. The wide, flat, light hulls of the single-handed Lasers by comparison would just seem to stick to the water.

Now that I have a Laser myself however, I don’t seem to have that problem.

Possibly it’s a weight advantage. At just shy of 11 stone, I’m at the bottom end of the weight range for the boat, and in any kind of a blow suffer accordingly. I’m quickly overpowered, and brutally punished in the heavier winds by the slightest flaw in technique. Of which I have many.

I won both races on Sunday, a repeat performance of the light air racing of the weekend before. Again, I took the first race with a wide lead; a class race, I got lucky early and won through to clear air, leaving the other three Lasers in the fleet mired amongst the Solo and Handicap fleets, with no real chance of catching up. It could as easily have gone the other way.

The second race, a pursuit of nine boats of assorted classes, was much harder work. Three of us left the rest behind quickly enough, but I spent the second half of the race tangled up with Geoff and Sue in their Enterprise, trading between 2nd and 3rd place and unable to break clear whilst we both tried to catch Pete in his Comet up ahead.

On the last lap I finally fought free of Geoff and Sue and then caught up and crossed ahead of Pete on a beat to windward, leaving the Comet and the Ent to tussle amongst themselves behind me. It looked like it was going to go the Enterprise’s way, and then after Geoff got past, Pete caught him again on starboard closing in with a leeward mark. Geoff and Sue tried to tack in front, and the little Comet touched them mid-tack.

I heard the thump across the water. No damage was done, but the penalty turns owed let Pete get away and secure 2nd place for himself.

Unlucky for Geoff and Sue after all that hard work in trying to catch him, but very well played by Pete.

I’m now sat at the top of the table for both the Laser Class and Pursuit Spring series. There are three more races to go, one of which I might have to skip if the gig on the 9th of June gets confirmed. It’s very nice to be in the lead, but if the weather turns, and it’s surely past time that it should, then all this could quickly change over the next three weeks.

Maybe now’s the time to finally invest in a reduced radial rig for the Laser?

Probably, but of course I won't. Only having the one standard rig does make life easier in a way, by reducing the options. And anyway, I have other priorities for my cash; I’m away racing at the British Moth Sea Championships in Fowey this coming weekend. And that’s never a cheap party.