Wednesday, 20 February 2019

FOSSC: rinse and repeat

Crawling out of bed and getting to the Club on Sunday was a bit of an ordeal after the couple of late nights and lively gigs of the two previous evenings, but I made it. And beat Amanda to there by about fifteen minutes, so had the pleasure of dragging the Enterprise from her berth over to the shoreline all by myself, which built up enough of a sweat to properly wake me up.

The sun had been forecast to shine, but was proving to be elusive first thing. The southerly wind was blustery, as the forecast had promised.

Another simple figure of eight course, but with only the one upwind beat this week, and no dead run for us to goose-wing down. The turnout was impressive, given that this is only an unofficial, out of season, informal series, not an official part of the Club's racing programme; I didn't exactly count, but there must've been just over a dozen boats on the start line.

Despite my early arrival, we were late getting onto the water, but it turned to our advantage. The wind made the launching area an awkward lee shore which slowed us getting away, but once we were afloat we had time for no more than a quick run up and down the line to get our bearings before the gun went and we were racing.

It was, to be fair, a day for the Lasers and Solos. We invariably gained ground up the beat, but off the wind lost it again and then some, as the lighter single-handers were quick to plane in gusts that were often not quite meaty enough to lift our heavier boat up with them.

It didn't seem to matter though. It was great to be out on the water, the sailing a real pleasure, and we sailed well enough to finish somewhere in the front half of the fleet so we acquitted ourselves well enough.

Next weekend I'm off to Plymouth with Dad. Calstar should be fit to sail at last. Windguru's forecast for Saturday is from the south-east, gusting up to 26 knots first thing then backing and easing as the weekend wears on until it's in the east or Sunday, and less than 10 knots. The waves anticipated are 2m+ however, which makes me feel a little cautious.

Have toyed with the idea of sailing over to Fowey and back, but might simply opt for a day-sail, pushing out beyond the breakwater in the direction of Eddystone before heading back to spend Saturday night in Plymouth. I guess Noss Mayo is also a possibility, although Dad seems less keen on that idea, as there's no shore power and getting to the pub involves a trip to shore with the tender.

The more I think of it, the more attractive the idea becomes however. Especially as the temperature is supposed to be around 11°c for the weekend, so it shouldn't be too cold aboard even if we haven't got power for the electric heater.

It feels frustrating that Calstar has been harbour bound for so long this year, but to be fair, checking back on my journal to last year, it seems we didn't actually get out until the beginning of April, so if we do manage to get out this weekend, this year will be much improved on last.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Road sense

My youngest son is learning to drive. He's not exactly taking to it naturally, but he's getting there. Clear that he was going to need more practice than he was getting from driving lessons alone, we picked him up a cheap runabout just after Christmas, and I've spent a lot of time in the passenger seat being ferried everywhere by him, pretty much every day since.

I don't think it's something he actually enjoys (I'm reminded we are not our children; learning to drive was an adventure and liberation for me) but it is one of those "life skills" he is going to have to master. And I think he's figured that out and reconciled himself to that fact now.

And he's much improved. Simple fact: if you sit in the surf long enough, it's inevitable some of the sand is going to get stuck in your trunks. He has his test this coming Tuesday. It won't be his first. Regardless of whether he passes or fails, I suspect I'm still going to spend a lot of time riding shotgun with him in the passenger seat of his little Citroen. And I really don't mind.

Watching him grapple with trying to learn and develop skills and judgement that many of us have had now for so many years we simply take them for granted, in both ourselves and others, I'm frequently struck by just how not a natural environment and endeavour driving a car actually is.

And reminded just how important it is to always show consideration and patience for others on the road, regardless of circumstance.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

A previous February

On this day, seven years ago, or so Google tells me. Guess February is frequently icy; we should be okay for the weekend coming though, if the forecast is to be believed, the temperature is supposed to sneak up to 10°c plus by Saturday, so that should keep things happily liquid for Sunday.

Of course, this means Lilly must be turning eight this year. And she's still doing well of course, although sometimes it does quite break my heart as to how time flies.

Monday, 11 February 2019

FOSSC: normal service resumed

A collection of die-hard stalwarts have been running an informal "Icicle Series" at the Club since the beginning of the year over what is normally our effective closed season. And, to my shame and chagrin (and frustration), other commitments have kept me away from supporting them and thus off the water until this weekend.

Admittedly, last weekend wasn't my fault. The lake was frozen solid. But by this weekend, the weather had warmed again and the lake thawed.

A pursuit race over a simple figure of eight course, Amanda was equally keen to blow the cobwebs off, so after rebuffing the tentative second thoughts of an initial early morning text from her along the lines of are we really doing this? it looks "minging" out there (in fairness, it did first thing; leaden grey skies, thick, cold rain, no wind) we met up by the lake for 1000 and rigged her Enterprise to race.

By then, the rain had eased off and the wind was building nicely. At one point, the sun even threatened to break through, though it turned out it was only teasing.

A downwind start went well, albeit with no contest on the line as we were the only boat in our class. The conditions were turning blustery, with heavy, shifty gusts rolling in from the northwest. I'd not felt especially ambitious for this one, we were both rusty and had no stake in the overall series, but the rust shook out quickly as, surprisingly, we held our own against the bulk of the pursuing Lasers and much faster Aero, pulling ahead of all but a couple of them and slowly closing down the lead on the Solo and Topper ahead.

Mike in his Laser eventually caught and passed us in the second half of the race, but then we almost made good again shortly after on a beat back up to red. The Laser is a faster boat on paper, but in the right conditions, deftly handled, an Enterprise can beat one on the water.

Laying the mark on starboard, Mike was tied up trying to pass Rob in his Solo, both coming in on port. We tucked a quick tack into the space they left us at the buoy, and would've stolen the lead except at that exact moment a gust smacked into us mid tack. Right conditions, not so deftly handled after all. I blame the loose nut on the tiller (that would be me).

By tacking right on top of the buoy, I'd left myself no room to bear away and, with two boats passing to windward, no room to round up. The dinghy heeled hard over to leeward, scooping a cockpit full of water and clouting the buoy with our mast. We saved the potential capsize, but the penalty turns almost cost us our hard won lead over Jon in his Laser and brought Phil and his Aero to our attention, now coming up fast behind.

The auto-bailers slowly cleared the water over the downwind run that followed, and we gradually edged back away from Jon and began to close up again on the Solo ahead. Mike however left us for dust, giving no second chances now he was free and clear.

We took the Solo on the next lap, but our tenure in second place was brief as, in the dying minutes of the race, I let him climb back on top of us at the windward mark rounding at Yellow and steal our wind for the run back down to White that followed. He took the overlap on the leeward mark and came out ahead for the next beat. We tacked off early, and I think we would have had him at the next rounding, but the gun went before we could consolidate and confirm our lead, ending the race, so we conceded Rob the place, settling for a not dishonourable third place ourselves.

It was, quite simply, brilliant to be back out on the water again. I've got gigs this Friday and Saturday coming, but Sunday's free, so I'll be back again next weekend.

I can't wait.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Freefall: Kite Ball 2019

Saturday night the band had the pleasure of playing for The James Hopkins Trust at their 2019 Kite Ball. An annual fundraiser for the charity (to over simplify it, they are a local charity that helps very poorly children and their families), this was the fourth year running they've thrown a party, and the third time we've played for them (we were regretfully unavailable last year due to an earlier booking).

This year is the 30th anniversary of the charity itself, and the function room at Hatherley Manor was absolutely packed. By the end of the night they'd raised £20k for the cause, which made it their most successful event yet. Nothing to do with us, I should add, we were just part of the night's entertainment; credit for the night's success really has to go to the lovely Ria and Sarah and the team at JHT.

Over the course of any typical year, the band usually gets invited to play at a couple of charity functions or so. It's always a pleasure and a privilege to get involved where we can. These things always make for a brilliant crowd, ever up for a being sure to have a great night.

And this one is consistently one of the best.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

New year catch up

February already. It seems I only blinked and that was both Christmas and January come and gone.

It's been a funny old start to the year; I haven't sailed yet, wind, frozen water and family commitments all taking it in turns to thwart the odd occasion when the opportunity might otherwise have arisen.

Dad and I did get down to Calstar for an evening in January. She still remains in "project mode" however, with the interior head-lining replaced, the bunk cushions replaced, the heads replaced and the cabin lights rewired and replaced with LED units. The work on all fronts is almost complete, but enough bits were still outstanding in January to keep us marina bound for our brief visit.

Christmas was good and bad. Good to have time off and family around. Good that I got to race at the lake Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Bad that my daughter Tasha came down with appendicitis the weekend before Christmas, and so spent the last couple of days leading up to the holiday in hospital having her appendix removed. Amazing that it was only a couple of days though, and how small the incisions were to effect the removal. Back in the 80's when they took my own appendix out, it hospitalised me for a week, left a six inch scar and took six weeks before the stitches were out and I was back on my feet at school.

That said, for such a small incision, they clearly still knock your insides about as much; she was some weeks recovering herself and it put quite a damper on her own Christmas. She's back on form now though, so all good.

January was devoid of gigs, with my brother (aka the band's bassist) away on holiday, but we've been back to normal the last couple of weeks, and will be busy as usual for the next couple of weekends to come. The new guitar is lovely, a real pleasure to play. She spent most of Christmas and January in her case though, as without gigs to distract me, I spent most of my time noodling about with the piano rather than guitar. For the first gig, weekend before last, it did feel very strange moving back to strings from a keyboard.

Finally, we had a bit of snow. Enough to stop play for a day, then it melted. When I say enough to stop play, I really mean but a few inches. Our friends over on the Continent (if we have any left) or across the Atlantic would no doubt laugh at us. Which is fine, as we're quite able to laugh at ourselves along with them. Well, some of us are.

It was good to take the dogs for a Friday morning run in the snow however, and then have it all melt off in the afternoon to clear the way for me to get down the motorway that same evening to my gig in Bristol. It wasn't so good the Sunday that followed to discover that on the first day in a while I had the time free to go play with the Laser, the lake was, unhelpfully, still quite frozen solid.

Never mind. It's thawed now. And I'm feeling optimistic for this coming Sunday. Likewise, if we get the next couple of weekends worth of gigs out of the way, I'm hoping Dad and I can get out with Calstar for the last weekend of February.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Freefall: my new American friend

I probably should've bought a radial rig for the Laser. I kind of need a radial rig, if I'm honest. On the other hand, the Takemine acoustic I currently use for gigs is long past her honourable retirement date. She still sounds as sweet as the day I first picked her up off the stand in the guitar shop, but she's looking very battered. She's done twelve years of hard gigging with me now.

A friend, Will, suggested a trip to a guitar shop over in Guildford. He wanted a new amp to go with his new guitar, and this was apparently the place to go for one. He mentioned they also had a nice range of acoustics. I thought, why not? It's a day out. Not like I have to buy anything. The Takemine's probably good for another couple of years at least.

Well, that didn't go to plan.

I spent a good hour or two in their acoustic room trying to persuade myself I didn't need this. It's not that I couldn't afford it. Although it was twice what I'd originally planned for in my head when I did a few "what if" mental calculations the night before, you know, "just in case". But like any guitar I buy, she'll quickly pay for herself after a few gigs.

So here then is the new mistress in my life. She's from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and she sounds just as pretty as she looks.

We have our first date tonight. A birthday party down in Bristol. The birthday girl is a friend of mine and long time friend of the band, so it should be an absolute ball. We can't wait.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Friday night and no gig

I have a night off and think I'm falling in love with Chopin.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Link: Susan Smillie

Reading about sailor Susie Goodall of the Golden Globe Race, currently dismasted and awaiting rescue in the Southern Ocean, lead me to the following article written by a former features editor of the Guardian, Susan Smillie. She downed tools a year ago to sail around Britain, got as far as Lands End and decided to turn left instead of right.

Her story put a smile on my face, and is well worth a read:

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

FOSSC: Sunday winning

On Sunday morning the weather came in heavy and wet. Not especially cold, but the water temperature is still biting. Despite not getting to bed until 0300 the night before, I tried to get to the sailing club early to give myself time to sort out the boat; I’ve replaced the tiller and renewed the XD control lines; the cunningham, outhaul and kicker, so they all needed to be rethreaded and set up properly. Whilst doing so, I removed one of the purchases from the kicker, reducing it from 18:1 to 9:1 to reduce the string in the cockpit and make the control a little more direct.

The wind was averaging in the mid-teens, but gusting up into the top 20’s or more, so I left the thicker mainsheet rigged. If I’d had a radial, I’d have rigged down to that, but instead I have a piano. Practice is going well, by the way, every evening is an adventure.

Ten boats rigged for the first race of the morning, a pursuit, but only one other Laser turned up. Jon does have a radial rig but although he mentioned in passing that he’d considered rigging it, opted for a standard sail to match mine. The gusts had eased back whilst we were setting up ashore, so I imagine that and the fact he’d be racing against me with my standard rig coloured his decision.

In a pursuit race, each different class of boat has its own start; the slower the boat, the earlier the time and the bigger the head start on the faster boats that follow. With only two of us in our class I was laid back about starting, loitering upwind of the committee boat at the starboard end of the line, right up into the last thirty seconds, when I realised that Jon had put himself a couple of boat-lengths to leeward of me, right on the layline to the pin, and had effectively shut me out.

Kicking myself for my inattention, I tacked then gybed to give myself a fresh run at the line, crossing an inexcusable eight seconds late, whilst Jon powered up and shot down the line, crossing at the port end bang on the gun. A hard, gusty beat followed, hampered by dirty, spoiled air from the slower Solos rounding to windward ahead. By the time we reached the mark I’d made good most of my mistake however, and found myself right on Jon’s tail for the downwind leg.

Dead downwind. I don't like dead downwind these days.

We hit the downwind mark in the teeth of a huge gust; unwilling to get too aggressive with Jon so early in the race, I conceded the overlap well outside the three boat lengths needed and positioned myself to take the outside line. Pulled on the controls in preparation for hardening up, and then lost control completely, broaching in the gust, before pitching back into windward by the mark, foot caught in the toe-strap and half the lake getting shoved up my nose as the boat then continued to power downwind on her side with the sail still proud of the water and full of wind.

By the time I recovered, giving myself a black eye from the flailing boom as I struggled to untangle the mainsheet from the rudder blade and get the boat sailing again, Jon was already half a lap ahead. Smiling to himself, I hope.

I closed the gap back up over the next half hour, inevitably gaining ground on the windward legs, but never getting close enough to pass.

And then we rounded the second windward mark and bore away for the long broad reach down the length of the lake to the gybe mark, and a gust hit, knocking him flat. I ducked past the end of his now submerged mast, hiked out hard throwing my weight back as the boat took off, skipping over her own bow-wave in a spume of spray as we shot away from him.

The conditions worsened over the last ten minutes of the race, the gusts coming in harder and quicker. I finally caught and passed the back of the Solos to climb back to the middle of the fleet, Jon caught another piece of bad luck and capsized on top of the windward mark. He was still struggling to disentangle himself from the buoy and get his boat back up, safety boat standing by, when the gun signalled the end of the race.

Back ashore for lunch, a hot mug of tea, then back out for the afternoon class race; two more Lasers joined us to make a fleet of four, both rigging their radial sails.

Determined not to be caught kipping on the start line by Jon again, I got their early and hovered, powering up in the final seconds before the gun to cross fast at the starboard end of the line, bang on time. The start, much improved from the first race, paid dividends. I can’t actually remember if I made it first around the windward mark, but within the first ten minutes I’d secured the lead, albeit with no great comfort in the margin; Jon doggedly snapping at my heels at every mark rounding.

The following hour was hard, muscle-pulling hikes to windward, screaming planes down the broad reach and perilous, tippy runs dead downwind. At one point, I misjudged the reach, failed to spot the gust before it hammered into me and had the boat roll over on top of me, just where it had caught Jon in the previous race. Past the point of no return, as the boat rolled on top of me, I grabbed the windward gunwale now directly above my head and as the mast hit the water, pulled myself up and rolled over to land on the dagger-board. I could see Jon on the leg behind, beating up the layline to the windward mark I’d just rounded, closing rapidly.

The boat came back up, blissfully untangled and pointing the right way, and we were off again, still desperately clinging to my now tenuous lead.

By the time it was all over, I’d landed and was pulling my boat back up the horribly steep concrete slope of the shore, I was happily exhausted, battered and bruised. Jon landed not long after me. Two races, and I’d beat him in both, if only just.

As he pulled his boat up the shore behind me, still insofar as I could tell looking as fresh as he’d been when we’d started out earlier that morning, despite his various icy and involuntary swims across the day, he commented a wry grin words to the effect that if only he were twenty-five years younger.

I think that put me in my due place. If in twenty-five years’ time I’m still out there on a hard, unwelcoming winter’s day like that and still giving the competition a good run for their money, I’ll count myself as having won. Regardless of where I might finish in any given race of the day.

Of birthdays, diamonds & gigs

It was a good weekend just gone.

My daughter and eldest child turned 30 on Saturday. I briefly pondered on whether or not that fact made me feel old. But no, it only leaves me feeling vaguely accomplished. Unjustifiably so, as any accomplishment in reaching 30 is entirely hers. But I’m very proud of all three of my children.

The pub where my daughter works had booked our band to play Saturday night, not entirely by coincidence alone, so the night turned into something of a birthday party for her.

Also, not entirely by coincidence alone, her boyfriend Dan asked her to marry him. She said yes, of course, and seems very happy. I'm delighted for them both.

And it was quite the party. My favourite kind of party, in fact. One where I can focus on the gig and not have to work at being sociable.