Friday, 16 March 2018

A guitar story

There have been many influences in my life that have led me, musically, to where I am now. For better or worse.

James was a classmate of mine in my very early teens, and was one of three people that essentially gave me the guitar. Mum and another school friend of around the same time called Damien were the other two.

Mum taught me some very basic notes when I was very young, and her own interest in the instrument meant there was never one out of reach whilst I was growing up.

One day some years later, James brought his guitar into class and let me have a go. He explained what a capo did (for the uninitiated, it's a mechanical bar that locks across the fret-board and so changes the key of the instrument, a kind of cheat-mode), and showed be a very simple, exceptionally versatile chord shape. That re-ignited the interest Mum had originally kindled.

He even gave me one of his old capos. I'm pretty sure I still have it in a box somewhere. And I really don't have an awful lot else from back then.

Then a little while later, Damien explained to me, quite possibly by accident, why a guitar was so cool. The tips of the fingers of my left hand have been irredeemably callused ever since about then, and a guitar has never been very far from reach. In fact, two hang on my office wall at work.

Not that I've ever got particularly good at playing them. But they speak for me, as no other instrument really does, except my voice.

All that is a complete aside. I just really wanted to share this recent video clip of James playing at a recent gig in Bristol. His gigs are very different to mine. I really hope to catch one of his one day.

Friday, 9 March 2018


One of the first notes in the prelude to spring is the blossoming of the snowdrops. On the road into work, I climb over a single hill before descending into the Stroud valleys and then on to our office. On the top of this hill is the village of Edge, and nestled in to a fork in the road is the village church.

Pretty enough a building of its own accord, but in the dying stages of winter every year the grounds of its surrounding churchyard are wreathed with a thick, luscious carpet of these flowers. I see them as I drive past, and every year they make me smile because they're the first whisper that winter is finally coming to a close. Every year I promise myself I'll stop on the way into work for a couple of minutes and take a photo. There's never enough light left at this time of year on the way home.

And every year I invariably fail to do so.

This year was no exception, except this year the promise of the snowdrops seemed to have been cut brutally short. One moment the churchyard was wreathed with their fresh white gleam, and then we had a late, hard snow.

More snow around these parts than I think we've had since the 80's.

Driving home early from work last Thursday afternoon to avoid getting trapped in it, I saw the churchyard and pulled over to the side of the road. The snowdrops were smothered in thick snow; smothered, frozen and quite gone. I took the photo I'd been promising myself anyway, wryly reflecting that I'd missed my moment yet again.

The dogs enjoyed the snow. I worked from home on Friday and was a bit fed up of it all by the time we got to the weekend, and so was quite relieved that by Sunday the cold snap was passed. Most of the snow was gone and the temperature was nursing its way back towards double figures. And, as I'm sure you can imagine, I was equally relieved to find that by Sunday the lake was clear enough to race on.

Although it is the first time I've ever had to dodge icebergs whilst sailing at Frampton, albeit none of them would've been too big to have floated in a washing-up bowl.

The weekend over, I was driving back into work on Monday morning. and as usual climbed the hill to drive through the village of Edge. The snow was gone, except for a dirty scattering of stubborn drifts still swathed across various hillside paddocks and fields.

But the snowdrops had returned. I finally got that photo.

Calstar: beached

She's out the water and being worked on. Rewiring the mast, replacing anodes and renewing the anti-foul. This time in two weeks time she'll be on the back of a truck and halfway down the motorway to her new home in Plymouth.

Really can't wait to get her back in the water again. But if the year so far is anything to go by, those two weeks are going to fly by quick enough.

Calstar may be beached, but I'm not completely. Plan to race Buffy again at Frampton this coming Sunday. It's become something of a regular event the last few weeks.

photo: ken elsey
For most of the weekends I've had the pleasure of Amanda crewing for me, but last Sunday she had work commitments so abandoned me to sail the second race on my own. A far from impossible task, but there are moments when single-handing an Enterprise that you wish you had five arms.

photo: ken elsey
But still, a 4th and a 2nd place respectively, so not a bad couple of results. Amanda and I are definitely beginning to sail better together. The same is not so true of Buffy. We had a lot of water in the hull after the first race. Mopped her out in the interval before the second and was very careful not to bring a bucket load in with my boots when I relaunched, but still ended up with a lot of water by the end, despite it only being me sailing.

It means we're leaking again. Not sure where from. I can only hope it's something simple like the bailers and not the repaired centreboard case failing again.

This coming Sunday Amanda's got safety boat duty, so I'll be single-handed for both races unless I find somebody at short notice to sail with me. May well not ask around though. It will give me a good chance to locate the leak. Must remember to find myself a sponge to mop the bilges out with though.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Not used up yet

Just listened to Webb Chiles' acceptance speech on YouTube, recorded this weekend at the New York Yacht Club where he was awarded the Cruising Club of America's Blue Water Medal, and wanted to share it. For a man that has spent so much time alone in the middle of various oceans, he has a gift for public speaking.

And it was an award richly deserved.

If you didn't already know, his ongoing journal can be found here:

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The courage of laughter

May you always have it.

Just read of the death of a fellow dog lover and columnist of the Guardian. Who, I confess, I couldn't always follow the thinking of, but always enjoyed when I managed it.

“Her philosophy was that in this life you either have to blub or laugh. Well, she had the courage of laughter. I can hear her voice now being acutely uncomfortable with these compliments." - Fielding

I love that tribute. From somebody she wrote about often.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Revision technique [in need of revision]

Updated the photos on a post I'd published up here back in December which, although I didn't know it at the time, turned out to be Calstar's last outing onto the Bristol Channel, or at least will be for quite some time yet to come as she's coming out of the water on Monday then is shipping down to Plymouth at the end of next month.

I don't know why, but the Instagram links I'd used to illustrate the post simply failed to display. And the pictures from that evening's sail (Calstar: prettiest sky) were, I think at least, too pretty not to share, so I've replaced the original Instagram links with the source photos themselves. A far better deal all round I reckon.

In other news, I sat the final paper for my RYA Yachtmaster Coastal ticket Tuesday evening. The photo at the top is from my revision on Monday night, the theory being that if I could finish a past paper with the aid of a couple of beers, I'd have no problem doing the same for real Tuesday night stone cold sober.

I have to report, as far as revision technique is concerned, it's not a method to be recommended.

Tuesday's chartwork exam was, funny enough, the one I was most looking forward to. Of the three, I thought it would be the one I could most easily do in my sleep. Pride before the fall. In the event, I actually found that of the three exams, it was the only one I struggled to complete within the time allotted, was rushed to do so, and had no time left to check back on my work before the clock insisted I handed the paper over for marking.

And consequently, now the result has been handed back (and credit to Trevor, our instructor, for being so diligent and quick in turning about the marking) it seems that of the six questions, I made fundamental errors in three of them: miscalculated the tidal hour in one, a mistake in my computation of rates for another, and, finally, fouled up a secondary port tidal calculation for the third.

The other three questions were good though.

Disappointed with myself. Screwing up the tidal hour in particular seems pretty fundamental, hard to imagine how I got that one wrong. I shall find out when I meet with Trevor again next Tuesday, and all is not lost as I think it just means I need to rework the areas I messed up and satisfy the instructor that I've understood and can correct the various errors in principle that I fell foul of.

Still, that's a sub-50% score on the card. Can't remember the last time I gave such a poor showing.

I guess I shall have to go drown my sorrows.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Calstar: denuded

Finally got the break we'd been waiting for in the weather. Planned a last weekend's romping about the Bristol Channel: Saturday lunchtime out of Cardiff, round Steepholm, up to Portishead for the night then back to Cardiff tomorrow. Even had plans to meet friends sailing down from Lydney to Portishead this evening.

We get to the boat early. Everything set and planned.

To discover the rigger has decided to steal a lead on lifting her out for transport at the end of the month and have already derigged her sails and removed her boom and sprayhood.

Jobs I hadn't realised we'd asked him to do; I thought I was going to have to do them myself next weekend.

Plans for this weekend now totally shot. A little bit gutted, truth be told.

Nevermind. Guess I'll have to race Buffy again at Frampton tomorrow instead.

Was so looking forward to sailing Calstar this weekend though.

20/02 Footnote: Posted the above last Saturday, but for some reason it failed to publish. In short, I'm fine at taking pictures using a mobile phone, but apparently no so good posting to a blog from one! It turns out that, far from seeking to steal a lead (and that story struck me as odd, because almost nobody that works on small boats for a living ever does anything on time intentionally, let alone delivers anything ahead of time) the rigger read his diary wrong, thought the boat was coming out and the mast coming down first thing THIS Monday, panicked that he'd forgotten to derig everything in preparation and so squeezed the job in before the end of the week so as to not let us down.

You've got to laugh.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Calstar: Promises, promises

Refusing to get my hopes up. For the last few days, and when I first checked this morning, Sunday's forecast had north-easterlies and gusts into the high 20's.

Checked just now though, and as you can see, things are looking much, much more promising.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Calstar: Still going steady

The day after Valentines, which of course was all about my lovely wife Nik, and Google Photos and Facebook have both just reminded me that today is actually the three year anniversary of a certain other first date . . . .

A few thoughts after re-reading what I wrote back in 2015:

Has it really only been three years? I am still really just a dinghy sailor. I do still have a tendency towards panic every time the wind gusts and the boat heels, although I've always been good at hiding it and have become much better over time.

And I'm still in love all over again; every time we cast off, every time the sails are set and the engine stills to silence, and every time the wind touches those sails and she tips majestically in deference to its caress.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Not enough money in the world

Strong language warning in the quote ahead, so if you're offended by four letter expletives, please don't read on.

Anyway, with that out of the way, if you're still here, the following an extract from an interview I just read on The Guardian with one of my all time favourite musicians:

"Some guy said to me last night at a cocktail party: ‘I book things for private parties. How much money would it take to put the band together for three songs? No one would ever know about it.’ I said: ‘There’s not enough money in the world.’ And he said: ‘Thank you – I’m a huge fan, and I wanted to know you couldn’t be bought.’ And I thought, that’s cool, and that’s manipulative, and fuck you. As much as we love each other and love what we did, it just shouldn’t happen.”"

Other than to say that subject of the interview was on his own favourites amongst the songs that his band wrote, which struck me as such a wonderfully self-indulgent subject, I'll leave the quote unattributed. Just wanted to observe that the man's thought process always leaves me smiling to myself. Sometimes it's a pretty bleak smile, but it's always a smile.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Buffy: First swim

The weekend's weather delivered pretty much as forecast. Wet and blustery Saturday, bright and blustery Sunday.

Saturday was a relaxed affair of karate, tending to the fish tanks, then dinner over at Dad's in the evening. I moved the four new clown loaches that I'd been keeping quarantined in the new tank to their permanent home in the main tank. The two already resident clowns seemed very pleased with the new company.

Having them settled in their proper home is a weight off my mind. Shifting them from one tank to the other was an anxious affair. They're only youngsters, but as long as I don't screw up and kill them, these four fish could easily still be with me in another ten or fifteen years time. The two fish they're joining are each over fifteen years old now. It's as big a responsibility, in its own way, as taking on a new dog.

They don't make quite such a mess of my garden however.

One of the four new clowns spent an hour or so in his new home pretending he was a tiger barb before he worked out which shoal he really belonged to. The tiger barbs didn't seem to mind.

Now the clowns are out of the temporarily assigned quarantine tank, that can become a proper temperate, high water-flow home for the White Cloud Mountain minnows. So I planted some elodea, which I'd been holding off doing until the clowns had moved out, switched off the heater, and introduced another half a dozen minnows into the existing shoal of seven.

Hopefully, with the high water-flow and planting, the minnows will be encouraged to breed.

The plan is to upgrade the lighting (it was intentionally kept subdued for the sake of the clowns) to encourage a bit of green algae onto the back glass and stones, and then maybe introduce a hillstream loach once the tank matures. That's if the 90 litre tank's big enough for one; I'm not absolutely sure of that yet, so will need to research it a bit more.

With 30 knot gusts forecast for Sunday, sailing Calstar was definitely out, so I headed down to the lake to race at Frampton instead.

Instead of getting Buffy out, Amanda offered the use of her own Enterprise. I'd have been perfectly content to crew for her, but she was quite adamant she didn't want to helm, especially given the forecast, regardless of how benign it all looked as we were rigging.

Thirteen boats in total were on the water, which made launching a little bit hairy; the gusts were already beginning to blast in (Amanda's boat in the picture a little way below is sat head to wind on her trolley) and everybody was crowded into the space you can see above between the two jetties.

We lost the main halyard up the mast as we were trying to haul the sail up, so by the time we'd got the boat off the trolley, tipped her over to retrieve it, then finally rigged and launched, we went screaming away downwind from the shore through the entire melee as I struggled to not hit anybody whilst at the same time get the rudder down so we could get some steerage.

I counted three very near misses. But no actual contact, so a minor win. It would have been a horrible shame to have dented such a lovely boat.

The initial excitement over, we got a good start, beating back in to get behind the line then tacking and bearing away on to a reach to take us back over it just as the gun went.

Everything went well for the next forty minutes or so, climbing our way up through the fleet, catching a Solo and passing a few upturned Lasers here and there. The wind was blustery and very shifty. A basic figure of eight course spread over the lake gave a great reach down to the first turn at white, then a beat up to red, followed by a dead run down to green and then another beat back up to yellow.

Doing well, catching up with the Lasers and so somewhere in the top five, we found ourselves being headed on the run down to green. Planing along goose-winged and in the grip of a big gust, we dodged one or two toppled Lasers but realised we'd need to gybe before we hit the bank to get over to the mark.

The gybe was lively, but would otherwise have been fine; except I slipped as the boom came over and lost both my dignity and my grip on the tiller and mainsheet.  I heard Amanda, facing forward and so unaware of my the fact I was currently upended onto my backside in the stern of the boat, comment "That went well" before the boat started to heel and round up, then broached and, with a smack, capsized violently to windward.

I can't say exactly what happened. I'm generally not beyond stepping on the crew to climb up and over onto the centreboard;  in all the excitement they rarely notice and never complain. I once landed back on shore after a hard race with Buffy and my wife's sister-in-law, Catherine, who was crewing for me at the time. I say hard; I think we capsized close to a dozen times in the course of the race, and credit to the lady, she never once complained or gave even the slightest hint of wanting to give up and head in.

But after we'd landed and grabbed a warm cup of tea from the wet-bar, she looked at me in total confusion for a moment, and then asked "How come you're not actually wet after all that?"

So anyway, you can always tell it was a vicious, violent capsize when I find actually find myself in the water along with the crew for a change.

That makes it the first swim of the year. Doubtless it won't be the last.

Needless to say we recovered, but it took a while, and took even longer to get the water back out of the boat, so it put us from within reaching distance of the front of the fleet back to second from last.

It was still a great morning's sailing though.

Fingers crossed for the weather next weekend. It'll be our last chance to get Calstar out to play on the Bristol Channel. I'd ideally like a couple of days of nice weather to sail up to Portishead and back. But would settle for just the one day and a trip out around the Holms, if that's all the weather gods have to offer.

Friday, 9 February 2018

It snow go

My brother jetted out to Indonesia with his wife a couple of days ago to visit her family out there. He's not back until the end of the month, and as he's also the bassist in my band, that means I have the whole month off.

So many evenings and weekends and weekends. Had thought to spend the next couple of weekends on a farewell tour of the upper Bristol Channel; perhaps Watchet this weekend, Portishead next. The tides were good for it. Dad seemed up for it.

The weather isn't playing though.

So as far as Watchet and Calstar are concerned for this weekend then, it's no go. I shall have to find something else to do with my time.

Racing at Frampton perhaps?

Talking of snow, it pelted down thick and fast this morning. The view from my office window:

Thick and fast and very wet though. The temperature has, from a chilly start at the beginning of the week, warmed back up to above freezing, and the ground was very wet so it didn't have a chance to settle. And it was brief. By the afternoon the sky was blue between the low scattered, torn and racing clouds.

I stumbled across the blog of a couple that brought a small Westerly and sailed her around the UK back in 2013:

I was actually looking for information on the Eddystone Lighthouse, which sits about nine miles off the shore of Plymouth, and came across an account of them sailing out and around it.


I wasn't so interested in the "Around the UK" bit, though I'm sure it makes interesting enough reading, but more drawn by the photos and accounts of their sailing in and around Plymouth, for obvious reasons.

Coincidentally, and quite amusingly in a way, when they first bought their boat it was in Portishead, so they made the decision to relocate it to Plymouth, despite being Bristol based themselves, for amongst other reasons, "the sailing's much easier " and "it's closer to France".

Similar reasons to our own then. Sort of.

They had originally planned to sail the boat around, and had engaged a professional skipper to assist them; a not unsound decision given the waters they were going to have to pass through and their lack of experience. So I eagerly scrolled though these historical posts hoping to read an account of the passage I so wanted to make myself but am now going to be denied .....

They're quite keen with their camera, so I was anticipating lots of photos.

...... Only to read that in the end the weather beat them before they even got started, so they put her on the back of a truck and had her transported down.

Again, similar reasons to our own then. Sort of.

It looks like the authors concerned, Steve and Chic of the Westerly Pembroke "Leo", stopped updating the site once they'd finished their circumnavigation of the UK in 2014. I wonder if they carried on sailing?

I hope so.