Monday, 19 November 2018

FOSSC: an unfortunate hat-trick

I had to miss the Laying-up Supper and prize giving at Frampton this weekend as we had a gig down in Bristol. Got to the Club Sunday morning for the usual racing, and various friends cryptically mentioned "Heard you won a trophy" and "Congratulations on the prize" and that sort of thing.

It was the prize-giving evening, and I've had a good first year with the Laser, winning the Personal Handicap and the Summer Class series, so it wasn't a great surprise, and I was at first a bit baffled at their apparent amusement.

Especially when the people offering the congratulations suddenly turned coy when I asked them which trophy they meant.

Turns out it's my old friend the Capsize Trophy. Which makes it the third time the thing has come home with me. I thought there was some sort of unwritten rule about winning it more than once, but apparently not.

And, apparently, the prize giving committee were quite unanimous in their choice this year. Amongst apparently may obviously qualifying achievements of the candidate concerned, there was some mention of something about a certain person being idiot enough to try racing a Laser Standard rig in 50mph winds.

That's not how the person relating the decision to me was kind enough to phrase it. Neither did they suggest that the clear lack of any apparent instincts of self-preservation were in any way some kind of character flaw; but I do rather suspect that was what was going through their minds.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


The view from my office window late this afternoon. Autumn hasn't quite yet conceded in full to winter's stark grip.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Freefall: drummer's view

Although once we get going, he'll mostly see me, stood in front of his kit.

FOSSC: weekend playground

Spent most of it here.

Yesterday working with the powerboats, training a new draft of drivers to rescue us when it all goes wrong.

Today, raced Amanda's Enterprise with her; went well, we are definitely improving. Then raced my Laser. Started well, very well. All went rapidly downhill from there.

Sat on the drummers stool, waiting for the gig to start; on in 20 minutes. The drummer has the most comfortable seat in the house, which is the only reason I'm sat here.

Hands hurt, fingers stiff from all the sailing of the last couple of weeks. Voice is much improved after a recent cold, but there are still some of the higher notes quite literally missing. Which worries me, but I'm sure they'll come back.

Oddly, despite my physical exhaustion, I'm really looking forward to the gig.

Cold beer in hand, only one of the evening until I get home later tonight. It does taste good.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Friday 2nd

My eldest son had news today that he'd lost a friend.

I had news that a friend had lost his son.

We are heartbroken for them both, their family, and everybody this will touch.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Laser: forecast

Laser Open at Frampton on Saturday. Looking at the forecast, not sure if I should be looking forward to it or quaking with fear. If it comes in as promised, I think I'm going to really regret not prioritising getting myself a Radial rig (ie. smaller, cut down sail for those of us not into racing little plastic dinghies around a puddle)

Browsing some photos from earlier this year, just to get my head into the right space . . . .

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

FOSSC: wind shadow, shallows and running starts

The weekend finished here.

The lake at Frampton, from the lee shore by the clubhouse at least, looked idyllic in the early winter sun when I arrived Sunday morning. The temperature was around 6C  however, and chilled further by a sharp north wind that was forecast to gust up into the mid 20's by lunchtime.

Racing is now in the second week of the winter programme.

"earlier this month" - photo: ken elsey
Earlier this month, in the absence of an Enterprise of my own, I'd bullied a friend into sailing the Enterprise Open with me at Frampton. It had been terrific fun. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the Laser, but I'd forgotten, in such a very short time since I'd sold my own, how much fun it could be to race a double-hander.

So I'm sailing the Sunday morning Winter Pursuit series at Frampton with Amanda and her Enterprise this year. It's worked out well, because it means that my eldest boy Ben can use my Laser in the same race, which gets him out on the water again whilst he looks for a Laser of his own.

The course laid by the race committee on Sunday morning was questionable, to say the least. To compliment a gusty, foul-tempered northerly, the windward mark was set up as an unconventional starboard rounding in the dogleg of the lake at green, in the wind shadow of surrounding trees on three sides. The starboard approach to the start line was beset by centreboard grinding shallows. More than one boat got themselves grounded before the start. Those same shallows only worsened on the right hand side of the approach to the windward mark.

The rest of the course was a slalom series of deep, sluggish and uncomfortable runs, or pinched, close reaching fetches, seemingly designed to put the boats on different legs into direct conflict with each other. The only possible redeeming feature of the whole thing was that all the boats were in the same shared misery together.

Ben, still getting used to the vagaries of a Laser, capsized into the wind chilled waters more times than was comfortable. Although we stayed upright in the Enterprise, the only enjoyable thing you could take from the whole races was that we were at least out on the water. And the sun was shining. Even if the wind-chill was numbingly cold.

Back ashore between races, putting the Enterprise away, Les kindly offered me the loan of his own Laser for the afternoon race so that Ben could carry on sailing in mine, but the boy had had enough, and decide that an afternoon spent marking his student's homework for Monday was preferable to putting himself through another repeat of that morning's trial.

For myself, I figured the Race Officer couldn't possibly set any worse of a course than he'd done so that morning, so decided to stay to race the Laser for the second race.

Couldn't do any worse?

Taking on board our vocally expressed feedback that Green up in the shadow of the trees was a horrific windward mark, he instead shifted it upwind and to the right, further into the shallows, and set a "running start" followed by a starboard rounding at White for our first leg. The rest of the course remained a sleigh-race of painfully deep training runs and pinched close reaches with hardly a decent beat to speak of, and we still had to contend with a cantankerous, wind-shadowed green, but at the end of the lap instead of the beginning.

A class series, so only Lasers racing in our fleet, the confusion of an unconventional running start was further addled when the starting gun failed to give the all clear; Pete went for it anyway, trusting his watch and so stealing a thirty second lead on the rest of us that we never clawed back. I got free into relatively clear air early on, so maintained a lead in second place ahead of Mike for most of the rest of the race, until a couple of unlucky, ill timed gusts capsized me twice in the final lap, letting Mike close the gap.

An unfortunate header left him unable to lay what passed for the windward mark at Yellow, whereas I, slightly to windward, tried to shoot it. I was at this point panicking and seeing red through the adrenalin of the moment in my desperation to stay ahead; in the cold light of hindsight ashore, I'm not convinced I kept clear of him as he came into the mark on starboard but at the time, and in the absence of complaint, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt.

I'd like to think I'd return the same favour of doubt to him, but that's not really an excuse.

In any case, Mike settled the tussle between us when the next gust came through, and he tipped head over heels for an unfortunate, surprised swim, leaving me clear to finish ahead of him.

Regardless of my frustrations over the course set, or my own performance and judgement at times - a heavy night drinking with friends to start the weekend, an early, frostbitten sail on the estuary to clear the hangover Saturday morning followed by a gig in Bristol late into that night - as ever with the lake at Frampton, it was still far better a bad day out on the lake than a good day spent kicking around almost anywhere else.

So in case any of this sounds like complaint, it's not. I might question the Race Officer's judgement in setting the courses that he did, but he is a friend and I can't question his motive, and at least I was sailing and not caught with a club duty running the races myself. Setting a course in a northerly at Frampton is always a perilous task, I guess he was trying to make the best of the hand he'd been dealt by entertaining us with novelty.

LYC: fish pie and muddy Mirrors

The weekend began here.

Friday night at Lydney Yacht Club. My good friend Chris Orme's fantastic fish pie, copious amounts of fine ale served by Barney and Martin across the Club bar, followed by a substantial tipple or two (three?) of a dubiously named Scotch. I say "dubiously named", but that's about all I recall of it, other than Barney was very generous with his estimate of the measures he served and it went down very smoothly on the back of all that ale and fish pie.

Entertainment of a more conventional nature was supplied by our friends Hedley and Eric as they regaled us with tales and photos of their lengthy retirement cruise earlier this summer aboard their respective yachts "New Dawn" and "Darteign", which seemed to cover most of the west coast of Wales and Scotland and the east coast of Ireland before returning home to Lydney.

It was a good night to catch up with old friends and make a couple of new ones.

I was supposed to be meeting up with Steve to crew for him aboard his sailing canoe "Green Bean" first thing Saturday morning, so had brought a sleeping bag, a self-inflating mattress and a plan to sleep in the back of my car. However, in the event, Lydney's Commodore Sarah and her partner Martin took pity on me and offered me a bunk on their Westerly moored up in the harbour.

Only catch was the rather perilous, icy boarding plank we had to navigate to get aboard. Oh, and the other peril, being the comfort of the bunk. I woefully overslept the following morning. Sarah and Martin woke me at 0800, reminding me I was supposed to be meeting the others to go sailing. 90 minutes late, I thanked them again for their hospitality, crammed my sleeping bag into it's bag, and made a dash for it.

By the slip I found two Mirror dinghies already rigged and waiting for the tide, crewed by Annabel and Tina and Tom and his son Harry respectively, but no sign of Steve or Green Bean. A moment's confusion and concern was dispelled however when I glanced at my phone and finally caught a message he'd sent at 0600, apologising but crying off sick.

Steve is pretty unstoppable in his enthusiasm for sailing Green Bean, so if he had to call a sickie, I had nothing but sympathy for him, it must've been bad. Feeling pretty rough myself, albeit entirely self-inflicted, I almost felt relieved. The morning was crisp and bright. And very, very chill.

"You've been drinking" remarked Annabel, it being clearly that obvious. And then Annabel and Tina press-ganged me into sailing with them. Despite the hangover, despite the chill, and despite a mild concern as to how we'd possibly fit three fully grown adults into a little Mirror, of course I found it quite impossible to say no.

The tide was tanking past off the end of the slip in full flood as we launched. Annabel and Tina appeared to have proceedings well under control so I lounged out in the sun on the foredeck and tried to ignore the dull thumping headache and numb chill of the morning seeping into my fingers through the fabric of my wet gloves.

Tom and Harry launched their own Mirror behind us and soon we were both close hauled on port, beating into the stiff northerly blowing hard down the estuary. The bank on the Forest side gave a little shelter in its lee, but on the Sharpness side, with the tide running hard against the wind, the overfalls made pointed, wet comment about the lack of freeboard you get when you put three adults into a Mirror.

Annabel and Tina were unruffled however, and managed the boat skilfully, tacking away and back towards the calm of the western shore whilst I tried valiantly not to get too tangled in the jib. Yours truly then continued to lounge, the hangover slowly receding, even if the damp chill continued it's onslaught against my poor abused bones. Discomfort aside, it was a gorgeous morning, and the silted, muddied, violent majesty of the Severn was as unsubdued and as unapologetic as ever in her glory.

I do truly love this bit of local water.

Through the narrows off the Sharpness Old Dock we hit the claptopic churn that always kicks up on the edge of Ridge Sands. The GPS on my watch recorded a high of 11.3 knots, which is a silly number for three folks in an 11' Mirror, but most of it was, of course, the tide.

It's a bit like white water rafting. Except the water isn't white. And it's kind of running up hill.

We crossed close to Tom and Harry to discuss the plan; some thought was given to simply pushing on up river until the tide turned, but the conversation turned in favour of landing in Brims Pill for coffee and breakfast.

The idea of any kind of solid breakfast caused a minor revolt in my somewhat abused and still struggling to recover system, but coffee felt welcome. And with heavier weather due in around lunch, not pushing our luck upriver seemed the more sensible choice.

Tom and Harry, taking a more conservative line, judged their approach perfectly, but caught further out in the full throated pull of the flood tide, we overshot the mouth of the Pill. We turned towards the shore, bearing away to a broad reach, and for the next five minutes our ground speed turned to the negative as we took a slow ferry glide in towards what we hoped would prove to be a back eddy to take us back to the Pill

The physical feeling of forward momentum coupled with the contradicting visual sensation of going nowhere but gradually backwards is a very Severn specific phenomena.

As the back eddy took its grip on our little boat, we gradually began to gain ground against the rushing tide, and finally turned into the shelter of the narrow creek. Having contributed nothing else to the voyage so far except my wit and my charm (quote from Tina: "Stop talking about capsizing Bill!") I finally stepped up to the plate and was first to step off from the boat as we made shore, struggling through knee deep mud to take the painter up to firm ground where we secured both boats to a metal corkscrew pin Annabel had brought along for the purpose.

Brims Pill is a picturesque spot as any to sip strong, hot black coffee and what the flood tide flush in. It doesn't offer much shelter from the biting wind though. Although the clocks went back on Sunday and winter is finally here, most of the trees around these parts still haven't quite given up the ghost of the summer just gone, and still cling to a few leaves.


The tide finally began to turn, the wind was continuing to build, and after a little bit of fuss with the rudder of Annabel's Mirror, we were back aboard and casting off from the shore to begin our trip back to Lydney and home.

Downwind all the way, the gusts at times became quite lively and, for the sake of trim, I had to surrender my lounging spot on the foredeck and move my weight aft to stop the bow from burying. In the building conditions, Tom and Harry astern of us sensibly elected not to haul up any sail and instead row back to the club. 

Or rather Harry rowed, whilst his Dad presumable supplied a few words of encouragement to spur him along in his efforts. 

Under sail, at times the overladen little boat almost leapt onto the plane in the grip of some of the more boisterous gusts. Annabel is a stead hand on the tiller though, and knows the river well. We stayed clear of the overfalls off Sharpness, wind-flattened now even as they were with the turn of tide.

There was a moment of concern about Wellhouse Rock. We were hugging the shore off Purton, Annabel relaxed in the view that the tide always washes you around things and rarely into them, when we realised we couldn't actually see the rock because most of it was still submerged.

We arrived back at Lydney without mishap however, easily stepping ashore and Annabel guided the boat to a gentle landing on the slip, snug behind the shelter of the breakwater. Tom and Harry were still in view about a mile astern, hugging the Lydney shore as the rowed back down with the tide.

We dragged our boat up to the top, and then headed back down to the water's edge to greet them as they caught up. It didn't take them long.

8.5 nautical miles travelled in 1 hour and 35 minutes underway, albeit in my hungover stupor I failed to start the log on my GPS until we'd already sailed a mile or so. As I packed up and got in the car to drive home, conscious of a promise to take my youngest son and his mum out for lunch to celebrate his 20th birthday, the wind continued to build, bending the surrounding trees, and the sky blackened over and it began to rain.

We'd certainly picked the best of the weather for our morning's sail. And sailing out of Lydney is always an adventure.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Laser: too nice not to

I snuck out from the office yesterday afternoon.

The Wednesday evening season is over now at Frampton, the evenings are drawing in too early for us to fit a race in after work. But there has been a contingent of club members, those fortunate enough not to be chained to office hours through merit of retirement or fortuitous circumstance, that has been regularly racing on Wednesday afternoons throughout the year.

Normally, circumstances are such that I can only envy them via the webcam, if I have even the time for as much as that during the day.

However, the forecast for yesterday was blue sky, an unseasonably  balmy 22c and 20 knots or so of wind from the southwest. There was nothing scheduled for my afternoon that couldn't be or hadn't already been postponed or shifted; it was simply impossible to resist.

It was great fun. The wind was a bit blustery, but didn't come through as hard as originally forecast. A pursuit race with a fleet of 12 boats, the three Lasers on the start line were the fastest handicap so we were the hound to everybody else's fox.

A simple figure of eight course, we agreed on it early, so rather than kicking around on shore, I launched almost as soon as I was rigged and bashed around the lake for half an hour before the rest joined me. I had an indifferent start, but made up for it on the first beat, finding clean air and sailing faster and flatter than both Jon and Les in the other two Lasers, so beat them around the windward mark easily.

Feeling just a little bit cocky as I bore away in front of my immediate competition, my over-confidence bit me back hard. Something went horribly wrong in the balance or the rope handling, I'm still not entirely sure what or how, but the next thing the boat has broached and then capsized violently to windward, dropping me in for a rather unexpected swim.

I got the boat back up and spent the next twenty minutes catching the other two back up, before passing them once again and continuing to work my way up through the rest of the fleet.

photo: ken elsey

With less than ten minutes to go, I finally caught up with the leading pack of Solos. I let them all cluster up on top of each other around the leeward mark, and then pulling the controls on hard, came in wide and out tight, pointing quickly up onto the beat to windward of them all, moving higher and faster.

As we were all closing onto the leeward bank, I went for a quick tack, intending to break away early, find clean air and climb over the top of the lot of them before the next mark.

As the boom came across, it snagged the top of my buoyancy aid, trapping me to leeward, and pulling the boat over on top of me. They sailed on. I finally squeezed under the boom and rolled up and over the top of the gunwale as the boat toppled, landing on the dagger-board with the boat still pointed into wind, so had her up again in seconds. But sat stalled in irons, head to wind.

The next precious moments were spent desperately trying to get the boat back off the wind and sailing again as Jon and his Laser rounded the mark behind me in the company of a Wanderer, and both sailed past.

The last ten minutes of the race were spent trying to claw my hard work back. I passed the Wanderer easily, but Jon having gained a lead on me was more reluctant to give it back. I briefly snuck past as he caught up with Roger in the rear most of the leading Solos, and then misjudged the final beat and both he and the Roger stole the lead back from me on the last mark rounding.

The clock ran out, with Jon taking a well deserved and hard won 4th place, Roger 5th and me relegated to a humble 6th in consequence of my cock-sure overconfidence and spectacularly clumsy boat handling.

Blue skies, warm air, sparkly blue water and a fresh wind, I'd had a brilliant afternoon, so much so I couldn't even bring myself to feel disappointed about the capsizes and the race they'd cost me.

According to my watch, I sailed just over 7 statute miles across1 hour and 35 minutes. I've no idea how it worked out I gained 20m of elevation. The lake is non tidal, and even out on the Bristol Channel, 20m would be somewhat alarming.

Most amusingly from the track however, you can see the capsizes. They are marked by a drop on the blue line to 0 mph and a corresponding spike in my pulse on the red that is probably as much shame and embarrassment over the indignity of a dunking as the exertion of getting the boat back up.

Interestingly, the second capsize cost me more in time than the first, according to the track. This despite the fact that it was a dry capsize that I recovered from quickly, whereas the first was very wet and had me swimming around the boat to climb onto the dagger-board from the water. However, the first capsize was downwind, so even on her side, the boat was still moving in the direction I wanted to go (and faster than I could swim: I had to hang on to stay with her) whereas the second was upwind, and even once the boat was up, I lost a lot of time stuck head to wind and going nowhere.