Monday, 13 August 2018

Six Days: from Moth to Gull to Laser

Today will be the first day in the last seven that I haven’t sailed. Which isn’t a complaint, by any means, but I am actually looking forward to enjoying a quiet night in. If not a whole day of rest, at least an evening's worth.

Most of last week was spent camping on the side of the reservoir at Chelmarsh Sailing Club where I raced in the British Moth Nationals; a class I sailed for some years and will always be terribly fond of. When one of the members at Chelmarsh generously offered me the loan of one of his boats, sail number 829, I simply couldn’t resist. I drove up on Tuesday, the day before the event started, to get settled in and have a chance to set up and sail the boat before the event started Wednesday morning.

To be fair, I didn’t do the boat justice. This was the third Nationals I’ve sailed at, and was my worst result by far. The first race started  great, in the top five around the windward mark, then at the subsequent downwind mark I got hit by a nasty gust as I rounded and was unceremoniously tipped in. It was my only capsize of the week, but put me to the back of the fleet and set the trend for the decline in my results over the week that followed.

photo: peter styles
photo: peter styles
But it didn’t stop me enjoying myself. A class of boat I love (though have clearly forgotten how to sail), and a week in the company of many old friends, good food, good beer and my guitar. I drank rather a lot but am pretty certain I succeeded in not embarrassing myself; even though I danced all night to the band that played followed the championship meal on Friday evening, I’m assured that what happens on tour stays on tour. There is a good reason I don’t normally dance in any other circumstances!

photo: roger witts
The final race was at 1000 Saturday morning. Fun conditions, very shifty, very gusty. Off the water by 1100, packed the boat away, reiterated my thanks to my host for his generosity in lending her to me, and then said goodbye to friends and skipped the presentation to get home in time to shower, change and get back out for a gig at 1700. A birthday party beneath a pavilion in the grounds of the local Farmer’s Club, it rained as we were setting up and absolutely poured down as we were packing away which made keeping the instruments, lights and PA safe a bit of a challenge, but failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the audience.

photo: debbie wade
On Sunday Nik was working all day, so there was nothing else to do but get up and shake off the late night and then to head down to Frampton to race for the afternoon. The first race was the second week of the Pro Am series I wrote about previously. I had the chance to add the Racing Coach endorsement to my sailing instructor’s ticket a few years ago but intentionally dodged it. I like teaching people to sail, but racing is a personal adventure, and not something I feel especially comfortable explaining or teaching. A simple matter of confidence. Every start, every mark rounding and every crossing boat still feels like a lottery with respect to whether or not it’ll go right. A bit like my relationship to karate, with this I shall ever be but the fumbling student.

So having to line up the prefect demonstration of a racing start with somebody quite new to dinghies crewing for you in the boat, explain what you’re doing, what you’re thinking and what you’re trying to achieve, whilst desperately trying not to foul any of the other eight double-handers vying for their space on the line or otherwise not make yourself look stupid was a touch stressful. The conditions were very blustery, F4 gusting 5 but with big lulls to throw you off guard, and as always on the lake, very shifty.

It worked though, and we hit the line at speed, on time and bang in the right place. Third around the windward mark, ceding first and second place to a couple of lighter crews with very experienced helms, we held our position in the fleet through the next thirty minutes to finish a respectable third.

The next trick was to replicate the start in a second race, but with my crew-mate now on the helm and me coaching. The last thirty seconds were a little tense, with the fleet all luffing up about us, then we found our space to bear away and accelerate in the final few seconds and pulled it off again. Our upwind speed was good through the next half hour, but our tacks showed the need for some more practice, and up in the regrettable wind shadow at the top of the course (the marks should’ve been laid well clear of it) we caught a very unlucky break that saw us drop out of the back of the fleet at one point.

We part salvaged our dignity on the last lap however, spotting and catching a good lift up the beat followed by a clean air reach that saw us take two places back to finish in a not disreputable seventh place.

photo: ken elsey
photo: ken elsey
The downside of the Pro Am series is that it is followed by the Personal Handicap Pursuit. Not a bad thing in itself, but it means you’ve got to get ashore, de-rig and put away the Gull and then get your own boat out and rig it up in time to make the Pursuit. It had been a long week of play, a hard-working, late Saturday night, and lacking the moment to pause for a cup of tea and a bite of lunch, I was feeling decidedly grim by the time the Laser was rigged and it was time to go. I very nearly conceded put the boat away again without launching. At this point I’d not actually eaten properly since Friday evening, and was probably dehydrated.

Then I got bloody minded, grabbed a bottle of water and went anyway.

photo: ken elsey
As lovely as a British Moth is, as enjoyable as it may be to race a Gull in good company, and as fine a thing as single class fleet racing most certainly is, it was still an absolute pleasure to get back in my own boat. I quickly forgot just how rough I was feeling and the Laser and I went on to celebrate our reunion by winning the race.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Laser: 3-2-1

All the gigs done and out of the way, I crawled out of bed a little before noon on Sunday; a quick shower and mug of tea, then made my way down to the Lake.

Two new race series have started. The 1400 is a new format the Club is trying, called the Pro Am series. I use the abbreviations intentionally, as none of us are professionals in this respect, and there are some highly skilled amateurs racing at Frampton. However, the idea is to team up an experienced racer with a newcomer, using the Club's training fleet of double-hander Gulls, to try and pull some fresh blood into the circuit.

The running order is a couple of back to back, short races. The "pro" helms the first once, then hands over to the"am" to helm for the second.

In the end, we had a total of seven Gulls out on the water. I was teamed up with Steve, and predictably made a complete hash of the first beat, rafting up on the windward mark with another Gull. Things improved from there on however, with Steve already having a good feel for the trim of both the hull and sails, and taking quickly and confidently to roll tacking the boat in light air. We finished 3rd overall, middle of the fleet, but happily lapping some of the back markers.

Steve then took the helm and showed me how it was done. A perfectly respectable start, and an incident free windward beat. We held the lead for a good part of the race until we misjudged a shift on one of the beats and Nicola's boat with her young son Charlie at the helm tacked onto the lift and left us in their wake.

Mind you, truth be told, the mother and son team was a bit of a ringer. I reckon Charlie could have a fair chance of beating me with his Optimist on a good day. And his mum certainly beats me regularly when she's sailing her usual British Moth.

It was unexpectedly good fun though, and Steve improved on my 3rd of the first race with a very respectable 2nd.

I'm quite looking forward to next week.

The 1600 spot saw me back in my Laser. It's a "personal handicap" series, again aimed at the newcomers in the fleet. They've taken all our previous results and, using "science" (tongue firmly in cheek) given us each a personal modifier on our boat's handicap. Again, it's intended as a fun intro to some of the newer or less aggressive racers.

This time I was the ringer.

At least half the results they based my handicap modifier on were taken sailing my old Enterprise. I've since moved onto the Laser, of course, which is a much easier boat to race, and my results have reflected that.

However, my personal handicap for Sunday only did so partially. I was given a -3 modifier, alongside Rhonwen, which she felt a little outraged by. That meant we both started a minute and a half later than we ordinarily would. Mike, on the other hand, was penalised on his past results with a -12. A six minute penalty.

Like I said, it's all intended to be in good spirit.

Rhonwen is getting much harder to beat. She had a late start to the season, coming back onto the water about the same time I got the Laser, and for the first few races had a hard time keeping up with me. In fact, on one memorable occasion I almost lapped her.

Either she's finding her stride and getting faster though, or I'm losing mine and slowing down. I'm pretty sure it's the former. She beat me roundly last Wednesday evening, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

With his six minute penalty, we both left Mike for dust before he'd even started. Rhonwen proved very difficult to shake however, taking the lead from me more than once in the fluky, shifty conditions.

I got her though, finally striking my pace and leaving her almost a whole leg behind following a lucky lift on the final lap and taking 1st.

A good start to the series.

Freefall: hat trick

Busy week last week. Disregarding the office job that, as usual, absorbed the entirety of my working days, we also had three gigs.

Thursday evening was straight out of work and then down the motorway to The Grange Hotel in Winterbourne on the north side of Bristol for the wedding of Ian and Nell. Ian is a long time friend of the band's and met Nell at one of our Bristol gigs. I love playing weddings anyway, but that made this one especially special.

Friday night was just down the road from the office, at Cirencester Park Polo Club which was hosting a running event, the Cotswold 24 Hour Race. We were the third act of the night, sound-man and PA provided, so a relative treat for us being able to just turn up, plug in and play.

When we played this event last year, it was on the Saturday night. I remember loitering in the crowd, watching the band that was on before us, when one of the stewards spotted me, and said, "You must be the next band? Because you're obviously not runners . . . . "

We played a 90 minute set, finishing at 2300. It was a lovely evening, and nice to be playing outdoors for a change with all this warm, dry weather. I managed to cut my hand about half way through; a minor scratch at the heel of my thumb, the area of my right hand I use to damp the strings. I didn't really notice it until afterwards, but I managed to lightly speckle the set-list at my feet.

There was a time back in my miscreant youth when I couldn't get through a gig without ripping my fingers on the strings and spraying blood everywhere. Not a terribly efficient way to play and makes a mess of your fingernails, not to mention the guitar. I'm a little better coordinated these days, but clearly my enthusiasm still sometimes gets the better of me.

I would've overslept Saturday morning, but as I'm away all next week was determined to get up in time to train for an hour. Dragged myself out of bed, shower, dressed, just enough time to wake myself up with a mug of tea then headed down to the local leisure centre.

Only to discover the hall all shut up and dark, and clearly karate cancelled. I know our sensai has been away with his family on holiday the last week or so. Thought he was back and it all started again this Saturday, but was obviously wrong and could've stayed in bed.

Saturday night we were back at the Pilot, a lovely canal side pub a whole five minutes down the road from my Dad's house and where I keep the band's trailer safe in his garage. It was a hot, sticky night with many friends in a good, appreciative crowd that got bigger and more and more lively as the evening played on.

I loved every second of it.

Apparently, according to Google, before moving into more common usage, "hat trick" was a term that originated in cricket, where it referred to three wickets taken by a bowler in three consecutive balls, and was traditionally rewarded with the presentation of a hat.

Although I've long been familiar with the term, it seems I now also know something about cricket!

Monday, 30 July 2018

Laser: shades

Ben, my eldest son, is encamped at the Lake all this week running the Club's annual "Junior Week". As I left the Club yesterday evening, I jokingly remarked to a group of friends that were setting up camp, parents of some of the kids and instructors participating, that if any of the kids found my sunglasses I'd buy them an ice-cream.

A short while ago, just as I was about to log on to my favourite chandlery to order a replacement pair of shades, I received the above snap from Ben, with the question, "Are these yours?"

Damn right they are! Amazed and delighted.

Laser: be careful what you wish for

That feeling mid-gybe when you know it’s all just about to go horribly wrong:

Despite a fairly active lifestyle by most standards, I’m pretty certain I can’t do my age in push-ups, at least not in a single set. However, Sunday was a demonstration that I can certainly match my age with the number of capsizes I can recover from in a single race.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Or maybe I’m being a little unrealistically coy about my actual age, I am well out of my thirties now!

It was lively. Which was welcomed after the sunny drifts of the last couple of months or so. For various reasons, I almost always do well in drifting conditions, but I really do love hiking weather, when the wind is blowing hard and you’re fully stretched out over the side of the boat, battling to keep her flat and brute force your way up wind. Or the exhilaration of a stupidly fast plane downwind, all spray and adrenaline; the boat hums beneath you, every shift of your weight or twitch of tiller or sheet is amplified through the hull.

We got a lot of that yesterday. I also got so much water pushed up my nose when I got dragged behind the dinghy by my ankles after an especially violent broach to windward that the next day I’m pretty certain my brain is still swilling in its own puddle of lake water. Another, similarly violent broach in the second race ripped my sunglasses off my face, which makes them the second pair I’ve surrendered to the lake this year.  I’m going to have to start tying them on. Years of capsizing an Enterprise and I never lost a single pair. Three months of racing a Laser, and I’m two sets of shades down. Clearly the violence is of a different order with this new boat.

Eight boats started the first race, of which four of us were sailing Lasers. The other three all sensibly rigged their smaller Radial sails. I only have my full sized Standard sail, so was denied that option. It was a punishing race, and I struggled with my overpowered rig. Three of the eight starters retired, including one of the Radials, but of the survivors, I finished last, a good four minutes behind the Radial in front of me. It’s very clear the Standard rig doesn’t sail very fast when the boat spends most of her time on her side with her helm either in the water or perched on the dagger-board trying to right the boat again.

Back ashore the gusts were so boisterous I lashed the Laser to her trolley and laid her over on her side to keep her safe whilst I drank my tea and nursed my wounded pride. I very, very nearly capitulated and declined the second race, the conditions, if anything, appeared to be strengthening. But I couldn’t do it. Lacking a smaller Radial rig to reduce down to, I compromised by rigging the thicker mainsheet, then launched for the next race.

Only four of us chose to start; Jon in his Radial, Pete in his Comet, Mike in his kid’s old Topper (the kicker is currently bust on his own Laser) and me. I got a good start, and refreshed with tea and rested from our short break ashore, managed a very good first beat, making it first around the windward mark and bearing away without mishap. By the second beat I was pulling clean ahead and feeling very good with myself. A gybe around the green mark, then a long, fast reach back down the lake to yellow. The wind hit and the boat took off on her fastest point of sail, spray everywhere and me literally hanging off the transom with my feel tucked into the toe-straps just to keep the nose up and the boat flat.

The bottom mark closing in a mad rush, outhaul on, Cunningham on, hard on with the kicker, then try to reach forward to get the board down. With a violent flick, the little boat broached, flinging me head first into the water as she flipped on top of me, dragging me along with my foot tangled in the mainsheet.

I chased the boat down, righted her and then finally rounded the mark to begin my second lap. By now both Jon and Pete had caught up and passed me. Then I realised how much brighter the day had become. That was the capsize that cost me my second pair of sunglasses.

At just a shade over 150lbs wet, I'm sure the wisdom of trying to race a Laser Standard rig on a day when the highest recorded gust whilst we were out on the water was over 40 knots was ill conceived at best. But I have to admit, I loved every second of it, or at least the ones when I was pretty sure I wasn't drowning. The first race was an absolute car crash, but almost all the capsizes were a lack of finesse, and not the necessary power to control the boat.

The second race went better, but the heavy winds were still beating me. In the end I finished second, beating the Radial but losing on handicap to the Comet. But I didn't really deserve it, and only took Jon's second place from him when on the very last lap the rains came in and the wind pretty much stopped. I always do well in a drift. Another lap of that and I reckon I'd have caught Pete as well. Maybe.

And, other than the unfortunate loss of my shades, nothing broke. The little boat gave everything I asked of her and more. I just need a few more days like that to practice with. And maybe, just maybe, I ought to think about getting myself a Radial rig as well as a bit of string with which to tie my glasses on.

[photos courtesy of Ken Elsey and Geoff Cox]

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The liberation of Bambi

There is a cottage beside the track leading up to the level crossing from our office car park. The cottage has a lovely garden with a wrought iron gate that opens on to the track.

Yesterday lunchtime, I pulled up in front of the level crossing and was about to call for the gatekeeper to let us across, when my son, sat in the car next to me, mentioned that he was further back down the track, by this iron gate.

I get out of the car and wander back down the track, a little concerned at what we might find, and discover Issac, the duty gatekeeper, and a chap who apparently lives in the terrace houses at the top of the road, are huddled over a small deer that has ill advisedly tried to squeeze through the vertical bars of the gate and got itself stuck mid-way through.

Apparently, the almost human, terrified screams of the animal when she had first got caught had been loud enough to attract the attention of the man in his house at the top, he'd come down to see what the noise was and Issac had joined him. The deer was led on her side, hindquarters twisted and midriff chafed raw by her struggles, panting and very, very distressed. The guy with Issac had got a towel to put over the poor thing's head, and was doing a very fine job of keeping her calm. By now a couple of colleagues from the office, Kirk and Will, also on their way out to find some lunch, had joined us as well.

Trying to ease the deer out from between the bars, either forward or astern, only caused the creature to scream, panic and struggle, with the obvious risks of doing more harm to herself. Will and Issac tried to put pressure on the bars to pull them apart, but to little avail. The lady from the cottage on the other side of the track had called a wildlife rescue charity, but said they couldn't be with us for another four or five hours. You can't fault them for that, these things are inevitably voluntary, and folks have a living to make.

Will mused over the thought that if we'd had a crowbar or something, anything to put some decent leverage on the bars . . . . I grabbed the car jack from the boot of my car. It fitted snug between the verticals, deer height above the poor creature, and as I began to wind, effortlessly spread the bars apart.

Once it looked like there was sufficient breadth, we gently untangled the deer's hind legs from the gate, then tried to lift her, ever so carefully, desperately worried about what damage she might have caused herself in her struggles before any of us had reached her.

We needn't have worried. The moment she sensed freedom, she stood of her own accord, slipped through and bolted, tripping once in her haste, but standing straight back up again, clearly very, very mobile. She gave one long indignant and accusing glare back at us, her liberators, and then turned tail and bounded into the bushes.

The five of us were left with nothing but big grins, and a somewhat mangled wrought iron gate that I figured I'd now have to explain to our landlady.

I needn't have worried, and should've known better, having known the lady concerned for as long as I have; aside from immediate concern as to how the deer had fared once free, she assured us, "No worries about bending fences and gates, etc, animals come first. 'twas my Uncle's attitude that all living creatures were safe on his land  (including big spiders) and we are all the same."

Friday, 20 July 2018

Laser: crispy new sail

I had been saving up my pennies for a new sail for the Laser. Losing my Garmin watch did make me pause to consider diverting the savings towards a replacement for that, but in the end it felt too much like rewarding myself for being stupid enough to lose the watch in the first place, so at the minute I'm timing my starts using a batted old Optimum Time racing watch that I superglued back together, and filling in Calstar's log from her instruments, rather than the convenience of having the numbers on my wrist.

With all my other competing commitments, I only race the Laser locally at Frampton at the moment, and the club rules allow the use of replica sails for club racing. You can get replica sails for about a third of the price of an official class association sail, so not being sure of how much of a difference a new sail was really going to make, I took that option and bought a replica Mk2 Standard Mainsail from Rooster. My thinking was that if the difference was marginal, I wouldn't begrudge the money as much, whereas if the improvement was significant, I could then splash out on an official, approved sail later; that is, if I ever do start travelling with the boat to the various class Opens and the like, which remains a possibility for next year.

The difference made by the new sail was huge and immediate. With the blocked high pressure that's given us such a glorious summer over the last couple of months, conditions have been almost uniformly light to drifting, so aside from hiking through a few gusts, and an unexpectedly more lively Wednesday evening last week (no gloves, rope burn from the sheets), I've not had the chance to try the sail out in a proper blow.

But in light airs  the new sail has made the little boat nigh uncatchable. Aside from, that is, when her helm screws everything up with his poor decision making or lack of any tactical awareness. Which still happens often enough.

There is still plenty of weed blighting the water at Frampton, and I suspect it's put a number of racers off over the summer, which is unfortunate. However, it seems to be fading back a little now, and there are definite open patches and channels through the worst of it, once you get used to knowing where to find them. At the most optimistic, you could just argue it's added another tactical dimension to the racing.

Aside from not sailing through the worst patches, even if it means sailing further, the main trick is to keep your rudder lifted to 45 degrees so the weed slides off, and to clear the centreboard religiously at every opportunity, even if that means momentarily stalling and slipping to leeward when you're trying to beat upwind. It's quicker that dragging a jungle around with you beneath your waterline.

Not sure how the 45 degree rudder angle is going to work if we actually do get a proper blow come through however. The weed till now has, by and large, mostly been manageable because of the light conditions that have been prevailing.

Freefall: rugby clubs and barn dances

It's not often the band gets asked to play a 70th birthday party, but that's just what we did last Friday. Dad says it's indicative of the band's shifting demographic. I think that's a little unfair on the birthday boy, Mike, who was clearly 70 going on 21.

The venue was the new grounds and club house of what I assume is an old rugby club, Dings Crusaders RFC in Frenchay, Bristol. The venue is so new that when I looked it up on Google Streetview to get an idea of where to find it, the building was only a steel framework of girders and the pitch hadn't yet been laid.

Needless to say, the venue looks very different now, and proved to be a lovely spot for a great party.

Saturday's venue was a little different, and the first time I've ever been able to drive the band's trailer actually up to the stage to unload, and then just leave the car and trailer there until we're done, really to load back in and head home.

It was a barn in Portway Farm in Upton-Saint-Leonards, a very pretty little village on the outskirts of Gloucester. The excuse was a fund-raiser for the local church. Regardless of our own personal convictions, we don't generally involve the band in religion or politics. However, as the curate of the church was Jim, an original member of the band and for many years our keyboard player until we had to sack him because he found God and couldn't gig on Sundays anymore. So we thought what the hell, it might be fun.

I jest our sacking him, of course. Though he really did end up having to skip gigs on Sundays before he finally left the band. Actually, I say "left the band", but he hasn't really left. He just doesn't turn up to gigs very often anymore. Or rehearsals ever. But then that last point he has in common with the rest of us these days.

Jim also happens to be my brother-in-law, so another reason we wanted to help out.

Complete aside, I first met my future wife on the day I met Jim; we were up in his room at his parents' house, admiring his keyboard and trying to persuade him to join our new band (ulterior motive: we couldn't find a drummer, and keyboards have built in drum machines, although that's not how we phrased the invite) when his sister burst into his room to have a go at him about something or other.

Not realising her little brother had guests, she was wearing nothing but a bath towel and a frown and was, for but the briefest of moments, quite taken aback. Then she rallied, as I was one day to discover Nikki always does, vented her complaint at Jim, glared accusingly at the rest of us and stormed back out.

Anyway, I digress.

Back to last Saturday night, barn dance, and a barn that the cows had only vacated two days earlier and who's recent presence still pungently lingered on the air. In the end, they sold over 350 tickets for Saturday, and the packed barn made for an absolutely wild night. Lord knows what the cattle, temporarily domiciled in the barn next door, made of it all, but we had an absolute blast.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

TSC: some mud but no weed

I spent this last weekend crewing for Phil, a friend from the club at Frampton, on his Cherub at Thornbury Sailing Club's annual regatta. The Cherub is a 12' dinghy with a big asymmetric spinnaker, twin trapeze for helm and crew complete with rails to stand out on, and not like anything I've ever sailed before. Home built by Phil and his wife out of carbon fibre, she's very fast, very lively and very, very quick to bite if mishandled.

The invitation to come sail with Phil at Thornbury was phrased along the lines of there being no weed but "some mud"; TSC is perched on the eastern banks of the Severn Estuary just above the old Severn Bridge, and indeed has no weed, but mud aplenty. It's my kind of mud though, and I've quite missed it.

To a humble lake sailor like myself, first sight of the Cherub was both exhilarating and intimidating. A twelve foot hull with a bowsprit that, when extended increases the length overall to eighteen feet; dagger-board, made out of carbon, and thus so deceptively light that when Phil handed it to me, I almost dropped it; the rudder, carbon as well, has a pair of wings to generate lift to reduce drag on the transom. She is a strange combination of the familiar and the alien. Jib and mainsail, nothing new there, but both sails are fully battened, and the main is pulled down the carbon fibre mast to reduce compression, and needs to be loaded into the luff track from the head of the mast. So the boat has to be rigged on her side.

Saturday was hot and steaming, pitiless blue sky and very little wind, so it was almost a relief when, as we were launching, I accidentally stepped off the end of slip, hidden in knee deep, heavily silted water, and went for an inadvertent swim.

Getting out of the pill was a tricky affair in such light conditions, as without flow over the foils we had very little steerage, and without wind in the sails the boat was exceptionally tippy. Once into open water, we didn't have enough flow over the rudder for the hydrofoil to generate any lift, so to assist the trim I spend my time when we beating perched up on the very narrow foredeck.

Unlike the double-handers I'm used to sailing, on the Cherub, the centre mainsheet runs straight to the hand from the boom, and is the responsibility of the crew to trim when sailing upwind whilst the helm steers and balances the boat as necessary off the trapeze, unless the wind fills in, at which point the crew joins him out on the trapeze as well. This double trapezing wasn't a feature of Saturday's sailing.

Off wind, the crew gets to hand the mainsheet to the helm and then hoist and play the big asymmetric spinnaker. In light conditions, the helm comes in off the wire, and the crew hooks on and hikes out to balance the boat. The boat hadn't been sailed since last September, and there was some sort of tangle in the spinnaker hoist that hadn't revealed itself when we tested the hoist ashore. This complicated things, but the light conditions mean we were still able to nurse the pole out and get the kite up without major mishap, though the tack didn't set properly to the end of the pole.

Our first capsize came on our second gybe. I missed Phil's warning that we were going, and unfamiliar with the mechanism and technique, fumbled swinging back in and unhooking. Before I could warn Phil of my fumble the boom was across, I was hung up on the leeward side of the boat and the whole thing came over on top of me.

The first race was abandoned due to lack of wind, most the fleet unable to make way against the tide to make the windward mark. The wind filled in a little for a second race, although there was some chaos and confusion on the start line as the race officers changed the course, and the flags on the race hut ashore were standing away from us in the onshore wind and so unreadable. Having abandoned the first race, the race committee then tried for a third, despite being late on the tide.

The wind was much better as sea breeze began to fill in from down-channel, but by the end of the race the water was just on the end of the slip, which made recovering the fleet a muddy, strenuous affair. Both safety boats were moored up in the pill over night as it was too late to haul them out.

Sunday was supposed to be better wind, but although we could see breeze on the water both up channel and down, the waters off Oldbury Pill were flat and still to begin with. It seemed the north easterly gradient from up channel was pushing against a building sea breeze trying to push up from down channel, and TSC was in the no man's land bang in the middle of it.

A judicious delay to the start of the first race however meant the wind was beginning to fill by the time we launched, the sea breeze failing and the forecast north easterly prevailing as the afternoon wore on. As the wind strengthened, the Cherub sprung to life. When rigging, Phil had identified and fixed the tangle that had been causing us Saturday's trouble with the spinnaker halyard, so hoists and drops were now simple. We did have a near miss on one hoist when I forgot to hand the mainsheet to Phil first, and dropped it. The boat healed violently as the main depowered, the windward rail going under before Phil and I leapt to the leeward side to flatten the boat and I quickly pulled the mainsheet back in.

Like getting hung up on the leeward trapeze, that's the sort of mistake you don't make again.

With the wind up and everything working, I was up on the rail and hanging out off the wire with pretty much every reach, and one long beat in the second and final race put enough pressure into the sail to have us both up on the trapeze and hanging out to keep the boat flat.

It was stupidly good fun.

Thornbury is a lovely club on a gorgeous stretch of water, although I do understand the silt laden brutality of the viciously tidal Severn Estuary is something of an acquired taste and so perhaps not for some. Dad's okay with the tides and silt, as long as it's in the water, but he can't manage with the mud.

It's half an hour down the motorway from home and I've visited there on a number of occasions now, but it occurs to me that this is the first time I've actually sailed from there. Previous visits have been for powerboat training, when I did a tidal conversion for my existing powerboat ticket, or the time before that when I found myself relegated to the safety boat because I chose the week of FOSSC's second cruise up to Frampton Pill to break my foot.

c. Sept 2010
The temptation to move there is quite the lure, especially with Frampton so choked up with weed at the moment. Access to the cruising grounds of the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel beyond, Lydney and Sharpness less than an hour up channel, tides permitting. A competitive and very active racing fleet, tide and waves and long, long stretches of open water.

Except Frampton is home from home. And ever so convenient for an evening's sail after work. And I really can't afford the commitment of a second club. So not this year, I guess.