Sunday, 28 June 2020

Torn

A friend has written and published a book about Dinghy Cruising in the Bristol Channel.

I'm currently torn as to whether or not I should feel flattered that she's used a number of my photographs to illustrate it, or offended that I get neither mention in the book nor accreditation for the pictures.

I bought my own copy anyway, and look forward to reading it. I hope you sense that most of this post is tongue-in-cheek. Kinda.

End of the day, I think I'm happy to take one for the team.She remains a friend, and she's writing about my bit of sea.

But I'm not giving her a link.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Everywhere

Something I recorded last Friday evening, which given the repetition of that day of the week throughout the song, actually just happens to be a coincidence. It is the first thing I've written in years, although I actually started writing it over a decade ago, stuck at the time in a hotel in Stevenage, of all places, working away from home. But although the words came easy, I couldn't find the right chords or tune, or at least a tune that would take the song somewhere.

It's been stuck in my head ever since. A bit of an ear-worm in some ways. It turns out that it didn't need to go somewhere. What it needed was a looper. Which, by happy coincidence is my latest toy.

This is far from the perfect performance, I guess I could claim I'm proficient with the basics but far from accomplished with the loop station at my feet. And I imagine it's far from what I suspect should be the final arrangement, so I guess you could claim this is, as yet, still unfinished. But I think I've brought it to a place that I'm happy to leave it for now, and so I shall stop making excuses; I've actually quite enjoyed the process.



friday night in this town
and her heart's as cold as stone
there's a million different people
all trying to get home
in the early hours of nowhere
where the year is growing old
with a million different people
I am doing what I'm told


try to walk on water
get blood out of a stone
for a million different people
this town is not a home
and we try to reach tomorrow
but the sun has just been sold
and a million different people
are all out here in the cold


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my consolation
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your rocking chair
can I be your only care
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why?


friday night in this town
where the year is growing thin
there's a million different people
all trying to get in
in the early hours of nowhere
in the silent hotel room
I've a hundred sorry reasons
for  wishing they were you


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my only reason
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your sole companion
can I be your favourite dress
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why


friday night in this town
what do I have to say
there's a million different people
who will all stand in my way
and friday night is cold now
and her heart's as hard as stone
I've a million different reasons
for wanting to come home


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my only comfort
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your favourite blanket
can I be your only care
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why


you are my rising star
you are my reason why
you are the only wonder
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your christmas present
can I be your choice of heaven
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why

can I be your true religion
can I be your sacred vision
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why?

Calstar: the latest


Had an excited phone call from Dad a couple of hours ago. Seems the powers that be have announced that from Saturday 4th July the pubs can reopen and, more to the point, people can go camping again. Amongst other stuff. As long as they observe what the incumbents of No. 10 have cunningly branded "1m-plus" social distancing.

Which I assume is a sop to appease those zealots in their party who desperately want to abolish both the existing 2m rule and social distancing altogether in the interests of the economy and let the proles just take their chances out there, and the care-bears on the other side of the fence who still believe it's far, far too early and that everybody bar none should still be in the strictest of lockdowns and not allowed outside without a signed, dated and stamped government issued ticket.

Sorry, as I've previously pretended, I try not to get to political here. For myself, I'm very divided. I badly miss gigs, both the buzz, the companionship and the little bit of pocket money they generate for me, and I badly miss karate, and I badly miss harbour-hopping along the South Coast with Dad and Calstar. And I badly I miss racing. And I badly miss the fact that my daughter and her fella do not currently have a job but instead has a whole heap of worries as to whether or not their pub will ever be viable again. They are planning to reopen on the 4th.

I also miss beer out of the tap instead of the can or bottle.

On the other hand, I have friends and family I love and care for, and friends with friends and family they love and care for who are most certainly in the vulnerable category, and that I seriously do not want to catch this thing.

Anyway.

From 4th July we can stay over on the boat again. So Dad is very, very excited. He spent an hour explaining to me that he'd bought a mini George Thornbury grill so that he could cook on the boat in case we couldn't find any restaurants to feed ourselves down there. I tried explaining to him that we already had a gas stove and that his mini-grill would need shore power to work, but his reply to that was that so did his iPad.

It doesn't, and can of course charge off a battery. But if you use it as much as Dad does his, then you need a lot of batteries. I am struck by how different our aims and objectives are when it comes to sailing. But I don't mind. It'll just be great to be back afloat with him again. I can't wait.

I stole the photo at the top from our new marina's website. It's an aerial photograph of Sutton Harbour, Calstar's new base; she's berthed in the bottom right corner. You can of course also see her old home at Queen Anne's Battery on frame left, just outside of the harbour lock gates.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Albacore: going solo

Despite buying the Albacore back at the end of last year, we only had the chance to take her out very few times before gear failure, my health, a refit and then the nation's health (and a global pandemic) got in the way.


As Ben (aka. child #2 and the only other sailing member of my immediate family) has spread his wings and moved down to Bristol to be with his work and his lovely lady Hannah (they're actually buying a house together, kind of exciting) I have nobody to sail the Albacore with for as long as the current government restrictions remain in place.

Besides, as the boat half belongs to my (previously) regular crew Amanda, it would feel rude to sail it with somebody else.

Anyway, I digress. At the end of January, the Albacore was taken off for a refit by my mate Paul of CS Boats. It's probably fair to suggest that what Paul doesn't know about fitting and rigging an Albacore probably hasn't been thought of yet. He gave me a very fair estimate on converting the shrouds, which had old fashioned high-field levers to set the tension, to a fully adjustable system, suggested a very good alternative to the then existing mast ram (used for rude adjustments of the mast rake and controlling the pre-bend) and a plan for bringing all the pertinent controls back to the helm.


Caveat emptor. And by that, I don't mean in reference to Paul, but in reference to the chap that sold us the boat in the first place. Although in fairness, he was no more aware of the various failings subsequently uncovered once the boat was back in the workshop than I'd been from my original, cursory examination before we parted with the cash.

Besides which, I had a fair idea of what I was getting into.

By the time Paul had made all the intended, planned adjustments for the refit, and corrected all the unexpected "surprises" that revealed themselves in the process, the final cost had quadrupled. I should stress that none of this was dropped on me out of the blue by Paul; he did an exemplary job of keeping me informed as the work progressed and did exactly as I asked. The best recommendation I can give anybody is that I wouldn't hesitate to use their services again, and in Paul's case I almost certainly will the next time I inevitably break something.


In any case, the Albacore was finally returned to the Club in May, as soon as the non-essential travel restrictions were lifted. She now has a fully modernised rig; completely adjustable shrouds and adjustable forestay led back to the helm, fully adjustable mast rake and pre-bend, again led back to the helm along with the controls for the new kicker. The cockpit has been repainted, various stray holes filled and fared, various loose bits re-glued and a nasty gash in the trailing edge of the centreboard filled, fared and painted. And the toe-straps have been replaced with a fully adjustable, customised system that shouldn't fail and drop me overboard again.

Or at least won't once I put a couple of stoppers in place that appear to have been overlooked. A minor thing however.


Overall, I'm really pleased with the result, desperate to have my crew back and desperate to race her. Meanwhile frustrated as anything that the prevailing pandemic prevents me from doing so (with the absolute caveat that I know this is a silly, minor inconvenience in the greater scheme of things and I still have the Laser to keep me entertained)

However, last Sunday the conditions seemed pretty benign, with the forecast promising heavy showers across the afternoon, but gusts of no more than 14 knots.

So I rigged her and took her out on my own.


Everything works. And single-handing an Albacore is actually quite a bit more comfortable than single-handing an Enterprise, and the rig is a lot more controllable. I only had one very close shave, where a gust caught me mid-gybe, and both the the mainsheet and jibsheets snagged in their respective cleats, but I narrowly avoided the capsize. I'm going to blame that one on the crew; absence is no excuse.

There's a lot of new string in the boat, and an awful lot of new stuff to learn and things to tweak before I suspect we'll see any decent results once the racing restarts. But it's a learning curve I'm really looking forward to grappling with.

Buying a new boat should be an exciting thing, but in many ways circumstances have conspired against us over the last six months to put heavy dampers on this one. For the last few months, the whole thing has been kind of anticlimactic, something of a money-pit with no real return.


But I find myself once again enthused and awfully keen to get back out there and race her properly.

There is the suggestion, the merest whisper of a rumour, that could be mid July. But in these perilous times who can tell. All I know is that once Amanda and I do get the all clear to race together again, we've got a gorgeous boat waiting for us to race with.

Meanwhile, next Sunday morning I fully plan to be back out with my Laser again.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Tony Benn

I generally try not to stray into politics here. For the record, I'd consider myself an accidental socialist, torn between railing at the injustices of society and despair at the ignorance and disinterest of the masses. But that's my cross to bear. And following the bruising taken at the General Election at the end of last year, I'm mostly bearing it by ignoring it and, whenever opportunity permits, going sailing.

I'm also aware of how much room for misinterpretation of intent and meaning can be found between the lines of written correspondence, so if you want to discuss politics, let me buy you a beer and let's do it in person where there is so much less room for unintended offence.

That said, a good friend and fellow sailor (John Christie, veteran coastal cruiser and long-time custodian and helm of the lovely Drascombe Lugger "Muckle Flugga") shared this link to the transcript of a speech given by the late MP Tony Benn in 2007. I found it to be a fascinating read so I thought I'd share.

tribunemag.co.uk/2020/06/tony-benn-on-the-legacy-of-slavery

I've long admired Tony Benn, although I only really knew of him in his more senior years, which might've coloured my experience and judgement; but a bit like Corbyn, even where I found myself unable to completely agree with him I found I've always admired the sentiment and principle behind his position.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Laser: selfie cleats


Lasers have a cleat on the port and starboard gunwales respectively, intended for cleating the mainsheet. The received wisdom is you don't use them. Ever. To be fair, in anything above a whisper of wind I'm too busy playing the mainsheet to keep the boat flat to be able to use them anyway.

In any case, their position is actually such that unless you're sailing in waves, they simply serve to reassure you that you're far enough forward when you're hiking out on the beat; because the cleat is under you and digging uncomfortably into the back of your thigh. 

It makes for some really interestingly shaped bruises on a really windy day.

On Sunday I discovered another use for them. You can cleat off the mainsheet whist you're hiking and take a selfie.


I really need a haircut. Which isn't the only reason I rarely take selfies, but it is sufficient a reason of itself. This one was too much fun to resist though. Especially as the wind was inconsistent, and threatening to drop me back into the water with a lull at any moment. Besides, I really like how my boat looks reflected in my sunglasses.

Sunday was, on balance, a good day's sailing. Wind was light in the morning, but built up towards lunchtime, before falling back off again into the afternoon. Sunshine was frequent enough for it not to feel cold. We are, of course, allowed back out on the water to sail again, but racing is still not on. 

However, we're allowed informal group sessions, which I guess include training and practice starts, as long as we observe the national restrictions regarding social distancing. This mean you can gather outside with up to six other people not from your household, as long as you all maintain the mandatory two meters distance from each other.

On land, that six souls rule is apparently because it's deemed the most people you can have in a single cohesive group and communicate with each other whilst also maintaining the two meter separation rule. On the water, the number feels completely arbitrary. The only communication between single-handed boats is either implicit, non-verbal and mutually understood, or yelled at each other.


In practice it meant that our single lap sessions had to be split into fleets of no more than six boats per start. Which is fine if you're in a fleet with five other boats, but if you turn up late and find yourself in a fleet of two or three, the whole thing starts to feel a bit hollow.

Which left me wondering if there was any point, as for the first, third and subsequent sessions, because I'd turned up a little late, I was in just such a group. The experience was a little deflating, to be honest.

However, for the second race, the third fleet was non existent, so I started with the second. This coincided with a lull in the wind, turning the whole lap into something of a drift. My Laser does well in a drift, and I passed all of the second fleet then caught up and passed all but one of the half-dozen solos in the first before the lap finished.

My only "win" of the day, but it was fun.

After they all packed in and went ashore, I stayed out for another hour to enjoy the best of the wind before it finally dropped right off and the rain started to come in. It was during this hour or so that I worked out that the mainsheet cleats were really just a handy third hand for anybody wanting to take a selfie.

Or a pretty picture of their own boat.







Saturday, 6 June 2020

Greenhill

Another one of mine, as I'm in a self-indulgent mood.

If "Goodnight Salvador Dali" posted earlier today was the creation of a band sitting down together at a rehearsal, this one, "Greenhill" was entirely my own, written solo in a bedroom with an acoustic guitar. Likewise, if Dali came at the peak of the band's creativity, Greenhill was written in the early days of the band's inception, and would've been there with us at our first gig in Gloucester, all hazy years ago.

It became my daughter's favourite, and remains so, at least out of the songs her dad has written. I can still picture her, three or four years old, dancing to it in front of the band, even though the crowd that would've surrounded her have long blurred.

I only recently discovered the reason it was her favourite was the inclusion of a particular line towards the end, blatantly nicked from a nursery rhyme. So I understand now why it appealed to the three year old. I only discovered this because I recorded a version earlier this year or late last just for the fun of it, and left what I thought was an inconsequential backing vocal line out.

She was unimpressed, and made a point of telling me why.

I recorded this version Thursday evening just gone. I was playing with my looper, a new piece of kit that I am not practiced with and will almost certainly never use live, but bought for my own amusement. For the uninitiated, it's basically a sequencer that once set up you can control with your foot, which records and plays back phrases in a loop.

There are some very talented people that do some very clever things with kit like this. I am not one of those, but I'm having quite a bit of fun playing with it anyway.

This then is Tasha's Song, or as I once named it, Greenhill.




Goodnight Salvador Dali

I spent most of my teenage years at a boarding school. It wasn't that my parents hated me, but rather that Dad worked out in Kuwait, and once I hit secondary school age, there were no schools out there suitable. So I left home for a few years, returning only for the school holidays.

At some point in the middle of that, it was a summer term I think, about the same time I was really starting to discover the cathartic pleasure to be found in writing, an American girl joined the school. Some sort of exchange I think, she and her friend were only with us for the one term.

Shannon Zoe Johnson. She was, by the by, blonde and very, very pretty. She was also an exceptionally gifted poet. I fell in love. Perhaps a little bit with her, albeit only from afar, but mainly with her words.

Perhaps it was the fact that they spilled so free and so easily onto the page, but they triggered something of an epiphany, a sudden realisation that I could do the same.

So I did. I filled school text books up with verse, most of it adolescent junk. I may one day go back and read some of it to amuse myself at my own expense, but not today, and not for some while. For now, it can all stay in that bottom drawer where that of it which remains has lain now for years.

That summer, sitting in my parent's garage with my guitar, the realisation hit me that if I could string a few chords together and lay the words over the top, well, that would be a song. And whilst you never met a rich poet, there were plenty of rich rockstars.

So I spent a year writing songs with my guitar and recording them onto an old tape recorder. Like most of my teenage poetry, most of it was junk, but all of it terribly earnest.

Then the following summer, 1990, I finished school. And in the spring that followed, I met another guitarist called Lee, and started a band. We couldn't find a bassist, so persuaded my brother Jay that he could do it. We couldn't find a drummer, but the guitarist had a cousin called Jim who had a keyboard, and that keyboard could play drum tracks. Fortunately, it turns out the keyboard player also had a friend called Dave who could play drums.

And a sister. I eventually married Jim's sister, but that's a different story.

I wasn't supposed to be the singer. Only a stand-in until they could find somebody who could do the job properly. But they weren't too gifted at looking, and I wrote the songs, so it followed that I was the only one that knew the words and I wanted the job myself. All is fair in love and war, apparently.

And that is how the band started.

We regrettably fell out with the guitarist, drummers came and went, the keyboard player went and came back and went again and came back again. Somewhere along the way (actually, the beginning of the year 2004) I stopped writing my own songs, and the band switched to playing covers.

Almost thirty years later though and we're still going. Different guitarist now, different drummer, different set, but same bassist, and Jim has begged to be allowed to join us again, just for the one night, for our next gig, whenever and wherever that may be when the current crisis has finally passed.

This song is called "Goodnight Salvador Dali". Why, I don't really know. I wrote it when the band was possibly at the peak of it's creativity. It would've been at a rehearsal, the guitarist or bassist would've come up with a riff, and I'd have worked the lyrics and melody out on top.

For its time in the set it was one of those songs I'd put my guitar down for; so for years and years I never even knew what the chords were. Ben Jones, our guitarist of the time, made it all look very clever and complicated. Then a little while ago realised that if you stripped out all of his flourishes and capo'd up to the 4th, and reduced everything to the underlying chords themselves, they were actually very easy.






Calstar: the longest cruise


And by that I mean we'd originally planned to cast off 1st April to move Calstar from her old berth in QAB to her new home in Sutton Harbour, but were delayed until 1st June.


But it's finally done. Ignore the time on the screenshot at the top. It took about half of that, including the few minutes sat outside waiting for the lock, but I forgot to stop the log once we'd landed in Sutton. What can I say? I'm a little bit out of practice.


But we are getting back into it. The same log (which again, being out of practice I typically don't remember to start until I've been out on the water for some time) paints a pretty picture of the last few weeks . . .


I found it most amusing to note that my average heart rate when moving Calstar was 92bpm, including the time wandering about the pontoon setting lines and generally securing the boat in her new berth once we'd arrived and I'd forgotten to stop the clock. I hadn't realised Dad's helmsmanship made me that nervous!

By contrast, crewing for a friend on another boat in conditions a lot colder and rougher than we had in Plymouth on Monday my heart rate averaged 82bpm. Still much higher than my average resting of 59bpm, but hardly stressed at all. I guess I'm generally sanguine in attitude when things aren't my direct responsibility.

I don't know how accurate these things are. That said, a max of 175bpm reminds me of what a fantastic time I had with the Laser at South Cerney last Sunday. A bit of a flukey, shifty wind, but when the gusts came through the little boat screamed along. Fastest reach was 10.1 knots. Back over there again tomorrow for another play, and a bit more wind forecast for this week.

I can't wait.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Laser: recovering


Spent a couple of hours blasting around the lake on my Laser again yesterday. Got the best of the wind in the early afternoon and gave the little boat a proper workout. Tried to make a point of sailing a course to make sure I got as much time going upwind as down, but frequently succumbed to just reaching back and forth across the lake for a good part of the time because it was just so much fun. It did at least give me a lot of gybing practice.

On our fastest reach, we hit 11.8 knots.

Wasn't up for much more than collapsing in front of Netflix by the time I got home but today I feel like I could happily go straight back out and do it all again, so I'm obviously on the path to recovery.

Except there's no wind, and Nik's not working, so I should probably spend the bank holiday at home with her. The back garden and lawn-mower beckon.

The stats suggest that I worked a lot harder yesterday than I did the week before, but that overlooks the fact that the week before I was so out of practice that I forgot to start the watch recording until I was about half way through.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Wonderwall

Turns out the end of February was, in one respect, the wrong time for a gigging musician to buy a new guitar and an amp. On the other hand, with the lockdown that followed, I may not have had the opportunity to play live with the new kit, but the office, an old 17th centaury mill with very thick walls, has been all but empty, so I've been able to take the guitar into work, plug it in to the amp and make a lot of noise after hours without upsetting anybody.

Or at least none of the neighbours have found me to complain yet.

I think I've previously mentioned, but an electric guitar is not my natural, native environment. Okay, I know a guitar isn't an environment, but the sound it creates is kind like a place the player inhabits, so it seems to work as a kind of metaphor. An acoustic is simple, direct and straight forward; a thing of fretboard, body and strings, an almost percussive instrument of natural tone, resonance and harmonics.

An electric is an artificial hybrid of guitar and amp and effects. A devious, complicated medley that can so easily go very, very wrong and at best simply create an audial mush, or at worst an actually painful cacophony.

It's also amazingly flexible, and whilst it doesn't forgive mistakes or inaccuracies in the same way an acoustic will, the breadth of tone, the resonance of the amp and effects, and the lightness of action (the height between string and fret) opens up the guitar's fretboard in a way that has, to be honest, been something of a revelation, and an awful lot of fun to explore.

That said, this song isn't a revelatory exploration in harmonic dissidence. It's a chilled take on an old Oasis song that has been a part of my set for almost twenty-five years, and the amp is turned down low. "Wonderwall" had the kind of popularity, and corresponding airtime, back in its day when it came out in late '95 that it's almost a cliché to cover it. But I fell in love with the first chord, and then all the chords that followed.

Unusual for me, as I'm usually hooked by lyrics and melody. It's quintessentially a song for the acoustic guitar. So old, familiar ground for me to explore with my new, unfamiliar electric.


Monday, 18 May 2020

Laser: incipient recovery

photo: mark wiltshire
I am hardly in peak fighting condition at the moment. I'm generally quite ill disciplined, and without structure or need fail quickly to the line of least resistance. Which over the last couple of months has been go to work, come home, perch in front of my computer and open a beer, break only to go find food. Sleep, wake, shower, repeat. Weekends vary a little in that I don't go to work, but also break to occasionally mow the lawn.

I allow myself to get away with this knowing that the structures I've built around my life to offset this regrettable tendency to sloth will eventually reassert themselves and I shall recover. Sailing, gigs, karate.

Despite being out of condition I think I remain fairly supple for a man of my age. For example, I may not be able to put my foot behind my head these days, but I'd generally have no problem standing on one leg and rubbing my nose with my knee. Although I'd probably get a few funny looks, depending on where exactly I chose to do that.

But not too bad, given that come next April I shall find myself closer to 70 than I am to 30. Although age is just a number. Aches and pains and a slightly diminished recovery time aside, I still feel like a kid. And, according to Nikki, behave like one.

However, today I hurt. I'm stiff and bruised and sore. Yesterday evening after I got home I sat on the edge of my bed and discovered to my amusement I couldn't actually lift my leg enough to reach my foot to put my slippers on. I've never not been able to reach my foot.

As previously mentioned, the lake at South Cerney is once more open.

And I spent Sunday afternoon out in the sun and the wind playing with my Laser. The photo above was taken from the shore by a friend. The little dog in the left corner, by the way, is called Barney, and owns another friend. The weather was gorgeous. Out away from the shore in clear air, the beats meant hiking out in full and continuously playing the main to keep the boat flat, and the reaches, when the gusts hit, were all spray and adrenaline, the little boat planing easily from one side of the broad lake to the other, humming like a TIE fighter out of a Star Wars movie.

So today I hurt. I'm stiff and I'm bruised and I'm sore.

And the feeling is glorious.