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.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

FOSSC: a chemistry lesson

The lake at Frampton is now somewhat blighted by weed. I say somewhat, but in the fifteen years I've been sailing there, I've never seen it so bad. It's an accumulation of unintended consequences, I think.

A few years ago, we had a very dry summer followed by an unusually dry winter which saw the water levels in the lake, fed by water table, drop to an unprecedented low. We then had an exceptionally wet spring, the lake refilled and then overflowed, flooding out and into the village.

c. Feb 2013
c. Feb 2013
As I understand it, since then, the village has, understandably, been very keen on the sluice that relieves excess water levels from the lake being set at a level that minimises the chance of this ever happening again.

Last year, as the water levels dropped across spring and into summer, the lake was hit with blooms of blue-green algae. Nasty stuff, really upsets the system if you ingest water tainted with it, and is potentially fatal to dogs; walking around the 50 acre lake is a favourite with dog walkers, for obvious reasons. We're not allowed to swim in the lake, but dogs are, lucky things, and do frequently.

This spring, the Club Committee deployed bales of barley straw around the margins of the lake. The stuff evidently suppresses blue-green algae.

Now I'm neither a chemist nor a biologist, but I do keep fish so have a layman's understanding of the nitrogen cycle. Essentially, organic matter breaks down into nasty ammonia, friendly bacteria convert the ammonia into less toxic nitrite, and even more friendly bacteria convert the nitrite into much, much less harmful nitrogen. In a fish tank, this is the process you essentially replicate in your filter. An aquarium filter isn't really about removing physical detritus, but is instead a pretty neat chemistry experiment that replicates a very cool natural process.

The point of all this, aside from meaning fish don't ultimately poison themselves in their own waste, is that nitrogen is food for plants, a major component of chlorophyll which, of course, is the green stuff plants use to turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. This is one of the fundamental processes that gives us life on Earth. In a fish tank, the aquarium plants are typically insufficient to use up all of the nitrogen generated by the fish waste, so in addition to or instead of growing plants in the tank, you control the nitrogen levels through frequent, partial water changes. But I digress.

My guess is that the barley straw rotted down, sorting out the blue green algae problem exactly as hoped. As a consequence we got crystal clear waters and a huge nitrogen dump. Lots of light, lots of food equals very little algae but loads and loads of weed.

Natural England, the government quango responsible for such things, apparently thinks this is great. Frampton Town Lake is designated an SSSI, or "Site of Special Scientific Interest" and the weed is great for biodiversity, of interest in itself plus gives lots of cover for fish fry and prey fish, so they should flourish too.

I should add that the lake isn't natural for all of Natural England's interest. It's an old gravel pit; gravel dug from here was, I believe, used to build the motorway and old Severn Bridge.

Not so good for dinghy sailors. Hitting the weed is akin to running aground on a mud bank, and when racing at Frampton now, navigating a path through the weed is, I guess, not dissimilar to picking the quickest route through the waves when racing at sea. Although I'd have to say waves are distinctly more fun.

It's not so bad in the Laser, at least not in the light, drifting conditions we've had in recent weeks. The Laser's rudder is small and under-powered, so if you cant it at an angle of less than 45 degrees of the vertical, the weed just slides off. Very manageable in light winds, you just have to remember to avoid the worst clumps of weed, clear the dagger board frequently, and pray no sudden, unexpected gust blows through because with your rudder offset, the extra weather-helm will either break something or knock you over.

Some of the other designs of boat aren't so fortunate however. Again, centreboards and dagger-boards aren't really too much of an issue, but if your rudder can't accommodate you sailing with it offset from vertical, then it becomes a nightmare.

Of course, if we get an especially lively day, the rudder's going to have to go back to vertical. I don't know how that's going to play out with the weed.

I've heard rumour that the Sailing Committee have considered suspending racing. It's all a bit of a worry. In the meantime we're still race, and another balmy drift is forecast for Wednesday evening. I'll be there, of course.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Calstar: the Yealm

Saturday night's gig cancelled. I've no idea what it is about this year. That's the fourth cancellation we've had at little notice, and for circumstances completely outside of our control. On the other hand, with 43 gigs in the book for 2018 even after the cancellations, I should probably be grateful for the break.

Still, even with the cancellation I couldn't get down to Plymouth until late Saturday evening due to other commitments (had to go to church; the things you do for family!) At the time I thought it a pity, as the weather didn't look half so good on the Sunday as it did the Saturday, but as Dad and I both had Monday off work, we could still make the best of it.

Waking up Sunday morning aboard Calstar in QAB, the grim forecast seemed to be delivering as promised. The rigging was rattling in the wind, and the rain was pelting down. However, by late afternoon rain and wind eased, so we cast off and sailed around to the Yealm.

By the time we'd got around the Mewstones, the wind, still in the northeast, had freshened again, but the sky had unexpectedly cleared and the sun had come out.

A couple of hours of good sailing covered the 6 or so miles around the corner and into the Yealm. The pilotage to enter the river is a little bit involved, and not best advised at bottom of a spring tide as we did it, even if your boat only draws a little less than a meter.

We found our way on to the first of the two visitors pontoons without mishap however, although there was a somewhat intense moment whilst picking our way through the festoon of moored boats where we lost the channel and the depth under our keels dropped away to a little under half a meter before we found our way back to the channel again.

The forecast had suggested more heavy showers for the evening, but we saw nothing but blue sky. The Yealm is ever so sheltered once your in it by high sided, tree-shrouded river banks. Strangely peaceful despite the obvious popularity of the place.

We went ashore and walked around to the village of Noss Mayo to have a pint in the Ship Inn that afternoon, and then later on once the tide had come back in, took the tender up the Newton Arm to land back on the steps of the same pub for supper.

The following morning, the sunshine held for a pleasant sail back to Plymouth; leaving the river at high water is decidedly easier than entering at low. We shall certainly be back.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Calstar: a night at anchor

The weather is currently divine; 33C+ and I can see the treetops moving in the breeze. I'm planning to race at the lake this evening. It's been warming up since the weekend, albeit the wind has been a bit fickle until now.

This last weekend was too promise-bound for me to get to Plymouth; Friday evening I'd promised to take some friends' kids out sailing on the lake at Frampton, which was fortunate (and intentional) timing as I'd already committed to instructing at the lake all day Saturday, had a gig Saturday night and another gig Sunday evening, so Plymouth was always going to be out of reach.

I very nearly didn't race at Frampton Sunday afternoon, conscious that I needed to be in Bristol in time for the evening's performance. Plus the weather was horrifically calm, and the lake is getting choked with some rather over enthusiastic weed, so at times it's more like hacking your way through a jungle than sailing.

But I couldn't help myself, sun was shining, and there was the faintest whisper of wind, so I rocked up at the lake lunchtime Sunday anyway, rigged the Laser and took her out for a race. Just the one, I said. And then sailed the other one because I was already there.

I'm glad I did. More than made up for the foolery of my previous races. Didn't hit anyone or anything. Even won the second race. Would've won the first as well, except I missed the last mark off when I originally noted the course down, so had to sail an extra half a lap on top of everybody else to re-trace my track and correct my mistake before I could carry on.

Only lost three places, deserved to lose more. So sorry, what was I saying about foolery?

Anyway, still got to the gig on time. And Sunday's gig, like Saturday's gig the night before, was one of the good ones. Possibly helped by the fact that England won.

Calstar hasn't been left entirely bereft however. Although I also had a gig the Sunday before, I booked the Friday off work, and Dad and I sloped off down to the boat on the Thursday evening after work.

Friday morning, with a lively southwesterly air and and a pretty, enthusiastically bouncy sea, we beat out of the Eastern Entrance and reached across the Breakwater to the Mewstones to take a look into Wembury Bay and contemplate a visit to the Yealm.

Didn't like the look of the bay however, with the southwesterly breeze pushing the sea hard into the lee shore, and fancied the idea of coming back out again against the forecast of the following morning even less. So we turned tail and set course on a close fetch back across the outside of the Breakwater and into the shelter of Cawsand Bay.

We dropped anchor under the lee of the land, amongst the company of a few other yachts, inflated the tender and went ashore to find a pint and supper.

We spent the night at anchor, which is a first for us and not something I previously thought I would've persuaded Dad to do. I'm glad we did, as having done so has opened up all sorts of options for further trips. And it passed peacefully enough, though he had me up the following morning at 0600. I think for no other reason than he was bored and, without the convenience of a handy pontoon, stuck on the boat.

The anchor came up without any trouble, the tripping line I'd secured to it proving an unnecessary precaution. The morning brought heavy winds and squally rain. We were still very well sheltered by the bay, but could see the angry waters out beyond the headland, at least when the rain cleared enough for the visibility to lift.

It was all downwind back to the marina on the other side of the Sound however, so under headsail alone it made for a very short, very comfortable ride back.

The anchorage in Cawsand Bay is a little more than three miles from our berth at Queen Anne's Battery, so as weekend cruises go, this was a little one; just shy of ten miles out, including the jaunt to Wembury Bay, and only three miles back.

It's good to have such treasures so local though, and was the perfect first anchorage as we had the option to bolt for home at any time. It was also great to have a bit of wind and sea to play with again on the Friday, and the chance to get the sails wet with a bit of spray over the bows.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Laser: 2000 degrees

No, that's not the temperature of the projected heat wave about to hit us this weekend. It's the sum total of penalty turns I had to take with the Laser in last night's race. I'm counting an extra 90 degrees collected from righting a capsize so that wasn't really a penalty, but I reckon I earned the extra points.

Ironically, the capsize occurred as I was completing the tack of a 360 incurred for hitting the windward mark with my boom.

So, two 720's, a 360 and a capsize recovery.

In short, last night I sailed like a lemon.

Actually, I've just checked, and 720+720+360+90 = 1890, so for some reason I can't even add up properly any more. So clearly I also count like a lemon.

I wasn't the last Laser in the fleet, but I was quite soundly beaten by both Mouthy Mark, Pete and Rhonwen. I'm quite shocked at my performance, though to be fair, it's about time they put me in my place. And I figure I've crowed loud enough whenever I've beaten them, so in the interests of fairness this needed to be made mention of.

9th place overall, out of a fleet of 19 boats. Frustration aside, it was a very pleasant evening to be out on the water. The lake is beginning to badly clog up with weed. That's not an excuse however, as it clogs up for everyone equally.

The photo at the head of this post is from a gig last Sunday, of a very talented man playing an especially nice guitar. Figured it apt, lacking as I currently do any photos of talented Laser sailors, however nice the Laser might be that they sail. Evidently, I wouldn't know what such talent looked like.

Busy days ahead. Taking some friends sailing on the lake tomorrow evening, teaching juniors to sail at the lake Saturday, gig Saturday night, back racing at the lake Sunday afternoon, then another gig Sunday night. Somewhere in all that I've got to find some time to cut the grass and do a water change for the fish tanks.

It all keeps me out of trouble, at least.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Laser: RNLI Pursuit

Wednesday evening, the wind had returned to its prevailing south-westerly direction, and was relatively blustery compared to how it's been of late. Forerunner of a bit of weather we have coming in across today.

It was the first of three Wednesday evening events, a Club Championship Race for the RNLI Trophy. A pursuit race, inconveniently starting 15 minutes earlier than the usual Wednesday evening affair.

I got off to a bad start just setting up. The top section of my mast has a collar that plugs neatly into the top of the lower section. It's held to the mast section with two rivets. One rivet had gone, and the other was sitting proud and distorted, preventing the mast sections from fitting together. I hammered some humility into the proud rivet, and with it now flush with the collar again, slotted the top section in, hoping the single remaining, failing rivet would hold out one final race.

The start was a bit of a hash. I set my watch wrong, so my countdown ran out thirty seconds too soon. I guessed my mistake from the behaviour of the other Lasers, and got to the line early, intending to drift down to the favoured pin end. Then Mark's Laser came up aggressively beneath me, and bearing away to defend my position and stop him luffing me up over the line, the whole thing turned into something of a mad charge down the length of it towards the pin.

The gun went just in time, and we hardened up and crossed. He tacked off to port quickly, ducking beneath me. I held on out to the left hand side. Pete's Laser had started conservatively, but made good speed up the centre of the course.

Approaching the windward mark now, I'm on starboard, Mark on port bears away slightly to duck me. As soon as he's past I tack close to stay on top of him. Lots of noise (nothing unusual from Mark's boat) complaining that I shouldn't have tacked, as he'd bore away to avoid me. Total bollocks. I didn't tack until I was past him, and whilst I'm obliged to not tack in his water, I'm otherwise free to sail my own course. That close to the mark, to protect your position you have to tack close enough to the opposing boat to make sure they don't have space to tack back onto you, otherwise you'll be on port and they'll be on starboard.

I don't mind people beating me in the cut and thrust of the action, but I'm not going to just give a place away for free.

Then it all went wrong. Amidst the pressure of the rush and noise of the final approach to the mark rounding, I didn't ease my kicker off. As I tried to bear away a gust hit, and my boat heeled hard and rounded up into the wind uncontrollably, boom trapped against the water. I threw my weight out over the side to try and rescue it, could just feel it beginning to come back .....

Mark saw the gap between my boat and the mark and went for it. And the same gust that had just hit me caught up with him. |His mainsheet tangled with his tiller extension, and he thumped hard into my port quarter.

Profuse apologies, promises to do penalty turns, he's off again, but it took me a good minute to check for no obvious damage and to then untangle the boat from where she was now parked on the windward mark and get her back under control again.

So it wasn't my best race.

A short while later, I then went on to miss the toe-straps whilst roll-tacking too aggressively in another gust, fell backwards out of the boat and had to swim twenty meters after her before righting her from where she'd settled into a subsequent capsize. The pressure of successive mistakes accumulated, so I didn't sail well at all, everything too hard and too adrenaline fuelled, my head in the boat and not out of it looking at where I needed to be.

Not that I didn't still enjoy it, and not that I didn't still catch back up with Mark and beat him again. Pete showed us how it's supposed to be done and left us both for dust though, first Laser on the water, and taking a well deserved third place overall against the pursuit fleet, Mark and I taking eighth and ninth place respectively.

Laser: in at the deep end

Phone call from my daughter Sunday evening: "What are you doing Monday or Tuesday? Do you wanna go sailing?"

Tuesday evenings are karate, so sacrosanct in all except extreme circumstances. Monday evenings are band practice however, and we all routinely skip out of that.

Tasha's a busy girl, works hard, moved out of home a couple of years ago and now lives on the other side of town, so I don't get to see enough of her these days. When I first came back to sailing, some fifteen years ago or so, and brought the boys with me, Tash was at an age where she was more interested in boys, parties and going out with her friends of an evening, rather than hanging out with her dad and two little brothers.

She's been out on the lake with me a couple of times before when I had the Enterprise, sat in the front and pulled on the jib sheets when told, and shown no inclination towards taking the helm. She's come out with Dad and I on Calstar a couple of times, mostly to sunbathe on the fore-deck as we drifted along. In this respect,she takes the same approach to sailing as her mum.

I picked her up Monday evening after work and we headed down to the lake. I'd explained we didn't have the Enterprise any more and that the new dinghy was a single-hander, and so a little bit smaller.

"How are we both going to fit in that?" was her first question when she finally saw it.

She sat on one side, I sat on the other. The conditions were benign, and once she'd settled into the slightly more tippy movement and relative lightness of the boat and we'd tacked from reach to reach across the lake a few times, passing the helm from one side to the other, I handed her the tiller and the mainsheet.

"Hold that, and that," I said, shimmying around the mast to sit on the fore-deck, leaving her alone in the cockpit. "Right, now if we capsize, it's entirely your fault!"

So that was Tasha's first time at the helm. She did fine, we stayed dry. The little Laser did a wonderful job of looking after her, and I think, once she got over the initial terror of being thrown into the deep end and left solely in control, she had a wonderful time.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Laser: let the grass grow

photo: ken elsey
When I first looked at the forecast for Sunday, I nearly stayed home to cut the grass. The 4 to 6 knots promised could make for some extended sunbathing out on the water, but a Laser out on the lake in that wouldn't be much use for anything other than a sunbathing platform.

I headed down the lake anyway. The grass will still be there tomorrow, still needing to be cut.

I'm glad I did.

photo: ken elsey
There was more wind than forecast, northeasterly, so shifty as a northeasterly always is, but the shifts were much more predictable than usual, and the pressure more reliable. It made for some enthusiastic hiking up the beats, and with a well laid course, lucky timing with the gusts down the reach saw the Laser planing across the width of the lake.

And it was a very well laid course. Two good beats, a run and a fine reach, the best Frampton really has to offer. Both races were a general handicap, so a single start, all boats racing together. Amongst the fleet of around a dozen, there were four Lasers in the first race, three in the second. The Laser is one of the faster boats at Frampton, and leaving the rest of the fleet behind, both races reduced to very close boat on boat racing between myself and Rhonwen's Laser; on both occasions I held the lead for the greater part of the race, only to lose it mid way, and then win it back again by the skin of my teeth.

photo: ken elsey
For the second race, the start line was exceptionally port biased, but nobody else seemed to notice so I actually managed to pull off a port flyer with indecently and, admittedly, uncharacteristically good timing which, on the first beat, saw me reach the windward mark half a leg ahead of everybody else. It almost felt like cheating.

The shifts meant there was as much to be lost as there was to be won however, and I, back in character once again, squandered the good fortune of my excellent start across the next lap, and soon had Rhonwen's Laser back snapping at my heels.

photo: ken elsey
I don't know the final results. I finished first on the water in both cases, but being a general handicap, if any of the slower boats sailed well, they could easily beat me after the times get adjusted. The results are normally posted on the web, but there seems to have been a glitch  this time around, so I'll just have to wait until Wednesday to find out where I came in the end.

Doesn't really matter. It was brilliant fun. So glad I let the grass carry on growing.

Calstar: Saturday 2nd Fowey to Plymouth

Saturday 2nd June: Fowey to Plymouth
(22.3 miles, 6 hours 10 minutes under way)

High water Plymouth on Saturday morning was 0842. The forecast was for a steady F3 from south of southwest, no rain and, hopefully, no more fog.

Having experienced trying to make way in light winds once the tide turned foul on Thursday, I had no wish to repeat it, so had Dad up bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 0430 to made ready to cast off as close to 0500 as we could get it. We’d make what breakfast we could from tea and the granola bars in the ship’s stores once we were underway.

Grey skies, no fog but instead reasonable visibility as we cast off at 0510 and made our way down the river under engine and main, through the harbour and out into the open sea, regretfully leaving the fleshpots of Fowey behind us. Within half an hour we were clear of the harbour entrance and we set full sail and silenced the engine. The promised wind filled the sails, but was cantankerous in direction, more south of southeast that south of southwest; we initially found ourselves close hauled on port tack and heading off shore before tacking on to starboard and setting a close hauled course for distant Rame Head.

Navigation from Fowey back to Plymouth is terribly simple. Don’t hit Udder Rock on your way to pretty Polperro, avoid Looe Island as you pass the handsome town of Looe, then cross the expanse of Whitsand Bay to round Rame Head and finally turn left and enter the shelter of the Sound, taking care not to get run over by anything bigger that might want to enter at the same time as you.

Little more than an hour after casting off we passed Udder Rock to port, our course now loosened off to a close reach. The sea was slight, the brightening sky melodramatic, the shore to our north shrouded in shadow. By 0720 we were abeam of Looe, the favourable tide just beginning to get a grip of us. The little yacht was heeled happily to about 10 degrees, Dad and I both enjoying the best sail of the week so as Nikki finally awoke and emerged from below to join us.

0830, and the wind increased as the day brightened, the sun beginning to break valiantly out from behind the clouds. Touching more than 4 knots through the water at times, the gusts were tipping us over to 20 degrees now, and the boat’s track through the water was slouching off to leeward, and at risk of not clearing the headland of Rame Head. I pulled a roll into the headsail for the sake of the women and children on board. 

I jest; Nik is far more chilled than I ever am aboard, and Dad only ever gets anxious when the boat tips so far over that things start flying about below. In any case, the roll in the headsail cost us half a knot in boat speed, but stiffened the little yacht up nicely. Biting properly into the water, we lost the leeway and our course lifted, once more taking us easily clear of the approaching headland.

At 0928, making just under 5 knots over the ground with the assistance of a fair tide, we rounded Rame Head. The sky was blue over the water, but low cloud was still dramatically shrouding the shore as we turned Penlee Point and ran into the Sound through the Western Entrance forty-five minutes later. 

The Sound was a busy place Saturday morning, with powerboats nipping too and fro, a fleet of juniors training with their Toppers in Jennycliff Bay, and numerous yachts milling about, including an not insubstantial fleet of racing yachts preparing for the start of a race from Plymouth to Fowey. I switched the VHF to 39a so I could keep track of what they were up to. Their start line stretched out from the end of the Mount Batten Breakwater, straight across our direct path back to the marina.

At 1045 we started the engine and dropped our sails. Rather than negotiating our way through the milling yachts on their startline, we went out and around the pin end of their line to keep well clear, as much for Dad’s sake as their own.

By 1120 we were home, back alongside Calstar’s berth in Queen Anne’s Battery.

Just over six hours underway, but a good hour of that spent mulling about in the Sound avoiding other boats and yacht race start lines. Just over an hour of that was under power, but for the first time this week, only whilst departing or arriving; the rest of the passage was under sail. A little over 22 nautical miles covered.

The final sail of our week away, the weather had certainly saved the best for last.