Thursday, 23 May 2019

Calstar: F9wey

I’m heading down to Plymouth with Dad. Tomorrow we sail with the tide for Fowey.

This weekend the British Moths are holding their “Sea Championships” in the harbour. It’s a very grand name for a very light-hearted affair. 

I took the photo above whilst hanging out the side of a Moth this time last year when I briefly joined them racing around the harbour. 

They are small, single-design, snub nosed, single-handed dinghies with over-powered, high aspect rigs; highly manoeuvrable, they were designed for the light fickle airs of narrow rivers with high banks, and whilst various changes to modernise the design have made them easier to manage in flat, open water and blustery conditions, they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sea boat. 

But Fowey has a certain charm that suits the little boats, and after a group of us ventured down for a weekend's camping and sailing some ten years or more back, it eventually became something of an annual affair and was adopted into the class association's official calendar. This will be the ninth such event. 

So the British Moth Sea Championships is more of an excuse for a bit of fun and a lot of party than a serious racing event. An excuse to catch up with old friends. But there is racing, and British Moths do so take their racing seriously.

A very generous friend is bringing a "spare" Moth down to Fowey to lend to me for the weekend, so Saturday through till Monday I’ll be racing with them. Dad will either join in helping out with the race committee or chill out in the harbour aboard Calstar. He'll join in fully with the partying, I'm sure. Nik has elected to stay at home this year. Too much of me sailing for her to enjoy it.

The weather looks very promising for the sail over from Plymouth and the racing across the weekend. The plan is to sail home with Calstar on Tuesday, and at the moment, the forecast is not looking very comfortable for that. I really ought to be back in the office for Wednesday, but there are options available if Tuesday’s forecast doesn’t mitigate as we get closer to the day. 

Leaving Calstar in Fowey and coming home by land without her is really not one of them, however.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Monday 20th

On Monday evening we gathered around Dad's house for supper. My brother and his wife, all three of my kids and Ben's lovely young lady. The only one missing was my daughter Tasha's fiance, Dan, who had to work.

Dad roasted a couple of unfortunate chickens; unfortunate for them I mean, fortunately for us they were delicious. 

We sat out on the patio and talked as the sinking sun set a luminous orange glow into the broken clouds above. The sky was promising rain, and against the gloaming of the clouds the moisture in the air set off a lovely triple rainbow arcing skywards from the eves of the houses; a beautiful streak of colour defiant in the face of the setting sun and encroaching dark of the night.

A transitory pleasure, the camera on our phones couldn't capture it to do it justice.

Up until my mid-twenties, I used to view my life in five year cycles. Change is rapid when you're growing up, and keeps up the pace whilst you're still young. Every five years I'd look back and muse that I wouldn't be able to recognise myself or predict my situation had I been able to look forward and see myself from there from five years previous.

Schools changed, homes changed, countries changed, friends changed, pets changed, jobs changed. Very little remained constant.

Change has slowed down. I've been in the same house now for twenty years, and have been fortunate enough to hold the same job now for a little bit longer. I've been with the same lucky girl (yes, I kid myself, I'm fully aware I am the lucky one in this equation) for even longer than that, although married to her for a little less, if still a bit more than twenty years (don't ask me to put an exact number on it right now)

On Monday evening, Dad settled down to supper with his children and his grandchildren. Our dogs wrestled for space amidst the forest of our legs beneath the dining room table. It was a picture Mum would have been fondly familiar with.

On Monday evening, at the turning of some unwatched hour across the course of that night, it became five years since we lost her.

Five years on, and so much has changed. And some things have stayed the same.

I am reminded of how lucky we are to have each other.

FOSSC: drifting ahead

If Friday night was a late one, Saturday night wasn’t much of an improvement. A bit of a different theme: posh frocks and expensive tickets, it was the Gloucester Civic Charity Ball organised by the Mayor of Gloucester. Black tie, chains of office and even a town crier in full regalia as master of ceremonies. But after they’d eaten their supper and played their after-dinner games, they then danced the rest of the night away to the band. It was a good night; a lovely, appreciative crowd, raising good money for a good local cause, The James Hopkins Trust.

Sunday morning was still and bright. I blearily dragged myself out of bed late morning. It’s not just a lack of sleep from the late nights, but arms ache, back aches, fingers are sore, throat is hoarse. I do so suffer for my art. But, as my wife Nik will quickly point out, it’s entirely self-inflicted so I deserve no sympathy.

It would’ve been easy to have stayed at home and cut the grass. But I packed my sailing kit and headed down the Club regardless. Like I said, I suffer for my art. And like she said, still just as self-inflicted.

The Laser seems to be the perfect boat for the lake at Frampton. 

When I used to race my own Enterprise, I used to look forward to drifts like the one we were faced with on Sunday. A little bit more wind and the Lasers would begin to plane, leaving the heavier double-handed Enterprise behind. But in still air, you can ghost the Ent through the mirror smooth water; the two blue sails, if deftly handled, and the inertia inherent in a heavier hull, are just enough to give the advantage, I guess. The wide, flat, light hulls of the single-handed Lasers by comparison would just seem to stick to the water.

Now that I have a Laser myself however, I don’t seem to have that problem.

Possibly it’s a weight advantage. At just shy of 11 stone, I’m at the bottom end of the weight range for the boat, and in any kind of a blow suffer accordingly. I’m quickly overpowered, and brutally punished in the heavier winds by the slightest flaw in technique. Of which I have many.

I won both races on Sunday, a repeat performance of the light air racing of the weekend before. Again, I took the first race with a wide lead; a class race, I got lucky early and won through to clear air, leaving the other three Lasers in the fleet mired amongst the Solo and Handicap fleets, with no real chance of catching up. It could as easily have gone the other way.

The second race, a pursuit of nine boats of assorted classes, was much harder work. Three of us left the rest behind quickly enough, but I spent the second half of the race tangled up with Geoff and Sue in their Enterprise, trading between 2nd and 3rd place and unable to break clear whilst we both tried to catch Pete in his Comet up ahead.

On the last lap I finally fought free of Geoff and Sue and then caught up and crossed ahead of Pete on a beat to windward, leaving the Comet and the Ent to tussle amongst themselves behind me. It looked like it was going to go the Enterprise’s way, and then after Geoff got past, Pete caught him again on starboard closing in with a leeward mark. Geoff and Sue tried to tack in front, and the little Comet touched them mid-tack.

I heard the thump across the water. No damage was done, but the penalty turns owed let Pete get away and secure 2nd place for himself.

Unlucky for Geoff and Sue after all that hard work in trying to catch him, but very well played by Pete.

I’m now sat at the top of the table for both the Laser Class and Pursuit Spring series. There are three more races to go, one of which I might have to skip if the gig on the 9th of June gets confirmed. It’s very nice to be in the lead, but if the weather turns, and it’s surely past time that it should, then all this could quickly change over the next three weeks.

Maybe now’s the time to finally invest in a reduced radial rig for the Laser?

Probably, but of course I won't. Only having the one standard rig does make life easier in a way, by reducing the options. And anyway, I have other priorities for my cash; I’m away racing at the British Moth Sea Championships in Fowey this coming weekend. And that’s never a cheap party.      

Freefall: The Railway Tavern

As far as gigs go, you expect Friday nights to be, generally speaking, not as lively as most Saturday nights. So when, last Friday lunch time, I got the call from Sam, the Railway Tavern’s landlord, saying “Bill, where are the posters?” I worried I’d dropped the ball on that evening’s gig. 

Well, I'd certainly forgotten the posters so, in effect, I had. If folks don’t know you’re playing, how can you expect them to turn up?

Turns out, I’d underestimated the Fishponds mob. Fishponds is a suburb on the north side of Bristol, half an hour down the motorway from home, and the band has been playing regularly in a few assorted pubs along the main Fishponds Road for more than a decade and a half now. 

And we love it down there, the regular faces in the crowd have, over those years, become familiar friends. Fishponds is very much our home from home. Clearly a little thing like forgetting the posters wasn’t going to put folks off. Sam had, obviously, chalked the band’s name up on the board listing the month's entertainment, as per usual. Turns out that was enough.

Last Friday night at the Railway Tavern was an absolute joyous riot of a gig that risks putting many Saturday nights still yet to come to shame by wont of comparison.

I do love Fishponds. I do love the Railway Tavern. And last Friday night, we had fun.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

FOSSC: sunshine and weed

The last week or so the weather has been predominantly bright, warm and calm. Which is fine if you like gardening. Theoretically not so good if you want to sail, but I've enjoyed myself regardless. To a point.

I've been lake-bound; a couple of weekends worth of gigs mean that I don't get back to Calstar until the end of this month. Then again, I think I'd rather suffer a patient drift whilst racing on the lake than have to put up with the noise and frustration of the engine were we trying to make passage to somewhere with the Westerly in such a flat calm.

I say I've enjoyed myself to a point. The weed problem at Frampton is coming back again with a vengeance. A couple of weeks ago it was fine, but last Wednesday evening I was racing the Laser (should've been racing the Ent, but my crew had locked herself out of her car so didn't make it to the lake) and going well; about half way through I was a good leg ahead Pete and Rhonwen, my nearest competition. Then down one long reach to the green mark they caught back up.

At which point I realised I was dragging a hay bale's worth of weed along with my rudder. My bad, should've spotted it sooner.

With the rudder cleared, I shook Pete back off quick enough, but Rhonwen clung on tenaciously. I held my lead right through the last lap and around the final mark rounding, but then in the last half a dozen seconds in the beat back up to the finish line, she snuck past me.

She actually cheered and fist-pumped the air as she crossed the line first, clearly thrilled with herself. Which put a smile on my face; if there's one thing I like more than beating that really hates to be beat, it's having somebody beat me that clearly takes such delight in the win. And it's not like I hadn't made her work for it.

Of course, the humiliation of my defeat was somewhat mitigated when I beat her, and everybody else, in both races the following Sunday. More bright sun and more drifting conditions; I simply made point of obsessively clearing my foils of weed and just kept the boat moving in clean air. It paid off; for the first race, I was back ashore with a hot cup of tea in my hands before the second boat crossed the line. The second race was a little more work, but still a clear win in the end.

I have a definite advantage in the light stuff so this isn't really any credit to my sailing. The Laser is, I reckon, the perfect boat for our lake but my years racing a British Moth gave me a sympathetic feel for light airs. And I'm still supple enough in my knees at least to hold the necessarily cramped and uncomfortable positions still enough and long enough to to keep the boat properly balanced and moving when there isn't much pressure for the sails to pull her along.

This Wednesday evening just gone I was back in the Enterprise with Amanda. Another drift. We were twenty seconds late getting to the start line just for lack of air, but it didn't make much difference as there wasn't enough to get the rest of the fleet very far over it by the time we did arrive.

A combination of wind shift and thick weed caused pandemonium at what should've been the windward mark. We didn't entirely keep clear of it; almost lost Geoff and Sue in their Enterprise and let Pete in his Comet sail freely around us and break away ahead. But by the time we did struggle clear, the rest of the fleet were all still rafted up on each other around the buoy, leaving Geoff, Pete and I free to have our own chase.

We never really threatened Geoff's lead, and took too long to get clear of Pete so he eventually beat us both on corrected time with his ninja handicap, albeit only just in Geoff and Sue's case. Our own third place was still sufficient to keep us in contention for a top three finish in the overall series however, so we were content with that. Or were at least able to resign ourselves to be so.

So a good week's racing. But the state of the lake is a worry. The anglers that share the water insisted on deploying bales of barley straw in the margins again this year to control the threat of blue algae. The downside is the huge dump of nutrient from the rotting straw coupled with the clarity of the water from lake of algae and relative warmth from the lack of depth in recent years means that the weed is running an absolute riot. It's just below the surface for the moment, but within another week or two I expect we're going to see veritable islands of the stuff.

And with the water levels so low now, they're only going to drop further as the summer closes in.

A third annoyance is that the club have put a muffle into the horn we use as a starting gun following complaints about the noise from the village. Why the noise is suddenly a nuisance now after 50 years of mutual cohabitation I don't know, but the upshot is that I can't actually hear it over my tinnitus unless I'm virtually parked right on top of the committee boat when it sounds.

So I find myself after fifteen years of regularly racing at Frampton wondering whether or not it isn't time I find myself another club to race at that doesn't suffer these problems.

Which is a problematic dilemma because, funny enough, a sailing club isn't just about the sailing.

But it is a pretty necessary part of it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Dignity in question

I read online recently that "The German Shepherd is a dignified dog that is loyal, aloof, and somewhat antisocial"

Which just goes to show that you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. Dignity my foot!

I came across the article during a fairly random Google search and it's posted on a site that appears to be, at a glance, selling some sort of  homeopathic pet remedy, quite possibly "snake oil", so don't read this as any kind of endorsement of their wares.

But it's otherwise quite an interesting read on the history of the Shepherd, which I confess I didn't actually know a lot about. And whilst I don't necessarily agree with the characterisation that they describe in its entirety (and I've got a lot more personal experience here than I do on the breed's history), it does paint a pretty accurate picture of the general character and temperament of the dog.

But mostly, this was just an excuse to post pictures of mine poking their tongues out at you, and looking cute but dumb. That said, Boo (blonde mutt, second picture, frame right) has that "spare me, what does he think he looks like" expression on his face.

He wears that a lot when he's around Jack, who often seems to have his tongue up his nose.

Boo's an ex-street dog, and the only one of the two that isn't pure Shep. He's really a blend of all sorts of things eastern European, and I suspect he's the most considered, savviest of the three.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Calstar: dolphins

A still from a video I took on our trip out to Fowey last Easter weekend. Sorting out the final details of our next trip back to Fowey again at the end of this month put me in mind of it.

Really can't wait.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Monday, 29 April 2019


Just behind the caravan. Though this might be the last of the sun we see this week. It was very pleasant couple of hours however. 


I find myself at a Holiday Camp for a few days. 

Not my choice, but my wife's. But it's okay, I owe her, we're with friends, and I've brought a guitIar to entertain myself.

And the Bristol Channel is but a stone's throw away from here.

Of course, I do currently lack a boat.

Calstar: Easter Weekend; Falmouth and back

Last weekend Dad and I drove down to the boat in Plymouth Thursday evening after I’d finished work. Dad’s recently retired, so had already finished work back at the end of March; Nik, sadly, had to work through the holiday weekend so wouldn’t be able to join us.

The forecast suggested the best wind would be Friday, an easterly F4 to 5, fading as the day wore one. Saturday and Sunday had the wind falling off to an F2 or 3, staying in the east, maybe with a bit more south in it. The plan was an early start Friday morning, ride the wind the 40 nautical miles downhill to Falmouth, and split the journey back home over the rest of the long Easter weekend into 20 mile chunks with stopovers in Fowey and the Yealm. Then arrive back in Plymouth early Monday and get on the road as quickly as possible to try and avoid the worst of the bank holiday traffic.

Friday 19th April : Plymouth to Falmouth
(40.5 nautical miles, 7 hours 8 minutes underway)

Friday morning, up at 0530 to hit the marina showers then ready the boat to cast off for 0730, half an hour later than I’d planned. I don’t take two hours to shower and go, but Dad moves at his own pace these days and time nor tide have little dominion. Did I mention he’s quite enjoying his retirement?

If we’d been slow at the off, the weather had clearly blown through earlier than expected. By 0800 we were clearing the Western Entrance, Cawsands off our starboard beam, and the hoped for easterly breeze was exceptionally light. With 40 miles to cover, and deadlines to meet (the primary one being the need for me to be back at work on Tuesday) we continued to motor-sail under the main. With a spring tide running fair for the first couple of hours of morning, we were making very good progress without needing to labour the engine, or our patience with it.

Around 1100, about 6 miles offshore, Fowey and Gribbin Head in the hazy distance off our starboard beam, a pair of dolphins joined us. 

Dad spotted them first, he’d been trying to make out the distant day mark atop Gribbin Head and had seen one broach about 500 meters yards away. They disappeared briefly, and I quelled my disappointment at having missed the sight, before they reappeared again right beside us, lacing through the water, arcing and twisting as they played back and forth across Calstar’s slight bow-wave. Dad reckons there were three, I counted two, but they were lovely and kept company with us for about five minutes. They quite made up for the lack of wind.

By 1400 we rounded St Anthony’s Head and entered the Carrick Roads outside Falmouth. Predictably, the wind began to fill in, but by now Dad was eager to land somewhere for the night and get ashore to stretch his legs. We made directly for the Falmouth Yacht Haven, and made safe alongside the pontoon just before 1500; a shade over 40 miles behind us and slightly over 7 hours underway. All of it sadly with the assistance of the engine.

I say sadly, but it would've been sadder had the engine failed us; the weather was gorgeously warm and it was a delight just to be afloat.

We dined Friday night on the balcony of a Falmouth restaurant called Amanzi. The view and the food were both lovely.

Saturday 20th April : Falmouth to Fowey
(23.4 nautical miles, 6 hours 29 minutes underway)

We cast off from Falmouth at 0930, flagrantly late on the tide, and further delayed our departure by queuing an hour for the fuel barge. By 1000 we were properly on our way, but with only an hour of fair tide left to exploit. 

Expecting a F2 - 3 from the east for most of the day, my plan was to stand off from the shore once we were clear of the Carrick Roads then tack and beat along the coast. By 1030 we’d cleared the headland and cut the engine, but over the next fifteen minutes saw what little wind we’d started with die off and the tide begin to turn foul.

We scrapped my originally optimistic plan of sailing, restarted the engine, and turning towards Fowey 20 miles distant, furled the headsail, resigning ourselves to motor-sailing under the main again for the next few hours.

We spent the day basking in the Easter sunshine, reading, jellyfish spotting and keeping a weather eye out for more dolphins. The Cornish waters were thick (I exaggerate, but only a little) with barrel jellyfish. The size of dustbin lids, they are surreal, otherworldly, harmless creatures, gently pulsing as they ghosted through the clear smooth waters just beneath the surface, feasting on the invisible spring plankton bloom.

A little while after rounding Dodman Point at 1300, just off picturesque Gorran Haven, a sea breeze began to fill in from astern. We cut the engine and gently tricked along for a while, sails goose-winged with the boat on a dead run, but made little headway across St Austell’s Bay despite the grip of the foul tide easing as the hours wore on into the afternoon. 

An hour and a half later, with only a mile and a half covered in the time and Gorran Haven still very visible over our port quarter, the seas turned glassy, the tease of a wind finally ceased and we once more started the engine. We were comforted by the brief sighting of a pod of porpoises about 50 meters off our port bow, but the shy creatures came no closer.

We landed in Fowey just before 1630, a little more than 23 miles of travel behind us and a relatively slow passage time just shy of 7 hours; we’d covered almost twice the distance in that time on our passage to Falmouth the day before. The tides on this coast are so slight compared to our old home waters in the Bristol Channel that the temptation to disregard them is always there; but our passage time to Fowey was a stark indication, as if any were needed, of the difference between a fair tide and a foul, even in these waters.

The wait for a table at my favourite Fowey restaurant Sams was over an hour by the time we finally got there. Dad had the casting vote, so we avoided the queue and headed over to the Galleon instead where we enjoyed a perfectly respectable cod and chips on their veranda overlooking the bustle of the harbour. We called in for a pint at the Fowey Gallants Sailing Club on our way back to the boat. Their beer is unfailingly good and their clubhouse bar has the best view of any sailing club I know.

Sunday 21st April : Fowey to The Yealm
(26.6 nautical miles, 7 hours 26 minutes underway)

The forecast for wind on Sunday wasn’t promising at all, slightly more south in it but no stronger than the day before. Low water Plymouth was expected 1418, so to make the most of the fair tide we got up early and cast off from Fowey just after 0730.

As we were preparing to cast off, a Cornish Crabber 22 called “Chocolat” motored past us on her way out of the harbour which put a smile on my face. Back in the summer of 2014  Dad and I had brought our old Drascombe Lugger “Ondine” down to Fowey for the weekend. On the pontoons upriver at Penmarlam, a lady from a neighbouring boat had ambled over to remark on how lovely Drascombes were. B was the skipper of the Crabber 22 “Chocolat”, and ended up accompanying us in the Lugger for a day-sail over to Polperro and back.

Five years later and no longer with the Drascombe, there is no way she’d have recognised us aboard the Westerly as she cheerfully waved back whilst passing, but I recognised her, and was very pleased to see she was well and clearly still enjoying the delights of her lovely little yacht.

With no great hopes of a decent sailing wind, we motor-sailed with just the main set again, but keeping closer to the shore than for the first few miles, enjoying the sights of Polperro and Looe in the fine early morning light. Off Looe Island around 0900 the wind filled in enough to tempt us into stopping the engine. Over the next hour we covered a little more than a mile before the wind completely gave up the ghost and we fired the engine back up. The sea was a flat calm as we motored gently towards the slowing closing edifice of Rame Head.

By noon we were passing the headland; the Longroom in Plymouth reported the windspeed as 7 knots on the breakwater, and the tide had turned foul for us. Nonetheless, around 1230 enough of a sea breeze sprung up to tempt us into sailing once again. Only half an hour of very gentle beating before it failed once more and we returned to moto-rsailing. Off Wembury Bay an hour later we tried again, but within 20 minutes once more gave up the ghost.

We reached the mouth of the Yealm at low water, around 1430. At low tide there is only a meter of water in the narrow passage across the south end of the sand bar at the mouth of the river, clearly visible just beneath the surface with holiday makers paddling out across it in water no higher than their knees. Calstar only draws a meter, and the tide table said LW should still have 0.3m on top of chart datum, so we gently chanced entering; there really wasn’t much room between the end of the bar and the very visible, rocky foreshore on the other side of the passage, but as long as we stayed with the entrance passage we’d only ground on clean sand if we got it wrong.

It was a little nerve wracking, following the transits, avoiding swimmers, anchored boats and paddle boarders, and periodically silencing the shallow water warning alarm on our depth sounder before reaching the slightly deeper water of the river proper, and then picking our way up river through the crowded moorings to the visitor pontoons, but it passed without mishap.

The first pontoon was full, with boats rafted up to three abreast. We bleakly made our way further up river to the second, expecting the same, and half expecting to have to turn around and head back out, perhaps to anchor overnight in Wembury Bay or even head the rest of the way back to Plymouth, but to our surprise found the shore side half of the upriver visitor’s pontoon completely clear, which made for a very easy landing.

We made fast at 1504, just shy of 26 miles behind us and seven and a half hours underway; just over five hours of that had been on engine, but we’d managed to get a little more sailing in that on the previous days, so were not unhappy. We took the tender up the river to find a supper of whitebait at the Dolphin Inn in Newton Ferrers. A tidy little pub and very friendly, and even if the food was a little less than piping hot by the time they got it to us on their second attempt to find our table (don’t ask, I don’t know!) it was still delicious.

Half way back to the boat, the outboard ran out of fuel. A passing powerboat kindly offered us a tow, but the tide was still just in our favour, and we had oars, so Dad and I paddled the rest of the way back. I think Dad regretted relying on me to check the fuel levels in the outboard (I'd casually glanced in; there was fuel, just not as much as I’d thought), but personally I quite enjoyed the tranquillity of the river and the light exercise of paddling back with the flow.

Monday 22nd April : The Yealm to Plymouth
(7.5 nautical miles, 2 hours 8 minutes underway)

After three days of brilliant sunshine, Monday morning dawned overcast and grey. We cast off in the slack water just after high tide at 0835 and picked our way down river through the crowded moorings and anchorage, through the narrow channel around the river bar and out into the choppy waters of Wembury Bay in the company of a couple of other yachts.

And finally, there was wind.

At 0900, just outside the river mouth, we turned the boat back towards the bar, head to wind, raised the sails, stilled the engine, then turned away from the wind onto a deep reach to take us out of the bay. After ten or fifteen minutes of a southerly course, the yacht to leeward of us gybed and we did the same, to settle onto a broad starboard reach that would take us clear around the Mewstone and back into Plymouth.

By 1010 we entered the Sound via the Eastern Entrance, and wind dying in the lee of the eastern shore, doused the sails and kicked the engine in to life to motor gently up the Sound and back to the marina at Queen Anne’s Battery. By 1043 we were safe alongside our home berth, a short trip of seven and a half miles covered mostly under sail in just over a couple of hours.

Despite our best intentions to make haste, we still failed to get on the road before 1230, so got snarled up just a little in the homeward bound Bank Holiday traffic. A small price to pay for four very pleasant days aboard however; even if there wasn’t much actual sailing to be had, it’s always good just getting out on the water.