Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
- Keats, from "To Autumn", 1819
The view from my office window this morning. Not so much "Close
bosom-friend of the maturing sun" at the moment, I think. Still, the air
has a certain character about it. I much prefer the sharp crispness of a
blue-skied autumal sun that lights the valley once the leaves have
turned just a little bit more, but before they've completely fallen.
And autumn gales. I love the leaf-stripping wind autumn so often brings.
If we must have uncomfortable weather, make it interesting. Give me
something to play with.
Last day of Sailability this coming Saturday, after sailing, it ends
with a BBQ for lunchtime. Then the first of our October gigs Saturday
night, followed by racing on Sunday. It feels like an eternity since I
last raced with Hels. I'm looking forward to it, whatever the weather.
Monday, 29 September 2014
Spent this evening trawling through my photos looking for pictures of a friend's dog. Raven, a beautiful, long-coated black GSD of 17 years, who passed away very recently.
One of the reasons I take so many photos is that I enjoy going through them. They provide a catalogue of life and memory. Of late though, it's been bitter-sweet.
I've been struck by how much heartache we've gathered, over the last few years in particular. I know that it's just a part of life's rich tapestry, if you can forgive the banality of that cliché. And it's senseless looking back and wishing you could have done it different, you could have changed things, imagining that you could or that you'd even want to. That's not why I collect these images.
Tom Cunliffe wrote that there is no such thing as bad luck at sea. That's pretty much an analogy for life. He also wrote of how an old skipper of his acquaintance always said that the floor of the ocean was paved with optimists, but Mr Cunliffe then went on to observe that anyone who puts to sea for more than a few carefully controlled sunshine trips must have at least a streak of 'hope-for-the-best' about them.
That should also be an analogy for life.
Raven was a gentle, devoted giant of a dog, a beautiful spirit; rescued by Lin those many years ago and given a second chance at life, she embraced it and paid life, and Lin, back in spades. Seventeen years, in a breed that rarely makes twelve, she was very special and it was our privilege to have known her.
Saturday, 27 September 2014
Not much wind today.
Which was almost a pity because today the Club held an Open Day; leave the gate unlocked, invite members of the public to come along and step aboard for a sail. Evangelism at its best. In previous years we've introduced as many as 350 or so souls to the pleasures of skipping around a lake on the caress of the wind.
This time the wind forgot to keep the appointment. Under a clump of high pressure, the air was lumpen and disinterested. For most of the day, the water was glassy, every so often a reluctant autumnal thermal would lift somewhere and we'd get a kiss of air from a random direction, but that was it.
But it was warm, generally sunny, a lovely day to spend on or by the water. This year, I think the numbers were closer to 170. But I suspect the Club will get as good a yield of new members out of it. If you turned up today to "try sailing" it's because you'd already set your heart on it and were determined to try regardless of the conspiracy of elements arraigned against you.
I like those kind of people.
I spent the day railing against engines. I capitulated in the morning to Dad aboard the Lugger, and let him taxi our Sailability friends around the lake with the outboard. Pick the fights you can win, dodge the rest. I defected to the Club fleet, thinking at least there I'd find sail.
But they had it in their heads that there wasn't enough wind, and it was better to stick our guests in the dinghies and tether them to the safety boats and tow them around the lake.
In fairness, having been forced to capitulate and play the tow-boat captain a few times, I never once looked back at my charges and saw a frown. The magic of being water-borne captured them as surely as it had ever captured me. One young lad, who had earlier in the day ghosted around in a Wanderer with me and his family, asked to join me in the tow boat and I gave him the helm, under very close supervision and never out of reach of the wheel, throttle or kill-cord. "This is the BEST thing I've EVER done" he exclaimed, repeatedly, "Just wait till I tell my friends at school!"
Aside from the enthusiastic young Charlie above, whom I'm sure will be back, I did manage to sail a few others around.
I find something magical in ghosting along under sail. It's an act of balance, precision, faith and emotional adaptability. You get everything set, the boat begins to move, then something infinitesimally insignificant shifts, and you either recognise it instinctively and adapt or you fluster and stall. And at some point, wave or chance or a shift of weight, you always fluster and stall.
It all goes to hell. Or backwards. Or in circles, aimlessly, sails flapping lethargically, mocking you. Then the head takes over, you work things through, adapt, change, shift and adjust, and the sails fill in again and the boat first begins to move, and then you shift the helm a little to move in roughly the right direction. Instinct takes back over, and you start once more to ghost, as in tune with the boat and the air and the water as it's possible to be.
It's as close to prayer as I ever get.
Not true. It's as close to my prayers getting listened to as I ever get.
I spent a pleasurable day today introducing new folks to the water. A few of them got to ghost along with me. One or two, I think, could hear a whisper of the poetry in what we shared.
Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Suddenly conscious that for the first time in an age, I won't be sailing
this evening with Ben. The boy has gone back to Uni, and the Wednesday
evening racing season has run to an end. Not enough light left in the
I'm going to miss it.
No racing this weekend. On Saturday the Club's holding an Open Day, so
I'll spend all day sailing visitors around the lake. I don't mind. I
love talking about sailing. Normally when I allow the conversation to
drift to being about sailing, "normal" folks go glassy eyed and all
polite so I feel obliged to try and move the subject on.
As far as I'm concerned, if you climb into a boat with me, that's an
open invitation for me to wax lyrical all I want.
I also love sailing in company, and especially love introducing new
people to this sailing thing.
On the down side, the forecast is suggesting it's going to be a real
drift. Not the best way of selling the joys of a life afloat under canvas.
And on Saturday, the Solo Fleet have an Open Meeting, and I don't sail a
Solo. On the other hand, if the drift persists throughout the weekend,
I'll wish them the joy of it.
Except I might be needed to run the safety boat. There isn't a lot
that's less gripping than providing saftey cover for a fleet of racing
dinghies in a drift. Maybe I'll take the camera, that should keep me
That said, might be they've got safety boat covered now and can give me
the day off. In which case, Sunday will be a day of catching up around
the house and (terribly, embarassingly overgrown) garden and walking the
No gigs, not until a week Saturday. I guess that means this coming
weekend almost counts as a weekend off.
I'm quite looking forward to it.
me to this excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. The words are
inspirational, and remind me vividly of one or two people I know.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the
strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them
better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort
without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the
deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends
himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph
of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails
while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold
and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
- Roosevelt, "Citizenship In A Republic", 1910
Monday, 22 September 2014
Just back from a weekend Fowey with Dad and Ondine, our last trip there for 2014, though we're definitely going back again next year. Great fun playing on the water, even though the lack of wind meant two out of the three trips were mostly under power.
Set off from home Friday morning in the pelting rain. Sun broke through just as we crossed the border into Cornwall. That doesn't often happen.
Friday afternoon, we motored around Gribbin Head to anchor inside the quay wall at Polkeris, took the dinghy ashore for a couple of pints at the pub. Met an older couple with a puppy, a man serenading his lady with a guitar and a very dusty bloke with a gorgeous Belgian Shepherd called Thor. The mist closed in as we pottered back to Fowey. First time out in such poor visibility, was quite the experience, but we made it back to harbour safe and sound.
That night, reading in the bar of The Old Ferry Inn, I dropped my phone. Appears the impact with the floor was pretty terminal. Funny enough, the first time I came to Fowey, many years ago, I killed a phone. Albeit that one capsized with me in the harbour, but unlike me, didn't take to a salt water dousing.
The remaining photos with this post are from Dad's iPhone. Should've taken my DSLR as a backup. Still, spilt milk and the pointlessness of crying over it comes to mind.
Saturday, with the wind forecast north easterly we headed out to Polperro. What little wind there was died about a mile out of Fowey, so I once again capitulated to Dad and he deployed the outboard. We tied up to one of the visitor buoys just outside the harbour wall and took the dinghy ashore for a couple of pints at the Blue Peter, followed by a walk around the village.
The trip back was quite wet pushing through a now somewhat tumbling sea. We could probably have sailed, but Dad was keen to get back in good time and although the wind had picked up it had backed around west north west, so sailing would have meant a few hours of hard beating back.
Today, it all came good. A great sail out of Fowey, beating into good wind. The sea was quite churned, choppy waves of up to a couple of meters, every odd one or another kissed with a white-cap. We anchored in Lantic Bay, the sun came out and I spent an hour or so snorkelling whilst Dad entertained himself playing with the dinghy.
The sail back was a slide downwind, me grumbling good-naturedly about the lack of a boom, sailing as deep as I could without collapsing the jib. A gybe outside the mouth of the harbour then came back in under sail through a fleet of racing Troys and Fowey Rivers.
Sunshine, surf, a touch of wind and copious amounts of beer. It was a fine, fine weekend away. I'm almost sorry to be home. Nice to see the wife and dogs again though.
Friday, 19 September 2014
Two hours out from Fowey, 112 statute miles as the Drascombe flies (atop her trailer down the M5)
Somewhat hoping for a break in the weather, have wet weather gear packed against the eventuality we may be disappointed, but think this lot is going to push through and leave us a brighter afternoon to enjoy.
What it is it is, will just have to deal with it.
Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Great start, great first half. Light, shifty easterly, but two beats. We couldn't keep the Rooster or Phantom behind us for long, but kept hot on the tail of the other Enterprise, Ghost.
Until a particularly congested rounding at the windward mark as we caught up with the Solo fleet.
Ben was overly aggressive, tried to pass in front of a Solo, them on starboard, us on port. They touched us. They didn't have to, their's was a separate race, but they didn't have the courtesy to bear away a couple of degrees to spare Ben the consequences of his misjudgement.
The subsequent penalty turns cost us a couple of places and any shot of taking Ghost, and with her, the third place overall we were trying for.
Our worst race of the series. But it was still sailing, still on the water, still a race, so not all bad.
Fourth overall. An admirable result, but frustratingly close.
As for the Solo, we've no need to take it personally. And there will be plenty of opportunity to come for me to pay him back in kind over the many races yet to come.
That's all part of the fun of the game.
Monday, 15 September 2014
The forecast for Sunday was F3 ENE and delivered pretty much as promised. Grey, overbearing skies, but no rain, temperature comfortable as long as you were active or out of the wind. A good day for a sail.
We arrived at Lydney for a leisurely 09:30hrs, the only incident being a very near miss on the road to Lydney when a little terrier type dog jumped out of the open window of a car parked on the verge and charged down the middle of the road towards us. Blessedly, the traffic behind us was far enough back Dad was able to break and swerve, and little Fido's game of chicken missed coming to a sticky end by mere fractions of an inch. The scamp clearly owes a life or two to the local cat, let's hope Felix doesn't charge interest.
The traffic ground to a halt behind us, drivers in various states of panic and alarm, and little Fido took a right and darted off down a lane joining the main road, his rather distraught, frantic owner in terrified, noisy, arm-flapping pursuit. From his red face and generously endowed stature, I'd have to say the man wasn't used to running. I hope it all turned out alright for them in the end.
By 10:00hrs we were rigged, the accompanying boats briefed, and we relaxed, awaiting the tide. It found the slip around 10:30hrs, and after a bit of prevaricating by yours truly, concerned that if we launched too soon we'd be pushed up on to the sandbanks as we were last year, we were off. The fleet consisted of two Drascombe Luggers Ondine and Muckle Flugga, the sailing canoe Green Bean, and the Enterprise Sligo; thirteen souls in all, lucky for some.
The beat up to Frampton was, at times, rough and wild, the air fairly steady in direction and pressure but the water in many places torn and churned by the swift tide pressing it into the face of the wind. Lots of water came in over the bows, for the most part stoicly soaked up by the crew before it reached me. In addition to myself, we had a couple of guests from Frampton aboard and my young cousin Ollie. With her mainsail unreefed and the jib full, Ondine carried her extra passengers without complaint.
We landed at the mouth of Frampton Pill by 11:45hrs. With only an 8m tide at Sharpness, there wasn't enough water to do more than venture into the mouth, and after doing so, we elected to land just outside the pill where the footing of the bank seemed less muddy. "Less muddy" is very much a relative term.
The short time between landing and the tide turning at 12:18hrs gave us just enough space to light the camping stove and cook our sausages and onions, but not to boil a kettle for a cup of tea. By 12:30hrs we'd packed up, stowed the kit back aboard and pushed off to ride the ebb back to Lydney.
The turning of the tide effectively pulled the teeth of the wind. The slide back down-river was gentle and sedate, the only turbulence the usual churning of the water around Wellhouse Rock and the old Sharpness Dock. Even the sun broke out from behind the clouds to warm our trip back.
Our landing at Lydney was not so placid. All seemed lined up for the perfect touchdown, under power with the sails furled and the foils lifted as per our usual practice. Green Bean and Sligo had landed ahead of us, the former still on the slip awaiting enough able bodies to carry her up to the grass in front of the Clubhouse. Our approach under power was too fast, and whilst trying to take way off, the tide caught Ondine's stern and dragged her out of line.
We powered on and turned her bow into the flow, clawing back up river for a bit of space to try and go around. That was fine, and we held our own for a moment, but misjudged how much space we'd need; the centreboard was raised and so the pivot point of the boat was significantly compromised. As the flow caught us once more, we managed to push the bow through the turn and avoid a head on collision, but the aft of the boat swung out and, sliding badly, slammed poor Ondine broadside into the harbour wall.
Naturally, most of the Yacht Club were on the veranda, watching everything unfold.
We were saved by a couple of things. It all happened too fast for any of our passengers to even thing of heroically putting out an arm to fend us off. That would have been a bone crunching disaster. And the harbour wall at Lydney below the tide line is so encrusted with black, slick weed that it makes for quite a cushioned landing really. Shaken but not stirred, we put her nose onto the slip with the second attempt, and on inspection, the only damage was a slight scuffing to the wooden gunwale that will sand out easily.
Drascombe Luggers really are quite bomb-proof. Probably just as well. Drama of our return aside, it was a great day out on the water. The Severn never fails to entertain.