Monday, 16 March 2015

To begin with a single step

This morning I awoke aching in places I never knew I had places to ache with.

Which was surprising, as I can spend two and a half hours hiking out hard over the side of an Enterprise in a strong blow and not really notice it the next day, or trot the dogs to the top of the hill out the back of my house, and down again, and not notice that either. So it would seem that bracing yourself against the list and leap of a yacht heeling twenty odd degrees plus as she thumps through a lumpy sea, close-hauled against wind over tide, uses a quite different muscle set to the various sets of muscles I'm used to using.

It was a great weekend though.

We locked out of Portishead about an hour after high water at 1330 on the Saturday, sharing the lock with three other yachts, two of which, "Misty Lady" and "Tickety Boo" were also bound for Cardiff with us. The forecast had been pretty consistent for the past couple of days, promising a north easterly F4 gusting 5. The prevailing winds for the area are from the south west, and the north east facing aspect of Portishead gives excellent shelter from them. However, it's really not so great when the wind comes from the other way. As we motored out past the breakwater, the wind-churned tidal race caught us beam on and the little boat heaved and rolled in a most uncomfortable fashion.

Uncomfortable for Dad on the helm, in any case, and certainly unnerving. One of those moments that lead you to wonder, however briefly, what on earth you've gotten yourself in to.

Calstar herself was entirely within her own comfort zone. As soon as we were clear enough of the other boats to be back within ours, Ben took the helm and put her head to wind whilst Dad and I hauled up the main and unfurled the genoa. We stilled the engine as Ben bore away onto a broad reach, steering a course towards our first waypoint at the Avon buoy, and the boat heeled gently as the wind took her, now moving gracefully with the sea rather than crashing through it.

Misty Lady and Tickety Boo, with more confidence and practice, were quicker with their own sail handling and had pulled away ahead whilst we were still sorting our own canvas out. As we settled into our pace, a tall, three masted ship entered the estuary from the mouth of the River Avon, and hauling their own wind, soon caught and passed us to port on their way down the channel.

I'm kicking myself now that I got neither a better look to catch her name nor took a better photograph as she passed. At the time I was too busy sorting our own boat out for the fifteen or so miles ahead, so the opportunity passed my by and now I'm left wondering who and what she was.

Passing Avon, Ben hardened up on the helm, setting a course for the North Elbow buoy, our next waypoint. Calstar slid gleefully through the waves on this finer reach, sometimes passing 5 knots through the water, stiff and responsive under full sail. Tickety Boo, one reef in her main, set a more sedate pace for herself, and slowly slipped behind us a short while after we passed North Elbow.

Setting our course for North Cardiff as our next waypoint, time slid quickly by, and before long we were past this next mark just a little behind Misty Lady. Engine started, we turned head to wind and lowered sail before motoring the remaining distance to the Outer Wrach cardinal that marks the entrance to the fairway leading through the shallows to the Cardiff Barrage and the entrance locks. Back under power, in a confined channel with other boats fore and aft, only a stones throw from the lee shore on a falling tide, things got a little tense once again, but before long we were tied up along side the pontoon in Lock 3 and locking up into Cardiff Bay.

The waters of the bay were comparatively sheltered behind the barrage, a completely different world to the Bristol Channel beyond the protective wall. Getting our bearings, we made our way towards the visitors moorings at Cardiff Yacht Club and were soon settled alongside and making plans to head to the bar.

The following morning, still somewhat bleary from the excesses of the night before, we cast off a little after 1000 and made our way back towards the Barrage in time to make a 1030 lock out to follow the flood tide back to Portishead. The forecast was similar to that of the day before, and as we left the shelter of the barrage, the sea was lumpy in the fairway. We turned to port on clearing the Outer Wrack, and head in to wind and sea, Calstar bucked and wallowed as I hauled up the main.

The single-line reefing, thankfully, worked an absolute treat. It was the one thing left that we hadn't until that point, tried out for ourselves. I had at least a couple of fall back plans if it had for any reason failed or otherwise proven to be trouble, but I was grateful, although not surprised, it worked so well. With just the first reef in and a couple of rolls on the genoa she still felt over-pressed, so we lowered the main to set the second reef, and fed a couple more rolls on to the genoa's furler. With the wind blowing hard from the north-east, we lay her as close to the course as we could and beat east, close-hauled on a port tack.

Calstar leant with the wind, generally heeling twenty degrees or so, but coming close to burying her lee rail whenever a gust hit. Ben kept the helm, I kept a keen lookout, kept the log, and kept my worries to myself. The waves were about a meter and a half, short but reasonably orderly for the most part, though every so often we'd be hit by a set of twice that, throwing surf over the bow to wash up against the dodger and flush out off the stern. Calstar charged through the swell with the kind of enthusiastic abandon Jack crashes into the surf with whenever we take him to the beach, and with a similar amount of spray involved.

Abeam of North Elbow but some miles now to leeward, we put a tack in to head north across the Bristol Deep. Rows and rows of white crested waves stacked away to windward. However, the deep cockpit, guarded by the dodger, stayed completely dry. We held course past North Elbow and tacked once the South Mid Grounds cardinal was abeam to starboard hoping to lay Avon. The tide was beginning to slacken as high water crept inevitably up on us.

A little under three hours in, abeam of Avon, a little over four miles out of Portishead and erring on the side of caution we started the engine and lowered sail. The sea smoothed out a little as high water approached but not much and rounding the breakwater at Portishead was a little hairy. The now ebbing tide set up a back eddy behind the wall pushing back up into the wind, creating a line of short, sharp breaking waves pushing onto a lee shore and little to no cover until we made the lock itself.

Again, the little boat looked after us beautifully, and before long we were tied up to the pontoon inside the lock, waiting for the rest of the PCC boats to join us so we could lock in.

It was a fantastic weekend's sailing, pushing new personal boundaries and exploring a new port and new waters. I now understand why they always recommend that if you're cruising, try to do it downwind. Beating back home on Sunday was exhilarating, but could in no way be described as comfortable. It's also the closest I've ever come to being seasick, or suffering from motion sickness of any kind, though I've got to admit I suspect the over-indulgence of the Saturday night ashore in Cardiff played a more significant part in that than the sea did.

I still feel terribly, terribly uneasy when she heels hard in the gusts whilst beating to windward, through no fault of the boat herself. She's just doing what she does, but once my Enterprise buries her lee rail in a gust we inevitably go for a swim, and certain instincts are long trained and hard learned. However, three hours of beating back into the teeth of a F5 have given me a fair bit of practice now at managing that particular anxiety, and nothing but confidence in how the boat herself behaves.

Of other things learned or confirmed; the Sony Xperia Z tablet did a fine job as a chart plotter, and our new friends in the Portishead Cruising Club are a fine, friendly mob and did a grand job of looking after their newest members. Although, in the event, it turned out we needed little shepherding, it was good to know friends had our backs and they were great company ashore for the evening in Cardiff.

And Ben seems to love his Grandad's new boat.

Next trip is an out and back this coming Sunday, an early start at 7am to ride the spring tide up channel to The Shoots just below the Severn Crossing in company with a few other boats from the Portishead Crusing Club. Fingers crossed for the weather.

Looking promising so far.

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