Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Cardiff & Fairford

I can always tell it was a good weekend when I reflect back once it's done and can't remember what I was doing Friday evening. Or that could just be the mental vaguaries of old age slowly but inevitably encroaching, or more likely the consequence of inevitable various over-indulgences slowly creeping up on me. Perhaps.

But it was a great weekend.

Saturday: Dad and I took "Calstar" out for the day. The forecast was west to south west blowing a 4 or 5, expected to build through the day and then drop back off into the evening. A friend from Lydney had originally suggested they might sail down to Sully Island for a late lunch before heading back to either Cardiff or Portishead, so we were of half a mind to join them. Sully Island is a small, tidal island just under five hundred meters off the north coast of the Bristol Channel, mid way between Penarth and Barry, and apparently provides a decent bit of shelter between it and the land when the wind is in the west.

We locked out of Portishead for 1030, an hour after high water. Conditions were pretty much as I'd expected from the forecast, with the wind against the ebb tide whipping up frequent white horses off a confused and sometimes turbulent short swell. By 1100, we were beating into it, both reefs in the main and the genoa rolled down to about half, the little yacht making a happy if frequently wet 3 to 4 knots under her short sail. The day was warm, the spray little discomfort, so although we kept the companionway hatch pulled shut, we left the cockpit spray-hood down.

Over the first hour or so as the tide really bit in, the wind and seas built until they became quite hard work despite the deep reefing, the gusts pushing Calstar hard over when they hit. Out over Middle Grounds serried rows of vicious looking, shoaling breakers marched away into the distance and we beat towards them on port tack. The set of the genoa, so deeply rolled, was exceptionally poor, the leech indecorously twisting away because of the shallow angle of the working sheet. In anticipation of the need to tack approaching, I adjusted the windward genoa car forwards to improve the angle of the sheet, but the sprung punger that is supposed to pin the car to the rail jammed up, leaving the car running loose.

A somewhat frenetic five minutes was spent leaning over the windward coaming, trying to free the pin, but the shoals and shallows of Middle Grounds were coming up fast, so we furled the genoa away and tacked under main alone.

The boat speed dropped whilst Dad and I fiddled with the now disabled genoa fairlead. Then I ran the car free off the forward end of the rail, which meant we were able to work on the thing from below and in the comfort of the cockpit. Within a few short minutes, with liberal use of a pair of pliars (tapping as well as pinching and twisting), the pin was locking down once more, and the genoa car replaced on the rail in its new forward position.

We redeployed the genoa, still deeply rolled, but now setting much better on the starboard tack. Dad persuaded me to leave the opposite genoa car well enough alone however until we were once more safely back in port, and simply suffer the poor set of the sail on every other beat.

Clearing Clevedon astern, we'd been keeping an eye out for sight of any other sails, half hoping to see our friends from Lydney but not sure they'd even set out. With conditions still building, Dad and I reconsidered our options and decided to duck into the shelter of Cardiff instead of Sully Island. Swapping an unknown for a known and the promise of a quayside mooring, a pub and a pint for lunch was beginning to look by far the more sensible option.

Almost as if on the back of the decision, as we beat out towards Newport Deep, clearing the Middle Grounds to starboard, the sea state began to ease, the winds abating a little, albeit heading us as they did so. Our plans revised though, we stuck to our new decision and continued on towards Cardiff.

Entering the Penarth Roads behind the shelter of Lavernock Point, I could see the blue sails of Penarth Yacht Club's Enterprise fleet heading out to race. We struck sail and started the engine, and called up the Barrage on VHF to request a lock in to the bay. Picking our way down the Wrach Channel for the final approach was interesting so late on the tide. The channel is dredged but narrow, and the channel markers that marked the spur that led from the Wrach Channel to the outer harbour sheltering the barrage locks were sat high on mud banks on either side. Other than the slight, tell-tail ripples at the waters edge, it was hard to spot where the silt laden waters stopped and the mud banks began, and could only take comfort from the thought that if we did ground, it would be soft, sheltered and although on a falling tide, not many hours to wait for the flood to lift us again.

In the event, we picked the right path and soon enough were locking into the bay, the lock gates closing behind us at 1417, a little under four hours since leaving Portishead.

On the way over to Mermaid Quay, we spotted a stray white fender drifting abandoned and lost, and brought it aboard with the boat-hook. That makes good the one I lost in Portishead Hole a couple of months ago. The visitors moorings at Mermaid Quay were easy to access with plenty of space, and a coded gate securing the pontoons from the thronging public on the quay itself. By 1500, with Calstar secured alongside, Dad and I went ashore, found a pub overlooking the bay where we could relax with a very welcome pint of ale for our late lunch.

An hour and a half later, we cast off and headed back out to the Barrage. Calling them up on the VHF, Barrage Control confirmed us a slot for the 1730 lock. High water was due at Portishead for 2146, so I felt quite happy with the timings. By 1800 the sails were set to a broad reach laid to pass us just north of the shallows of Cardiff Grounds. The winds were much lighter than earlier in the day, and so we made our way at 3 to 4 knots happily under full sail over a calm sea.

The winds continued to drop. With the tide under us, our speed over ground was still 6 knots or more, but worryingly the GPS was suggesting an ETA of gone 2200 and increasing. By about 1830, this had slipped to gone 2300. Downwind, the ETA on the plotter has always been pretty much spot on, and we were now in the full grip of the tide. With high water due a little before 10pm, it was clear that an expected arrival of post 11pm wouldn't see us make it before the tide turned foul and stopped us in our tracks.

Reluctantly, because the run was so pleasant, I furled the genoa, started the engine and proceeded to motor-sail.

Our SOG picked up to 11 knots as we entered the Bristol Deep, but the ETA remained determindly unmoved. It was at that point, faced by all these confounding and contrary indicators that I realised my mistake: I'd neglected to tell the plotter to "Start Follow" so rather than doing its course calculations relative to our present speed and position, it was using whatever default speed it has set (which I've been unable to either determine or influence) and expecting us to start from Cardiff, when in fact we were already half way home.

Feeling the fool, but relieved we were not going to spend the night out in the Bristol Channel, I pressed the "follow" button on the plotter, stilled the engine and redeployed the genoa. Our ETA was now a much more optimistic 1928.

The rest of the trip was tranquil and totally lacking in mishap or drama, a lovely reach home over benign seas on a gentle breeze beneath a gorgeous, dusky sky. We passed a couple of big car transports, one inbound, the other outbound from Royal Portbury, and eventually dropped sail a little after 1930 outside Portishead, locking in for 2000.

Just over eight hours on the water and 40 miles covered. A great day's sailing. Interestingly, I let the prop free-wheel in neutral all the way back from Cardiff, with no sign of the previous grinding and vibration. Best guess it was something, fishing line or other plastic, jammed in the rope cutter and now clear. That is a relief.

Sunday: another early start, but for a change the theme of the day was planes and not boats, the early start concerned with cheating the traffic rather than catching a tide.

I rarely mention the "day job" here, and don't mean to change that habit now. Although the work is IT based and focused on finance and insurance, one of the number of shared interests my long time friend and business partner and I have in common is in aviation. Pretty much most years, our company has done "something" extra-curricular for our customers, supporters and staff. Some many few years ago, as much to give ourselves the excuse to go, one of those events was to invite them to the annual air-show at nearby Fairford (the Royal International Air Tattoo, or "RIAT" in short).

Out of that, something of a tradition formed, where colleagues from a couple of the companies we invited returned the favour in the following years, and so the annual invite has worked round-robin amongst the three parties ever since.

It was a great day, and a brilliant show. The Red Arrows stole it as usual, or if we were actually awarding points, perhaps the Vulcan by a narrow margin and through merit of it likely being the last time I'll see her fly. The WWII aircraft were fantastic. No Lancaster this year unfortunately, but there was a restored Bristol Blenheim, a Messerschmitt BF-109 and a veritable swarm of Spitfires; more than I've ever seen in one place at any one time. I don't think you can ever tire of the sight or sound of a Spitfire.

Whether it's the elegant, deadly grace of a Spitfire, the brutal menace of a MiG-29 or the improbable agility and tumbling aerobatics of a modern Typhoon, it's very hard as you watch them not to reflect on how far we've come in so little over 100 years; albeit mostly in the name of killing each other.

The weather was very kind this year; we had actual blue skies by the afternoon. Funny enough, although such weather inarguably makes for better flying and more comfortable viewing, I sometimes think squally, storm-troubled skies and battling rain often make for the more dramatic photos, even if it can be difficult working the detail of the aircraft in the inevitably lessened light. Still, photographic drama aside, I was quite happy not having to have to grapple with it for a change, so the sunshine was very welcome.

The camera on my phone is good for all sorts of things, but this one time I think circumstances out-classed it, so I took my Pentax DLSR with me instead, along with its 70-300mm telephoto lens. The resulting photos can be seen here --

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