Monday, 11 December 2017

Buffy: Guaranteed fifth place

I'm sure this isn't how you're really supposed to warm-up for a Sunday evening gig. But it worked for me.

A couple of observations. Next time I'm sailing in snow, I'm going to wear my shades; sure, no sun, but snowflakes really sting the eyeballs when you're beating to windward. Secondly, snow is much easier to bail than water. But if you don't keep it up, it melts. And perching on the balls of your feet in iced water gets very painful on the toes.

Oh, and in the end, we did better than fifth.

It's been a good day. 0219, and I've not yet wound down enough after the gig to go to bed. So it was obviously the right choice of warm-up.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Calstar: prettiest sky

Friday and Saturday were gig bound, so no sailing for me.

So I booked Monday off work and Dad and I took advantage of a window in the weather to sail up to Portishead Sunday afternoon and back Monday morning.

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In the three years we've had Calstar now we've frequently left harbour in the darkness of the early hours and sailed into the dawn. We've not ever left during daylight and sailed into the night however.

Spring tide, low water Cardiff on Sunday was around noon with less than a meter. We could've left before the water ran out, but decided to leave later and aim to arrive up in Portishead a little after dark. We both know the route and destination very well by now.

If nothing else, it meant I could have a relative lie-in on Sunday morning to recover from Saturday night's gig.

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Except for a bit of squally rain that blew through and quickly passed about an hour out, it was a gentle sail up, a deep reach under full sail with no more than a F3 out of the west to carry us along with the tide.

The light and the sky were exquisite, through the couple of hours leading into dusk through to the sunset itself, a gorgeous finale to what had been the gradually mounting crescendo of the encroaching evening.

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It wasn't cold, and once the earlier squall had passed through, the evening stayed dry.

The lights of the Clevedon and Portishead shore were very pretty, and the hour of sailing through the darkness up the four miles from Welsh Hook up the King Road after the sun had gone down was tranquil and quite uneventful.

Anticipating things being slower in the dark, we dropped the sails earlier than usual on the final approach to Portishead, turning head to wind off Kilkenny Bay and stemming the tide. The main halyard tangled itself up into a veritable bird's nest, but I spotted the problem before I released it and spent a couple of minutes cussing and muttering with Dad holding us head to wind under the engine as I un-nested it.

Sails down, Dad now on the helm for the last half a mile, I was focused on sorting the fenders and mooring lines when I just casually glanced up and saw a dark mass looming up on us. For a moment I thought we'd failed to spot another craft, then saw the bright flash of red atop it and realised it was the Newcombe buoy.

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The tide was carrying us into it at about 6 knots plus our own speed through the water. I shouted a warning to Dad, but he still couldn't see it in the darkness. I tried to tell him to turn, but in the panic of the moment simply couldn't remember my left from right or port from starboard.

I grabbed the tiller and Dad and turned hard to port to dodge the oncoming mass. Dad now understanding the direction needed, but still unable to identify the buoy we were trying to dodge went with me and helpfully gunned the throttle.

Newcombe slid pass, missing us by a good boat-length or more.

It was a salutatory lesson. I'd handed over control to Dad when we took the sails down but hadn't warned him the buoy was coming up, even though I new perfectly well where we were and what was ahead. Then I'd become distracted by the bird's next of my halyard and lost track completely, my focus now in the boat on fenders and lines rather than looking out, where it should've been.

Dad hadn't spotted the red flash of the buoy's light against the glitter and glow of the lights of Avonmouth and Portbury and hadn't seen the hole in the darkness even once it was on top of us. With the moon hidden behind thick cloud, the night was as black as pitch, but the shore line very brightly lit to starboard and ahead (and distractingly pretty)

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Safe into port we had supper at The Royal, overlooking the Bristol Channel. The views from their carpark are lovely, but whilst the food was nice, we both felt we'd probably have been better fed had we gone to our usual Italian.

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It was an easy 9am lock out the following morning for the sail back to Cardiff. The wind was on the nose this time, giving us a three hour, 20 mile beat close hauled all the way back. Most of it was under full sail, except for about an hour when the wind increased and I pulled the first reef into the main and put a roll into the headsail.

It blew through though, and dropped back to a lazy F2 or 3. We arrived off the Outer Wrack outside Cardiff about an hour before low water. Barrage Control advised they still had a bit of water in, so we should be okay if we kept to the channel, but gave no guarantees.

We gave it a shot.

There was about 3 knots of flow pushing against us, down and out of the Wrack Channel, so we crawled up the middle of it with no more than a knot and a half of speed over ground. Dad was being conservative with the throttle in case we bottomed out unexpectedly.

The spur leading from the channel to the outer harbour wasn't much more than a muddy ditch. As we turned into it, the depth sounder optimistically read 0.1m under us but we could feel the silt sucking at our keels.

Barrage Control advised he was reading 2.6m over the sill of the lock, but couldn't account for silt. We were welcome to try and enter if we could get there, but he stressed there was no rush and we were equally welcome to sit it out and wait for the tide to turn.

Calstar continued to push along at about half a knot through the outer harbour, dragging her fins through the mud. We were inching forwards and Dad wasn't labouring the engine, so we kept at it.

As we passed through the lock gate and over the sill she finally came free, and, so liberated, we pulled up alongside the lock and made fast to the pontoon, just in by the very skin of our teeth.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Freefall: mid-week gigs & weekend plans

The Horseshoe, about twenty minutes before the band went on earlier this week. Was a good night. Always a treat to have professionals providing the lights and PA. Means it's really easy to pack up afterwards. Just unplug and carry your amp to the car. I was home by midnight!

Still had a very hard job getting up for work the following morning. Old age is catching up with me. Mid week gigs ain't so easy with the late nights any more.

But we soldier on.

Busy weekend ahead.

Smart togs and best behaviour tonight, as we're playing a cricket club's annual ball. Will hopefully have time for karate tomorrow morning then Saturday evening we're playing in a lovely little pub just down the road from the sailing club; expecting lots of friends and family at that one so it should be most excellent.

Sunday I'm heading down to the boat. Dad and I are planning to sail up to Portishead on the Sunday afternoon tide and then back again Monday morning. Weather currently looks great and I have Monday booked off work.

Unfortunately, Nikki doesn't, so it's just me and Dad. But she's working all day Sunday as well, so she'll hardly have time to miss me.

In other news, it's my little girl's birthday today. I have the gig of course, so won't see her until tomorrow, but she's coming to tomorrow night's gig. I won't sing her Happy Birthday, but I might just sing her a version of Don McLean's American Pie when she inevitably asks for it. There is possibly nobody else in the world the band will let me do that for. And her brother Ben is coming home from Bristol for it as well, so we'll have all the kids around the house for the weekend.

I'm looking forward to seeing them, but glad I have plenty of excuse to be out of the house. I miss them, but I've gotten used to the peace and quiet and lack of inevitable disruption and find I quite enjoy it. Of course, their littlest brother Sam still lives at home, but he's unobtrusive to the point that he's a pleasure to have around.

My little girl is 29 today. That should probably make me feel old, but it hasn't caught up with me yet. Don't see that it ever will.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Calstar: dreaming of blue water

I mean blue as opposed to the silt-brown of the Bristol Channel. Not the "proper" blue water of ocean sailing; although that's always at the back of my mind, we shall leave that ambition for a later day. Walk before we run, etc, etc.

I think I've almost persuaded Dad on Plymouth as opposed to Torquay. I like Torquay, but would prefer to have it as a place to visit, and Plymouth is just so much closer to all the places I really want to sail.

When I'm not around, Dad visits the boat as much as we visit other places aboard the boat. So having it somewhere "nice" is important to him, as he spends a lot of time pottering about on and around her whilst she's moored up in her home berth. He likes the seaside atmosphere of Torquay and views Plymouth as being just a little bit too grimy and industrial.

I don't think he's necessarily seen Plymouth in its best light, so I've agreed Nikki and I will take him back down there for a wander about before the year's over.

Our current contract in Penarth Marina runs out at the end of March, so that's when we really want to move the boat around. Doesn't have to be then, but any variation either way is going to start to cost us money in short term berthing arrangements.

I'm a little bit daunted by the prospect of the trip. Although only a coastal passage, it's somewhat bigger and certainly more intense than anything we've done so far by quite some margin. Then again, if I were ever inclined to let a little thing like that put me off from doing something, I'd have never set myself afloat in the Bristol Channel in the first place.

Anyway. All of the following are just my initial thoughts and estimates. The one thing I do currently have is the luxury of time to mull all this over. Any comments or advice are always very welcome. I'm very aware this isn't anything anybody hasn't done before. It's just a first time for us.

So, the way I see it, the smallest I can reasonably break it down into is into seven legs. I can probably get two weeks off work in the spring and equivalent leave of absence from the wife, so finding seven stretches of favourable weather and tide in the space of two weeks seems plausible, even in March / April.

All measurements and estimates very approximate, times underway assuming an average of 4 knots over the ground, which I think is quite conservative:

1. Cardiff to Lundy - 60nm - 15 hours
2. Lundy to St Ives - 65nm - 16 hours
3. St Ives to Newlyn - 31nm - 8 hours
4. Newlyn to Falmouth - 35nm - 9 hours
5. Falmouth to Fowey - 21nm - 5 hours
6. Fowey to Plymouth - 21nm - 5 hours
7. Plymouth to Torquay - 43nm - 11 hours

Total 276nm - 69 hours / 3 days underway

The big stretches, Cardiff to Lundy, Lundy to St Ives, are early in the endeavour on purpose. In part, it's the Bristol Channel, so there aren't many options to stop off in between, and in part, it's the Bristol Channel, so if we get the tides right, we should manage an average speed over the ground of somewhat better than 4 knots.

On the Bristol Channel side, obvious bolt holes between Cardiff and Lundy are Ilfracombe or (a bit more out the way) Swansea. Between Lundy and St Ives I think we only have Padstow as an alternative.

Bristol Channel aside, which is a beast we know well enough, the two big, daunting lumps I think I need to worry about are rounding Lands End, and getting around The Lizard.

So St Ives seems a good staging post to time our rounding of Lands End. Calstar's bilge keels can take the ground happily if we want to, so the drying harbour isn't a problem. Unless the weather's very settled, I'm going to go around the outside of Longships. I'd like to do it in daylight, if only to enjoy the view.

And once around Lands End, Newlyn seems a good spot from where to stage our rounding of The Lizard. Once past the Lizard, everything there on is relatively straight forward.

I think the above, with bit of fair weather, Dad and I could probably manage on our own over a space of two weeks.

Alternatively, if we had a third or even a fourth hand to share watches with us, we could condense this into fewer, longer passages:

1. Cardiff to St Ives - 125nm - 31 hours
2. St Ives to Falmouth - 66nm - 17 hours
3. Falmouth to Torquay - 85nm - 21 hours

We would need assistance though. I reckon I could stand a 16 hour watch on my own, but more than that I suspect would be questionable. Dad's fine helming the boat under power or sail in good visibility and fair conditions, but he's a boatman at heart and not a sailor, so it wouldn't be fair to expect him to stand a four to six hour watch alone with the boat beating to windward through the dark of night whilst I slept below.

And, were it just he and I aboard, I know for a fact he wouldn't be able to leave me alone on watch above and go below to rest himself. So I think the passage will either be bite-sized chunks, or we'll have to find a friend or two willing to sail it with us.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Calstar: Bristol Channel webcams

There are a couple of webcams on the Bristol Channel that I quite like. The Porthcawl webcam has long been my favourite (the above was a screenshot taken during one of the October storms), but a close second has always been the Ilfracombe webcam.

Ilfracombe remains one of Dad's favourite destinations with Calstar, and following our last trip there this summer with the Lyndey Yacht Club mob, I think this year it's probably become one of mine.

They've just installed new cameras for the latter, and the image is superb. For a webcam, that is.

Having spent an idle few minutes watching it today, I was suddenly struck by how empty the harbour is a this time of year.

Then I remembered it is, of course, late November. Most sensible people around these parts are off the water now till next spring.

The last photo was taken back in August from up above in the town overlooking the harbour. Calstar is grounded alongside another bilge-keeler (a lovely couple visiting from Newport that same week) furthest but one boat to frame-left, by the bottom of the slipway.

I'm not actually sure when we'll get the chance to revisit. I doubt again this year now, with so little of it left, the weather turning cold and daylight growing short. And although jury is still out as to whether we move to Plymouth or Torquay next spring (in my mind, if not, admittedly, in Dad's), regardless of the choice, we'll probably just sail straight past Ilfracombe on the way down, intent on getting straight to Padstow or St Ives before rounding the corner.

It's almost a shame, but there is at least the comfort of new adventures to be had.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Freefall: An October evening

Talking of moments. I just stumbled across the above snap amongst my photos. I'm not sure who took it, obviously not me, as I'm frame right, so it was probably Dad.

Last night's gig was a much quieter affair, as you'd expect for a Thursday evening in Oldland Common, but still very enjoyable. The photo above was taken on a Saturday night in Fishponds, Bristol, at The Railway, at the end of last month.

That was a good evening's work.

I have this weekend off. Watching the weather forecast, trying to decide where to go and when to sail. Current thinking is to sail up to Portishead Saturday afternoon, supper in Portishead Saturday evening, then back to Cardiff Sunday morning.

I have Monday off work, but at the minute the weather forecast is strongly suggesting I want to spend Monday ashore.

In pictures

Steve Earley is a man I admire as both a sailor and a photographer. He sails a Pathfinder called "Spartina", a gorgeous little yawl that he built himself, and keeps a journal of his adventures in his blog, The Log of Spartina.

In one of his more recent entries, he wrote of a collection of photographs he recently had cause to look through that ". . . . when scrolling through them . . . . I could remember the moments surrounding each of those images, some a decade old, often being able to recall what I was thinking about while taking the photograph."

I wouldn't, in any way, compare my own photos to the clear artistry in almost every image Steve captures, but in this, at least, we are quite the same.

I'm privileged to enjoy a chaotic, kinetic, fast moving life full of rich and varied experiences, and equally rich and varied relationships. And all to often the narrative gets lost amidst the noise and fury of living in the moment.

Ask me what I was doing this time three days ago, and I have no idea.

Show me a photo I took on a beach in Weston in 2001, or a souk in Kuwait in 1989 or a dog and a boy on a sofa in Gloucester in 2016, and I'll tell you exactly what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I could see, taste, smell and how I felt as the moment was caught by the camera.

One thing that does seem to catch me though, more and more, is just how much time has passed since the photo was taken. It's as if the perspective of time passed is amplified by how clear those images still remain in my mind's eye.

Thursday, 16 November 2017


One of the contributions to the comments section of the previously mentioned Ormerod piece concerning the furore Greggs have kicked up:

What do you get if you spell Jesus backwards?
I rest my case.

That made me chuckle.

Comment: holy sausage rollers

This story made me chuckle; the whole outrage about Greggs the pasty shop substituting a sausage roll for the baby Jesus in a navity scene. And I chose my capitalisation and spelling with irreverent, intentional care.

Some of the comment that followed I found quite insightful though, especially Peter Omerod's thoughts in the Guardian:

I personally feel it's still far too early in the year to be putting up Nativity Scenes anywhere, involving sausage rolls or not, but I guess I'll have to bow to the inevitable. Halloween is out of the way, Christmas is as good as here. However, good on Greggs for scoring a double publicity win with a single PR stunt. It's certainly had me thinking about the convenience pastry chain store significantly more this week than I normally think about them.

Which is to say I probably thought about them twice. Three times, if you include my writing this comment.

Much as I enjoyed Mr Omerod's musings, one in particular made me chuckle:

"The fact that it’s funny tells us just how potent some of these key aspects of Christian iconography remain. A picture in which a sausage roll replaced, say, Alan Titchmarsh, wouldn’t have nearly the same effect."

I don't necessarily agree. We played a gig once, many years ago, for the Mess at RAF Brize Norton (a local airbase). It was packed, very lively, with a very good-natured, "work hard play hard" and exceptionally drunken, boisterous crowd. Really good fun. And one of the few gigs I've played where the bouncers had guns and combat boots.

At one point, they kidnapped our keyboard player from the stage and replaced him with a lilo.

They found it hilarious. As did we. Not so sure Jim (said keyboardist) was as comfortable with the joke, but it goes to support my own view that almost any ridiculous substitution is generally grounds for hilarity.

Besides, substituting a sausage roll into any pastiche involving Alan Titchmarch can surely only ever be a step in a positive direction in terms of increasing the interest and engagement of said picture?

Buffy: an unexpected day off

The forecast was an interesting one for this weekend just gone. An essentially moderate 15ish knots or so, but gusting to 35 or more. Things are around here are definitely beginning to feel autumnal.

That put paid to any plans for sailing Calstar, so Saturday was, following an hour of karate in the morning, squandered at home tidying up the garden and cleaning the kitchen. That pretty much saw off the day. The evening didn't involve anything more aduous than watching "Blackhawk Down" on Netflix and a few bottles of beer. I sometimes think I ought to feel guilty about drinking at home. But if I didn't drink at home, then when would I get the chance to drink?

We'd had a gig booked for early Sunday evening down in Bristol, which originally put certain restrictions on any other plans for the weekend, but on Saturday morning I had a call from the venue's new manager explaining that he'd been told the previous manager had cancelled us earlier in the year so he'd subsequently double-booked us with a karaoke. I'm never one to turn down the offer of a gig, but I have to admit I was almost relieved. I'd spent the week working up to it trying to work out what time we'd need to get to the venue to set up, and whether or not that would give me enough time earlier in the day to race Buffy at Frampton first. With the gig cancelled, I effectively had an unexpected day off, so freedom to race around the lake at my leisure. And I'd had the foresight to message Amanda a few days earlier to ask if she was available to race with me.

So I had a crew to race with.

35 knot gusts. I was trying, ever so hard, not to get my hopes up too much.

It was grey, flat and raining softly when I first arrived at the Club on Sunday morning at a little after 1000, so the first thing I did was go get changed into my drysuit before getting the boat out.

Which duly brought the sun out not ten minutes later. A light wind was blowing from a northerly direction as I rigged the Enterprise. Two minutes silence for Remembrance Sunday at 1100 and then we launched. Two races, the first a pursuit, then followed by a general fleet handicap, both races about an hour long and running back to back, the latter being a new format for Frampton. In the lead up to the start of the first race, the wind began to build as forecast. There was one other Enterprise on the water with us, Geoff and Sue in "Ghost". The wind, typically shifty as it always is when in the north, put a huge port bias on the start line but neither us nor Geoff thought to do anything with it. Ghost had a pretty grim start, about ten seconds late to the line; for reasons I can't explain let alone begin to excuse, ours was worse, and we were closer to twenty seconds late going over. The first beat was a boisterous, gusty affair, both Amanda and I hiked out hard for a lot of it to keep the boat flat and driving.

Since Hels retired from sailing to chase other interests, I've raced with Amanda a couple of times now, but both the previous occasions had been little more than drifts. We're not especially practiced at sailing together, and still find ourselves pulling on the wrong bits of rope and rushing the occasional roll tack, although we've mostly stopped colliding with each other when we do so (although I did in the second race accidentally clout her around the back of the head with the tiller extension). However, Amanda's quick on her toes, has good balance and is not shy of hiking hard when needed; although we started well astern of Ghost, the blustery, energetic beat up to windward saw us catch back up with them and pass ahead just before we rounded the windward mark.

They snuck back past us again halfway through, but with the conditions building through the race, our stamina paid off and we regained our lead again. And then, in the closing five minutes of the pursuit, we found ourselves ahead of and outside of a gust astern on a downwind leg that brought Ghost, Phil in his Aero and Ian in his Solo screaming down on top of us just as we hit the gybe mark.

The Aero left us for dust as we sailed high, pushing Ghost hard to windward. I don't remember if we broke her overlap, it's possible we might have cleared the leeward mark just ahead of them, but the wind had dropped for the last beat, and so between there and windward they inexorably pulled out in front to round ahead of us in the dying minutes of the race. Another unlucky gust accelerated the Solo past us to leeward shorty after, again leaving us untouched,fading just as the increased pressure would otherwise have hit our sails. Three places lost in the final moments of what was otherwise a great race.

The second race saw the wind building even more as noon came and passed. A heavy port bias but relatively short startline meant we all queued up and started in an unruly gaggle on starboard, with most of us tacking off onto port as soon as we were able.

I don't remember if we beat Ghost to windwards again in the second race, but we had a better start (which, to be fair, isn't saying much compared to start of the race before), and by the second lap were certainly ahead, but with her and a gaggle of Solos snapping closely at our tail. The OOD had set a classic Frampton course back and forth across the lake around six separate racing marks, including, perhaps maliciously given the forecast, four gybes; although even in the gusts, at least up until about then, they had been quite managable in the Ent. A few of the single-handers were capsizing here and there to keep the safety boat on their toes, but we'd not had any real concerns.

After the inital beat and the first windward mark at Yellow, the second leg of the course was a broad reach from the there down to the first gybe at Red, which turned into goose-winged run about halfway down as the wind bent to port. Ghost and the clutter of single-handers were just astern of us as we prepared to take the gybe, when a massive gust hit just as I started the turn to leeward. The little dinghy lurched violently, trying to claw back to windward and broach; already too far committed, I brutally forced the tiller over and Amanda hauled on the kicker to coax the boom across. A tangle of shouting and spray passed to windward of us as the boats astern, Ghost amongst them, aborted any attempt to gybe and instead tried to tack through. Our boom came across with a bang and a splash, Amanda and I hiked to try and bring the boat flat and hauled in on the sails. Buffy lept away like a thing possessed, gripped in the teeth of a huge gust.

The next leg should've been a close-hauled fetch, but I quickly gave up any pretense of trying to lay the mark and instead footed off to flatten the boat and let her plane down towards the opposite shore on a close reach, determined just to keep her upright until the gust had blown through. The compromise paid rich rewards, and we were already happily gybing around the next mark at Green-White by the time Ghost and the Solos astern had untangled themselves enough to finally navigate their way around Red.

The rest of the race kept up this brutal tone. A short while later, Ghost capsized, took a while to get back up, and so retired. We took one tumble, simply overpowered on the beat, my tiring hands not spilling the wind from the sail before the heeling boat locked the boom in to the water and a swim became inevitable. For Amanda, at least. For my own ignoble part, I stood on anything I could find and scrambled up over the windward gunwhale and straight onto the centreboard, keeping happily dry. But it also meant we were able to get Buffy back up quickly, still pointing in the direction we'd been going, and were able to get on with our race. Of course, an Enterprise being what it is, she came up swamped with water, gunwhales submerged, hanging on her bouyancy bags. The next half a lap was akin to sailing a bathtub full of water.

The rest of the hour was fantastic, physical sailing, hard hiking up the beats, joyous screaming down the reaches, and abject terror at the four gybe marks. We chickened out at two of them and wore around with a tack instead, but didn't capsize again despite everything the afternoon had to throw at us.

We finally finished fourth out of a fleet of twelve, the swamping that resulted from our one capsize inevitably costing us, despite our quick recovery. Of the twelve boats that started, six had retired before the end, so it's probably fair to say we secured our fourth place through simple attrition rather than any great merit due our sailing.

It's sailing like that which leaves me feeling conflicted and thinking twice as to whether or not I'm going to sell the Enterprise at the end of this year. I really enjoy the freedom and flexibility of racing single-handed, but there is definitely something very rewarding about finishing a hard race in a double-hander, about sharing the thrills and spills of such a race with your crew.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Of moonlight & evening classes

Last Tuesday evening after work; the lake at Frampton, very pretty beneath the moonlight. Back there again tomorrow night, in the middle of an RYA "Yachtmaster Coastal" theory course that's being run at the Club. Three and a half hours every Tuesday evening for 16 weeks, the instructor is running it alongside a Day Skipper course at the same time.

I'm finding this dual running format very tedious, it's very difficult to stay engaged. I appreciate the Coastal syllabus has to involve some revision of the theory we covered with Day Skipper, but so far the content has felt very "Day Skipper revision" heavy, so the three and a half hours every Tuesday night do seem to drag out interminably, despite the obvious proficiency, experience and charm of the instructor.

Not to mention I'm missing my regular, local Tuesday evening karate sessions. I'm trekking out to Cinderford every Thursday evening to train there instead. Same club, albeit a mostly different set of students, but 40 minutes drive each way which I've got to admit takes an amount of grit to work yourself up into doing after a long day in the office, even when you know it has to be done and it's always going to feel like it was worth it afterwards.

The course runs through till February. At this point I'm very much wishing I'd taken Dad's advice, spent the extra cash and taken the necessary two weekends out of sailing and the extra day off work to do the whole course in five days at a commercial training center down in Portishead.

Never mind. I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end.

And last week the moonlight did look ever so pretty as it danced over the waters of Frampton lake.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Calstar: lake sailing

I had a gig Friday night, but the rest of the weekend free, and Nik, unusually, had the entire weekend off work to spend with me. So the original plan was to sail up to Portishead from Cardiff on Saturday afternoon, supper in Portishead Saturday evening, and sail back to Cardiff Sunday morning.

The gig went to plan. But that was about it.

November 5th is, of course, Bonfire Night here in the UK. In previous years, this hasn't caused much of a problem for our dogs; most of them couldn't care less, and those that did fret took comfort from the confidence of the others.

This year, Jack who in previous years has been oblivious, decided that this year he was going to go all barky and hyper excitable at the merest hint of a pop or a crackle. This in turn left poor Boo, not the most confident of furry souls in the best of times, feeling decidedly edgy and anxious every time Jack went off on one.

So instead of sailing up from Cardiff for supper in Portishead on Saturday night, I spent most of Saturday evening like this:

It wasn't entirely the fault of the fireworks. The forecast wasn't exactly playing ball either. It was lovely for Saturday, a fresh northwesterly set to drive us up to Portishead. But the promise for Saturday was not so great; wind increasing to 25 knots and backing more to the west of northwest.

Hardly terrible weather, especially with the sun expected to shine, but as a general rule of thumb, I don't take Nikki out sailing with us unless I can avoid it if the forecast is for more than 20 knots. Add in Sunday's spring tide of the weekend (13m range) and things had the potential to get quite lively.

I nearly broke the rule and went anyway.

Instead, we decided to have a quite Saturday night in (that is, Jack, Boo, Lilly and I; Nikki opted to leave us to it and go out to bingo, a strange, infernal game the charm of which utterly evades me) and then go down to the boat on Sunday and have a sail in the bay, behind the shelter of the Barrage, before heading over to Mermaid Quay for lunch.

The advantage of Cardiff Bay is that it's typically flat, sheltered water, essentially a big freshwater lake. So even if it's gusting past 25 knots, it's still usually a relatively benign place to potter about under sail with the family.

There were a couple of other yachts out, reaching back and forth across the mile wide stretch of water under their headsails alone, and a charming little Drascombe Coaster called "Pintail" making a very fine show of handling the conditions. We spent a very pleasant hour in the chill autumn sun ourselves reaching from one end to the other, Dad on the helm and me coaching Nik with handling the sheets through the occasional tack. She made an initially grudging crew, but gradually warmed to her task.

Although I kept two reefs in the main and a couple of rolls in the genoa, the conditions didn't really warrant it. The general wind speed was in the end within the shelter of the bay no more than a F3 or low 4, but the occasional gusts that blew did push into a definite 5. Having the sails reefed down made life a lot more relaxed for Dad at the helm.

I think Dad would happily have stayed out there reaching back and forth all morning, but hunger eventually got the better of us and we dropped the sails, put in alongside Mermaid Quay, and went ashore to get a late lunch at a Chinese in Cardiff's Red Dragon Centre. One of these "all you can eat" type buffet affairs, pleasant enough food within the limits of what it was but wouldn't have been my first choice. However, Dad had remembered the ice-cream machine from the last time we'd eaten there, and the lure of it was too much to resist a return.

What the food lacked in quality it more than made up for in quantity. Sated, almost to the point of unconsciousness, it was fortunately only a quick fifteen minute trot back across the Bay to our berth in Penarth, managed without mishap, and then a relatively easy drive back home.

A most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Morning Lilly

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

You'd think she owned the place, the way she lords it around here.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

October: proof of life

The month is almost out, and I realise, with not a little surprise, that I've not posted up here since September. Life has been busy. October has kind of sped by. But I'm still here, and we're all happy and well.

Back at the beginning of the month, Dad declared that next year he'd very much like to move Calstar around the corner and into the English Channel. His opening offer was Exmouth. Not completely against the idea, but not overly enamoured about the restrictions of getting in and out of the marina there (can't get through the bridge at the entrance after the restaurant closes at night) I suggested we pick somewhere in Plymouth instead.

Not too much of a further drive, but unrivalled access to open water, and a day's sail from some of my favourite Cornish haunts. So rather than sailing the first weekend of October, we took a day trip (by car) down to Plymouth to have a look around.

The photo above was taken as we were being given a tour of Sutton Harbour by the marina office there.

I did open heart surgery on my trusty old Xperia Z tablet. The USB charging socket had been degenerating for a while, and had finally failed; either salt induced corrosion, or physical damage, it's led a demanding life.

I've been living with Dad's iPad and Navionics for most of this season and whilst it does the job, I'm not a great fan. I was going to throw the Xperia out and buy a new tablet, but in an idle shift of fancy, decided to have a go at replacing the USB socket.

The replacement part, sourced online, cost little more than a fiver. The tools needed cost a little more. Removing the back, glued securely on and not intended to provide user access, was a tortuous affair. I then removed the failed USB socket and replaced with the new component.

Plugged in. No light. Then I noticed a "stray" resistor sitting on the battery. A closer look revealed that in removing the back of the tablet, I'd caught the power switch circuit, and severed one of the components.

The same company that provided the replacement socket also provided a replacement powerswitch and circuit. Again, little more than a fiver, and delivered via the post the next day.

The red glow in the bottom right insert of the above photo shows the happy conclusion.

The Xperia is back in service. I'm not entirely confident it is as water resistant as it once was, but it's not as if I actually go swimming with the thing. Only sailing. In occasional rain and inevitable spray. We shall see how long it lasts, but every trip it makes from here on in is an unexpected bonus.

The weekends have been a bit full. By the time we get to the end of the year, the band will have played 46 gigs, and I will have been at every one. Realising I wouldn't get much chance of sailing with Dad with the weekends being so busy, I booked a Friday off early in the month and we took a trip out of the Bay and around nearby Flat Holm.

It was a very low spring tide, so although the winds were forecast to be relatively light, in the end the day delivered more wind than promised, and with so much water flowing, the numerous races between Lavernock and the Holm were in boisterous form.

It made for a lively sail and a very enjoyable afternoon's sailing.

The dogs and kids are well. Although in principle two of the three kids have now moved out, leaving only their younger brother at home, the middle one has been regularly coming home every weekend. He's living down in Bristol now, where he's settling into his first year as a science teacher, but apparently the convenience of our washing machine and tumble-drier are too much for him to resist.

And, despite his decision to work in Bristol and so move down there (it was where he spent his three years at Uni so he has an affection for the place) his friends live up here, so he's continually drawn back to see them at weekends.

Ending the month in similar fashion to how we began, Dad and I took another day trip down south to look at marinas, this time Torquay and neighbouring Brixham.

Dad was quite taken with Torquay. Closer than Plymouth by about twenty minutes drive, it is an undeniably lovely spot. A bit too "busy" for my personal taste, as it's a classic English seaside town and a tourist spot, but that appeals to Dad, who spends as much time visiting the boat whilst I'm at work during the week as we do sailing her.

Personally, I favour moving to Queen Anne's Battery in Plymouth next year, putting us within a day's sailing of either Fowey or Torquay as the mood and weather dictates, and keeping Torquay as a destination, and not a base.

Plenty of time to think about it still, however. And whichever new home we choose, getting the boat there next spring is going to be quite the adventure.

Once more not having any time to sail last weekend, I snuck out of the office again on Friday to go for a sail with Dad. In contrast to the low water spring tide at the beginning of the month, we had a high water neap; with relatively little flow in the water, the corresponding reduction in silt almost made the sea look blue.

With little wind, we simply pottered about in the Penarth Roads outside the Barrage, Dad at the helm for the three hours we were out. He's taking much more interest in the actual sailing of the boat these days, so it was a good opportunity to practice gybing and tacking in the light and forgiving conditions.

With blue skies and calm seas, you could almost be forgiven for forgetting that winter is just around the corner. But the leaves are almost all gone from the trees now, and with the clocks slipping back last Sunday, it's now dark by the time I'm driving home from the office in the evening.

I was still in shorts when running the Safety Boat for a Laser Open on the lake at Frampton this last Saturday, but we did have the first frost on the car windscreen when setting off for work this morning.

Summer is finally done.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Buffy: all change

Geoff (of the Frampton Enterprise "Ghost") collared me at the Club whilst I was helping out with their open day on Saturday. He's without crew next Sunday and asked if I fancied a sail. Naturally I said yes, and as an aside hoped for a little bit of wind to play with on the day.

Checked the forecast on Monday; heart sank.

It was almost as if somebody had thrown a switch and shut everything off. Big, heavy high sat over the continent apparently, blocking all the lovely Atlantic weather out.

This morning, it being wet but windy outside the window, I had another look. Things are definitely looking up.

I'm almost certainly going to sell my own Enterprise "Buffy" at the end of the year and buy a Laser. The lady that has sailed with me for nearly every race over the last five years is hanging up her buoyancy aid to focus on other interests, and I really do fancy returning to the comparative freedom and independence of a single-hander again.

Ever since I first introduced her to the Club, took her out for her first sail and promptly knocked her out with the boom during an ill-advised gybe, Hels and I have had some fantastic adventures over the last half a decade of racing together. I'm going to miss sailing with her.

So if anybody wants to buy a "well-loved" Enterprise dinghy by all means feel free to make me an offer. To be fair, a lot of that has been very rough love, but she's held up well all things considered. She's not a pretty young thing anymore, but she's still quite capable of winning the odd race or two.

That said, I'm in no great rush. We still have a whole winter's worth of sailing ahead of us yet, including the Enterprise Open at Frampton in a couple of weeks time, so I'm planning to get through that and then replace her in the New Year. Not the best time to sell a boat, but what I lose on the selling I'll hopefully gain on the buying.

The photos accompanying this post are just an exercise in nostalgia on my part; various shots of the two of us racing the two Enterprises we've owned together over the last few years.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Calstar: easy mode

As hoped following the turbulent weather of the Sunday after the Holms Race, the weather had calmed down a lot by the following weekend, so Dad and I headed down to the boat in Portishead on Saturday night. An 0700 lock was booked for the following morning to return Calstar back to Penarth. The harbour master in Portishead remarked that of a number of Cardiff boats that did try to make it back the previous Sunday, more than a few had returned, unable to make any progress against 30 knots plus of headwind and accompanying seas.

Forecast was for an unusual north easterly, but only to about F3 or 4, and high water Cardiff was expected for noon, so we were anticipating an easy run.

We had heavy rain overnight (and got utterly soaked walking back to the boat from supper at a local Italian) but it had ceased by morning, and the dawn was a tranquil, understated salmon-hued affair, with clouds slowly breaking up and clearing the sky.

Another yacht shared our lock out, also bound for Cardiff. There was a slight swell beyond the lock gate with the sea being pushed in to what would be the usual shelter of Portishead Hole by the north eastern breeze, but Dad was more distracted by the antics of the other yacht, "White Knight", a small cargo ship transiting the area, presumably out of Sharpness as he was sailing well outside the Kings Road channel, and the dredger "Arco Dart" just putting out of Portbury Dock a mile up-stream to really notice.

None of them were anywhere near to being in conflict with us, but Dad remains as allergic and attentive to other boats as ever. It's not a bad thing.

Clearing the shipping channel, we soon had Calstar's sails aloft and the engine stilled. We shook the reefs out of the main, still loosely tucked in from the end of the Holms Race, and before long we were set on a down-channel, south westerly course towards Welsh Hook and Clevedon. The apparent wind induced by the fast ebbing tide put enough north into the breeze to hold us on a comfortable beam reach, the little yacht under full sail, cutting just shy of 4 knots through the water but closer to 8 or more over the ground.

We could see a thick column of smoke back in the direction of Avonmouth, and read online that there'd been some sort of fire at the recycling centre there, requiring the attentions of about 50 fire fighters. I don't believe anybody was hurt, but for a while we could hear the distant thump of multiple explosions; I'd speculate they were tanks of some sort or gas canisters succumbing to the fire.

We made good time, the GPS log later showing our maximum speed over the ground to have exceeded 10 knots, probably somewhere in the vicinity of Clevedon and the Bristol Deep. Leaving the town of Clevedon astern we hardened up to a close reach, still pushing 4 knots through the water and with no particular pressure or heel to the boat, and laid a course for the Welsh shore and the North Cardiff buoy.

photo: roger gribble
We passed clear astern of Arco Dart at work somewhere around the Middle Grounds, clearing silt from the depths of the intersecting navigation channels, but otherwise saw no other traffic, the sails of the bigger, faster yacht White Knight slowly creeping ahead of us to disappear amongst the clutter of the Cardiff shore.

As the sun climbed into the morning, the last of the clouds faded to the horizon, leaving us with a gorgeous, sapphire blue autumn sky to sail under, the chill of the fading year warmed a little by the still eager sun.

The Penarth Roads were busy, with yachts locking out of the Barrage to race and idling about off the Penarth shore. We lowered our sails and put the engine on around 0930, narrowly missed the 0945 lock in through the Barrage by the time we were settled, so loitered in the outer harbour until the 1015 finally took us up into the Bay.

It's a thought I have so often, and possible express frequently enough for it to be a cliche, but the character of the sea, and in particular the Bristol Channel, is never constant. The conditions of this last weekend were so much in contrast to those of the weekend before and the Holms race.

Our return back to Penarth had been sailing in easy mode. If it were always like that I expect we'd soon dull. But every once in a while it does make for a welcome respite.

Portishead to Penarth, distance sailed 18.3 nautical miles. Averaged 6.1 knots over the ground for most of the passage, maximum was 10.1 knots. It took just over two and a half hours to get across, but the actually time underway, as ever, was almost that again because of the usual complications of getting in and out of marinas and waiting on locks.

Our mate Richie of the Lydney yacht "Odyssey" kindly picked us up from Penarth Marina and drove us back to our car in Portishead; more than returning the favour of a lift we'd given him back from Portishead to Gloucester train station after the Holms Race the week before.

A tragic accident on the M5 motorway on the Saturday afternoon meant that most of the motorway between Avonmouth and Gloucester was still closed, and remained closed until Monday. It significantly complicated the drive home, but it was hard to begrudge the inconvenience of the delays, diversions and traffic queues against the trauma, heartache and loss of those directly involved or affected.

A lorry had crossed the central reservation, colliding with two family cars travelling the other way; four direct fatalities in the two cars, and a mother and two children travelling in one of them bereaved of husband and father and seriously injured themselves. It's hard to comprehend or imagine the staggering, unavoidable misfortune of something like that happening to yourself or somebody you love. It reminds us of how lucky we are, how precious life is, and how suddenly it can all change.

My thoughts are still very much with those involved. We all spend so much time travelling up and down that stretch of road between Gloucester and Bristol.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Spotify: Joan Osborne

Love this album, it is getting me through my morning: Joan Osborne, "Relish"

Calstar: Bristol Channel Passage Planning

When we first took ownership of Calstar, almost three years ago, one of the first things I did was type the subject of this post into Google. As always, Google returned an assortment of gems, but the one I really loved was an annex to the Watchet Boat Owners Association webpage set up and run by a chap called Bob Hitchings. Bob sails a Sadler 26, based (predictably, given his obvious association to the website) out of Watchet. The annex detailed a collection of plans for ten of his favourate passages around and about our mutual sailing area, the Bristol Channel.

Now don't get me wrong, I draw my own plans, my own conclusions, and take my own risks.

However, reading up on what amounted to somebody else's experiences in a similar vessel to ours in the same very sailing area was an inspiration at a time when I was still very new to all this. It gave me something to measure my own plans and expectations against, and gave me ideas for the sort of trips that were within the art of the possible and reasonable to aim for with our own boat. Although Bob's pages were far from my only inspiration or source of wisdom or advice for sailing around here, they did provide a fantastic bedrock on which we've built the last three years of cruising we've so much enjoyed with Calstar. And we've now sailed all but one of the ten passages he describes.

At the beginning of this year I noticed the Passage Planning pages had been taken down, so emailed Bob, only to thank him for posting them in the first place, to express my appreciation and lament their loss. You meet some lovely people on the Internet, and Bob emailed me back pretty promptly to reassure me that he planned at some point to restore the pages.

A summer has gone by, and every once in a while, usually as I'm pondering what next to do with our boat, I have to admit I've missed those pages and Bob's passage plans.

I had an email from him yesterday evening, to let me know the pages had now been restored. I'm absolutely delighted:

He's also added a link from the Portishead to Sharpness/Gloucester passage to a PBO article he had published in 2013 describing a passage from Watchet up to Gloucester. A trip I've made a couple of times myself now, albeit from Portishead and Cardiff rather than Watchet, which is yet another tide further down the channel. It's well worth a read, the stretch up from Portishead to Sharpness Dock is an absolutely fascinating bit of water.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Calstar: Holms Race 2017

As I think I mentioned earlier, the forecast for Saturday 9th September in the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel was grim at the beginning of the week; Force 5 gusting 7. A spring tide running out against that would add an extra 6 to 7 knots to whatever you already had.

It wasn't looking too promising.

But as the weekend approached, the forecast for the really nasty stuff pushed back to Sunday and Monday, leaving us with a relatively more moderate F4 to 5 expected for Saturday afternoon. 20 knots out in the Bristol Channel isn't to be taken lightly, but we've managed worse.

The last time we sailed the race in 2015, we took 21st place out of 39 boats finishing (so not counting the retirements, a couple of which were in quite dramatic style), completing the 42 nautical mile course in 6 hours and 11 minutes. My only real ambition for the race this year was to not break anything and improve on that.

Saturday morning's HW was 0955 in Portishead, the start-line opened from 1100. The Holms Race is an unusual format. A simple course: the start-line is between the Portishead Yacht & Sailing Club in Kilkenny Bay and the southern tip of Denny Island, the North West Elbow cardinal mark nine miles down channel is taken to port, the island of Flat Holm to port, the island of Steep Holm to port, then back up to North West Elbow again but this time to starboard and finally back to cross the finish line off the PYSC clubhouse in Kilkenny bay.

All the boats competing pick their own start time from any time after the start-line opens until it closes at low water. The idea is to time your start to the performance of your particular boat so that you reach Flat Holm at low water, cross between the two islands in relative slack, then pick up the flood as you turn Steep Holm.

Low water Flat Holm was 1615. Back in 2015, in similar conditions to the forecast, it took us 3 hours 15 minutes to cover the 16nm down to Flat Holm. Being one of the slowest boats in the fleet, we were one of the first to start, but arrived a little early at the island to didn't make the best of the tide.

The risk, of course, is if you leave your start too late you won't get to Flat Holm before the tide turns. Which means you won't get to Flat Holm.

I had my mind settled on a 1300 start. This year, contrary to being one of the first boats to start, it had become obvious that a good number of the 54 boats that had entered this year were planning to start earlier, some of them clearly bigger and thus faster than us. I have to admit, the belated realisation left me anxious that I might've miscalculated something. But the lock had been booked, we were committed.

We locked out at 1230, the sun shining, the winds feeling light in the shelter of the headland. The lock was packed, and once down opened to disgorge us out in to the shelter of an even more packed Portishead Hole. We picked our way out through the crowd, intending to make our way direct to the start-line and get on with it.

Looking over the breakwater, the sea looked relatively benign. I'd pulled two reefs into the main in expectation of a blow, but thought, briefly, about shaking them out. Then I heard Bristol VTS report over the VHF to some outbound shipping that the wind-speed out there was 18 knots, so decided to leave the reefs in a while longer.

The sky down channel looked black and angry.

We'd barely left the shelter of the wall and entered the Kings Road, and were getting ourselves ready to go head to wind and put the sail up when the squall hit.

Slamming us broadside, the little yacht heeled to 20 degrees or more under her still bare poles, Dad struggling to bring the nose up into the wind, cold rain hammering down in drops as big as golf balls, smearing his prescription sun-glasses and effectively blinding Dad at the helm.

I briefly toyed with the idea of heading back in, but kept the thought to myself, not wanting to even tempt Dad with the thought that doing so might even be possible.

Dad gunned the throttle to bring the bow up into the wind, then cut it back, holding it there as much through guess work as judgement. I hauled up the main, both reefs firmly in, and pulled the kicker on tight then, as Dad guided the boat off the wind, pulled the genoa out until it was just shy of the two dots on the foot that marked the second reef.

The sails filling, Calstar heeled hard over to the wind as we stilled the engine and began our beat down to the start-line, a couple of boats in front of us and one behind. Misery like company; the sky was as black as sin, visibility grim, and silt laden seas were breaking over Calstar's bows as she ploughed through the churn of wind over tide.

We called up Race Control on the VHF to advise them of our sail number and that we were approaching the line. They replied that visibility was so poor that they were having trouble working out who was who and asked us to call again as we crossed.

We went over the line close-hauled on a starboard tack, cutting 4 knots through the water and close to 9 over the ground. With the hood up, we at least had some shelter from the vicious downpour of the rain. The squall began to ease, and with it the sea. We slowly gained on one of the twos boat ahead, which was a little unexpected but not unwelcome. Closing with the shore, we tacked to get out into deeper water and the faster flow and, having done so, tacked back again.

Sometime in all of this, at first quite unnoticed by me, the rain had stopped and sky had cleared, although the turgid darkness in the sky further down channel suggested more might be coming our way. But for the moment, things were looking up. The wind was blowing hard, but the seas had eased, and the sun was breaking through.

Things were looking up, at least in our little bit of sea.

We stood in towards Clevedon until we began to lose the tidal flow then tacked on to port to stand out towards Middle Ground. This put us straight in the path of another yacht closing from astern on starboard. I held course for a moment or two thinking we'd clear ahead, but couldn't be sure so tacked back, waiting for the other boat to tack of themselves, which they did soon enough leaving us free to tack again ourselves and push out from the shore to find the best flow of the tide.

The darkened sky down channel cleared ahead, instead pushing in over the Somerset shore and leaving us happily alone. The wind strength built and eased; we kept both reefs in the main but eased rolls out of the headsail as it dropped and pulled them back in as it hammered us again, keeping Calstar on her apparent sweet spot of 20 degrees heel, and cutting through the water at between 4 and 4.5 knots.

Leaving North West Elbow some way distant to port, it became pretty obvious we were going to be too early on the tide. But not as early as some. There was a scattering of boats around us, but a big clutch of sails ahead, already at the Holms far too early and another mass some way behind; the faster, later starters. The sea was intemperate, sometimes relatively slight and at other times eager to throw us around

Still over the deeper part of the channel looking for the fastest water it became obvious we were not going to lay Flat Holm. So as we passed the Monkstone Light we tacked to try and get up to the layline. Close-hauled and hard to the wind, the port tack set us slightly against the tide, our speed over the ground dropping from over 8 knots to less than 4, a slow, painful progress so we held it only for so long as we though we'd need to before tacking back onto starboard.

As we closed with Flat Holm the lead boats in the fast fleet astern began to catch up and pass us. Another short take to be certain we'd clear the rocky shallows, then tacked back to lay the holm.

We rounded the island at 1532, moving at 4.2 knots through the water, 6.8 knots over the ground and with 19.8 nautical miles behind us as we bore away to cross the gap to Steep Holm. Arriving 43 minutes earlier than I'd aimed for, it wasn't perfect but was tolerable, and with the front runners of the serious racers now catching us up, I was happy we'd timed it okay, with only a little bit of tide still left to ebb.

The short crossing over to Steep Holm was lively. A beam reach, I eased a little of the genoa out but soon regretted it as we cleared the tidal lee of Flat Holm and hit the confused race between the islands that forms past the Mackenzie Shoal. It smoothed a little past Holm Middle and the deep water of the main channel, but the race off Rudder Rock on the western tip of Steep Holm was in fine form and gave us an enthusiastic battering as we pushed on into it, our little boat charging along at a good five knots but taking the confused sea abeam.

We'd largely left the steerage to the trusty autohelm for the beat down, but I'd now taken charge of the tiller myself since bearing away around the first island. The Raymarine is a fantastic gadget, as good as a second pair of hands, but it has its limitations. Reading ahead the thrust and pull of the sea abaft and abeam is one of them, especially with a crowd of other boats about us to account for as well

We rounded Steep Holm at 1600, gybing onto port, and set off on the return leg, punching about a knot of foul tide, but the ebb fast fading now with low water on this side of the channel expected for 1610. As we cleared the gravel spit on the eastern end of the holm we hardened up a little to lay North West Elbow again.

By now the later starters were catching up, crowding around us or, for the much faster boats, pushing past. To windward of us, in a direct echo of the last time we were here in 2015, was a yacht called "White Spirit" of Portishead Cruising Club.

White Spirit is a boat of similar shape, size and vintage to Calstar. I think she's a Bavaria 26, although I might be wrong. And she's a hardened, veteran, proven Bristol Channel racer. In 2015 she placed in the top three of the Holms race; I think a Sonata called "Fantasy" took first place from her. I recall there was some confusion over application forms lost, originally assumed to be not submitted that caused some confusion in the lead places.

In 2015, White Spirit caught us at Steep Holm, slowly pulled away from us towards North West Elbow, then hoisted her kite and disappeared ahead. As the faster boats screamed by, White Spirit again kept us company for the leg back to the next mark.

It was, at first, a fairly deep reach with most of the fleet sailing high as if they knew something I didn't, so I kept with them, but let them mostly pass well clear to windward. The sea state smoothed as Steep Holm fell astern, so I returned the tiller to the autohelm and, with the wind abaft and now with the tide, let out the full genoa, but kept the double reef in the main.

Our speed increased as the flood tide began to take a grip in earnest. Ahead I could see boats crabbing up. As the tide bit and the miles flowed away beneath us, the wind was veering, heading us and turning a comfortable reach into a lively fetch as we all converged onto the next mark. As we approached North West Elbow we were on a close reach. I was back on the helm and the rolls were back in the genoa; we were doing 4.9 knots through the water and 8.4 over the ground, 32.6 miles now behind us.

And, just like 2015, I was both beginning to feel quite dehydrated and really needing to pee, but didn't dare leave the helm for the moment.

The hard work for North West Elbow proved worth it. As we bore away to lay the finish line, the lifting of the wind meant our course was back to a beam reach, with none of the genoa collapsing, "should I wing it out with the pole or reach from gybe to gybe" anxiety that a broad reach would have brought. It also meant that nobody else got to use their kite, so we kept up with the pack for the rest of the way home, only falling out the back of it in the last few minutes, in company still with White Spirit.

We crossed the finish line at 1827, 5 hours and 28 minutes after we'd started, and a good improvement over the time of our previous race, giving us a respectable 20th place out of the 54 boats that started. There were 10 retirements, presumably boats that had left their start too late and not made Flat Holm on the tide.

Although our time was much improved, our position only improved by a single place. For some reason our handicap has dropped from the last time we sailed. In 2015 it was 1159, whereas this year it took quite a drop to be set at a much less generous 1142. I don't pretend to understand the technicalities of the system. The only change to the boat has been the addition of a whisper pole; that might be the cause of the difference? If so, it's almost amusing, because I very rarely use it and we didn't get the slightest chance to even consider using it this year.

So I guess the lesson from that would be to lose the pole next year. If it mattered. On the rare occasion we race Calstar, we're only ever really racing ourselves. I'm pleased with the position, pleased with the way we handled the boat and especially pleased with the improvement we made on our overall time compared to the 6 hours and 10 minutes of last time.

It took a couple of hours to get back into the marina at Portishead, 31 other boats ahead of us. The lock was packed. We waited it out at anchor just outside the Portishead Hole; the wind had dropped as the race finished, the sea was calm and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset out over the Bristol Channel.

Holms Race 2017 - 41.7nm - 05:28 hrs

Today, the forecast was for up to 33 knots out of the southwest.

We left Calstar safe and snug on the berth in Portishead and drove home. We'll take her back to Cardiff and her own home in Penarth when things are a little bit calmer again next weekend.