Friday, 18 August 2017

Calstar: according to the maxim

Almost a week ago now, but everything fixed and the weather settled back down, last Sunday we cast off from Penarth again and made another bid for Watchet.

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

It was a cracking sail across; this time no Coastguards or Lifeboats were disturbed in the making of our passage. Determined not to muck about with tidal gates or silly deadlines like that that might interfere with the pleasure of the sail, we set off from Cardiff at high water and rode the ebb across to Blue Anchor Bay, a few miles west of Watchet Harbour.

There we dropped the hook, and relaxed for the day, waiting on the tide to run all the way out and come back in again to let us into Watchet. About an hour before the gate opened, we saw our friends of the Lydney Fleet arrive off the harbour, drop anchor and wait for the same.

So we saw Sunday night out in good company, tucked up with the Lydney mob in a small, cosy little Watchet pub called "Pebbles", drinking good beer and drunkenly trying to transpose the guitar chords of various songs I knew onto Eric's ukulele. I vaguely remember some singing was also involved.

Nobody seemed to mind.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Calstar: touristing


The weather has calmed down significantly now, though it's still blowing 4's and 5's and the neaps have given way to springs.

We could've put out from Cardiff today, but there were still 5's and 6's in the forecast down-channel, and nerves and confidence are still a little shot, both mine and the crews. So we elected to hold back another day and instead took the Aquabus up river to Cardiff Castle and played at being tourists.


We'll either head for Watchet tomorrow afternoon, or head for Barry in the evening and make a bid for Ilfracombe Sunday morning. The Lydney Fleet are heading out with this evening's tide on their annual cruise, so will start filtering in tomorrow and Sunday. There are friends among them it'd be great to catch up with, so I might sway my plans by what unfolds with them.


The weather should improve as the week wears on, so a little delay doesn't hurt.  I'm itching to sail again, but leaning to caution, as much for the confidence of my crew as my own.


Cardiff Castle was very interesting. We were going to take the boat over to Mermaid Quay this evening and eat there, but all the trekking about (and a beer for lunch, I suspect) has quite worn Dad out, so rather than fussing with the boat, we're probably going to have supper at the Spanish restaurant in The Old Customs House by the marina.


An unrelated aside: I thought I'd lost Sunday's GPS track when the battery went flat in my watch towards the end of our journey, however I discovered this afternoon that the track was still there.


It turns out we covered a shade under 37nm in just over nine hours. I'm not sure it's fair to count it though as about 16 of those miles were covered attached to the tow rope of the Barry Lifeboat.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Calstar: of events leading to the long tow home


Last Sunday’s forecast was typical Bristol Channel, F4 gusting 5, first in the west, then backing southwest. Our original plan had been to start the holiday off with a 42 mile dash from Cardiff to Ilfracombe, but with the wind on our nose, a 5 in the forecast and the reports showing the prospect of heavier weather coming in over the next few days, we tempered our ambitions; an easy hop to Watchet first, then a skip over to Ilfracombe on Monday, where we’d sit out the next few days of rough weather before carrying on towards our main objective Padstow, via a break in Lundy.

Meh. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

We cast off from Penarth at 0841. Intentionally about an hour later than I’ve previously left for Watchet, but we’ve always arrived with 2 hours to spare, so still with plenty of time. That said, I had been aiming for the 0830 lock out of the Barrage, but felt happy to settle for the 0900. The winds were light and the sea flat as we left the Wrach Channel and entered the Cardiff and Penarth Roads at 0920, no more than a Force 3 from the west, so we hauled up full sail and stilled the engine; closer-hauled at 3.7 knots over the ground, our course taking us past Ranie Point and laying west of Rudder Rock on distant Steep Holm, everything looked sweet.


The wind built as we pushed out past the headland. I pulled on some more outhaul to flatten the main, and cussed as the outer core around the control line frayed and shredded as it exited the boom through the cleat. Second bit of rope that’s chewed through in as many months. Obviously, a problem with the cleat, nothing to worry about. The core of the line would hold until Watchet.

An hour later, 5 nautical miles now behind us, the first of the squalls hit. Nothing unexpected, nothing too violent, wind building to F5, lots of white caps, but seas no more than a meter or so. Two rolls in the headsail, pulled the main down to the second reef, pulled on some more kicker. Strike two, the kicker broke free where the control lines attach to the mast step, the casting fractured.


Engine on. Furled the jib, dropped the main. Motored for ten minutes whilst I re-attached the kicker to another strong-point at the base of the mast. Re-hauled the main with both reefs, reset the genoa, engine off. The sailing was glorious. Lively seas, F4 south-westerly, gusting the occasional 5, broken sun warming our faces and drying out the occasional squally shower. Boat speed through the water touching 4 knots close-hauled. Around 1143 we let out the second roll of headsail. By 1215 we’d shook the second reef back out of the main.  Our progress towards Watchet was looking a little later on the tide than I usually allowed, but still within margins, and we were still waiting for the tide to turn in our favour.


At 1300 another squall hit, bigger than everything so far, the seas ahead stacking up in foam serried ranks, bang on the nose. An hour and a half to go before we missed the gate, and still six miles to cover, we dropped the sails and started the engine. With the tide in our favour, things were now on the margins but still okay. The seas thumping into our hull slowed us, but the engine, fairly recently serviced, had always been a stalwart friend up till now. I wasn’t unduly concerned, even running her at 3000 revs to push us into the heading seas we were well within its theoretical limits.


By 1344 Watchet was 4nm distant, our ETA 1423. Ten minutes clear of the sill lifting. Not ideal, but worth pushing on. The squall had passed, the wind was back down to a 4 gusting 5, our speed over ground about 6 knots.

About 1400 we noticed the water stopped coming out of the exhaust. We knocked the revs back to idle immediately and Dad went below to investigate, only to find a shade under a foot of water washing about in our bilges and over the floorboards and evidently rising. Assuming it to be something with the cooling system we cut the engine straight away. My immediate, possibly irrational fear was the seacock on the intake had failed. Running the engine so hard, everything was hot, and as Dad lifted the hatch to check the engine, fumes and steam below were eye-stinging.

Not knowing where the water was coming in, not sure if it was still incoming, or if cutting the engine had stopped it, and seeing fumes rising out of the companion way that, although later it was obvious was just steam I couldn’t right then be sure wasn’t smoke, I made the decision to call Mayday.

The response was immediate. Milford Haven Coastguard came straight back to me confirming my position, nature of the emergency, name and description of the vessel and number of people on board. They then asked if we had a pump; I’m embarrassed to admit that until they asked the question, the pump simply hadn’t crossed my mind. I don’t generally panic. I don’t think any of us did that day; but right there at that moment, when you’re trying to assess how bad, what to do and in full knowledge that the lives of my two companions could rest entirely on my call, I can’t pretend my decisions were entirely uninformed by stress and emotion. You train, you practice, you read, you rehearse. But nothing ever clears the adrenaline of that moment as the curtain first lifts and suddenly you’re on.

Hello spotlight.

I forgot the pump. Hell, I even forgot we had buckets and sponges or even tea-cups to bail.

I advised the Coastguard, said I’d set to it and let them know how we got on. I think I possibly even apologised for not thinking of it first, though I’m not sure. The man on the other side of the VHF was a calm, friendly voice. Asked me to set to pumping and to let him know how we got on.

The pump worked. The handle didn’t sit well in the housing and kept slipping out, but it drew and it spewed. Dad took over from me on the pump handle in the cockpit and I went below, throwing everything in the saloon into the forecabin and lifting the floorboards so I could directly access the bilge. I started bailing with a teacup into a bucket. Engine cover off, I couldn’t see any obvious ingress, and the fumes were still eye-stingingly choking, but within a few minutes it was obvious the water level was dropping back.

I advised the Coastguard. Through all this he’d spent his time routing the Minehead and Barry lifeboats out to us. Not wanting to over-talk, it was at times quite difficult to find a gap to call through to him. About this time the Coastguard helicopter made contact with us on the VHF, moments later swooping in over the horizon and then circling our position. He offered to put a winchman down on our decks with a salvage pump, but by now, with less than six inches of water left and it being very clear the levels weren’t rising I broke through the Coastguard and Lifeboat coordinating chatter and politely declined. He asked me to repeat that the winchman wasn’t needed, which I did.

Beneath the veneer of polished professional aviator, I’ll swear he sounded disappointed.

By this point I was merely embarrassed at all the attention. Grateful and relieved. But crushed and embarrassed. It was clear we weren’t going to sink, not straight away, and I was left questioning my failures.


On the heels of the Coastguard chopper, both of the Minehead RNLI RIBs found us; the B Class Inshore reaching us first, followed by their smaller D Class. They each put a guy aboard and attached a line to control our drift.


With water still sloshing around the bilges, Charlie from the B Class came below with me to try and identify the source of the leak. Both guys were friendly, cheerful, exuded confidence and reassurance. I was horrified at having had to call them out, embarrassed, afraid for my boat and crew, holding it all together but feeling pretty distraught. And Charlie remarked, with a big grin, “Don’t worry about it, I was only out shopping”.


A restart of the engine, with Charlie’s torch shining into the engine room, quickly confirmed the engine was pumping the water in to the hull. But neither of us could work out from where. By now the Trent Class All Weather Lifeboat from Barry had joined us as well. Happy no more water was coming in with the engine cut, I was prepared to sail back to Penarth, albeit looking at a ten-hour run back against a foul tide. The Lifeboat boys weren’t happy to let us go however, not being certain exactly where the water was coming in. There is a lot of space beneath the water and fuel tanks you simply can’t see behind the engine. I can’t say I didn’t share their concerns, so we accepted a tow back to Penarth from the Barry Lifeboat. Everything nearby on the south coast had now been closed off to us by the tide.


The Barry Lifeboat put their own man aboard and Charlie and his colleague left us back to their own boats. Mark, the guy from the Barry Lifeboat, made his own assessment of the situation, then attached the Lifeboat’s towline to our bow cleat using a spectra bridle. Mark, just like Charlie and his mate from Minehead, was brilliant. Confident, reassuring, friendly; an enthusiast and a volunteer. And a yachtsman. He and I took turns at Calstar’s helm keeping her behind the Barry boat as she hauled us back across the Bristol Channel to home. 2000hp of diesel engine is, it appears, what it takes to get a Westerly Griffon surfing down waves.


I exaggerate. I don’t think we actually got her surfing. But with a stiff wind over an outgoing, foul tide, the waves swelling in from astern got quite big and enthusiastic at times, and we did, through most of the tow home, clock 8.5 knots through the water, a number I never thought to see on any of poor old Calstar’s dials other than the depth meter.


A little after 1700 the Barry Lifeboat handed us over to the Penarth Lifeboat Station’s RIB and they pulled us in through the Cardiff Barrage, leaving us alongside the pontoon outside Penarth Quays Marina.


That was Sunday. It’s now Wednesday, and we’re repaired and ready to go again, but pinning down in Cardiff by the weather for the next day or two. The problem turned out to be a failed waterlock on the exhaust, unhelpfully sited beneath the water tank behind the engine compartment, completely invisible to inspection and inaccessible to repair. Our immediate worry was we’d have to lift the engine and water tank out to get to it, but Matt, a local engineer who works for Wigmore Wright Marine Services here in Penarth came up with the genius idea of re-routing the exhaust beneath the floor of the starboard rope locker. It took two days, and although we’ve not yet had the bill we’re not fooling ourselves it’s going to be cheap. But at least the entire inflow and outflow of water to and from the engine is now visible and accessible. We’ve ended up in better shape than when we started, albeit still with the shame and embarrassment of having had to call for help.


Three days on, with plenty of time to reflect, I’ve run over the whole situation countless times in my head.

Dad knew the tract of exhaust running under the water tank was old and needed replacing back in the spring and had mentioned it to me. He’d asked the local engineers to quote for the job at the last service but hadn’t chased them. We took the view that it had lasted till now, there were other priorities on our money, like new sails, to say the least, and it would probably be good for another season or two.

We could’ve left earlier on Sunday, given ourselves more time, but tide against us, I’m not sure it would’ve helped. We had plenty of wind, I wanted to sail, I wanted to use the ebb tide to get us there. I was, in hindsight, wrong. I overestimated the benefit of the tide and ability of the boat to make way to windward.


I could’ve realised my mistake and called it earlier. Had we opted to put the engine on an hour before tide turned, we’d not have had to have pushed so hard, and everything would probably have held together. That was a clear failure to reassess the situation on the water as it was developing.

I could’ve called a Pan Pan rather than a Mayday, at least until I’d established whether we could control the water ingress. This is probably the fairest self-critisism I’ve come up with, though I can’t help think it’s just being driven by pride and machismo; I really hate the fact I called for rescue. Or, rather, felt I had to. But there was a foot of water where there hadn’t been ten minutes before; even once the ingress appeared to have been controlled, I couldn’t work out how or where it had got in. And I wasn’t alone on the boat. I’d put Dad and my wife Nikki in this position with me.


Engine on and pushing for the gate at Watchet, I could’ve accepted we were not going to make it and made the call to wait out the tide in Blue Anchor Bay. It would’ve been an unpopular call, but it was my call to make, and we were not pushing the engine past it’s certified limits. Six hours at anchor in a bit of a bumpy sea and not getting into harbour until the pubs shut would’ve been preferable to all the bother we caused by pushing our engine beyond what turned out to be its actual limits. That said, those limits were not what we thought they were, so we might have discovered them much further out to sea and correspondingly further from help, later in the week.

So we pushed it, like we have before and will again, and this time it bit us.


Even as I made the distress call, I was horrified at what I found myself doing, but felt I had no other choice given the situation I’d put myself in and, perhaps more to the point, the people I’d put there with me. The Coastguard were consummate professionals, advising us in the stress of the moment and routing the help needed out to us quickly and efficiently. The Lifeboat crews were an absolute pleasure to deal with. By far most of them (I think with the exception of the cox of the All Weather Lifeboat, who was full time) were volunteers, all rudely interrupted on their Sunday afternoon. But none of them were begrudging, all of them hugely enthusiastic for the work they were doing. If anything, they were enjoying our misery far too much to be decent.

I jest; all of them were sympathetic and understanding of what I can only consider my own stupidity for putting myself in a position to need their help.

It’s perhaps more than I deserve, but I’m grateful.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Calstar: Meeting the horse that throws you

I don't really do "heroes", I suspect it's the fault of my own ego. But there are certain people who's achievements, particular genius, principles or values I admire. Bowie is one, but somewhat irrelevant to this post.


Another, for completely different but more relevant reasons would be Frank Dye. For similar reasons to the latter, I'd need to add Webb Chiles to this list, although I'd hate to make him blush. It's my privilege to count him as a friend, although we've never actually met; such is the wonder of this Internet age. The former sailed a Wayfarer dinghy across tracts of sea nobody would've believed it belonged, the latter sailed a Drascombe Lugger most of the way around the world, reading of which many years later first brought him to my attention. Only to discover he's also done so much more, and is still doing. You can read about his adventures for yourself here: self-portraitinthepresentsea

Anyway, both are types of boats I've sailed myself, and love dearly. But have enough humility to easily accept I could never sail them to anywhere near the extremes these guys did. But I don't have to. They showed me what could be done, and a most fundamental level, showed me what I can aspire to myself.


But I digress. Or perhaps just evade and delay. One of the principles Frank Dye held, I'm sure I remember reading, was that you shouldn't expect anybody to come and rescue you from anything you couldn't rescue yourself from.

I admire that sentiment. I identify with it.

This Sunday just gone, sailing across the Bristol Channel from Cardiff to Watchet, I put myself, my boat and the people sailing with me in a position where I had to call for help. I'm not proud of that. Far from it.


I am very grateful that help came. Between our Coastguard and the RNLI, close to a score of folks put themselves out of their way on a Sunday afternoon to bring myself, Dad, my wife Nikki and our boat home safe to port after we started taking on water less that three miles from our destination.

And we are safe. We and the boat are back in Penarth; two days later with the timely and expedient help of our local marine engineers the problem is fixed and we're ready to go again, except the weather has closed in and we're now storm-bound until at least Friday.


I think Padstow is now definitely off the table. But we still have another week, so shall certainly make Ilfracombe, and hopefully Tenby before it's time to turn back.

Although having screwed it up once now, the idea of going back out there is a little akin to getting back on the horse that's thrown you. But it's got be done.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Calstar: outlook


Pondering this evening's forecast led me to wonder what it was currently looking like for next week.

Obviously ten days out is very long term forecasting, so I'm not getting my hopes up. However, it's looking promising. Predominantly a steady F3 to 4 south of west for most of the week, temperatures a shade cool but comfortable, just a little bit of rain due Wednesday.

I'll take two please.

Buffy: living in hope


Lacking a crew of my own to sail Buffy, I've volunteered to crew for a friend this evening at Frampton. Not sailed with Alan before, so I've been looking forward to it.

Least favourite kind of rain when I awoke this morning: vertical. Next to no wind. Drifting about a lake in a boat beneath vertical rain is no fun.

However, a quick check of the weather forecast shows the wind's supposed to build across this afternoon. And from the southwest, which is a normally reliable direction.

Fingers crossed for a good race then.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Calstar: going down along

Possibly overkill on the planning front, given the spanners the weather is inevitably going to throw in to the wheels of any plan. But I've got ten clear days sandwiched between two gigs that I've taken off work starting at the end of this week, and I'm going to go sailing.


Nikki and Dad are off work too, Sam is happy enough to stay at home to look after the dogs and Ben will be around to support him, so we've no real excuse to not take a holiday.

Dad wants to get to Padstow. He's wanted to do this ever since we brought the boat up to Portishead. We're a day closer now we're down in Cardiff, so it seems a humble enough ambition to try to achieve.

I want to get to Lundy. I'm realistic enough to realise that with Nik along for the ride I probably won't get to the pub; I understand the path up from the shore is a heck of a steep climb and steep climbs the lady is most certainly not keen on these days. So I'll content myself with just anchoring off the island overnight on the way down and back up.

Nik wants to come sailing with us, but doesn't want to keep "charging about from one place to the next all the time like you and your Dad always do" as she puts it. So I've planned a few rest stops; Ilfracombe, Padstow, Tenby and Porthcawl. There's enough in Ilfracombe to keep Dad entertained for a day, and he's not actually been to the other three places yet. Nikki enjoyed Tenby last year, even if she wasn't so keen on the ten hour beat it took to get there from Swansea.

It's all completely flexible. If we can get to Padstow then I will have achieved what we're setting out to do with this cruise. It does rely heavily on the winds staying in the southwest. If they shift northerly, then I'll scrap that idea and re-centre my ambitions around the north coast and Milford Haven instead.

Dad's not as fired up about the idea of Milford as he seems to be about getting to Padstow, but I suspect if I take him there he'll actually love the place. I don't think he quite realises what a big stretch of sheltered water it is. Or how many pubs there are on its shores.

It'll be the longest I've spent with both Dad and Nikki together aboard the yacht, so it'll be a bit of an test to see how well the three of us rub along together over a ten day stretch; I can't say the idea doesn't leave me completely devoid of the slightest sense of anxiety, although my worries are undoubtedly groundless.



Freefall: Parklife


Saturday night's gig was an outdoor affair. So it was a little unfortunate that Friday's wet weather persisted into the weekend.


The stage did enjoy the shelter of a well-founded marquee tent however, and the audience were variously camped out in the park all weekend or running around in circles for the duration, so seemed oblivious and to the discomfort visited upon them from the heavens.


I should probably explain. It was an running event where the enthusiasts were trying to clock up 100 miles in 24 hours running around the grounds of Cirencester Polo Park in the grounds of the Bathurst Estate. We were a side-show to distract them between heats and to keep their friends, family and sundry supporters distracted whilst they ran.

Running is an obsession I've never truly understood. I've tried it a few times. I think, academically, I can just about grapple with the lure of it, but emotionally it just doesn't connect with me. I say that completely without prejudice or judgement; I have plenty of my own obsessions that probably defy the understanding of other folk. Getting tossed around in a small boat, often wet and miserable and at the complete mercy of the elements is one such interest that springs to mind.

However, I can recognise and do admire commitment, drive and passion. And those people running around and around a muddy park on that damp, miserable Saturday night clearly had that in spades.

So whatever floats your boat. It was a pleasure and a privilege to play at their event.

Favourite line of the evening: "Please don't take this the wrong way, but you don't look much like runners. You must be the band?"

Runners or not, I have to say that by the end of the evening my own calf muscled had cramped up in sympathy.

Buffy: wimped out


The weekend commitments including a gig on Saturday night and a four hours of karate; the usual hour's class on Saturday followed by a three hour kumite training session on Sunday, which was fun but involved getting ingloriously punched in the head a lot by training partners and friends who are either younger, faster or much taller than me, or occasionally a combination of all three.

This didn't leave much time for sailing, so I dropped down to the lake Friday evening as the Club has been running "social sailing" sessions through the summer. Figured I'd either help out with the newbies if needed or get my own boat out.

Sat in my car by the desolate lakeside with a southwesterly gusting at least into the high twenties and the heavens absolutely bucketing down, I realised I'd been hopelessly optimistic.

Lorraine, one of the members from the Adult Level 2 beginners' course we ran earlier this year in the spring did turn up, clearly a similarly optimistic soul, but didn't seem too keen to sail once she got a closer look at the conditions, so I didn't press it.

I didn't even take the covers off my boat, but headed home to start the weekend off with a cold beer.


I spent the rest of the weekend wishing I'd not missed the chance. I think it was only having the option of the Enterprise to sail that put me off. She's a bit of a handful solo in a blow or with only a newbie aboard to crew, and weighs a bit much to haul in and out of the lake on your own with the water levels so low.

Really ought to get myself a singlehander. Think it's going to have to be a Laser. Of course, that'll mean selling Buffy.

I'm quite torn.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Freefall: gone loopy


I normally hoard my gig money like a modern day Silas Marner. It's a funny old thing. The money I make from the band is, typically, a mere single percentage of my annual income when set against my "day job" but there's something visceral about simple, grubby cash earned directly through hours of (occasional) blood, (unavoidable) sweat and (inevitable but thankfully infrequent) tears that is essentially lacking in the more ephemeral quality of a monthly wage digitally transferred directly into a bank account in return for unquantified hours of work sat at a desk in an office.

That, and I don't see the latter. I only enjoy the effects of it, in the roof over my family's head, the food on our table, the clothes on our backs. Granted, I'd very much miss it if it wasn't there.

Or if I didn't, Nikki would very quickly note the absence for me.

So the gig money collects into an envelope that I hide away, occasionally bringing it out to count it and add the last gig's takings to it. Silas Marner eat your heart out.

I don't spend it frivolously. I've previously bought the odd boat with it, a guitar or two, most recently it went towards a much needed replacement of my ancient home PC with something a little more current. It's often kept aside for holidays or weekends away. Like the two weeks holiday I've got coming up at the end of the month.

Always planned. Always saved up for. Never frivolous.

Except for yesterday. I bought a new toy for myself: a BOSS RC-30 Loop Station. It essentially samples sound, from an instrument and/or a mic, and then loops it back to you so you can add layers on top and create music. It's not exactly a new idea; I took my daughter to see Imogen Heap at the Bristol O2 back in about 2010 (who, I should add, has an absolutely gorgeous voice matched only by her technical ingenuity and imagination), and the likes of Ed Sheeran (who writes the occasional half decent tune that then gets played to death on air) has since made the concept pretty mainstream, to say the least. But the technology has much improved in recent times, making it significantly less technically complex and more affordable; a quick search reveals you can pick up a simple, budget loop pedal on eBay for about £35.

A friend (the kind of friend you've met through the Internet but haven't yet met in person; I shall have to remedy that, although in this case I have sailed with her lovely husband a few times AND held his not so lovely pet scorpion "Sting" in my hands) mentioned that they'd bought a BOSS loop pedal after seeing one used at a folk festival recently which triggered my curiosity (thank-you Janice) which in turn triggered an "I must have that" which in turn has resulted in the little hoard of cash under my floorboards taking a bit of an unplanned dent and a box turning up on my desk this morning containing a new toy for me to play with (thank-you Amazon Prime).

I could kid myself and pretend it's for the band, but I doubt I'll ever actually get to the point where I'll use this live on stage. It's just for me.

Needless to say, I'm actually quite excited.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Jim and his family, with his new boss

Gloucester Cathedral

No glass ceilings around these parts

Freefall: The Greyhound


A great night at The Greyhound in Longlevens, Gloucester last night. The place was packed, the crowd excitable, folks dancing on tables, and walls and, without prejudice, the floor if there was room.


Looking forward to going back again soon. Really good that between here and The Pilot in Hardwicke, we've finally found a couple of great places to play again close to home.

photo: matt willis
It's now the morning after, and I've just finished my breakfast; a large mug of tea and a mushroom omelette. No sailing today. Instead, we're off to Gloucester Cathedral to see our occasional keyboard player (and, not entirely by coincidence, also my brother-in-law) frocked, or collared, or whatever the term is when the C of E put a black dress and a dog collar on one of their devotees and re-title him "Reverend".


I'm being flippant. This morning, Jim is getting ordained as a vicar, something I've watched him striving towards for many, many years. Always good to see someone's hard-sought ambitions realised. I hope the journey that is sure to follow is as interesting and as varied and as fulfilling and as fulfilled as he has surely dreamed it'll be, and proves to be as great an adventure as it has been for him to reach this moment now.

All of the above snaps were taken last night at The Greyhound. I'm going to finish this with a picture from another gig, back in 2010. Not sure where or exactly when, but it's an old photo of the man himself, the Rev James to be.


Wonder if he'll be wearing a dog collar next time they let him out to play with us again?

Friday, 14 July 2017

Calstar: the ugly ducklings


I'm not a particular fan of swans. Thuggish creatures. They look pretty enough, but they'll mug you as soon as look at you. I do prefer them to geese. Geese are like a hoard of small dogs without an accompanying hoard of small dog owners following them about to pick up the mess they make. Oily, slippery mess that you slip on when you're trying to pull a dinghy out of the water or stains your sails if your not careful when you're trying to roll them away.

Really not a fan of geese.

Dad likes Swans though. He's watched these particular birds hatch and grow through the year. Seven hatched, seven still steam over to the boat to squabble over the breadcrumbs Dad chucks overboard for them. Apparently, sweetcorn is better for them; he looked this up on Google earlier this year. But as Dad then discovered, sweetcorn sinks, so is, overall, better for feeding fishes.

To be fair, these guys seem friendlier than your typical swan, less inclined towards hissing and lunging and trying to mug you for your bacon sandwich. They've been living in the sanctuary of the marina all year, so I guess they've gotten pretty used to boat people.

I'm not a particular fan of swans, but I've grown quite fond of these particular youngsters and their proud parents myself. Though don't tell Dad, he'll think I've gone soft.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Buffy: The Drift

Drifting #dinghysailing #dinghy #sailing #rya

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The Outsider

Breaking out from the pack #muttsofinstagram #dogsofinstgram #germanshepherd #dogs

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Calstar: The Chase

The chase #bristolchannel #yacht #sailing #cardiffbay

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Buffy: taking our turn


Wednesday evening was my turn as to run the race committee as OOD (an abbreviation of "Officer of the Day" for the uninitiated) on the lake at Frampton. This essentially meant that rather than sailing I had to take my turn to supervise the safety boat, set the course, run the race, calculate the results, supervise the after race bar and then lock up at the end of everything.

We each get a couple of these duties a year, plus Ben and I get another one for being daft enough to win the Boxing Day race, or was it the New Year's Day? Or perhaps we placed in both? I forget.

They can be quite arduous in certain conditions. My next one is a Sunday in late November so that's really not going to be quite so comfortable. Last night though was a lovely, balmy summer's evening that's proving to be quite pleasantly typical this year.

There wasn't much wind though, and what little we had was shifting about all over the place.

The last time I was OOD in conditions like this, I set a very short lap with lots of cross-overs in the course to try and keep it interesting for the racers in what looked like an hour that would prove to be a slow drift.

Then the wind filled in just as the race started, and the average lap time dropped to something like three minutes. They all had great fun, I was later told. Life on the committee boat though was absolutely manic. You've got to record everybody's relative positions in up to three separate races running at the same time on every lap they do. When the lap time is the typical 15 to 20 minutes, that's not so bad.

When that time reduces to about 3, your AOD ("Assistant Officer of the Day") to whom you've delegated the scribing duties grows to hate you very quickly.

Not wanting to get caught out like that this time, I used the full lake to set the course, trying my best to get a couple of good, long beats in, a reach and a run.

The little bit of wind we had held as I set up the starting sequence and cleared our three racing fleets over the start line. The first beat worked a treat, the handicap fleet cleared around the windward mark ahead of the small Laser fleet and the more numerous following Solos.

Most of the boats cleared the first lap in 20 minutes. The slowest handicap, a Mirror dinghy, took a shade over 30. Not unreasonable, so I let him carry on through without shortening the course, planning to finish everybody with a two lap race.


Then Wednesday night did it's usual trick and what little wind we had, for want of a better word, stopped.

The vast majority of boats made it back through, their lap time increasing but still finishing within the hour. The poor Mirror however, and one luckless Laser sailor, did not. The Laser finally crossed over the line a few minutes ahead of the Mirror, but the Mirror's second lap took him 57 whole minutes to complete.

We could've called it. If you can't finish within 20 minutes of the boat ahead of you (or is it the leading boat? Can't remember) then I think you can technically get scored DNF ("Did Not Finish" - we like our abbreviations in sail racing) but the two of them were grimly determined to valiantly push on and finish, so who were we to begrudge them the chance?

In any case, it was a lovely evening for relaxing out on the water, watching the little boats drift about the glassy lake. Unless you happened to be the greenfly that the dragonfly decided to make a supper out of, settled oblivious to us all upon the back of my hand.


So we let them finish, both the Mirror and the Laser, though I shoed the dragonfly away once I'd got bored of watching him sup, packed away the committee boat and gathered up the racing marks, then towed the Mirror back in.

Calstar: Cardiff to Flat Holm and back


It's only a subjective judgement as I haven't actually checked the log, but since moving Calstar down to Cardiff, we seem to be doing a lot more short trips out and back rather setting off and actually going away somewhere for the weekend. It could be because Cardiff is just so much more amenable to that sort of thing than Portishead.

Up there, you put your nose out beyond the breakwater and you are pretty much committed to going out with the one tide and back with the next at the very least. Out of Cardiff the tide is still significant, but doesn't really grab you until you've left the Cardiff and Penarth Roads and are out in the Bristol Channel proper. There is a lot more room to play and explore, and that's not even taking the fresh-water bay behind the Barrage into account.

Or it could be that this has, so far, turned into a 42 gig year. That much commitment to the band doesn't leave an awful lot of room left to slink off and play at the weekends. It might be I've got the balance a little bit wrong this year. Good that the band is busy though.

We didn't have a gig this weekend. However, a combination of neap tide and forecast meant I volunteered to help instruct the juniors on the lake at Frampton so Dad and I only had Sunday to sail.


Sunday's forecast originally looked like sunbathing weather. Bright, warm sun and only a little wind first thing, but building to a F4 from the west later in the afternoon. Crossing the Bridge on the way over to Cardiff revealed a seemingly placid estuary with hardly a ripple disturbing the surface. The expected tidal range was small at around 5m, even for a neap, so I didn't expect the flooding tide to have much effect on the wind even once it turned around 1400 to run back against it. Driving down, Dad and I discussed the options and formed a rough plan to sail out towards Flat Holm and back. Just an excuse to get out on the water really, more than anything else.


A couple of minor but unfortunate delays mean we cast off to miss the 1130 Barrage lock-out by mere moments so cooled our heels in Bay for a half hour waiting for the 1200. The sun was bright, the wind inconsequential in the shelter of high ground around Penarth on the western side of the bay. The lock, once we finally got in, was crowded, but the company cheerful enough. Pushing out in to the Wrack channel and moving out from the shadow of the cliffs on the Penarth shore we were surprised to be met by an enthusiastically stiff breeze with more south in it that we'd been expecting. The choppy waters and serried ranks of white-caps caused me to revise my assumption we wouldn't need to reef until later and we set the main with both reefs in and left the first roll in the genoa as we hauled out the sails and stilled the engine.


Dad stayed at the helm, and I guided him on to a course that laid us on a close reach in the direction of the island. The little boat settled comfortably to a 20 degree heel, crashing along through the water at around 4.5 knots, occasionally creeping up to a shade over 5 as the gusts heeled her another ten degrees over. The sea was playfully energetic, waves of about a meter breaking against her windward shoulder, occasionally throwing spray over the coach-roof and into the cockpit. Once out beyond the Cardiff Bank both the chop and wind pressure increased, and 25 to 30 degrees of heel became more the norm. I put a second roll into the genoa, which stiffened the yacht up but hardly scratched her speed, which hung pretty consistently around the 5 knot mark.


One of the yachts that had shared our lock out, "Alana" of Cardiff Yacht Club, held the same course as us, to leeward and a little astern, and shadowed us all the way out to Flat Holm, taking their own pleasure in the glorious day.


Approaching Flat Holm, the sea became rougher and a little confused in a race that had formed off the west side of the island, despite the lateness and relatively small range of the tide and it still running with the wind rather than against. Calstar bucked and jumped as she ploughed through it, spray washing the decks and dousing the cockpit, sea water running back out through the cockpit scuppers. It eased in the tidal lee of Flat Holm and we tacked, setting ourselves on a reciprocal course to take us back to Cardiff. The Bristol Channel being what it is, of course, this proved to be another close reach but on the opposite tack to accommodate the now turning tidal.


The tide now running against the wind, the race we'd previously pushed through had grown more energetic and gave us a good soaking before we'd punched our way back through it. A short while later I noticed Alana tack off under the island and set her own course to follow us back. They'd clearly had a similar idea to us as to the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon. over the next couple of miles they slowly crept up from astern, gradually closing the distance on us. I think Dad, who had unusually kept the helm through the entire trip out and back so far, began to twitch as the distance closed between us. He's still got an improbable allergy to the proximity of other boats, even though it's much better these days.


The lock back in through the Barrage was exceptionally crowded. We managed to nudge our way in, but our bow hung anchor settled a mere half a foot away from a big racing yacht tethered up ahead of us, and we could only nestle the front half of our hull against the pontoon, the stern half resting against the concrete wall between the end of the pontoon and the lock gate. I rested a fat fender over the anchor for peace of mind, and made doubly certain an aft leading spring was secured to stop us surging forwards once the water began to flow in to the lock. Alana had come alongside on the lock pontoon opposite us, and a little Sonata came nestling in between us, securing herself alongside her.

Three hours afloat, a couple of hours of lively, energetic sailing, and a little over 11nm covered out from Cardiff to Flat Holm and back. Dad sailed the whole way. I just had to nudge him back on to course occasionally.

It is turning out to be a gorgeous summer.