Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Calstar: the long way around

The temptation to try for Watchet was hard to put aside Saturday morning, but in the end the choice was made for us. We got to the boat in reasonable time, I moused the new outhaul through the boom without any great difficulty, but as 1000 closed in, it was obvious the boat was nowhere near ready to leave.

Rather than rush things, and rush Dad in what felt like the potential of challenging conditions, we conceded to discretion and circumstance, and opted for the later tide and a night in Portishead.

Unwilling to completely give up the potential adventure of the day however, we elected to go the long way around, head out a little before bottom of tide and round the Holms before heading upchannel to Portishead.

I hadn't been near Steep Holm since the Holms race of 2015, so found the lure hard to resist. And in any case, we had new sails to try.

We cast off at 1245, locked out through the Barrage and nosed out into the Wrach Channel with half a mind on the forecast, expecting to find things quite lively. But to begin with, we found little more than a drift, seeming set to frustrate our chances on the Holms.

I'm always minded to be careful what I wish for in these parts. 

An hour later we were mid way between the Holms when the wind set in. There was enough of an ebb still left in the tide to lift us into the wind and past Rudder Rock on the southern tail of Steep Holm without our needing to tack. By now, the first roll was in the genoa, and the little boat was tanking along quite merrily.

The wind continued to build as we turned north around the island, sailing as deep downwind as we could go without the headsail collapsing. The seas were getting confused and boisterous in a race that seemed to be forming in the shallows off Brean, so we put the first reef in the main which didn't slow us down much at all but made things all together more manageable.

The run up to Portishead was a downwind slalom from gybe to gybe until we reached Clevedon around 1630 and I settled the boat on a deep starboard reach fetching Battery Point and put a preventer on the boom.

VTS reported the wind at 21 knots from the southwest; checking the records on their website later I could see that it was gusting past 30 knots at times.

The little boat managed admirably, her new sails performing beautifully. At one point as one of the gusts came through her speed through the water clocked at 5.8 knots, and I know the instrument concerned under-reads by half a knot because I still haven't got around to calibrating it.

We arrived up at Portishead to lock in on the first lock of the evening tide at 1815, after a little under six hours underway and 27.7 miles covered.

Once in the marina, an enthusiastic tail wind made coming alongside the berth a bit of a challenge for Dad, but he managed it with his usual aplomb. We hastily tidies the boat up and made her good, keen to get up to the Royal for supper and a few beers. 

It wasn't until we stepped off the boat and had walked halfway down the pontoon that we realised that we'd somehow managed to berth Calstar on the wrong jetty. We'd been asked to put into berth G12, but we'd actually ended up in H12 instead.

Supper was delayed whilst we put right our mistake.

The following morning was original forecast to be slightly lighter wind, but expected on the nose all the way back down to Cardiff.

We cast off at 1030 and stopped at the fuel barge to refuel before locking out at 1100. All felt calm and serene in the shelter of the marina, but friends coming in on the inbound 1045 lock-in commented as they passed us on the fuel barge that we were in for a lively sail back to Cardiff.

Web edged out around the breakwater and found a stiff F5 blowing up the channel against the outgoing tide. Pretty much as expected. We put the second reef in the main, hauled up the sails, stilled the engine and got on with it.

It could just be in my head, but I'll swear the new sails have made her stiffer in a blow and more inclined to accelerate in a gust rather than just wallow and tip over.

It was a wet, lively beat down the Kings Road towards Clevedon, but once out of the confines of the channel, we tacked onto port and were then able to lay the Welsh shore.

The sun shone bright beneath a cloud freckled sky all the way across. The sea was occasionally lively, but as the ebb tide found its pace the wind became more predictable in pressure at least, so I shook out the second reef from the main and rolled the genoa in or out dependent upon how hard it was blowing and how far she was heeling to it.

The stiffness of the boat might have been in my head, but the acceleration definitely was not. Close hauled  and beating through a moderately enthusiastic Bristol Channel chop, we still frequently pushed past 4 knots, touching 4.7 at one point. 

With the old sails these sorts of conditions would have slowed us to less than 3. The last time I beat from Portishead to Cardiff against a F5, it took close to five hours.

This time it took three and a half.

We passed the Outer Wrack at 1427, locking back into the Barrage at 1445 and securing ourselves alongside our berth back in Penarth at 1515.

The moment I stepped off the boat and onto the jetty with our shorelines, the rain began.

You'd think, after all that, it could've held off just another mere half an hour. But I didn't really have cause to complain, it had been a fantastic sail over.

A little over 4 hours underway and 20.9 miles covered.

The drive home was uneventful, an hour and twenty minutes on the motorway and not much in the way of traffic to slow us. The Severn Bridge is becoming something of a familiar sight to me these days, both from above and below.

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