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

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

The Outsider

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

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

Calstar: The Chase

The chase #bristolchannel #yacht #sailing #cardiffbay

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

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.

A gratuitous mutt shot

My three furry friends. Lilly and Jack (left & centre) are not particularly enjoying the heat of the weather at the moment. Boo (right) doesn't seem to care.

The lawn, as you can tell, is in a terrible state. But I am staying on top of the grass cutting, such as it is, for a change. In fact, that will be tonight's job after I've finished work.