Thursday, 6 July 2017

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.

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