Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Calstar: Dolphins

I've been back more than a week now, and am aware I still haven't had time to write up the last trip away on Calstar. I should, and certainly shall, if only for my own benefit.

Suffice to say for now, and in brief, that it didn't all go to plan; family circumstances curtailed the planned two weeks to one, and Nik decided she'd stay at home and redecorate a bedroom instead of sailing with us. Again, a (not reluctant) decision made because of said circumstances at the time, so it was just Dad, Calstar and I sailing.

But it was a good week. The predominant themes being (mostly) good food, (consistently) good drink, bright sun and blue sea, lots of dolphins and beating to windward; lots of beating to windward, whichever direction we wanted to sail. Probably should've started out by heading east instead of west.

But then we might've missed the dolphins.

Of Albacores and South Cerney Sailing Club

I received an invitation from an old friend, Mark, to visit his new club on Sunday in the nearby Cotswold Waterpark; South Cerney Sailing Club. He's recently joined, moved his British Moth there and brought an Albacore, and their budding Albacore fleet were short of a crew for the Sunday morning racing.

I've been looking for an excuse to visit SCSC for some time now. Although they're based on a lake (a gravel pit to be precise) they claim to have been weed-free the last three years, so this turned out to be the perfect opportunity.

The Albacore is a 15' double-handed hiking dinghy. A 1950's design, the modern version has the original hull shape, but is typically FRP, and the sail controls have been modernised and updated, making the rig very adaptable to the conditions. It has an aluminium flyaway pole for setting the jib, but no spinnaker.

I crewed for a gentleman called Barry, who clearly knew his way around both boat and racecourse. It's always an absolute joy to crew for a decent helm. Over the course of the two morning races we took a 2nd and a 3rd place, beating both the other Albacores on the water, including Mark's; always a particular pleasure beating him because he takes it so well - and beats me often enough in return.

The Albacore's a lovely boat to sail. Very comfortable to crew, quick to plane and does so even quite close to the wind despite the weight, and seems to respond well to hard hiking. The conditions started off quite light and sunny, but built through the day, with a particularly nasty squall blowing through just before lunch, typically just as Barry and I were bringing the boat back into land on the lee shore.

SCSC have four races a day on Sundays through the summer. Barry couldn't stay for the afternoon, although we have agreed to sail together again later this month, but Mark rigged his Moth and let me take his own Albacore out for the first of the two afternoon races with his partner Olga to crew for me.

Disorganised and not used to the routine, we were late to the start, though Mark was much later as he hung back to help us launch. A much quieter afternoon on the water compared to the morning numbers wise, there were only five of us racing; a Laser 4.7 with a junior helm, another Albacore and a Flying Fifteen.

Although the earlier squall had blown through over lunch and the sun was back out, conditions were still blustery and the Albie quite a handful to manage and keep flat. Lots of hiking out on the beat, spilling wind from the main and sailing to the jib just about kept things under control. It was fantastic fun once Olga and I found our grove.

Despite our late start, we caught up with the other three on the first beat to windward and dogged the tail of the other Albacore for the rest of the first lap. Then they took a wrong turn on at the windward mark of the second lap and headed off on the wrong course, throwing us into confusion as we suddenly found ourselves out in the lead.

We finished 2nd, beating the Fifteen and the wayward Albacore, but getting beaten in turn by the young lady in the Laser 4.7. I have no shame, but if I had, I'd have still said there was absolutely none in being beaten by a girl young enough to be my granddaughter. She was very, very good. But then these kids generally are, and only get better.

For the final race, I gave the Albacore (and Olga) back to Mark and took his British Moth out. Unfortunately, Mark snagged his mainsheet around a cleat on the pontoon where we made the swap and capsized, so they failed to make the start. I was late (again) but made a valiant effort to catch up (again) on that first beat.

I did so, overtaking the Laser briefly, before she regained the place on the next beat and I spent the rest of the race trying to get it back. The conditions were still bullish, with some heavy gusts coming through which made for some exhilarating, spray soaked planing reaches across the lake.

And try as I might, the girl in the 4.7 sailed flawlessly, never giving me the chance to slip back past, finally pulling clear away on the last lap and absolutely thrashing me (and the Albacore and Fifteen also racing) once our times had been adjusted for handicap.

South Cerney is a big water compared to Frampton and deep, and was, as promised weed-free. They've controlled the weed over the last couple of years using food dye, and the result is subtle but seemed to give the water an almost Mediterranean hue in the sunlight. The proof is in the pudding however, and I was waist deep in the water launching and landing, and no reaction; my skin is fine two days later.

Everybody I met there, on the water or off, was friendly and welcoming. I'll certainly be back; in fact I've already agreed to go back and crew for Barry again on the 22nd. Much to Mark's (very tongue-in-cheek) disgust, as he feels that his "spare" crew has now been poached.

Of course, he's not wrong.

I still can't imagine leaving Frampton. Despite the grim, sorry state of the water in terms of depth, weed and quality, the racing is still good and I've lots of friends there that I both love socialising on the shore with and sailing against on the water. But Sunday was the most fun I've had in a dinghy in quite a while.

Perhaps it's time to join a second club, and lets see how the next year goes?

Friday, 2 August 2019

Plans; this weekend and beyond

Having not sailed last weekend, I then didn't get to sail Wednesday evening. I've been racing a friend's Enterprise with her at the Club, but unfortunately she had to work late so couldn't make it. I toyed briefly with racing the Laser instead, but discretion being the better part of valour, eventually decided to head straight home after work and took the dogs for an earlier walk than usual.

They were pleased.

Having no gigs this weekend, I did think about heading down to the boat in Plymouth with Dad. But Nik pointedly pointed out in a very pointy way that I think only a long-suffering, eternally patient woman can who wishes to make a salient point to her errant husband that we were going away for "a whole two weeks next weekend", so on the theme of you can have too much of a good thing, I didn't need to go away this weekend as well.

She's not actually technically correct. We don't head down to the boat until the evening of Monday 12th, as we have friends down for the weekend itself, and a couple of gigs booked on the Saturday and Sunday evenings. But she's otherwise right, as we don't come back until Monday 26th, if all goes to plan, so we do have two whole weeks of it.

In some of the quieter moments of this week, I was toying with the idea getting a bigger boat. Calstar is perfect for two of us, but she gets a bit cramped with three adults aboard. Although Nik suffers the trips away with us with good grace, I think it's fair to say she tolerates the conditions and does it for the sake of my company, rather than actually enjoying the confines of our little yacht. 

These days, with Calstar as collateral, the budget would probably stretch to something bigger, and that would (might) make a difference for Nik. But then, as Dad says, there are other more pressing priorities for the money, and I'd be better of showing a little more patience and waiting until such a day as I'd have more time myself to enjoy a bigger boat.

And, to be fair, although Nik would enjoy the comfort of a bigger boat, she'd probably enjoy a (long overdue) refit of our bathroom more, or a (long overdue) replacement boiler for out central heating system, or (much needed and long planned) a redesign and tarmacking over of our front lawn so we can fit a couple of cars on it (and a dinghy) and it stays looking tidy for a change with minimal maintenance. Because I'm a minimal maintenance kid of guy when it comes to yards front or back these days.

I'm also conscious that, in the last year or more leading up to his retirement this spring, Dad has been throwing money continuously at Calstar to make her pretty; new sails, new upholstery, new headlining, new spray-hood, new windows, etc, etc. A lot of it doesn't make her sail any faster (except the new sails, obviously) or in any way increase her value beyond that which she is, because she is, at the end of the day, a 1980's Westerly Griffon. But it gives him pleasure to have one of the neatest, best turned out little boats in the Marina (and driest - he oddly takes much pride in an unnaturally clean bilge, and that the loo roll in the heads stays crispy),  so who am I to judge or complain.

Of course, that money is never coming back, so if we don't enjoy the fruits of his spending for a couple of years at least, then it's wasted.

So all in all, Dad's probably right.

In other news, I have a ride for the Holms Race this year! My friend Tom of "Sundance", a 30' Albin Ballad out of Newport, has confirmed he's filled in the form and paid the entrance fee this week, and has a spare berth for me for the race. Really can't wait, it's going to be a great weekend of sailing. It's an odd thing to discover you feel quite sentimental about such a muddy brown expanse of treacherous, fast moving, estuarine water. But I really do miss the Bristol Channel.

Not quite as much as I suspect I'd miss Plymouth Sound and the seas surrounding, mind you.

So I have to decide how to spend this weekend. Saturday is a long overdue trip to the local tip and maybe an afternoon looking at bathrooms I suspect. I hope you can t

Forecast for Sunday is next to no wind and rain. Maybe I'll take the opportunity to go race the Laser down at the lake after all. A dose of Ibuprofen and a wet-suit should to the trick.


I didn't sail last weekend. Just the one gig, but a Saturday night, so it put paid to any chance of heading down to Plymouth and Calstar; Dad really doesn't like going down and coming back same day, but with two and a half hours drive each way I guess I can't blame him.

The kids came around Sunday. All three of them in the house at the same time, that hasn't happened for a while. Although it was the pitiful, painful state of my arm, specifically my right elbow at the moment, that stopped me from heading down to the lake to sail. The dermatitis was also a consideration, and the thought of reigniting it with fresh dunking; it's much, much better now than it was, but not entirely cleared up yet.

They cleared the weed out from the centre area of the lake last week. Tonnes of the stuff. That's given us a clear patch in the middle where we can race. It might have mitigated the snail problem that's triggered the allergy I've previously mentioned and turned the greater mass of my skin's surface area into an inflamed nightmare that's plagued me for a couple of months now.

Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to try it and see. I'm generally not adverse to controlled risk or calculated odds, but I really don't know how I feel about that. Interestingly, I've asked around, and nobody else at the Club has had this problem. Which is a good thing, but leaves me feeling somewhat isolated.

Misery likes company. Selfish, I know.

Anyway, back to last Sunday's gardening leave. My daughter Tash decided she was going to attack the overgrowth of the back yard with a set of pruners. She did a fine job, taking out whatever demons were driving her on a rampant Virginia Creeper that had taken over most of the shrubbery on the right hand side of the garden. It is, to my pleasure and relief, pretty much totally gone now.

Although I expect it'll grow back. Such is the nature of the beast.

Ben and Sam between them decided to drag out the old metal incinerator from the shed and incinerate the dried out cuttings of last year's overgrowth. I say overgrowth, but that's a bit of an understatement; last year I had to use a chainsaw to clear the worst of it. Boys and fire, somethings never change. It kept us both warm and entertained for most of the afternoon and well into the evening.

With three large dogs, I'm neither proud nor fussy of my back lawn. Probably just as well.

It was so good to have the family all in one place together for an evening, happens so infrequently these days. I didn't miss sailing at all.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Painted Ladies

She looks quite drab at rest, but before she folded her wings seemingly in response to my poining a camera at her, they were a vivid kalidescope of burnt orange, white and and black.

I think she's a Painted Lady. I learnt this week to my surprise that they are migratory, travelling 7,500 miles from Africa into the Artic Circle and back each year. I'm guessing as butterflies are such short-lived, transitory creatures that they do this across multiple generations, breeding as they go.

I don't know why.  I do know that creation in an amazing thing.

I'm probably not sailing this weekend. The dermititis is much better but not yet fully healed, my shoulder is repaired, but my elbow is in a sorry state; much pain and pins and needles in my hand. It clearly needs rest.

I can only rest it so much from the guitar, I have just the one gig this weekend, but I can and probably should rest it from hauling on mainsheets and halyards.

I raced the Laser for the first time in almost a month last Sunday. In a drysuit in about 25C. I'm pretty certain I almost sucumbed to heatstroke. And by the third race my arms had cramped up at the elbows to the point that the only way I could manage the mainsheet was to cleat it off and control the heel with hiking hard and pinching into wind when that wasn't enough.

Worse yet, I only managed a 5th place overall, about halfway down the fleet and my worst result in months.

So I'm pretty sure this Sunday will be a day for rest. And maybe cutting the grass.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Freefall: one step forward two steps back

photo: rog gribble
Between the cercarial dermatitis and the shoulder elbow of my right arm, it was obvious I'd be in no fit state to sail this Sunday. The thing that really brought home the need to rest my arm was my inability to use a guitar pick the weekend previously because there wasn't enough grip in my right hand.

I could, reluctantly, take some gardening leave from the sailing (quite literally, I spent Sunday tidying up the garden and cutting the grass) I couldn't so easily get out of the gigs lined up. So I spent last week religiously taking painkillers and resting my arm as best I could.

First gig on Friday evening at The Swan in Thornbury started with promise. I actually managed to grip the pick for the whole of one song before I had to give up on it. But having put the pick down, everything else seemed to be working well; the faster, more complex strumming patters that had defeated me the previous weekend were fine now.

So one step forward.

Or seemed to be, until I smacked the back of my right hand on the headstock of Jay's bass guitar halfway through the second set. Didn't hurt at the time, but by the last couple of songs my hand was beginning to ache. I didn't actually make the connection that night between smacking the bass and the pain in my hand, I just assumed it was a complication from the pain in my elbow, which had me worried.

By following evening at the Dolphin in Downend we were two steps back, and the pain and swelling were such that I couldn't actually strum at all, so I was reduced to finger-picking. Then I managed to smack the back of my hand against the headstock of Matt's guitar (there is a pattern here, I see), at which point the sudden accent in the pain gave me the connection between the discomfort and smacking Jay's bass the night before.

After the gig, I could actually see the bruising and obvious swelling on the back of my hand. It was actually a relief to actually be able to connect something with an obvious impact, and know that it'll heal in due course, as opposed to my shoulder and elbow, the cause of which still remains nothing but vague presumption and conjecture.

I'm aware this site is beginning to read more like a medical journal or an ode to self-pity than the record of sailing, gigging and dogs that it is meant to be. For that I apologise.

Anyway, two gigs done and out of the way, the wind was light on Sunday. It wasn't a terrible hardship to not be sailing. Or so I spent the day telling myself.

After a day of rest, my hand is, to all intents and purposes, fixed. Funnily enough, both my elbow and shoulder are giving me very little trouble today and I had a good night's sleep; hopefully that's a sign that things are finally fully on the mend. The dermatitis is still playing up something rotten; I'm giving the antihistamines a break and nuking the worst patches with hydrocotisone cream.

On Wednesday I plan to crew for Amanda again. It's relatively easy to stay out of the lake when sailing an Enterprise, especially if you've got a willing crew-mate more than happy to get their feet wet launching and recovering for you. My arm could well be better by then, well enough to helm, but Amanda's done such a brilliant job of it herself the last couple of weeks that I think she should do the whole series.

It would be good to see her to winning a trophy in her own name, or at least a bit of glassware for 2nd or 3rd. An interesting challenge.

A couple more gigs coming up this next weekend, so we'll see how well the arm has recovered. Then Sunday is a championship race at the lake. I need to sail that, pretty much regardless of whatever state I find myself in, or I won't be able to qualify for the Club Championship.

I think I'm going to be okay. I do have to decide if I wear my drysuit though, or risk my new wetsuit (I think it'll be protection enough, but can't be certain till I try it). What I do know is that I'm going nowhere near that water without one or the other.

I am seriously thinking of moving to another club with the Laser. Bowmoor or Whitefriars down towards Cirencester in the Cotswold Water Park seem to be obvious choices. Trouble is, it's a gamble that they don't have the same problem (though the odds do seem much less). And both clubs are twice the distance from home that Frampton is.

Plus there is then the headache of having duties at two clubs, as however I look at it, I really can't see myself actually leaving the club at Frampton, even if I do join up elsewhere.

I think we'll see how we feel once the arm is fully healed and I'm back into racing every weekend Im not cruising again.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

FOSSC: more front seat driving

My right arm is still giving me a bit of trouble.

Pulled something or some things in my shoulder and elbow, and this week my thumb is feeling a little bit numb; feels like it's coated in a thin layer of wax, with occasional pins and needles, so I have to wonder if I've caught a nerve.

I have a couple of gigs this weekend; I'm resting my arm for now and staying away from my guitar, but I figure if I find I still can't properly play again come the two gigs on Friday and Saturday (I can still sing, so I'm not totally redundant) then next week I think I'm going to have to go seek some professional help.

I don't know there's much our vaunted NHS can or will do, the state that it's in these days, certainly not in any kind of reasonable time, and the GP's surgery proved to be a waste of time reasonable or otherwise.

My misery was compounded in the early hours of this morning. The warm days and nights are playing havoc with the dermatitis that still covers a significant proportion of my poor abused body (I should add I have stayed out of lake water for some weeks now). The itching is excruciating.

Around 0400 this morning, between my crawling skin and my throbbing arm I was awake and writhing. I got out of bed, wandered blearily into the bathroom; looked out of the window and dully observed it had been raining, then realised that the loud buzzing wasn't my usual tinnitus.

I stared in bafflement at a small swarm of about a couple of dozen insects that had come in through the open window and out of the rain and were bouncing around the bathroom in a state of some excitement. I brushed one off of me, wondering in my early hours daze if it was some kind of a bee, then another stung me on my shoulder as if to prove the point.

There is a next of them in the eaves of my neighbour's house. We've been wondering if they are bees or wasps and what to do about them.

I can now confirm the confounded things are most definitely wasps.

I shut the window, hastily retreated, closing the door, and fetched the bug spray from under the kitchen sink. They'd stung my good shoulder, so at least I was now balanced in my misery and discomfort. Returning up stairs, I opened the bathroom door to a crack and sprayed the bug spray blindly and in generous quantities in through said crack before closing the door tight and going back to bed.

I did eventually doze off. To surprisingly vivid dreams of  Nikki and I chasing hoards of excited wasps around our bedroom in vain, armed with cans of bug spray that kept spraying shaving foam.

Between my skin and my arm, I am acutely conscious of how the various obsessions that keep me stable, like gigs, karate, sailing or even just walking the dogs, pushing a mouse about on a desk or typing on a keyboard depend upon my being able-bodied.

It leaves me profoundly grateful that I am, despite my present discomfort, and deeply sympathetic for those who are not.

And I've completely side-tracked myself.

With my arm in the state that it is, Amanda agreed to helm the Enterprise again for the Wednesday evening race. A little bit more wind than the week before, but still quite light and shifty. It was a fair enough turnout for the handicap fleet: four Enterprises, a British Moth and a Wanderer.

We had an indifferent start and a terrible first beat to windward, my fault not hers, failing to find a grove to get the boat moving, catching up repeatedly on weed, and falling out the back of the fleet. And then they all rafted up on each other in a lull at the windward mark, having got there all together at the same time, sitting on each others' wind and generally getting in each others' way.

So we arrived late to the party to find a small gap having opened up between the boat furthest inside and the mark itself; not our water but none of them in any position to stop us sneaking through and taking it for our own. By the next mark rounding we were up into second place, just behind the Wanderer

It was a a sloppy rounding, gybing from a dead run on top of the mark and needing to harden up fast to a close-hauled fetch. It left us low on the layline for the third mark.

I called it wrong, advising Amanda to tack too close to the mark and bear away astern of the incoming boats, not accounting for the fact that she's still relatively new to the driving seat. Alan's Enterprise, coming in on starboard, had to dodge to avoid tee-boning us; I am grateful that the man is a gent.

Falling back out the bottom of the fleet, we ran down to the leeward mark with too many boats around us to find clear water to take our turns. We duly rounded the mark amidst the pack and struck out to the right hand side of the beat to take the requisite 720 penalty. Everybody else tacked off and went left.

Gybe, tack, gybe, tack, we then hardened up and held out to the right hand side until we reached the sheer line beneath the trees at top of the beat, a little short of the starboard layline. Tacked, and a lovely lift took us right up to the mark. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet out on the left were languishing in the weed and headed by the fickle wind so were left to follow us around.

Amanda kept her hard won lead for the rest of the race.

We did lose some precious seconds over the rest of the race to a few poor navigational choices on my part that saw us sailing into weed we couldn't see. But between my amicable, persistent nagging, "Up, up, up! Harden up" or "Bear away! Don't pinch!" or "Remember, wide in, no, wider, wider! Now sheet in, sheet! Turn, turn!" (rinse and repeat) and Amanda's exceptionally capable, ever patient helmsmanship, we finally finished 1st boat on the water.

In the clubhouse we were beaten by mere seconds into 2nd place after adjustment for handicap by Tony and his Moth, but it was a good race, very well sailed. I'm exceptionally pleased with how this is going. We're going to do it again next week.

Sailing back in after the finish, Amanda handed the helm over to me to land the boat, volunteering to be the one to go over the side as we reached the shore so that I could keep my feet dry.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Calstar: gannet in the big sky

I love these birds. We rarely sail into Cornwall without one for company. There are times when you could be forgiven for thinking it was the same bird following us; but that, of course, is daft whimsy. 

Sleek, graceful creatures, they swoop low over the waves, or in wide circles above, before furling their wings and plummeting straight down into the water. And occasionally, such a plunge heralds the appearance of dolphins or porpoises, no doubt drawn by the same bounty just beneath the waves.

It was an especially pretty sky over the English Channel this weekend just gone.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Calstar: Off Rame Head

photo: westerly owners association
Not exactly sure of who to credit the above photo to; I'm guessing it was almost certainly the folks on the Westerly Berwick "Mixtwo" we passed around the area of Rame Head on Saturday. I went to post a photo of their boat up to the Westerly Owner's Association page, and found somebody had just posted this photo of us.

It put a smile on my face; it's so unusual to see a photo of your own boat under sail, so on the odd occasion that I do, it always does.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

FOSSC: front seat

Wednesday evening racing at Frampton. It was a warm night, with light, shifty winds; enough to keep the boat moving but nothing especially challenging.

However, with no grip in my right hand and a nasty, nagging pain in my shoulder and elbow that's still keeping me awake at night, rather than skipping sailing altogether as I'd regretfully done on Sunday, I asked Amanda to take the helm. I figured I could probably manage to crew her Enterprise one-handed.

We've been racing the Ent together now pretty much weekly since early last Autumn, but Amanda very unpracticed in the back seat. I think she helmed once last year, and nothing since then. So I figured a bit of coaching from the front seat would be fun for both of us, but thought we'd keep things completely unpressured. More of a "social sail" I reasoned to myself when convincing her to swap, it didn't matter where we finished.

As long as we beat the other Enterprises, of course.

She did good; nine boats in our fleet in total, six Ents including our own plus a Wanderer, a single handed British Moth and a Rooster-rigged Laser. Without an awful lot of coaching (aka. "nagging") from me, Amanda pulled off a respectable start and a good first beat and then sailed a fast course through the rest of the race, beating all the other Ents except for Geoff and Sue, and finishing 3rd overall.

I think that was quite an achievement. It's a funny old thing, but it felt as good to take a 3rd place with Amanda at the helm as it does to beat everybody on my own with the Laser.

I think we should try the same again next week.

The photo at the top of this post was taken lunch time Wednesday; two gliders out of my old club at neighbouring Aston Down, soaring in a thermal above my office. A friend and colleague asked if I missed it.

A realisation struck me - of course I do, especially when watching old friends dance beneath the clouds like that. But not so much as I'd miss the wind and the water, particularly the sea, were I to give that up to return.

Freefall: red strings

This coming weekend should be kinder on my fingers. No gigs; I'm going sailing with Dad and Calstar instead. Not sure if we're going to sail out around Eddystone then back into the Yealm for Saturday night, or head down to Mevagissy for Saturday and back on Sunday. Will decide subject to mood and forecast tomorrow evening once we get to the boat.

Slightly vexing that a week after I've damaged whatever it is that I've damaged in my arm and shoulder I still can't muster enough grip to hold a guitar pick though. I think I'll leave my guitar at home this weekend and content myself in harbour with a good book.

I've got until a week on Friday to recover, then two gigs a weekend until the end of the month to get through. It'll all work out one way or another, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

FOSSC: magic boat

After such a lucky, sustained run of wins with the Laser I was beginning to think she was a magic boat. It is one of the virtues of racing a single design class that I’d mostly overlooked until I started racing this one: you can pick up a relatively old boat which, as long as she’s been looked after, the rig brought up to the most recent spec and the sails and foils are in good nick, can beat other boats in her class that are much, much newer.

And she does. She’s one of the oldest boats in the Laser fleet at Frampton, but frequently beats the others in a wide range of conditions.

Of course, a magic boat still can’t save me from myself. You still have to sail her well.

Last Wednesday was the third of the three RNLI Trophy races at Frampton, and one of the events counting towards the overall Club Championship. The first had been held on the evening of Wednesday 12th June in very light conditions, and I’d won that. The second was during the week I’d been away with Dad and Nik, so that became my default discard.

All I had to do was sail a clean, fast race on the Wednesday evening, and beat Pete in his Comet, who had won the week I’d been away. Do that, and I’d take the trophy and chalk up another win to count towards the overall Championship.

It didn’t start well. A blustery evening, after rigging the boat I changed the mainsheet over for the heavier of the two, and then launched early; doing so means that there’s plenty of space to get the boat afloat and sailing without others getting in the way.

It also means that everybody else is still ashore, watching.

I pushed out and stepped aboard, taking meticulous care not to let the water go over the top of my new, waterproof Sealskinz socks; I’m really trying to stay out of the water at Frampton, as I don’t like being eaten by parasitic tadpoles. Boat slides out across the wind and onto the water, I stand to lower the daggerboard into the slot, both the board and I get inexplicably tangled in the mainsheet.

By the time I’ve untangled myself, the boat is now sliding back towards the concrete shore, the daggerboard is still not down, and yes, everybody is watching. Rob (Solo sailor and afore referenced skipper of a certain, lovely Moody 40 we last saw down in Fowey the previous week) valiantly runs down to the water’s edge, fends us off from the concrete and pushes me back out, my dignity (and gel coat) still pretty much intact.

Daggerboard in, try to sort out the rudder, the wind gusts, predictably. Boat powers up, rocking and surging because the sail setting are completely out of kilter. I quickly give up on the rudder, the leading edge is in the water at least, so we have a little steerage, and tend quickly to the vang, outhaul and cunningham. Then rudder down and the boat is back under control and I’m beating out across the lake. I’m fully hiked out. close hauled on starboard, and beginning to enjoy myself.

I tack. The tiller suddenly jams, feeling like it’s been locked up; I can’t bear away. Everything is all of a sudden quite out of control again. Another gust hits, of course.

I hike hard to flatten the boat, round up into wind, and quickly roll back into the cockpit to stop her tipping over on top of me as the pressure goes out of the sail. I look at the locked tiller and realise I’ve rigged the thing over the traveller, not under it as it should’ve been, so the mainsheet block is now jammed against it, explaining the sudden lack of steerage after I’d tacked.

I’ve taped the tiller into the headstock of the rudder; when sailing with it half up to cope with the weed, it works loose. So now I have to un-tape the tiller, force it back out of the headstock (I use a purchase on the rudder downhaul to jam it in tight, to try to avoid it working loose), somehow hold the rudder central with one hand on the stock and try hard not fall away from head to wind whilst I rethread the tiller back under the traveller and jam it back into the stock.

The rest of the fleet are now sailing out and around me. I expect the other Laser sailors are laughing at me. If not, they probably should be. I’m laughing at myself.

Everything now sorted, the boat is sailing again, and I’m reaching back and forth across the starting area, beginning to enjoy myself once more. The gusts coming though are quite brutal, the little boat planes frequently, spray everywhere. I’m beginning to wish I’d worn a wetsuit and not just the neoprene shorts I’ve got on, but I’m feeling cocky; I’ve got the measure of this boat now, it’s been ages since I last capsized. The starting sequence still hasn’t begun. The OOD (Officer Of the Day; ie. the guy organising the race and recording the results) is having some trouble setting the course or laying out the start line, or something.

Doesn’t matter, I’m now quite relaxed after the earlier mishaps, enjoying the conditions.  I reach into towards the bank sailing fast, harden up to close-hauled under the trees, hiking hard as a gust hits, stretching to keep the boat level, ends of my toes just kissing the toe-straps, loving the acceleration, the immediacy and feel of a live boat. And the wind, in the shadow of the tree-lined bank, suddenly reverses direction, knocking me flat. The whole boat tips over on top of me and I’m in the water before I realise what’s happened.

It’s colder than I expected. But the first, terrible thought through my mind is “killer tadpoles!” and a feeling of deep stupidity that I’m not wearing my full wetsuit. I frantically splash around to the daggerboard, feeling the mainsheet tangle around my feet.

I’ve done this a lot. I’m actually quite good at it. Normally, I porpoise up onto the daggerboard, then as the boat comes up, step smoothly over the side and into the cockpit and stop her from tipping back over the other way. I do this regardless of whether or not the mast is lying to the wind, and almost always get away with it.

Most people right the boat from the water, so either pull her around head to wind first (this is Mike’s favourite) or let her capsize a second time so the mast is lying downwind, and only then right her properly. The really clever ones cling onto the daggerboard as the boat comes up to windward first time, so when she tips back over again, get pulled under the boat (this is Jon’s favourite) and end up on the windward side without having to trouble themselves with swimming around.

I find I don’t have to bother with any of this; if I can get into the cockpit as she comes up, I can generally stop the second capsize by throwing my weight out to windward.

Not this time. I’d hardly touched the daggerboard, let alone clambered up on to it, when the wind whipped under the sail, flipping the boat up and then back over on top of me again before I could do anything about it. I’m indignant. This hasn’t happened to me in years. Getting cold and tired, I drag myself around the hull and back to the daggerboard again, keeping a firm grip on her to stop the wind tearing her away from me.

A second attempt, still didn’t have time to get up on the daggerboard before she pops back up and, inexplicably, the wind is behind the back of the sail again, flipping her over with a spray of water arcing from her mast, straight back down on top of me. I’m now swearing a fair bit and getting quite frustrated with myself. The trees on the lee shore are playing havoc with the wind direction in their shadow as the gusts come blasting through. It’s a total roll of a dice as to where the wind is going to come from next.

About ten meters away a fisherman is stood on the shore, having reeled in his lines, staring daggers at me. I’m flailing about in his swim. We’re not supposed to get close to them, but at this point I don’t really have much control of my circumstances. Between my splashing, cursing and fretting, I grin apologetically at him. I’m tired, desperate, frustrated and embarrassed, but never let it be said I lack the ability to laugh at myself.

Third time lucky. The boat comes up. I still didn’t get up on the board, but this time the wind is, blissfully, in her sail and not behind it. I try to slide into the cockpit, but I’m now tangled in the mainsheet, all but lashed to the daggerboard. Adrenaline surges as the boat begins to round up and turn perilously back through the wind. I kick my feet and lunge for the windward gunwale, grabbing it, and pull myself aboard and through the constraining coils of rope wrapped around my torso with  sheer desperation and brute force.

Finally, I’m led within the cockpit, boom flailing and sail flogging as the blessedly upright boat sits head to wind, a mere boat length from the fisherman on the shore. The Safety Boat, standing by, asks if I’m okay? I don’t have the strength to answer, barely have the energy left to lift my arm, but manage to give them a tentative thumbs up. I control my breathing, and feel my strength quickly returning. Grab the tiller, untangle the mainsheet, and tentatively pick my way out from under the shadow of those damned trees.

I get my bearings. It feels like it’s been a lifetime, but I quickly realise they haven’t even begun the starting sequence yet.

I recovered with a great start. Middle of the line, moving at speed as the gun signalled our release. I pinched up towards the bank, telling Mike to tack when he called for water and just about edged my transom over his bow, then tacked earlier than most of the rest of the fleet, ducking one or two but moving fast. By the time I reached the windward mark I was comfortably in the lead and first around it.

There were no other big mistakes. But cautious of the big, shifty gusts, I sailed conservatively, and catching up with the back of the fleet, gave them plenty of space and consideration, sailing around rather than getting aggressive with them at the marks. It wasn’t really an evening for caution, needing as I did to beat Pete.

I finished first on the water, but after adjustment for handicap could see that Rob in his Solo, coming in second, would beat me. Pete in his Comet was further behind, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough.

And it wasn’t. Pete beat me by a mere 11 seconds on adjusted time, taking 1st place and knocking Rob down into 2nd, leaving me in 3rd. That was enough for Pete to deservedly take the trophy. Rob and I tied on points after our respective discards, so Rob took 2nd place though merit of beating me in the final race.

Despite the drama before the start and the disappointment at the result (disappointed? Really? A year ago I’d have been absolutely pumped about taking a 3rd in a club championship race) it was hard not to come away with a big grin on my face. The Laser and I fit well together, and the more we sail, the better we fit. I don’t think I need that Radial sail after all.

That said, I’ve hurt my arm. And it quickly became apparent that the killer tadpoles got me again. I’ve spent a very uncomfortable week suffering with a resurgent rash covering most of my abdomen and lower legs. But the anti-histamines are getting that under control and I’ve brought myself a new wetsuit, a Zhik Microfleece X. It’s only 1mm neoprene, so I’m hoping that it’ll be fine to wear through the summer.

Downside it’s a bit of a challenge to get into, requiring a degree of flexibility to get your shoulders in via the neck opening. There is no zip. I’m not persuaded that’s not a design flaw.

Unfortunately, I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for a few weeks now, and the antics of last Wednesday clearly damaged it further. Up until then the pain in my shoulder wasn’t anything I couldn’t manage with the help of an occasional ibuprofen and perhaps a drink or two of an evening at the weekend. After the race on Wednesday, I found my elbow was also hurting as well and by the time I got to the gigs on Friday and Saturday night I found I didn’t have enough grip in my right hand to hold a guitar pick; as a result my strings were a bit bloody by the end of Saturday night.

Sunday morning, and despite the fresh breeze and glorious sun, my arm was too sore to sail, so I actually spend the day at home and cut the grass.

It’s going to need a bit of rest I suspect.

It’s not the end of the world. My next gig isn’t until a week on Friday, and this Wednesday I’m racing with Amanda and her Ent. I’ve told her she can helm for a change; I reckon I can manage to crew one-handed, and taking the tiller for a few races will do her some good. Then this coming weekend, I’m away again with Dad and Calstar. Big advantage Calstar has over the Laser is the auto-helm.

Meanwhile though, between the anti-histamines and the regular diet of ibuprofen and paracetamol, I’m ratting around like a regular pill-box.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Calstar: five days in June

Despite trying to coordinate our leave at the beginning of the year, we still managed to screw up our diaries, so although I finished work on Friday 14th and had kept the weekend free of gigs so we could get away on the Friday night, Nik didn’t finish work until 6pm on Sunday 16th, which delayed the start of our week away on the boat.

That was fine, as it meant I could race at Frampton on the Sunday afternoon; I won both the Class and Pursuit races in very blustery conditions, a great day’s sailing that finished a seven week winning streak with the Laser by taking the trophies for both of the Spring series. I was quite pleased with myself. Dad, Nik and I then made it down to Plymouth for about 2130 Sunday night, just in time to get supper at a Pizza Express close to the marina before retiring to the boat for the night.

By my estimation, save for the fact I’d had no gigs, that pretty much made for the perfect weekend.

Monday 17th June
Plymouth to Fowey
(23.5 nautical miles, 5 hours 6 minutes underway)

I had originally hoped to head east out to Dartmouth and Brixham and back for the week, but by the time we’d retired aboard Calstar for the evening Sunday night and I finally had time to properly mull over my plans with a glass of scotch in my hand, I realised what I think I’d known all along; a respectable spring tide was running, which meant all the easy tides to catch would be running west.

With the wind predicted F4 to 5 south of south west, I toyed with the idea of Mevagissy, but finally opted against a strange harbour and an extra 10 miles upwind with Dad and Nik, to decide on the comfort of the familiar and settled for Fowey as the first stop on our way out.

High water Plymouth was 0625 on Monday morning, so with a fair tide running west from around 1000, we cast off from QAB just before 0930 and motored out across the Sound under leaden, grey skies towards the Western Entrance. It was surprisingly bouncy despite the shelter of the Breakwater, a surge being driven into the harbour by the wind. As we left the cover of the wall and pushed out past Cawsands, still under the iron spinnaker, the seas got quite large; occasional sets of big rollers looming over our coach-roof as we passed Penlee Point, leaving your stomach behind as the little yacht eased over their crests and fell into the troughs between them, earning me some very dark looks from my wife.

We held our course, continuing under power with the main up but sheeted in tight as we motored directly into the wind until Rame Head opened up well beyond the cover of Penlee Point off our starboard beam. Then we bore away to starboard, unfurled the headsail and, just shy of 1030, finally stilled the engine, laying course for an easy close reach that would clear the headland and, hopefully, lay distant Fowey.

The little boat heeled to the wind and the sea seemed to smooth with the change in direction and speed. Stiffened up with just a single roll in the genoa, she trotted along happily at just over 4 knots, leaving Rane Head to starboard. By 1230 the wind had eased back to a steady F4 and the seas had calmed further; I’d dropped the roll out of the genoa and full sail combined with the fair tide to give us a very respectable 5.4 knots over the ground as we passed the town of Looe.

Despite it being a Monday, we saw lots of other yachts out. Typically overhauling us travelling in the same direction, like us making the most of a fair tide, but bigger vessels so faster through the water.

The rain held off and the sky began to brighten off the pretty harbour village of Polperro. By 1400 we were off Polruan, outside Fowey harbour, dropping the sails and firing up the engine to take us in. Half an hour later we were alongside one of the Underhills  pontoons in Fowey.

At 1600 we moved Calstar over to the Berill’s Yard Pontoon. Having shore access for the night makes life much easier for Dad and Nik and saves me having to get the tender out and inflate it. Having the shore-power hook-up also keeps Dad happy, as it means he can easily and quickly charge his various gadgets. Sometimes it’s a bit like having a teenager aboard.

That night we ate at The Lugger Inn. All three of us opted for the Seafood Salad. They don’t scrimp on their portion sizes. The company I keep are not lightweight in their appetites, but not one of us managed to completely clear our plate.

Tuesday 18th June
Fowey to Falmouth
(23.3 nautical miles, 5 hours 15 minutes underway)

Tuesday’s forecast was F3 from the east, and expected to be wet.

We cast off from Fowey just after 1000, warping the boat out stern first into ebbing tide with a bow spring to get us clear of a rather tight spot on the pontoon between our neighbours fore and aft. With no other close manoeuvring than that once we were free of the pontoon, we kept the sprayhood up to keep the light drizzle off our electrics. Touch screen tablets don’t work well in the wet, even if they are supposedly water resistant.

Out through the harbour mouth, with a light wind off our port beam we hauled sail and stilled the engine. Calstar held a stead 3.6 knots through the slight sea for all of ten minutes before the breeze died. Conscious of the miles ahead, I furled the headsail and, to the relief of the crew, restarted the engine. Of the other boats leaving on the tide with us, most hadn’t bothered with their sails but the one that did had obviously drawn the same conclusions, and like us, doused his headsail and was once more motor-sailing.

I don’t like to follow the crowd but sometimes, what can you do?

Just after 1200 we were clearing Dodman Point having crossed St Austell Bay, cutting in close to the headland because with the sea so slight and tide running with the wind there were no overfalls to worry about. A single porpoise breached off our starboard bow, briefly arcing across the surface of the water before disappearing again. Gannet crossed overhead, their streamlined shapes distinct against the grey sky.

We listened in on a Pan Pan call to the Coastguard from a yacht off Polperro that had lost engine power and was drifting without wind. Too distant for us to assist. In any case, the wind, at some point, would doubtless fill in for him. As, at 1300, it did for us.

With the wind came an absolute downpour of rain, but I didn’t mind. Under full sail, on a port broad reach, we were making close to 6 knots over the ground. The crew were content; Nik stayed below and Dad snoozed beneath the shelter of the sprayhood. I fussed over course and sail trim, ignoring the rain and  happy just to be sailing.

The rain didn’t last. A passing squall, and the sky was already brightening by the time we passed the light on St Anthony’s Head and entered Falmouth.

By 1522 we were alongside the pontoon at Falmouth Yacht Haven, ample space made for us by a departing Brixham Trawler that cast off just after we’d arrived and began looking for a berth. A young lady from a large French yacht in the space astern of our berth helpfully took our bowline. I typically prefer to manage both lines myself when we’re coming in, but it always feels rude to turn down an offer of assistance.

That night we ate at The Grapes in Falmouth at a table looking out onto the harbour. Good food, very friendly atmosphere, good beer and all at a very fair price. You really can’t complain.

Wednesday 19th June
Falmouth to Helford
(7.0 nautical miles, 1 hour 36 minutes underway)

I’d promised Nik a shore day in return for all the sailing, but with the wind turning back around into the north-west for Wednesday Dad and I couldn’t resist Helford, so I traded her a shore day for a morning’s amble around town and coffee, followed by the promise of supper in Helford Passage.

We’ve visited Helford many times, but have never been there with Calstar or stayed overnight.

With the tide mostly an irrelevance for a quick jog across Falmouth Bay, we cast off at 1300 and made our way over to the FYH fuel barge to top up on diesel. Only to discover that they closed for lunch at 1300 and wouldn’t be back for an hour. So we loitered, having nothing better to do.

At 1414, main and reserve tanks refilled, we finally cast off from the Haven and made our way out to the bay beneath a blue sky spotted with skudding, fair weather clouds being blown out to sea from across the land. The wind was F3 gusting to 4, the sea state very slight. Perfect sailing conditions, and fifteen minutes after departing the fuel dock, we raised the sails and killed the engine.

Dad kept the helm, holding the course on a brisk, starboard close reach that took us across the bay, our speed around occasionally touching just over 6 knots in the bigger gusts. At 1520 we entered the Helford River and dropped the sails, at Dad’s request nosing into look at the beach at the bottom of Trebah Gardens, which in 1944 had been used as an embarkation point for a regiment of 7,500 of the 29th US Infantry Division for the assault landing on Omaha beach, part of the D -Day Landings.

We then continued onto the Pool where we picked up one of the blue visitor moorings.

Dad pumped up the dinghy and I fitted the outboard, then ferried Dad and Nik ashore to the Ferry Boat Inn on the beach at Helford Passage where we had an early supper before retiring back to the boat to watch the sun set and settle in for the night.

It was a clear, dry night, not at all cold. Nik and I fell asleep on our bunk in the fore-cabin with the hatch left open, watching the glimmer of stars glittering above in an unblemished sky.

Thursday 20th June
Helford to Fowey
(25.9 nautical miles, 6 hour 3 minutes underway)

My original plan had been to head back to Plymouth via Falmouth and Fowey, but the forecast for Sunday was looking dicey, with 8’s and 9’s in it, all piling in on the nose from the east. So Wednesday night we agreed to pull the itinerary forward, skip a return visit to Falmouth and head straight back to Fowey from Helford.

It meant an earlier start to make the best of the tide.

At 0500 we dropped the mooring, motoring out of the river into the rising sun, a bright full moon still standing clear of the horizon above golden, dawn-touched clouds crowning the shore off our starboard beam. Hardly any wind, the sea only slightly ruffled. By 0530 we’d cleared the Gedges rocks at the mouth of the river and were motor-sailing under main out across the bay.

The wind filled, but blowing with the tide, the sea state remained surprisingly slight in the lee of the Lizard Peninsula. At 0600, I unfurled the genoa, goosing it out to starboard with the whisker pole, and stilled the engine. With wind and sea dead astern, the little yacht rolled a bit, but kept her feet and held her course. Little white caps abeam and astern were the only real clue to the steadily building wind.

At 0830 I dropped the pole and gybed onto port off Dodman Point, staying clear of the headland, wary of its overfalls despite the relative calm of the sea. On a beam reach under full sail, Calstar gambolled across St Austell Bay, our speed never dropping below 5 and often breaking past 6 knots. Gorran Haven and Mevagissy fell away astern, and at 1014 we passed close by the Cannis Rock cardinal beneath Gribbin Head, it’s bell tolling sonorous and loud to the rolling of the sea.

Outside the harbour mouth I furled the headsail to slow Calstar down whilst we waited for a cargo ship laden with china clay to clear the harbour and make to sea, then we sailed in, dropping sail and starting the engine in the shelter of the harbour. We made fast for a couple of hours alongside the Town Quay Pontoon, and ventured ashore for lunch at The Galleon, and then moved the boat over to a pontoon at Underhills.

I was sat in the cockpit with Nik, discussing boats. She’s a saint for putting up with us, but does find Calstar to be a little bit on the cramped side, especially for three. She’s not wrong. I quite liked the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey on the other side of the pontoon from us, but also commented on the Moody 40 rafted up on the boat ahead of us. Cutter rigged, she was very beamy, quite different to the Jeanneau though of a similar size. Were I looking to sail, I’d probably take the Jeanneau, but if I were looking for a cruiser to holiday on with my wife, I think the Moody would’ve had it, hands down.

Though for all I know, I’m probably being unfair on the performance of the Moody. In any case, she'd certainly outperform Calstar.

Nik had gone back down below, leaving me with a drink and my Kindle, when I heard a voice from ahead calling, “Hello, is that Bill?”

Curious, I want forward to discover that it was Rob from Frampton-on-Severn, aboard the Moody.

“Is she yours?” I asked, a little surprised to see a familiar face.


“That’s not a Solo” I observed, sharp as ever, if still caught a little off kilter by the unexpected pleasure of running into a friend down here.

“Well, that’s not a Laser” he retorted, nodding affably at Calstar.

We stayed that night on the Underhills pontoon. To save the slight inconvenience of breaking the tender out again, Dad treated us to a lift ashore courtesy of the Fowey Water Taxi. We had supper at Sams and were back on the boat and settled in for the night just before dark.

Which at this time of year is around 2300. I do love these long summer evenings.

Friday 21th June
Fowey to Plymouth
(23.3 nautical miles, 6 hour 7 minutes underway)

Another early start, albeit not so early as the morning before. We cast off from Fowey at 0605, leaving Rob and his wife still asleep in their lovely Moody, no doubt.

With the wind set south of west, the running sea was livelier than the day before. The waves lifting us up under our starboard quarter caused the boom to swing with each rolling pass and the sail to slap, so I rigged a preventer, pinning the boom out to port. A couple of other yachts departing with us were having the same difficulty; one lowered his main and continued under engine alone, the other sheeted his in, scandalising his sail but presumably reducing the slapping. Bigger boats, they slowly edged ahead and away from us, leaving us to the solitude of a glorious morning.

At 0830, tired of the incessant drone of the engine, I poled out the genoa to starboard and killed the engine, to general mutters of discontent from the crew. When Dad pointedly enquired what that had done to the speed over ground, I carefully massaged the truth, and suggested we were still doing “about” 4 knots. It wasn’t exactly a lie; we’d touched 4, even if the typical groundspeed was more like a 3.1; I equally pointedly ignored any enquiries about the revised ETA, advising them to “let it settle down” first before drawing any conclusions.

The wind had built enough to hold the main out against the rolling of the boat however, quieting the previous slap of sail every time the yacht yawed and rolled to the passing of a wave. With the sun out, it was a pleasant sail along the Cornish coast, distant Rame Head slowly closing down on us.

Finally past the headland and off Penlee Point at 1047 we gybed, dropping the pole, and laid a course to take us in past Cawsands and through the Western Entrance. The wind by now had become quite lively but the sea had calmed significantly in the shelter of the headland.

We beat back across the sound to drop sail and start the engine in Jennycliff Bay, and put into our slip to make fast at QAB just short of 1215.

We had lunch at Chandlers on the Marina site, and then supper at Dad’s favourite, The Village Restaurant in the Barbican.

Saturday 22nd June

On Saturday, the sun shone and the wind blew, and to be fair it looked like gorgeous sailing out on the Sound. However, we stayed in harbour and Nikki got her shore day; we spend the day around town in Plymouth with no real agenda other than lunch in town and supper at Rockfish that evening.

Rested, we set off for home early Sunday morning getting back for around 1230. By happy coincidence, this was just in time for me to grab my sailing kit from home and head straight to the lake at Frampton to race the Laser. A 4th place and a 2nd to start off the Summer Handicap series. Seems my winning streak has drawn to a close. But still a perfect end to a perfect week, by my estimation.

Over five days we sailed 103 nautical miles; a total of 24 hours and 3 minutes underway.