Thursday, 23 May 2019

Calstar: F9wey

I’m heading down to Plymouth with Dad. Tomorrow we sail with the tide for Fowey.

This weekend the British Moths are holding their “Sea Championships” in the harbour. It’s a very grand name for a very light-hearted affair. 

I took the photo above whilst hanging out the side of a Moth this time last year when I briefly joined them racing around the harbour. 

They are small, single-design, snub nosed, single-handed dinghies with over-powered, high aspect rigs; highly manoeuvrable, they were designed for the light fickle airs of narrow rivers with high banks, and whilst various changes to modernise the design have made them easier to manage in flat, open water and blustery conditions, they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sea boat. 

But Fowey has a certain charm that suits the little boats, and after a group of us ventured down for a weekend's camping and sailing some ten years or more back, it eventually became something of an annual affair and was adopted into the class association's official calendar. This will be the ninth such event. 

So the British Moth Sea Championships is more of an excuse for a bit of fun and a lot of party than a serious racing event. An excuse to catch up with old friends. But there is racing, and British Moths do so take their racing seriously.

A very generous friend is bringing a "spare" Moth down to Fowey to lend to me for the weekend, so Saturday through till Monday I’ll be racing with them. Dad will either join in helping out with the race committee or chill out in the harbour aboard Calstar. He'll join in fully with the partying, I'm sure. Nik has elected to stay at home this year. Too much of me sailing for her to enjoy it.

The weather looks very promising for the sail over from Plymouth and the racing across the weekend. The plan is to sail home with Calstar on Tuesday, and at the moment, the forecast is not looking very comfortable for that. I really ought to be back in the office for Wednesday, but there are options available if Tuesday’s forecast doesn’t mitigate as we get closer to the day. 

Leaving Calstar in Fowey and coming home by land without her is really not one of them, however.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Monday 20th

On Monday evening we gathered around Dad's house for supper. My brother and his wife, all three of my kids and Ben's lovely young lady. The only one missing was my daughter Tasha's fiance, Dan, who had to work.

Dad roasted a couple of unfortunate chickens; unfortunate for them I mean, fortunately for us they were delicious. 

We sat out on the patio and talked as the sinking sun set a luminous orange glow into the broken clouds above. The sky was promising rain, and against the gloaming of the clouds the moisture in the air set off a lovely triple rainbow arcing skywards from the eves of the houses; a beautiful streak of colour defiant in the face of the setting sun and encroaching dark of the night.

A transitory pleasure, the camera on our phones couldn't capture it to do it justice.

Up until my mid-twenties, I used to view my life in five year cycles. Change is rapid when you're growing up, and keeps up the pace whilst you're still young. Every five years I'd look back and muse that I wouldn't be able to recognise myself or predict my situation had I been able to look forward and see myself from there from five years previous.

Schools changed, homes changed, countries changed, friends changed, pets changed, jobs changed. Very little remained constant.

Change has slowed down. I've been in the same house now for twenty years, and have been fortunate enough to hold the same job now for a little bit longer. I've been with the same lucky girl (yes, I kid myself, I'm fully aware I am the lucky one in this equation) for even longer than that, although married to her for a little less, if still a bit more than twenty years (don't ask me to put an exact number on it right now)

On Monday evening, Dad settled down to supper with his children and his grandchildren. Our dogs wrestled for space amidst the forest of our legs beneath the dining room table. It was a picture Mum would have been fondly familiar with.

On Monday evening, at the turning of some unwatched hour across the course of that night, it became five years since we lost her.

Five years on, and so much has changed. And some things have stayed the same.

I am reminded of how lucky we are to have each other.

FOSSC: drifting ahead

If Friday night was a late one, Saturday night wasn’t much of an improvement. A bit of a different theme: posh frocks and expensive tickets, it was the Gloucester Civic Charity Ball organised by the Mayor of Gloucester. Black tie, chains of office and even a town crier in full regalia as master of ceremonies. But after they’d eaten their supper and played their after-dinner games, they then danced the rest of the night away to the band. It was a good night; a lovely, appreciative crowd, raising good money for a good local cause, The James Hopkins Trust.

Sunday morning was still and bright. I blearily dragged myself out of bed late morning. It’s not just a lack of sleep from the late nights, but arms ache, back aches, fingers are sore, throat is hoarse. I do so suffer for my art. But, as my wife Nik will quickly point out, it’s entirely self-inflicted so I deserve no sympathy.

It would’ve been easy to have stayed at home and cut the grass. But I packed my sailing kit and headed down the Club regardless. Like I said, I suffer for my art. And like she said, still just as self-inflicted.

The Laser seems to be the perfect boat for the lake at Frampton. 

When I used to race my own Enterprise, I used to look forward to drifts like the one we were faced with on Sunday. A little bit more wind and the Lasers would begin to plane, leaving the heavier double-handed Enterprise behind. But in still air, you can ghost the Ent through the mirror smooth water; the two blue sails, if deftly handled, and the inertia inherent in a heavier hull, are just enough to give the advantage, I guess. The wide, flat, light hulls of the single-handed Lasers by comparison would just seem to stick to the water.

Now that I have a Laser myself however, I don’t seem to have that problem.

Possibly it’s a weight advantage. At just shy of 11 stone, I’m at the bottom end of the weight range for the boat, and in any kind of a blow suffer accordingly. I’m quickly overpowered, and brutally punished in the heavier winds by the slightest flaw in technique. Of which I have many.

I won both races on Sunday, a repeat performance of the light air racing of the weekend before. Again, I took the first race with a wide lead; a class race, I got lucky early and won through to clear air, leaving the other three Lasers in the fleet mired amongst the Solo and Handicap fleets, with no real chance of catching up. It could as easily have gone the other way.

The second race, a pursuit of nine boats of assorted classes, was much harder work. Three of us left the rest behind quickly enough, but I spent the second half of the race tangled up with Geoff and Sue in their Enterprise, trading between 2nd and 3rd place and unable to break clear whilst we both tried to catch Pete in his Comet up ahead.

On the last lap I finally fought free of Geoff and Sue and then caught up and crossed ahead of Pete on a beat to windward, leaving the Comet and the Ent to tussle amongst themselves behind me. It looked like it was going to go the Enterprise’s way, and then after Geoff got past, Pete caught him again on starboard closing in with a leeward mark. Geoff and Sue tried to tack in front, and the little Comet touched them mid-tack.

I heard the thump across the water. No damage was done, but the penalty turns owed let Pete get away and secure 2nd place for himself.

Unlucky for Geoff and Sue after all that hard work in trying to catch him, but very well played by Pete.

I’m now sat at the top of the table for both the Laser Class and Pursuit Spring series. There are three more races to go, one of which I might have to skip if the gig on the 9th of June gets confirmed. It’s very nice to be in the lead, but if the weather turns, and it’s surely past time that it should, then all this could quickly change over the next three weeks.

Maybe now’s the time to finally invest in a reduced radial rig for the Laser?

Probably, but of course I won't. Only having the one standard rig does make life easier in a way, by reducing the options. And anyway, I have other priorities for my cash; I’m away racing at the British Moth Sea Championships in Fowey this coming weekend. And that’s never a cheap party.      

Freefall: The Railway Tavern

As far as gigs go, you expect Friday nights to be, generally speaking, not as lively as most Saturday nights. So when, last Friday lunch time, I got the call from Sam, the Railway Tavern’s landlord, saying “Bill, where are the posters?” I worried I’d dropped the ball on that evening’s gig. 

Well, I'd certainly forgotten the posters so, in effect, I had. If folks don’t know you’re playing, how can you expect them to turn up?

Turns out, I’d underestimated the Fishponds mob. Fishponds is a suburb on the north side of Bristol, half an hour down the motorway from home, and the band has been playing regularly in a few assorted pubs along the main Fishponds Road for more than a decade and a half now. 

And we love it down there, the regular faces in the crowd have, over those years, become familiar friends. Fishponds is very much our home from home. Clearly a little thing like forgetting the posters wasn’t going to put folks off. Sam had, obviously, chalked the band’s name up on the board listing the month's entertainment, as per usual. Turns out that was enough.

Last Friday night at the Railway Tavern was an absolute joyous riot of a gig that risks putting many Saturday nights still yet to come to shame by wont of comparison.

I do love Fishponds. I do love the Railway Tavern. And last Friday night, we had fun.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

FOSSC: sunshine and weed

The last week or so the weather has been predominantly bright, warm and calm. Which is fine if you like gardening. Theoretically not so good if you want to sail, but I've enjoyed myself regardless. To a point.

I've been lake-bound; a couple of weekends worth of gigs mean that I don't get back to Calstar until the end of this month. Then again, I think I'd rather suffer a patient drift whilst racing on the lake than have to put up with the noise and frustration of the engine were we trying to make passage to somewhere with the Westerly in such a flat calm.

I say I've enjoyed myself to a point. The weed problem at Frampton is coming back again with a vengeance. A couple of weeks ago it was fine, but last Wednesday evening I was racing the Laser (should've been racing the Ent, but my crew had locked herself out of her car so didn't make it to the lake) and going well; about half way through I was a good leg ahead Pete and Rhonwen, my nearest competition. Then down one long reach to the green mark they caught back up.

At which point I realised I was dragging a hay bale's worth of weed along with my rudder. My bad, should've spotted it sooner.

With the rudder cleared, I shook Pete back off quick enough, but Rhonwen clung on tenaciously. I held my lead right through the last lap and around the final mark rounding, but then in the last half a dozen seconds in the beat back up to the finish line, she snuck past me.

She actually cheered and fist-pumped the air as she crossed the line first, clearly thrilled with herself. Which put a smile on my face; if there's one thing I like more than beating that really hates to be beat, it's having somebody beat me that clearly takes such delight in the win. And it's not like I hadn't made her work for it.

Of course, the humiliation of my defeat was somewhat mitigated when I beat her, and everybody else, in both races the following Sunday. More bright sun and more drifting conditions; I simply made point of obsessively clearing my foils of weed and just kept the boat moving in clean air. It paid off; for the first race, I was back ashore with a hot cup of tea in my hands before the second boat crossed the line. The second race was a little more work, but still a clear win in the end.

I have a definite advantage in the light stuff so this isn't really any credit to my sailing. The Laser is, I reckon, the perfect boat for our lake but my years racing a British Moth gave me a sympathetic feel for light airs. And I'm still supple enough in my knees at least to hold the necessarily cramped and uncomfortable positions still enough and long enough to to keep the boat properly balanced and moving when there isn't much pressure for the sails to pull her along.

This Wednesday evening just gone I was back in the Enterprise with Amanda. Another drift. We were twenty seconds late getting to the start line just for lack of air, but it didn't make much difference as there wasn't enough to get the rest of the fleet very far over it by the time we did arrive.

A combination of wind shift and thick weed caused pandemonium at what should've been the windward mark. We didn't entirely keep clear of it; almost lost Geoff and Sue in their Enterprise and let Pete in his Comet sail freely around us and break away ahead. But by the time we did struggle clear, the rest of the fleet were all still rafted up on each other around the buoy, leaving Geoff, Pete and I free to have our own chase.

We never really threatened Geoff's lead, and took too long to get clear of Pete so he eventually beat us both on corrected time with his ninja handicap, albeit only just in Geoff and Sue's case. Our own third place was still sufficient to keep us in contention for a top three finish in the overall series however, so we were content with that. Or were at least able to resign ourselves to be so.

So a good week's racing. But the state of the lake is a worry. The anglers that share the water insisted on deploying bales of barley straw in the margins again this year to control the threat of blue algae. The downside is the huge dump of nutrient from the rotting straw coupled with the clarity of the water from lake of algae and relative warmth from the lack of depth in recent years means that the weed is running an absolute riot. It's just below the surface for the moment, but within another week or two I expect we're going to see veritable islands of the stuff.

And with the water levels so low now, they're only going to drop further as the summer closes in.

A third annoyance is that the club have put a muffle into the horn we use as a starting gun following complaints about the noise from the village. Why the noise is suddenly a nuisance now after 50 years of mutual cohabitation I don't know, but the upshot is that I can't actually hear it over my tinnitus unless I'm virtually parked right on top of the committee boat when it sounds.

So I find myself after fifteen years of regularly racing at Frampton wondering whether or not it isn't time I find myself another club to race at that doesn't suffer these problems.

Which is a problematic dilemma because, funny enough, a sailing club isn't just about the sailing.

But it is a pretty necessary part of it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Dignity in question

I read online recently that "The German Shepherd is a dignified dog that is loyal, aloof, and somewhat antisocial"

Which just goes to show that you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. Dignity my foot!

I came across the article during a fairly random Google search and it's posted on a site that appears to be, at a glance, selling some sort of  homeopathic pet remedy, quite possibly "snake oil", so don't read this as any kind of endorsement of their wares.

But it's otherwise quite an interesting read on the history of the Shepherd, which I confess I didn't actually know a lot about. And whilst I don't necessarily agree with the characterisation that they describe in its entirety (and I've got a lot more personal experience here than I do on the breed's history), it does paint a pretty accurate picture of the general character and temperament of the dog.

But mostly, this was just an excuse to post pictures of mine poking their tongues out at you, and looking cute but dumb. That said, Boo (blonde mutt, second picture, frame right) has that "spare me, what does he think he looks like" expression on his face.

He wears that a lot when he's around Jack, who often seems to have his tongue up his nose.

Boo's an ex-street dog, and the only one of the two that isn't pure Shep. He's really a blend of all sorts of things eastern European, and I suspect he's the most considered, savviest of the three.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Calstar: dolphins

A still from a video I took on our trip out to Fowey last Easter weekend. Sorting out the final details of our next trip back to Fowey again at the end of this month put me in mind of it.

Really can't wait.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019