Friday, 18 September 2020

flown the nest


My eldest son Ben and his lovely partner should complete on the purchase of their first house today. 

In truth, he's actually long flown the nest; he came home for a year after finishing university whilst he took his teaching qualifications, but on completing his PGCE and landing a job as a secondary school science teacher, rented a flat down in Bristol and only really drifted home when he wanted something.

Like his mother to do his washing.

The drifts home have become less and less over the last few years, even more so after he hooked up with the French teacher at his school, I guess.

But I guess a mortgage and your first house is a real milestone. He's finally all grown up and moved out.

Maybe it's time I turned his old bedroom into a home office? That is, before his mum takes it over as yet another craft room . . .

The photo above was taken last month, somewhere between Plymouth and Falmouth. Those lovely, elegant birds are frequent company when on passage along the Cornish south coast, either swooping along and just skimming the waves, or circling gracefully above, before dive-bombing their unsuspecting lunch with sleek, lethal efficiency. 

So tomorrow Dad and I will head down to Bristol to help Ben and Hannah move house. Tomorrow evening I have a gig, conveniently also in Bristol. It'll be my second in as many weeks, but perhaps the last of the year, unless circumstances change unexpectedly. Then again, if we've learnt anything from this year so far, it's that you can't predict anything, so who knows?

Last Saturday's gig was brilliant, by the way. Everything I needed it to be. Except not enough.

Sunday I'm racing the Albacore with Amanda out on the lake at South Cerney. I was down there Wednesday evening, racing the Laser. That was fun, but the evenings are drawing in fast now, so mid-week sailing will soon be done until next year, and whatever that will bring.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Restoration

 It's been a funny old week. 

I've been back sailing for a while now of course, and loving it. We're cruising with Calstar and even started racing dinghies properly again back on the lake on Sundays. And informally, on Wednesday evenings, although the evenings are drawing in now. And not just in the Laser; I'm back in the Albacore sailing with Amanda at last. 

But that's only one of the various pillars of my life back in place.

By way of an aside, I also have two posts currently sitting incomplete and in seemingly perpetual draft detailing August's couple of trips away with Calstar; pictures of sun and sea and dolphins all included in the price. I feel a little abashed that I've not had the time to finish them yet, and more so, annoyed that, incomplete, they essentially act as a block to me posting much of anything else up here until they're done. Although I'm clearly working around that.

This coming Saturday we have our first gig lined up since our last one way back on Friday 13th March. It's in a village pub garden, and has been confirmed since they first eased back the lock-down in July. It was also the only gig we have confirmed for the rest of the year, so the diary is looking quite barren.

It's been that long since we last had a gig that in anticipation of this coming Saturday we actually got together for a rehearsal to run through the set. The last time we did that was around or about 2004.

Then, out of the blue, I had a phone call yesterday from one of my favourite Bristol venues. They want to restart their live music, all in keeping with government guidelines and social distancing and all the rest. Basically, it's in a big skittle alley out the back of the pub, tickets in advance, table seating only, 30 people max. 

They asked if we'd be interested (of course!) and if so, if we had any dates free (take your pick!)

I reckon when we normally play there we fill the pub with a crowd of a couple of hundred on a good night. So it's going to be quite the different vibe from the usual. 

I don't care. For the next couple of weekends at least, my Saturday nights are once more booked up with gigs.

With regards to another pillar of my previous life, a series of messages went back and forth a couple of weeks ago. There was hope the leisure centres would open up in September. That would hopefully mean I could go back to karate at last; I normally train in a school sports hall about five minutes from my house.

Then as August drew to a close, the local hall confirmed, for various reasons, they wouldn't be ready to accept us back until October at the earliest. I was a little bit crushed to be honest, but in the greater scheme of things, there are much bigger concerns abroad in the world at the moment. I'm doing fine.

This morning I received a message from Sensai to say there was a single Thursday evening space available over at the Cinderford club, and would I be interested? So as of tonight, another pillar will be restored. It involves a forty minute drive each way and I'm pretty sure we're not allowed contact, so no kumite, just kata and kihon. But I still find I'm quietly elated at the prospect.

And fully expect to hurt like hell tomorrow morning.

Friday, 4 September 2020

August and Everything After

August has disappeared.

In these strange and often frustrating times, it’s been fun and busy and refreshing, and has disappeared in a flash. Likewise, summer now seems to be following hot on its heels, with pessimists crawling out of the woodwork to decry “Schools have gone back!” and therefore “Summer is over!”

I refuse to be drawn in by these naysayers; far from 2020 being the summer that never was, summer is far from done yet, with much left still to salvage. I still have more weekends away on Calstar to look forward to, hopefully a couple of weeks away sailing in Greece planned for the end of October, karate will hopefully restart next week or soon after, and a week on Saturday I have a gig booked in a pub garden, the first since Friday 13th March, and possibly the last of 2020, but a gig nonetheless. I only hope it doesn’t rain.

Oh, and the open mic nights are restarting at the Old Restoration again over in Cheltenham. Not quite the same as a gig exactly, but a distraction until the gigs return in full. The band’s diary for next year is rapidly filling, although why next year should be any different to the latter half of this one, I’m not so sure. We can but live in hope, I suppose.

In the meantime, I currently find myself feeling a bit like an errant school boy that’s let his overdue homework pile up too high to in any way seem assailable. Across two weeks away sailing at the beginning of August, and a long weekend sailing at the end, it appears I took 1185 photographs and sailed just shy of 271 nautical miles up and down the south coast between Brixham in South Devon and the Helford in Cornwall. And in between the trips away with Calstar of course, there was the usual chasing around the cans on the lake at South Cerney.

I feel like I owe myself some sort of accounting for the month, but it’s quite difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps not by simply posting all 1185 photographs, not least because, as is the way with these things, a lot of them are a bit rubbish and most of them very repetitive. But I think there are a few gems amongst them that I might try to pick out.

Meanwhile, hello September. And no, summer’s definitely not over yet.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Laser: squiggles


I had a lovely evening's sailing yesterday after work. The above track, which I think covers the first hour of the couple of hours were out on the water, made me chuckle this morning.

It is, fortunately, not a track of a race, and each of those little loops is not a penalty turn, although the thought that it could've been was what first made me smirk. Instead of joining in the racing, I spent the evening coaching a friend in her Topper. 

The experience of the boats' respective helms aside, the Topper is, of course, a much slower boat than my Laser, so each of those little loops was me circling to keep pace with Sue's boat. I guess, given that I do have the occasional indiscretion on the race course myself, aside from the pleasure of an evening spent coaching a friend, the little bit of penalty turn practice the evening gave me will have done me no harm myself.

Winds were light, sun was warm, and the worst of the weed had been broken up by the rough weather of the previous few days so hardly bothered us at all. A perfect Wednesday evening out on the water, drawing squiggles with the GPS.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Laser: racing rebooted

Racing started again properly at South Cerny on Sunday. Two races, a pursuit at 1100 followed by a general fleet handicap at 1200. Conditions were boisterous. Turnout wasn’t massive, seven boats for the first race, five for the second. Kind of perfect for the circumstances, really.


Playing around at the lake last Wednesday, my tiller extension parted company with the universal joint. So I spent an evening in the week mixing up some epoxy and reacquainting the two.

Clearly I am not very good with glue. Launched off a gusty lee shore twenty minutes before the start of the first race, after the first tack the tiller extension came away again. Limped back into shore, landed, capsized the boat on the edge of the lake to keep her safe whilst I ran back to my kit back to grab some tape. Secured the universal joint back in with a combination of gaffa and electrical tape. Ran back down to the shore, re-righted the boat, secured the extension back in place and relaunched.

A pursuit race runs on the idea that the slower boats start first and the faster boats chase them. Everybody gets a starting number based on their boat’s handicap and when that number disappears, you start. I’d checked, and the number for a Laser was 117. There is a board on the shore that counts down, dropping one every thirty seconds. For a pursuit, I always work back so I can set my watch and go by that. So if I need to start when 117 drops, I know that when 129 comes up on the board I have six minutes, 127 five minutes, 125 four, etc.

Relaunched, extension now holding together, I glanced at the board and saw the count was 120. The numbers dropped, I crossed the start line, far from perfect, but not too late I figured. A very good first beat, nice lift on the starboard tack. Lots of weed, but nowhere near Frampton style "get out and picnic on it" stuff. Clear the boards, halfway up the beat glance behind and wonder why the other Laser started about a minute late.

Then it dawns. The number dropping was 119, not 117. I started a whole minute early.

Spitting and fuming at my own stupidity, I bear away and run back down to re-cross the start line. The race is pretty much lost at this point. But at least the tiller extension is holding together.

By the time I’ve restarted and made my way back up to windward, the rest of the fleet were almost a lap ahead. But then, to compound first impressions (keep in mind I’m still very new to this club, and have never officially raced the Laser here before) I round windward, bear away on to the run and then halfway down get caught in a gust, wobble plaintively for a few more meters and then death-roll the boat. If there is any mitigation, I did manage to vault over the high side as she went over, pull the dagger-board back through then slide over and onto it, staying completely dry even as I weather-cocked the boat into wind and levered her back upright.

It would’ve looked really impressive. Really, well for want of a better word, practiced. I'm not sure if being practiced at capsize recovery is really something to be proud of however.

And sitting in irons battling for the next thirty seconds to get the boat off the wind and sailing again however would’ve looked anything but.

I redeemed myself a little in the second race. Sat exactly where I wanted on the line for the last thirst seconds before the start, held position until the last few seconds before the gun and then accelerated away into the space to leeward I’d jealously guarded from the other boats who were all queueing up now behind me. A textbook start, I was really quite proud of myself; even more so when I rounded the windward mark and everybody else was still struggling up the last third of the beat.

I lengthened my lead over the rest of the lap, and then completely squandered it on the first beat of the second. The wind dropped and badly headed me, but I was blocked from tacking on the shift by a long bank of weed to windward. The rest of the fleet came around the leeward mark just as the wind shifted back, and I now had to tack into a header to keep within the leyline of the mark. By the time I rounded it, a Europe and a Solo were both snapping at my heels.

The rest of the race was a slow war of attrition as my initial lead eroded,. And then on the final lap, struggling up the third beat in the grip of another nasty gust, both the Europe and the Solo finally snuck past. The reach that followed back down to the finish line was the fastest, most white-knuckled ride of the race. I eased back ahead of the Solo, recovering my dignity if not my place, allowing for our relative handicaps (Solos are slower boats, I have to beat them by a bit of a stretch). The Europe thrashed me, fair and square.

It was a great day’s sailing though, loved every minute of it, even the bad ones.

I’m guessing the gusts were up in to the low 20’s. And I think it’s fair to say that with a Standard sail on a Laser, I’m completely overpowered upwind when the wind hits that level. So I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered myself a Radial rig today. It was never that much of a problem at Frampton, but South Cerney is a bigger lake and a bit more exposed.

I don’t know how much use I’ll get out of it, but there have been definite times over the last few months when I’ve really wished I had the option. I’ve also treated myself to a new carbon fibre tiller extension. I could fix the existing one with a little more glue, and shall, but I want a spare. If the gaffa tape hadn’t held on Sunday it would’ve cost me the day.


Finally, just to add to my woes, as I was putting the boat away I noticed the bottom corner of the trailing edge of my dagger-board had broken away again. It had snapped previously, about eighteen months ago, which was when the above photo was taken, and Dad had pinned and epoxied it for me as I’d managed to recover the broken piece. This time the stray corner was still somewhere out in the middle of the lake. I’m not sure when it happened; sometime after the first race. Perhaps clearing weed from the board, or perhaps I was just too slow removing it when landing back on the lee shore, although I don’t remember grounding at any point.

Sunday just was a bad day for glue all round, I guess.

Never mind. My friend Paul from CS Boats is going to repair it for me. He did such a fine job of the Albacore (that I’ve hardly had a chance to sail since, but that’s not his fault) and his rates are very reasonable, so it seemed silly not to ask him and a bit rude not to put the work his way. I’m away with Dad and Calstar for the next two weeks as of Friday, but I’ll leave the board in his boat after sailing this coming Wedndesday evening, and he promises he’ll have the board repaired by the time I get back.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Laser: racing restarts


Racing restarts tomorrow at South Cerney. It started again at the beginning of the month at Frampton, but the weed there is horrific again this year, which bothers me not a bit, but it means also that the snails will be too.

That bothers me a lot.

Frampton dosed the water with bales of barley straw in the margins again earlier this year. It solves the blue green algae problem, sure, but I'm certain it's also hugely exacerbated the weed issue. And weed is a problem in almost every lake this year, including South Cerney. But at Frampton weed is in a class all of it's own. You can almost literally walk out and picnic on it.

Simple fact. You can't dump a mass of organic matter into the margins of your lake and leave it to rot, and not expect the resulting decay to feed the plant-life. Simply biology. Or chemistry. Or something.

It's a shame, because I loved racing at Frampton. But the microscopic killer tadpoles scare me. And scarred me, for that matter.

The Laser however is now at South Cerney, and I think there she'll stay. We still can't sail double-handers unless your crew is in the same household, so the Albacore still sits forlorn on the shore for now.

But tomorrow I shall race the Laser.

Hopefully she won't end up like she did a week ago last Wednesday. Which was when I took the photo at the head of this post.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Calstar: a belated Fowey shakedown


It’s been a funny old year. As I imagine you’ve noticed. The 4th July came and with it, the re-opening of the pubs and the easing of the restrictions on staying away from home. Dad and I headed down to the boat on the evening of Friday 3rd but, as forecast, the seas outside the breakwater were 3 meters plus and the wind in the 20’s.

Not the weather to pick for a shakedown cruise, so we remained safe and (very) sheltered behind the lock gates for the weekend. Instead of sailing, we took a walk between the rain around the Barbican on the Saturday afternoon, cumulating with a very civilised shakedown pint (for me, gin and tonic for Dad) at a pub overlooking the Sound called Waterfront, one way system, social distancing, table service and all.


My daughter’s pub reopened with the rest on the 4th.  The following Saturday Nikki and I had supper there with some friends. Purely anecdotal, I’d say the average age of the people in the bar has dropped by about thirty years, but they’re doing well business wise, and managing the situation as best can be done. But social distancing doesn’t really exist in any form other than the merest lip-service in a Saturday night bar after around 9pm. But what can you do? The kids (and by that I don’t just mean mine) need to make a living.

The following weekend, Friday 17th, Dad and I headed back down to Plymouth. 


Saturday 18th July: Plymouth to Fowey
(32 nautical miles, 8 hours 10 minutes underway)


The forecast was much more benevolent. Sea-state no more than a meter across the weekend, Saturday the wind was in the west, backing towards the southwest as the day wore on, and starting light but building to 13 to 16 knots by the afternoon. Sunday expected the wind to drop and veer into the over the morning north; high water Saturday morning was 0338.


We plotted a course for Fowey and left early Saturday morning, casting off just before 0630 to catch the tide, which turns to run fair to the west outside Plymouth approximately three hours after high water. Sutton lock was still on free-flow, so all it took was a quick call to the lock keeper on channel 12 to ask him to open the foot bridge for us and we were able to motor straight out. The sky was a dull, flat grey, the air calm in the shelter of the Sound. We raised the main, but kept the engine running and motored out towards the western entrance. It flat and grey but not cold; it felt good to finally be underway again.


A couple of warships were moored up inside the breakwater, and a returning fisherman passed us on his way back in, but we otherwise had the Sound to ourselves.

The wind began to fill in as we approached the entrance, bending to head us as it came around the headland of Penlee Point. Passing Cawsands and leaving the Sound for open water, we unrolled the headsail, stilled the engine, and heeled with the wind onto a close-hauled southerly course standing us off from the shore. The little boat was lively, thumping through the light seas under full sail. Over the next hour or so, Rame Head opened up behind Penlee off our starboard beam, and then as it too fell away behind, the distant town of Looe.


The wind slowly built, some of the gusts touching 16 knots, so we put a roll into the headsail to stiffen her a little, as much for our comfort as anyway. Calstar ploughed on, holding an easy 4 knots despite the reduced sail. That’s really as good as she gets close hauled, although I do sometimes wonder if I pinch her too tight when sailing to windward. Cracking off ten degrees will often add an extra knot to the boat speed. Without actually doing the maths I’m just never sure if that’s worth the loss of height.


With Looe eventually falling onto our starboard quarter, we tacked, beating back into the shore. Across the next couple of hours we occasionally dropped the roll out as the wind eased, and pulled it back in as it filled in again. Closing into the shore, laying Looe Island, the wind backed, giving us a significant lift. I’m still not sure if that was just the forecasted shift coming in early, or if it was just the wind bending under the influence of the land, but we held it as long as we could until closing in on the shallows off Looe Island and the maze of lobster pots you typically find there, we tacked back out again.


We held our course for another hour or so, crossing paths with a cat that passed astern of us on port, and then tacked. Despite sitting in our wind shadow, the twin hulled boat soon pulled ahead of us. The sun began to burn through the clouds, dispelling the occasional drizzle that had beset us until then. Dad, exhausted from the drive down Friday evening and mere three hours sleep the night before (like a kid, he refused to go to bed early) dozed periodically under the shelter of the sprayhood.
The sun teased but didn’t loiter long.



The wind continued to build, and around noon we pulled the first reef into the main. The jack stay is slipping through its clutch, and so when we released the main halyard to pull the reef in, it failed to completely hold the weight of the boom, so our first attempt completely failed to set the leech of the sail. A second attempt, jack stay now lead back to the main winch for support, worked much better. The wind continued to back into the afternoon, and having over-stood Fowey by a little whilst standing back out from shore, after our final tack we were able to ease a little off the wind onto a close reach for the last hour of our sailing, the little boat holding an easy 5 knots, nudging occasionally towards her hull speed of 6 as the gusts came through.


We dropped sail outside the river harbour’s mouth, a little after 1300. The entrance was rolling and crowded with boats tacking out to sea, which kept Dad entertained as we made our way in under power. We timed out arrival perfectly with the start of the yacht club’s first race of the season, so our path towards the visitor pontoons was littered with elegant Troys and pretty Fowey Rivers, all dodging each other and vying for the perfect place on the line. Suzi and Andy in their own River hailed us as we passed the end of the line; they are long time friends, Andy an enthusiastic and accomplished British Moth sailor, very accustomed to being at the front of the fleet.


On reaching the pontoons, there was the perfect space left for us to come alongside at the end of the middle one. Dad turned the boat into the tide and held a ferry glide against the current, slowly creeping in; watching our approach, a lady and gentleman on the boat opposite took the trouble to take our lines for us as Dad guided Calstar to a stop.


Just over 32 nautical miles and a little over 8 hours underway.

We took the water taxi ashore, made our way to the Fowey Gallants sailing club where we bought our first pint of the year off Paula. Andy and Suzi joined us a little later, justly content with their 2nd place won out on the water, and Kate and John once the latter had finished with his duties in the race officer’s box at the yacht club. John has hosted and organised the Moths at the Fowey Gallants for every year of the last decade or so that the event has been run. This year’s event, which should’ve been at the end of May, was cancelled for obvious reasons. We spent some small time regretting its loss and talking of Moths and mutual friends and other events that may yet come once all this present nonsense has passed. The beer was good, the company even better.


Dad and I ate supper at a table we’d earlier reserved at The Lugger Inn. The menu there is always a little limited I think, but the food is always, without fail, cooked to perfection, and excellent value for a very fair price. It was good to be back.


Sunday 19th July: Fowey to Plymouth
(24 nautical miles, 6 hours 30 minutes underway)


There was no winning with the tide for our return on Sunday. Set to turn fair for the east around 1400, with a two and a half hour drive ahead of us to get home at the end of it, leaving the departure until later didn’t seem a good idea. So we cast off early around 0700, and elected to punch our way back against it.



I’d expected a gentle broad reach from the previous day’s forecast, but a check first thing Sunday morning suggested it had gone early into the north and was expected to veer further into the north east after lunch time, with gusts up to 20 knots.


Leaving the mouth of the harbour, everything looked as we expected to find it. Wind coming from the north east, over the land, gusty but not excessive. Clear of the Polruan shore we hauled sail and stilled the engine. Then the gust hit us abeam and Calstar tipped to the wind and surged ahead. Despite the foul turning tide, our speed over the ground hit 6.1 knots, which in a Westerly Griffon feels quite bracing. A couple of other yachts closer into shore were similarly lifting their skirts and charging along.



Then it stopped. The little bit of pressure remaining turned bang onto our nose, the boat tacked uninvited, then as I tacked her back to stand off from the shore, her speed dropped to nothing, the sails slatting listlessly. Conscious of the long hours ahead of us, I gave it ten minutes, but with no change, stowed the headsail and started the engine. The next hour was spent motor-sailing, until passing Polperro the wind filled in ahead of us and we were able to quiet the engine once again, close hauled on port, just about able to lay Rame Head some dozen miles or so ahead of us.




The wind held good, occasionally building to 16 knots, encouraging us to put a roll in the headsail, occasionally dropping back to 7 or 8, but never completely failing. In the gusts, especially once past Looe, the sea would kick up a bit of a chop on the fetch out from shore, throwing the occasional fine, salty spray over us in the shelter of the cockpit. Through the middle of the morning the clouds cleared for a while, bringing the sun out to warm the spray, before the sky overdeveloped again as we closed in on Rame.



With a knot of foul tide against us and the wind becoming desperately in consistent in the shelter of the headland, our course fell away and speed dropped to the point that our tacking angle against the tide off Rame Head became something close to 150 degrees at best. We took the hint, and mindful of the long drive that waited for us once we’d won harbour, furled the headsail and motor sailed the final hour around the headland, across the Sound and back home to Sutton Harbour.


Locking in was an easy affair. Dad suggested it was the easiest lock he’d ever had to manage, and we’ve had a fair bit of practice at managing a couple of them on the Bristol Channel.

Some 24 nautical miles and about six and a half hours underway, and Calstar was home safe again.


As a shakedown cruise for our couple of weeks planned sailing it couldn't have gone better. As our shakedown cruise of 2020 it's about five months too late, but that's understandable under the present circumstances and there is much else in the world much more worth getting frustrated over.

It's just good to be back.


Sunday, 28 June 2020

Torn

A friend has written and published a book about Dinghy Cruising in the Bristol Channel.

I'm currently torn as to whether or not I should feel flattered that she's used a number of my photographs to illustrate it, or offended that I get neither mention in the book nor accreditation for the pictures.

I bought my own copy anyway, and look forward to reading it. I hope you sense that most of this post is tongue-in-cheek. Kinda.

End of the day, I think I'm happy to take one for the team.She remains a friend, and she's writing about my bit of sea.

But I'm not giving her a link.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Everywhere

Something I recorded last Friday evening, which given the repetition of that day of the week throughout the song, actually just happens to be a coincidence. It is the first thing I've written in years, although I actually started writing it over a decade ago, stuck at the time in a hotel in Stevenage, of all places, working away from home. But although the words came easy, I couldn't find the right chords or tune, or at least a tune that would take the song somewhere.

It's been stuck in my head ever since. A bit of an ear-worm in some ways. It turns out that it didn't need to go somewhere. What it needed was a looper. Which, by happy coincidence is my latest toy.

This is far from the perfect performance, I guess I could claim I'm proficient with the basics but far from accomplished with the loop station at my feet. And I imagine it's far from what I suspect should be the final arrangement, so I guess you could claim this is, as yet, still unfinished. But I think I've brought it to a place that I'm happy to leave it for now, and so I shall stop making excuses; I've actually quite enjoyed the process.



friday night in this town
and her heart's as cold as stone
there's a million different people
all trying to get home
in the early hours of nowhere
where the year is growing old
with a million different people
I am doing what I'm told


try to walk on water
get blood out of a stone
for a million different people
this town is not a home
and we try to reach tomorrow
but the sun has just been sold
and a million different people
are all out here in the cold


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my consolation
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your rocking chair
can I be your only care
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why?


friday night in this town
where the year is growing thin
there's a million different people
all trying to get in
in the early hours of nowhere
in the silent hotel room
I've a hundred sorry reasons
for  wishing they were you


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my only reason
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your sole companion
can I be your favourite dress
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why


friday night in this town
what do I have to say
there's a million different people
who will all stand in my way
and friday night is cold now
and her heart's as hard as stone
I've a million different reasons
for wanting to come home


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my only comfort
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your favourite blanket
can I be your only care
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why


you are my rising star
you are my reason why
you are the only wonder
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your christmas present
can I be your choice of heaven
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why

can I be your true religion
can I be your sacred vision
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why?

Calstar: the latest


Had an excited phone call from Dad a couple of hours ago. Seems the powers that be have announced that from Saturday 4th July the pubs can reopen and, more to the point, people can go camping again. Amongst other stuff. As long as they observe what the incumbents of No. 10 have cunningly branded "1m-plus" social distancing.

Which I assume is a sop to appease those zealots in their party who desperately want to abolish both the existing 2m rule and social distancing altogether in the interests of the economy and let the proles just take their chances out there, and the care-bears on the other side of the fence who still believe it's far, far too early and that everybody bar none should still be in the strictest of lockdowns and not allowed outside without a signed, dated and stamped government issued ticket.

Sorry, as I've previously pretended, I try not to get to political here. For myself, I'm very divided. I badly miss gigs, both the buzz, the companionship and the little bit of pocket money they generate for me, and I badly miss karate, and I badly miss harbour-hopping along the South Coast with Dad and Calstar. And I badly I miss racing. And I badly miss the fact that my daughter and her fella do not currently have a job but instead has a whole heap of worries as to whether or not their pub will ever be viable again. They are planning to reopen on the 4th.

I also miss beer out of the tap instead of the can or bottle.

On the other hand, I have friends and family I love and care for, and friends with friends and family they love and care for who are most certainly in the vulnerable category, and that I seriously do not want to catch this thing.

Anyway.

From 4th July we can stay over on the boat again. So Dad is very, very excited. He spent an hour explaining to me that he'd bought a mini George Thornbury grill so that he could cook on the boat in case we couldn't find any restaurants to feed ourselves down there. I tried explaining to him that we already had a gas stove and that his mini-grill would need shore power to work, but his reply to that was that so did his iPad.

It doesn't, and can of course charge off a battery. But if you use it as much as Dad does his, then you need a lot of batteries. I am struck by how different our aims and objectives are when it comes to sailing. But I don't mind. It'll just be great to be back afloat with him again. I can't wait.

I stole the photo at the top from our new marina's website. It's an aerial photograph of Sutton Harbour, Calstar's new base; she's berthed in the bottom right corner. You can of course also see her old home at Queen Anne's Battery on frame left, just outside of the harbour lock gates.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Albacore: going solo

Despite buying the Albacore back at the end of last year, we only had the chance to take her out very few times before gear failure, my health, a refit and then the nation's health (and a global pandemic) got in the way.


As Ben (aka. child #2 and the only other sailing member of my immediate family) has spread his wings and moved down to Bristol to be with his work and his lovely lady Hannah (they're actually buying a house together, kind of exciting) I have nobody to sail the Albacore with for as long as the current government restrictions remain in place.

Besides, as the boat half belongs to my (previously) regular crew Amanda, it would feel rude to sail it with somebody else.

Anyway, I digress. At the end of January, the Albacore was taken off for a refit by my mate Paul of CS Boats. It's probably fair to suggest that what Paul doesn't know about fitting and rigging an Albacore probably hasn't been thought of yet. He gave me a very fair estimate on converting the shrouds, which had old fashioned high-field levers to set the tension, to a fully adjustable system, suggested a very good alternative to the then existing mast ram (used for rude adjustments of the mast rake and controlling the pre-bend) and a plan for bringing all the pertinent controls back to the helm.


Caveat emptor. And by that, I don't mean in reference to Paul, but in reference to the chap that sold us the boat in the first place. Although in fairness, he was no more aware of the various failings subsequently uncovered once the boat was back in the workshop than I'd been from my original, cursory examination before we parted with the cash.

Besides which, I had a fair idea of what I was getting into.

By the time Paul had made all the intended, planned adjustments for the refit, and corrected all the unexpected "surprises" that revealed themselves in the process, the final cost had quadrupled. I should stress that none of this was dropped on me out of the blue by Paul; he did an exemplary job of keeping me informed as the work progressed and did exactly as I asked. The best recommendation I can give anybody is that I wouldn't hesitate to use their services again, and in Paul's case I almost certainly will the next time I inevitably break something.


In any case, the Albacore was finally returned to the Club in May, as soon as the non-essential travel restrictions were lifted. She now has a fully modernised rig; completely adjustable shrouds and adjustable forestay led back to the helm, fully adjustable mast rake and pre-bend, again led back to the helm along with the controls for the new kicker. The cockpit has been repainted, various stray holes filled and fared, various loose bits re-glued and a nasty gash in the trailing edge of the centreboard filled, fared and painted. And the toe-straps have been replaced with a fully adjustable, customised system that shouldn't fail and drop me overboard again.

Or at least won't once I put a couple of stoppers in place that appear to have been overlooked. A minor thing however.


Overall, I'm really pleased with the result, desperate to have my crew back and desperate to race her. Meanwhile frustrated as anything that the prevailing pandemic prevents me from doing so (with the absolute caveat that I know this is a silly, minor inconvenience in the greater scheme of things and I still have the Laser to keep me entertained)

However, last Sunday the conditions seemed pretty benign, with the forecast promising heavy showers across the afternoon, but gusts of no more than 14 knots.

So I rigged her and took her out on my own.


Everything works. And single-handing an Albacore is actually quite a bit more comfortable than single-handing an Enterprise, and the rig is a lot more controllable. I only had one very close shave, where a gust caught me mid-gybe, and both the the mainsheet and jibsheets snagged in their respective cleats, but I narrowly avoided the capsize. I'm going to blame that one on the crew; absence is no excuse.

There's a lot of new string in the boat, and an awful lot of new stuff to learn and things to tweak before I suspect we'll see any decent results once the racing restarts. But it's a learning curve I'm really looking forward to grappling with.

Buying a new boat should be an exciting thing, but in many ways circumstances have conspired against us over the last six months to put heavy dampers on this one. For the last few months, the whole thing has been kind of anticlimactic, something of a money-pit with no real return.


But I find myself once again enthused and awfully keen to get back out there and race her properly.

There is the suggestion, the merest whisper of a rumour, that could be mid July. But in these perilous times who can tell. All I know is that once Amanda and I do get the all clear to race together again, we've got a gorgeous boat waiting for us to race with.

Meanwhile, next Sunday morning I fully plan to be back out with my Laser again.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Tony Benn

I generally try not to stray into politics here. For the record, I'd consider myself an accidental socialist, torn between railing at the injustices of society and despair at the ignorance and disinterest of the masses. But that's my cross to bear. And following the bruising taken at the General Election at the end of last year, I'm mostly bearing it by ignoring it and, whenever opportunity permits, going sailing.

I'm also aware of how much room for misinterpretation of intent and meaning can be found between the lines of written correspondence, so if you want to discuss politics, let me buy you a beer and let's do it in person where there is so much less room for unintended offence.

That said, a good friend and fellow sailor (John Christie, veteran coastal cruiser and long-time custodian and helm of the lovely Drascombe Lugger "Muckle Flugga") shared this link to the transcript of a speech given by the late MP Tony Benn in 2007. I found it to be a fascinating read so I thought I'd share.

tribunemag.co.uk/2020/06/tony-benn-on-the-legacy-of-slavery

I've long admired Tony Benn, although I only really knew of him in his more senior years, which might've coloured my experience and judgement; but a bit like Corbyn, even where I found myself unable to completely agree with him I found I've always admired the sentiment and principle behind his position.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Laser: selfie cleats


Lasers have a cleat on the port and starboard gunwales respectively, intended for cleating the mainsheet. The received wisdom is you don't use them. Ever. To be fair, in anything above a whisper of wind I'm too busy playing the mainsheet to keep the boat flat to be able to use them anyway.

In any case, their position is actually such that unless you're sailing in waves, they simply serve to reassure you that you're far enough forward when you're hiking out on the beat; because the cleat is under you and digging uncomfortably into the back of your thigh. 

It makes for some really interestingly shaped bruises on a really windy day.

On Sunday I discovered another use for them. You can cleat off the mainsheet whist you're hiking and take a selfie.


I really need a haircut. Which isn't the only reason I rarely take selfies, but it is sufficient a reason of itself. This one was too much fun to resist though. Especially as the wind was inconsistent, and threatening to drop me back into the water with a lull at any moment. Besides, I really like how my boat looks reflected in my sunglasses.

Sunday was, on balance, a good day's sailing. Wind was light in the morning, but built up towards lunchtime, before falling back off again into the afternoon. Sunshine was frequent enough for it not to feel cold. We are, of course, allowed back out on the water to sail again, but racing is still not on. 

However, we're allowed informal group sessions, which I guess include training and practice starts, as long as we observe the national restrictions regarding social distancing. This mean you can gather outside with up to six other people not from your household, as long as you all maintain the mandatory two meters distance from each other.

On land, that six souls rule is apparently because it's deemed the most people you can have in a single cohesive group and communicate with each other whilst also maintaining the two meter separation rule. On the water, the number feels completely arbitrary. The only communication between single-handed boats is either implicit, non-verbal and mutually understood, or yelled at each other.


In practice it meant that our single lap sessions had to be split into fleets of no more than six boats per start. Which is fine if you're in a fleet with five other boats, but if you turn up late and find yourself in a fleet of two or three, the whole thing starts to feel a bit hollow.

Which left me wondering if there was any point, as for the first, third and subsequent sessions, because I'd turned up a little late, I was in just such a group. The experience was a little deflating, to be honest.

However, for the second race, the third fleet was non existent, so I started with the second. This coincided with a lull in the wind, turning the whole lap into something of a drift. My Laser does well in a drift, and I passed all of the second fleet then caught up and passed all but one of the half-dozen solos in the first before the lap finished.

My only "win" of the day, but it was fun.

After they all packed in and went ashore, I stayed out for another hour to enjoy the best of the wind before it finally dropped right off and the rain started to come in. It was during this hour or so that I worked out that the mainsheet cleats were really just a handy third hand for anybody wanting to take a selfie.

Or a pretty picture of their own boat.







Saturday, 6 June 2020

Greenhill

Another one of mine, as I'm in a self-indulgent mood.

If "Goodnight Salvador Dali" posted earlier today was the creation of a band sitting down together at a rehearsal, this one, "Greenhill" was entirely my own, written solo in a bedroom with an acoustic guitar. Likewise, if Dali came at the peak of the band's creativity, Greenhill was written in the early days of the band's inception, and would've been there with us at our first gig in Gloucester, all hazy years ago.

It became my daughter's favourite, and remains so, at least out of the songs her dad has written. I can still picture her, three or four years old, dancing to it in front of the band, even though the crowd that would've surrounded her have long blurred.

I only recently discovered the reason it was her favourite was the inclusion of a particular line towards the end, blatantly nicked from a nursery rhyme. So I understand now why it appealed to the three year old. I only discovered this because I recorded a version earlier this year or late last just for the fun of it, and left what I thought was an inconsequential backing vocal line out.

She was unimpressed, and made a point of telling me why.

I recorded this version Thursday evening just gone. I was playing with my looper, a new piece of kit that I am not practiced with and will almost certainly never use live, but bought for my own amusement. For the uninitiated, it's basically a sequencer that once set up you can control with your foot, which records and plays back phrases in a loop.

There are some very talented people that do some very clever things with kit like this. I am not one of those, but I'm having quite a bit of fun playing with it anyway.

This then is Tasha's Song, or as I once named it, Greenhill.




Goodnight Salvador Dali

I spent most of my teenage years at a boarding school. It wasn't that my parents hated me, but rather that Dad worked out in Kuwait, and once I hit secondary school age, there were no schools out there suitable. So I left home for a few years, returning only for the school holidays.

At some point in the middle of that, it was a summer term I think, about the same time I was really starting to discover the cathartic pleasure to be found in writing, an American girl joined the school. Some sort of exchange I think, she and her friend were only with us for the one term.

Shannon Zoe Johnson. She was, by the by, blonde and very, very pretty. She was also an exceptionally gifted poet. I fell in love. Perhaps a little bit with her, albeit only from afar, but mainly with her words.

Perhaps it was the fact that they spilled so free and so easily onto the page, but they triggered something of an epiphany, a sudden realisation that I could do the same.

So I did. I filled school text books up with verse, most of it adolescent junk. I may one day go back and read some of it to amuse myself at my own expense, but not today, and not for some while. For now, it can all stay in that bottom drawer where that of it which remains has lain now for years.

That summer, sitting in my parent's garage with my guitar, the realisation hit me that if I could string a few chords together and lay the words over the top, well, that would be a song. And whilst you never met a rich poet, there were plenty of rich rockstars.

So I spent a year writing songs with my guitar and recording them onto an old tape recorder. Like most of my teenage poetry, most of it was junk, but all of it terribly earnest.

Then the following summer, 1990, I finished school. And in the spring that followed, I met another guitarist called Lee, and started a band. We couldn't find a bassist, so persuaded my brother Jay that he could do it. We couldn't find a drummer, but the guitarist had a cousin called Jim who had a keyboard, and that keyboard could play drum tracks. Fortunately, it turns out the keyboard player also had a friend called Dave who could play drums.

And a sister. I eventually married Jim's sister, but that's a different story.

I wasn't supposed to be the singer. Only a stand-in until they could find somebody who could do the job properly. But they weren't too gifted at looking, and I wrote the songs, so it followed that I was the only one that knew the words and I wanted the job myself. All is fair in love and war, apparently.

And that is how the band started.

We regrettably fell out with the guitarist, drummers came and went, the keyboard player went and came back and went again and came back again. Somewhere along the way (actually, the beginning of the year 2004) I stopped writing my own songs, and the band switched to playing covers.

Almost thirty years later though and we're still going. Different guitarist now, different drummer, different set, but same bassist, and Jim has begged to be allowed to join us again, just for the one night, for our next gig, whenever and wherever that may be when the current crisis has finally passed.

This song is called "Goodnight Salvador Dali". Why, I don't really know. I wrote it when the band was possibly at the peak of it's creativity. It would've been at a rehearsal, the guitarist or bassist would've come up with a riff, and I'd have worked the lyrics and melody out on top.

For its time in the set it was one of those songs I'd put my guitar down for; so for years and years I never even knew what the chords were. Ben Jones, our guitarist of the time, made it all look very clever and complicated. Then a little while ago realised that if you stripped out all of his flourishes and capo'd up to the 4th, and reduced everything to the underlying chords themselves, they were actually very easy.






Calstar: the longest cruise


And by that I mean we'd originally planned to cast off 1st April to move Calstar from her old berth in QAB to her new home in Sutton Harbour, but were delayed until 1st June.


But it's finally done. Ignore the time on the screenshot at the top. It took about half of that, including the few minutes sat outside waiting for the lock, but I forgot to stop the log once we'd landed in Sutton. What can I say? I'm a little bit out of practice.


But we are getting back into it. The same log (which again, being out of practice I typically don't remember to start until I've been out on the water for some time) paints a pretty picture of the last few weeks . . .


I found it most amusing to note that my average heart rate when moving Calstar was 92bpm, including the time wandering about the pontoon setting lines and generally securing the boat in her new berth once we'd arrived and I'd forgotten to stop the clock. I hadn't realised Dad's helmsmanship made me that nervous!

By contrast, crewing for a friend on another boat in conditions a lot colder and rougher than we had in Plymouth on Monday my heart rate averaged 82bpm. Still much higher than my average resting of 59bpm, but hardly stressed at all. I guess I'm generally sanguine in attitude when things aren't my direct responsibility.

I don't know how accurate these things are. That said, a max of 175bpm reminds me of what a fantastic time I had with the Laser at South Cerney last Sunday. A bit of a flukey, shifty wind, but when the gusts came through the little boat screamed along. Fastest reach was 10.1 knots. Back over there again tomorrow for another play, and a bit more wind forecast for this week.

I can't wait.