Tuesday, 6 April 2021

reboot in progress

Just looking at the log from my watch, and life is slowly edging back to normal. Still no gigs, but our first is booked in for 22nd May, so not long now. I think I might still carry on running, not that I can pretend to have actually worked out what's enjoyable about it yet, but I'll keep it up at least until karate starts again, probably mid-May.

And life is so far back to almost normal that I've signed up for a Laser Open at a nearby sailing club (Whitefriars, just down the road from my own South Cerney) this coming Saturday. No changing facilities on site, clubhouse remains closed so no drinks or food available (bring your own) but the racing is going ahead. Same situation as at South Cerney then.

Only ever sailed one other Laser Open, when I first got the boat, and that wasn't altogether a happy experience (although nothing to do with the sailing, it was enough to dissuade me from bothering again until now). But that's well behind us. I find myself stupidly excited about this coming Saturday.

Need to get back down the Club before then to sort out my road trailer, however. Thursday evening, perhaps.

And then, once I'm finished racing the Laser at Whitefriars on Saturday, Amanda and I are racing the Albacore again on Sunday. 

Like I said, life is back to almost normal. Or at least it's safe to say that the reboot is now well under way. Except for the sub-zero temperatures forecast for the weekend. What's that about in April? We even had light snow yesterday and a frost on the car this morning. 

Clearly, the world still has capacity left for more crazy.

Albacore: refloated

It was a good weekend. They're usually all good weekends, but this one felt extra special. And, being the Easter Bank Holiday here in the UK, extra long as we got both Friday and Monday off work to pad it out.

So we started out Thursday evening. Being my 50th birthday, Nik, Sam (youngest, only one still at home) and I went over to Dad's where my sister-in-law Arya cooked us supper. Arya is Indonesian, which I think is synonymous with "amazing cook" and supper was accordingly delicious. And we got to eat with her, Dad and my brother Jamie for the first time in a very long time, which was possibly the best birthday present I could ask for.

Which is not to say, of course, that other presents were not involved.

Friday was spent in sunshine tidying the garden, and then that evening there was a virtual open mic night, so more good company (if only "in-video")  and an incautious amount of music and alcohol to go with it.

And then Saturday I met up with Amanda at the lake. As I've doubtless mentioned up here before, Amanda co-owns and races the Albacore with me. 

We had to raise the mast, twice as I rigged it wrong the first time, and check all the control lines and both sails were in good order. When we last put the boat away mid-October I hadn't intended to leave her like that for six months, but circumstances overtook us. And everybody else. But we were lucky and the boat has a good cover. The boat and sails were dry and, more to the point and my great relief, no sign of any nibbling vermin having made themselves at home in our absence.

Of course, having rigged the boat we needed to take her out to make sure she could still float, so spent a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon charging around the lake. The wind was blustery enough to get the boat up on the plane once or twice, but nothing too rough, perfect for our belated maiden voyage of the year. The temperature had been chilly rigging ashore, but once out on the water it was fine.

Home again after putting the boat away, and my other two children and their partners joined us for the evening. Less music was involved, but there was an equally incautious amount of alcohol again compared to the previous night. We've not had the chance to have the family all together since Christmas and it was good to see them all happy and well.

Sunday morning. Two races, the first race starting at 1100. The lake was a popular spot, everybody obviously very keen to get back and the weather playing along beautifully. But there's always plenty of space ashore so no issues with social distancing. It was great to catch up with friends, albeit with all of us doing the 2 meter shuffle, some of whom I'd not seen since Greece and others even before that.

The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and the wind from the east and very, very shifty, but quite light, which made for a much warmer day that the day before. There were 30 boats out on the water, a mix of single and double handers, split into three racing fleets, the largest of which was ours in the general handicap with 19 boats on the line for the first race.

I think we acquitted ourselves respectably, taking a mid-fleet 8th and 9th place. Although we've had her more than a year now, the Albacore is still a very new boat for us, and quite technical with a highly adjustable rig which includes things like shroud tension and mast rake, none of which were ever a concern on the water with our old Enterprise. She's also a fair bit bigger than the Ent and I'm not entirely used to her handling yet, which makes me naturally cautious when around other boats.

But we made no major mistakes, and when we got the rig right, the boat moved beautifully. Despite the mid-fleet result, there's lots of scope still for improvement. And, hopefully, a whole season stretching out ahead for us.

And, as you can possibly tell from the photos accompanying, all of which were stills taken from the GoPro on Sunday, it was an utterly lovely day to be on the water. So much so that, when the racing was all over, we stayed out a little longer and Amanda took the opportunity for a bit of practice at the helm.

Monday, 29 March 2021

reopening plan, stage one

So I think it's official. The 29th has dawned so, theoretically, the lake is back open. At least that was the promise and the plan, and I've not heard anything from anybody to suggest the plan has changed. Checking the webcam however doesn't exactly show crowds of enthusiasts descending upon the water. 

They're probably all at work. Just like me.

And I have a pretty full week of work ahead (albeit only four days worth, as the coming weekend is the Easter bank holiday) but I am seriously thinking of bunking off early on Thursday to go take the Laser out for a play.

And I find myself once more glued to the weather (or at least, the wind) forecast for the coming week, whereas for the last few months I've assiduously avoided them as a reminder of what I've been missing.

Thursday; 15 knots gusting into the 20's? Perfect Laser country. A bit of a dodgy direction, north east, but still, 15 knots gusting into the 20's? Sounds like an invitation to play to me.

There is a race scheduled for Sunday. Amanda has agreed to sail the Albacore with me. Of course, we've got to put the mast back up (it was left on the ground after we had the jib halyard repaired just as the last lockdown hit) and need to check the sails are okay. Because we've been unable to get to the boat since October, they've been lying in the cold and damp under the boat cover. Not where I would've chosen to keep them, but it is what it is.

Amanda has suggested we could head down to the lake on Saturday as well for a practice and to check everything's working. Haven't run that one past Nikki yet, who has the weekend off work so might take a dim view of me scarpering off to the lake for the entirety of it.

Then again, I've got Friday and Monday off because of the Easter holiday. Perhaps by Saturday Nik will be fed up of having had me under her feet all day Friday, and glad to see the back of me for a couple of hours?

Negotiations for later this week I think.

[update: Nik rang just as I was about to post this, so I bit the bullet and asked. She quite literally laughed at me, and then said "Alright then" in that pained but tolerant, semi-resigned tone of voice she has for just such moments when I strain her patience and goodwill. So "boat prep" Saturday, racing Sunday; I love that woman. And I may still bunk off Thursday to go play with the Laser]

Thursday, 11 March 2021

weather gage


It was a rough night last night. This morning is still blustery; the weather map shows about 19 knots at the sailing club, which is perfect Laser country, 25 knots down in Plymouth, which I confess might tempt Calstar to stay in harbour unless the destination were downwind and urgent (and even then I'd think twice), and 32 knots off Lands End, which are absolutely not the conditions I want to see when we're rounding it in early June.

And we won't, because if it's doing that, we are absolutely staying in harbour until it stops doing that.

The charts from weather station on Rame Head, just outside Plymouth Sound, record that the wind was blowing 45 knots at 0200 this morning, but gusting to 70. I think that would dissuade me from even trying to launch the Laser on the lake.

Unless there was a race to be won, of course. In which case, that's what I have a radial rig for.

Talking of Lasers, the long range forecast, in the form of a newsletter from the Club, suggests that if all goes to plan (when does it ever, especially with the current circus of clowns in charge?) then the powers that be might lift the lockdown restrictions a little on March 29th and let us back out on the lake. If so, that'll make for my perfect birthday present a couple of days later on April 1st, thank-you very much. I was planning to work the day as usual, but that might persuade me to bunk off for the day and go for a sail instead. 

Especially if it's still blowing 20 knots down at the lake. I'd even take 25 knots; the lake, unlike the waters outside Plymouth right now, doesn't give you 6.5m waves to deal with into the bargain just because there's a little bit of wind blowing.

In other news, and planting tongue very firmly in cheek as I write this, it appears us youngsters are catching up with the oldsters; Nikki and I have both been invited for the first of our two Covid jabs on Saturday.

That said, as of the end of this month I'll finally be closer to 70 than I am to 30. So I guess in the eyes of many that probably qualifies me as an oldster myself.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Calstar: ports of call

On the bright side, it turns out there are only four passages more than 30 miles, and only a couple close to the 40 mile mark. Of course, this is Navionics auto-calculating the distances for me; it tends to hug contours based on your draft, doesn't allow for headlands and overfalls, etc, and certainly pays no consideration to the wind or point of sail.

That would be my job.

On the not so bright side, the worry is, as ever in these parts, contingency and boltholes. 

I know the area from Plymouth to just beyond Falmouth at the Lizard as well as my own proverbial back yard, and know the ground from just after Lundy back to Portishead just as well. The rest of it is new to me. Which, of course, is part of the fun.

I don't think there is any cover between Penzance and St Ives, and once committed, turning back could be as difficult as pressing forward. Likewise, St Ives to Padstow, then Padstow to Lundy. Long legs for a little boat, and once you start them, you're pretty much committed to seeing them through. Once we get around the corner that is Land's End, we're going to want the wind in the prevailing southwest, and would like a ni8ce bit of it, but not too much.

All weather ports of refuge that we can consider in the Bristol Channel are Swansea and Cardiff. But if the weather turns foul you could have a lot of nasty water to cover to reach either of them. On the other hand, it is the Bristol Channel, so if you can just manage to stay afloat, the tide will eventually carry you to wherever it is you are trying to go.

Needless to say, we're going to be very careful with the weather. And that, much more so than any deadlines of work, band or otherwise, will determine when and where we sail, and when and where we arrive.

Calstar: homecoming plans

Seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only 2017 when we were dreaming of blue water and making plans to sail Calstar from Cardiff to Plymouth. In the end, we took the portage option and consigned her to the back of a truck. Regrettable, but it was worth the compromise to get her down there.

We've loved our time on the south coast.

But the time has come to bring her home to the Bristol Channel. Dad's not happy with the boat being so far away, and we've certainly had much less time to sail, albeit the sailing has been of a quite different kind altogether than we tend to find in our local, estuarine waters.

We are planning to sail her back.

We have two weeks, departing Plymouth Friday 28th May and needing to be back in Portishead by Sunday 13th June. I say "needing", but if the weather gods play foul, once we're around the corner, we could safely leave her in Padstow, Swansea or Cardiff and bring her the rest of the way over a sequence of spare weekends. 

It would be quite an inconvenience though, and risk running foul of any number of gigs. I'm keeping the band's diary clear until 25th June just in case, but the office will likely really want me back by week commencing the 14th, so that will be a consideration.

I think the trip breaks down into a series of mostly 40 mile hops:

  1. Plymouth to Falmouth (via Fowey, for old time's sake)
  2. Falmouth to Penzance (or possibly Newlyn)
  3. Penzance to St Ives
  4. St Ives to Padstow
  5. Padstow to Lundy
  6. Lundy to Ilfracombe
  7. Ilfracombe to Cardiff
  8. Cardiff to Portishead
That's eight destinations over 17 days. Not too bad a slog, but very weather dependent. It looks like it'll just be myself and Dad. It would be arguably easier if we had a third person to help out, but I think we can manage.

A lot of planning yet to do, and the small consideration of the weather aside, everything remains dependent upon how the situation develops nationally with regards to the virus.

I'm going to miss South Devon and Cornwall. But it'll be nice to get her back local to home. And, as with all things sailing, this one really is as much about the journey as the destination.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Mr Brightside (v2)

I've had a favourite old guitar re-fretted. When picking it back up from the shop on Saturday, I saw they had a couple of "partial capos" for sale, so grabbed those to play with as well. They say most fishing tackle is designed to catch anglers, not fish. The same isn't so very different with guitarists, I guess.

For the uninitiated, a capo is a clamping device you can lock across the neck of a guitar to change the key, usually to better fit a vocalist's range, but it can also change the tone of the guitar; it's not uncommon for flamenco guitarists to capo the guitar at the 2nd fret to brighten their sound, for example. They are conventionally designed to lock across all six strings.
I had been messing around with only barring certain strings with a capo towards the end of last year, but had indifferent results with a traditional capo as it applied uneven tension to the strings I was trying to adjust or interfered with the strings I was trying to keep clear.
I did pick up a "spider" capo on Amazon; a great idea but so poorly executed by the company that makes them that I sent it back and asked for a refund. A supposedly "universal" device designed to fit the neck of all guitars, for the sake of about an eight of an inch of bolt it wouldn't fit any of mine.
These are made by Shubb, not the cheapest, but a brand I know and trust and have been using for years. The one in the clip below caps off three of the six strings. Apparently (there were instructions on the back of the package. I wonder if their standard capos come with instructions? I've never thought to check!) it's supposed to be used at the second fret, either to emulate DADGAD tuning or invert it to emulate open A tuning. But before I noticed it came with instructions, I'd already found that if I locked it on at the fourth fret it gave an interesting harmonic twist to the chords of an old favourite Killers cover from the band's set. I've left a couple of bum notes in just to give it that authentic "live" feel and to try hide to the fact it took about the usual 57 takes just to get the one clip I was even part way happy to post. I've posted a version of this song up here before, on another guitar, thus the (v2) in the title line of this entry. So this is another version of "Mr Brightside" by the Killers, on my partially capo'd, freshly re-fretted Taylor.

Monday, 22 February 2021

something a little different

Was a time when a Friday night would've almost certainly meant a gig if I wasn't away for the weekend sailing. Things are altogether a little more subdued these days, and likely to remain so until the summer at best, certainly at the rate we're going.

However, a friend and the organiser of an "open mic night" I used to frequent over in Cheltenham on the odd occasion I had neither a gig nor plans to go sailing hosted an online event this Friday evening. Technically, you could say it was streamed, but as it was his first go, he requested the performers all pre-record their sets and then send them over to him to stream live, to avoid any unforeseen continuity problems I guess.

Understandable, I reckon. And it worked out well.

Obviously, both open mic nights and pre-recorded Internet performances are very much in my comfort zone these days, so I thought I'd knock myself back out of said zone and leave the guitar on its stand and words unsung for a change

I don't think the Friday night crowd were expecting classical piano, certainly not from me, but they're an eclectic, forgiving bunch, and it seemed to be fairly well received.

I played three pieces; Gymnopedie No. 1 by Satie, Beethoven's "Moonlight" and a third piece sandwiched in between the two that I'd love to name. But whilst my fingers still remember the notes and their order from all those many years ago when I was first taught it, I can't for the life of me remember the name of the piece or the composer, and all my Internet enquiries and searches have so far rendered neither.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

go, snow go

It's snowing.

Actually, I'm not sure if it technically qualifies as snow. It's more like the air getting crystallised by the wind-chill and falling out of the sky. It's being blown around in swirls but not settling. And although it feels very cold in the stiff breeze, it's actually only about 2°c, so I doubt very much it will settle. 

The wind is out of the east, gusting to about 27 knots; the direction, almost opposite to the usual prevailing in these parts, explains the vicious bite it carries.

Which will be a test of my convictions this evening.

I've been running a little bit. Not something I generally do unless something nasty is chasing me, but with all the enforced inactivity of no band, no sailing and no karate, my level of fitness has definitely crashed since the end of last year and my weight has climbed, albeit by only a little.

So I figured I had to do something. And the dogs are getting too old and slow these days for walking them to qualify as any kind of exercise.

So I've been forcing myself out of the house each (or at least some) evening(s) to run around the block as if something nasty is chasing me, and drinking a little more (sparkling) water and a little less beer on a night. Spiking it with a splash of orange juice if I'm feeling a little adventurous. A single lap is just under 1.5k, so not far or terribly time consuming or much to shout about.

And I have to say it feels like hard work and neither terribly sensible nor terribly rewarding. Which means I'm probably doing it all wrong. But desperate times, desperate measures and all that. Although I am enjoying the stats my watch generates, and, perversely, enjoying the challenge of basically racing myself each evening.

But I guess I'm built more for hiking than running.

And by "hiking" I mean the kind above, not the sort that involves heavy, mud-clotted boots and "bracing" views across the countryside. In the interests of transparency, I should probably confess that photo was taking about thirteen years ago. 

Which, I think, was about the last time I was allowed to go sailing?

Friday, 5 February 2021

friday am

Lilly would like it known that not everybody is a morning person. Although, as I pointed out to her as I left for work this morning, some of us have no choice in the matter.

My ambitions for this coming weekend are to clear up the yard, put some shelves up in the kitchen and take my youngest to the hospital for a chest x-ray on Sunday. I'm finding it difficult to work up enthusiasm for any of it, although the x-ray is past due; Sam's had a persistent cough (no, not that kind of persistent) and so it's about time he called the doc's to get it sorted.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

almost sprung

I noticed the first snowdrops had come into flower on the drive into the office this morning. Catkins are hanging off of branches and there is a downy blossom covering some of the smaller trees. Spring is just around the corner.

The photo was the closest Google could find amongst my photos when I typed "snowdrops" into the search bar. It's somehow reassuring to know Google isn't infallible. 

And a little surprising to discover I don't actually have any past pictures of snowdrops.


This was the song at the top of my playlist this morning as I plugged into start the day's work. I've no real idea who the Donots are, I only stumbled across them because they recorded this song with Frank Turner. However, if there was ever a band name I wish I'd thought of for myself, then this was is.

It's also a pretty good song. I've not tried embedding a song from Spotify into this site before, so not sure how that's going to work. Let me know if it doesn't.