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.

Monday, 1 February 2021

a modern privilage

I've just realised that, revelling in my self pity, my last two consecutive posts both bemoan the general uniformity of my weekends in reference to these "present times".

Being bored is, of course, something of a modern privilege.

Actually, I do myself an injustice. I never get bored, I'm infinitely capable of entertaining myself. What I'm really whining about of course is the fact that the three pillars with which I usually do this, being karate, sailing and the band, have been denied me, and will continue to be denied to me for some time yet to come. So my days outside of the office have become somewhat uniform.

Although there has to be some light on the horizon. The nation appears to be pinning its hopes on a vaccine, and my dad and my father-in-law, both being in their late 70's, had their first dose a week ago. We are slowly edging our way back to liberation, it seems.

Over the years, I've posted a number of photos of St Mary's Mill, which is where my company is currently based. These photos, and their accompanying "Rules of Working" are on the wall of our reception. I'm not sure exactly when they date from; the Chalford Stick Co Ltd. which manufactured umbrellas, walking sticks and parasols here, took over the mill in 1903 after it had stood empty for a while, and employed around a hundred souls, so I imagine they date from about then.

In the top picture, my office, where I'm currently sat, is on the fourth floor of the mill. The two windows at the end of the building and the one just around the corner are mine. 

Until April 1st, at least.

the grey room

As of this morning, our company took on the lease for our new office. The overlap with the old office's  lease gives us until 1st April to complete the move. So first item on this morning's agenda was to meet with my four of my colleagues to work out a plan as to how we're going to achieve this.

It's the first time in quite a while we've all been in the same place together. Fortunately, there was plenty of space to to spread ourselves out. Unfortunately, between my usual tinnitus (look after your ears, kids!), the distance between us, masked faces and the hollow acoustics of an empty room I had a very hard job hearing anything that was said, but they all dealt very patiently with my frequent requests of "Sorry, say that again?"

And it was a productive morning. We got as far as setting a date for the actual move. Provisionally.

That Monday morning was the most interesting thing that happened to me all weekend is pretty much the signature of our present times.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

elemental snow

It says something of these present times that, aside from listening online to a talk a friend gave on the other side of the world Saturday night, the highlight of my weekend was that I successfully replaced the heating element in my oven.

I would imagine that, for the average man of my age, such a feat would be quite unremarked and unremarkable. I muddled my way through it and didn't really think twice. Until I spoke to Dad later that same evening and casually mentioned it.

I'll swear I heard the thump as he fell off his chair. It seems I lack a reputation for being practically gifted amongst my nearest and dearest. Personally, I reckon they do me a disservice, although given that Dad's an engineer and my brother has, variously, been a trainee gas fitter, run a tool hire company and then most recently been in a crane hire, I suppose I am somewhat overshadowed on the practical aptitude front.

What Bill? He sails and does stuff with computers. 

I think that's pretty much how they have me boxed and labelled. And I say that without malice or resentment. Although I also do stuff with guitars and pianos and karate. And I can, funny enough, actually manage a screwdriver and find and follow instructions in the event I can't actually work out what to do with the screwdriver once it's in my hand.

And of late I've both mended a garden fence and replaced an oven heating element. I really hope Dad doesn't think I'm rendering him obsolete!

We've had a little bit of snow. It fell overnight across the weekend and was mostly gone from the low ground by the start of the week. But it persisted on the higher ground and in the shadow of the valleys around Stroud for a couple of days.

I've always thought the Mill looked pretty in the snow.

It is gone today though. A few icy patches remaining, but even they're melting quick. I'm about done with winter now, truth be told. It's not so much the cold that bothers me. It's the lack of daylight, the persistent damp and continuous mud. 

Of course, the mud wouldn't be a problem if it actually stayed cold enough to freeze. But even the latest snowy spell was more of a slush anywhere except on high ground or the afore mentioned valley shadows.

Of course, if it did freeze I'd only complain that the lake was frozen and I couldn't go sailing. Except, of course, I can't anyway.

Friday, 22 January 2021

the mind's eye

We've had a frosty start to the day this morning.

I've just read an interview with Judy Dench, and from this moment I feel that whenever in the future I see her on the stage or, more likely given I've not visited a theatre in years, the screen, from now on I have a moral obligation to undertake only to see her as 6ft tall, willowy and about 39.