Friday 20 December 2013

Hello Friday

Soundcheck went without a hitch. Which is a first for today. Had a headache since lunchtime which won't shift. Printer ran out of ink so was only able to print one setlist.

And the car went terminal on way to gig. Engine warning light and loss of power, lots of misfiring.

Limped back to dad's and hooked the trailer onto his car and started again.

All is now set. Ten minutes till we're on.

Going to enjoy myself tonight. Worry about the car in the morning. Couldn't have happened at a worse time.

But that there is just life, isn't it.

We push on.


Just read a story on the BBC about a little lad opportunistically taking a "selfie" with Prince Charles when he visited the lad's church earlier this week. Got to admire the kid's audacity, it made me smile.

I met him myself (the prince, that is, not the lad) when I was in my teens, at the British Embassy in Kuwait towards the end of the 80's. There was a royal visit, and the school band was asked to play on the veranda of the embassy. Afterwards, we were all lined up as he walked along the line with his missus Diana, saying hello and shaking the occasional hand.

I've always been a bit ambivalent in my attitude to our monarchy. They're an expensive hobby for the country at large, but then they do represent something about the UK, and having a figurehead or rallying point is not a bad thing. So emotionally, I'm probably a royalist, but intellectually I have republican leanings.

What I will say, is despite standing in that line determined to maintain my teenage cool and not be impressed, when he drew near it was impossible not to get drawn in my his charm and charismatic humour. He was interested, engaged and impossible not to like. I found myself utterly disarmed and grinning like a fool.

His wife however seemed detached and irritated, impatiently wishing she was somewhere else.

Friday morning

A still, chilly start to a day at the office. Looking forward to tonight's gig. Ben comes home from Uni for Christmas today. Should be a fine weekend.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Seasons change

I love the changing of seasons.

Summer gets dull, autumn is a feast for the senses. Winter can be grim but has its own stark, bleak charm. And challenge. Winter racing is some of the best; heavy weather is often, the trees, stripped naked of leaves don't cast so much of a wind-shadow on the waters of our lake.

And there is a particular camaraderie to be found amongst the sailors that turn out on the startline no matter how vicious the conditions.

But sailing aside, I hate that it's dark when I get home from work. It's not the dark as such that gets me.
It's that I can't play ball with Lilly or Jack. One of the pleasures of walking a dog is to see it run free. These two German Shepherds are ball mad, so no matter who else might wander into the park, if you have a ball, you have their utter, devoted attention.

No ball, and they are very likely to charge over to say hello if they spot somebody else. They're lovely,  friendly creatures. But big, and if you don't know dogs (perhaps even if you do, but don't know mine) you've got no idea why they're charging over towards you. It's not really fair on strangers.

So in winter, we spend week nights walking on lead.

But no more! Called into the pet shop this evening and they were selling rubber balls that are set with LEDs that light up on impact and stay lit for five minutes.


So we've been playing fetch all night. Bliss.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

The remains of the old Severn Railway Bridge

Some photos taken last year from the old docks at Sharpness whilst we
waited for the tide so we could lock out and cross the River back to Lydney.

Wikipedia describes the bridge and its tragic fate:

Blowing dogs off their leads

I awake at 0730 to a small blond dog industriously licking my left ear
and the wind howling outside like a forlorne banshee. There is a tree
outside my bedroom window that often tells me what the wind is doing
when I first open my eyes, but the position and build of our house is
such that I rarely hear it howl. On the other hand, it's not unusual for
one of the dogs to sneak up onto the bed after my wife gets up in the
morning. It is slightly unusual for it to be Boo though.

I like the sound, of the wind howling that is, not Boo's slurping, and
think it's going to be an interesting drive in to the office.

It isn't. Up over the ridge of hills that separate Gloucester from
Stroud and an hour later I'm sat in my office. It's dull, damp and flat
outside my office window, the trees barely moving in the shelter of
Chelford Valley.

A peek at the Sailing Club's website, and the southerly wind has blown
rain directly into the face of the webcam, turning the lake into an
indistinct blur. The weather station shows things are still very lively
on the other side of the hill however.

The old folks of the Club have a Wednesday afternoon series through the
winter. Actually, it's not restricted to old folks as such, but by
accident of its timing you have to be retired or otherwise not chained
to an office to be able to sail in it. They are going to have some fun

Wish I was sailing.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Noose

Watching the forecast with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. I
should just ignore it till about Thursday.

But I can't.

At the moment, it looks like it's going to be wet and wild right through
the weekend. Good for Saturday's fun, not so good for Sunday's racing.
The more I think of last weekend, the less I'm happy with how Hels and I
are handling Buffy when it blows. Trouble is, I can't pin down any
specific thing to fix. I'm quite sure the reason we're slow is that
we're not pointing well enough. Why, I don't entirely know.

On the other hand, we didn't capsize once, despite the tricky
conditions. That's an improvement on previous performances, and the
principle reason why our results from the first race were, to be fair,
quite respectable. We didn't fall in, many others did.

Daydreaming of Saturday and our intended adventure up into the Noose in
Green Bean, I've been browsing old photos. The shots above are from one
of out trips up to the Noose aboard Ondine last year. Aside from the
rain, the conditions were relatively benign on that particular outing;
it's going to be rougher on Saturday if the forecast is to be believed.
It's going to be curious to see how Green Bean deals with the
conditions. I'm actually really looking forward to it.

Monday 16 December 2013

The morning after

The second race proved to be the worst of our series, so we can write that one off. Very variable, gusty, nasty wind, but at the end of the day it was the same for everybody.

Not entirely sure what went wrong. We struggle above F3 and lack practice dealing with heavy weather, and I think that shows in our speed. We didn't seem to point anywhere near as well as the other boats either,  which I think is what really did for us.

I think that's the sail trim. Might be wrong, but if I had to lay a guess....

So we now sit second, with two Lasers either side. In the end, it wasn't Mike that passed us, but Pete and by a couple of points. Mike is now trailing is by three points, but his worst result is a 10th whereas both Pete and I have a 6th.

The Comet is out of the running.

So one races to go. A pursuit, which is good as it means we race each other rather than the clock.

To beat Pete, I need to beat him on the water by two places in better than 4th. To catch me, Mike needs to finish better than 6th and beat me.

Smart money is on the Lasers, but anything is possible. Will be watching the forecast for next Sunday with keen interest.

We're still in it.

Sunday 15 December 2013

One down

Weather is building. In from the first race. We did well, beat all the boats we needed to but didn't place well enough for our score to count overall against our discards. One of the Lasers is definitely threatening.

Sunday morning, time to rig

Saturday 14 December 2013

Pointy side up

Forecast tomorrow suggests it's going to be blowing dogs off their leads. Might be enough to flatten the Solos and Lasers. If we can just stay pointy side up, we might be in with a chance.

There are two Lasers and a Comet I have to beat or I need fourth place or better.

Thursday 12 December 2013

The Golden Lion and the end of an era

Friday 20th December is the Band's last gig of the year. We're having a
quiet Christmas: guitarist is newly wed and the drummer a new dad. The
venue is The Golden Lion in Fishponds, Bristol, and will be the 60th
time we've performed there since we first played the Lion in 2006.

The landlord Ben has been a great friend to the band throughout those
years. And many bands like us, I would imagine. Folks like Ben keep
local, live music alive and kicking with their massive and unquenchable
enthusiasm and support.

It's been a brilliant seven years, some fantastic gigs, and the annual
Booze Cruise organised each year by Ben is the stuff of legends.

But sadly, it looks like this gig is going to be our last at the Lion.
Ben has, in his words, been made an offer he can't refuse. Something to
do with "real tennis", which is not to be confused with its modern
descendent, lawn tennis. Real tennis players play with solid balls.

I don't know what's happening to the Lion once Ben departs in the new
year. We've heard all sorts of rumours the last few weeks. We're going
to miss it. For a grimy, spit and sawdust kind of place, the Golden
Lion, and the denizens that haunted it on a Friday evening or Sunday
afternoon, has a particularly special kind of charm.

It is quite the end of an era.

We'll just have to make the gig a good one.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Of weather and water, rivers and lakes

Seems to be that the weather kind of cycles just short or just over a
week. It's a far from scientific observation, with no real fact to back
it up other than casual observation.

Through most of November, the weeks were characterised by high winds in
or around the middle of the week, followed by a weekend of almost still
airs. It's not my favourite kind of sailing weather, but as they say, a
pants day on the water beats any good day in the office, and being the
relative lightweight that I am (5.7' and about 10 stone) and having had
lots of practice with drifting aimlessly, it is the sort of racing I
tend to do well at, and it's been reflected in our results.

But as the weeks have trundled by, the violent stuff has been advancing
on the weekend, and the drifty stuff moving out into the week. Last
Sunday was the first real wind we've had since the very beginning of the
series, and, as I've previously mentioned, it's been reflected on our

Today is Tuesday. And outside, all is calm and still, with a light mist
laying in the valley obscuring the sun above and making everything feel
dank and somewhat uninspired. Looking at the forecast, the week carries
on pretty much like this before winding itself up for a blow on Sunday.

Which is unfortunate for my results, and makes it very unlikely I'm
going to manage to cling to our present lead. Between a certain couple
of Lasers and a Comet, it seems quite likely a more relistic end to the
series will be in the top five rather than the top three.

The way a sailing series is scored, lowest points win; again, a bit like
I understand golf.

Just checked last year's result for the same series. I finished in 4th,
with 32 points, short of 3rd place by a single point. The 3rd place was
taken with 31 points. I'm currently sat on 32 points, so have thus far
done as well as I did last year.

My worst qualifying score in this series is currently 6th, followed by a
couple of 5th places. So for any of the next three races to count, I
have to finish better than a 6th. Ideally, I want three finishes of 4th
place or better. That seems like a bit of an ask.

The bottom line however: I do care, but I'm a quiet bad looser, and not
finishing in the top three won't completely wreck things. I'm actually
just really looking forward to the sailing.

Away from Frampton and racing Buffy, my last adventure of the year out
on to the River is planned for Saturday 21st.

One of the members of Lydney Yacht Club is a very nice man called Steve,
who has a sailing canoe called "Green Bean". A pretty little two-man
boat, with a single mainsail and a couple of outriggers for stability,
it's a rugged, versitile craft that he built himself and has taken to
all sorts of places within the estuary, up river and out into the
Bristol Channel.

The plan for the Saturday is to launch from Lydney Harbour early with
the tide, and head up through the Noose (an interesting bit of water,
and not accidentally tagged with so sinister a name) to land at Frampton
for breakfast on the bank, before heading back to Lydney for lunch.

Steve kindly invited me to crew for him on Green Bean. We may have a
couple of Wayfarers along to keep us company, depending on the weather.
I can't wait.

There was a slight twist. Steve would normally take the boat down to the
Club to rig the night before, but he's got a Christmas party with his
company, and I've got a gig on the Friday night. So instead of rigging
the outriggers and mast, we're going to paddle. I find the idea
strangely even more appealing than sailing. Though I've not paddled a
two man canadian type canoe since I was a kid.

It'll then be back to Frampton the next day for the final race in the
Winter Series. My son Ben (boy_v1) will be back from Uni by then, so
will hopefully find a crew to race Penny against us. Will be good to
sail against him again.

Monday 9 December 2013

Let the wind blow

The winter series this year at Frampton is fifteen races, the best eight to count, two races running each Sunday leading up to Christmas.

The first race each Sunday is a pursuit, where the slower boats start first and the faster boats have to catch them, and the second is a handicap, where we all start at the same time and your final time clocked is adjusted for the relative speed of your class of boat to level the playing field.

A bit like golf handicaps work, I imagine.

The last few weeks have been real drifters, leaving the Lasers dead in the water and giving the Solos a real hard time of it. Although my Enterprise is heavy by comparison, the jib gives a real advantage in these conditions, so if you trim everything just right, she glides along on the barest whisper of air.

A point we demonstrated last week with a first and a third, putting us into an overall lead in the series.

This Sunday was always going to prove hard going to hold on to it.

The weather came in a little lighter than forecast, about F3 from the southwest. The sort of non committal wind we always find really difficult to play well. Enough to bring the Lasers and Solos back to life, but not enough to get us up on the plane to run them down.

We had an indifferent start for the pursuit, and the other Ent beat us to the windward mark by a boat length. However, we turned that around soon enough and as they got entangled with the Lasers behind we  began to pick off the Solos.

In a pursuit, an Enterprise has just under an hour to catch the Solos and slower boats in the fleet ahead and stay in front of the Lasers and faster boats behind.

At about thirty minutes we found ourselves defending against the lead Lasers. Not ideal, but survivable.

We had a very stressed windward mark rounding with boats all over us but took them on starboard and managed to pick our space and sail high for the run that followed, to protect our clean air and guard against the overlap the Lasers were trying for.

All beautifully to plan.

About halfway down the run, fixating on the one remaining Laser doggedly trying to sneak beneath us, I was baffled when he suddenly gybed off.

Then horrified to realise we'd both confused our place in the lap and had been racing to the wrong mark.

We lost about a dozen places with that one mistake. We clawed a handful of them back over the next half hour, but not enough to save ourselves the race.

The handicap following was indifferent. A not exactly disrespectful eighth place, but not good enough to count. I tend to measure our preformance in a handicap by how we place against the other boats in our class, and a few other sailors in other classes that I know can be quite hard for me to beat. And we beat them, so I know poor old Buffy was doing her best. We just weren't best enough. 

There are three races in the series left to run, and for the moment we're still clinging on to the lead by a single point, despite the slipshod performance of the weekend.

There are four other boats that could easily still take it from us though, so over the next couple of weeks we could find ourselves well and truly tumbled. None of the four are unbeatable, but it's going to be a close run thing.

Our best bet is a couple more weekends of really light, ghosting weather. On the other hand, if I'm going to lose I'd rather do it in the teeth of a howling blow. Much more fun!

Friday 6 December 2013

The weekend is coming

Sunday's forcast looks like a southwesterly F4, which means my place at
the top of the series is in jeapordy as it's more than enough to bring
the Lasers back to life. On the other hand, it's not like I really want
it handed to me on a plate and, as long as the air is energetic enough
to get us up on the plane, it should be great fun sailing, so really
looking forward to it.

Thursday 5 December 2013

And so Winter starts to draw in

Pictures, various themes, of the year as it has gone.

And I've been quite neglecting this Blog again, not having posted since
around midsummer. For which I make little apology as it's essentially
cathartic self-indulgence anyway.

It's been a good year all told, albeit not without some saddness and
loss, but that's life.

Haven't been out with Dad in the Lugger for a while now. Weather's
getting a little on the cold and damp side, so for the last outing on
the River, I left Dad and Ondine behind and borrowed LYC's Mirror to
sail up to Newnham with them back in October. It was very wet, very
rough, and very good fun.

We did have two fantastic weeks in Cornwall with the lugger back in
August however, generally pottering around the Fal when we weren't
ashore drinking beer or walking the dogs and having a fine time.

All the plans of travelling away to race with the Enterprise have come
to naught this year. Too many distractions. However, racing locally at
Frampton with Buffy has been fun, with a huge range of conditions to
play with over an up and down season, weatherwise. Better still, after
we put Penny back on the water with a second hand mast at the beginning
of the year, my eldest son Ben found himself a crew and took to racing
her with us, competing consitently and well at Frampton right up until
he left to go to Uni. I'm very proud at how well he's done; in many ways
he's turning into a better sailor than me. Which is probably just as well!

The Winter Series at Frampton has gone good so far. I almost seem to be
in with a shot at winning it this year, though to be honest, if I manage
a third or even a second overall I'll be very pleased with myself. The
weather has been very light, drifting conditions. Enough to knock out
the Lasers and most of the Solo fleet, but the Ent is a lovely boat for
ghosting along if you set her up right; weight well forward, slight
leeward heel to put shape in the sails, don't oversheet and just keep
her moving.

All this lake bashing is good fun, and I love racing. I am missing the
River though. I have had an invitation to crew a sailing canoe for a
trip up through the Noose to Frampton Pill in a couple of weeks, so
really looking forward to that.

Aside from boats, we've been as as busy as ever with the band, with some
great gigs across the Summer and Autumn, and on the homefront, my better
half continues to collect four-pawed waifs and strays that need endless
walking. We're getting much better at rehoming them now.