Sunday 27 December 2015

Lydney slip, 0743hrs, ready for the off

Early morning, silly o' clock

And a Lydney tide to catch. Crewing a friend's sailing canoe up through the Noose to Newnham, if all goes to plan.

Forecast looks like it could be, well, entertaining.

Sunday 13 December 2015


Two gigs, an early tide and little wind fading to nothing: opted out of heading down to Portishead this morning to take Calstar out, and racing Buffy at Frampton instead.

Friday 11 December 2015


By which I mean the interval of the set, not the measure of the song.

Going well. If you excuse the point where I utterly lost the words to the first verse of the last song.

That came as something of a surprise. But then, it always does.

A two gig weekend

And sailing on Sunday. Just gotta work out where, with whom, and aboard what.

But first, on in forty minutes. Soundcheck underway. Hello Fishponds, always a fun night at the Lion.

Sunday 6 December 2015


Lilly is a fan of early Sunday morning lie-ins, and reckons if I'm daft enough to get up and go sailing, that's my problem.

Saturday 5 December 2015


Gales forecast for this afternoon. Dad dragged me down to the boat to check the lines, but we're not sailing. Did watch some of the hardier members of Portishead Cruising Club locking out for the afternoon's racing.

Hels is away this weekend and Ben is up north visiting his girlfriend, so even racing Buffy was looking questionable for tomorrow.

However, a quick email sent from the dockside in Portishead and a moment later, Patricia had agreed to crew for me tomorrow.

Love sailing with Patricia. Really looking forward to tomorrow morning.

Photo is a gratuitous shot of me and Jack. No other relevance to this post at all.

Tuesday 1 December 2015


So November seems to have been my quietest month in a while, at least according to the volume of posts up here. Four is an embarrassing low, or would be if I were counting. You'd think nothing had happened in a whole month.

Not quite so, I've just been lazy with my keyboard. Over the last few weeks or so I've had a couple of gigs and been frustrated by the weather forecast and "reduced" to racing Buffy instead of taking Calstar out on a last trip to Cardiff with Dad before the cold properly sets in.

Frustrated is too harsh a condemnation. It was great sailing the Enterprise, I took the opportunity to introduce a potential new member to Frampton and I have a pile of photos taken from the Safety Boat that I've still got to sort through; at first glance some of them seemed quite pretty, with blue sails set against the red, autumnal hues of the tree-shrouded banks of the lake.

It's probably the fact I've not put the necessary couple of hours into sorting through the photos that has led me to being so unusually quiet on this site. Last time such an apparent hiatus happened was after I'd loaded myself up with 600 snaps to sort through from the Watchet trip a couple of months back.

The Sunday of the weekend following the blow-out that consigned me to the lake instead of the Bristol Channel, Dad and I set our sights on a late afternoon out and return with the tide up to the Bridge and invited my friend Hels and her mate and neighbour Maisie out with us. Hels has been mentioned here a number of times before. She co-owns Buffy with me and is my usual crew and co-conspirator when I race the dinghy, although we've not sailed together nearly so much since Calstar came onto the scene; a whole year ago now, would you believe?

Hels has never been on a sailing boat bigger than Buffy (all humble, tippy 14' of her), and the forecast for the weekend concerned seemed perfect to introduce her to the yacht, with blue skies, sunshine and no more than a northing F4 set broad across the width of the estuary. Unfortunately, having made our way all the way down to Portishead, arriving a little more than an hour ahead of our booked lock time, Dad and I were walking down the long pontoon to the boat when I casually asked "You did bring your keys with you, didn't you?"

He somewhat less less casually replied, "No, you've got yours? Haven't you?"

Not able to get into the cabin, we couldn't start the engine, so had no way of leaving the marina and locking out. Instead, we compensated with coffee and cakes from the coffee shop by the marina and sat in the Calstar's cockpit, yours truly shouldering the whole of the blame and attendant mockery for the fiasco. My shoulder are broad, and yes, Dad does have his own keys, but yes, when we sail together I do all the planning and organising and Dad's main responsibility is to bring the tea and bacon.

To be fair, the girls took the disappointment very gracefully. Even without the sailing, Portishead is a nice day out. And at least it didn't rain.

We've promised we'll try again on the first convenient tide in December. With daylight closing down with the approach of winter, convenient tides are becoming few and far between. Looking at the forecast for the week ahead, I'd offer three guesses for which day the said best tide will fall:

But I don't think we'd need three guesses. The weather gods mock me this autumn.

I will sail, one way or another, this weekend. If we don't manage to get Calstar out on Saturday, then I shall race Buffy at the lake on Sunday. But I really want to sail Calstar. It's just over a year since we bought her, but it's got to be more than six weeks since we last sailed her. I'll not anthropomorphize her with sentiment of her own by suggesting she actually minds the neglect, but her own sentiment aside, I don't think I'm emotionally set up for being metaphorically tethered the pontoon for such an extended stretch of time.

I suspect I've been quite spoilt by all my years of dinghy sailing. We may not have the freedom to go far or for long, but we are used to having the opportunity to go out a lot. It's a bit like the band, if I'm forced to go too long between gigs, I start to feel very, very twitchy.

I'm not really complaining. And there is still a long way to the weekend. Much can change between now and then.

Thursday 12 November 2015


No, not me. I mean out over the Atlantic somewhere.

We'll make the final call this evening, but I've got to admit, Cardiff is now looking quite unlikely for the weekend. We might just squeeze in there just ahead of the really heavy stuff on Saturday, but we'd have a hat full of it for the ride back to Portishead in the early hours of Sunday. In the dark.

On the bright side, that would mean that I'll be around at the Lake on Saturday to help out with the Safety Boat training (which is fun, as a good part of it it involves capsizing dinghies for the crews to rescue) and I have a willing volunteer lined up to crew Buffy with me on Sunday.

If it really does come in at F6 gusting 8 then that could prove quite entertaining.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Looking better already

Unfortunately, not so much for the weekend, however.

Still time, so we live in hope.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Long range options

I'm telling myself that any forecasts for Saturday and Sunday are still, at this point in the week, long range and so not to be trusted. It'll probably turn out to be much calmer than it's currently promising.

I think the "go/n-go" will probably be Thursday evening. If it is a no-go that will still give Dad time to make alternative plans for the weekend, and for me to find a crew for the Ent on Sunday.

If the forecast mitigates to more manageable conditions, then we're hoping to sail Calstar out to Cardiff and back over the weekend. The tides are straight forward for the trip down, but coming back on the Sunday will involve leaving Cardiff at 0430 and sailing back up in the dark to arrive back in Portishead a little after dawn.

The defining characteristic of sailing in the Bristol Channel is that the tide dictates when you leave and when you arrive, rather than more the minor considerations such as personal preference, available daylight, benign weather or the like. If we're going to sail much at all through the winter, we're going to have to get used to handing Calstar out there in the dark.

Getting used to night sailing will also open up more options for cruising next summer. Swansea, Lundy and Padstow all leap to mind.

We've sailed the run back from Cardiff to Portishead a good number of times now. Departing in the early hours of the morning and sailing most of the route in the dark seems a good first step. The waters are familiar, the boat is familiar, so we're only pushing one aspect out of our existing comfort zone. The plotter makes the whole prospect an awful lot easier, as does the fact there are no lobster pots or stray buoys around these parts to run into; the tide flushes them away.

Though there is still Vega's mast out there somewhere, perhaps.

I can't say I'm not more than just a little apprehensive, but I'm sure we'll be fine. However, we are not going if there's still the slightest hint of 40 knot gusts in the weekend's forecast by the time we get to Thursday evening.

In that case, Calstar can stay in port. I'll find a crew mad enough to race Buffy with me at Frampton on Sunday instead, and try not to break her or us whilst doing so.

Monday 9 November 2015

Of ringcraft and the replaceables

It's been two whole weekends away from the water.

This last weekend was always going to be too busy; a gig Friday night, Saturday promises to keep on the domestic front, although I sweetened that for myself with an hour of karate in the morning, and Sunday Nikki wanted me to go with her to a GSD Rally in Bridgewater in aid of the dog rescue we support.

The weekend before the one just gone had looked really promising, and Dad and I had planned to sail up to Lydney, meet friends and sail back down channel with them. However, Dad had been laid low with a chest infection the week preceding and had cried off, needing the weekend to recoup and recover. The Sunday was foggy and still; could've raced Buffy at the lake, but couldn't find anybody to crew. Single-handing an Enterprise in a still water drift is an uncomfortable business, so I stayed at home, unable to inspire myself to head down to the lake.

Always a mistake, and so I spent the rest of the week that followed regretting the missed opportunity and knowing I'd definitely not get afloat the weekend following, now just gone.

Before this begins to sound too much like I'm marinating in self-pity, I should add that despite beginning to feel just a little captiaterraphobic from not having gotten afloat for what now seems like an age, it was still a great weekend.

Sunday's Rally was fun. Friends I've not seen in a while, lots of gorgeous dogs, some of which we'd fostered whilst they were in rescue and were now clearly thriving in their new homes with their new families. There were two show rings; a "fun" all breeds novelty ring in direct support of the Rescue, and a "serious" GSD breed-specific one.

We took Lilly with us to the show, as she's the calmest and most mature of our lot, so could be trusted to behave. The rest stayed at home with Sam. She and I were then bribed and and bullied into entering a couple of competitions: "Prettiest Eyes" in the novelty ring and "Long-coated Bitch" in the GSD ring.

Confession up front; I don't do dog shows. Don't really understand them or the concept of "ring-craft". I don't really understand how, after having agreed to do two competitions, Lilly and I ended up in the ring on four separate occasions, or came away with three rosettes  although I do know one of them was a 3rd place for "Prettiest Eyes" having been blatantly and unashamedly robbed of better by a couple of puppies.

Most amusing moment was, whilst in the "serious" ring, when the judge asked us to "stand" our dogs. Lilly, of course, took that as an invitation to sit, and when I remonstrated with her, to subsequently lie down. She's not a daft dog, I'll swear those 3rd prettiest eyes (officially so according to the rosette she'd by then won in the other ring) were mocking me.

I should probably qualify "serious". My impression was that the people involved in the show ring took their ring craft and their dog shows and their dogs and their competition as seriously as I took my racing. They were serious competitors and serious judges speaking a technical language all of their own, and for the most part indecipherable to me. But they were very welcoming and supportive of Lilly and I as rank, ignorant newcomers. I don't pretend to necessarily understand the attraction of the whole thing, but they're nice people and lovely dogs and we very much enjoyed the opportunity to get involved.

The judge was particularly complimentary of Lilly, albeit in reference to her breeding and temperament, rather than her obviously absent discipline or ring-craft. But she already knew she was special, the little minx.

Friday's gig was an interesting one.

For the last few years, we've played the at Whitehall Rugby Club after their fireworks on bonfire night, and I'd thought it odd that we hadn't apparently been asked this year, but not hugely surprised. Simon, our contact there, had booked us a few times through the year for other events already, so I couldn't really begrudge them perhaps wanting a change.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I get a text message: "Just want to check you guys are still okay 6th November" or words to that effect.

I'd somehow managed to take a booking and not put it in the diary. In almost twenty-five years of playing this game, that's never happened. I'm utterly religious about these things. And the killer this time was that Jay, our bassist was away on holiday, visiting his wife's family in Indonesia.

We have stand-in drummers. Lots of them on standby, in fact. Bean, our drummer, teaches drums for a living, so that provides a handy pool of substitutes when we need one. Which we often do. Bean, being the only full time "professional" musician in the band, often finds himself booked out elsewhere when we have a gig, so it's good to be able to replace him as needed.

We have a couple of stand-in guitarists. Matt is less likely to be unavailable, but it does happen. And we cope. He's also a replaceable.

The trouble with Jay is that, as well as playing bass, he also does the sound. Which means he's the brains that rigs the PA and tweaks all the knobs and sliders so that we sound great. The bass is replaceable, and indeed a couple of phone calls made and our mutual friend Tufti had volunteered to stand in for my absent brother and his four strings.

But we'd still need to rig the PA.

I got all the kit out and made sure I knew how to put it together in Dad's garage the Wednesday evening before the gig. Technology is a wonderful thing, and stood there in the garage I was able to find and download manuals for the active speaks and sound-desk onto my mobile phone.

I then got to the gig early on Friday afternoon. Matt turned up just as I'd finished lugging the gear upstairs into the clubroom, and gave me a hand with all the wires.

There was a brief "we've plugged it in, but there's nothing coming out" moment when we first powered it all up, but that was resolved by punching, in a panicked fashion, at various buttons until the sound made its appearance. There was another "Goddamit! the fold-back isn't working" moment that was quickly resolved once I remembered I hadn't yet turned the fold-back speakers on.

And we had to use the barmaid as the canary in the mine: "Can you hear the vocals? No? How about now?" and then "Can't be too loud, she doesn't look like she's in pain". Trouble is, you can't sound-check vocals very easily when you're the vocalist and thus stuck on stage with guitar and microphone.

But it worked, and because I'd got there early to assuage my anxiety at having to set everything up myself, we had it all done and sound-check out of the way before the fireworks started, so were able to go out and watch all the pretty explosions ourselves before we played. It was a great display, followed by a great gig. And kids with sparklers will forever scare me, even when they're not mine.

I guess it was "just another gig" insofar as any of them ever are. And Tufti, our dep-bassist was the undoubted star of the show stepping into the breach and helping us out like that with minimal notice and zero opportunity of rehearsal, but I felt  a tremendous, disproportionate sense of achievement in carrying it off.

And a certain smugness. They're now all replaceable, all have potential stand-ins on call for any gig they can't make. All of them, that is, except for me.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

The littlest acorn

..... is now and has, admittedly, been for some time, somewhat taller than his dad.

Sam is our youngest, and today is his 17th birthday. That should probably make me feel old, but it doesn't. Teachers and policemen make me feel old.

Trawling through my photos in search of material to embarrass him on social media to a level fitting for the occasion (because what else are loving parents for?) I was bemused by how difficult it was to find one in the multitudinous collection of him where he wasn't actually smiling.

A happy child. I hope he has a lovely day. Looking forward to taking him out to supper when I get home later.

So that's the October birthdays done. One more to go, but we're in the clear now until December.

Monday 26 October 2015


Listening to Ryan Adams' cover of Taylor Swift's album "1989" on Spotify, having found my way to it via an article on the Guardian website. It's quite brilliant.

I've never really paid much attention to Taylor Swift. Pretty blond pop singer-songwriter, two to a penny. And here I confess I'm guilty of gross generalisation. Not sure if it's encroaching middle-age, or the X-Factor, but my expectations of today's music scene are jaded at best these days.

I should probably go and listen to some Taylor Swift.

Totally unrelated, it's my little brother's birthday today. He's off to Indonesia in a couple of days with his wife for a holiday and a visit to her family. Consequently, we've no gigs or rehearsals now with the band until he gets back, late November. I'm quite enjoying the free time in the evenings, but feel a little twitchy at the thought of not playing for a month.

Happy Birthday bro.

Monday 19 October 2015

Tall oaks from little acorns grow

From this:

To this:

And all in a mere twenty-one years. Where did it all go?

But I know where it went, I was there for almost all of it, and it's been a blast. It's my eldest son's 21st birthday today. He's always been a bright, talented, generous and lovely kid, most of of the time. And I'm very proud of the man he's growing in to.

Happy Birthday, Ben.

Saturday 17 October 2015

The Wrong Button

Had a very enjoyable couple of hours out with Dad and Calstar this morning. Overslept, which never happens but apparently did, so didn't get out as early as I'd wanted, which meant we didn't get as far up-channel as I'd planned to go.

However, we eventually managed to lock out at 0900hrs, just over an hour before high water, and got just under three hours of very fine sailing in an enthusiastic breeze, up to the Bridge and back, a total trip of 12.3 nautical miles.

Had some amusement on the way back in at around 1135hrs, after calling up the marina on the VHF and asking for a lock. The marina told us that the next lock would be 1145, but that they'd get it ready for us. As we entered The Hole a few moments later, I could see the lock was down, empty of traffic and the gates were open and waiting, but the three lights weren't green.

Solid red would have been normal, and would've meant do not enter despite the open invitation of the gate. But flashing red was unexpected. I was a bit stumped. After some hesitation due to an understandable reluctance to display my ignorance to everybody, I decided to call them back up:

Calstar: Portishead Quays, Calstar, over.

Marina: Go ahead Calstar.

Calstar: I'm sorry, I'm sure I should know this, but what do three red flashing lights mean? Over.

Marina: Um, it means I've pressed the wrong button, just a moment .....

And then the lights turned green.

Watchet, a belated report

My last "trip away" with Dad and Calstar was almost a month ago now. Other than a single photograph posted whilst we were actually underway between Cardiff and Watchet on the second of our four days of sailing, I've been remiss in making little other mention of it up here.

It's not because there was nothing to write about, or that it was an unenjoyable trip. Quite the contrary, we did loads and had a great time. It's just that I took close to 500 photos, and it's taken me until now to sort through them to work out if any were worth keeping.

We had the duration of the weekend, 19th & 20th September plus the Friday preceding and Monday following to sail. I'd hoped to get to Ilfracombe again, or perhaps back to Swansea, but as I mentioned here before the trip, the forecast as the week prior progressed suggested we couldn't hope for much more than a drift. Even with the race of tide we get in these parts, such distances in so short a span of time available seemed over optimistic.

So we revised our plans.

Friday 18th : Portishead to Cardiff
(18 nautical miles, 3 hours 55 minutes underway)

We set off under blue skies in the late morning, picking up a light, patchy southerly once we were clear of the headland that made for a pleasant beat down-channel with the ebb under full sail towards our first destination, Cardiff. By tacking to keep ourselves in the wind, we kept a reasonable enough boat speed up. The sea was smooth, despite the wind over tide; we were at neaps, so there wasn't much in terms of flow, perhaps 3 knots at worst around Welsh Hook. That said, arguably half the pressure in our sails as we beat close-hauled on a port tack all but laying Cardiff as we passed English Welsh Grounds was apparent wind from what tide there was.

Closing the Welsh coast, we hit scattered showers being blown out from the land. The skies were beautiful, as they so often are out there. We passed close by an uncharted, unexpected obstruction, protruding about a foot from the water, fixed, low and canted in the direction of the flow, mostly visible only because of the disruption to the water despite a yellow cross that had been attached to it. Our only guess was that it was Vega's mast. She was dis-masted off Flatholm during the Holms Race the week previous. I can't remember if I mentioned it when I previously wrote up the race, but Mark, the skipper concerned, had grabbed the bolt-croppers sensibly kept below decks but near at hand, and had cut the wreckage free; calm and quick thinking action that prevented any further harm from being done. Then they'd abandoned the race and headed home to Portishead under their own power.

It was close to low water by the time we reached the Wrach Channel and the entrance to Cardiff Barrage, and most of the channel markers were sitting high on the mud-banks. Once into the Bay, we stayed the night at Penarth Marina, eating a supper of posh fish and chips at the marina-side bar, Pier 67.

The barman noted we'd come in on a boat, and asked where we were heading next.

"Watchet," said Dad.

"Sorry, didn't mean to cause offence!" said the barman.

Seems everyone's a comedian these days.

After supper, Dad retired back to the boat whilst I went for a walk along the shore, around the headland to the Penarth waterfront. It was a gorgeous sunset over Cardiff, mostly hidden from me by the cliff-face of the shore, but a glory mutely reflected in the showery, dappled and dusky sky out over the Bristol Channel's waters towards the distant eastern, English bank. It was a lovely walk across a long, sheltered cobble beach, rewarded by the sight of the MV Balmoral landing at Penarth Pier.

Saturday 19th : Cariff to Watchet
(18.3 nautical miles, 5 hours 10 minutes underway)

The following morning was an early departure, locking out through the Barrage as the sun rose through the fog banks still shrouding the English side of the channel. The air was as still as had been promised. With any long distance legs out of the question, we decided we'd visit Watchet, a historic harbour town on the North Devon coast, having not yet been there ourselves.

Watchet Marina is protected by a sill that rises automatically once the tide falls to 7.0m; which on that day was expected to be at 1304hrs. I briefly cut the engine and tried to sail, suggesting to Dad that if we missed it, we could anchor off and wait  until the Marina opened again later that evening, but he sensibly vetoed the idea, not keen on our picking our way into a strange harbour in the dark. I didn't argue.

So we motor-sailed, in no great rush, engine at little more than tick-over, the GPS giving us a comfortable estimate of our ETA, and made Watchet an hour before the sill came up.

It was a very pretty little town, a lovely, historic harbour within which the marina had been built in more recent years. The welcome was very warm and friendly, with one of the staff who was not the harbour master (and made a point of saying Watchet didn't currently have one) meeting us on the hammer-head of the pontoon to take our lines and settle us in. As we made fast alongside, we heard a throaty, steamy howl from behind the marina, and then saw billows of white cloud rise from the unlikely sight of an old steam train which had just pulled into the station.

With the afternoon to kill, we began by finding a pub where we had a couple of pints of ale and bags of pork scratchings and beef jerky for lunch. We then wandered over to the train station, which turned out to be part of the West Somerset Steam Railway; essentially a working museum. I made some enquiries with the staff on the platform, and was told there was one last train running to Minehead and back that day. With an hour to kill before the train left, we took a brief wander around Watchet Boat Museum, conveniently sited next door.

The train ride was great. Dad, in particular, loved it. I've been on lots of trains, but never a steam train, whereas, of course, steam trains were normal when Dad was a kid, so this was something of a trip down memory lane for him. The noise of the engine pulling us out from the station was lovely, the clouds of steam billowing past the carriage window as the engine laboured to accelerate strangely evocative of a more romantic age of travel.

I say more romantic, but really two things in particular struck me. Soot; lots of little lumps of it blown in through the window, littering the table. And speed, or the lack of it. I'm used to sitting in a train carriage and watching the countryside stream past. This countryside kind of lumbered by at a somewhat more sedate pace.

It was far from unpleasant.

Back at the marina, Dad headed back down to the boat whilst I ambled around the sea front.

For most of this year, Watchet's rising sill has been broken, and so they've kept the water in and the marina just about operational for shallower drafted vessels with a fixed barrier. It might have been this, or it might be a flaw in the design adapting the harbour to a marina, but whatever the cause, Watchet currently has a major silt problem.

By low water, despite the raised sill, most of the marina had dried to thick, deep, soft mud. It's a pity, a slight blight to what's otherwise an absolute gem of a Bristol Channel harbour.

I understand that whilst the sill was broken, dredging operations were suspended, but now that it's been repaired, they have plans for a major dredging operation to restore the marina basin, and then a program of dredging planned to maintain it.

I hope they get it sorted. Whilst it was still perfectly viable with our shallow 1m draft, we sunk into the mud ourselves at low tide even at the furthest end of the pontoon, and had to wait to lift back out. I can quite imagine it would put a lot of deeper keeled visitors off completely.

Sunday 20th : Watchet to Cardiff
(25.6 nautical miles, 8 hours 11 minutes underway)

We cast off as soon as the sill dropped at 0849hrs. A morning of clear blue sky but little wind, and the little there was running with the flooding tide from the south. I'd read that the trick to getting back to Cardiff in good time was to punch across as hard as you could to make it to the final approach by the time the tide turned. We were goosed, making a couple of knots over the ground but little more than a half knot through the water, and not enough pressure in the sails to keep the genoa reliably set. A handful of other yachts departed Watchet behind us, raising sails but clearly motoring as the only way to make the tide.

There is no tidal gate on Cardiff Barrage, except on the most extreme of springs, and it's an approach I'm getting quite familiar with, so I wasn't especially concerned about getting caught out after dark.

We could've motor-sailed. I was honest enough to admit as much to Dad, and then suggested as an alternative we stayed on the Devon shore, followed the tide up to the Holms, and try to punch across once it had turned. Far from objecting, Dad agreed, with some enthusiasm in fact. He pointed out that the longer we were out here, the cheaper my bar bill would be, and the happier my liver would be for it. So we hardened up on to a beam reach and set a course that would bring us south of Steepholm.

On a closer point of sail, our little boat trotted along quite happily beneath the hazy blue skies, sometimes touching 3kts through the water, bow wave burbling.

I could see a line of clouds ahead. All the weather that weekend seemed made in Cardiff. Must've been something to do with the Rugby World Cup, keeping up appearances for visitors perhaps? We came abeam of Hinkley Point, the tide now turned foul against us, preparing to gybe and push out across the channel as the sun dimmed and the sky crowded over with grey. A slight but welcome increase in the breeze came with the marching clouds, and Calstar heeled willingly and picked up her skirts to trot swiftly across the gap between the Holms. A timely thing too, as a big car transporter out of Portishead was coming down between the islands.

We watched as she passed close astern, and then hove up down-channel to lie abeam to the wind as the pilot boat out of Barry Harbour sped out to pick up the pilot and ferry him back to shore.

The tide, although neap, had pushed us further west than I'd hoped, and as we passed Flatholm, we'd fallen away and were laying Sully Island rather than Lavernock Point and the final approach to Cardiff. In itself that wouldn't have been a problem; only a mile downtide from where I wanted to be, it might have added an extra hour to our sailing but nothing more. However, at that point, the wind failed. With the full ebb of the tide now carrying us back towards Barry, our only real option was to start the engine, or to put in closer to shore and drop the anchor to wait either the tide or a return of wind.

The purist in me rebelled, but the pragmatist shouted him down. We started the engine, dropped the sails, and motored the last few miles back to Cardiff through the flat calm.

That night we stayed again at Penarth, but discovering Pier 67 shut at 6pm on a Sunday, ate at an Italian restaurant in the old Customs House down by the Barrage. It was undeniably lovely food, but in Dad's opinion, not enough of it, despite having both a starter, a main and a pudding.

Monday 21st - Cardiff to Portishead
(16.8 nautical miles, 3 hours 46 minutes underway)

The Met Office forecast on the marina office board was grim reading Monday morning. Southwest veering west 5 or 6, then veering northwest 6 or 7 later. Rain then showers, thundery later.

We locked out of the Barrage at 0730. In the lee of Penarth the conditions were calm. Worrying they were deceptively so, I unfurled the genoa and stilled the engine, but left the main down as we set a course to clear the north side of the shallows of Cardiff Grounds, hoping to make the best of the tide and skirt along the southern edge of the Middle Grounds. We'd contemplated leaving our departure later on the tide, but with the weather worsening into the afternoon, decided an early start was the more prudent.

We'd not tried sailing for any great duration under head-sail alone yet with Calstar. I remembered considering it with a following wind and sea on the way back to Cardiff from Ilfracombe earlier in the year but at the time had stopped shy of trying something new when everything else was uncertain, and had carried on with our then fully reefed main. So this time around I quite welcomed the heavier weather as a chance to try it.

I'd honestly expected things to feel an awful lot more unbalanced than they did, but Calstar trotted along under the single sail quite happily, the autohelm not labouring in the slightest, even as she still heeled slightly and tried to round up as the frequent and building gusts caught us.

Low scudding cloud made for soup-like visibility, the Holms in the distant murk obscured and darkly sinister in the gloaming. As we cleared the North Cardiff buoy and put more east into our course, the winds built and the rains came in. The seas were relatively smooth, the wind running with the tide. Under her head-sail alone, Calstar slid along at 4.5 knots through the water, occasionally touching 5. Whilst Dad was below frying bacon for breakfast, I put a roll into the genoa just to smooth out the lurching with some of the heavier gusts. Not strictly necessary, but in any case our speed over ground was threatening to beat the tide back to Portishead and leave us waiting in the Hole for the lock.

It did the job, calming the yawing motion, but hardly dented the speed. I sat on the leeward bench in the cockpit, comfortably leaning back against the pushpit, oblivious to the rain and loving the ride, watching the tell tails and occasionally tweaking the trim of the genoa. The bacon sandwiches tasted like heaven.

I could see the sand banks of Middle Grounds still proud of the water to leeward. The wind had much more southing in it that I'd expected, perhaps an effect of the flooding tide, and I'd at first been concerned about the proximity of those banks and the lee shore they presented, unsure of how easy it would be to claw myself away if I had to under head-sail alone. As we passed the EW Grounds clear water mark some few cables abeam to windward, I hardened up the course to bear on Clevedon, the little boat proving herself more than happy to fetch along on a respectably close reach despite the still furled mainsail.

We entered the Bristol Deep, a big cargo vessel passing ahead of us, just visible in the murk on her way up to Portbury Docks. The sea, smoothed and unassuming until now, took on the usual enthusiastic chop it always seemed to adopt as we approached Welsh Hook. It eased up as we continued to push northwards up the channel however, and although the rain only hardened it was no discomfort as the wind didn't let us down.

A little after 1000hrs the bulky headland of Portishead emerged from the gloaming, and by 1020 we'd started the engine and furled the sail, rounding the pier to shelter in the lee of the breakwater whilst we waited for the marina to lower the lock to let us in.

Cardiff to Portishead in just under three hours. It was a new personal best for us.

Portishead : Cardiff : Watchet : Cardiff : Portishead
(78.7 nautical miles, 21 hours 32 minutes underway, 12 hours 2 minutes under sail)