Friday 30 January 2015

Whether the weather be fine

Forecast Swansea Bay ( is strongly suggesting tomorrow's trip to the boat might be focused on hunkering down in the cabin and dreaming of better days to come.

The boatyard have said they'll put her back in the water tomorrow morning. Figured we'd head over to Swansea to encourage them to do just that, despite the weather.

Paid a visit to Portishead Cruising Club last Wednesday evening. Lovely bunch of folks. A very nice lady and her husband took pity on me and have invited me out to race with them next Sunday.

Can't wait. Will be fantastic to get afloat again, and it's a great opportunity to see Portishead from the water's perspective before we bring Calstar over. And, of course, an excelent chance to get a taste of racing with the PCC fleet.

No gigs that weekend, so will keep fingers crossed for the weather next Saturday. Maybe we'll finally get the chance to take Calstar out to explore the bay if it's good. That'll make for an entire weekend on the water.

They say you can have too much of a good thing? I say they're wrong.

Unless we're talking about the wind this weekend. A little less would be nice. Not a request I often make, but just this once.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Easy come, easy go

My band money of the last eight or nine months or so. Was saving up for a new computer, but sadly it's about to be blown as contribution to an unexpectedly large tax bill.

One does ones best to make sure these things don't catch you unawares, but as I believe a certain Bush/Blair era politician once implied, it's the things you don't know you don't know that you've gotta watch out for.

Still, I did enjoy counting it. I'd make a great Silas Marner.

Looking on the bright side, at least I had it put aside. Otherwise the bill would have been both surprising and embarrassing.

It's funny how much more attached to these notes I feel, perhaps because of the visceral way in which each was earned, than I do to the invisible stuff that runs in and out of my bank account consequent to my far better imbursed day-job.

Monday 26 January 2015

January Skyline

A picture paints a thousand words

Read an article on the BBC that put me in mind of how precious a miracle photography is. You could argue it's lessened by how convenient and easy it's become, but I'd suggest that's a misplaced sentiment.

I'd argue every picture is a privilege, undiluted by even an apparent reduction to the common-place.

BBC: The camera that captured readers' lives

Hope may spring eternal ....

But windguru mocks the futility of my dreams.

We should get confirmation that the boat is relaunched today. We've got a gig in Bristol Sunday evening, so the only real chance of stepping aboard this coming weekend will be Saturday.

The way the forecast is looking however, the best we'll be able to hope for will be to huddle down in the cabin as she rocks against the marina jetty, in the hope we can get the stove working for the comfort of a mug of tea and bacon butty.

Actually, it's not all bad. The chandlery will be open Saturday, and there's lots we need to be doing aboard to prepare her aside from getting out into the bay to put the sails up.

But I do really, really want to get her sails up.

Such is life. Trying to sail at this time of year is always an exercise in futility, frustration and patient endurance. Every so often the dice roll good however, and the rewards are so worth it.

You never know, maybe the storm will blow through early?

Aside from the gig Sunday evening, we're also meeting friends down on the beach at Brean to walk the dogs on Sunday morning. So even if I don't get to put to sea over the weekend, I shall have pretty much an entire weekend's worth of looking at it.

Sunday 25 January 2015


Sunday, and I'm not in Swansea. The marina didn't manage to get the boat back in the water.

Disappointed. They promise to rectify it first thing Monday, so plans postponed to next weekend. Saturday, to be exact, as I have a gig next Sunday.

Instead of the sea, I found myself in a waiting-room at the hospital, having taken my daughter in. Unplanned and unexpected; she had nasty abdominal pains so called Mr from work and asked me to take her in.

Kidney stones they reckon, poor kid. Uncomfortable, but could be worse.

I walked the dogs once I got home. Had meant to take Jack and Lilly up the hill, but Tasha's trip to the hospital put paid to that idea.

Did take them to a different park than usual through, with a pond and a brook to play in. They had fun, I enjoyed the walk. Met some nice people and nice dogs, played ball.

Disappointed not to be sailing. Hard to sweat the small stuff however.

There was a murder outside one of our local pubs in the early hours of Saturday morning. Tash used to work there a few years ago, we eat there as a family every once in a while. The pub is just over the road from Sam's school.

The poor kid was our Ben's age, used to be in his class at school. A fight,  a maniac with a machete.

Incomprehensible. I so feel for the lad's family, such an inconsolable loss. And for his friends, a couple of whom were injured, one severely.

I can't begin to imagine the kind of depravity of mind that keeps something like a machete to hand, or even dreams of using it against another human being. Not in this time,  not in this place.

Friday 23 January 2015

Cornish Jelly

Just watched a short clip on the BBC about Barrel Jellyfish:

Conclusions I draw from the article:

a) there is no limit to what man can do with cable ties and
b) did they really need to tag the jellyfish to prove they could swim?

But mostly, watching the Jellyfish ghost through the water reminded me of last summer in Cornwall. It's possible I've previously posted these two photos up here. They were taken with my camera-phone in St Austell's Bay just outside Polkeris last July.

Majestic, otherworldly creatures. I'm told these particular types don't sting, but I was happier watching from the refuge of Ondine than I would have been swimming with them.

"He lit on the trees, and their boughs he drest"

Old Jack was busy last night, I reckon. Hope it warms up for Sunday.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Planning ahead

One day, I'm going to sail to the Azores. Been thinking about it for a long time now. Don't know if I'll do it single-handed, or perhaps with Ben. Seems unlikely I'll get the chance to do it with Dad, though we might; a five year plan won't get me there, but the ten year plan should.

It's very possible I'll do it with Dad's boat, though. Calstar is the kind of boat that feels like she's got plenty of room for us to grow in to.

Meanwhile however, we have closer objectives for her. First is just to sail her locally. That'll be local to Swansea in the first instance, which aside from the two hour drive there and back, is no bad thing.

Then the objective is to bring her back to Portishead. We want to do that before the end of February if we can. We'll then race her locally with Portishead Cruising Club. She's not a racer, and isn't meant for racing, but racing is how I best get to know a boat and a stretch of water, so it seems an obvious thing to do.

Perhaps you shouldn't need a reason to go sailing other than the need to go sailing itself. I agree. Personally, I don't need a reason to race either, other than the desire to race itself and the opportunity to do so. I guess I'm a social animal, after my own sweet, asocial fashion.

Not sure if "asocial" is a real word, but if not it can now consider itself pressed into service.

So the spring's objective is to get to know the boat, and get to know our local waters. From Portishead, the obvious watering holes within reach of a day's sailing are Cardiff, Cleavdon, Weston and Burnham.

We'd also like to head up to Lydney for their festival, and up to Gloucester via the canal, just to revisit familiar waters and old haunts with the new boat.

I want to compete in the Holms Race in September, which essentially uses Flat Holm and Steep Holm as racing marks in a big lap starting from and finishing off Portishead. That definitely appeals to me. 

I'd like to sail to Lundy over a weekend, which is perhaps a little more ambitious.

And maybe, and maybe just in stages, sail out to Milford Haven and back. 

More than enough for one year I think. Next year, Dad and I have been talking about taking her around the corner to the south coast of Cornwall; Falmouth, Fowey, Plymouth, all our favourite sailing grounds of the last few years.

There is a very good chance she's going back in the water today or tomorrow. If so, we're heading over to Swansea on Sunday. If the weather is kind enough, we'll take her out to explore the bay. 

If there's any uncertainty in it however, and there might be because I'm not sure of the wisdom of taking an unfamiliar boat out into unfamiliar waters for the first time in the F4 that seems to be promised, we'll spend the day aboard her on her berth in the marina, drinking tea and eating bacon rolls from the galley, planning, plotting, checking and dreaming.

As to why I'm going to one day sail to the Azores? I just want to. Have done for a while now. Up until the last eight months or so, it seemed a bit of an improbable goal.

Much less so now.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


Swansea high water this coming Sunday is 0939hrs, low 1545hrs; 9.7m and 0.9m respectively. Near as dammit springs, so Tawe Lock (essentially the Marina's front door) will close for three hours from 1415hrs, and won't therefore open again until just after dark.

Forecast is currently F4, just a shade south of westerly. Not sure what the rest of the weather is doing, though note it's just tried to snow outside so doubt it's going to be exactly balmy. You never can tell however.

If we can arrange to get Calstar back in the water this week, it might be we'll finally get the chance to take her out to play Sunday morning.

Vagury of taste

I like bacon, generally. I universally dislike bacon "flavour" however. Why I thought it would be a good idea to eat a packet of Frazzles to see if that were still the case, I'll never know.

Why it should take the entire packet to reconfirm my continued distaste is presently beyond me.

I feel quite queasy and no amount of tea appears to be able to wash the taste from my mouth.

I think we'll file this one under "self-inflicted" with a sub-category of "should have known better"

Monday 19 January 2015

Practice makes perfect

Saturday Morning A417

Drove down to London with Dad and my wife Nikki to wander about the London Boat Show on Saturday. The weather on the way down left me kind of glad I'd only just changed the tyres on the car.

That said, it cleared by the time we hit the motorway just past Swindon, and the rest of the trip was beneath blue skies and a sharp, wintry sun.

Funny enough, I think the last time I drove to London (as opposed to travelling as a passenger, which I've done on a number of occasions in the meanwhile without meteorological mishap) it snowed on me.

I should add Dad took the above shot on my phone as I was driving.

The Boat Show was fun. I think Dad particularly enjoyed himself. I brought a logbook for the boat, and a pair of Gill sunglasses for myself. I've really suffered without shades the last year, can't believe it took me this long to do something about it. Dad got himself a fine deal on a new pair of yacht boots.

About half way through the day however, it struck me that Nik hasn't seen our own boat yet. Showing her around all these posh, shiny new Bavarias, Beneteaus, Dehlers, Dufours and the like was perhaps setting her up for a big disappointment when she finally gets to step aboard Calstar.

But I jest. The difference with Calstar, humble as she may seem in comparison, is that she's ours.

Monday 12 January 2015


It is axiomatic that any unattributable saying will be attributed to Wilde, Shaw, and Churchill, however a search on Google (which also yielded the preceding, opening observation which I've scurrilously lifted verbatim, and so can take no credit for it) seems to favour George Bernard Shaw as being the gentleman who first penned the phrase "Two nations divided by a common language".

I love language, albeit admittedly from an entirely layman's understanding of it, and am often by parts both intrigued and amused by the little differences we stumble on to. And we're not even taking spelling into consideration here.

An American friend of mine, unfamiliar with the term 'holding  music' as used in a post of mine last week, resorted to Google for clarification. Alongside the definition I'd intended, he also came up with a female folk singer and song-writer from Manchester called Michelle Holding. Naturally, within the somewhat clumsily constructed context of a "diabolical spawn of a hellish underworld" mentioned, I was referring to the forty-five second loop of classical music the Inland Revenue subjected me to last week for an hour or so whilst on hold trying to get through to them.

It was a very patriotic, imperial sounding piece of brass and strings that I'm sure I should've been able to name, but doing so defeated me despite the prolonged exposure I had through which to consider it. I'm certain in its entirety I'd find it reasonably unobjectionable, but just that little segment looped for an interminable period of time whilst I was trapped waiting on the phone left me feeling like my brain was running out of my ear. And then at the end of it I had to re-gather my wits enough to intelligently discuss my taxes with the admittedly very nice, patient lady who eventually answered.

I think they do it on purpose. The holding music, that is, not the nice, patient lady. She was a surprise, and I'm sure entirely unintentional on the Revenue's part. Actually, I'm being unfair. Once you do finally get through to them the folks at the Revenue are always nice and helpful. And I don't only say that because they scare me.

Funny enough, I'd actually assumed holding music was an imported American invention. I should probably apologise.

As I should also to Michelle Holding for the unintentional association. Michelle's work can be found at and I would heartily recommend her to the Inland Revenue. But given their business, that too could also be read the wrong way.

No sailing this last weekend, despite the enthusiastically brutal weather. It was too nasty to head over to Swansea to play with Calstar, and couldn't secure the promise of a crew to race at Frampton instead. So Lilly and I went for a walk up Haresfield Beacon. Not so pretty a sunset as the last time we were up there; not so much a sunset in fact as a the pitiful surrender of the day into a gloaming twilight.

Given the time of day, the fact that it was Sunday, and the decidedly inclement weather, I was surprised at how popular a spot it was with other dog walkers. I have to admit I prefer it mid-week when it's a bit quieter. It's still a lovely place to walk though.

Thursday 8 January 2015

I need to know ....

..... what diabolical spawn of a hellish underworld came up with the concept of holding music?

Tuesday 6 January 2015



Otherwise how on earth could she have put up with me for nineteen years?

She's a good girl though. Love her to bits.

Monday 5 January 2015

Glorious Mud

With the True Grit over, racing at Frampton is officially finished until Spring. Plans are afoot to run an unofficial frostbite between now and then, but it'll be every other week, and this Sunday wasn't one of those weeks. I'm rather expecting our new yacht to distract me from really getting too involved with it this year, however.

That said, as we'd opted to leave Calstar on the hard over Christmas, it wasn't an option this weekend. In any case, Sunday morning was damp, foggy and cold. Not sure if visibility was as grim on the other side of the Bristol Channel, but getting lost in fog in unfamiliar waters in a boat that's still very new to us would not have made for a good start to the year, so it's probably as well she's still sat high and dry in Swansea.

We had thought about relaunching her for next weekend, but the forecast is currently looking pretty brutal, so we've decided to leave it another week. Hard not to be inpatient, but this time of year always seems to be about the waiting. You'd think I'd have gotten good at it by now, but seemingly not.

So with no options for getting out on the water left to us, Ben and I took Jack and Lilly up the hill behind our house on Sunday morning. The visibility was rubbish, but it was deliciously muddy,

In the unofficial race to the top, four-paw drive certainly held the advantage. However, in the biped class, the poor boy Ben definitely had trouble keeping up with his old man.

Smugness and gentle ribbing aside however, it was good company and a great climb. Not everything is life is a race and I really didn't mind going slow for him.

The day will no doubt come when I'll be looking to him to return the favour.

Thursday 1 January 2015

January Grit

photo: Sue B.
Woke up before the alarm clock to a view of the tree outside my bedroom window doing an enthusiastic dance in the dawn's murk. The forecast came in pretty much as promised.

Launched in south-westerly F4, which built up to the high end of a F5 over the course of the hour's race, with squally gusts just grazing the bottom of a 7. Ten boats on the water in total, and an excellent course set by the race committee: first beat up the lake to Red, followed by a dead run to Green-Yellow, another beat up to White, a shifty, tricky reach in the shadow of the trees and a gybe at Green-White, finally rewarded by a screaming reach back down the whole length of the lake again to Yellow.

Buffy's track - annotated to show the marks and startline
We had a fantastic start, timing it to hit the favoured end windward of the fleet, hiked out and at speed just as the gun went. To say it was more accident than design would perhaps be a little unfair, but I'd have to confess though I often strive to start like this, I more frequently fail.

Our efforts were rewarded with a first to the windward mark, and the fleet falling back and squabbling amongst themselves. But with only nine other boats on the water the squabbles didn't last for long and we soon had the Lasers biting at our heels.

photo: York
A little over halfway through, still out in front of everybody except Phil in his RS Aero, who had brute-forced his way over and through on the last lap, we rounded the gybe mark onto the Green-White to Yellow reach with Pete R in one of the Lasers bang on our windward quarter. A squall hit hard and we pushed him up, gasping and grasping to windward to keep our clean air and stop him riding us down, both of us hiked out hard. Our boats leapt up onto the plane, the speed building and building as the pressure of the gust increased.

I continued pushing him up above the rhumb line, determined not to let him pass despite knowing it was probably a lost cause. Fighting to keep the boat smooth, steady and balanced and blinded by the spume of spray we were kicking up, I couldn't see him just behind my shoulder, but I could hear him.

And heard a terrific crack.

Glancing back, I saw Pete in the water just as he popped back up to the surface, his boat cartwheeling away. I assumed the noise was him hitting the wet stuff, but my crew Hels, glancing back, told me his mast had snapped midway up. I told her to look ahead and concentrate on keeping the boat flat. The next mark was coming up fast and it was going to be a heavy rounding as the gust wasn't done with us yet.

photo: York
By about the 45 minute mark, we saw Phil capsize the Aero up ahead and had Jon in another Laser now catching up with us fast. We hit the end of the reach again, rounded Yellow and could see Phil sailing in. Not certain whether he'd finished or retired, I tacked early and went through the line. No finishing gun, so we pushed on. By the time we'd reached windward at Red, Jon was right on our heels.

Another gust hit as we rounded Green-Yellow onto the second beat of the lap, Jon right behind. And the friction break on the centreboard momentarily failed, and the board popped back up, sliding us wide. Jon tacking away in sync with the next gust as it hit, and breaking away from us whilst we struggled to get the board back down and the boat back under control.

photo: Sue B.
Rounding Green-White, Jon sailed high to block us, so I went low on the rhumb line desperately hoping for a chance gust and clear air. Jon capitalised on that desperation and sailed, high but fast and flat down the reach, rounding the bottom mark and crossing the line to finish nine seconds ahead of us. It was well sailed, and well deserved, snatching the result from our grasp just when we thought we all but had it, leaving us no time to do a thing about getting it back.

photo: York
After correcting for handicap, Jon took second behind Pete in his Comet, who must've sailed a great race of his own amongst the fleet behind us, and we took third. A respectable result, ours mostly by chance and the misfortune of other: Pete's mast failure, entirely due to the pressure of the gust it turned out, and Phil's own capsize and retirement in the penultimate lap. But more to the point it was a fantastic day's sailing and a great start to the new year.

A few credits and observations:

I was the only boat on the water today with blue sails.

Many of the photos above were taken by the son of Tim York, a relatively new member to the club and, in my opinion, cheerful contender for the Capsize Trophy this year if Pete doesn't get it for his spectacular tumble today. Somebody needs to take it, I'm fed up of it ending up back in this family. I'm grateful for their permission to use the pictures here. I believe this is Tim's first season racing. He's doggedly tenacious, out in all weathers even when he's clearly over powered, and I'm not sure I've ever seen him voluntarily retire, no matter how beaten.

It reminds me of any number of other sailors at the club in their time, myself included. Give him another season or two, I suspect I'm going to be fighting hard to shake him off my tail just like the rest of our Laser fleet. It strikes me that if you want to race, you've got to hate losing, but equally, you've got to be prepared to face it, again and again till it stops.

A couple of the other photos were taken by my friend Sue, one of today's race officers. I've presumed her permission to use them here, have asked, and will cheerfully remove them if the permission isn't given, however reluctantly. I love pictures of my boat, even if she is currently looking a little "end of season".

This final photo was mine, taken once we were all safely ashore.

The tacking angle of my Enterprise is about 90 degrees, not entirely unexpected, but I'm pleased to have confirmed it. Today's race was a course of five and a half nautical miles, sailed in just a fraction under an hour. Irrelevant, but interesting, to me at least.

Buffy averaged 4.8 knots. Typical upwind speed through the water was 5.2 knots, typical reaching speed, once up on the plane, was 8.7 knots. Again, irrelevant, but interesting figures for comparison.

Our maximum speed today, which, anecdotally, I suspect was in the teeth of the squall that broke Pete, was 10.9 knots. Not bad for a little wooden sail-boat of just a shade over 13' in length.

Through a glass darkly

"And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Tonight felt difficult. Tomorrow I sail, or not, wind willing. A very simple way to start a new year.

For that, I'm grateful, as I am for so many other things.

Happy New Year everybody, wherever you find yourself tonight.