Saturday 28 February 2015


Looks like plan B

Forecast Portishead/Redcliff Bay,

Fortunately, the start line tomorrow is right outside the dock. With those winds predicted we won't be on it. I will take my camera though, and if I can't find a spare place aboard any boat that might be racing, will enjoy spectating.

Backup plan

Friday 27 February 2015


The Scots make both fine ale and fine whiskey. Kinda glad they voted against independence, would have been a sad loss. So glad it's Friday evening. Busy busy weekend ahead though.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

New playground

Google helpfully stitched together some of the photos I took on my mobile of the estuary from alongside the breakwater on Saturday (the "Low tide" post of a day or two ago being one of them). Although the resolution has suffered a little, zoomed in full-size 1:1 I can see the starboard lateral "Firefly" and the south cardinal "Denny Shoal" in an approximate line with the end of the pier-head and Denny Island.

The new playground is less brown when there's water in it. Actually, who am I kidding? I suspect it's pretty much always tea-hued in these parts. It doesn't leave a dirty brown stain on the decks when it splashes over them however, which is an improvement on the water further upstream above the bridges.

All that muddy brown stuff aside though, the thing that really caught me on Saturday was the angry sky. Lots of weather came through over the weekend and into the beginning of the week. Saturday was the first hint of its arrival. We really caught a lucky break with the weather bringing Calstar up from Swansea last Wednesday.

There is a race scheduled for this coming Sunday, starting off the end of the pier (more detail than that I don't know at this point). We were hoping to join in, but at the moement the forecast is looking a bit on the brutal side for the weekend. Fast streaming, unfamiliar estuary waters and a boat new to me that I've not yet even checked I can successfully reef (I've worked out where the lines are and checked they're all set, but haven't yet inspected them closely or had a chance to try reefing in anger), if there's any doubt as to the conditions then we're going to wimp out and watch from shore.

I'd really like to take her out though, so I'm holding out hope that the weather will blow through early.

Racing aside, our next "proper" adventure (barring simply taking her out of the marina for a trot around the estuary first chance we get) is an overnighter to Cardiff and back planned for the weekend of March 14th in company with some new friends from Portishead Cruising Club.

I've been thinking about upgrading my current 8" tablet for a 10" Sony Xperia Z. I almost brought a Samsung Tab Pro over the weekend for the same price; newer, faster processor, better resolution, support for the latest Android and equal GPS capabilities, but not waterproof. However, after wasting half an hour of my life in the store prevaricating over the decision before deciding it was a yet and asking the shop assistant to give me one, he then checked and told me, regrettably, they were out of stock and he couldn't help me.

How hard can stock control be? If you've sold the last of something, take it off display or just mark it as out of stock. Or offer to honour the price, arrange for new stock and promise to let me know when I can come back and collect it. I went home and brought what I really wanted off Amazon. Stores like that don't deserve to compete with the Internet and are only reaping their just deserts when online shopping finally puts them out of business.

So I have a new tablet on its way to me today courtesy of Amazon. A 10.1" Sony Xperia Z which I'm intending to use as a plotter. I picked it because it's splash-proof, has good GPS (for a tablet) and I like Sony kit. And because Currys (the above mentioned store) has lousy stock control and equally debatable customer service.

Naturally, there's only one reason for wanting a tablet. Budget chart plotter. Setting it up will be tonight's job. Need to decide whether to stick with the raster charts from or go vector with Navionics, though the latter will cost me an extra £50 from the looks of things.

The chart-work exam for our RYA Day Skipper Theory ticket is coming up this Thursday evening, with a second exam the following week. The subject of the second exam is passage planning? Not sure actually, which is a little worrying, as the overall course has covered an awful lot of material other than basic chart work, and I guess any of that could get condensed into the hour and a half long second paper. Anyway, after this, Thursday evenings will be our own again. Can't say I won't welcome that.

I should be feeling confident, but I'm actually not sure at all what my chances are. I'm pretty certain if you give me a boat, a chart and a clue to the tides I could probably find my way to just about anywhere now, but what the pass mark is for this damned exam, or the phrasing or nature of the questions I can expect, I'm really not altogether sure at all.

We shall see. In any case, all those long cold hours spent in Thursday evening classes at the Club over the winter have done their job. I'm an awful lot more confident with the subject matter now that I was at the start.

And they've set me dreaming of all the different places Dad and I could take a certain Westerly Griffon.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Bus driving

Calstar is now moored safe and sound in Portishead and I'm sat on the train with Dad, heading home. Great passage, lovely bit of water. Clocked 11.2 kts over the ground at one point, in the full grip of the flood tide.

Only shame was the utter lack of wind, so was more like driving a bus than sailing. Not that I would in any other way compare Calstar to a bus, she's far too pretty.

But we were on the water, and the boat is now where we want to keep her.

A great day's work.

The Holms

I've been looking forward to seeing them from this side.


Tuesday 17 February 2015

But I think we'll manage

Just thought

I've not slept aboard a boat since I was sixteen. That feels like some time ago now.

One way ticket

Sat on a train with a one way ticket to Swansea. If all goes to plan, we'll be on a another train home from Portishead around this time tomorrow.

Monday 16 February 2015

Last Sunday

Our track, superimposed onto the chart via Google Earth.

12.25nm logged, from locking out of Tawe to locking back in. Three hours eleven minutes, of which an hour and a half was spent engine on.

Touch wood

First date

I spent last week watching the forecast with some trepidation, refusing to get too keyed up, loathed to state intentions or plan or prepare in case I jinxed it, and keeping my fingers crossed for Sunday. I'm really, really not superstitious in the slightest. But by Friday, I stopped looking at the weather forecast. Bottom line, with the boat now on the water, we were going over to Swansea on Sunday regardless. If we could take her out for a sail, we would, if not, we wouldn't.

Thing is, although this boat has been ours since November, until we could finally get her out into open water under our own command and back in again safe and sound, she was still somebody else's boat, whatever the paperwork might say, and I was still a dinghy sailor.

Dad drove to Swansea. I spent the journey checking the forecast, working out the tides, reading and re-reading the pilotage notes for Swansea Bay and the marina and generally fretting about what we were going to do and where we were going to take her.

We arrived at the marina for about 10am. The next couple of hours were spent fiddling and checking, and finding a quick bite to eat for lunch on the dockside. Back aboard and now committed, the bilges were still dry, the batteries charged, the engine started with very little protest. We called the marina office up on the VHF to request a lock out and cast off a little after noon. Dad always takes the helm when we're under power. It leaves me to do the leaping about, to manage the warps and fenders and, where necessary fend us off from anything hard or expensive.

None of the latter was needed, Dad handled her admirably. The big barn door of a rudder hung on the transom makes manoeuvring astern a dream, and with the spray hood lowered, visibility from the cockpit is great, so Calstar is actually easier to manage under power than our Lugger, Ondine. Out of the marina lock, with Julie up in the office cheerfully waving us off, we switched channels on the VHF to Tawe and were given permission to enter the river lock directly. A very short while later, we were through and steaming towards the breakwaters guarding the river mouth and the open reaches of the bay beyond. I set about stowing the warps and fenders, the relief of a job well done graffiti all over Dad's face.

Out in the bay the light was hazy, mostly overcast and occasionally threatening  a deeper murk, but with the odd breakthrough of sunshine and just enough of a swell on the water to remind me it wasn't our lake. The wind was the bottom end of a benign F3, blowing back onto a lee shore behind us. Enough to set the sails by, but not enough to be intimidating. Well, not much. The tide still had a couple of hours left on the flood, so we had plenty of water around and beneath us.

As we passed the Inner Green Grounds south cardinal that marked the end of the fairway out of Swansea Marina, I set up the auto-helm to hold us head to wind, and hauled up the sails.

A little throttle and the tiller towards me to take her out of the eye of the wind, the genoa filled and began to draw. As Calstar heeled over a few degrees in the caress of the breeze, we stilled the engine and she was finally ours.

I'm a dingy sailor. Even the Drascombe is really just a big dinghy, and the same basic principles apply. And one of those principles is that you work hard to keep the boat flat. Constantly adjusting the sail trim, the tiller never out of my hands; if a gust hits, I hike to stop the boat heeling, and spill wind from the sail if hiking isn't enough.

Close hauled aboard Calstar, it took a while to quell the sudden tendency towards ineffectual panic every time the wind swelled and she tipped majestically in deference to it; as nerve-racking as any first date. The instinctive physical response of a dinghy sailor to try and match the brute force of the blustering wind with a reply in kind became an unexpressed irrelevance.

As relatively overweight as I've become through a lack of sailing these last couple of months and the over-indulgence of the festive season still hanging on to me, my slight ballast makes no difference to the trim or balance of a boat like Calstar. Especially with the auto-helm engaged, sailing her is so much more a management of systems and forces than hurtling around the lake in my Enterprise could ever be.

I think our Drascombe Ondine has been a fine preparation, after a fashion, but the mass and energy involved with Calstar, her sheets, her sails, the wind and all that open water, are a completely different world. I think I'm in love all over again.

We stayed out, playing in the bay for a little shy of four hours, until about an hour into the ebb tide we fired up her engine, struck sail, and Dad took the helm once more to guide us back in.

There was a small drama with Tawe Lock; a mechanical failure meant they couldn't open half the swing-bridge, so we only had half the expected gap through which to enter. Dad managed the manoeuvre beautifully, and through the subsequent marina lock and one more swing bridge later, put us gracefully back into our berth without drama or fuss.

Calstar is now absolutely, irrevocably ours.

Just have to get her back to Portishead.

Sunday 15 February 2015

We did it

Sails up, engine off, 2.2 knots through the water. This is beautiful.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Jack & Lilly, Plock Court

We don't come over here half as much as we should. Loads of space for the dogs to run.

Or in Lilly's case, lie down....

Friday 13 February 2015


My poor, battle weary Takemine. I retired her from the stage after I wore through her body after about 300 odd gigs. She's a dream to play, honey to the ear, but really too delicate for me.

Unfortunately, her successor, the Taylor, has developed a fault in her electrics, so the Tak has been returned to front line duties til the Taylor is fixed.


But Jay is still worrying about it. Not happy with something. Might just be the live, empty room. Either way, we're on in twenty.

Tomorrow is a day off, might take the dogs up the hill, might go to karate in the morning. Cook supper for the family in the evening, as I think Nik is working all day.

Sunday is Swansea.

Not going to jinx it by saying we're going to sail. But I am going to take my waterproofs.

Tennis elbow, for the relief of

And I need to make sure the dogs don't make a chew toy out of this one.  The elbow itself is doing much better these days.

Not continuous pain anymore, just a slight discomfort and an awareness of the weakness when my arm is extended or under load.

Which happens a lot when sailing. Or gigging. Or practicing karate.

Very keen not to over-do it.

Thursday 12 February 2015

The restorative properties of ale

And after only one pint. Credit where credit is due, Google stitched this panorama together from a number of shots I took off the quayside on the walk back to the car from the pub. This was no more than a little over an hour since we locked in.

A Foggy Lady

On something of a roll, I managed not to oversleep last Sunday, made it down the motorway and was by the lockside at Portishead Marina by 7.30am to meet Chris and Tess. They had invited me out to race with them aboard their yacht, a lovely Moody 31 called "Misty Lady".

Apt, as it turned out. I'd spotted the forecast was for very light, almost drifting conditions. I hadn't paid attention to the visibility. It was dank and murky as I left home, but still dark. As I drove south, the mist thickened, and by the time I was at the quayside, visibility was down to a couple of hundred yards out in the channel. Arriving for 7am gave me time to find somewhere to park and a half hour to wander about before meeting Chris and Tess. I explored the very quiet waterfront, ever so picturesque in the gloaming dawn murk, and watched the lights of a solitary cargo ship making her way up the Kings Road towards Royal Portbury Docks.

Given the conditions, I thought there was a respectable turnout for the Portishead Cruising Club racing fleet of a half a dozen boats, including ours.

We locked out of Portishead, and motored up-channel to the start line in the mouth of the Avon. With the sails hoisted and the engine stilled, what little light breeze we had was broken and disrupted by the wall of the Avonmouth docks on the north bank of the river. Conspiring with this, the flood tide kept us effectively pinned into the river mouth with the rest of the fleet, making for a slow, inglorious crawl of a start for everybody.

Once out past the spit, we bore away to port to keep close into the shelter of the bank in an effort to win back enough against the tide to make the first mark. Briefly, ever so briefly, the wind filled in for a moment, then died once more. The mist drifted in turgid ropes across the water, we drifted with it. As the fleet crawled on, the front-runners began to valiantly pull away as, with enough height against the tide now won, we hardened up and broke out from the disruptive grip of Avonmouth.

Now it could be said that this was an entirely dull affair. Tess was almost apologetic; that they'd invited me out to show me the sights and landmarks, and we found ourselves blinded by the thickening murk and becalmed by the listless air.

But I loved every moment of it. We were afloat. We were sailing. If the weather gods were not going to deliver me wind, then the fog was the very best next thing to entertain me. I love the atmosphere the stuff creates, the flattening light and deceptive shadows, the challenge of disorientation. It's a worry if it's my boat and I'm in strange water, but Tess and Chris were eminently competent and in home waters they knew well.

We made the first mark, and progressed out into the channel, but an hour and a half in, with the tide threatening to turn against us before me made the second, we retired.

As the tide turned, we motored up-channel to the second mark anyway, behind the still racing fleet, and pulled the mark up so that Chris could inspect the chains and shackles attaching it to its ground tackle, then headed back to Portishead. The mist thickened into a turgid fog, visibility down to a couple of dozen yards at best. Tess kept the helm, Chris switched the radar on and kept his eye on that. We edged into Portishead beneath the breakwater with the rest of the fleet emerging out of the soup around us. The air was so opaque that we couldn't make out the lights of the lock and had to rely on the VHF for clearance to enter.

The lock-keeper was clearly a man of sartorial wit:

"Portishead Marina, Misty Lady, over"

"This is Portishead Marina, don't you mean Foggy Lady? Over."

Once locked in, with Foggy Lady duly returned to her berth and everything tidied away, we retired to the pub for a well earned pint.

Portishead is a great place to sail. Really can't wait to bring Calstar up here so we can set about exploring it ourselves. I'm very grateful to Chris and Tess for such a lovely morning out in the Bristol Channel, and to the rest of the racing fleet of Portishead Cruising Club for such a cheerful welcome.

Afloat once more and sitting pretty

Swansea Marina proved as good as their word, and Calstar was afloat in her berth by the end of last week and sitting pretty. Dad and I slipped over to Swansea on the Saturday morning. I had long hopes of getting her out into the bay before the lock closed for low tide at noon, but such hopes were in vain.

We did spend a lot of time rummaging about above and below deck however, checking the log, depth sounder and VHF worked, the stove lit and the gas bottle almost full, and happily discovered from dipping the fuel tank that she had plenty of diesel aboard as well. The previous owner left her well provisioned with bungs and spare warps and even a small toolbox with all sorts of useful bits and pieces in it. She gives the impression that she was well cared for and used often, but it's almost as if one day they just decided to stop, rang the broker and asked him to sell her on.

Buying her through the brokerage means we know very little about the previous owners and their story, other than they'd owned her for fifteen years before us. But she gives the impression he was definitely a yachtsman, and knew his boat well.

In any case, the fact that the cooker worked meant we had our first cup of tea (or three) aboard across the course of the morning. It would have been perfect weather to get out and explore the bay, warm in the bright sunshine (though decidedly chill in the shade of our berth) and a light off shore breeze to play with. Unfortunately, our attempts to start the engine revealed the battery had gone flat. In any case, instead of sailing, Dad had made arrangements to meet a man called Bob.

Bob is a man about Dad's age from Pontypridd (it isn't pronounced how it's spelt) with a charmingly distinct Welsh accent who was recommended to us by Pete of Wray Marine, who has been so helpful to us with all the work done on Calstar over December and January. Bob knows a fair bit about boats, and more to the point, about getting them up and down the Bristol Channel, and is going to help us sail Calstar back to Portishead.

We're looking for the right tide to follow up, and a decent bit of weather to do it with, and currently have our eye on next Thursday. It's 60nm from Swansea to Portishead, so with a 4kt tide under us, it should be very possible to do it in one go. Fingers crossed for the weather next week. I really can't wait to get her back home.

That does mean that if all goes to plan (and so far it hasn't, but no plan survives first engagement with the enemy) this weekend will be our last chance to take her out to explore Swansea Bay. It's a little after neap, so no lock closure to worry about, and though wet, the weather isn't looking too brutal for the weekend.

So we've got our eye on Sunday.

Friday 6 February 2015

Always wear protection

Having now lost two Sony Xperias to the rigours of sailing over the course of my current contract, I've invested in a shock-proof, splash-proof case.

It unfortunately makes it impossible to set the phone in its charging dock when in use, so I only intend to use it whilst actually sailing. And it's not waterproof because of the flimsy flap they provide for the USB port, but it's better than nothing I reckon.

Having overslept twice now this week, though it makes little difference in the working week because it's my habit to get in early and I never oversleep by more than half an hour, I'm now paranoid about oversleeping this weekend.

Not so critical for tomorrow, though getting to Swansea early will give us the best chance of getting the boat checked and prep prepped and still getting a sail in, but it's critical for Sunday, as I need to be at Portishead lock for 7.30 or a) I'll look really bad and b) they'll be obliged to sail without me.

I shouldn't really worry. Oversleep the morning's routine workday alarm by half an hour happens on occasion. But I've never in my life missed a tide or a train or a plane or any such thing through the peril of an over zealous application of the snooze button.

But worry I still do.


The snow drops have been out a week, and the daffodils are now pushing up hard.

Spring is definitely on the way.

The old tree looks quite skeletal now the chainsaws have finished with it.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Saturday forecast

Haven't yet heard if the boat is back in the water, but hope springs eternal. Forecast for Saturday doesn't look too brutal, so far. Spring tide though, which is always interesting around these parts.

What I really want is light and friendly for Saturday in Swansea, and brisk and enthusiastic for Sunday in Portishead.

Bet it delivers in reverse though.

I fear I'm beginning to sound jaded, cynical woefully tended towards self pity.

Which is, frankly, dull and repetative. So I'll stop.

I clearly need to go sailing.

Tuesday 3 February 2015


Looks like a lovely day outside, though it began with a hard frost that has lasted well through the morning in the shadow of the valley.

I bet it makes for nippy work for a man up a tree with a chainsaw.

Monday 2 February 2015

A weekend athwart and awry

The weekend didn't quite go to plan.

It's becoming something of a frequent refrain, but Calstar didn't get back in the water so that shot our plans for Saturday out of it. She's blocked into the boatyard by a powerboat that is still waiting on spares to fix a problem with its engine. We're assured it'll all be sorted and we'll float again by Tuesday.

I'll believe it when I see it.

A slight, not insignificant aside, I learnt over the weekend that a friend upon whom we were hoping to rely upon his considerable experience to help bring her back up-channel to Portishead has had a heart attack. I understand everything's now stabilised and back under control, but all the same it's a bit of a shock. There are certain people in this world that are so steadfast you think of them as totally unshakable.

The friends we were going to meet for a walk with the dogs on the beach Sunday afternoon cried off. Without the excuse of meeting up with them and their dogs, an hours drive each way on a gig day seemed a bit much, so the dogs got a run in the park instead.

The gig went as planned though. In fact it was a great night. A bit different to our usual stuff. A venue we used to play frequently, but haven't played for a few years; we resurrected a pile of old songs we wrote and used to play some not too few years ago to remember, and mixed them in with a scattering of our more regular covers. The crowd was great, the sound and lights were provided by our friends Panik Events who were organising the gig, so it was an easy, fun night with friends old and new with a great light show and fantastic sound.

The band played okay too. Only downside is I've got a sore throat this morning and something of a croaky voice. Then again, I've not got another gig till the 13th, so plenty of time to recover.

It's been a slow photo kind of month so far, hence no picture at the top of this post. I informally subscribe to the view that every day should have at least something worth keeping, but everything of late seems to be something of a repetition, so I've not felt moved to get the camera out.

The fault is mine, and I should clearly try harder, but I think that's January for you.

I'm definitely sailing next weekend. Lots. If the plans come any closer to fruition than last weekend's do, at any rate. New boats, new sailing grounds, I should be able to find a picture or two in that perhaps.

In lieu of a picture, I'll share a couple of links.

The first, from simply made me laugh, more because I loved the tone of the writing than from any claim to recognition of what they're writing about: 9-everyday-things-a-sailor-will-kick-your-ass-at

The second is the website of a superbly gifted old school friend who now lives in Toronto. We took our Art 'O' Level together, after which I reluctantly left scribbling, sketching and painting behind to concentrate on more serious subjects for my 'A' Levels (Maths, English and Biology; the more fool I).

Liz, wiser than me by far (and infinitely more talented an eye and hand) stuck to what she loved. Her sea and skyscapes are breathtakingly beautiful, in my humble opinion.