Tuesday 31 March 2015

Hello BST

With the clocks leaping forward an hour, Wednesday evening racing starts at Frampton again tomorrow evening. Ben's home from Uni. Wonder if it might be worth a return match?

The forecast is only a F5 gusting 7, which compared to the 7 gusting 9 of Sunday seems tame enough. Could be quite good fun. And if we were a little rusty to start with on Sunday, I think we can say we're definitely back in practice again now. Though back in practice at what might remain something of a question.

Only possible catch is that it's my birthday tomorrow. Which you'd think would be the perfect excuse, as being my birthday I should be able to do whatever it is I want to do most.

Which, I suspect, according to my long suffering, eternally patient wife, will be to spend it with my family. All of my family. Not just the ones I can fit aboard Buffy and are daft enough to want to sail with me in a gale.

The comfort of possession

I was just looking at the photos of Calstar on the broker's site; I had them bookmarked from when we were still thinking about buying her, and just happened to idly click on the link to find they're still there, though obviously she's no longer marked as for sale.

The last time I looked at these photos it was speculatively, with a curious, evaluating eye and imagination running riot.

This time around, there was a definite feeling of looking at "our boat" rather than somebody else's. I know what the deck feels like, where the sheets and halyards lead, how the tiller rests in the hand. I understand how she works. The questions have gone, and and been replaced with something altogether more comfortable. Familiarity and possession. It's a rather lovely feeling.

Sentimentality aside, we're hoping to sail her up to Gloucester on Friday with friends from Portishead Cruising Club. It's a bit strange, rather like going away on holiday to your home town. The first 17 miles will, hopefully, be under sail, up the estuary with the tide to lock in at Sharpness a little before 0800. I've never sailed the whole stretch in one, but have done each of the various bits in part, albeit most parts under power rather than canvas. To make the lock at Sharpness, we have to lock out of Portishead at 0500, so the first hour of sailing will be in the dark, and the second hour through the growing twilight.

Because of the nature of the area, it's a bit of an involved passage, but well marked with leading lights and buoys, and we'll be in company, so I'm fairly confident. Once we reach Sharpness, we've 16.5 statute miles of canal to motor up to reach Gloucester. It's a very pretty run and essentially home territory.

I'm less confident about the weather. It's been exceptionally blustery this week. Looking at the forecast for Friday I did initially take comfort in the fact that it appeared to be calming. But it's only a relative calm. A gusty F5, and building as the day wears on; it says something of the current weather that it looks so benign compared to the rest of this week. And, of course, we've still got to sail back on Monday morning, which looks like it might be a race against even more heavy weather coming in for next week.

If we're not happy, we won't lock out of Portishead. It's hard to contain the enthusiasm to sail, but we have a whole year of sailing ahead of us. And with the safety blanket of the other club members sailing their own boats up with us, they're all level-headed, sensible folks, so we can be pretty confident in following their lead. They make the trip as a group every year, and have called previous trips off due to weather. Having their judgement to lean upon almost feels a bit like cheating.

Not all cheating is bad.

Monday 30 March 2015

Nothing broken

It was a blustery one. The winds came in as promised, bullish on the Saturday and then outright abusive on the Sunday. A westerly F7; the idea of racing Calstar was swiftly scratched the night before and instead Ben and I speculatively packed our waterproofs and wetsuits and headed down to the lake at Frampton.

It looked remarkably calm. The shore by the clubhouse was slightly windward so I knew it would be deceptive, but even so, the lake seemed reassuringly flat, although you could feel the promised violence in the wind.  We dinghy sailors are a bit like lemmings, collectively encouraging each other to take the jump. We could see a clutch of Lasers and a couple of Solos rigging, so pulled Buffy out of her berth and set about preparing her for the race.

After some lengthy discussion and a lot of non-committal "I don't mind" and shoulder-shrugging from Ben (I think it's the final remnant of the teenager left in him) we finally agreed that this time around I'd take the helm and he could crew. I don't know how much he weighs these days, but I suspect it's a fair bit more than me. A part of the reckoning in the decision was that crewing, he could best use that weight to keep the boat flat and upright.

It's been an amount of time since he last crewed an Enterprise. In a blow, you need to be both quick and light on your feet. Staying pointy side up is not just about the balance of the boat, but critically, about trim. Anywhere off the wind, as the gusts hit you need to get the weight back fast and the bow up, else she digs her nose in and broaches uncontrollably. Our first capsize was just behind the line, a little under three minutes before our start.

It was becoming clear our initial strategy was not playing to our respective strengths. Ben's a great helmsman, so once we got Buffy back up, we swapped seats. There was a brief question as to how we were going to get her upwind with all that water aboard, but the answer was to beat loose to the wind and just play it careful with the balance. We crossed the start-line unbecomingly waterlogged and five minutes late, but to a (possibly ironic) cheer from the race committee and a feeling of distinct accomplishment.

The water was out of the boat by the time we gained the windward mark. The next reach was close and uncomfortable.  The wind was far from constant in direction or speed, bouncing around the trees on the bank and hitting us in unpredictable but furious splotches. We toyed briefly with putting a tack in at the approaching gybe mark, but still moving fast on the back of a fading gust, we gybed anyway and got away with it. A broader, faster reach to the first leeward mark was followed by another beat back to windward, another reach and then a second gybe, again without undue event.

This put us on to a dead run along the bank to the second leeward mark. The dreaded "Green", the mark sits around the dog-leg corner of the lake, a notorious spot when there's any kind of west in the wind, as it accelerates between the trees, shifting in great, gusty and unpredictable bursts as it does.

Goose-winged, we planed along the bank, weight well back, eyeing up a couple of boats at the mark ahead of us, one of them an upturned Laser. The gust slammed us just as we cleared the big tree to port, just where we knew it would, and despite the knowing, we could do nothing as the bow buried in and Buffy viciously twisted and flipped in protest. We brought her back up, but the uphaul on the rudder got snagged in the mainsheet ratchet block, jamming the main. Moving back to clear it with my knife, Buffy gybed and put us in again.

Mainsheet now clear, we got back up and sailing, but were now just about beat. Another knock-down, another swim, and we called it. I can't say we quit exactly, more that we simply came to a mutual acceptance that we'd been collectively thrashed by the elements and were done.

We limped back in, tail between our legs, landed and packed the boat away, tying Buffy securely down in her berth. We were far from the first boat to retire, but a trio of Lasers stayed out, if not, for the most part, up, gamely chasing Paul who grimly held on to the lead with his Solo until, in the face of deteriorating conditions the race committee abandoned racing.

The biggest gust recorded at Frampton on Sunday was 42 knots.

Bruised, but with nothing broken but our pride and another burgee lost to the mud at the bottom of Frampton's lake, I can't say we exactly enjoyed the sailing but I'm glad we went out. Although I've read it's better to be ashore wishing you were out there than out there wishing you were ashore, it's sometimes good to push things a little where you can. And the nice thing about a small lake is that if you push things a little too far, it probably won't kill you, as long as you're suitably prepared and equipped. So it's good to sometimes explore a few limits.

Force 7 in an Enterprise is one of mine.

Credit for the photos go to Nick Hartshorn and his son Finn, who were kind enough to look after my camera for me, finding time to point and shoot and keeping it safe and dry, whilst also manning the clubs's second safety boat.

Thursday 26 March 2015

The Shoots

The stretch of water known as "The Shoots" that I wrote of in my previous post are worthy of their own special mention on Admiralty Chart 1166: "Tidal streams through the Shoots may run from 3 to 8 knots. There is practically no slack water."

The almost casual wording of the description has always amused me.

Truth be told, when we went up there last Sunday, although passing under the bridges was both majestic and the realisation of a long held ambition, the actual flow of water was anticlimactic and left me feeling a little underwhelmed, despite the fact that we were in the grip of the biggest flood tide in eighteen years, on a stretch of water with the second highest tidal range in the world.

Our guest photographer, Bob, did seem somewhat impressed by the flow, and enchanted by the whirls and eddies of the current rushing around the footings of the bridge, but in my head I was comparing it all to our old stamping grounds further up river, over Saniger Sands off Lydney, or beyond Sharpness and up into the aptly named Noose.

Not that I'm belittling the waters off Portishead or up-channel between the bridges. I know that if I do, at some point they'll probably try to kill me. They may even succeed, and I'll be far from the first, or I expect the last, to receive a pointed reminder of that lesson. I don't think anybody in the Bristol Channel ever looses a deep and cautious respect of the waters we sail on, if for no other reason than a very fundamental form of Darwinism keeps it ruthlessly reinforced.

On the subject of up-channel, my old friends from Lydney did successfully complete the Gloucester Ring again last weekend. Around the time they launched off Lydney Harbour, the incoming tide was clocked on GPS running at 9 knots a couple of dozen yards out from the breakwater. A little later on and further up river on the first leg of the Ring, they clocked it running at 12 knots.

That is a brutal pace for such a brutally large body of water to be moving at.

In other news, Sunday's forecast is now a F7 gusting 9. If anything, the weather seems to be coming in earlier and blowing harder as the week moves on. Talking about it down the club in Portishead yesterday evening, the general consensus is that most of them will stay at home. Wind like that, I'm not even certain racing the Enterprise at Frampton is a sensible alternative, though I might try it. Sometimes it's worth just turning up to see if it really is as bad as all that, and if you don't show, you'll never know what you missed.

Frustrating. However, as a somebody pointed out yesterday evening, that's just how it goes, and we've got masses of sailing to look forward to in the months to come.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

For the joy of it

On the invitation and advice of a friend, I made a point of doing the things I love most this last weekend. Well, most of the things I love most, and I was going to do them anyway, but the spirit of the invitation was welcome as ever, even if I didn't need the excuse. Of the things I didn't manage to do, I didn't have a gig, and didn't make it to karate on Saturday despite my original intention, but there were plenty of other compensations to be had.

Friday evening, I cooked supper for my wife and youngest son. I love cooking, but only on my terms, and only because it is never a routine. The kitchen is my wife's domain. She made her indisputable claim on it very early in our relationship, has held on to the territory ever since, and has not been beyond threat of using violence to defend it. However, every once in a while I mount the occasional raid, and take a certain amount of pleasure from the artistry, adventure and accomplishment to be found there. So always very much a hit (wash-up) and run affair, I sometimes cook supper for her and whichever of the children happen to be home at the time, which these days is typically limited to young Sam.

Although I'm far from accomplished as a cook, it usually works out all right. I've only once, that I can recall, had to resort to ordering a takeaway by way of apology and contingency for an adventure gone amiss. The miss was less about a deficiency in my culinary skill than about a disparity in my own reckoning of what amounted to a reasonable amount of chilli in a dish as set against the reckoning of any normally balanced individual. And I am assured that my wife is a normally balanced individual, despite having now willingly put up with me for more than a couple of decades.

Saturday was spent walking the dogs with Nikki. A delight for me as I'm normally left to walk the dogs alone. And having the full day to do it, they were long, lazy walks and the weather was glorious.

Saturday was an early night. A very early night, as I had planned a ridiculously early start on Sunday. Consequently, I hardly slept at all. I should know better than to break routine, I should have just gone to bed at the normal time. Though that would have given me three hours of sleep against the four or five hours of kicking, tossing and turning that I opted for instead.

In any case, the turbulent night was over soon enough, as the alarm dragged me out of bed at 0345hrs, and I was aboard Calstar in Portishead Marina by 0530, having picked up Dad on the way down.

High water was expected for 0830, and at 14.5m it was going to be a big one. The forecast was for a light north easterly, dropping as the morning wore on, cloudy to begin with, clearing later.

We'd volunteered to take out a guest, a magazine journalist and photographer called Bob Aylott (fingerprint.gallery), who wanted some pictures of the Portishead Cruising Club yachts sailing in and around the Shoots, which is a narrow throat of water up channel towards the New Severn Crossing. He'd originally intended to find somewhere on the shore to take photos, but watching the forecast through the week by Wednesday I figured we'd not be loosing out on much if we offered our services as a photo boat.

"Bob Aylott" photo: roger gribble
Keeping with the above mentioned theme of what brings you joy, whilst I'd never presume to consider myself a "real" photographer, I do like taking photos, so the opportunity to watch a profesional work close at hand was a welcome treat for me, even if it meant spending most of the morning under power rather than sailing. Anyway, the forecast didn't at any point suggest I was going to miss much in terms of wind to sail with.

photo: roger gribble
As we locked out, I realised I'd got the forecast wrong. The uncharacteristic north easterly laid itself against the heavy set of the flooding spring tide, and so once out past the breakwater we found ourselves in the teeth of a bracing F3 and a lively, enthusiastic sea to play with. On advice from the lead boat, Misty Lady, I hauled up the main and motor-sailed to keep up with the fleet, but kept the genoa furled to allow Bob maximum visibility for his lens.

"myself" photo: roger gribble
Calstar kept up beautifully, averaging about 5kts though the water without really labouring the engine, pushing ahead of the fleet when needed or dropping back to give whatever position or angle Bob wanted for his shot. We gathered the fleet together and led them through the Shoots beneath the new bridge, then beat on up-channel over the next hour or so to pass Chapel Rock abeam to port and then slip beneath the old Severn Crossing. Throughout the morning the sky occasionally brightened, but the sun never quite managed to break through.

"Misty Lady" photo: roger gribble
A little before 0900 we were beyond the Old Crossing, over the delightfully named Slimeroad Sands, a little upstream from Beachley in line with the leading lights that would, if we wished, guide us up the Slime Road. The tide turned, softening the wind as it did. It's like the throwing of a switch in these parts, with no real slack water to mention between the flood and the ebb. We led the fleet back down beneath the old bridge to set it as a backdrop for a final group shot, then Bob declared he'd got all the photos he'd hoped for and more. With his blessing and thanks, I stilled the engine and unfurled the genoa.

"final shot" photo: roger gribble
The next hour was spent in blissful tranquilly, sailing back down between the bridges in the company of the other PCC boats, goose-winged on a gentle run across flat water, except where the waters churned up around the bridges. The apparent wind, deadened by the set of the tide, hardly touched a F2, certainly no more.

I'm really looking forward to reading the fruits of Bob's labours when the article gets published.

Dad is retaking the RYA Dayskipper Theory again; suffice to say he didn't get on with the delivery of the last course at Frampton, and so despite working through the full forty hours of it as it ran across the sixteen weeks of the winter, in the final exam he decided he'd had enough and elected not to complete it. Frustrating, and has left me feeling somewhat disillusioned with the whole RYA process of instruction, exam and certification, but there you go.

I figured we'd draw a line under the whole thing and move on. Now we have our own boat, the information and technique may be important, but there are plenty of other sources for that, and the actual certification is mostly an irrelevance now. However, Dad's not especially fond of quitting, and never has been. He's found a commercial outfit in Portishead that comes recommended, and runs the Day Skipper course over a couple of weekends. He's signed himself up for it and starts this Friday. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

The rub is that he'll be in class this Sunday, so won't be able to race with me on Sunday afternoon.

Which wasn't a hug problem, as Ben is back this weekend. However, I've been watching the forecast, and WindGuru is suggesting it's going to be a F6, potentially gusting to 9.

Now I know the reefing works, and I know from the trip back from Cardiff that Calstar handles a real treat when beating into the teeth of a F5, and at least the wind shifts back into the west for the weekend. However, 38kt gusts are potentially body and boat breaking, and whilst it seems inevitable we'll break stuff at some point, it seems rude to risk the first breakages when Dad's not even going to be on board.

I'm hoping the forecast will moderate and the weather arrive later or not at all. But if it stays like it is, then I think we'll sit this one out and watch from the shore again.

I'm beginning to think racing with PCC is a little jinxed.

Friday 20 March 2015

Sunday plans and a little Saturday regret

Big tide this coming Sunday.

Friends of mine are sailing the Gloucester Ring tomorrow. I'm jealous. Dad made it quite clear that, focused as we are on Calstar now, he wasn't interested in the mud or discomfort. I did, briefly, think about trying to find another boat, but the main charm of the Ring to me is sailing around it with Dad.

So I'm sitting this one out.

I've no regrets. Calstar is an adventure like nothing I've had before (though I exclude both my marriage and my kids from that observation; different category of adventure there), and perhaps the start of something that when, all those years ago I came back to sailing, seemed stupidly out of reach and "for other people". For the first time in my life I appear to have a plan. Albeit a ten year one.

So yes, I wish I was sailing the Ring again in the morning. But I know exactly why I'm not. I really wish them the joy of it. I'm jealous, but it's a good kind of jealous.

Sunday we're sailing up channel to The Shoots.

They're called The Shoots for a reason. The channel narrows, the tide flows fast, and it's a big, big tide, as previously mentioned. Not often you see a LW predicted of -0.2. Not sure we're actually going to go through the Shoots and under the bridge. But we shall see. Next to no wind is forecast. I'd suggest that would mean the waters will be calm, but I'm not so sure. I know they're going to be turbulent up river in the Noose. You can't shove 15.5m of water into a little channel like ours without a few bumps forming up in protest.

Anyway, for the most part, wind or no wind, I'm really looking forward to getting Calstar out in the open water again.

Chris, skipper of Misty Lady, on watching the "If I were a kind father" YouTube clip posted earlier, mentioned our leeward rigging looked slack. I think it was just the lowers slapping around, but worry enough anyway. I'm all over rig-tension and race-tuning an Enterprise, but Calstar is a different scale of beast altogether.

Kemp Sails have what seems to be a very interesting guide rig tuning which I found via the Westerly Owners Association website:


Got to admit, whilst I know it's something I've got to deal with before I head out into the next blow, I'm a little intimidated by the scale of things and the potential ramifications of getting something wrong.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Windspeed adendum

I've just seen the results sheet for the PCC fleet who were racing off Portishead on Sunday as we were coming back up channel. The race officer recorded the wind speed and direction as NNE 18 knots. Which is gratifying, as it means my guess (albeit based on the forecast I'd had) of a force 5 wasn't an over estimate.

Doubly gratifying, as it means I now have a feel for how she handles in that sort of wind when it's laid straight over the tide. Though I shall keep in mind that we were at neaps, so only 2 to 3 knots of tidal flow at worst. Springs will push almost twice that velocity of water up and down the channel.

It also means I wasn't exaggerating (albeit unintentionally) in my recollection, which is always a worry without actual metrics, as I find when you're in the thick of it, there's always a tendency to judge it it as being somewhat worse than it actually is.

Noticed an interesting article on the Yachting Monthly website this morning, about "syzygy" and the effect it has on tidal range. Avonmouth (my home waters, the port itself being about a mile up channel) gets honourable mention more than once:


A couple of tracks, outbound and return respectively, recorded on Dad's iPhone:


And a YouTube clip from the return trip. Dad, snuggled up under the dodger, was double-checking my own navigation with the Navionics App on his iPhone. Ben, clearly, was still suffering from the excesses of our shore leave the night before, but was, as previously mentioned, an otherwise unflappable helmsman.

If I were a kind father, I suppose I'd have deleted this clip for the sake of my son's dignity. But his Mum says he's cute, so for her sake I felt obliged to share it with the world.


Monday 16 March 2015

To begin with a single step

This morning I awoke aching in places I never knew I had places to ache with.

Which was surprising, as I can spend two and a half hours hiking out hard over the side of an Enterprise in a strong blow and not really notice it the next day, or trot the dogs to the top of the hill out the back of my house, and down again, and not notice that either. So it would seem that bracing yourself against the list and leap of a yacht heeling twenty odd degrees plus as she thumps through a lumpy sea, close-hauled against wind over tide, uses a quite different muscle set to the various sets of muscles I'm used to using.

It was a great weekend though.

We locked out of Portishead about an hour after high water at 1330 on the Saturday, sharing the lock with three other yachts, two of which, "Misty Lady" and "Tickety Boo" were also bound for Cardiff with us. The forecast had been pretty consistent for the past couple of days, promising a north easterly F4 gusting 5. The prevailing winds for the area are from the south west, and the north east facing aspect of Portishead gives excellent shelter from them. However, it's really not so great when the wind comes from the other way. As we motored out past the breakwater, the wind-churned tidal race caught us beam on and the little boat heaved and rolled in a most uncomfortable fashion.

Uncomfortable for Dad on the helm, in any case, and certainly unnerving. One of those moments that lead you to wonder, however briefly, what on earth you've gotten yourself in to.

Calstar herself was entirely within her own comfort zone. As soon as we were clear enough of the other boats to be back within ours, Ben took the helm and put her head to wind whilst Dad and I hauled up the main and unfurled the genoa. We stilled the engine as Ben bore away onto a broad reach, steering a course towards our first waypoint at the Avon buoy, and the boat heeled gently as the wind took her, now moving gracefully with the sea rather than crashing through it.

Misty Lady and Tickety Boo, with more confidence and practice, were quicker with their own sail handling and had pulled away ahead whilst we were still sorting our own canvas out. As we settled into our pace, a tall, three masted ship entered the estuary from the mouth of the River Avon, and hauling their own wind, soon caught and passed us to port on their way down the channel.

I'm kicking myself now that I got neither a better look to catch her name nor took a better photograph as she passed. At the time I was too busy sorting our own boat out for the fifteen or so miles ahead, so the opportunity passed my by and now I'm left wondering who and what she was.

Passing Avon, Ben hardened up on the helm, setting a course for the North Elbow buoy, our next waypoint. Calstar slid gleefully through the waves on this finer reach, sometimes passing 5 knots through the water, stiff and responsive under full sail. Tickety Boo, one reef in her main, set a more sedate pace for herself, and slowly slipped behind us a short while after we passed North Elbow.

Setting our course for North Cardiff as our next waypoint, time slid quickly by, and before long we were past this next mark just a little behind Misty Lady. Engine started, we turned head to wind and lowered sail before motoring the remaining distance to the Outer Wrach cardinal that marks the entrance to the fairway leading through the shallows to the Cardiff Barrage and the entrance locks. Back under power, in a confined channel with other boats fore and aft, only a stones throw from the lee shore on a falling tide, things got a little tense once again, but before long we were tied up along side the pontoon in Lock 3 and locking up into Cardiff Bay.

The waters of the bay were comparatively sheltered behind the barrage, a completely different world to the Bristol Channel beyond the protective wall. Getting our bearings, we made our way towards the visitors moorings at Cardiff Yacht Club and were soon settled alongside and making plans to head to the bar.

The following morning, still somewhat bleary from the excesses of the night before, we cast off a little after 1000 and made our way back towards the Barrage in time to make a 1030 lock out to follow the flood tide back to Portishead. The forecast was similar to that of the day before, and as we left the shelter of the barrage, the sea was lumpy in the fairway. We turned to port on clearing the Outer Wrack, and head in to wind and sea, Calstar bucked and wallowed as I hauled up the main.

The single-line reefing, thankfully, worked an absolute treat. It was the one thing left that we hadn't until that point, tried out for ourselves. I had at least a couple of fall back plans if it had for any reason failed or otherwise proven to be trouble, but I was grateful, although not surprised, it worked so well. With just the first reef in and a couple of rolls on the genoa she still felt over-pressed, so we lowered the main to set the second reef, and fed a couple more rolls on to the genoa's furler. With the wind blowing hard from the north-east, we lay her as close to the course as we could and beat east, close-hauled on a port tack.

Calstar leant with the wind, generally heeling twenty degrees or so, but coming close to burying her lee rail whenever a gust hit. Ben kept the helm, I kept a keen lookout, kept the log, and kept my worries to myself. The waves were about a meter and a half, short but reasonably orderly for the most part, though every so often we'd be hit by a set of twice that, throwing surf over the bow to wash up against the dodger and flush out off the stern. Calstar charged through the swell with the kind of enthusiastic abandon Jack crashes into the surf with whenever we take him to the beach, and with a similar amount of spray involved.

Abeam of North Elbow but some miles now to leeward, we put a tack in to head north across the Bristol Deep. Rows and rows of white crested waves stacked away to windward. However, the deep cockpit, guarded by the dodger, stayed completely dry. We held course past North Elbow and tacked once the South Mid Grounds cardinal was abeam to starboard hoping to lay Avon. The tide was beginning to slacken as high water crept inevitably up on us.

A little under three hours in, abeam of Avon, a little over four miles out of Portishead and erring on the side of caution we started the engine and lowered sail. The sea smoothed out a little as high water approached but not much and rounding the breakwater at Portishead was a little hairy. The now ebbing tide set up a back eddy behind the wall pushing back up into the wind, creating a line of short, sharp breaking waves pushing onto a lee shore and little to no cover until we made the lock itself.

Again, the little boat looked after us beautifully, and before long we were tied up to the pontoon inside the lock, waiting for the rest of the PCC boats to join us so we could lock in.

It was a fantastic weekend's sailing, pushing new personal boundaries and exploring a new port and new waters. I now understand why they always recommend that if you're cruising, try to do it downwind. Beating back home on Sunday was exhilarating, but could in no way be described as comfortable. It's also the closest I've ever come to being seasick, or suffering from motion sickness of any kind, though I've got to admit I suspect the over-indulgence of the Saturday night ashore in Cardiff played a more significant part in that than the sea did.

I still feel terribly, terribly uneasy when she heels hard in the gusts whilst beating to windward, through no fault of the boat herself. She's just doing what she does, but once my Enterprise buries her lee rail in a gust we inevitably go for a swim, and certain instincts are long trained and hard learned. However, three hours of beating back into the teeth of a F5 have given me a fair bit of practice now at managing that particular anxiety, and nothing but confidence in how the boat herself behaves.

Of other things learned or confirmed; the Sony Xperia Z tablet did a fine job as a chart plotter, and our new friends in the Portishead Cruising Club are a fine, friendly mob and did a grand job of looking after their newest members. Although, in the event, it turned out we needed little shepherding, it was good to know friends had our backs and they were great company ashore for the evening in Cardiff.

And Ben seems to love his Grandad's new boat.

Next trip is an out and back this coming Sunday, an early start at 7am to ride the spring tide up channel to The Shoots just below the Severn Crossing in company with a few other boats from the Portishead Crusing Club. Fingers crossed for the weather.

Looking promising so far.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Portishead to Cardiff

Beautiful wind. F4 on the starboard quarter pretty much all the way across. She clocked five and a half knots through the water at one point. Not bad for an old (and pretty) tub.

Going home tomorrow is going to be a different experience. F4 to 5 on the nose, wind over tide.

A little scared. Mostly excited. Glad we've got Ben aboard to help.

I'm lying in my bunk listening to the wind slapping a halyard against the mast. Can't hear it above deck so can't work out how to stop it.

Which is fine. I love the noise. It's like the ticking of a clock. Hypnotic.

This is exactly where I want to be right now.

Monday 9 March 2015

"pretty much"

I've just noticed I use the words "pretty much" a fair bit in my writing. It's funny, the lazy habits of phrasing we so easily slip in to. Could try harder.

Which I think, to be fair, was the verdict of pretty much every school report they ever wrote about me.

For the simple sake of the thing

Yesterday was an unanticipated treat.

The forecast hadn't carried much promise; frontal, dull, cloudy, wet, but not a huge amount of wind and dropping into the afternoon. Hels said she'd be free to sail with me, so I pretty much defaulted to turning up at Frampton to race the Ent. I was of a mood where I could more or less take it or leave it. Fixated as I seem to be on Calstar at the moment, there was a degree of bathos attached to the idea of sailing Buffy again.

The weather rolled in as expected. A good F4 across lunchtime, but fading. Cloudy and dull, but not much of the promised rain. We rigged, launched, set our watches for the starting line, and it was like throwing a switch. I had a great time. It wasn't great Enterprise weather, not strong enough to plane consistently, not light enough to leave the smaller, lighter single-handers stuck in the water. We had a great start for both races, but only an average result for each by the end.

But somewhere in the second race, with the wind dropping, the late afternoon sun now breaking through the murk overhead, it really struck me how good it was just to be out there. An eye on the sails, the tell-tails whispering their shifty secrets, an eye on the water, trying to tune to the next gust, the next lift or header, and the little boat leaping along gallantly whenever I got it right, or more often chiding me when I invariably didn't.

There is a beautiful simplification, a purity to be found in sailing. I've known this for some time now, and wouldn't have thought I'd ever of needed reminding. But yesterday's reminder was good.

As we tied Buffy down in her berth and headed home, the dusk-gloamed sky was glowing as if with the shared satisfaction of a day well had.

Saturday 7 March 2015



Soundchecked, on in forty minutes. Spent the day teaching folks how to handle the club safety boats, feeling just a little bit knackered, but sure I'll pick up once we start playing.

Racing Buffy tomorrow with Hels. Been neglecting her of late. Buffy, that is, not Hels.

And truth be told, much as I'm looking forwards to sailing the Ent, and the comfort of the familiar, not to mention the company of old friends, I'm looking forward to the trip over to Cardiff next weekend so much more.

The exam last Thursday went about as expected. I think I'm probably done with the whole RYA Day Skipper / Coastal / Yacht Master thing for now. If the last sixteen weeks are a guide to how it goes, I think I'm better off picking my own path.

The subject was great. Who doesn't like pouring over charts and talking about sailing? But the structure, format and delivery has been horribly frustrating. You couldn't pay me to put myself through that again.

Thursday 5 March 2015

The drawing out

Pulled over yesterday evening at about 6pm to take a photo of the Severn Vale as I came down from the hill on the way home from work. Winter is on the retreat. The snow drops and crocuses are now abundant and the daffodils beginning to flower. Leaves will soon be in bud, and bluebells will carpet those woods they favour. The evenings are beginning to stretch out. It was still light when I left the office, even if it was gone dusk by the time I got home.

I'm pretty egalitarian when it comes to the seasons, they all have their own charms. However, I love the long, light evenings of the early summer. 

If I can find crew, I'm hoping to race Buffy at Frampton this coming Sunday. Dad's on Safety Boat duty, and it's a spring tide out in the estuary which makes for a dawn and dusk high water around these parts. So not ideal for exploring off Portishead with Calstar anyway, at least not this early in the season. 

We'll make up for it next weekend; we're taking her over to Cardiff and back, weather permitting. I really can't wait. It's only about two or three hours each way, but we'll overnight in Cardiff and make a whole weekend of it. I think Ben may also be joining us, which'll be great. He's not even seen the boat yet.

Final exam tonight, the theory paper for the RYA Day Skipper we've been studying. I can't say I'll be sorry to see the back of it. I love the subject, but surviving the course itself has been a grinding affair the last couple of months. Dad's clear and now frequently expressed opinion is that if this is what sailing was all about, he'd give it up. I've got quite a bit of sympathy with the view, but would argue it's really not the subject, but rather the presentation.

I'm pretty much a fully subscribed devotee of the RYA training schemes. As a senior dinghy and powerboat instructor, I think it's all but written into the small print of the contract that I have to be. But this time around, they've really dropped the shot.

Never mind. An hour and a half of final grind tonight, then we can get back to focusing on the good stuff.

Sunday 1 March 2015

The better part of valour

We didn't sail.

Headed down to the boat, pretty much decided from the forecast.

Watched the racing fleet of four lock out in to flat waters and 18kts, half kicking myself for not having the guts. The conditions looks sublime.

Then then squall hit, as promised.

Racing was abandoned. We all retired to the pub. I've had a fine day, a good end to a fine weekend.