Friday, 31 July 2015
Delivered Calstar from Portishead to Bristol City Docks yesterday, just under eight miles, all on engine. Fascinating, leaving Portishead so early on the tide, with little over a meter above the lock sill and high mud banks all but blocking sight of the estuary beyond.
Expecting the river to be picturesque, I took my Pentax SLR, and took lots of pictures; leaving Portishead, entering the mouth of the Avon, passing under Avonmouth Bridge, Portishead Cruising Club's clubhouse and the pill.
Then realised I'd not put a memory card in the camera. Idiot.
They were some truly great photos, capturing the timeless, arboreal character of the river and the folks using it. Some of my best ever, I'm quite sure.
Well, probably not. Point is, we'll never know. Because I'm a fool and didn't properly check my camera before taking it out. Just as well I pay more attention to the boat and charts, or we'd never have made it to Bristol in one piece.
She'll stay there now, berthed at Underfall Yard for the week we're away in Cornwall. And when we get back, she'll have had a week of pampering; new, completely replaced standing rigging and and a shiny new Furlex head-sail furler. The old Colnbrook was working fine now I worked out I can manage the halyard wrap by managing the halyard tension. But Dad's adamant it gets replaced. He hates the idea of it jamming again and me having to go out on the foredeck to sort it whilst we're out at sea.
I don't see the problem, one hand for the boat, one hand for the job, and clip on if its especially bouncy. But Dad points out that most "man overboard" cases are, according to the RNLI, blokes of about my age, suffering from an inevitable affliction of over-confidence and over-inflated self-belief.
Wednesday, 29 July 2015
Although I say Ben was "running it" I have to also mention he had a fantastic team of coaches and supporters to help him, both on and off the water.
They asked me to run the safety boat cover for them last Tuesday, and I had a blast doing so. It was a blustery, squally day, with lots of boats tipping in and plenty to keep the safety boat crew occupied. The day re-emphasised to me that kids, when they're having fun, are pretty much as bomb proof as the Toppers they were mostly sailing.
There were of the order of 44 kids participating, plus coaches, most of whom were, like Ben, not much older than the juniors they were looking after and all, without exception, home-grown at the Club. It was quite a sight to behold.
On which note, one of the coaches, Sam Callen, has posted a fine video compilation of the week's events up onto YouTube:
Tuesday, 28 July 2015
A week today, with luck and a following wind (or even a headwind, as long as there's enough but not too much of it) we'll be somewhere off the south coast of Cornwall. Dad, Ben and I are booked to do the practical needed to finish our RYA Day Skipper with Cornish Cruising next week. Five days aboard, departing Falmouth on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd. It almost seems redundant now to chase a course and a qualification, as we have our own boat and our own miles in our logbook, and for the cost of putting the three of us on the course we could've replaced the standing rigging or almost commissioned a much needed new set of sails.
But it's Cornwall, and it's five days afloat, and it's sailing and I can't wait anyway. It'll actually be really nice to have five days where I can focus on the sailing and boat handling but not be absolutely, finally, ultimately responsible for the welfare of the boat and all aboard. Not that I mind that in the least, but it brings a certain pressure when it's your responsibility and your boat and your crew and your money and your fault if you sink and everybody has to swim home. Next week, it's somebody else's boat, somebody else's agenda and their final say on whether or not anything is a good plan or a dangerous folly.
I find I always gain a lot sailing with other people and other boats, especially when the other people know their boat and know what they're doing. And though I've now got 499 miles of my own already in my logbook (aboard Calstar, since the "first date" written of earlier on this site; I counted them up yesterday morning, a weekend without salt water and I'm already twitchy) I know I've still got an awful lot more to gain. I really can't wait. And I love and adore Cornwall.
So I had thought last Saturday's trip to Cardiff was to be our last outing with Calstar before we head off to blue waters. However, Dad's arranged for her standing rigging to be replaced during the week we're away (it's at least 15 years old, so long, long overdue), so we have to deliver her up the River Avon to Underfall Yard in Bristol Harbour this coming Thursday afternoon. We need to be there an hour before they drop the stop gates on the harbour at 1809hrs, and can't lock out of Portishead until the first lock at 1530, which gives us about 90 minutes to get out of Portishead, into to the mouth of the Avon and then up to the gates of Bristol Harbour, about 7.5 nautical miles in all.
There will be a healthy amount of tide running under us, so it should be more than possible. If the weather is kind, it'll be a very pretty trip.
"Ondine" has been sold. To our club at Frampton as we'd hoped, who will keep her for Sailability, which is nice as I'll still get to sail her on occasion. As I did last Saturday. A very pleasant morning on the water, a bit blustery to begin with, but dropping off as the day wore on, until the wind had all but given in by the time we came ashore to pack up a little after lunch. I always enjoy the company of Frampton's Sailability members, their enthusiasm for being out on the water is infectious, and they particularly love sailing Ondine.
Had a great couple of gigs. Saturday night was a wedding party. A small but riotously enthusiastic crowd, very appreciative, and a very pretty venue. Although I've only ever had one of my own, and frankly wouldn't want to repeat the experience, I always love playing weddings. People always seem so full of promise and life and hope.
I should perhaps qualify the comment preceding that last observation. Mine was a great wedding, and a great reception after. But I'm really not a party person, unless I have a guitar between me and the crowd to give me an excuse for being there. And Nik, patient, enduring and understanding in so many things, was quite explicit: I wasn't allowed to play at my own wedding. But no, I'm not a party person at all. And that is an understatement, so being expected by your admittedly gorgeous new wife to "mingle" and "socialise" with friends and family whilst staying sober and coherent enough to be able to credibly do both is close to my own idea of a personal hell. Second only to having to push a shopping trolley around a supermarket.
Something else she's inflicted on me any number of times over the years and continues to do so on occasion. Did I say she was patient and long suffering? She's not without the cunning to exact due payment for my many liberties and neglects.
But I like other people's weddings. And proved lucky in picking a girl daft enough to have put up with me these many years despite the obvious liabilities that come with the package, so I've had no need to repeat the whole wedding thing myself.
Funniest thing, as I left the stage on Saturday night, having finished the last encore, a woman came up to me and asked, "Did you just say the band's name was Freefall?"
"Um, yes," said I.
"Oh my God, you've been booked to play my birthday party in December! That's so great! Most of the people here tonight will be there as well!"
Funny enough; for both Saturday night's wedding and the above lady's birthday party due later this year in December, the band was, unusually, booked unheard on strength of recommendation alone through separate third parties, long time friends of the band that had previously worked with us for many years. One a promoter and the other the owner of a PA & lighting hire company that has managed the sound and lights on many, many gigs we've played, but otherwise quite unconnected to each other.
It's a small world indeed.
Sunday was a different kind of venue; an afternoon gig at the Royal British Legion in Kingswood on the north side of Bristol. A screw-up with the times had us there a couple hours earlier than we needed to be, so there was a fair bit of sitting around once we were set up, and being a Sunday afternoon and a family venue, we kept the volume very subdued, which always makes for a peculiar feel on stage. But again, the crowd were lovely, quick to cheer and dead set on enjoying themselves and the show. And the kids: I love how little ones respond to music. There was one little tot in particular, couldn't have been more than a couple of years, that kept wandering away from her family's table to dance to the band.
To be fair, I suspect the little lass would get up and dance to the sound of a washing machine, so I don't delude myself that it was the dancing and not the band she really loved. But again, such enthusiasm for life is an infectious thing.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
But it was a great weekend.
Saturday: Dad and I took "Calstar" out for the day. The forecast was west to south west blowing a 4 or 5, expected to build through the day and then drop back off into the evening. A friend from Lydney had originally suggested they might sail down to Sully Island for a late lunch before heading back to either Cardiff or Portishead, so we were of half a mind to join them. Sully Island is a small, tidal island just under five hundred meters off the north coast of the Bristol Channel, mid way between Penarth and Barry, and apparently provides a decent bit of shelter between it and the land when the wind is in the west.
We locked out of Portishead for 1030, an hour after high water. Conditions were pretty much as I'd expected from the forecast, with the wind against the ebb tide whipping up frequent white horses off a confused and sometimes turbulent short swell. By 1100, we were beating into it, both reefs in the main and the genoa rolled down to about half, the little yacht making a happy if frequently wet 3 to 4 knots under her short sail. The day was warm, the spray little discomfort, so although we kept the companionway hatch pulled shut, we left the cockpit spray-hood down.
Over the first hour or so as the tide really bit in, the wind and seas built until they became quite hard work despite the deep reefing, the gusts pushing Calstar hard over when they hit. Out over Middle Grounds serried rows of vicious looking, shoaling breakers marched away into the distance and we beat towards them on port tack. The set of the genoa, so deeply rolled, was exceptionally poor, the leech indecorously twisting away because of the shallow angle of the working sheet. In anticipation of the need to tack approaching, I adjusted the windward genoa car forwards to improve the angle of the sheet, but the sprung punger that is supposed to pin the car to the rail jammed up, leaving the car running loose.
A somewhat frenetic five minutes was spent leaning over the windward coaming, trying to free the pin, but the shoals and shallows of Middle Grounds were coming up fast, so we furled the genoa away and tacked under main alone.
The boat speed dropped whilst Dad and I fiddled with the now disabled genoa fairlead. Then I ran the car free off the forward end of the rail, which meant we were able to work on the thing from below and in the comfort of the cockpit. Within a few short minutes, with liberal use of a pair of pliars (tapping as well as pinching and twisting), the pin was locking down once more, and the genoa car replaced on the rail in its new forward position.
We redeployed the genoa, still deeply rolled, but now setting much better on the starboard tack. Dad persuaded me to leave the opposite genoa car well enough alone however until we were once more safely back in port, and simply suffer the poor set of the sail on every other beat.
Clearing Clevedon astern, we'd been keeping an eye out for sight of any other sails, half hoping to see our friends from Lydney but not sure they'd even set out. With conditions still building, Dad and I reconsidered our options and decided to duck into the shelter of Cardiff instead of Sully Island. Swapping an unknown for a known and the promise of a quayside mooring, a pub and a pint for lunch was beginning to look by far the more sensible option.
Almost as if on the back of the decision, as we beat out towards Newport Deep, clearing the Middle Grounds to starboard, the sea state began to ease, the winds abating a little, albeit heading us as they did so. Our plans revised though, we stuck to our new decision and continued on towards Cardiff.
Entering the Penarth Roads behind the shelter of Lavernock Point, I could see the blue sails of Penarth Yacht Club's Enterprise fleet heading out to race. We struck sail and started the engine, and called up the Barrage on VHF to request a lock in to the bay. Picking our way down the Wrach Channel for the final approach was interesting so late on the tide. The channel is dredged but narrow, and the channel markers that marked the spur that led from the Wrach Channel to the outer harbour sheltering the barrage locks were sat high on mud banks on either side. Other than the slight, tell-tail ripples at the waters edge, it was hard to spot where the silt laden waters stopped and the mud banks began, and could only take comfort from the thought that if we did ground, it would be soft, sheltered and although on a falling tide, not many hours to wait for the flood to lift us again.
In the event, we picked the right path and soon enough were locking into the bay, the lock gates closing behind us at 1417, a little under four hours since leaving Portishead.
On the way over to Mermaid Quay, we spotted a stray white fender drifting abandoned and lost, and brought it aboard with the boat-hook. That makes good the one I lost in Portishead Hole a couple of months ago. The visitors moorings at Mermaid Quay were easy to access with plenty of space, and a coded gate securing the pontoons from the thronging public on the quay itself. By 1500, with Calstar secured alongside, Dad and I went ashore, found a pub overlooking the bay where we could relax with a very welcome pint of ale for our late lunch.
An hour and a half later, we cast off and headed back out to the Barrage. Calling them up on the VHF, Barrage Control confirmed us a slot for the 1730 lock. High water was due at Portishead for 2146, so I felt quite happy with the timings. By 1800 the sails were set to a broad reach laid to pass us just north of the shallows of Cardiff Grounds. The winds were much lighter than earlier in the day, and so we made our way at 3 to 4 knots happily under full sail over a calm sea.
The winds continued to drop. With the tide under us, our speed over ground was still 6 knots or more, but worryingly the GPS was suggesting an ETA of gone 2200 and increasing. By about 1830, this had slipped to gone 2300. Downwind, the ETA on the plotter has always been pretty much spot on, and we were now in the full grip of the tide. With high water due a little before 10pm, it was clear that an expected arrival of post 11pm wouldn't see us make it before the tide turned foul and stopped us in our tracks.
Reluctantly, because the run was so pleasant, I furled the genoa, started the engine and proceeded to motor-sail.
Our SOG picked up to 11 knots as we entered the Bristol Deep, but the ETA remained determindly unmoved. It was at that point, faced by all these confounding and contrary indicators that I realised my mistake: I'd neglected to tell the plotter to "Start Follow" so rather than doing its course calculations relative to our present speed and position, it was using whatever default speed it has set (which I've been unable to either determine or influence) and expecting us to start from Cardiff, when in fact we were already half way home.
Feeling the fool, but relieved we were not going to spend the night out in the Bristol Channel, I pressed the "follow" button on the plotter, stilled the engine and redeployed the genoa. Our ETA was now a much more optimistic 1928.
The rest of the trip was tranquil and totally lacking in mishap or drama, a lovely reach home over benign seas on a gentle breeze beneath a gorgeous, dusky sky. We passed a couple of big car transports, one inbound, the other outbound from Royal Portbury, and eventually dropped sail a little after 1930 outside Portishead, locking in for 2000.
Just over eight hours on the water and 40 miles covered. A great day's sailing. Interestingly, I let the prop free-wheel in neutral all the way back from Cardiff, with no sign of the previous grinding and vibration. Best guess it was something, fishing line or other plastic, jammed in the rope cutter and now clear. That is a relief.
Sunday: another early start, but for a change the theme of the day was planes and not boats, the early start concerned with cheating the traffic rather than catching a tide.
I rarely mention the "day job" here, and don't mean to change that habit now. Although the work is IT based and focused on finance and insurance, one of the number of shared interests my long time friend and business partner and I have in common is in aviation. Pretty much most years, our company has done "something" extra-curricular for our customers, supporters and staff. Some many few years ago, as much to give ourselves the excuse to go, one of those events was to invite them to the annual air-show at nearby Fairford (the Royal International Air Tattoo, or "RIAT" in short).
Out of that, something of a tradition formed, where colleagues from a couple of the companies we invited returned the favour in the following years, and so the annual invite has worked round-robin amongst the three parties ever since.
It was a great day, and a brilliant show. The Red Arrows stole it as usual, or if we were actually awarding points, perhaps the Vulcan by a narrow margin and through merit of it likely being the last time I'll see her fly. The WWII aircraft were fantastic. No Lancaster this year unfortunately, but there was a restored Bristol Blenheim, a Messerschmitt BF-109 and a veritable swarm of Spitfires; more than I've ever seen in one place at any one time. I don't think you can ever tire of the sight or sound of a Spitfire.
Whether it's the elegant, deadly grace of a Spitfire, the brutal menace of a MiG-29 or the improbable agility and tumbling aerobatics of a modern Typhoon, it's very hard as you watch them not to reflect on how far we've come in so little over 100 years; albeit mostly in the name of killing each other.
The weather was very kind this year; we had actual blue skies by the afternoon. Funny enough, although such weather inarguably makes for better flying and more comfortable viewing, I sometimes think squally, storm-troubled skies and battling rain often make for the more dramatic photos, even if it can be difficult working the detail of the aircraft in the inevitably lessened light. Still, photographic drama aside, I was quite happy not having to have to grapple with it for a change, so the sunshine was very welcome.
The camera on my phone is good for all sorts of things, but this one time I think circumstances out-classed it, so I took my Pentax DLSR with me instead, along with its 70-300mm telephoto lens. The resulting photos can be seen here -- https://flic.kr/s/aHskg5fi2W
Saturday, 11 July 2015
No sailing this weekend.
The day has been split between the garden, the tip and the vet. Feel exhausted, should stick to sailing. But garden is tidy, if still overgrown, and Buster (dog that needed the vet) is going to be fine.
So a good day.
Buzz is close to 14 now, so an old man in GSD terms. Every trip to the vet is heart wrenching.
Tomorrow's gig is aboard the Tower Belle, boarding at noon. Forecast has been pretty consistent. Rain.
Notice it's just started about now.
Won't do the garden any harm. Tomorrow's trick will be to keep the water separate from the instruments and PA.
Thursday, 9 July 2015
It's funny how things get under your skin: Sailing was only supposed to be a temporary distraction, a replacement for gliding until the kids got a bit older and I could either trust them loose on an airfield or leave them at home without guilt whilst I got on with my flying.
That moment passed quite some time ago now. My youngest is almost seventeen. I still really miss gliding, especially on a day like today when I glance out of the window behind me and can see a glider out of nearby Aston Down sketching graceful, lazy circles at about 800' off the north side of the airfield, scratching for lift to carry him away. And his deft, dexterous efforts are being rewarded. He's slowly, steadily climbing the thermal beneath the billowing cumulus over-head. I remember that view, that feeling, that solitude. I do miss it.
It'll be nine years next month since I let go my wings. Nine years next month since I instead found my way out on to the water again, and realised I'd never left it. I grew up with boats, with rivers and seas, in or on or by the water, and the fifteen year stretch of my life where I seemed to forget that feels now like a strange, accidental wilderness. I miss gliding, but to not sail now I've remembered what it is to do so would be utterly unthinkable.
If I'm not afloat, I'm either planning the next opportunity or reflecting on the last. It can be quite a distraction. "Calstar" has opened up new horizons, new dreams and new possibilities but last night Ben and I raced "Buffy" on the lake at Frampton. For all the dreams and all the horizons, I wouldn't have wanted to have been anywhere else for that short hour on the water. There is a focus and a pleasure in making a small boat go fast and go where you want with nothing but the wind, her sails and your wit; a pleasure quite sublime.
|photo: ken elsey|
I enjoy my work. The "day job" is in IT; intellectually challenging, often stressful, often satisfying. I'm fortunate to work in a good place of my own choosing with a small group of good people, all of whom I consider to be my friends. And I can so often see gliders dancing in the sky outside my office window, or trout turning in the mill-race below, or deer foraging in the field. Growing up, I wanted to be a writer or a musician. Out of school, I very nearly joined the Navy, but got distracted by the band. So this present now wasn't what I'd planned, but it's a good place to have ended up. A good place to live and a good place to work. I've no complaints and much to be grateful for.
Barring the unforeseens of ill fortune or ill heath, in another ten years I should have all but paid off our mortgage. A little more effort should see the other sundry debts we've gathered finally tamed, subdued, settled and put behind us. I'll be just shy of 55. The kids will by then, I hope and have faith, have all grown up and settled themselves into lives and dreams of their own. Most of the responsibilities that press and restrain me now will have been delivered to, all the promises I've owed will have been kept.
I could swap all this for the sea.
Monday, 6 July 2015
Saturday, 4 July 2015
All done. Great night. Funny how all the words come back, as long as you don't think too hard.
Looking forward to sailing with Hels tomorrow. Kinda missing Calstar though.
Somebody suggested the rubbing noise might be worn shim bearings on the rope-cutter behind the prop.
Just finished watching The Pillars of the Earth on Amazon Instant Video. I loved the book, though didn't manage to get into any other Ken Follett book I ever got my hands on. I think that says more of me than the author. But Cathedrals, Medieval England, home and history, what was not to love. And I reckon the series did full justice to the book. I quite loved it.
Currently reading Patrick O'Brian's "The Commodore" and won't say much about it for fear of spoiling it for anybody. But what I will say of the journey so far: I've grown very used to O'Brian's style which I disliked at first, or it has grown used to me. Or, as I suspect, we've met in the middle. But the enduring charm is in his characters.
I'm ridiculously invested in Mataurin and Aubrey (perhaps I should reflect back on my previously mentioned loyalty to friends; the pathology seems also to extend to the fictional) but even the minor or latterly introduced characters come with their barbed hooks ready to sink into your affections.
Back to real life, we now have a thunder storm outside. Which I love, and most of the dogs ignore, which is an unusual blessing. The heat of the last few days has been glorious. I suspect there are some Englishmen that might be tempted to lynch me for that sentiment, but I'd venture that's their loss.
It's a balance. Life's pretty much a compromise from the moment you're born. I know some would disagree, but of those that I know that perhaps might, I'm sure they'd respect my view even as I'd respect theirs. I'd even admit I might be wrong. Not actually sure they would.
But anyway, I've so far spent my life finding the easy spot to sit on the wind, the line of least resistance. At least so long as it's taking me somewhere towards where I think I want to be. I don't mind a scrap, I've had a few, where it mattered, where a line was crossed, but I've always had a (albeit sometimes only instinctive) talent for picking my fights.
I think I am cursed with unmitigated loyalty to those I call my friends. My own. My people.
And they are diverse. As it seems is my loyalty.
Well. Some would call it cursed. But not me, I think.
I think life works itself out as it should. It's not so much fate, as unintentional manufacture. We are each a wonderful equation. We can't help but find our balance.
I have a gig tomorrow night. First in bloody ages. Well, a month; but that's a veritable fast by our standards. I can't wait to break it.
We've only managed one rehearsal since the last gig, which, to be fair, is one more than normal. But we don't normally weather a whole month without playing. Which is just as well, as we are crap at rehearsals.
Bottom line is that tomorrow night I shall probably forget a fair few words, and possibly, but less noticeably, as many or more chords. But I don't really care.
The gig isn't about the words or the chords. It's about the song.
It is a balance. And every balance needs compromise. So judge it by the song.
This is far from done. But when it is, I think as long as I still have the perspective to do that, then I'll be content.
Maudlin: it's Friday night, and an empty bottle of white wine sits aside me, which possibly accounts for the frame of mind. At least this time we're coherent.
Tonight Nik cooked us supper, possibly for the first time this week; it's been that kind of a week, we've each been all over the place. But she did ask me to slice up the pork tenderloin for the stir-fry.
Which I happily did. I'm fond of sharp knives. But between my saying it was done and her putting it in the wok, it seems Lilly did the unthinkable and jumped up and helped herself to the entire portion of meat.
By way of mitigation, Nik found some "Farm Foods" frozen "Kabab Meat" in the freezer which she used instead.
I will forever defend both my wife's cooking and judgement with my life. But there are some fights you are destined to lose.
Please folks, never, ever mix kabab meat, frozen or otherwise, with noodles, chopped veg and bean sprouts.
And please folks, never tell her I wrote this. If she reads it for herself, sobeit, but until then, I shall take my chances.
I gig tomorrow, race the Ent on Sunday. Tides and timings curtail our time with Calstar for now, though Dad might go down to check on her tomorrow.
Have a great weekend everybody. Wherever you are, whatever you hope to do.