Monday 31 August 2015

First time

I'd faithfully promised my wife that I'd spend this bank holiday weekend with her, rather than sloping of to go sailing with Dad like I did for the last one. Not altogether without self interest. I mean, aside from wanting to spend time with her, I'm away sailing with Dad for two of the four weekends in September, so I figured it was worth getting the brownie points in this weekend in advance, and she has this weekend, and the two weeks either side, off work as she's using up her annual leave.

But the idea of not sailing on one of the biggest tides of the year did grate a little.

Complete aside, I'm currently listening to Willy Porter's High Wire Live as I type. Fantastic artist, though I much prefer this particular album, which is essentially a compilation of live recordings of an acoustic tour he did some years ago.

I saw him at the Bristol Coulston Hall, supporting Jethro Tull. Had no idea who he was at the time, but was totally blown away. Never could've imagined one guy on stage, his voice and guitar could make as beautiful noise as he did.

Anyway, enough of that. Here's a YouTube link to the track playing at the moment, "You Stay Here"

The entire album "High Wire Live" is full of tracks like this. It's quite brilliant.

But back to the weekend.

I was down at the boat with Dad on Thursday evening, re-hanging the recently repaired/restitched dodgers, when it occurred to me that Ben had said he couldn't sail this weekend either because his lovely girlfriend Em was coming down to see him (my words, not his). Now, obviously, it was silly for us both to suffer.

Nik wasn't working this weekend. Ben and Em are fully responsible adults, and therefore the perfect dog-sitters; Em's into her second year of studying to become a vet, so actually I'd say she's over-qualified as a dog-sitter, but let's not fuss over details like that.

So, on getting home, I begged Ben and Em to dog-sit and persuaded Nik It seemed the perfect tide and perfect forecast for a trip over to Cardiff and begged her to come sailing with us.

We headed down to the boat Friday evening. High water was 0730 the following morning, and knowing how hard it can be to get my wife out of the house, I figured heading down the night before would be the best bet.

The western sky was glowing a gorgeous cherry red, lit by the dying sun, by the time we reached Portishead. We picked up a few essentials from the supermarket, loaded our gear aboard the boat, then headed over to the little Italian restaurant on the quay wall overlooking the Channel and Portishead Hole for a late supper. The first time we've eaten there. It won't be the last. Lovely food, cheerful, friendly service.

Dad had me up by 0530 the following morning. A slight misunderstanding on how long it would take me to have a shower, a cup of tea and ready the boat for the 0730 lock-out. But no real harm done, plenty of time to sleep once the weekend is over.

We locked out at 0730, exactly on schedule, and with the tide in so not much drop needed on the lock, were out of the gates and motoring out past the breakwater by 0737; any wind was being completely masked by the land behind us, it was a tranquil morning.

Unusually, some sort of passenger liner was coming up channel, one of the Portbury tugs astern of it, and another waiting by the dock to swing her before guiding her in. Presumably up for some work, passenger liners don't bring passengers up here; well, not liners on this scale anyway.

We aimed out across the channel until the liner and tug has passed, then turned head to wind to haul up the sails. Stilling the engine, I could feel the slight weight of the mainsail as it began to draw, but the genoa hung listless in its shadow at first. The new furler became stiff for the last couple of rolls out, so rather than force anything, I went up front and turned it by hand. Some tweaking is going to be required I think, to get it working perfectly. I think we presently have too many spare coils of line on the drum.

By 0800, we were past Battery Point and out of the immediate shadow of the land. The wind filled in, settling in the south as expected, and we were soon close-hauled and heeling to about 10 or 15 degrees, gliding along beautifully over the slight chop stirred up by the now growing wind over tide. Nikki settled herself comfortably on the leeward side. back against the coach-house bulkhead, a beautific smile on her face as she enjoyed the gentle morning sun and the motion of our little boat.

Portishead fell away astern.

A little after 0900, us approaching EW Grounds, Clevedon now astern as we made ground west across the channel, a veritable heard of motorboats came up astern. They slowed as they reached us, not out of any consideration for ourselves, nor was any needed I should add, but I suspect to heard about the vintage MV Balmoral, which was putting off from Clevedon Pier and heading over to Penarth.

I like boats, so I can understand the appeal. Dad's a mechanical engineer by trade and calling, so all things nuts and bolts kind of light his fire, and he positively drooled over her as she steamed past. I think I know what to suggest to my brother we get him for Christmas.

By 1050 we were locking into Cardiff.

Loitering outside the lock, waiting for it to open, a motorboat came in behind us. A woman at the helm, her husband preparing the warps, I noted they seemed to be giving us space and gave it no more thought.

We entered the lock. Usual drill, I stepped onto the pontoon as early as I could, then walked with the boat down to the far end before securing her on her stern line, and then the bow. I then knelt to take a photograph. At which point, noticed the boat coming in behind was sideways in the lock.

So I jogged down the pontoon to take a line and helped them come alongside.

The husband was polite enough, blamed the apparently failed bow-thruster by way of (unneeded - it happens to the best of us) excuse. His wife was stony faced and quite grim, avoiding eye-contact, which I put down to (again, unneeded) embarrassment. I ambled back to our boat, and thought no more of it.

Until Nik mentioned that, as we'd been entering the lock, at Dad's usual, cautious pace, the woman had been quite blunt and vocal with her impatience, all but heckling him for his slow approach.

Dad, naturally, was quite unphased. He's been heckled by true professionals in his time, and just smiled and ignored her.

Clearly she was in a rush to show us how it was supposed to be done.

Cardiff was lovely, as always. We moored up in Penarth Marina, and walked across the Barrage to Mermaid Quay for lunch. A few pints and food, then caught the ferry back across the bay to Penarth. A pub supper and a few more pints, then a good night's sleep.

I have to say, Calstar is an exceptionally comfortable boat to sleep aboard. I never realised that, until we spent those five days aboard the Bavaria 30 in Falmouth last month.

It's so nice to be home.

Sunday was a lie in. Relatively. Up by 0800, then had breakfast ashore in a cafe overlooking the marina. A good start to the day.

Forecast was F3-4 building to 5 later, but from the north-east. A 4 or even a 5 isn't the end of the world, but we were on springs, and a big one. Low water Cardiff was due 1433 with 0.7m, high tide expected in Portishead for 2035 at 14.5m. That would give us about 6kts of flow around Welsh Hook in the middle hours. Add 6knts of apparent wind to a F5, and you potentially have quite a different beast to deal with.

Habitually big tides teach you to take the effect wind over tide seriously.

I was keen to get back as early as we could on the tide, before the expected weather came in.

The wind across the morning was light, so to save on time lost later, we locked out early, leaving Penarth Quays around 1130, and locking out through the Barrage at 1200. A quarter of an hour later, we left the outer harbour and followed the Wrach Channel out to the Penarth Roads.

We'd thought of anchoring off Penarth to wait for the turn of tide, but the wind was lovely (ignore the rain, falling as expected, but not cold) so we decided to see how well we could push against the tide. I'd rather be sailing than huddling below, hiding from the wet.

Nik joined us above briefly, strangely cheerful given the grim conditions, but as the rain set in sensibly went below, and made herself comfortable in the fore-cabin amongst the rolled and stowed sleeping bags and pillows.

I don't mind the rain. I'll qualify that. Suitably clothed, and in the warmth of summer, I don't mind the rain. The wind was perfect. Calstar beat back and forth between "Tail Patch" buoy and Monkstone Lighthouse, gradually creeping up channel against the tide.

Very gradually. Over two hours, as we crossed back across our track at low tide, just off the now very exposed sands of Cardiff Grounds, we'd made about half a mile.

But, as Dad seems to point out fairly often of late, if you're trying to beat the tide, just stick at it, and the tide eventually gives up. A little after 1400, on a port tack away from Monkstone, we began to break free.

A small yellow-hulled yacht, beautifully goose-winged, crossed our path ahead of us, heading in the direction of Flatholm. They gave a cheerful wave as they passed, returned enthusiastically. A little while later, we heard somebody trying to call up "New Dawn" on channel 16.

New Dawn is Hedley's boat, a Lydney Yacht Club sailor. Knowing he was out there somewhere put a grin on my face. Hedley is one of those consummate cruising types. Seemingly any excuse to go sail somewhere, he and New Dawn are first to cast off and sail. And he's so enthusiastic to share his (again, my words) wisdom and experience. It's one of the things I so love about sailing types.

Couldn't help but wonder if the yellow hull was a Lydney boat. In any case, on a grey, wet day they were out there with us. It's hard not to feel a certain kinship. It's a good feeling. Somebody else as daft as you.

As the tide turned, the rain gave up and the sun came out. Nik came up from below, still smiling. The Holms fell away behind us as the tide took it's grip. The wind slowly built, but the sea stayed blissfully smooth.

The going stayed good. We beat up channel, a helpful tide on our leebow. An hour or so in, I put a couple of rolls into the genoa to ease some of the heel, as the gusts were pushing us over to 25 degrees. We hit a bit of chop off Clevedon, not unexpected, but once through and past, the seas eased again. We heard Bristol VTS report the windspeed at 10kts on the VHF to a cargo ship inbound behind us. That would make 16 knots apparent, but the sea stayed tame. The sands of the Middle Grounds still stood proud as we beat our way up the Bristol Deep.

With the big ship coming up behind us, I over-stood the breakwater off Portishead. The pilot notes say you're supposed to cross the channel in a straight line between Denny Shoal and Firefly, but the ship was still at Welsh Hook, and so over-standing, I was able to bear away and race in to Portishead on a beam reach, nipping in under Firefly before bearing up head-to-wind and dropping the sails just off the end of the pier,

A very short while later we were in the shelter of the Hole, watching the cargo vessel pass as we waited for the lock.

It was a great sail. More to the point, Nikki said she loved it. Not sure she completely understands the obsession, or, to be fair, ever will, but when I then, flippantly, asked if she fancied sailing around the world with me, she (perhaps with equal flippancy) answered an enthusiastic "Yes!"

I'll take that as a win.

She also asked when we could go again.

The Holms Race is in a couple of weeks time. But I suspect she'll be working. Dad and I are heading back to Ilfracombe a week after that. But again, I suspect she'll be working.

Not to mention somebody has to look after the dogs.

So I suspect our chances of sailing again in the near future are somewhat curtailed. No pun intended. Thank-you Captain Jack. Or was that Mataurin? I can't remember.

But we have established a precedent.

She likes sailing.

For the fun of it, a link to the full album is here, courtesy of Google Photos. Not posted a "Google album" before, so we'll see how well this works.

Saturday 22 August 2015

That same old Saturday routine

I do think, sometimes, I'm a little spoilt. Bit of a drift this morning, but good company. Great gig this evening. Though fair to say I'm exhausted now.

Forecast is looking wet and potentially a little bit vicious tomorrow, not really the weather for the Bristol Channel.

Will hopefully get the chance to go play with Buffy on the lake instead.

Wednesday 19 August 2015


Looking out my office window at the thick, incessant drizzle that's come in with the afternoon.

Racing with Ben at the lake this evening. Forecast promised more wind than seems to be evident. Hoping it's just the shelter of the valley masking it.

No too bothered by the wet either way. Am thinking that had I checked in advance, I might have packed something more waterproof than shorts and t-shirt however.

Looking forward to the race.

Wednesday 12 August 2015


is not so much about weathering the storm, as learning to dance in the rain

Envy the young

Generally, I don't.

It's taken me my fair share of mistakes and bad decisions to get to the happy place I am now, so whilst I am occasionally predisposed towards nostalgic reflection, I feel no great desire to go do it all again. Perhaps the thing is to relish the journey and not dwell over-much on where you've come from or even too much on where you're going.

I do miss writing though. By that, I mean music. And by that, I mean writing, recording and performing. Performing it live; without an audience I don't much rate the worth of a song. Not that I regret where we've come to. I learnt some many few years ago that the gig was the real drug I couldn't let go, that it doesn't really matter what you sing, as long as you've got a crowd to sing to. But sometimes, just sometimes, you can't help but think, "What if?" . . . . . .

It's been a good long while since I last wrote; either a poem or a song for that matter. I think you need space to breath, the silence to hear your thoughts, the time to let them arrange themselves out into the form they need to take, and the faith to let them stand on their own worth. I have little space or silence or time any more, and have perhaps grown too cynical for that kind of faith. Though I don't discount that I might one day find my way back there. To everything there is a season, and seasons have been known to roll around again, every once in a while.

Our band changed its name to "Freefall" back in about 2004, and continued to write, gig and promote our own music for a few years after that, before we finally (d)evolved into the "covers band" that we are now.

Two or three years ago, another covers band set up in the Bristol area under the same name, which caused a few problems and a bit of a confusion for a while until people got used to the idea. They're still going now, which is a pleasant surprise as I can't wish them ill, but new bands do come as often as they go. It was an annoyance at first, but these days the only reaction I feel when I think about it is a vague, mental shrug of the shoulders. I might even try and catch one of their gigs one of these days, though I am terribly bad at turning up at any gig other than my own.

And then, last year, I came across a new Gloucester-based band that had also taken our name "Freefall". I wanted to feel indignant, especially as they were from my home-town, but couldn't bring myself to it. They're young. They're writing, recording and gigging their own stuff, and have an energy, hope and ambitious self-belief that makes me smile. It reminds me of us, then.

Describing themselves as an "alt rock/pop punk band" I didn't really hold out much hope for actually enjoying their music. I found a few videos of them online, and couldn't quite get through the unbalanced wall of sound you inevitably get from such ad-hoc camera-phone snapshots. However, they posted a link a stream of their d├ębut EP on, and curiosity led me to plug in my headphones have a listen despite what I'd heard so far.

[a word to the wise; you should expect "alt rock/pop/punk" to have a bit of a kick to it, so don't go there unless such is to your taste]

Despite myself, I loved the four tracks they posted. I don't envy the young, and won't envy another soul their song. But if I did and if I would, I could've wished I'd written them.

It's the sort of thing that makes me wish I was still writing. It's the sort of trigger that might one day kick me back to doing so.

The energy, hope and ambitious self-belief reminds me so much of us then. And feels like such a long time ago.

That almost makes me feel old.

Morning calm, the Seafront at Clevedon

Normally standing off the shore looking on, this morning was stood on shore looking off for a few peaceful moments whilst waiting for the sail-maker to arrive at his loft so that I could retrieve the genoa from him.

Dick Hannaford of R&J Sails is a very helpful, obliging, lovely man and a fine craftsman. We're very lucky to have him so local to us. That's twice now he's helped me out at very short notice and saved the following weekend's sailing.

Although not visible in the picture above, there was a chap swimming over by the pier. Despite the slight chill of even a sunny English morning, and the definite chill of the water, I quite envied him. Sure, there is a slight tannin hue to the waters of the Bristol Channel this far up. But I'm sure a little bit of silt never hurt anyone.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Red sky at night, sailors' delight

Although I'm not actually sailing tomorrow. But I am retrieving Calstar's genoa from the sailmaker, luff tape replaced to fit the new furler.

Monday 10 August 2015

Blue at the Mizzen

This is it. This morning I started the twentieth and final (completed) book in O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. There is a 21st, but unfortunately O'Brian passed away before he could get further than the third chapter, so it was published unfinished.

I'm not sure if I'm going to go there. Probably, but I'm not yet certain.

I've really enjoyed the series. As I think I've mentioned before, I found O'Brian's style difficult to connect with at first, but his characters sink their hooks into your psyche, so as the books roll on, they became increasingly all but impossible to put down.

I have no idea what I'm going to read next once I'm done. I feel vaguely panicked by that uncertainty.

Thursday 6 August 2015


A Cornish gannet flew across our stern as we sailed out across Falmouth Bay this afternoon.

Must've been a good omen. On the way back to Falmouth we had dolphins for company.

Sometimes only having your mobile on hand for a photo is not an advantage. Not my best shot of a bird.

The clouds came out okay though.


"I GO"

Our home this week. Making good way returning from Helford to Falmouth this afternoon. Great wind, lovely sea, rather too much rain.

But that's what oilies are for.

Monday 3 August 2015


For the week has got off to a poor start. On the other hand, it was a good first night.

Saturday 1 August 2015

The remains

Smooth operator

Just watched my daughter, Tash, who has always had lovely, long blond hair, have it all shaved off in a pub garden for charity.

The cause is a good one, and close to home on many levels: McMillan Cancer Support. Oddly mixed feelings. Proud of her, but slightly horrified that my little girl is now as bald as a bowling ball.

Still, it's only hair, so will grow back.