Sunday 11 December 2016

Diary mundane

Thursday evening. A gig at The Dolphin in Oldland Common. The new sound desk managed admirably, after we blew up the old one midway through the last gig. Not being terribly consumer-minded, the furore we've seemingly tried to import from States-side surrounding so-called "Black Friday" has left me slightly bemused and totally disinterested the last couple of years, although I did note in passing that all the sound and fury and supermarket violence of the idea's debut last year appeared to not materialise again this year, thankfully.

However, consequent to the timing of our above mentioned kit failure at the end of October, the replacement sound desk, a Soundcraft Spirit FX16 was on offer for significantly less than half price when we found ourselves looking last weekend.

Friday. An arbitrary day off work due to an excess of leave owed and the approaching end of the year.

Woke up Friday morning without a plan. Looked at the forecast and agreed with Dad that with gusts of F5 & 6 in the offering it wouldn't be sensible to sail.

Decided to take Lilly for a walk, and somehow ended up in Portishead with her so we went for a walk along the foreshore. The water looked lovely, albeit in its inimical muddy, Bristol Channel kind of way. Kept thinking I'd made the wrong decision not to sail, and then had to keep reminding myself that it only looked nice because we were sheltered by the lee of Battery Point and Portishead's headland.

We came across a very large tree trunk lying on the pebbly shore. Interesting, in that it wasn't a permanent fixture, but a not untypical example of the flotsam and jetsam we have to be mindful of avoiding when we're out there sailing. It's very obvious and easy to avoid in a calm, but you never seem to notice the stuff when it's blowing old boots. But as Huw of the yacht "Karisma" has pointed out a number of times, it must all still be there, lurking just beneath the turbulent surface.

A sobering thought.

By happy accident, Dad had ended up down in Portishead Friday morning as well, so met him by the lifeboat station and wandered back to check on the boat. Working out how to get a slightly anxious 40kg German Shepherd aboard was a bit of a puzzler for a moment or two, then I put Lilly's ball up on the coach-roof to free my hands in preparation for trying to lift her bodily over the rail, at which point, in her keenness to follow her ball come what may, she solved the puzzle for herself and wriggled her way aboard beneath the guard wires.

She sunned herself in the cockpit for a bit, a little nervous at first about the strange environment, but adjusting quickly enough, whilst Dad and I pottered about the boat with odd jobs and ran the engine for ten minutes. Then we retired to the pub for a late lunch.

Saturday was a washout. The heavens bucketed down. Started off well with an hour of karate in the morning, but then left a dozen promised jobs around the house undone and generally achieved nothing through the rest of the day until, domestic god that I am not, I cooked supper for everybody Saturday evening.

photo: caroline woodhouse

Sunday, and blue skies returned. Raced Buffy with Ben as the tides were all wrong for sailing out of Portishead with Dad, although in hindsight we could've gone down-channel and back for a few hours between tides; an opportunity missed. Not much wind at Frampton again, but much warmer than the week before with the temperature up to around a balmy 12C. After last week's cold-snap, I think the odds of snow at Christmas are lengthening once more.

The first race felt much better than its equivalent the week previous, but the result was much the same, with our boat finishing 6th out of 12. The last thirty seconds of the race were a nail-biter however.

We'd been chasing our friend John in his Solo for most of the last lap, and in the last minute, both of us running downwind, Ben hardened up to overhaul him but he headed up aggressively to fend us away, as you'd expect. Ben then sneakily ducked hard, the tip of our bow missing the trailing edge of the Solo's rudder by no more than fractions of an inch. And as we did, there was just the slightest increase of pressure in the light airs, enough to carry us clear ahead as the final gun went before John could bear back down, sounding the end of the pursuit and finish of the race.

It was theft, pure and blatant. But it was lovely.

The second race went well, what little wind there had been through the morning dropped away to a glassy drift but we kept Buffy moving and finished a very clear 2nd place out of the 8 boats racing in our fleet.

Got home about an hour before sunset. Walked Lilly and then enjoyed a game of ball in the park with Jack as the sun went down and dusk set upon us beneath a pink vanilla sky.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Blue sky chills

Sunday was a chilly one.

It read -2C on the dial as I scraped the frost off the car. We drove to the club half expecting to find the lake iced over, but arrived to discover the water, on our windward shore by the club house at least, quite liquid and ice free and a small collection of fellow enthusiasts by the lakeside rigging their boats to race.

photo: ken elsey
I was sailing with my eldest son, Ben, so had the pleasure of crewing whilst trusting him to the helm. He's far to big and clumsy these days to be entrusted to the front of the boat.

Two races were scheduled, the first a pursuit, and the second a class fleet race.

The pursuit didn't go well. Annoyingly, we neglected to tension the jib before launching and didn't spot our mistake until we'd started and were half way up the first beat wondering why on earth we couldn't point up into the wind at all. On an Enterprise rig tension is achieved with a highfield lever at the bottom of the mast. One crew member hangs on the forestay to take the pressure out of the rigging with their body-weight whilst the other pulls the lever on. Obviously this isn't possible on the water, but we managed to brute-force the lever directly with a combination of both mine and Ben's weight combined.

photo: ken elsey
I can still feel the bruising from the experience in the bones of my hand, but needs must.

It was an indifferent result. Despite the forecast promising a F4 gusting 7 (off Portishead at least, I'd neglected to check the local forecast for Frampton) the winds on the lake were easterly, light and fickle. Ben's least favourite conditions. His over-enthusiastic roll-tacking almost capsized us twice, which he quite unfairly tried to blame on me. The boat is still leaking around the centreboard case; this, along with the two near missed capsizes meant that I spent an inordinate amount of time in the bottom of the boat mopping icy water out of the bilges with a sponge, there being nowhere near enough wind to get the auto-bailers working.

At least the sun was shining. It was, in fact, a gorgeously pretty day if you could just grit your teeth and bring yourself to see it past the chilblains in your fingers.

We finished the first race an inglorious 7th out of 13 boats.

photo: ken elsey
The second race, which in the handicap fleet saw us competing against an array of Toppers, British Moths and a Mirror, was an altogether better affair. The wind picked up a little, but still remained fickle and unreliable. The start was a chaotic jumble, the line possibly a little too short for the number and variety of boats competing in our fleet. Ben crossed it well however,  screaming "Starboard!" at a poor, hapless Topper trying to duck around everybody suddenly in their way (sorry Hannah, the boy's an inconsiderate ass), and moving as best we could in the light air on starboard, closest to the committee boat end as the starting gun sounded, giving us a free choice as to when to tack off to port.

photo: ken elsey
I can't remember if we beat everybody to the windward mark, but it felt good and set the tone for the race to follow.

We sailed well together, the "practice" of the first race put firmly behind us. We broke out into the front of the fleet early enough, and stayed clear ahead of the Laser and Solo fleets throughout so they didn't foul our air. We lapped the Mirror and one of the three Toppers fairly early on, and inextricably drew away from the British Moths; by about halfway through we'd put the necessary three and a half minutes between us and them that we needed to beat them on handicap.

photo: ken elsey
In the end, we caught one of the two remaining Toppers, but the final Topper, with Sue at the helm, stayed teasingly ahead of us throughout to finally beat us on handicap with a little over 30 seconds of adjusted time to spare, leaving us in 2nd place out of the 7 boats racing in our fleet.

It was a good race though, and lovely to be out on the water with Ben.

Monday 5 December 2016

Almost Disney

But not quite Frozen.

Did have to scrape thick frost off the car before we drove over, and did have to break the ice off the boat cover however.

Not anywhere near the wind that was forecast. Again.

But we're sailing.

Friday 25 November 2016

The distractable

Something I read written by Gabby Hinsliff in the Guardian this morning in an article:

"’s such a fundamental misunderstanding of the hole work fills in people’s lives.... Paying people to stay at home may keep them out of poverty but the message it sends is the polar opposite of being needed; sorry, but we can’t think of anything for you to do, so go away and find your own entertainment." - Why shouldn’t the over-50s start a new career?

Sorry, but I can't for a second imagine that if it no longer became necessary for me to work for a living I couldn't find something else to do with my time to justify my existence and keep myself suitably distracted and engaged for the rest of my life.

I've never been short on the capacity to keep myself entertained.

I suspect I'd write songs. Or go sailing.

Or both.

Yes, I think both.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Summer sailing reminisce

I was fiddling around on YouTube last night for various reasons and came across a video I'd posted of a trip Dad and I took from Swansea to Ilfracombe back in July. I honestly don't think I've posted it up here, but if I have previously then apologies for the duplication.

Dad's had a GoPro for quite a while now, but whilst it often comes sailing with us, he rarely uses it and when he does, he rarely does anything with the footage he captures. This was one of those happy exceptions, and afterwards I went over to his place and chopped all the footage down into the clip posted using GoPro's editing software. I like the GoPro, it's the sort of toy I'd play with for hours, but whenever I've thought of getting my own, there have always, inevitably, been higher priorities on the shopping list.

I remember it was a lovely day's sailing; a fast, lively reach through blue seas under blue skies all the way across from one side of the Bristol Channel to the other, to pick up a visitor's mooring in Ilfracombe mere minutes before the tide left us and we gently touched the keels down on the sands of the outer harbour.

It was a good summer, all things considered. Then again, the weather makes the summer and I've a fairly flexible view of what makes good weather; I can't remember when we last had a bad one. The trick to summer weather, I find, is just to go outside and let it find you.

Monday 14 November 2016

A kindling of clouds

Sunday morning, high water Portishead was due for 0542. At 0530 we cast off and motored out into the night through a marina lock in free-flow; a rare treat.

The brightly lit waterfront of Portishead fell away astern. The night was black and moonless, the stars scattered bright and glittering in the inky sky overhead. No wind, the sea was smooth except for the churns and boils of the turning tide stirring the turgid, dark waters.

Mainsail aloft, we motor-sailed down channel, following the building ebb past the Clevedon shore through the darkness on our own apparent wind, the stars above slowing dimming as the first light of dawn began to bleed into the sky. In the beginning, it was just a faint lightening of the gloom, and then a gentle, tangerine hue seeped gradually into the eastern horizon, the quality of light slowly, surreptitiously beginning to change. The air took on an amber glow as the sun crept inevitably, inextricably closer to our horizon, snuffing out the last few remaining, stubbornly resisting stars as it came.

A kindling of clouds above the hilly shoreline now lying astern lit aflame in a gorgeous splash of fiery orange as the sun rose and bloodied the sky about us. And as it did, the waters of the channel ruffled with the first touch of wind, our little boat leaning pliantly to the building breeze as, finally, I stilled the engine and we began to sail.

It was great sailing. A couple of hours of beating into a stiff breeze under full sail, tacking on each lift. The boat was heeled to twenty degrees or so, our speed through the relatively unruffled dawn waters between three to four knots, a not disrespectful pace upwind for an old Westerly Griffon.

We made Cardiff for 0930, entering the Barrage against the tide of a large flotilla of racing yachts making their way out, and moored up alongside Mermaid Quay for a couple of hours whilst we found a somewhat expensive but exquisitely cooked full English breakfast at one of the quayside restaurants.

Low water Cardiff was expected for 1140. We locked out at 1230, Barrage Control advising there were a couple of meters of water over the lock sill but warning some of that would be silt and they expected there'd be less still in the outer harbour. We chanced it anyway, on the grounds that the making tide would lift us off soon enough if we got it wrong, and picked our way out through the mud-banks without any mishap.

The flood tide stole any pressure from what little wind there might have been. We reluctantly motor-sailed, our apparent wind enough to fill the main, the tide doing the bulk of the work in taking us home. Whilst it wasn't sailing, we were afloat, and the sky was spectacular, smeared with broken, wind sculpted cloud and lit with the last of the late autumn sun. In the far distance towards the Holms I could see the myriad, scattered sails of the racing fleet we'd passed on the way in to Cardiff. I was glad, for today at least, we were not racing ourselves.

We made Portishead a little ahead of 1530, loitered in the Hole for a short while before locking back in at 1545 and making our way back to our berth.

A good day to have been afloat.


Tuesday 8 November 2016


Zero degrees C this morning, and despite the still air, dead leaves were shedding from the trees like mid-winter snow. Had to scrape a layer of frost from the car for the second time this week. I miss summer already.

Looks like the rest of the week is going to be a little breezy, which will probably strip the last of the trees, and then it calms down for the weekend. Playing with powerboats on the lake at Frampton on Saturday. It would be nice not to have to break the ice but it's only a PB Level 2 course rather than Safety Boat, so there should be no excuse for me to get wet. Even so, I fully intend to have my drysuit on.

High water Portishead is 0539 & 1804 on Sunday, sun-up and sun-down 0727 & 1633 respectively; haven't decided yet for sure, but a trip over to Cardiff and back is possible. We ought to do something as it'll be our two year anniversary with the boat. Not that she'll care; unlike my wife she doesn't notice when I forget these things.

Friday 4 November 2016

"Dodo's Delight"

A friend from the sailing club sent me a link to the trailer of a film he's just seen called "Dodo's Delight". 

It's a documentary about a Westerly Discus and sailing to Greenland to go climbing. An odd combination I though, and according to Steve, and I hope he'll forgive me for quoting him, an hour and a half "of a lot of pretty extreme stuff for a Westerly to be doing" 

He thought I'd enjoy it.

He was right, loved every second of the trailer. Must try and get to see the film itself. Link to the trailer follows:

the rusting of the year

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Sand Point and back

Overslept the alarm by a shade, so skipped my ritual morning cuppa to make the time up getting out of the house Sunday morning. Dad and I still got to the boat in plenty of time to make the last lock at 1030, so compensated by grabbing a bacon and mushroom roll each from the cafe van outside the marina office once we got there.

Consensus of conversation in the queue as we stood waiting for the bacon to fry said it was a day for motoring, not sailing. The sky was grey and overcast, the air dull and flat but not cold. The flags hung outside the marina office ruffled slightly in the light wind, but hung was the operative word.

We had the lock out to ourselves. The tide now fast on the ebb, the mud-banks enclosing the Portishead Hole loomed large as we picked our way out to the channel.

Any life in the easterly wind was subdued by the swift flow of the tide running with it. Nonetheless, clear of the shore, we hauled up the sails and stilled the engine anyway. At first we drifted at the mercy of the whirls, spins and eddies of the tide. Pushing the boom out didn't help much, although I rigged the preventer to stop the weight of the boom swinging back and collapsing the mainsail. However, once I'd polled the genoa out to a goose-wing with our new whisker pole, the boat's yawing stabilised and she started to edge away on a gentle run, the speed occasionally touching a knot, with the flow of the tide adding up to a very healthy 6 knots over the ground and in the direction we wanted to go.

The peace and quiet were sublime, the sea almost mirror smooth, the boat directionally stable with the goosed sails. Despite the 6 knots, any sense of movement almost felt like an illusion, imperceptible other than in the gradual shift of the south-easterly shore slipping by. A perfect morning and antidote to the late night before; even Dad seemed to relax into the mood of it, and didn't fret once about putting the engine on because of any apparent lack of wind. We had nowhere in particular to go, and no need to get there anytime soon

Visibility was a murky affair, the muddy grey sky hardly distinguishable from the esturine-silted sea. A dark patch out off our starboard beam seemed flat enough to be mistaken for the tell tail ripples of a gust, but was in fact the looming sand-banks of Bedwin Sands and Welsh Grounds. A handful of small boats lay at anchor along the bank, anglers fishing for autumn cod; we were the only sail abroad on the smoothed waters though.

With so little apparent wind behind us, there was no chill in the air at all. Clevedon town ghosted past us to port, the rush of water surging around the Welsh Hook cardinal coming up on us surprisingly quickly for all of our apparent stillness, and then receding again into silence as we slid down channel with the tide, out and on past Langford Grounds beyond. Leaving the gloaming sands and shoals of Langford to port as the tide began to ease, we dropped the pole and hardened up onto a starboard reach, heading in towards Sand Point.

Around 1300, a mile shy of Sand Point, Swallow Rocks clearly visible as too the pier of Birnbeck Island marking the far side of Sand Bay, the tide finally turned against us. We gybed onto port, heading cross-ways to the tide out towards Tail Patch for a while, before hardening up and beginning the beat home. Little pinches of afternoon sun were beginning to creep through the thick murk hanging overhead, but were never quite realised in their potential.

With the slight wind now over an albeit relatively modest spring tide, the apparent wind was enough to let our little boat kick her heels up on the beat, under full sail heeling over on occasion to as much as 20 degrees, just shy of which seems to be her sweet spot, and touching just short of 4 knots through the water at times. The satisfaction of 4 knots really is a relative thing; it was a lovely juxtaposition to the gentle drift of the morning and made for a fine afternoon's sailing, beating all the way home back up the Bristol Deep and King Road, dropping the sail off Portishead and entering the shelter of the Hole, just missing the first lock of the tide back in at 1545 so giving ourselves a forty minute wait at anchor with a cup of tea for the next one.

Overall, a little short of 6 hours sailing and somewhere shy of 30 miles covered over the course of the day's trip. We shared the lock back in with five other boats, the GMT sun just dropping out of the sky as we pulled in alongside our berth.

Sunday 30 October 2016

Distant purr

My bad.

It wasn't the soft purr of traffic in distant Clevedon town, but the approaching purr of the bow wave on the rapidly closing Clevedon buoy. [edit: my double-bad - it was the Welsh Hook cardinal, not Clevedon - you'd think I'd know these things by now!]

All peaceful again now it's receding astern.

The cat's whiskers

Only she is certainly not a cat, and only has one whisker.

It's working beautifully though. Ghosting downwind, sails goosed, hardly a whisper of apparent wind. Tide is giving us 5kts, sails adding another for 6 over the ground.

Very pleased with the new pole. Without it the jib would be collapsing, the main slatting, the boat skewing with the tide and Dad nagging to put the engine on.

Nowhere in particular to go, peace disturbed only by the distant purr of traffic around Clevedon and the faint trickle of a very slight bow wave.

Perfect Sunday.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Saturday night

And the gig is done.

All I have to do now is pack up and head home. Then get down to the boat on the morning on time for the last lock out; an easy one at 1030.

Idea is to follow the ebb down channel then come back up with the turn of tide. Should be back for about 1630.

No particular plan or reasons, just sailing for the simple sake of sailing.

Clocks shift back an hour tonight, so although it's very nearly midnight, in an hour's time it'll very nearly be midnight again.

The tide doesn't care though, so it makes no real difference to when I get up until Monday. Then I shall enjoy the extra hour in bed.

I shaltn't enjoy finishing work in the dark however. If I had my way, I'd stick with BST all year through.

Monday 17 October 2016

Wet Weekend

We spent Saturday capsizing dinghies at Frampton and helping coach trainee Safety Boat crews through their recovery procedures. Given the amount of time I spend capsizing dinghies on Frampton Lake I have a vested interest in making sure the Safety Boat knows what it's doing when it's supposed to be looking after me. It was an enjoyable day, even if I did inadvertently go in a couple of times. First time I've really put the new drysuit to work since I bought it for the aborted (postponed) bid on Lundy with Green Bean, back in May.

The water was much colder than I remember it being previously for this time of year. Or maybe I'm just getting older, and not so practised to being fully immersed in it these days? At least the sun was shining.

After the fun and games at the lake, Dad and I headed down to the boat, dropping his car in the marina car-park in Portishead and getting a taxi over to Underfall Yard in Bristol. The hoped for work had only been partway completed: the deck floodlights hung beneath the spreaders had been replaced with new LED lamps, and the masthead tricolour and the bow nav lights had likewise been replaced with LED's. The steaming light and anchor light remain as traditional tungsten bulbs however; Jay couldn't find suitable LED replacements. And the forward reefing pennants in the single-line reefing still hadn't been replaced, nor the two halyards.

The latter was a "just because you're there anyway" as they're not exactly beyond even my own ability to replace, however I would really liked to have seen the anchor light swapped for an LED.

Jay had kept Dad well informed of progress through the week so none of the above was a surprise. He's going to come down to Portishead to replace the reefing pennants in situ as soon as it's mutually convenient. I couldn't help feeling it was a lot of fuss to have been through to have brought the boat all the way up to Bristol to essentially get a few bulbs replaced. Dad, on the other hand, was absolutely delighted with his new deck floodlights. I'm not sure I rate them as anything more than night-vision killers, but I guess they'll be handy if we ever decide to throw a party on deck. Or something like that.

Supper was a very nice mixed grill from a small cafe-grill in town, down a side street a short walk from the Bristol Hippodrome. To my shame, I can't remember the name of the place, but the food was very good. Then it was a relatively early night ahead of the promised early start the next day. As we turned in for the night, the sky was clear and the water of the docks illuminated by the bright ivory light of a full moon overhead, dulling the stars.

0500 I woke shortly ahead of the alarm and rolled out of my bunk, optimistically noting there was no patter of rain on the cabin roof overhead, at least not as yet. It's perhaps a little unsavoury, but when it's just Dad and me on the boat and we're faced with an early tide, I've taken to going to bed in the clothes I plan to get up in, it makes the oh so painful act of crawling out of my bunk and into the cold and dark just a little bit easier.

The rains began just as I installed the auto-helm onto the tiller and then lowered the sprayhood in preparation for casting off.

By the time we were underway, departing the dock at 0550, it was bucketing down. Shortly before we slipped our lines, the Dad's deck floodlights blew out. Their fuse had gone.

Other than that fuse and the early rain, which had been forecast to hold off until later in the morning, everything else went exactly to plan. We entered the junction in front of the first bridge at 0610 and threw a warp around one of the bollards to hang on the quay wall whilst we sat and waited for the bridge. The man turned up at 0615 as promised, and swung the bridge for us. We entered Cumberland Basin with another yacht following astern, the 60' Hummingbird, an expedition yacht and training vessel, veteran of three circumnavigations. I believe she'd spent the summer up in Scandinavian waters and was now bound for the warmer southerly climes of Spain and Portugal, but for now her numerous crew crowding her deck as she entered the lock behind us were as cold and wet as we were.

We gave them a cheery wave, and had the same returned. Cheery, you'll understand, is a relative term.

We left the lock and entered the Avon at 0645, punching the still very lively, flooding tide, leaving Hummingbird behind to wait for more water and less flow in the river. Our speed over the ground was, at first, little more than a knot as we inched our way through the darkness beneath the brightly illuminated Clevedon Bridge and then out past Black Rock. With only a meter draught and almost ten meters of water in the river, we hugged the insides of the various bends with unabashed impunity, making the most of the slacker water there. Gradually the flood began to ease, our ground-speed picked up and light began to weep into the sky.

Even the rain had begun to east by the time we passed the village of Pill and the clubhouse of Portishead Cruising Club and slipped down river under the motorway bridge.

Calling up VTS as we passed Nelson Point a shade before high water at 0800, a friendly voice advised us he had three tugs in the King Road and a car carrier inbound to Portbury and currently abeam of Portishead Point. We simplified matters by offering to loiter in the mouth of the river until everybody was done playing around. There was arguably plenty of time for us to slip down past the Royal Portbury gates and home to Portishead before the ship reached us, but the rain had now stopped and I really quite enjoy watching and listening on the VHF to them handling the big vessels in and out of the docks.

By the time they were done the tide had fully turned, so it was less than a ten minute hop from the mouth of the river, past the stern of the car carrier and her attendants now inching into the mouth of the dock and then home to Portishead. The wind was still light, no more than 10 knots southerly, coming off the shore, so the sea smooth for the duration of the transit, even with the tide turned and now picking up to a hard ebb. The marina office had the lock gates swinging open as we crabbed in on a ferry glide across the current to the shelter of the Hole, and by 0845 we were safe along side our berth in the marina once again, the morning's work done.

As we made fast the dock lines, the sun came out, the scudding clouds being blown clear by the now building breeze.