Friday 29 January 2016


It's been something of a blustery night: according to the weather station on the sailing club's website, we had 30 knots gusting to 46. I can see on the webcam that the Enterprise is still securely tied down though, so no harm done. I expect Dad will drive down to Portishead to check on Calstar, he doesn't work on Fridays.

I got to listen to most of it battering the house about through the night as I didn't really sleep much. It seems, lounging on the sofa watching the telly is a risky endeavour. It's what I did yesterday evening; I do it so rarely, but Nikk was out so I had the TV control and was enjoying re-watching Season 2 of Vikings on the big screen. So led there with one of the dogs on my lap (who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?) as the evening wore on, I felt an unexplained twinge, a tenderness building in my left elbow. By the time I gave up and went to bed, around 2300, the outside of the elbow was inflamed and very sore. Impossible to find a comfortable position to lie in, so it kept me awake most of the night.

No idea what's caused it. Some sort of localised infection, I guess. This morning it's just as inflamed and just as painful, but I've taken a couple of ibuprofen tablets, which seems to have dulled the edge of it for now. I expect, like most things, it'll pass. Hopefully in time for Sunday, as I'd like to go sailing, and the way it is at the moment would seriously handicap that ambition.

The point of mentioning it however isn't to solicit sympathy or bemoan my discomfort. About this time last year I was having significant problems with my right arm; the quack diagnosed it as tennis elbow, but wasn't much more use than that. It had been going on for a while and I'd pretty much resigned myself to accepting it as a persistent, permanent discomfort.

The unexpected, new pain in my left elbow however brought it home to me that I've had no trouble with my right for an absolute age. I don't remember it noticing it had gone, but now that I'm drawn to think about it, I can't actually remember the last time my right arm gave me any hint of trouble. Despite my current discomfort, I find that incredibly cheering.

Leaving home this morning to drive into work, I noticed the cherry blossom has bloomed on the trees that avenue our road. Been noticing snow drops all week, and this morning realised that the daffodils were starting to come out in flower. It's still dark when I get up in the morning, and I begrudge that, but very soon the world is going to be a riot of colour again.

The ground is definitely awakening. Spring is on its way. I love this time of year.

Monday 25 January 2016

Not beyond Hope

Sunday, and the temperature was back into double figures (centigrade) after our recent cold snap. Forecast was 4 gusting 5 from the south, and the spring tide promised low water at Portishead for 1354.

The last lock out of the morning was therefore 1100, giving us just enough water to edge out over the sill, squeeze between the breakwater and mudbanks and head out down the Bristol Deep, out beyond the English Grounds and North West Elbow. This early in the year the sun still sets a little before 1700, so not wanting to pick our way back in the dark if we could avoid it, we chose the last lock so we'd only get so far down-channel before the tide turned. There is an east cardinal marker called "Hope" that sits about mid-channel between Sand Bay and Cardiff, so I figured we'd try not to get washed any further down channel than that. Portishead lock was due to open again on the flood tide at 1600; if we could make it back within a couple of hours of low water, that would make for the perfect day's sailing.

The sky was pretty leaden but the rain held off. It wasn't cold, at least not for the time of year, and the rough stuff forecast to come in later Sunday night didn't make an early appearance. Slightly less wind than expected, or so it felt to me. However, not being in a rush to get anywhere, I was, partly at Dad's bidding, very conservative with the sail-plan on the way out, starting with both reefs in the main and the genoa half rolled down. We dropped the second reef out of the main and shook out the genoa later on as we neared low water, the pace of the tide eased and it was clear the weather wasn't going to do anything unexpected.

I heard Bristol VTS on the VHF report the wind speed out in the King Road (the shipping lane that runs past Portishead) as being variously between 12 to 15 knots from the south.

We beat down channel, out and around the English Welsh Grounds clear water mark and then into shore and the shallower water off Sand Point. We then tacked back out and rounded the Hope cardinal just about at low water, bearing away to reach back up channel and home to Portishead. For the latter half of the homeward leg, another Westerly, "Shear Water", fell in astern of and kept company with us back up the Bristol Deep to Portishead. VTS reported the tidal flow in the King Road as running at 5.2kts as we passed between "Newcombe" buoy and Battery Point. Our speed over the ground coming up the King Road with the wind hard on the beam and the tide under us touched 9kts.

We slid in through the gap between the still proud mudbanks and the breakwater and into The Hole outside Portishead just shy of 1600. The yacht Shear Water joined us in the lock a short while later and we were both lifted back in to the marina.

Just a shade under 29 miles covered in just a smudge over five hours of sailing. A grand day.

Friday 22 January 2016


On the subject of spring, but of a different variety, this weekend the tides are closer to springs than neaps, so low water early afternoon.

Subject to the weather on Sunday, Dad and I might leave on the last lock out of Portishead in the morning and head down-channel for a few hours.

Not too far, not much further than NW Elbow I shouldn't think. We'll want to get back as soon as possible after the tide turns.

Would be nice to get a few hours sailing in, however.

Sing a song of Sixpence

I kept my eye out and ears open for him throughout last year, but Sixpence didn't make it back in 2015, or if he did, kept out of my sight and hearing.

Coldsnap has passed, we're back up to 7 or 8 degrees C again and double figures promised for the weekend. With it has come rain.

A minute ago, a flicker caught my eye, and looking out the office window I saw a Blackbird sat in the upper branches of Sixpence's old hawthorn.

No song, I imagine he's not enjoying the rain, but a pleasure to see him.

Spring is only just around the corner.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Last chance saloon

I generally try to avoid discussing politics and religion on the Internet. It's a curious thing, but opinions that are easy to accept or at least tolerate from another in a face to face setting somehow polarise on the web and risk all too easy, often unintentional offence and pointless, argumentative escalation.

That said.

Sometimes I despair of our politics. I'd love to sail away and leave it all behind, trusting it to establish something at least stable enough that I could find somewhere to comfortably exist on its fringe, safely insulated on the outside looking in. But I can't. For now I'm both of this world and in it.

With one early, idealistic but ultimately misguided exception when I gave my first vote to the Liberals, I've always voted Labour. Without wishing to pass judgement on anybody that would, and I number many that have and will doubtless do so again amongst my friends, voting Tory just seems morally wrong on so many levels. Regardless of who they put forward, and every so often one comes along that seems human enough, voting for any of them would always feel like I was voting for Mr Burns out of the Simpsons.

After the last election, frustrated and disillusioned at the hash Milliband had made of it with so many golden chances squandered, I finally put my money where my mouth was and joined the Labour party. I simply wanted some say on who I got to vote for next, in 2020. Then the candidates were put forward.

My initial instinct was that Kendall looked quite nice, maybe I'd vote for her. I stress, I was purely basing my first impressions off their pictures in the paper. Yes, I can be that superficial. Cooper and Burnham also looked like possibles. I had no idea who Corbyn was, and presented with the pictorial line-up, my eyes skipped disinterestedly over his face. I might even confess to a slight, initial distaste.

One of the reasons for my original, first vote going to the Liberals were memories of Scargill, an angry Welshman that was the distant, hostile image of Labour throughout the latter years of my childhood. Voting for him seemed entirely unimaginable. And when the leadership candidates were first put forward, I instinctively tarred Corbyn with the same brush.

Then I actually started to listen to, and read, what they were saying.

So I voted for Corbyn.

There were and remain many points where my views differ, but the bottom line is that I trust his judgement and his integrity, and I trust and respect his arguments even where we disagree. Besides, there are many points on past politics where my own views have been simply proven wrong by time and experience. I am vaguely, or in some cases quite particularly, disgusted with the attitude of many of the "New Labour" old guard, and the Parlimentary Labour Party in general. Their evident contempt of their leader translates directly as contempt for me.

I'm quite set on how I'm going to vote in 2020, but in many ways Labour are now in their last chance saloon as far as my vote is concerned. If they screw this up for us, I'm done with them.

Frankie Boyle, writing the in the Guardian this morning, amused me as always. I love his cynical, jaded take on all matters political.

So sometimes I despair of our politics. On the other hand, on the drive into the office this morning, the BBC's Radio 4 regaled me with Sarah Palin's ringing, painfully enthusiastic "Hockey Mom" endorsement of Mr Trump's candidacy: "Are you ready to make America great again? Are you ready to stump for Trump?" and, of course, "Let's kick ISIS arse!"

There is a lot we get wrong with our politics over here. But it's always nice to have something to remind us of how we could get it so much worse.

That's it, my rant done. And it should do me for another twelve months or so. Maybe.

It was another cold one today. Clear skies last night, icy fog this morning, sapphire blue skies this afternoon. I like this kind of winter weather.

The photos, out of context with the rest of this entire post, were taken during various pauses between getting myself out of bed, over the hill and into the office this morning.

It's expected to warm back up again for the weekend. And turn wet. Don't know if we're sailing Calstar or not, but if we do, it's spring tides, so it'll be a down-channel run, out towards although perhaps not all the way to Cardiff and back.

Tuesday 19 January 2016


It was -4°C as I left for work this morning, having scraped a hard frost from the car.

I think that's the coldest we've had it so far this winter, the weekend was almost ten degrees warmer, and only the third or fourth frost I've seen. Still time for it to really set in before spring I guess, but it may not. It didn't last year. In fact, the last time I think we had any real snow was around this day, three years ago.

I remember taking the dogs for a walk in it, instead of going to work.

Monday 18 January 2016

The murk

Our original plan for this Sunday had been to meet up with a friend who'd intended to come down from Lydney the day before, and to sail back in company with them for on their return from Portishead on the morning tide, perhaps as far as the Beachley and the Severn Bridge before leaving them to the rest of their journey home and heading back ourselves. However, a text message the day before had forewarned us that they'd elected not to sail; the forecast looked too flat and dull to make it worthwhile, no wind worth the mention and, understandably, they didn't have an appetite for a drift.

Checking the forecasts myself, Saturday did indeed look like a flat calm, but Sunday morning looked much more promising. Despite starting from next to no wind before dawn, most of the forecasts predicted it building to around F3 by 0900 and then continuing to build through the rest of the day, with some very blustery weather and accompanying rain expected by the evening.

It didn't really make much difference to our plans. As long as the really heavy stuff held off until the evening, we were set on getting out. The last time we'd slipped the moorings on our berth was 17th October. Far, far too long to stay harbour-bound; we were getting twitchy.

Sunday morning saw Dad and I driving down the motorway to Portishead, rain hammering the windscreen. "This wasn't forecast," commented Dad, "at least not 'till later."

Best laid plans of mice and men. We were sailing anyway. Dad, to be fair, doesn't ordinarily subscribe to my own philosophy of disregarding every factor except the wind when deciding to go sailing. He'll call it if the weather looks especially wet or cold and leave me to go play on the lake, especially if we don't actually have plans to go somewhere and instead are just sailing "for the fun of it", as we'd planned for today.

His definition of "fun" is more constrained than mine. Though I'm not sure he'd put it like that.

However, it'd been so long since we last took the little yacht out that, other than his wry complaint that the forecast had been wrong, even Dad didn't suggest this was a silly idea.

The rain had eased off a little by the time we got to the marina. The sky was still mucky and the morning damp, but not too cold, and various flags and pennants danced around the harbour-side, teasing us with the promise of wind to be found. The stall outside the marina office was, perhaps surprisingly given the day or the week, the weather and the time of year, open, so we bought a couple of bacon rolls and mugs of hot tea to carry down to the boat.

As we set about preparing Calstar to depart the rain returned but as more of a fine, soddening drizzle. We left the hood up until the last moment to keep the worst of the damp out of the open companion-way and cabin and the worst of it off the screen of the Sony tablet we use for our chart-plotter. The device itself is waterproof, but the wet can play havoc with the touch-screen.

The lock was booked for 1100, so a little after 1030 we slipped our mooring lines and headed over to the fuel barge to fill up with diesel, as the tank was over three quarters empty. It cost just a shade over £20 to fill up; and that would be the sum total of the fuel costs for just over six months worth of cruising through the end of last summer and autumn.

We locked out a little after 1100, and motored out beyond Firefly; Portishead Cruising Club's racing fleet were lining up for their start between there and the end of the pier. They had a good turnout of boats, and I briefly regretted not joining them for the race as we cleared their line with a few minutes to spare and they fell astern as we headed out over Denny Shoal and into the murk.

Clear of the racers, we turned into wind and hauled up the mainsail. It had been so long everything seemed somehow clumsy, disconnected, vaguely unfamiliar at first, so we paced through everything slowly, determined not to make any silly mistakes.

Then the mainsail filled as we unfurled the genoa, and we stilled the gently thumping diesel as Calstar bowed to the wind and began to dance across the water. It was chill in the wind and the wet, the dank, rain-smeared murk surrounding us closed visibility down to about a mile or so and the racing tide churned up against the wind just enough to throw the occasional light spray over the bows as the hull slapped through the chop.

But the moment the little boat had bent to the wind, the unfamiliar disconnect had been forgotten; everything felt as it should. It felt like we'd come home.

It was a short sail, just under three hours and about twelve miles: up through the Shoots as far as the Bridge, where we decided to bear away around the Lower Shoots cardinal and head back rather than pass beneath and through to the waters beyond. We punched the slackening tide for half an hour, making barely more than a knot over the ground on a deep, broad reach, before the tide turned at last to carry us home to Portishead.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Apparently, according to Mark Twain, the phrase should be attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. It's always been one of my favourites.

Of statistics however, I've just totalled up Calstar's log from last year. Our biggest reservation when we were first thinking of buying her and moving up to a bigger boat from our Drascombe was that we wouldn't be able to use her enough to justify the cost.

Total trips: 31
Total distance: 720 nautical miles
Hours underway: 168 hours
Engine hours: 20 hours 42 minutes

I think our fears were somewhat unfounded.

The forecast looks promising for tomorrow and the tides are good, so with a little luck we might just get her out for a few hours. It'll be our first sail since October 17th. Far, far too long to sit idle in the marina, but weather is what it is.

The pictures were from our first sea trial in Swansea, back in November 2014. Seems like a very long time ago now.

Thursday 14 January 2016

Monday 11 January 2016

The Man Who Sold the World

A Bowie cover, recorded this evening: The Man Who Sold the World. The song's been in my head all day. It is one of my favourites, though I wonder if it would be sacrilege to confess I actually prefer Nirvana's MTV Unplugged version to Bowie's original?

Though I'd maintain that to compliment Cobain does nothing to detract from the genius of Bowie. My version is not a touch on either, but it is meant honestly so I'll need to be content with that.

Tried loading Vegas Movie Studio to tidy up the edges of the recording, but it crashed my PC and I've spent most of this evening just getting the thing to boot up once again. So apologies for the ragged, untrimmed camera-work at the end of the clip.

Bear also apologises for the interruption at the end. He spends most of his time sleeping these days; I think he woke up, wondered where the rest of us had gone, couldn't work out what the noise was coming from the living room, and so figured he'd wander in to check we were all okay.

And the stars look very different today

Heard some really sad news on the radio whilst driving into work this morning.

I've enjoyed a rich life so far, musically, with many varied and diverse influences, but of them most, transitory and very few long enduring; my tastes are itinerant, and I've probably always been too self-involved for indulgence in classic fandom.

There are a few, very few, honourable exceptions however.

David Bowie is one such, and has been since my very early teens. And I'm sure it's nothing to do with the fact that I once won a kiss from a pretty girl just because she was a huge Bowie fan and, like him, I've got mis-matched eyes. Honest, it was all about the music. 

Except Bowie has never been just about the music.

It's a sad loss, 69 is far too young. Cancer is a bitch.

" if this pop genius would have somehow twigged a way of escaping death. As if we would somehow still be hearing Bowie albums, beamed in via holographic afterlife, in 3016.
If that was one trick even he couldn't pull off, then we can be sure of something: as Bowie’s influence stretches far and wide, seeping into the work of those whose lives he touched, we will get to see him reborn countless times over the coming decades."