Wednesday 30 March 2016

Easter weekend: the remains

With our Gloucester plans for Calstar blow away with the forecast storms, the remainder of the Easter Holiday required a little rethink but was by no means wasted.

Saturday night was always planned to be a break in the sailing for a gig anyway, so required the least adaptation. It was fun, a good night but quieter than usual. I think a combination of bad weather and a four day weekend meant most folks either stayed in or had gone away elsewhere for Easter. We enjoyed ourselves through. And a lull in the weather meant the drive home afterwards back up the motorway wasn't too bad at all.

Sunday, and the weather was still squally ahead of the big stuff expected for Monday. With conditions too rough to take Calstar out, Ben and I headed over to the lake at Frampton to race "Buffy", our Enterprise dinghy. The wind was laying predominantly in the south west, sometimes lulled, other times blowing hard, with white horses dancing in serried ranks across the lake.

We threw the first race; I didn't check, so didn't realise our handicap had changed with the new season, so started the pursuit race 30 seconds too early. We sailed the race anyway, but would have placed poorly regardless. About halfway into the hour a vicious squall blew through the fleet, knocking us and most of the others flat. The other boats, single-handers all, come up dry. An Enterprise comes up from a capsize swamped and spends the next lap or so labouring through the water like a pregnant cow whilst the autobailers struggle to work their magic.

We were treated to a gorgeous rainbow as we came ashore from the race for lunch.

The second race of the day was a set of three class races running alongside each other. The holiday weather had culled our numbers, so each race had only a couple of boats competing; three races, six boats in total. In the handicap "fleet" against us was Phil in his RS Aero. It's a much faster, more modern and lighter single-hander, so the race was reduced to a time trial; we beat Phil (and everybody else) to the windward mark, but after that he powered away from us and we were left racing the clock. The weather remained squally, unpredictably foul tempered and intermittently violent.

photo: leslie pedrick
The thing about racing one on one is that there is no second place, not really. You either win, or you lose. About half way through, Phil had a three minute lead on us, and was still pulling away. As a squall tipped us in again off a bad gybe, it looked very much like we were going to lose. Except the same squall pitch-poled Phil's Aero, and although the much lighter, self-draining hull is much easier to recover from a capsize than our old, wooden Ent, you've got to catch it first. The toppled Aero was bowled away with the wind and Phil couldn't swim fast enough. Accepting assistance from the safety boat, he had to retire. We righted our own capsize without much drama, and spent the next couple of laps cumbersomely draining the water from our flooded hull. But as the last man standing, winning the race after that was but a simple matter of hanging in until the end.

Bank Holiday Monday was a lazy day. Walked the dogs. Listened to the wind howling about the house, sprawled out on the sofa with the dogs chain-watching episodes of Spooks on Netflix. Quite out of character for me.

It was quite lovely.

Easter Friday: Cardiff & back

This weekend just gone was to have been our first trip of the year with Calstar, a repeat of the trip to Gloucester and back this time last year. As a friend of mine said at the time, why on Earth would you bring a sailing boat all the way up the canal to Gloucester? The simple answer was then as it is now. Something different. Dad has always liked the Gloucester Sharpness Canal, and were it not for me, would probably have brought a barge rather than a yacht. I'd prefer to be sailing in open water, but there is a definite attraction in the navigational challenges of bringing a boat up through the upper reaches of the estuary to Sharpness. And something nice about bringing our boat home. I am fond of Gloucester Docks, even if only for their nostalgic value.

So that was the plan.

In the event, the weather defeated us. Storm "Katie" decided she'd make her call on Monday, heralded by a vanguard of strong gale force winds from the west and south west on the Saturday and Sunday preceding. Getting to Gloucester would be easy enough on the Friday, but getting back into the teeth of all that, set against a big spring tide on one of the most tidal stretches of estuary in the world (not quite THE most, but the Severn Estuary is close enough in second place) would be no fun, to say the least.

The forecast for Friday looked lovely though, with the wind variable in force and direction but starting in the north west and nothing more than a moderate breeze expected at worst until the late hours of Friday night. Dad, Ben and I headed down to the boat Thursday evening and, over supper in the pub, called the marina office to rebook our previously scheduled 0500 lock-out to a more sociable 0800, aimed to see us leaving Portishead and Cardiff bound just before high water. Friends that had originally intended to sail with us up to Gloucester opted for an even more relaxed 0900 lock, and a promise to follow us down and meet us there for lunch.

High water at Portishead on the Friday morning was expected 0817 at 13.1m. On asking their permission to cast off and head to the lock, the marina office advised us both gates of the lock were open in "free-flow" and that if we were happy to do so, we were welcome to proceed in our own time. That's the first time we've ever departed Portishead without the ritual of locking out. It felt very strange being able to look straight out into open water from within the marina.

The morning sky was a gorgeous, clear blue, but the wind was a little chill so we stayed wrapped up warm up on deck. The auto-helm refused to hold a course; it had been playing up a little on the last trip but I'd managed to coax it into some sense of life. This time it defeated me completely, and after it had pushed us unintentionally up head-to-wind a couple of times, I gave up and took the tiller in hand myself. In fairness to the thing, it's very, very old and has given us good service the last twelve month. If it was going to pack up, this was possibly the best time for it to do so.

A little over an hour out the light wind died completely as we tacked away from Clevedon, and left us unexpectedly becalmed for twenty minutes on the approach to English Welsh Grounds. The tide still carried us towards our destination at a comfortable five knots so we hung with it, ghosting, until a fresh breeze sprung up out of the west and, after being forcibly tacked, we found ourselves heeled over and close-hauled on port, beating along a line that gradually lifted us to lay the North Cardiff buoy as we met the ebbing tide flowing out from Newport.

Despite the stiff breeze, at first the seas remained ever so slight. Unimpeded by any significant swell, at times the little boat topped more than four and a half knots through the water, heeling through to twenty-five degrees or so with the occasional gust; the sort of speeds we ordinarily only get out of her when we're on a reach off the wind. Approaching the Penarth Roads the wind over tide stiffened, rows of short, breaking waves began marching in tight ranks up against the breeze and the occasional sea slapping the hull between the bilge keels began to slow us. Heeling to twenty-five degrees or more wasn't doing the boat-speed any favours; we'd already put a roll into the genoa by that point, and tucking the first reef into the main stiffened her up considerably, costing us very little in way. It was great sailing, spray now breaking occasionally over the bows as Calstar muscled through the developing chop.

On the last stretch into Cardiff, our friends Tess and Chris overhauled us in their new boat "Monterey", a lovely Halberg Rassy 34, looking quite magnificent as she beat hard to the breeze.

We locked in to Cardiff Bay through the Barrage and made our way over to the Graving Dock where we moored up on a finger pontoon next door to the now settled Monterey. We went ashore and walked over to Mermaid Quay and to "The Mount Stuart", the local Cardiff Wetherspoons pub, in search of lunch.

Note to self: next time somebody suggests we eat at a Wetherspoons, follow my immediate instincts and walk swiftly away, I don't need that kind of negativity in my life. I ordered a rump steak from the somewhat uninspiring menu. Clearly my second mistake. Once it arrived, it lay cold and turgid on the plate, and once I cut into it, the meat smelled and tasted spoiled.

I sent it back to the kitchen. They seemed unsurprised, unimpressed, and not in the least bit very interested in my culinary distress. They offered my my money back or the choice of something else from the menu: once bitten, twice shy and I elected to go hungry rather than risk something else from their kitchen. Dad and Ben seemed to fare better with their own choices, but only just, in that their food wasn't actually rotten.

Wetherspoons: never again.

We left Cardiff, locking out through the Barrage at 1530 with our friend Derek of "Socotra", a Moody 28. The sky was still clear and the seas had smoothed once again with the turn of tide. We set the sails to a light wind on a broad starboard reach, occasionally pushing past four knots through the water, then fading away until there was only just enough pressure to keep steerage. Again, the tide was doing the work for us, devouring the necessary miles to get us back before it turned, so we simply enjoyed the peaceful glide and the quiet of light wind in the sails, watching Socotra gradually fall away behind us.

The sun dipped slowly into the west as we passed Welsh Hook and began to push up the Bristol Deep towards the King Road and Portishead. And then the wind backed, heading us massively. Ben hardened up the sails, re-trimming from the previously broad reach to what was now a close hauled beat, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a huge gust hit.. The sort of gust that sees everybody tumbling to leeward, frantically grabbing onto any handhold going. I dumped the mainsheet as Ben steadied the tiller, and Calstar bobbed back up onto her feet and began charging gamely down the King Road through the twilight sea, hard to the wind, spray flying.

Behind us, the fast falling sun set the sky afire.

We timed our return to Portishead perfectly, dropping the sails and crossing the King Road in good time to be easily clear of an inbound commercial and the couple of tugs outbound from Portbury to meet her. As we slid past the breakwater and into the Hole, calling up the lock for permission to enter, we were told the lights were green and to come straight in. We locked in alongside Derek and Socotra, who had made up the time they originally lost on us at the beginning of the trip back with their engine. I guess the light wind "ghosting" that characterised the first half of the run back must mostly appeal to dinghy sailor types like myself.

The trip down to Cardiff covered 19.9nm in just a shade over four hours. The return was a slightly more direct 18nm at just over three and a half hours.

And I'm going to treat myself to a new auto-helm for my birthday.


Jonathan Jones of the Guardian eloquently sums up my feelings about Ben Innes and the hijack "selfie"

And for all the pedants out there, and completely irrelevant to the mood of the above link, which I share in nothing but amused admiration, in my view it is absolutely a "selfie" (as dubious a term as that might be) regardless of the fact that an air hostess took the actual shot.

I personally think the authorship of a picture rests with the person that conceived the concept of the shot, that had the vision behind the scene. The creator of the image. Not necessarily the same body that released the shutter on the camera.

Wednesday 23 March 2016


A pretty night for a birthday party. Moon was rising as I arrived. We're just outside Monmouth, 18th birthday party, they know how to dance. I do like well raised kids.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Keeping it in the family

Unusual combinations on the stage with us tonight. Our guitarist's lovely wife Sophie has been learning to play the bass, and replaced my brother Jay for a couple of songs. For a début performance she did ever so well. And husband and wife worked well together.

Actually, by any standard she did brilliantly.

For her second song, Matt's brother Mark and his nephew Samuel also joined us on stage with their guitars. The gig was, after all, a birthday party for Samuel's mum, so a perfect venue for their own début.

So the drummer Jake and I were for a couple of songs hugely outnumbered by Popes. father and son, uncle and nephew, husband and wife.

I don't know how old young Samuel is; his Uncle Matt tells me he's about 7. But he wasn't the youngest on stage tonight. Matt and Sophie are expecting their first child, so "Bump", against whom was balanced mum's bass guitar so you can't say he didn't have an active part, had the privilege of being the youngest, at -20 weeks.

Photo features Samuel and Bump's proud granddad, taking a photo of the waiting stage.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Saturday morning

And, tragically, I'm stuck out here all day.... Think we'll manage. Some days it's good just to be alive. Love this time of year.

Tuesday 8 March 2016


This morning we took the inevitable decision to let our Bear go, the final kindness we could grant him, and was owed, however hard it was in the gifting.

He was our fourth and final "failed" foster; after Bear we got much better at the whole thing and every other furry soul that came through our door we found the perfect home elsewhere, as much through necessity as desire, we've only so much room.

Bear had been with us just a shade over three years, although it felt, and feels, like the weight of a lifetime has left its mark with his passing.

"Someone once said we all become photographs"

Every time I come to this pass, and it's been all too frequent of the last couple of years, I find you can never have taken enough.

"It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them. Yet, every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are" -anon

Cardiff breakfast

An early tide Sunday morning, no gig the night before so Dad and I decided to sail over to Cardiff for breakfast.

Had originally planned to leave with the turn of tide at 0500, but yours truly managed to oversleep (that NEVER happens, but apparently it did Sunday morning), so we delayed the start till 0600, leaving us less time to kick our heels in Cardiff, but still in time to catch a spectacular sunrise over Avonmouth.

The north-westerly wind was a fickle beast for the beat down, defeating the autohelm with the continual shifts in pressure and direction and keeping me on my toes tucking the first reef in and shaking it back out again. And again. And again.

We even got becalmed south of the English Welsh Grounds for about twenty minutes, but despite that, there were some lovely moments of sailing, with Calstar at one point heeled over to a steady twenty degrees and skipping along at just under 5kts.

We locked into Cardiff at 1013, the trip down covering just shy of 20nm.

Inside the barrage, the Bay was swarming with Optimists (single-handed kiddie sized dinghies) racing in some sort of event. We picked our way through them to the far end to find Mermaid Quay closed, but that didn't stop us from hooking on to the end of the pontoon and enjoying a very welcome bacon butty and mug of tea that Dad threw together on the boat's shiny new stove.

Locked back out of Cardiff Barrage at 1200, to find the skies turning grey and the winds backing and fading. What little there was left fell directly astern of us until we reached the Bristol Deep off Clevedon, so we goosed the jib and ran the whole stretch. About half way back, the grey skies started to drop a light hail that turned to sleet before clearing again.

Drama unfolded on the VHF; a boat had lost engine power somewhere in the direction of Brean Down and was drifiting into shore. We followed the Coastguard's half of the conversation as they handled the mayday and directed the Penarth and Weston Super Mare lifeboats to their assistance.

As usual, all the shipping inbound to Portbury contrived to converge on us just as we reached Battery Point. We tucked in behind them, dropped our sails, and locked back into Portishead at 1532. The entire journey back covering just over 17nm.

It was a lovely day's sailing, if a little on the chilly side. Worth it though if only for the gorgeous sunrise.

Sunday 6 March 2016


Lock booked for 0600, half an hour later than previously intended. Probably shouldn't have had that last beer.

On the other hand, the tide will be in to the second hour of the ebb which will take us down much quicker, so we've not lost much except for my pride from my tardy awakening.

Sunrise is 0644. Clear skies, but no moon. Should be in Cardiff by 1000.

Really need a cup of tea. The motorway feels like a long road this morning.

Saturday 5 March 2016

The quintessential

An acquired taste. The conclusion of Webb's latest journal entry made me smile. Sadly, the above bottle has been too long empty. Because I know myself too well to trust myself, the indulgence is restrained to particular occasions.

On the bright side, less than a month till my 45th birthday.

That's got to count as particular?

So far this weekend

I bled on my guitar last night. It used to be a terribly common occurrence, but I grew up a little, got a little more finesse. Learnt how to use a pick. Stopped bleeding, gave my finger nails a break. Didn't do many favours for the guitar however. Last night I just caught it wrong. One advantage of a misspent youth of abusing your fingers: it didn't hurt a bit.

Still made a mess all over my strings however. And over Matt's strings, because the song that followed the song I caught it wrong, we swapped guitars as he hadn't brought his own acoustic (he'd come straight to the gig from work, no room to carry it around in his car all day I guess)

It was a great gig. The sound was lovely. Lots of friends turned up. Quite enjoyed myself. The cold I thought I'd shook at the end of last week has been making a return, so I was a little worried that it being the second gig in two days my voice would suffer, but it seems we caught it at a sweet spot; a little raspy but held out fine.

Flat tyre today. The only sign the old truck gave was a slight difference in road noise and a slight pull to the left. Subsequently I drove a couple of miles at least on the flat. So even if the puncture was repairable, it's not now. You can see the white circle of damage in the photo. First stop on the way in to work on Monday will be Thrupp Tyres.

Damned shame, as I only replaced this tyre a month or two ago.

Took the dogs for a run over Plock Court earlier this evening. The park was quiet, a few other dogs about, but loads and loads of space to run.

Lilly has a new backpack. Figured she can carry her own water, her own toys and her own poo bags. She seemed to quite like it, the new wardrobe not slowing her down in the least. You do have to keep the weight in each side equal though, or it does slop over and look untidy.

She wouldn't stand still long enough to model the thing in the fading evening light, so the photo following is a little blurry.

It's now 21:12 and I'm trying to decide whether to have a final beer or go to bed.

Forecast for tomorrow is a light breeze from the north-north-west. Tide is nearing springs, so high water is 04:45 at Portishead. We've not been out with Calstar for ages, so suffering an acute attack of cabin fever Dad and I foolishly talked each other into a trip over to Cardiff for breakfast tomorrow morning.

It means being at the boat for 0430 to make an 0530 lock. Leaving in the dark. Around these parts the tide decides when you sail, not (within limits) the weather or (not so much within any limit) the hour. We've not had a massive amount of practice at night sailing, something I want to address this year.

Leaving port in the dark is easier than arriving. So tomorrow seems like a good place to start. It'll be an adventure. Not the first time we've left before dawn, but the first time we've done it alone, and to my own plan. That somehow feels important, and a bit of a milestone.

Of course, that means I've still got to get up, and get to the boat.

I'm going to have that beer. No sense going to bed if I'm not going to sleep.

So plan B is to lock out at 0830 and sail down to Hope again, should I oversleep.

Rhino rebuttal

I saw the photo on social media, grinned at the humour of the thing, moved on.

Just read the story behind it. A graceful rebuttal of unfair accusations from a certain disreputable corner of "bungling".

My favourite line: "I think it’s really lovely". Mr Armfield states that in an ideal world it would be his pictures in the press, not pictures of him. This time around however, I disagree.

I like it when, on the odd occasion, the photographer becomes the photo.