Saturday 23 April 2016

Capsize drill

A photo taken from the Safety Boat during sail training at Frampton earlier today. I'm in charge of the boat on the left.

photo: samuel callen
It was fun, although I'd forgotten just how damned cold April water can be. Actually no, I hadn't. I'd just been kidding myself it was never that bad. Once I got home, it took about an hour slumped in the bottom of our shower before feeling came back to my feet.

I think it's also the closest I've come to drowning, though I don't think anybody else noticed. Second group, I pulled the boat over, mainsail came down on me. No worries, perfectly normal. We teach people how to deal with this. Except one of the students must've landed on top of the mainsail, so the mast and boom both sunk quickly and I was temporarily pinned underneath the sail.

Entirely my fault, and lesson learned. I should've been more controlled in pulling the boat over.

The near panic of the moment was heavily coloured by a healthy dose of embarrassment; I was the instructor, I was supposed to be in control of the situation and looking after my students, how bad would it, and I,  have looked if I'd drowned? But despite that, and despite the numbed feet, I had a lot of fun.

Monday 18 April 2016

Denny Island frustrated

Sunday: the morning was clear, bright and still. The forecast promised wind for the afternoon, but as we drove down the motorway, the cumulus spattered sky suggested a day better suited to soaring than sailing. The inshore forecast of north backing westerly 3 or 4 seemed hard to believe, but as we pulled into the marina car-park a little after 1330, we could feel the beginnings of it on our faces. Without the wind, the day was warm in the sun.

We locked out at 1500 to the sight of a fleet of racing yachts competing for the Shanghai Cup just crossing their start line between the pier-head and Denny, and beating hard up into the tide towards the Newcombe buoy as their windward mark. As we left the shelter of the Hole, the wind beyond the breakwater was already quite fresh and swinging to the west, but still keeping its northerly chill. Out past Denny and clear of the racing fleet, we put Calstar into wind and hauled up the sails, leaving a cautious first reef in the main.

My hope was to push enough up into the tide to round Denny Island. This would be our third attempt at doing so. My original plan had been to beat up the King Road, hoping for less tide closer into shore, but that had been thwarted by the score or so of racing yachts hogging the channel. Instead, we just tried to brute-force it, laying the little yacht as close to the wind and layline as we could on a port tack. With the single reef in the main and an almost full genoa, Calstar was skipping along, at times touching 4.9 knots through the water, but sitting at 20 degrees of heel and leaning significantly beyond as the gusts hit. Dad expressed some concern for his iPad, sat on the chart table below running Navionics.

Despite the pace, it became clear we wouldn't lay Denny on this tack. The island slowly tracked across our bows from right to left as we closed. About half a mile out, we tacked to try and beat up against the tide, but the track on the plotter painted the picture of our futility. Despite it being a neap tide, there was still around 4 knots of adverse set pushing against us. Our starbord tack painted a clear line across the track of our previous port beat. We were holding our ground against the tide, but making no way against it.

Conceding defeat, we tacked back and I eased up my demands on the little yacht and the peril of Dad's iPad by tucking a few extra rolls into the genoa, reducing her heel to a more steady ten to fifteen degrees. We bore away and gybed in the tidal lee of Denny Island, shy of our original objective by no more than a cable or two. Onto a deep reach, the genoa filling just clear of the shadow of the main; in the wake of Denny the sea was swirling and confused as the flood tide rushed around the small island, and Calstar in turn pitched and rolled in the stroppy, irritable waters.

The new Raymarine Tiller Pilot managed the boat admirably, but with the boat so trippy underfoot, we decided not to light the stove for the tea and bacon and egg rolls we'd planned for lunch and instead settled on a cockpit picnic of crackers, humus and green olives. With the cloud-littered azure sky overhead it could almost have felt Mediterranean, were it not for the somewhat marked northerly chill still clinging to the now fully backed, westerly wind,

Closing once again on the Avonmouth shore, we gybed and then hardened up to close hauled, punching back against the tide. The wind built as the tide slackened, and soon enough I'd put another handful of rolls into the genoa and the second reef into the main. We beat back against the still flooding tide towards Portishead. The auto-tack feature on the new Tiller Pilot made tacking an absolute breeze. We watched a large, ungainly car transport lock out of Royal Portbury ahead of us, and then disappear down the King Road and into the evening sun. A bigger yacht in the far distance disappeared into Portishead, and a couple of small powerboats, fishing rods stowed in their transom racks, slapped past us through the now building sea that was turning short and choppy as the tide changed and the wind built.

And then we had the Bristol Channel to ourselves. It was gorgeous sailing, a lowering spring sun casting idle, amber rays out across the lively waters through flattened, early evening clouds, darkened in silhouette. Our little yacht bent to the stiffened breeze, skipping through the chop back to Portishead.

We locked back in a little under four hours after we'd left, the early evening light casting long shadows out across the marina waters, quite sheltered in the lee of the tall buildings surrounding as we nursed Calstar back into her berth and made her fast.

Bridges and islands. That seems to characterise so much of our sailing. We sail under the former and a around the latter. We've sailed beneath both the Severn Crossings and up and back under the Avonmouth motorway bridge. We've sailed out and around Flatholm and Steepholm twice now, and will do so again later this year. It's such a little ambition, of no significance to anyone but me; Denny island is closer to home than all of them, but I've tried to get around it three times now only to be three times frustrated.

It was such a lovely four hours of frustration however.

Crowded instructive

Saturday: week 3 of the adult sail training at Frampton. The day began cold, grey and damp, and with next to no wind to compensate for the discomfort. As the morning wore on however, the wind built and the skies made a valiant effort at clearing. By the time we got into the afternoon sessions, the weather was damned near perfect for a day on the water.

It was a busy day; Frampton was running three different RYA adult courses alongside visitors from neighbouring Thornbury Sailing Club, who were also running their own sail training. Our Thornbury friends are based on the Severn Estuary, just above the Old Severn Bridge, which is an unforgiving place to try to teach newbies to sail so they guest at Frampton for a couple of weekends every year. In addition to the sail training, Sailability was also running, so the lake and shore were teeming with activity.

Our old Drascombe Lugger "Ondine" is now a part of the Frampton Sailability fleet. It was lovely seeing her out and about on the water. Naturally, Dad was aboard, helping Barry and her crew of Sailability members.

It's been about four years or so since I last instructed on an adult sailing course, I've been running various junior courses over most of the years previous. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching kids to sail and enjoyed running each and every courses, but it's strangely rewarding teaching adults, and just working as an instructor, leaving the organisation and responsibility to somebody else for a change. We're halfway through their course now, and so are beginning to see the results and rewards as everybody's confidence builds and basic boat handling skills begin to bed in.

Friday 15 April 2016

Of trees and chainsaws

Conversation in the office this morning:

"I've always been good at climbing trees. I've always liked climbing trees. A tree surgeon. I'd quite like to have been a tree surgeon"

"But that involves chainsaws. Trees and chainsaws"

"Exactly. How cool is that?"

"Trees and chainsaws, Bill. And sometimes, we watch you miss the door-handle. Like, maybe, twice a day. I mean, what could go wrong?"

Just no respect for my age or station, I tell you. No respect.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Two Bridges

Although it is now fast receding into the dim, distant past, a good weekend was definitely had.

photo: ann gribble
On Friday evening we went over to Dad's for supper. As it was my birthday it was supposed to be a whole family thing, but although my daughter joined us, both the boys were stuffed up with some kind of fluey bug and feeling too sorry for themselves, so in an act of selfless A* class parenting we left them at home with money to order pizza and took one of the dogs with us instead.  Anyway, no harm, no foul: it meant more food for us at Dad's and I'm sure the boys enjoyed their pizza, so a win all round.

I spent all Saturday on the lake at Frampton instructing. We had an odd number of students, and so through a combination of crafty timing and hanging around at the back as pairs of students were matched up with an instructor, I took the last man. Which meant there was more room in the boat (Gull dinghies are not really designed for the usual two adult students and an instructor, even one so svelte as I) and Anders, my student, got loads of time on the helm and, essentially, a day's worth of personal sailing tuition. The sun shone for most of it, and the wind was fresh, gusty, but quite manageable. One of the other Gulls capsized in one such squally gust, and another lost a student overboard which was unfortunate but amusing. I think all was taken in the right spirit and we'll see everybody again same time next week for another go.

Anders himself was a pleasure to sail with and did great. By the end of the day we were tacking seamlessly, and beating upwind close-hauled with a level of wind awareness that normally takes weeks to instil.

photo: ann gribble
Sunday, the forecast was for a moderate, occasionally fresh breeze out of the south, veering into the afternoon and possibly fading a little. High water at Portishead was 1633 so we planned a 1400 lock-out with the intention of following the tide up under the two bridges to Beachley, if we could get that far.

Ben was still gripped in the throes of plague and pestilence, so we left him at home, but my Aunty Ann joined us for the trip. She'd not sailed aboard a yacht before, but had been out in a dinghy with me on the lake some years ago, and is a robust type, into skiing and scuba diving, so undaunted by the idea of accompanying us out into the Bristol Channel, despite the stories Dad had told her. She's also a very keen photographer.

photo: ann gribble
Locking out was straight forward as usual, but with the tide still early on the flood, the muddy bank protecting the Portishead Hole was still partly proud, so Dad kept a course close to the pier as we nosed out towards the King Road. Tidying lines on the bow, I did my best to keep an eye out for fishermen, but despite every effort, failed to see the man, the rod or his line stretched unhelpfully across our channel until it was too late to do anything but take the hit. I moved off the bow to take shelter behind the mast as the fishing line bent around the furled head sail, and hook and weight pulled up out of the water, twanged off the push-pit guardrail and, line snapping, pinged out into the water ahead of us.

photo: ann gribble
The fisherman on the pier wall behind us, in the company of his fellow anglers, clung on to his rod and glowered at us as he and the breakwater disappeared into our wake.

Nobody was hurt, and this time, I managed to dodge getting hooked, so it could've been a lot worse. Frustrating though. We had nowhere else to go without risking a grounding, and no way of seeing him until  we were too close to stop, even if he had been in the least bit inclined pull his line in and out of the way. Or perhaps we were as much of a surprise to him as he was to us, and I'm being unfair?

photo: ann gribble
Anyway, the initial drama now done, the first hour up to the bridge that followed became a sedate affair.  Saturday's enthusiasm spent, the sun of the previous day had given up and so Sunday's sky was a dull, grey overcast. Happily though, the weather wasn't too cold. The wind was an initial disappointment. When it's running with the tide you always expect it to be a little dampened, but although there was a slight breeze when we first set sail and quit the engine, within ten minutes what little there was had died to just barely enough of a whisper to keep steerage; the genoa frequently sagged, the main slatted under the weight of the sheet, and our speed through the water didn't even register on the dial.

photo: ann gribble
Speed over the ground as we entered the Shoots still topped close to five knots from the tide, so we hung with it. The slight sea state meant that the tiller, sans auto helm as we hadn't had time to change the socket to fit the new Tiller Pilot, needed little attention. The transom-hung rudder of the little yacht  rests central in such conditions as long as the sails are vaguely balanced. Dad brewed tea, and offered us up a veritable picnic of olives, humus, crackers and ham sandwiches that we enjoyed in the cockpit under the gloaming sky as we drifted up-channel towards the first bridge.

I have to say I don't get this kind of catering laid on when it's just him and me aboard.

The plotter was suggesting we'd only get halfway up towards the second before the tide turned on us.

photo: ann gribble
We passed beneath the Severn Crossing after a little more than an hour out. The wind began to fill a little and our pace picked up. We waved to a ketch rigged yacht departing the moorings in St Pierre Pill, pushing down channel against the flood tide in the direction of Portishead, and hardened up around the beacon marking Old Man's Head to lay the Old Severn Bridge ahead of us. The wind backed as it continued to fill in, until we were beating along close-hauled, now in some doubt as to whether we could clear Chapel Rock to make the Bridge without having to tack.

Our course lifted as we passed the mouth of the Wye, and it became obvious we'd clear the rock, but only just. We passed another yacht coming down under sail on a broad reach, waving and passing close enough to exchange a few friendly words as we crossed. Ahead, through the bridge, I could see a dappling of small white sails against the far and distant east bank; Thornbury Sailing Club's racing fleet out enjoying themselves on the tide.

photo: ann gribble
As the Bridge passed overhead, I tacked and bore away, turning back on ourselves to pass back beneath again and run with the now just ebbing tide back the way we'd come.

The return was uneventful, the wind on our port beam for most of the stretch back between the bridges. As we rounded Old Man's Head again though, it veered and stiffened against the now fast ebbing tide, setting us close hauled on a beat to pass back beneath the Severn Crossing. There was a moment of doubt as to whether or not we could lay the gap without tacking, our course over ground on the plotter suggesting our beat was going to see us graze the right hand footing, but we held our nerve. Water prefers to run around rather than through solid objects, and the tidal race lifted us, as I'd hoped, past the mammoth footing with a few boat-lengths to spare.

photo: ann gribble
The wind continued to fill, but the sea state stayed slight. The little yacht heeled over, close hauled, to just past twenty degrees, skipping along through the water touching 5 knots at times, her crew of three braced comfortably in her cockpit enjoying the ride. Although bereft of an auto-helm, I was pleased with how balanced she felt pushing up-wind through smooth water. As long as I timed it between the gusts, leaving the helm for a minute or two to tweak the genoa caused no problem other than an occasional, and not unfairly testy, "You could just ask me to do that" from Dad.

We locked back in to Portishead still with plenty of tide beneath us, a little over four and a half hours and 18 miles of sailing behind us.

Friday 1 April 2016

April fool

I've bought myself a Raymarine ST1000 Tiller Pilot for my birthday. It's going to require a change of power socket, but I'm hoping it'll otherwise just fit where the old Autohelm 1000 was originally seated. Later this year we're going to get a windvane. I'm hoping we can wire it into the Tiller Pilot so it'll be able to hold a course to the apparent wind, which strikes me as a rather neat thing for an auto-helm to be able to do.

I'm not a particular expert on big boat instrumentation or how it all links in together, but I believe it would also be possible to wire it up to a wireless transmitter of some sort so that I could actually control the thing from the GPS on my Garmin watch. Which whilst that does sound like fun, seems like something of an overkill for a humble Westerly Griffon. I'm excited enought that the new toy had an LCD to tell me what course it thinks it's holding and an auto-tack function (the old Autohelm pre-dated both these features)

Off over to Dad's tonight for supper. Nikk's not 100% at the moment, so it's unreasonable to expect her to walk home with me afterwards. At least the need to drive home after supper should stop me getting ridiculously drunk this evening, a temptation that, it being a Friday night and my birthday, might otherwise have proven too hard to resist.

The adult sail training starts at Frampton tomorrow, and I've promised to help out with instructing, so that will absorb my next five weeks worth of Saturdays. I'm actually quite looking forward to it. I have Saturday night off, so will probably vegetate in front of Netflix with a bottle of wine. Though I do vaguely remember promising myself a bottle of Laphroaig for my birthday, the wallet is a little bruised from laying out for the Tiller Pilot, so I'm currently undecided. Undecided as to whether to deliver on the promise anyway, or wait until next weekend's gig can pay for it.

We have a lock booked for 1400 on Sunday. Neap tide, high water Portishead is 10.7m at 1633, so we'll aim to sail up under the bridges and back. Now Daylight Saving has kicked the clocks forward an hour, we should be back well before dark. The weather looks promising, with a light southerly breeze forecast, albeit fading into the evening. We may have a guest with us. I'm really quite looking forward to it.

The photo is my lunch money. No particular reason, other than I'm growing hungry as lunchtime nears. The bullet, which is unconnected with lunch, was a gift from Dad. He found a couple of them, unexplained, amongst some of Mum's old things; they would've originally belonged to Granddad, who fought in the War and remained in the army as an MP for some years afterwards, stationed in Malaya and then later Germany. Dad drilled out the gunpowder and firing pin (apparently he looked up how to do it safely on Google) and gave one of the bullets to me as a keepsake and the other to my brother.

I'm really not a fan of killing things unless I intend to eat them, so by extension, guns and bullets have little philosophical appeal to me, though there is a certain visceral allure that I can't, in all honesty, deny. But I'm quite fond of this little link with the past, and a reminder as to how different it was for my grandparents than things are for us now.