Friday 29 July 2016

Swansea; a catch-up, Ilfracombe and back

Other than the odd photo, I've been neglecting this site of late.

This was brought home to me when I read Hue Sheppard's eloquent account of moving his lovely 30' Hanse 301 "Karisma" from Cardiff to Swansea at the end of May. Aside from really enjoying the read and the photos, it occurred to me that we'd followed in Karisma's wake on the same journey a couple of weeks later, and I'd meant to write it up here and never got around to it.

It was a great trip, Portishead to Cardiff, Cardiff to Swansea via the narrow confines of the Nash Passage, albeit vexed by lack of wind and so involved a considerable amount of motor-sailing. It involved some fine timings and a near grounding in the River Tawe within a stone's throw of our final destination; we hit the mud on a fast ebbing tide but managed to claw free of its suck through brute force, desperation and sheer, bloody-minded determination, to career into the waiting Tawe Lock at breakneck speed mere seconds before the lock-keeper was forced to close the gates and the falling tide stranded us for hours in the drying river.

On that trip, we cleared a 1000 miles travelled in Calstar just as we entered the Nash Passage, a fact I cheerfully noted whilst at the same moment below decks, unbeknown to me, the inflow pipe on the recently refurbished heads sprung clear without warning and thoroughly doused Dad in salt water before he stopped it from sinking us by hurriedly closing the sea cock and then got on with the damp task of bailing out the cabin.

It was a great journey, but feels like a long time ago now, so whilst I had planned to write it up in detail, I think we'll have to let the above suffice.

So, safely berthed in Swansea, Calstar was pulled out of the water for some TLC at the hands of our friends of Wray Marine. She had her woodwork spruced up, her topsides polished and cleaned, and her bottom scrubbed down and anti-fouled afresh. And Dad had a new Icom IC-M423 DSC enabled VHF radio fitted. Although I almost exclusively handle the comms aboard, I rarely use the ship's radio, preferring the mobility of the handheld. But Dad wanted the ships radio upgraded to a DSC enabled unit, presumably so he can just press the red button and leave it to the Lifeboat to come pick me up should I fall overboard.

He'd thought he was getting one with GPS fitted, but it turns out not. So we now also have a new, albeit very entry-level Garmin plotter to fit and wire into the VHF. That gives us an awful lot of redundancy amongst the GPS devices aboard; my Garmin Aquatix wrist watch, my Sony Xperia Z tablet running the raster charts via the Marine Navigator app and Dad's Ipad running vector charts via Navionics. He also has Navionics on his iPhone, and I've got raster charts on my laptop that run in a program called SeaClear, albeit the laptop lacks GPS so they're useful for passage planning only.

The iPad is too posh (and Dad uses it for too many other things to risk damaging it) to bring above decks, so it lives below on the chart table. The main navigation devices when underway are my watch, which gives me an immediate COG, SOG and distance logged along with our coordinates, and the Xperia, which gives me our fix on the chart against our planned route, and most usefully in these confined, tidally swept waters, a twelve minute projected course over ground line.

We decided to keep Calstar down in Swansea for three months of the summer so we could enjoy some blue sea in much less tidally restricted waters. It is now her eighth week down there, and the weather and opportunity have been such that we've only so far managed to get her out once, last weekend. It was worth the wait however. Dad and I sailed to Ilfracombe where we stayed on a visitor's mooring in the outer harbour overnight, before returning to Swansea on Sunday.

I am fond of Ilfracombe. After a fantastic sail over, a close reaching fetch on starboard the whole way with the boat speed rarely dropping below 4kts (which is veritably tearing along for our orcine Griffon), we timed the arrival to perfection. Despite the open waters, Dad had me chasing the clock again; he declared he wanted to see Calstar settle onto the sand, taking the ground on the foreshore of Ilfracombe's outer harbour. To do this, we were going to have to turn into the harbour by 1230 latest, which we duly did, abeit very pushed, picking up the visitor's mooring seconds before her twin keels bumped down on the hard sands. By the time we'd secured the lines, the waters had receded enough for me to step off and paddle ashore.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Ilfracombe, took a ride out to look at the town from the sea aboard a decommissioned lifeboat whilst Calstar was beached high and dry, and had a delicious late lunch of grilled sea bream on the terrace of a small sea food restaurant called Espresso. Supper was enjoyed back aboard Calstar, sat in the fading light in her cockpit, feasting on olives, hummus, crayfish tails and salami, washed down with a bottle of chilled white wine, all purchased from a Co-Op in Ilfracombe on our walk back to the boat.

We departed early the next morning, as soon as the tide lifted us, shortly after 0700. One of the only two other visitors, a lovely old launch of about the same length as us called "Union Jack" was up and casting off with the same idea, but with the intention of taking the tide back to Watchet. We exchanged pleasantries and nattered as we made ready to depart. Dad thought he recognised the boat; it transpired she was out of Lydney, her skipper being a long time member of the our old yacht club up there.

The sail back was a gloamed affair, leaden skies and leaden seas, at times quite large and rolly. Heavy winds and rain from the southwest were forecast for the afternoon, but aside from the occasional tease when, on the broad reach back taking her back to Swansea Calstar topped 5kts for a short while, the wind was slow coming. Not so the rain, which set in heavy once we passed the halfway mark. Even as we entered the fairway leading into the River Tawe, the breakwaters guarding the mouth of the river and harbour beyond remained swathed and invisible in the murk, only looming up out of it as we were literally upon them.

We locked in without incident, which was a refreshing change after the near grounding of the last time we entered Swansea. As we turned into our berth, we discovered our friend Hedley and his crew aboard their long-legged yacht "New Dawn" of Lydney Yacht Club, berthed a couple of places along from us. They had arrived having sailed down channel from Lydney the day before, had intended to make for Ilfracombe (I think, it might have been Tenby) for the Sunday, but on nosing out of the lock had taken one look at the gloom and woefully restricted visibility and sensibly turned back around and elected for a rain-bound Sunday in Swansea.

Seems you can't so much as twitch in the Bristol Channel without tripping over one or another of the Lydney lot. And the richer the place is for it too.

It was just over a 50 mile weekend and a shade over 11 hours underway.

This coming weekend is probably going to be too busy to get to the boat again. But I have time off work due in August, as does Dad and as does, delightfully and most unusually, my wife Nikki. Weather permitting, we should get some more miles in before we're done with Swansea. I have designs and ambitions on Lundy, Appledore, Clovelly and Tenby. Quite whether or not those ambitions will be realised remains to be see, but meanwhile it is pleasant to plot and dream.

Monday 11 July 2016


Swansea: a grim Saturday morning

The one day we had clear to go sailing and the weather did this to us. Could've gone out anyway, but didn't want to risk breaking anything.

Really missing Calstar. It's been over a month now since we last sailed her, which was the delivery to Swansea. We're keeping her down there until September; new waters to explore. Just need a bit of a break with the weather.

And a bit of a break from work to go with it.

Next planned date is the weekend of 23rd/24th, and perhaps a trip over to Ilfracombe and back.

She scrubs up nice