Wednesday 31 August 2016

"Honey, I'm home!"

Calstar is home, back safe and sound in Portishead.

Nikki, Dad and I drove down to Portishead Friday after work, abandoned the car in the marina car-park, and took the train over to Swansea. Locked out of Swansea on the earliest available lock at 0700 Saturday morning, an hour later than I was really comfortable with on the tide we had, but you work with what you've got. We then sailed up with the tide to Watchet. A 35 mile beat into a lively easterly, with an utterly uncompromising tidal gate at the other end in Watchet. I had alternatives if it all went wrong, but none of them were appealing.

Wind over tide, we perhaps unsurprisingly found we had much more wind to deal with than the F3 initially suggested by the forecast. Calstar is a bilge keeler. This doesn't actually present as much of a disadvantage into wind as some people suggest. I've always found she points quite respectably, even with her currently blown out sails, and doesn't slough off too much to leeward, nowhere near as much as I'd first expected from the horror stories about the characteristics of twin keels I'd previously read about.

The issue is not really her pointing. It's the hull shape. Any kind of sea and she slaps through it like a winded seal, her boat speed falling away into oblivion with each impact.

The North Devon and Somerset coast is a cruel, merciless shore to get caught on if you screw the tide up. We motor-sailed, close hauled and reefed as deep as we could get, the boat still heeling to 30 degrees or more in the bigger gusts, but between the 25hp Beta Marine and the sails, she kept her speed up beautifully.

A Westerly Griffon is a very dry boat. A deep cockpit, very well protected by tall coamings,  dodgers and a spray-hood. I've never really been much troubled by spray, even when beating into 35 knot gusts crossing the deck during the Holms Race last year. She's a very dry boat. That is until you try to motor-sail upwind, close-hauled into a lively sea. Dad and Nikki were fine, comfortably sunning themselves beneath the shelter of the spray-hood. Yours truly, keeping dutiful watch over tiller and course at his habitual station at the back of the cockpit, caught every other wave fresh in the face as the doughty little boat ploughed her pointed nose and flat belly into each, time and again.

At least in the sunshine and snug in my waterproofs it wasn't cold. And we won the tide,  crossing the lowered gate at the mouth of Watchet Marina a good hour before the tide peaked and turned foul.

We spent the night in Watchet with friends. Hedley and crew of Lydney's "New Dawn" arrived from Cardiff on the ebb tide, so the evening was spent in one of the local bars with him, his crew and some new made friends from a couple of boats that had also come over from Cardiff that day.

We left Watchet at 1400 for the 18 miles back to Cardiff, as soon as the gate dropped with the rising tide Sunday afternoon. I hadn't held much hope of any great sailing; only two hours of fair tide and the early afternoon forecast being light and astern, albeit expected to strengthen significantly later in the day once the tide turned foul. Clear of the harbour wall, we hauled the sails up and motored into our own apparent wind over a smooth sea. Although the sea was beginning to adopt its characteristic tannin hue of the upper reaches of the Channel, the sky above was aquiline blue, the sun warm on our shoulders. However, looking back astern, the Somerset coast was becoming enshrouded in thick, threatening cloud advancing from the west, parallel to the shoreline.

Within an hour, the wind filled in as the cloud encloaked shore fell away astern. With more of a northerly mein than expected, it was coming in across our beam, the wind with tide was blowing the sea flat, with lots of small rippled white horses now marching in from windward. Under engine and sail, the boat was moving easily along near to hull speed. I experimentally cut back the throttle, and the speed dropped of a knot to just a shade over 4.5, but with the tide fair the speed over ground was still more than 6. More than enough. I killed the engine and the tranquillity of a boat under sail, racing along over smooth water, enfolded us in accompaniment to the still persisting sun on our shoulders.

The wind increased, but the seas remained slight. Rounding Ranie Point into the Penarth Roads, the boat was showing a clear 5 knots on the clock. The instrument under-reads by a shade less than a knot; reliant on GPS and speed over ground, and still waters a rare luxury in these parts, I've never got around to calibrating it.

We locked in through the Barrage without incident and stayed the night in Penarth Marina. The forecast for Monday was south-westerly and light again. Neap tides, low water would be around 1130, so we opted to lock out at noon. Despite the unpromising forecast I was determined to sail as much as we could, from gybe to gybe if necessary. The tide alone would push us home to Portishead well before high water.

Leaving the Outer Wrack, the wind seemed relatively slight, but more westerly than I'd expected, so more promising of a beam reach than the run I'd been resigned to dealing with. The sky was blue, the sea was smooth and brown and the breeze filling in from the direction of the Cardiff shore sun-warmed. Before long we were trotting along comfortably under full sail, the clock showing a steady 4 knots. Even the race off Clevedon at the entrance to the Bristol Deep seemed subdued as we entered, watching our old friend MV Balmoral put out from Clevedon Pier and steam away towards Penarth now falling distant behind us.

We made excellent time, furling the genoa off Kilkenny Bay to slow Calstar up a bit, continuing along under mainsail alone until we started up the engine as we rounded Portishead Point. Behind us, the 57000 tonne car carrier "Bishu Highway" was inbound to Royal Portbury from Baltimore, USA, her chaperone of three tugs steaming out to greet her, passing us in the tight confines of the King Road as we turned into wind and stemmed the tide just inside Firefly, safely out of the navigation channel, Dad steady at the helm whilst I made safe the sail.

In a symphony of lovely timing at the end of a fine long weekend's sailing, the lock had just opened the gates as we entered the Hole between breakwater and mud-bank and I called up for permission to enter. We came alongside without mishap, and locked into the Marina at 1530.

Calstar was home.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Family outing

Sat on the mud in Watchet Marina, 2349hrs, about to have supper. Late start tomorrow, depart for Cardiff at 1400.

Enjoyed having both Dad and Nik aboard for the trip up from Swansea this morning. A 44nm beat into a stiff easterly with wind over tide, an unforgiving tidal gate and an enforced late start, I confess we motor-sailed the whole distance.

It was quite wet, but we averaged just short of 6kts, and made it in just over seven hours.

Lydney friends aboard New Dawn came in on the ebb. We went out for a beer, had a lovely evening out with Hedley and crew plus a few other boats that came over with them.

Now sat eating a late super of salami, humus and olives with Nik and Dad, drinking more beer and reading.

Life is good.

Friday 26 August 2016

Mind the step

Swansea bound

This time by train, leaving the car in Portishead. If all goes to plan, we should be back there with Calstar early Monday evening.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Contrary the winds

Back at work after two weeks off, and feeling quite refreshed.

The first week away with Nik was a definite success. She found the 10 hour trip over to Tenby a bit of a strain, but enjoyed the rest day following swinging on the mooring and touring the town. She seemed non-plussed but resigned about the trip back on the Friday, woke up around dawn with the boat halfway across Carmarthen Bay and being thrown around a bit by the swell. She couldn't have timed it worse really, as it was always going to be rough crossing the Helwick Bank. Shortly after crossing, with the boat running down-wind parallel to the outside of the bank and still at the mercy of an enthusiastically quartering sea, we were picked up by a pod of around eight to ten dolphins.

They kept company with us for the next half hour or so, cavorting in the waves alongside and crossing two and fro under the bow. Close enough to lean over and whisper in a cetacean ear, they cured Nikki of any misgivings; she was utterly entranced.

"Grab the camera!" I said, my hands to full of boat to do anything but try to keep her on course, "It's there ready, just on top of the coach-roof"

"No! They might disappear!" was her uncompromising reply.

So we have no photographs of our escort. But we do have the memories.

Of course, it means Nik is now going to expect dolphins every time I take her sailing.

But she does want to come away with us again this next weekend coming.

The following week away with Dad was an equal success. This time, we had an extra on-board as my youngest, Sam, unexpectedly said yes when I routinely asked him if he wanted to come sailing with us.

The weather was restrictive. A fresh easterly, it made for a lively crossing to Ilfracombe on the Tuesday; at its height, the boat was skipping along on a beam reach through a rolling, breaking sea at close to 6 knots despite the double-reefed main and deeply rolled genoa. It was fantastic sailing. No dolphins this time, but I did catch sight of a couple of couple of porpoise as we closed on Ilfracombe.

The wind stayed in the east and strengthened the following day, clocking a F6 and more across the morning, so we spent Wednesday moored in Ilfracombe's outer harbour and amused ourselves ashore in town and with a couple of trips out aboard the local tourist boats.

We dropped the mooring at 0300 the following morning and headed back to Swansea in the dark to make the most of a favourable tide. The dawn was perhaps the most uninspiring I've seen at sea yet, but at least the sun came up. The wind was a fickle thing, still nominally from the east, but faltering and contrary, and nothing like the F4 to 5 that had been promised when I'd last checked the forecast the night before. But we made port in good time, the crossing taking a shade over six hours.

And Sam seemed to have enjoyed himself along with us for the week, so will hopefully come again.

This coming weekend Dad and I bring Calstar back from Swansea to Portishead, and Nik's coming along with us. I've been watching the forecast closely as it's been developing, and I have to say it's been all over the place, one moment a quite manageable F4, albeit from the east, the next an unconscionable F6 or 7, at which point the direction becomes immaterial, we're staying in port.

It's a Bank Holiday three day weekend, and so as long as we get workable weather Sunday or Monday we'll be fine. The tide is too early to make Cardiff in one go on Saturday but would be Sunday (we need to depart a couple of hours before LW, being on Saturday around 0800, but the lock doesn't start operating until 0700), but if the weather looks promising for all three days, we could head to Cardiff via Ilfracombe on the Saturday. Once we're in Cardiff, getting back to Portishead is just a short skip on the Monday. If we get weather-bound, we leave the boat in Penarth Marina, and come back for her when the weather clears.

It's been an interesting few months down in Swansea. I've loved the blue waters and ability to just nip out for a couple of hours sailing ("nip out" if you don't count the close to two hour drive to get there), but have started to kind of miss the familiarity (or more to the point, local convenience) of home and am looking forward to getting the boat back to Portishead.

A couple of things learned:

Wind over tide is significant when said tide is bringing with it a large swell straight in from the Atlantic. The character of the waves down there is different, the shelter you get in the lee of Swansea and Carmarthen Bay significant, and very noticeable once you leave it.

45 nautical miles is a heck of a long day sail once you no longer have the benefit of a six or seven knot tide running under you as we do further up channel. The sort of distances we can cover in a 26' bilge-keeler into wind or otherwise when sailing out of Portishead and using the tide become quite hard work once that tide is more than halved further down along. And whilst it's easy to be dismissive of a couple of knots of adverse flow, it's still enough of a set to halve the speed over ground of a little boat like ours, and so make your destination feel very, very far away,

And range and conditions and durability become a much bigger factor when you have a neophyte crew. The ten and half hour beat to Tenby was really too much to be fair on Nikki. I originally looked at the forecast and 35 mile distance, saw F4 gusting 5 and thought it'd be a bit of hard work but nothing to really sweat about. Passing Worms Head, the sun gone in, the wind freshening against the now hard flowing tide and the seas building, I could see that Nik had had enough and there wasn't much I could do about it except reassure her and nag her to go put something warm on.

In the same place and equal conditions, Dad and I would have just knuckled down and got on with it. The engine certainly wouldn't have been necessary, but under the circumstances as a concession to Nik it was absolutely the right call to make. I was surprised by how much boat speed we lost trying to push into a tall sea with engine alone however. The 25hp Beta Marine will usually push Calstar happily through the water at near enough to her hull speed of 6 knots. Against the swell coming into Carmarthen Bay, we never made more than 4 and were frequently knocked back to just over 2 knots.

The six hour reach over to Ilfracombe through similar wind and sea, but across rather than against, and with the sun shining rather than leaden skies and squally rain blowing in my face, was taxing enough for Sam's first time the following week. But was set just about right. It would perhaps have been a better call for Nikki the week before.

But then again, we loved Tenby. And she utterly adored the dolphins.

[28/08 Addendum] I've been holding off posting this as I'd meant to add in a pile of photos. Couldn't find the time in the last week and am now sat in Watchet Harbour posting other stuff, so to save this getting too out of step, out of context and out of date, am going to press "publish" now, and photos will have to follow at my leisure...

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Ilfracombe: waiting the tide

Sam is asleep in the forward bunk, Dad asleep in the bunk opposite mine snoring like a train. I'm sat here typing this with a goodnight glass of Laphroaig, looking forward to the 25nm passage back to Swansea tomorrow, starting as close to 0300 as I can get up.

I should probably drink up and bunk down.

Never been my strong point.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Necklace of pearls

Not exactly.

But they did admirably solve the banging of the buoy against the hull.

Must remeber to take them back in when I cast off tomorrow morning.

Forecast is 3 gusting 5 from the west, sunny to begin and worsening as the day wears on.

So on the tail the whole way. Objective is to turn the Mixtow shoals before the tide turns in Swansea at 1329 tomorrow. If I can manage an average of 4 knots and cast off no later than 0600, we should be okay.

Thinking about starting an hour earlier. Low water is just after 0700 in Tenby tomorow, but the tide in Carmarthen Bay is negligible, at least against what well potentially face once we cross it. It is a big lump of water though, so will take a couple of hours to cross.

Looking forward to it all. Not without some degree of trepidation however.

Things that go bump in the night

The buoy was without doubt convenient. Drawing into Tenby in the dusk of the last hour before dark, it meant that I didn't have to stress over the anchor in unfamiliar waters.

The problem is that with the incoming tide set against the gentle off-shore breeze, Calstar spent the early part of the evening g bumping up against the not insubstantial buoy.

It was like sitting inside a drum.

I tried shortening the mooring line, all but lifting the buoy out of the water, but that didn't work. I tried lengthening the line, but that just moved the thumping along the hull.

In the end, I daisy-chained a string of fenders end to end and threaded them around the bow.

Not a pretty necklace, it has to be said, but it worked.


We did it.

Slipped out of our Swansea berth a shade after 0900, navigated the lock in the company of three other boats, including the lovely Bristol Channel Pilot, Olga, didn't bump into anything, left harbour and set sail for Tenby.

10 hours, 37 minutes underway, 45nm covered, into wind the whole damned way.

I confess, I cheated the last ten miles.

The seas built and the wind stiffened considerably as we left Port Enyon off our starboard quarter. I held off on the outside of the Helwick bank, hoping to pick up a better line in for a last fetch into Tenby.

I knew the wind was going to build into late afternoon, but had underestimated the effect that would have against the tide outside the shelter of the bay.

When the squall hit, we were faced with rank upon serried rank of foam capped waves, all of them taller than the boat, and the boat heeling over to beyond 25 degrees even with everything reefed down hard.

I held the beat until we came in over the west end of the bank, and then faced with the soon to turn foul tide and a hard beat into steep, churning seas for the last ten miles, I dropped sail and put the engine on.

I think by then Nik had had enough, although she was bearing up admirably.

The little boat managed the angry waters well, burying her nose time and again into marching seas that washed over the decks to clatter against the sprayhood, until we finally made shelter in the approaching lee of Caldy Island and things calmed down.

It was bumpy, but for her crew, nestled in the cockpit behind the sprayhood, dry at least, the little boat affording shelter more than sufficient for the conditions.

The final approach into Tenby was over smooth water. By now, Nik had retired below and was asleep on the port bunk. I motor up gently alongside one of the visitors buoys and secured a line to it, snagging it first with the boathook,  then leaning out over the starboard quarter to thread a line through it that I then walked back to secure on the bow.

Then I pumped up the dinghy to row the half mile to shore to find some fish and chips and cold beer to bring back to the boat for supper.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Wimped out

All ready and set to go, then reconsidered. Fresh wind in the northwest was a factor.

Wouldn't have stopped us if it were me and Dad, but with just myself and my sailing neophyte wife, I admit I didn't take much persuading.

Considering Lundy tomorrow, though not sure what the anchorage will be like with the wind still with lots of north in its Westerly mein.

Ilfracombe is also a likely contender, either direct tomorrow or Thursday as a stop-off on the return from Lundy.

But today, long walk on Swansea beach with Nik, into town for lunch, and she wants to find some fresh prawns to cook for supper.

Who am I to complain?

Monday 8 August 2016

It's a little bit silly

A friend of mine is more than half way across the Indian Ocean in Hawk 24. I'm sat here fretting about taking a 26' Westerly out through a couple of locks, into the Bristol Channel and on to Tenby without my dad.

Different sailors, different waters, and an absolute world of different experience.

Fretting is too strong a term.

I'm just worried about screwing it up in front of witnesses. Especially as the closest witness will be the wife.

If all goes to plan, tomorrow night Tenby, then anywhere as long as it leads back to Swansea to meet Dad for Friday.

If it doesn't go to plan, I will have wimped out and we'll stay in harbour in Swansea for the week.

Nik doesn't actually mind. Apparently, she's just happy to be away with me.

Friday 5 August 2016


The forecast for next week, as it currently stands.

I had my heart set on Lundy, Appledore and Clovelly when I first started thinking about this trip. Appledore is definitely out, any kind of a northwest makes Bideford Bar at the entrance to the river dangerous, and I don't know the area.

I'd considered Lundy as a first stop, on way to wherever we'd thought of for second. But heavy winds at the beginning of the week make that questionable, especially as they then shift into the north west. The Lundy anchorage is very sheltered from the prevailing south-westerlies, but I'm sure when talking to a friend recently after racing at Frampton, he mentioned the Lundy anchorage was uncomfortable once the wind moved into the north west and positively uncertain if it veered any more than that.

I suspect Clovelly is probably a no go if the wind has north and west in it. That whole area becomes a big lee shore.

So it looks like Tenby, and perhaps Saundersfoot. Maybe then over to Milford Haven, but I can't help but worry that's a little over ambitious for our first time out unsupervised. And I've promised to have the boat back in Swansea for Dad on Friday. Perhaps we'll come back to Swansea via Ilfracombe on Thursday evening. I think Nik would like Ilfracombe.

And I didn't say to Dad what time Friday we'd be back!

The first time, revisited?

Nikki is not a sailor. She's been out in Calstar with us once before, and has proven she doesn't get seasick or in any way anxious when the boat gets thrown about. And she's capsized a dinghy with me at Frampton to raise money for the dog rescue, so she doesn't panic when she gets wet.

But she is not a sailor, and doesn't know a warp from a halyard, a clew from a tack, or a jib from a mainsail. She is fantastically good at craft-work, knotting string and wire, but wouldn't know a bowline from a clove-hitch, or how to make fast a warp to a cleat. She doesn't know port from starboard, but then again I've been known to have trouble with that on occasion.

And she doesn't do jumping around.

That said, I'm pretty confident I can put the boat where I want her in most circumstances, and am fairly sure I could manage her single-handed, albeit that I don't have very much experience at Calstar's helm when she's under power because Dad always takes that spot.

He doesn't do jumping around either.

Nik says she's more than happy to spend the week in Swansea; getting away is the objective here. However, she wouldn't object to sailing, can hold a rope if I tell her too, and am pretty certain I can teach her how to tie a bowline and make fast the aforementioned warp to a cleat.

I would like to get some decent sailing in over the week. I'll confess to feeling pretty daunted by it though. If Calstar sat on a swinging mooring somewhere like the Fal, it would be entirely different, but around here the tides take absolutely no prisoners and give no quarter. In a way, despite the fact that I'm a fully grown-up adult and have been for a while now, the idea of casting off without Dad feels a bit like "the first time" all over again.

The madding crowd

It's been a long year so far, with little chance to take time off work. Between the office and the band, instructing at Frampton and my dan grading back at the end of June, we've had little chance to get away anywhere with Calstar.

As of the end of today, I have two weeks off work, and no gigs until Friday 19th.

Nikki is away this weekend, camping at a festival of all things, with her friend, Lisa. She did invite me along, but didn't seem fussed either way, so I elected to stay at home and look after the dogs and let them have a "girly weekend" away. The amount of time I spend away with Dad, even with the year's distractions aside, I can hardly begrudge her that.

In a happy coincidence of diaries, Nik also has next week off work herself. In a not so elegant diary collision, Dad has next week off work, but before he realised that was the first week I'd booked off, had elected to go away with a friend, Aunty Dorn, on a week's tour of North Wales or something. Aunty Dorn is lovely, she was one of my late Mum's best friends from my distant childhood years out in Kuwait and has been a great friend to Dad since we lost Mum. A week's holiday sounds terrific, and given how I hog Dad's spare time with sailing, I can hardly begrudge them that.

And Dad doesn't mind if I take the boat for the week.

It gets better.

Tash, my daughter and eldest child, finally spread her wings and moved out at the beginning of this year (or sometime towards the end of the last, can't actually remember truth be told)

Ben, my eldest son, was away at university. So we'd gone from three offspring underfoot down to just one, the youngest, Sam. Likewise down to three dogs from the original five plus extras (inevitable, regrettable attrition of old age) and no additional foster dogs (Nik now works full time, so fostering is on a hold for the foreseeable). The house was feeling almost deserted. Nice, but at the same time, kind of hollow.

 Anyway, once it was clear Tasha was out and happy and seemingly stable where she was and not coming back in a rush, we let a friend of hers, Shoni, take her room. If I'd realised how quiet and unobtrusive it was to have a lodger around the house instead of (however undeniably lovely she is) an (inarguably) high maintenance, attention-seeking daughter, I'd have encouraged the swap years before. I jest, of course. Sort of.

In the last six weeks, Ben has finished university and come back home, bringing all the stuff accumulated from living three years away in a flat of his own. And Tasha has sadly split up with the boyfriend and likewise removed herself to home at very, very short notice, along with all the goods and chattels of almost a year of setting up house on her own.

Likewise, the youngest, Sam, has just finished college so is now at home all day, albeit he is looking for a job and expected (however much he resists) to become a fully productive member of society.

But the bottom line: you can't move in the house now without tripping over dogs, or kids. Sorry, young adults - actually not so young anymore, three out of the four are long out of their teens - seems to have happened so suddenly,  I only blinked. Or boxes full of enough stuff to set up at least three fresh households (our guest and lodger Shoni came with boxes of her own, that we were at the time, having space aplenty, quite relaxed about not rushing to put into storage)

It is a kind of soft-spoken, unassuming pandemonium. I wouldn't have them anywhere else in such need of a place to go, and all four (and I include the lodger, Shoni, who we invited as a guest into our home and so that, so far as I'm concerned, gives us a responsibility towards her as well) will always have shelter anywhere I am, for so long as I'm fit and able to put a roof over our heads. But I can't say I'm especially enjoying it.

There is a bright-side however.

Between Tash and Ben, there is enough self-reliance and maturity there to look after my household for a week, and more particularly, dog-sit for us. As I said, Nikki and I both have next week off work. And Dad's away in Wales.

We're moving down to the boat for the week, far from the madding crowd.