Tuesday 28 February 2017

Weather: And after all that

The forecast for Sunday. Looks especially uninspiring. A dull, flat drift. This may influence my choice of crew. Or how I sell the invitation to Ben....

Buffy: Released to the wilds

Buffy is, once more, returned safe and sound, released back to the wilds of the dinghy park where she's securely tied down against the weather, snug under her covers and waiting for the racing to start again.

Which will be this coming Sunday, as it happens.

The marina lock at Portishead is still in shutdown, so for once she has no competition for my affections. I just need to decide whether or not I search for a crew so I can helm myself  (Hels is sadly unavailable) or let Ben helm and crew for him.

Ordinarily, I'd jump at the chance to crew. But after the last six weeks of hard graft, I can't help but feel I want to take the helm for myself for the maiden race of her relaunch. And Ben's too big to sit in the front, so he might have to sit this one out.

It's taken twice as long to sort her out as I'd optimistically estimated to begin with, back in the depths of January. There have been some missteps and setbacks along the way, but they do somewhat pale into insignificance against the wealth of advice and support we've had from friends, and particularly, my dad.

He's been with me every step of the way; I needed his practical skills to fix the centreboard case, and I think that's the bit of work he's most proud of in this whole episode, but even once that was done, he just kept turning up, even once an extra set of hands was a mere luxury rather than a necessity.

On which note, he's still at it, as although the work on the hull and decks are now done, he's finishing off my rudder and centreboard for me in his workshop. The plan is to refit them Friday evening. I have Saturday as a contingency, but he's rather hoping I can head down to Portishead with him then to do the necessary climbing around in cockpit lockers whilst he and my electrician cousin Vince do the clever stuff with installing Calstar's shore power.

There are a few other odd bits to still screw in or rig up, a last replacement buoyancy bag to attach and a burgee to fit, but most of Buffy's refit was completed by late Sunday. Matt and Hels chipped in for a while, which was most appreciated, until the fresh varnish fumes overcame Matt and we sent him home with Hels to watch the rugby.

But Dad and I had her out of the boat-shed, back on her trolley and the mast back up by about 1730 that evening, just in time for the rain to really set in, of course.

But the water looked lovely pearling up on her shiny new decks.

To remind myself of what she looks like under sail in all her glory, I've included an old photo below from late last season. I don't have a note of who took it, but it'll be one of a select few, and I'm sure none of them would begrudge me posting it here, despite the lack of credit.

And perhaps, just for balance, I thought I ought to also conclude with a photo of Buffy in a different poise. Ben was at the helm for this second one, which I should add has nothing to do with any reluctance on my part towards the idea of surrendering it to him this coming Sunday.

I should also add that although it looks like the terminal stage of a capsizing broach to windward, we somehow recovered it despite the odds and raced on. Although, as I recall, there were plenty of other capsizes of a more complete nature on our part across the totality of that particular day's racing.

Poor old boat. She is hard used.

Monday 27 February 2017

Buffy: The wizard's workshop

Um, did I say "pathologically minimalist"? Although it must be said, as chaotic as it might look to the outsider, he knows everything last thing that's in there and every last thing is exactly where it belongs.

Calstar: A shore(power) thing

Saturday morning began with me getting cornered in the kitchen by these three muppets as I tried to make myself a cup of tea, and nagged for Friday night's pizza crusts, which they seemed to think would make a perfectly adequate breakfast.

Who was I to argue?

Pizza crusts duly delivered to their gaping, insatiable maws, Nik and I headed out early. Dad wanted some help locating and fitting a socket to Calstar for our planned shore power conversion, however, Nikki had the day off work and wanted to spend it with me, so a deal was struck whereby she'd accompany us both down to the boat in Portishead on the promise that I'd treat us all to lunch afterwards.

I have a very patient, understanding wife. Especially when bribed with pizza crusts. Ah, no! That's her dogs. Her dogs are bribe-able with pizza crusts. Nik just wants love and attention, obviously.

So off to Portishead we went, meeting up on way with Dad at his place, where of course I took the opportunity to let Bruno show off what a fine job Dad is doing with our centreboard rebuild, under his close and constant supervision of course. Contrary to the weight of dog hair from my own three pizza-crust scrounging scoundrels that's been inevitably added to the new varnish on Buffy's decks, I'm sure these particular dog-hairs won't slow us down too much in the coming season's racing. They do inevitably make up a good proportion of the filler that Dad added to the epoxy to bulk it out.

Racing at Frampton is due to begin again next Sunday.

Of course, next weekend I won't have to sweat over whether or not to race Buffy or sail Calstar, as long as we finish Buffy's repairs and have her race ready in time for Sunday. Calstar is still marina-bound, penned in by ongoing maintenance on the still shut-down and currently drained marina lock.

Interesting how the lock floor slopes so clearly and intentionally from left to right; before now, coming in on the first lock of a low spring tide, the lock master has directed us specifically over to the right hand pontoon, explaining it's the deeper side. This would be why.

We've decided to put the socket for the shore power inlet astern of the throttle lever, reasonably high up the cockpit locker wall to minimise the risk of accidentally stepping on it. We looked at various options, but everything in a relatively small 26 footer is a compromise of one kind or another. This seemed to involve the least compromise.

The locker itself, once cleared of the spare gas bottle, spare tank of diesel, kedge anchor, buckets and numerous lines of all descriptions and uses, was surprisingly roomy.

Nikki and Dad mocked me mercilessly about the variety and quantity of lines retrieved from the locker, Dad making "tidying" noises about how maybe we should go through them and throw the ones we don't want out now they're out all over the forward bunk. Thing is, I already did that back in the autumn. Although I admit I wound them up a little by grumbling and muttering things like "Can't have too many spare lines on a sailboat" and "That's not a rope, it's a warp" under my breath, truth is you can.

But we don't. All these lines still remaining both have a use and have found a use at least once in the last six months. You've got to watch Dad though. He's an incessant tidier and pathologically minimalist. If I'm not careful, he'll sneak down there without me and tidy my lines up, and it won't be until I'm trying to cling to the walls of Bristol City Docks Lock with my fingernails and wondering where my 15m dock lines have gone that I'll realise he's done it.

I'm perhaps being a little unfair. We do have a habit of collecting clutter, and it's surprising how quickly clutter overruns you in the confines of a small boat. As Dad points out, it's easy to lose track, and if you don't know it's there there's no point in having it.

Minimalist tenancies aside, he is a very dab hand with a drill and screwdriver. The shore power socket is suitably sited, ready for the wiring up, intended I think for this week, or perhaps next. In any case, a good morning's work done, we retired to H&W's for a very pleasant lunch at a table overlooking the marina.

Friday 24 February 2017

Sailing: The Prout Puffin

Recently read on a fellow Bristol Channel sailor's site (2wheels1keel.com) that his very first dinghy was a Prout Puffin. That put a smile on my face and sent me scurrying back through old photos to dig out pictures of a long ago summer and my own first sail boat.

They pictures were taken by Dad just down-stream from Wainlodes on the lower reaches of the navigable River Severn, which, of course, feeds into the Bristol Channel I now call home just a few miles further down. You'll note the colour of the water is almost the same, albeit still fresh at that point.

Dad had borrowed the dinghy from my Uncle Mike to use as a tender for "Paddler", the 26' river cruiser that back then was our summer home. Uncle Mike had said we'd might as well take the mast, sails and foils. Insatiably curious, I badgered Dad into showing me how they all slotted together and explaining the whole sailing thing worked, and then spent the rest of those six heady weeks of summer teaching myself to sail at every chance I got.

I wasn't very good. But was utterly enspelled by the magic of it.

By the by, Paddler was a cunning piece of marital manoeuvring on Dad's part.

As I remember it, a year or two earlier Mum and Dad had sold their UK house but found themselves "gazumped" on their intended new property and therefore without anywhere to live at very short notice; in a time of rapidly spiralling house prices that were the mid to late 80's, this was a practice where the blaggard seller of the house you were moving into changed his mind and sold to somebody else for a now higher price. Dad persuaded his disappointed and at that point somewhat desperate wife that it'd be quicker and more certain to put a good part of their now liberated capital into a boat and live on that for a few years during our summer holidays. The rest of the year, of course, we were based out in the Middle East for Dad's work.

The domestic experiment concluded a couple of summers later with Mum having moved out and living with Gran and a summer of definite discord. Until Dad bought a little terrace house on the outskirts of Gloucester. Under Westgate Bridge. On the banks of the River Severn. Where, of course, he could moor his beloved Paddler just outside the back door.

Harmony was once more restored. Marriage is all about compromise.

Tom of 2wheels1keel.com has long moved on from his own Prout Puffin and is the new skipper and proud owner of the Bristol Channel based Albin Ballad "Sundance". I've just been reading about his Jester Challenge Baltimore ambitions; he's hoping to make the 11th June start this year with Sundance.

I'm almost jealous but wish him nothing but fair winds and good fortune. A friend at Lydney Yacht Club completed the Azores Jester Challenge the year I joined there, which along with a few other revelations at the time, opened my eyes to exactly what could be achieved with just a little planning and ambition and boat well-founded but modest enough to be entirely within my own reach and means.

The Jester Challenge is definitely 2017 a little too soon for me, but one day, most certainly.

Sailing: Pick a colour

Any colour.

As long as it's black.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Weather: Sunshine in Porthcawl

High water. Sea's lively. Interestingly, the bigger spumes of spray come after a big one has broken on the pier wall and then rolls back into the next one rushing in.

Hypnotic to watch.

Weather: Dear Doris

Lovely view of today's weather via the World Wind Map

Buffy: The lady was for turning

We are nearing the end.

Not without a succession of mini-dramas that crop up as we go and need their own special resolution. But we're getting there. Which is as well, as the Redecorating Committee (not their official name, but it'll do) popped their head around the door of the boat-shed the other evening and politely enquired how much longer I thought we'd be. Seems they've finally settled on the design and want to get a shift on with ripping the ceiling out and turning my temporary workshop into a ladies changing room.

Hels magnanimously offered that we'd be finished within ten days. John (said representative with head around door) visibly winced, as did I. I'm nearing the end of my emotional tether just as their impatience is evidently now escalating. I want us out by the end of this coming weekend. John smiled and visibly relaxed.

We've spend the last few days with Buffy on her back, painting her bottom. Sorry, I mean with the boat upside down whilst we painted her hull.

In an idea world, I'd have spent much longer smoothing out the hull in preparation, and then applied a couple more coats, but in the end we simply sanded out any loose paint and keyed up the remainder, then slapped three, maybe four coats of gloss on her.

It's not a perfect job, but she does look a lot better. On Wednesday evening I sanded over the hull with very fine grade wet and dry and then buffed up with a car polisher our friend and fellow Ent sailor Charles had kindly leant us. I'd left Dad to his own devices for once (he probably spent the evening in his workshop varnishing our restored centreboard) but Hels had sent her husband Matt down to the Club to represent her and keep me company as I worked. He did prove handy with a screwdriver when screwing the slot gasket back on however, and was very useful to have around when it came time to turn the boat right way up once more, so his company did have more value than the mere moral building qualities (and distraction) of his conversation and company.

The still raw varnish of the topsides had been marked where the boat had rested upside down on four tyres. That had been expected however, and a bit of wire wool smoothed those scars out. A bigger disappointment were in the form of three thumbnail sized bubbles, two on the port side-decks and one on starboard, where the laminate had lifted beneath the varnish. They were each in the area of some epoxy fillings we'd made before starting the varnishing, where the original varnish and laminate had cracked during the season and damp had got in.

I had sanded back the visible damage before filling with epoxy, but had been very conservative, hoping to preserve as much of the top layer of laminate as I could. Clearly, in this case, discretion was not the better part of valour, and it's come back and bitten me.

It was depressing to have to take the sander back to four painstakingly laid coats of varnish to get down to the laminate to sand away the lifted areas. But it had to be done, and better we found it now whilst we still had the shelter to effect the repairs than in a few weeks once she was back out in the wilds of the boat-park.

The laminate cut back and smoothed down with finest-grade sandpaper, I wire-wooled up the surrounding varnished areas, and then re-varnished each side deck with a thinned coat of varnish. Thursday and Friday evenings will afford us the chance to put another couple of coats on, rest her for Saturday whilst I head down to Portishead with Dad to do some work on Calstar and then refit Buffy on Sunday and move her back out to the boat-park.

The outskirts of "Storm Doris" is battering the windows outside, though occasional sun is still breaking through. It seems to me that since they started naming the more significant weather systems in recent years, the whole media has started getting terribly hysterical about them.

There are two Bristol Channel pointing webcams I'm rather fond of visiting whenever I'm feeling a little too landlocked.

Sugar Loaf Webcam is hosted by Portishead Yacht & Sailing Club and looks out over Kilkenny Bay just west of Portishead Point, a stone's throw from the marina where we keep Calstar.

The Porthcawl Lifeboat Station Webcam looks out over the breakwater at Porthcawl on the eastern side of Swansea Bay about 35 miles down-channel from Portishead, towards Nash Point.

High water at Porthcawl is at 1632 on Thursday afternoon. The westerly wind clocked 46 mph when I checked a moment ago. I might have to take a brief coffee break away from my work later on today to go watch the waves breaking against the pier.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Low tide

A photo taken of a late summer view from Sharpness to Lydney in 2012, as we were waiting for the tide to return to take us back across.

Monday 13 February 2017

Photo essay of a weekend

Leaving the office Friday evening, a bright moon hung large and low in the sky. The incy-wincy lens on my camera phone was unable to even touch the visual effect of it as it hung low and luminous over Chalford Valley.

Expecting the temperature to drop away overnight, I'd agreed with Dad we'd take the night off from our labours over Buffy. The next stage was to lay the first coat of varnish, and we both agreed that the best chance we'd have of getting it to dry in the draughty boat-shed would be to lay it first thing Saturday morning in the hopes that the temperature would climb a little through the day so the varnish would have a chance to go off in time for a second coat Sunday morning.

Complete aside, I've failed to set up the mobile view of this site with an Instagram feed previously written of. If you're curious, but reading this on a mobile and/or wondering what on earth an "Instagram feed" is, then mine is here:  www.instagram.com/tatali0n

It's essentially an online photo album / sharing site, that's fed by (and can also be viewed via) a dedicated "Instagram" camera app installed on my mobile. Basically social media but in photos, so fewer of those annoying Facebook "copy please don't share" statuses to worry about.

Saturday morning therefore, I met up with Dad at his workshop before heading down the club with him. He's got a lovely workshop - it was originally built as a studio for the band, but at some point through the tumult of the years, we moved out and he moved in along with all his tools and machines. I've often tried persuading him to enlarge the door to something wide enough for me to fit a dinghy through, but he's always resisted.

I can't blame him.

It is the perfect place to rebuild Buffy's centreboard however. The board is a vertical laminate of hard and soft wood, and at some point over the last season we managed to damage the end, compromising the varnish and epoxy sheath sealing the wood, and consequently, unnoticed and therefore untended, wet had been wicking up through the softwood laminate and turning the wood to spongy mush.

Dad has used a router to cut back a fair depth of the laminate concerned. It hasn't cleared all the rot, but there is enough good wood left in it to maintain the structure of the board. He's then going to refill the lost wood with epoxy.

We caught up with Hels at the Club and between us spend the rest of the morning cleaning and prepping Buffy's decks, and then laid a first coat of varnish; International Original varnish, cut 75:25 with Thinners No 1.

Saturday night's gig was a dinner dance at the Walton Park Hotel in Clevedon for Portishead Cruising Club. The hotel itself boasted a gorgeous location, high on a bluff overlooking the Bristol Channel. The band setup in a large bay window, our backs to the sea view. A fresh, cold easterly was blowing across the water, and we watched one of the big car carriers out of Royal Portbury making its way down channel in the grey fading light of the encroaching evening whilst we set up and sound-checked. By the time we were done, the light had gone and the only evidence of the wide expanse of sea behind us in the darkness was the blinking flicker of the lights on the navigation buoys; Avon, Welsh Hook and Clevedon.

It was an unusual mix of business and pleasure playing for the PCC crowd. It was great to catch up with some friends and familiar faces I'd not seen for a while, and although not multitudinous in number they were lively, and danced through the night as we played.

It was early hours of the morning before I finally got home, ate and chilled out enough to be ready for bed.

Sunday morning found me back at the sailing club with Buffy by about 0900. I left Dad at home in his workshop working on the centreboard rebuild and found myself alone in the boat-shed with the dinghy glimmering under her first coat in the morning light as I sipped my coffee. I couldn't bring myself to touch the varnish to check if it had gone off, and sat there for about twenty minutes before Hels finally arrived, admonished me for being silly, stuck the palm of her hand uncompromisingly on the deck and smiled.

The varnish had cured fine.

A small piece of the laminate by the mast-step had lifted under the combined stress of both drying epoxy and varnish, so I sanded that out whilst Hels wire-wooled down the decks in preparation for the next coat. We laid it on quickly enough, increasing the varnish : thinners mix to a more viscous 90:10. The job was done by noon and we went our separate ways, leaving Buffy to settle and dry once more in whatever warmth lingered in the boat-shed.

On the way back from the Club I called in at Dad's to see how we were getting on with the centreboard restoration. It's looking very promising, although we are on the verge of running out of epoxy.

Back home, I spent the rest of the afternoon ferrying scrap wood and cut up carpet to the local tip from out the side of our house where I'd left it neglected and mouldering for a few too many weeks. I was done by a shade after 1600, and exhausted but not unhappy, enjoyed the brief sensation of satisfaction you get from thinking all your jobs are done.

Three sets of paws and tails lay in wait for me at the top of the stairs to remind me that there was, in fact, still one duty I'd thus far left untended.

Nice thing about winter weekends is daylight. Makes it much easier to play ball in the park with the dogs.

Friday 10 February 2017

Buffy: The lovely dust

Having now established that my labours to include my Instagram feed in the sidebar of this site will be of no benefit to anyone reading this on a mobile, I thought I'd share my favourite Instagram photo from the few I took yesterday.

The end of an evening's hard graft.

Hels and I spread a thin, protective layer of epoxy over the decks last Sunday. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The temperature then crashed to about -2C overnight, and the epoxy failed to properly cure, leaving a waxy residue over the entirety of the deck. By about Tuesday evening it became obvious it really wasn't going to get any better, so by Wednesday I caved into the inevitable and Dad and I started sanding it back.

I say sanding; it was more properly a case of rubbing at the waxy decks with sandpaper until the stuff stopped rubbing off. Imagine trying to sand a candle. It was a bit like that.

By about 2200 Thursday evening we were about done, and the decks were once more producing a lovely layer of fine, dry dust anywhere the sandpaper touched instead of horrid little rolled sausages of waxy, failed glue. Dad set about hoovering up the dust, and I sat back and took a photograph of him doing so.

I call that a proper distribution of duties. To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities. Or something like that.

We were in any case essentially back to where we'd started last Sunday. Which you'd think would be a depressing thing, but actually, after all the raw muscle-power involved in returning the decks to a state fit to receive a first coat of varnish, was strangely satisfying.

Weather: The prevailing

Really just for personal interest: the following are a couple of graphics I've lifted from one of my favourite weather forecast sites, windfinder.com, showing statistics gathered for the prevailing conditions over the course of the year for my two main sailing areas, Frampton-on-Severn and Portishead.

Portishead / Redcliff Bay
Interestingly, given the marked difference, the two sites are only separated by a shade over 20nm (as the seagull flies) but Portishead is coastal whereas Frampton is obviously inland.

The prevailing direction comes as no great surprise, except perhaps I expected a southwesterly mien to be more dominant, especially in Portishead. And I think I perhaps expected a higher average wind speed in Frampton, but in actually fact what the graph shows probably tallies better with my actual experience.

Also worth noting, for the sake of detail, that the Frampton stats are taken from a weather station in Hardwicke, an outlying village / suburb of Gloucester, which is about another ten statute miles further inland than Frampton itself.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Calstar: August recall off Oxwich Bay

photo: tina of "Syn-y-Mor"

All this grumbling about the woes of deep winter, being condemned to the half-light of a workshop and submerged in a morass of sawdust, epoxy resin and varnish, I realise I'm in immediate peril of over-indulging in self-pity. Had I any sense of shame, I'd probably be embarrassed.

One of my favourite trips last year was the run from Swansea to Tenby and back aboard Calstar with Nikki.

photo: tina of "Syn-y-Mor"

Whilst moored up outside Tenby harbour we struck up conversation with lovely couple called Kevin and Tina aboard a gorgeous 37' Westerly Typhoon out of Milford Haven called "Swn-y-Mor" a mooring over from us. Later that day I joined them for a beer aboard their boat whilst Nik, exhausted from a day of touring the fleshpots and tourist traps of Tenby and the stresses of the sail over from Swansea the day before, had a rejuvenating nap aboard ours. We drank Tenby ale, nattered and swapped stories as the day faded; Tina in particular was at pains to provide some valuable and appreciated insight and advice on introducing Nikki to sailing and cruising as it had become apparent much earlier that day that Nik was very new to this, as Tina had been once also.

The following morning, leaving Nik asleep below, I cast off a little before dawn for the trip back to Swansea. The forecast promised a gusty F5 from astern, so I motored out across Carmarthen Bay to clear the firing range before it opened at 0800, crossed Helwick Bar as Nikki awoke and came up from below to be greeted by a pod of dolphins (previously written of up here so I won't revisit it, even though the delight of the memory remains vivid still) and then silenced the engine as we drew abeam of a picture perfect Worms Head and Rhossili and continued the rest of the way under headsail alone, sailing as conservatively as I could in the conditions for Nik's sake.

photo: tina of "Syn-y-Mor"

Passing Port Eynon, I spotted the expected glimmering white of Swn-y-Mor's sails coming up astern of us through the Helwick Passage. About an hour later off Oxwich Bay they crossed behind us with a cheery wave and the mutual clicking of shutters from mine and Tina's respective cameras, gybed and then powered on ahead under full, glorious sail.

Nik and I have two weeks booked off work this coming summer, book-ended by gigs on Friday 28th July and Saturday 12th August. The plan is to abandon the house and dogs on the kids and head off sailing with Dad; fourteen days, weather permitting, for a trip down-channel and back. Much as I'd quite like to explore Syn-y-Mor's home grounds of Milford Haven, Dad has had his heart set on reaching Padstow for some time now, so I suspect that will be our objective, although again, the weather will be our tyrant and dictator in this, as always.

photo: tina of "Syn-y-Mor"

Blue waters and two weeks of freedom though with Dad, Nik and Calstar. Can't wait.