Thursday 30 March 2017

Freefall: The Horseshoe

It has been a stressful week.

I've had a bit of a bug since a week ago last Tuesday. Let's call it a cold. "Man flu" would be too strong a term. Nothing too debilitating at first, a bit of congestion, a bit feverish on occasion, and a rumbling, chesty cough. Nothing I couldn't sail through, or play through, or work through, but it had me worried about last Saturday. Congestion, fever, even a sore throat are generally no problem, but a cough, especially one that starts in or goes to the chest, has the potential to turn your voice into a train wreck.

A bit of a problem when you're the band's lead vocal. Especially when you generally gig every weekend, not much recovery time there. It's one of the reasons, albeit far from the only one, I quit smoking many years ago, and having done so have been little troubled by the problem since.

Last Saturday was a birthday party, so the idea of things not working out, of spoiling somebody's night; well, the idea was just horrible.

But it went fine. The whole cold thing failed to develop into anything significant, the voice held up. Folks danced the night away. A good gig.

Sunday morning, other than a slight blur from lack of sleep accumulating from a late night, the clocks slipping forwards into BST, and an early morning tide to catch out of Portishead, I felt fine. Sailed to Cardiff. Had a great day.

By Sunday evening, my voice was beginning to croak.

By Monday morning it was gone.

The venue that established the band's foothold in Bristol many, many years ago is a place called The Horseshoe in Downend, on the northern outskirts of the city. It was, for many years, a special place to play. The then owner of an events company called Panik, a guy called Paul, was local to the venue and routinely provided the PA and lights, which made the gig a real treat: turn up, plug in, play, unplug, go home. Over the years Paul and Mitch, the man that later bought the company from him, became very good friends of ours. We've played some fantastic gigs with them, both at The Horseshoe and elsewhere.

A random stat: between 2005, which is when I took over the band's bookings from Mum, and 2012, we played a total of 39 gigs at The Horseshoe. We probably played at least twice that before I took over the diary from Mum. The Shoe was always one of Mum's favourite gigs.

Yes, my mum used to run the band. It's always been something of a family enterprise. I'm sure I've mentioned that previously. I've been very fortunate in both my parents.

As things do, things at the Shoe eventually soured. "Argument" is too strong a term, but the bottom line was that the then landlord still wanted to pay the band in 2012 the same money he'd been paying us, and we'd been splitting with Panik, since we'd first played there in about 1993. In short, it was starting to COST us money to play the place. Panik had dropped out by then, leaving us to do our own sound and lights, so even that incentive had gone.

At the end of 2012 we dropped the Shoe from our circuit; the regretful end of an era.

At the end of last year, the old landlord retired.

Mitch from Panik got in touch, said he'd been talking to the new management about going back there again, asked if we'd be interested in playing with them if they did the sound and lights, just like the old days.

I said of course. We go back far enough now that I'd pretty much play anything Mitch asked us to on pretty much any terms, but the Shoe I have a particular soft spot for, there is a hatful of history there. We booked a handful of dates into the 2017 calendar. The first of those, our return to a favourite haunt, was earlier tonight.

And as of the beginning of this week, I'd lost my voice.

So it's been a stressful week. Cancelled band practice Monday evening. By Tuesday, things had gotten feverish again; the cough had become persistent and was beginning to pull at things in my chest. A bad night's sleep. I'd stopped talking to try and rest things, except where absolutely necessary. Which for me was an act of supreme willpower. Specifically didn't try to see if I could still pitch a note. Didn't want to panic myself. Didn't want to use up any notes I had left unnecessarily.

I wasn't actually sure how things would play out by the time we arrived at the venue. I can't say there was ever any thought of cancelling. I'm sure it'll happen one day, but it hasn't yet. Wasn't entirely sure what I'd do if the voice failed completely, and at the back of your mind is the nagging thought that perhaps the more professional thing to do would to have been to have called it. There comes a point when you can't help but admit to yourself at least that you're just being stubborn and bloody minded.

But over the top of that nagging thought was the vague hope, or blind faith, call it what you will, that things would probably work out. They had to. Lots of old friends would be there. Dad was there. My wife would be there, my daughter had taken the night off work to come; she pretty much grew up in this place watching her Dad's band play so she was damned if she was going to miss it. I had a lot of people to let down.

Singing isn't like talking. My voice is my least tutored instrument, but arguably the one I've had most practice with. I couldn't explain the mechanics of it, but whereas your talking voice comes from somewhere that feels quite "up" in your throat, almost forward in your face, a singing voice is more of a deeper, different kind of projection.

It's not something I'm used to not having complete control over. And tonight every note was something of a lottery. It was as if somebody had reversed the order of strings on my guitar and then left me to work out how to re-finger the chords without any benefit of advice or practice.

But it worked.

photo: tash gribble
It's been a great night, it was a great gig. A lovely crowd, quite forgiving and completely with us all the way. A fantastic sound from Panik as always. Something of a fine homecoming. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

And as I sit at home now sipping a small glass of beer to wind down before I try and get to sleep, work in the morning, I feel physically better than I've felt in days, although I suspect my voice will be shot tomorrow. But it's got a couple of weeks or so to recover before the next one, which isn't now until the middle of April.

I'll be another year older by then.

Sunday 26 March 2017

Calstar: rebased

We did it. We moved our home port so that we're a day closer to blue water. Calstar is now officially a Penarth boat.

The forecast for Sunday was a little bit frightening; F5 gusting 7 with no real let up or apology as the day itself drew closer. From the east north-east however, which is usually a horrid direction for sailing out of Portishead, but meant that a delivery to Cardiff would be downwind and downtide all the way, so once we were out, F7 on a run under a scrap of headsail didn't seem all too intimidating. At least until we got to Cardiff, at which point the Wrach Channel and entrance to the Barrage would become a lee shore.

We don't normally leave port if there's a 6 in the forecast. A 7 is usually a definite no go if it can possibly be avoided.

Dad was super keyed up to go however, not exactly blase about the risks or naive about the conditions we're be expecting, but boisterous in his confidence. If I was going to call it because of the forecast, it was going to be entirely my call.

He almost changed his mind when the lock gates opened to let us out of Portishead a little after 0830. As we'd left her berth, I'd noted to myself the last time I'd been underway through the marina and could hear the wind actually howling through the rigging of the many surrounding boats had been the day of the Holmes Race in 2015. I'd glanced over the quay wall when we'd arrived to confirm what I'd expected to see so it was no surprise for me, but I'm not sure Dad had quite understood why Portishead was such an uncomfortable place in a north-easterly until those lock gates opened, the sea pushed in and the little boat started to heave up and down before we'd even left the lock's pontoon.

I'd meant to video the surf breaking over our foredeck as we left the shelter of the breakwater, but as I braced myself against the mast and steadied the camera, Dad yelled for me, a definite edge of panic in his voice. As we'd left the lock and started to motor into the teeth of the wind, it had got under the lowered spray hood and blow it partially up, effectively blinding Dad at the helm. Which, in view of what it was he was going to have to motor through in a few moments might, in hindsight, have been a favour.

The problem realised, it took me mere moments to lash the hood back down using the tail end of the kicker, then we hit the surf.

It wasn't exactly huge, but it was very short, very sharp and very violent; rank upon rank of foaming, silt-laden chop pushing into the small bay between the Portishead Breakwater and Battery Point and turning the area in to a maelstrom. Dad stood braced at the helm, one hand clinging to the guard rail, the other on the tiller, and throttled through the worst of it. Once we'd pushed out to Firefly, the breakers were behind us, so we picked a spot of relatively flat water to turn downwind, let out three-quarters of the headsail, and stilled the engine.

Once under sail and moving with the elements rather than against them, everything calmed down. We left the mainsail stowed away. Under the jib alone the little yacht was pulling a steady 4 knots through the water. A sympathetic ebb tide pushed our ground-speed up to a happy 8. We became suddenly aware once again that the sun was shining and the sky was blue. It was a glorious day, as long as you didn't have to fight it.

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

Mobile technology is a marvellous thing. We lack any sort of windspeed indicator aboard Calstar so generally have to guess at the conditions the old fashioned way. However, Bristol VTS have a weather station online, and periodically checking with them showed the wind holding at a reasonably steady 26 knots astern throughout the trip down. Top end of a F6; about what was promised. One of those days when you're reminded that gentlemen don't sail upwind, and grateful that, for once and for this time around at least, it was a one way trip, so we wouldn't have to either.

Closing on the Cardiff shore as the clock edged along towards 1100 became, as expected, a rolling, uncomfortable affair. With the sail furled on the final approach to enter the Wrach Channel and the engine back on, Dad was once again back on the helm and, whilst not exactly comfortable or happy was his usual steady hand. I'd left an extra hour's contingency on our arrival time, so as we were two hours before bottom of tide the mud-banks of the Wrach were still quite submerged and gave us minimal shelter as we turned beam on to the rolling sea and crabbed our way down the channel, wind and waves all conspiring to encourage us into the embrace of the lee shore to port.

We entered without mishap or any undue delay, locking into the Barrage and the tranquillity of Cardiff Bay beyond at 1115. A journey of 3 hours and 45 minutes including the locking times and 17 nautical miles.

The car journey home, for once, almost took longer. My brother picked us up in Cardiff and gave us a lift back to collect Dad's car in Portishead. Then we discovered the M5 motorway was closed to the north, leaving us having to wind a path home through the side roads and villages, toe to tail with seemingly every other poor unfortunate in existence also trying to make the same journey as us.

We finally got back to Dad's for about 1700, around about another journey of 3 hours and 45 minutes (as opposed to the hour and half it should've taken).

It has to be said that those 3 hours and 45 in a car stretch out interminably longer than they do when you're aboard a boat.

Freefall: The Malthouse

Great gig Saturday night, a 50th birthday party at The Malthouse in Stroud. Great venue, friendly staff, surprising good acoustics for such a large room with so much brick and glass. Lovely playing so close to home for a change. Lovely playing to a crowd that knows how to enjoy themselves, as always.

Wednesday 22 March 2017


"Today, Americans love the Irish and celebrate St Patrick’s Day enthusiastically. (And by celebrate I mean they get very drunk in the middle of the day – a practice Americans call “daydrinking” and Brits call “an ordinary weekend”.) "  - Arwa Mahdawi, of The Guardian

The observation made me chuckle. More so that there would actually be a term for it on the other side of the Atlantic than the implied differences in culture.

Friday 17 March 2017

The anticipation

The forecast for the weekend.

It blows in Friday afternoon, then stays with us Saturday and Sunday, F5 gusting 7 or more. Not the weather for Calstar, given any choice, and with previous commitments made for Saturday, gigs Friday night and early Saturday evening, we'd be hard pressed to find the chance to take her out anyway. I expect Dad will still head down there at some point to check on her. The plug fitting for the shore power socket arrived in the week, so I've no doubt she'll be plugged in before the weekend is over.

Friday night's gig is local, two minutes from home. The Pilot in Hardwicke, our first gig there was our last gig of 2016, the night before Christmas Eve, and was an absolute riot. As a rule, I don't "rank" gigs, it's about as sensible as scoring women; horrifically rude, short-sighted and bound to end in tears for the guy holding the pencil. I've loved every gig I've ever played, each beautiful in its own special way. And there have, to be fair, been a few. But our debut at The Pilot was definitely one of a kind, such a amazing crowd, a sweet blend of friends, family and new faces we'd never seen before. Such a brilliant way to end the year.

Having set the bar so high, I'm feeling a little anxious about going back. Actually, I'd be anxious anyway. I'm long, long past any vestige of stage fright, but I've never been able to take a live gig for granted.

Saturday is therapy. An "Instructor's Play Day" at Frampton; the idea being all the instructors get to knock the cobwebs off and remind themselves how to sail again before the sail training season starts back up in April. Basically, we get to play with all the boats we then spend the rest of the season teaching with. I'm so, so glad they've managed to arrange some decent wind, it should be an absolute hoot. If I can persuade Dad to join us at the lake, I'll get him out with me in a Wanderer. Otherwise, I have my sights and hopes set on playing with the Fevas and their asymmetrics.

Saturday night we have a party. I am not a fan of parties. Unless they involve my band or at least my guitar in some way. And, preferably, pay me.

Ironically for the frontman of an unarguably successful covers band, I'm rubbish in a crowded room unless I can hide behind the band's PA and my microphone. I would hesitate to actually call myself shy, but I am, I guess, fairly described as socially awkward. A crowded hall, seated at a table with friends, loud music so I can't understand the conversation, my hearing is not the best at the best of times; well, it is little short of my idea of purgatory.

On the other hand, it's my karate club's presentation night. In the eleven or twelve years I've been training with them, I think I've made two because they always, inevitably, clash with gig commitments. This year I'm unusually clear of gigs for this one Saturday, so feel like I should support them. Actually, I want to support them. Socially inadequate as I am, I actually like these people, a lot, even if we do spend most of our time punching and kicking each other. Or perhaps that should read because.

Sunday we're back at the Golden Lion, which is a welcome revival. A fumble with diaries and a change of management at the pub meant we lost them through the whole of last year. I wasn't even sure they were still doing live music. But a Facebook message and a phone call back in November, and they're back in the diary with us for 2017. It's an early start Sunday evening, so I wasn't planning to race at Frampton as there isn't really time. I'll need to be loading up the kit and on my way to the gig by 1600. There are plenty of odd jobs that need catching up on around the house that will fill my time before the gig on Sunday, and I'll need to find time for lunch.

Then I look at that forecast. I can actually feel the thrill of Buffy screaming across the lake in a finely balanced ball of adrenaline and spray right now. The first race starts at 1400. Maybe we'll have time for just the one? Maybe?

Thursday 16 March 2017

Calstar: Relocation

I guess I kind of realised the inevitability of it the second he mentioned the possibility to me on the way down to the boat last Sunday. It looks like Dad has decided: we are moving our home port 18 miles down channel to Penarth Marina in Cardiff Bay. He hasn't actually signed the paperwork yet or handed over a cheque, but he has been speaking to the marina office in Penarth, and, well, he's an easy sell. I would argue more enthusiastic with a low boredom threshold and intolerance for the status quo, as opposed to in any way naive or gullible.

And I haven't exactly worked hard to talk him out of it. Portishead is a great spot. Picturesque, a great marina and boating community and ever so convenient for home. But Cardiff Bay is so much more convenient as a sailing ground. You've got access to effectively a big sailing lake behind the Barrage if conditions are too lively out in the Channel. It's much, much less tidally restricted, so you could potentially stick your nose out in to the Channel for an hour or two's sailing and then just head back in when you wanted without having to wait for the tide to turn and carry you back.

It puts the likes of Ilfracombe or Swansea within reach of a weekend trip on the right tide. And it makes Portishead a lovely place to visit.

It is an all round good move, I think.

It seems very likely we'll be making the move down Saturday 1st April. Which also happens to be my birthday.

There is one complication.

Having missed it last year because of band commitments, I'm absolutely determined to do the Holmes Race again this year. I've already turned down two gigs to keep the 9th September date free. I did accept a gig on Friday 8th however; work is work and at the time I figured it was a Bristol gig so I could always head straight down to the boat afterwards to be there, fresh and ready for the start first thing the following morning.

Of course, the boat isn't actually going to be there now. She's going to be in Penarth and will need to be brought up to Portishead for the race.

The obvious time to do that would be on the Friday, but, of course, I have a gig the Friday night.

Nothing is insurmountable. Either we bring the boat up the weekend before, which does, awkwardly, strand my car unhelpfully in Cardiff. Or, with the Portishead start being about an hour after the 1003 HW, I could head straight down to the boat after the gig Friday night and we could bring her up on the morning tide for the race. Then we stay over in Portishead Saturday night and sail back to Cardiff Sunday.

I'm actually quite liking that last idea; getting excited already.

A lot of other sailing to do between now and then however.

Monday 13 March 2017

Calstar: Portishead to Sand Point and return

Spring tides and a gig Saturday night were always going to limit our sailing options for the weekend if we were going to take Calstar out. And we wanted to, very much. Between band commitments and the weather, we've only managed to get her out once so far this year, despite it now being March. But a Saturday night gig put Saturday out of reach, and spring tides in these parts dictate high water will be early and late in the day, so the only daylight sailing will be down channel and back.

Sunday's initially grim forecast moderated as the week preceding wore on, so by Saturday night we'd secured a promise that although the sky would be grey and visibility potentially murky, the rain would cease with daylight and hold off till evening and the character of the day would be a steady westerly F3, only veering to the north west and blowing up to a 4 gusting 6 later. High water Portishead was a 12.8m at 0706.

Wanting to be back in before the heavier weather joined us, and expecting a late night Saturday, we took the last lock of the tide out Sunday morning, sharing it with a single charter fishing boat in the lock ahead of us, departing Portishead at 1030. With less of the ebb tide remaining, my hope was to not get flushed too far down channel before the tide turned and we could head back. The first lock back in on the next tide would be 1615; it would be nice to be back for that.

The mud banks of the Hole were tall and gloomy as we motored out between them and the overbearing pier wall and into the channel beyond. Beyond the shelter of the wall the tide was running hard, the silted waters swirling and chopped against a fresh breeze. Turning into wind, I raised the main with a first reef in, stilled the engine and unfurled the headsail, but left a couple of rolls in it. The drone of the engine silenced, the little yacht lent over on a port tack and set out on a lively close-winded trot out towards Clevedon.

photo: roger gribble
The next hour was fresh, good sailing down the King Road channel, tacking from beat to beat, but staying intentionally loose on the wind, sailing relatively free of close-hauled. We had a rough passage in our heads that took us down past Clevedon town, out around the sands of Clevedon Flats and Langford Grounds and down towards Sand Point and back, but no pressing need to get anywhere in particular and so every incentive to keep the sailing free and comfortable. The further we sailed down channel, the further back we'd need to sail when the tide finally turned.

We tacked under the cliffs of Ladye Bay, just above Clevedon, to ensure we had enough height to clear the sandbanks of the Flats and headed west along the Bristol Deep, the previously fresh breeze now beginning to distinctly slacken off. As we passed the Clevedon North Cardinal to starboard, the fading wind began to head us significantly, veering about 30 degrees, pushing us up towards the sandbanks of Middle Ground. I dropped the rolls out of the headsail in the lightening conditions, but left the first reef in the main; heavier weather was still expected, and we were in no rush to do much more than simply follow the tide.

In the last hour or so of the now easing ebb, we tacked, turning away from the looming sandbanks of the broad expanse of the exposed Middle Grounds, and then bore away to a broad reach, the listless air barely filling the sails to provide steerage, but the last of the ebb still carrying us along at a knot or two towards Sand Point.

We've allowed provisions on the boat to run low over the winter. Our habit of sailing from pub to pub meant that many of the cans of food we'd stored aboard contingent against the possibility of starvation had actually started to go out of date through lack of turnover, so Dad has been clearing them out and not necessarily replacing them. Lunch therefore was a relatively humble affair of coffee and Jaffa Cakes.

About a mile and a half off Sand Point, our sails set loose for the reach suddenly collapsed and started to flog noisily. The wind had filled back in, unexpectedly backing back around to the south again rather than veering further as forecast. At bottom of tide, or as good as, we gybed the boat then set her on a run back up-channel. With the wind directly astern, I rigged a preventer up to the boom and poled the headsail out to windward to goose-wing the sails, and set a course that would take us just outside the now clearly visible outer sandbanks of Langford Grounds. Calstar trotted along before the refreshed wind at a couple of knots over ground against the tide, quite happy on her run. I left the first reef in the main, conscious the sky was darkening with rain both behind us towards the Cardiff shore and ahead, abeam of our port bow in the direction of Newport.

It was looking increasingly likely we were going to catch something, but for the moment though we enjoyed our own little bit of personal spring weather between the two patches of murk, the lack of much apparent wind due to our running ahead of it making life in the cockpit if not exactly balmy, quite comfortable.

Clearing the western most stretches of sandbank, we turned onto a north easterly course along the exposed Clevedon Flats, gybing the boom across and resetting the poled out headsail to starboard. Retrieving and resetting the whisper pole was straight forward enough, but I momentarily stymied myself when I re-rigged the gybed over preventer over the top of the jib-sheet. In the light conditions and slight sea, rather than re-rigging the preventer and disturbing the now nicely drawing mainsail, sea it was quicker and easier to partially furl the headsail and leave it blanketed by the main, unthread the jib sheet and re-thread it back through the fairlead right side of the preventer before trying to goose the headsail again.

Dad mocked me mercilessly, "Cost us five minutes, that did!"

A gross exaggeration. A couple of minutes, tops.

The sky blackened ominously behind us as we re-entered the Bristol Deep and the tidal race that so often forms off of Clevedon. The pressure astern picked up, little whitecaps now appearing atop the wavelets of the wind-flattened tide, but other than the merest hint of rain it came to no more than that, the gloaming blowing astern of us and into and over land as we sailed clear, the sky now back towards the Cardiff shore brightening with its passing, the wind settling back down again to its previous sedate pace of about 10 knots, most of that absorbed by the now fresh running flood tide.

And that was the picture for the hour that followed, a gentle, drama free run downwind with the tide that took us all the way back to Battery Point off Portishead, where I doused the headsail, started up the engine and Dad put her head to wind as I dropped the main. We turned in behind the pier wall, ferry-gliding in with the tide at about 1540, about five hours after we'd left earlier that day and a shade over 25 miles later.

The tide was still very low, with little water in the Hole on our arrival. We parked the boat, and yes, I choose my words with care, in the fairway leading up to the lock, until the tide lifted us again about ten minutes later, after which we idled in the shallows careful not to get caught again, waiting for the lock to reopen at 1615. A very short while later, as we finally pulled into our berth, the heavens opened and it began to rain.

It was one of those days, with nowhere in particular to go, and no particular reason to go there. But we went anyway, and as always, I'm glad that we did. It's one of the advantages of keeping the boat nearby in Portishead.

And Portishead is a lovely spot to keep a boat, if you disregard the slightly restricted access and the potential pitfalls you take as a matter of course when you can get up to 14 meters of tide on a bad day. But the marina is fantastic, the facilities great, the nearby restaurants plentiful and good, and it's singularly convenient for us, being only about 40 minutes down the road from home.

We spent a good part of last summer based in Swansea, but despite the admittedly lovely blue water, the dolphins and porpoises and the much kinder tides (relatively speaking; I have been told my perspective on these things is somewhat damaged) we found ourselves just as constrained in our options by the location's remoteness from anywhere else, and the restricted operating hours of the locks. Add to that the additional travel time to get to the boat, and it seriously bit into our sailing time last year.

In the end, I was glad to bring her home to Portishead again.

But we're seriously thinking of moving the boat over to Penarth Marina in Cardiff Bay.

It would add an extra half an hour to the car journey each way. But we're still only talking an hour and twenty minutes. And Cardiff is much, much less tidally restricted; you have the wide, freshwater expanse of Cardiff Bay sheltered behind the Barrage, and the Barrage locks are available 24 hours on all but the bottom of spring tides if you want to get out into the Bristol Channel. The tide in the Channel is, admittedly, still significant, but, within the shelter of the Cardiff and Penarth Roads not as brutally significant as it is in the King Road off Portishead.

That alone massively opens up the sailing options available. That, and based in Cardiff we'd essentially be a day further down-channel and therefore a day closer to blue water.

So we are thinking of it. On the other hand, Portishead is terribly convenient, and Dad is ever so fond of the place. He only works three days a week to my five, so on his days off  he's as likely as not to be found down in the marina, muddling about aboard the boat without me. Penarth would be a bit of a further stretch to go to do that. On the other hand, safe from the ravages of the tide behind the Barrage, he could probably manage Calstar in and out of the marina single-handed, so he'd have the whole bay to potter about in. Whilst he is fond of Portishead Marina, he is just as fond of the fleshpots of Cardiff's Mermaid Quay.

Freefall: Mood lighting

Saturday night. From this:

To this:

It was a great gig. The Kingswood Club is always a lovely crowd, already looking forward to going back there again.

And really nice to have our own drummer back. Bean's last gig with us was back on the 14th January. We've had four other gigs since then. He hasn't. His wife was expecting their second baby so we'd already planned for him to take most of February off and organised deps accordingly.

However, complications moved matters forward and little Ernie arrived unexpectedly early but otherwise sound and well and, of course, very welcome a couple of days after Bean's last gig in January, so we arranged some hasty cover for him for the rest of that month, but with February's cover already arranged he still had to sit out February anyway whilst friends of the band kept his drummer's seat warm.

You can't promise a guy a gig then take it away again just because the baby arrives early. Especially not when you might well need to beg the same guy to cover another gig for you some time in the future.

Both Cal, Dan and Al who variously covered for Bean during his "paternity leave" are fantastic musicians and good friends and it was great having the chance to play with them all again.

But it was still very nice to have Bean back with us again Saturday night.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Calstar: A male thing

Calstar is now rigged up for shore power.

My cousin Vince brought his tools and expertise and an awful lot of trade-rates purchased electric cable down to the boat with us on Saturday and we spent the day planning cable-routes, drilling holes, running wires and wiring sockets.

It was a blustery day, with the wind gusting straight into the boat's cockpit, but the rain mostly held off so it made for dry work, fortunately.

It was not a short day however. We now have the domestic and engine battery chargers wired up to a shore power socket, and a number of plug sockets discretely placed throughout the boat for phone chargers, laptops, tablets and the like when we're plugged in. But we got to the boat for about 1000 and didn't finish until gone 1730. Admittedly, the bear's portion of labour was borne by Vince, although being the nimblest of the three of us I was tasked with drilling the first hole from inside the cockpit locker once we'd decided on the cable route.

As I fired up the hand-drill, it occurred to me that this was the first hole I'd ever bored into our boat. I mean sure, Dad's drilled a few, but I'm not usually trusted with anything so, well, potentially terminal.

We didn't sink. I'll count that as a win.

Not so winning (to steal a misuse of the verb from Charlie Sheen) was the conclusion to the day.

Everything wired up and tidied away, Vince declared it was time to plug it all in and check it didn't go bang. I ran the power cable out, went to plug it into the shiny new socket in the cockpit of the boat, and realised that both socket and plug were unfortunately male. We'd all failed to appreciate that a flush socket fitting was male, whereas the power extension cable we wanted to fit required a female socket to plug into.

So she's rigged up for shore power, but she ain't plugged in yet.

Sunday 5 March 2017

Buffy: Postscript

I should probably add, in case the tone of my last post comes over as too, well, crowing: it doesn't normally work out like this.

Of the seven other sailors and six other boats we raced against this afternoon, most (albeit not all) beat me more often than I beat them. And fairly so, as they've all been doing this a lot longer than me, though I can't say I'm exactly new to this any more.

Thinking about it, a good few of them were actually directly involved in teaching me to sail when I first joined the club at Frampton, a little over ten years ago.

Which of course makes today's win all the sweeter.

As does the fact that it was the first race of the season. As does the fact that it was Buffy's maiden race after her relaunch following these past and very long six weeks of shore-bound maintenance.

But it was the weather that beat everybody today and gave us the win. It's exactly the sort of blow that Ben and I have the weight and stamina to take in our stride, the sort of blow that knocks a good few others flat.

The conditions faded for the second race, and although we beat her to the windward mark, and although we kept touch and threatened her for the rest of the race, Geoff's experience, wit and guile won out in the lighter airs and our sister Enterprise "Ghost" beat us back into second place once again.

It was still a grand day's sailing. Bloody brilliant to be back afloat again.

Buffy: Fruits of our labours

Woke up this morning to the sound of the wind rattling the windows in their frames and the sight of the tree outside my bedroom window dancing like a dervish.

The first day of the new sailing season at Frampton, the first race wasn't until 1400 so I had time to enjoy a slow, lazy rise out of bed, or would have done had it not been for my building sense of anxiety. Since first starting to watch the forecast at the beginning of the week, I'd been hoping and hoping the initially promised damp, flat drift would morph into something much more worthwhile.

It looked like my wishes had been answered, and then some. I watched the tree twist and turn outside in the gusty air with a fair degree of trepidation. But there wasn't much else to do but to get up, get my kit together, rouse Ben from the pit he calls his bedroom and head down the Club to face it.

By lunch time, it had moderated a little, but not a lot. As we prepared the boats, we could watch lines of squally weather bringing wind and rain blowing up the Severn Valley to embrace us. In one such gust, the leeward trolley wheel of the Laser standing next to our Enterprise on the lakeside exploded with a loud bang under the pressure of the wind, hard plastic fragments ricocheting off my freshly painted hull to bounce into the water.

It gave us all quite the start, none of us had ever seen the like.

But the squalls, though frequent, were relatively short lived.

Our maiden race of the season was a pursuit; each boat starts on a time based on their respective handicap, the slower boats starting first, the faster boats later. Whoever has the lead when the clock runs down after about an hour wins.

The foul weather had kept most of the fleet at home, so only seven boats made the start line: a couple of Solos, a couple of Laser Radials, a Topper, another Enterprise, and us.

With the Lasers reefed down to their Radial rigs, that left we Enterprises the fastest boats in the fleet, so we started last, the hounds to everybody else's foxes.

A port biased line, Ben characteristically opted for a port start, but uncharacteristically made a hash of his timings, leaving us about ten seconds behind the line when our gun went. We were only saved from being punished for our error by our sister Enterprise "Ghost" being equally late on her more conventional starboard start, and so they crossed a couple of boat lengths behind us and were left chasing.

It was lively from the beginning, with the gusts coming through hard and and frequent.

We kept our lead on Ghost, although she remained tenaciously close behind, and caught the two Solos early. We closed down the hindmost of the two lasers Lasers, crossing him as we were beating up to the windward mark,  Ghost still hot on our heels. And then, just as we were rounding the mark, another gust came slamming through.

Ben dumped mainsail like it was going out of fashion as he and I both hiked hard to windward, but by the time I realised it was no good and tried to free the jib, the angle on the cleat was too acute, I was crammed up by the shroud and I couldn't yank it loose. The mast touched, the mainsail slapping onto the surface of the water. Ben slid down the hull like a kid on an amusement park waterslide to disappear astern, and I vaulted backwards over the gunwale to land on the now horizontal centreboard.

The trouble with an Enterprise when racing in a handicap fleet is that most of the single-handers we're against can tip over and bounce back up in moments, their hulls completely dry and ready to go again. We capsize, and when we come up we're barely held afloat by our buoyancy bags, the hull swamped and the gunwales awash.

Buffy came back up as I leaned back and pulled on the jib sheet, scooping Ben with her, still in the grip of the gust, pointing conveniently downwind towards the next mark. I rolled in as she righted, pulled the jib on and slammed the bailers open in the floor of the hull whilst Ben struggled with the tangle of mainsheet astern. She began to move.

There is a good place and a bad place to capsize an Ent. At the top of the beat, with a long, fast reach ahead of you to the next mark, is as good as it gets.

"Does she gybe better or tack better when she's full of water, I can't remember?" yelled a vaguely concerned Ben as we neared the gybe mark, Buffy wallowing like a drunken whale ploughing through the water, throwing spray everywhere.

"Neither. Just go for it!" I yelled back, and started to haul on the kicker to coax the boom across as Ben turned the mark. The boom went over. We stayed up. And accelerated out of the gybe, still in the grip and violence of the gust, the boat rising out of the water like the Nautilus and beginning to plane as the lake sheeted out through the bailers and transom flaps, back to where it belonged.

By the time we reached the next gybe mark at the other end of the lake, Buffy was dry once more, and the second Laser was now also history in our wake.

It was a fantastic race. The weather was hard and unforgiving, but exactly what we needed to blow the cobwebs out. We caught the leading Topper in the final few minutes of the pursuit, and so Dad, who had put so many hours of hard work into the boat with me over the last six weeks, got to watch us win the first race of the year from the Club's veranda.

I couldn't tell him if his repairs to the centreboard had stopped the leak, there was too much water coming in over the sides to say. But I don't think it really mattered today; the freshly sanded and painted hull and the rebuilt and refinished foils slipped through the water like a dream and gave us our win.