Wednesday 26 April 2017

Buffy: a comedy of errors

Wednesday evening racing at Frampton saw me clueless. Sorry, I mean crewless. Or perhaps both? Hadn't heard from Hels again; she's been, understandably, very preoccupied of late with things both domestic and professional away from the lake. And Ben had, regretfully, informed me he'd already made other promises.

I suspect after having checked the forecast first. Beginning light, then fading further as the evening drew in. Not his kind of weather, especially if I'm asking him to crew in the front of the boat whilst I helm.

Undeterred, I turned up anyway and got the boat out. It's far from impossible to race an Enterprise single-handed, just not as much fun and decidedly uncomfortable in a drift; it's next to impossible to get the balance and trim right and still sit somewhere where you can see what's going on.

First lesson of the evening: even if you don't have a crew, find somebody else to help before you try and tension the jib with the highfield lever.

The highfield puts about 400lbs of tension into the rig, which is a lot to pull on with a six inch lever. You achieve this by getting the crew to hang on the forestay with their body-weight, pulling the mast forwards to absorb the initial tension whilst you pull the lever on.

Crewless, I figured I'd be clever and push back on the forestay myself with my foot whilst pulling the lever on with my right hand, left hand braced against the mast for balance. Seemed a simple enough stretch.

Of course, the lever, which moves through 180 degrees, initially pulls out towards the stern of the boat and then continues to push down and forwards towards the bow. By this point, it's got a fair bit of energy in it. And at this point of reversal, my hand slipped and the lever sprung back up, abrading a six inch long scratch up my wrist towards my hand.

Belatedly realising the error of my ways, I grabbed a handy Laser sailor to hang off the forestay temporarily and continued rigging the boat, trying my best not to get blood on the sails.

It would be good to say the foolishness ended there, but of course it didn't.

On the water I got a more than acceptable start. The line was horrifically port biased, which everybody else seemed intent on ignoring, so I tried a port flier and, typically, mistimed it and had to duck the leading starboard boat.

But I recovered well, the boat moving quicker than the other four Enterprises on the water, a combination of clean hull, shiny foils and just my weight in it, I suspect. I reached the windward mark just ahead of "Ghost" and just behind Charles in the lead boat, "Boldly Go". I tacked on to port behind him but clear ahead of the rest of the fleet and followed Boldly around the mark, leaving it to starboard.

At which point we found ourselves facing the rest of the now closing fleet. They pointed out to us it was supposed to be a port rounding. The Enterprise "To Boldly Go" had boldly went. The wrong way. And I, like a lemming, and boldly followed.

In trying to unwind my course and tack the mark on the correct, port side, I inadvertently caught Alan's Enterprise on its forestay with the end of my boom. Everybody was moving slow enough for the contact to be fleeting and no damage to occur, I'm not even sure Alan noticed. However, concluding my 720 degree penalty turn, I lost track of the windward mark and soundly thumped into it.

Another 360 degrees penalty turn complete, and I was finally on my way again, with only Henry in the rear most Enterprise now for company.

Over the course of the following hour, I slowly climbed back through the fleet until I was back on the tail of the lead Enterprise, Ghost. I then rather enthusiastically rounded up around a leeward mark in pursuit, lost track of it and misjudged it in the by then very fading drift, and heard another unmistakable, resounding thump on the hull.

More turns.

I finally finished second. Which was more than I deserved. Well ahead of the rest of the fleet, but significantly behind Ghost. It turns out that the function of a crew-mate in an Enterprise is not, as I'd previously thought, to balance the boat, to trim the foresail, to position the centreboard or operate the flyaway pole.

The function of the crew is to keep me from being stupid so I actually have a chance of winning the race.

It was however, my own idiocy not withstanding nor the occasionally frustratingly light conditions, a lovely evening to be out on the water however. I'm already looking forward to next week, crew available or not.

On a more serious note, I guess I'll see how this season goes. It's complicated by the joint ownership of the boat; Hels owns half of her, so I can't just go out and promise the crew's seat to anybody as she rightfully has first call on it. So if she can't make it then any backup crew is always going to be at short notice. But if I continue to be frustrated on the crewing side of things, I guess that's telling me the time has come to sell my half on and go get a single-hander; inevitably a Laser, I suppose.

We shall see. I love double-handed racing, but for it to work, it needs a crew-mate that's as reliably committed and as obsessed with the whole thing as you.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Calstar: new sails and an inch too far

Fitted the new sails this weekend.

I say fitted, but frustratingly, the luff of the foresail is about an inch too long. The mistake is almost certainly mine in the measurement, although I haven't checked. I'm not sure it makes any difference in any case. We've waited so long to receive them that I'm just glad they're here so we're going make what we have fit.

Although knowing the fit isn't perfect yet is a nag at the back of my mind. A slight tarnish to the otherwise pure excitement of something new.

The obvious fix is the forestay and furler.

When we fitted the new Furlex last year, the rigger fitted the drum intentionally high to give clearance for handling the anchor. In practice there is at least three inches of extra space there, so the ideal solution will be to lower the drum of the Furlex those few inches to effectively extend the forestay.

That will also mean extending the foil the sail runs up.

Dad's back down in Cardiff on Monday to talk to a rigger. All a lot of hassle and fuss and additional expense, but if it works out, infinitely better than re-cutting the foresail.

It was a perfect day for messing about with the sails however. The morning was still and bright, once the initial cloud cover cleared, and then a breeze blew up in the afternoon so we took Calstar out into Cardiff Bay to try out her new sails.

Although I couldn't put full tension into the foresail because of the afore mentioned extra inch, we could tension it enough to sail with.

The foresail is fuller than our original one, the clew of the sail lower, and the extra power even in the initially slight breeze was immediately obvious. The flat water  undoubtedly helped, but close hauled and heeling to about 20 degrees, she trotted along at a very comfortable four and half knots where, previously I'm sure, I'd have only had three out of her.

The material, 6 oz Dacron for the headsail and 7.5 oz for the main, was refreshingly stiff and crispy. So much so it'll feel like a crime when the time inevitably comes that we need to reef them. Dad was quite entranced; even to the point that when a gust heeled us over when close hauled to beyond thirty degrees he didn't complain.

It's the first time I've really sailed around Cardiff Bay, we usually just cross it from one side to the other under power to get to where we're going. It's essentially a 500 acre freshwater lake created by the Barrage, which compared to the 50 acres we have at Frampton seems pretty big but once you start charging around it with a 26' yacht it starts to feel decidedly small and the workload of tacking and gybing correspondingly high.

In the brief hour we spent crashing around the blue waters of the bay beneath the gorgeous blue of a warm, bright spring sky, it felt more like charging around the cans at with Buffy at Frampton than the more usual gentlemanly pace of a typical outing with Calstar.

It is an unaccustomed luxury to be able to just nip out of the marina any time we like regardless of the time or state of tide for a "quick sail" just to try stuff out. The move to Cardiff from Portishead is, so far, working out well for us.

Friday 21 April 2017

Calstar: a new suit

The much longed for new sails have finally arrived this morning. That's 104 days from order to delivery, and 32 days overdue from the originally promised delivery date. Next time I'm going to make a significant pain in the ass of myself from much earlier in the day. And there will be a next time quite soon, as I want a cruising chute once funds have sufficiently recovered.

Whether I'll get it from the same folks given the delays and amount of chasing I've needed to do, I'm not sure. If I miss a deadline personally, I expect to tell my customer, and to tell them before the deadline is missed. Not leave the customer to chase me after the fact.

Anyway. I'm instructing at Frampton all day tomorrow so can't get to Cardiff now until Sunday.

I honestly can't wait. And if everything fits, I expect all will be forgiven.

Calstar: Gloucester & Sharpness Canal

Once we were into Sharpness, the next 14 miles (actually, as we're now technically inland, I guess I should refer to distance in statute miles - 16.5) or so were relatively straight forward, with no 10m tidal rise or 6kt streams set against us to worry about.

Of course, there are the nineteen bridges to navigate, if you include the two that guard the exit from the dock basin in Sharpness that, to be fair, most typical users of the canal wouldn't have cause to pass through.

There is also a considerable amount of traffic. Admittedly, much of it is moored on the side of the canal, but, especially given a following wind, the effects of prop wash are suddenly amplified in the narrow confines of the canal when you're trying to hold station whilst waiting for one of the innumerable bridges to swing to let you through.

The views are pretty. The canal often runs above the surrounding countryside, and for the first few miles parallel to the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary above Sharpness, the Noose and the birthing place of the Severn Bore. A place "yachties" like us don't sail. Except I've sailed there.

I love that stretch of water. Wild. Untamed. Unpredictable. Unforgiving.

Dad gets a bit possessive of the helm when we're on the canal. Whenever we drop sails and engage the engine I always defer the helm to him and tend the lines. It makes sense as I'm the more nimble of the two of us and better suited to any necessary jumping around or fending off.

This habit transfers to the length of the canal also, albeit there is much less tending of the lines and fending of the hull for me to do.

It does mean I have 16.5 statute miles of not much to do.

By about 1400 we were beginning to flag. We'd reached Sellars Bridge, over which a pub called The Pilot can be found. This is the same pub the band has played a couple of times; Dad's house is a five minute walk from here, which makes for a bit of an odd feeling to have travelled so far only to have come back home.

We stopped for a beer. It was a very quick beer; we thought that the lifting of Netheridge Bridge a couple of miles further on was booked for 1630, but the bridge keepers at Sellars told us as we crossed over their bridge to reach the pub that it was actually 1500.

So it was a swift pint and a brief stop.

There are three final, significant bridges that ward the entrance to Gloucester Docks. Two of them are modern additions, built in the last ten years to route the bypass around Gloucester City itself, and so carry significant amounts of road traffic.

Our quick pint at The Pilot had separated us out from the cluster of yachts we'd sailed up with, so we came alongside the bank for a short while to wait on Netheridge bridge. With one remaining yacht behind us, we had to wait for them to catch up so we could move through as a pair.

Once through Netheridge, we found our friends Tess and Chris of "Monterey" moored up on the bank before High Orchard Bridge. They had been with the group ahead of us, but on the first attempt to lift High Orchard for them, the bridge had, for reasons unknown, failed to fully rise.

Second time lucky, the bridge rose up to its full clearance, giving room for Monterey to slip beneath it with us. Watching it gradually creep up was a tense experience however. Although perhaps not as tense as it'd be the following Sunday waiting for it to lift to let us all back out again.

The final bridge was Llanthony. Once, before the addition of High Orchard, the biggest, the main road crossing and only the lifting bridge on the canal. Now, since the construction of the bypass and the addition of High Orchard and Netheridge, it's function is reduced to a glorified pedestrian bridge.

Friday night we ate with friends from the fleet at the nearby Ship Inn. And drank a not insubstantial amount of beer.

The following morning, Dad and I walked into town and found a taxi to take home. Dad's plan was to walk Bruno and then walk back into town to have supper at one of the Dock's restaurants with the rest of the PCC fleet and spend the night on the boat.

And me? Typically, I had mismanaged my diary so had a gig in Bristol to get to. Afterwards, I went home to bed and then got a lift back to the boat from Ben on Sunday morning, ready to head back down to Sharpness in preparation for the lock back out on Monday morning and the long trip back down to Cardiff.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Calstar: Easter Friday Cardiff to Gloucester

Portishead Cruising Club organise a "cruise in company" to Gloucester every Easter, which involves sailing up-channel from Portishead to Sharpness Docks, locking into Sharpness and then travelling up the 12 miles of  the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal to Gloucester Docks. We went up with them from Portishead a couple of years ago, and had arranged to go up with them again last year, but we all got blown out by the weather and the trip was cancelled.

A friend of mine, plays drums in our band every so often and is a fellow yachtsman, did comment the first time we did this words to the effect of why on Earth would you want to take a seagoing vessel all the way up an inland waterway to Gloucester? Not an unfair question, and I could understand and, to a degree, share his bemusement. The simple answer is that Dad wanted to do it. And for me, it was a fresh challenge and an interesting, tricky piece of navigation.

We're no longer members of PCC. I found that keeping in touch and current with a club that was almost an hour down the motorway and primarily organised itself and communicated via the Clubhouse bar on a Wednesday evening was difficult, especially as I race Buffy at Frampton on a Wednesday evening. And Calstar is now based down in Cardiff. But we're still friends, and when we discovered a couple of weeks ago that they were planning another trip again this year, we smiled winningly (and metaphorically) in their direction and they kindly invited us to tag along.

Being in Cardiff, a further 18 miles down-channel from Portishead, presented some additional challenges this year.

High water Sharpness on the Friday was due 1040. The fleet needed to be off Sharpness ready to lock in an hour before. Any earlier would be too early on the tide, more than half an hour later would risk missing the lock. The Portishead fleet were planning to gather outside Portishead between 0730 and 0800 Friday morning but my work commitments prevented us from doing the obvious, splitting the trip across two tides and coming up to Portishead Thursday evening which a few other Cardiff boats were planning to do.

We can cover the 18 miles between Cardiff and Portishead in three hours, but that's will the full spate of the tide carrying us. Without that, it can take four and a half hours to cover the same ground.

Low water Cardiff Friday morning was 0345 at 1.3 meters. The low water height would mean that the outer harbour at Cardiff wouldn't carry enough water for us to get out for about an hour either side of tide. So the only option available was to lock out a little over an hour earlier at 0230 and stem the last of the ebb.

By the time we got to the boat Thursday evening and had settled in and bunked down, I managed a shade over a couple of hours of sleep before I had to crawl back out of my sleeping bag at 0200 and rouse Dad to prepare the boat to cast off. At 0230, the Barrage lock was an eerily dark, lonely place as we locked down about 10m to the awaiting sea. A near to full moon, although riding high, was obscured completely behind a fully cloud-mantled sky. Flashes of green and red from the navigation buoys guided us out through the Wrack Channel as we left the lock and departed from the outer harbour, one nervous eye glued to the dim, amber glow of our depth gauge, keen to avoid the indignity and inconvenience of sitting out the last of the tide on a mud-bank.

A light breeze was pushing up-channel with us over a lightly ruffled sea, so as soon as we were clear of the Wrack, we turned into wind and pulled the sails up, but continued to motor-sail for the first couple of hours through the darkness, first to make way against the still ebbing tide and then to keep our ground-speed up in the light air until the tide fully turned and picked up the slack.

Some time later, off Clevedon and about an hour out of Portishead, wind and tide strengthened in our favour and we finally stilled the engine to glide through the darkness with just the rush of wind and chuckle of bow wave and wake for accompaniment. Sunrise was little more than an apologetic, grey seeping of light into the cloud-raddled sky as we passed Black Nore Point and Kilkenny Bay. We made Portishead for about 0700, anchored off to wait the rest of the fleet and Dad grilled some bacon for breakfast.

We weighed anchor at 0730, as the first of the Portishead boats locked out. The smaller boats set out directly, whilst some of the larger, faster vessels milled around in the shelter of the Hole. A preventer rigged to the main and the headsail poled out in a goose-wing, we set off ourselves on a run towards the Bridge. The wind had freshened, and within half an hour we were up in the top of the Shoots, fast approaching the bridge. A forest of masts marked where the Portishead fleet were just now pushing out from the shelter of the Hole to start making their way up.

We turned back to them, hardening up to a close-hauled beat to stem the tide, waiting for them to catch us up.

We passed beneath the Second Severn Crossing under full sail in the company of the leading Portishead boats and continued up between the bridges, the wind becoming fickle and shifty as the early morning lengthened. As we passed the moorings at St Pierre Pill, some of our Lydney friends aboard the yacht "Castiard" put out into the channel to join us on their way home to Lydney Harbour. Once through the second of the Severn bridges, we turned briefly into wind, started the engine and dropped the main, but left the headsail set to motor-sail for a while longer as we began to pick our way up the Slime Roads.

Our Gloucester bound fleet was made up of fifteen boats, most from Portishead but a few, like ourselves, out of Cardiff. Fifteen boats plus Castiard made that stretch of the Severn an uncharacteristically popular spot for a brief while that Friday morning.

Navigation through the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary is involved, and undoubtedly perilous if you get it wrong, but not difficult or complicated as long as you prepare and follow the well marked channel. We arrived off Sharpness a little before 1000 as planned and made our way directly into Sharpness Lock, where we rafted up with a couple of Portishead boats and waited to be lifted up to the canal.

Calstar: like it's Christmas all over again

Just had a call from Mark at Jeckells, and am told that our now sails are finally packed and ready for delivery, due for pickup by their carrier this afternoon, to hopefully be delivered to us for tomorrow.

Fantastically good news. Horrifically overdue, but if they do turn up tomorrow and prove to be all I hope they'll be, then all will be happily forgiven.

I feel like it's Christmas all over again.

Of course, that could just be because it was just about back last Christmas that we actually ordered them. These photos, of the Tower of London, a London bus beneath Nelson's Column and Harrods respectively, were taken through London on the trip there and back to the London Boat Show on January 7th.

A bit of a while ago now.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Calstar: a few photos from the weekend's travels

Friday night. Headed down to the boat with Dad & Nikki. Supper at the restaurant in the old Customs House, then back to the boat to accidentally drink the best part of a bottle of rum with Dad.

Nikki meanwhile finished stitching up the new covers for the front cabin bunk cushions. Over the last few months she's reupholstered the lot of them for us. Don't ever let her say sailing with me is boring.

Saturday morning,got up silly o'clock. Locked out through the Barrage and started punching the tide in the direction of Watchet. Sunrise at first gave every impression it was going to be something of a dud, which was a disappointment as it was my birthday.

And then, just as I'd about given up on it, it went all pretty on us. Such a tease.

Motor-sailed all the way to Watchet. Tide pushed us hard up close under Steepholm before it slackened enough for us to make any decent way against it.

Easily made the gate for Watchet though.

A couple of soluble paracetamol in a half bottle of water cured the vestigial traces of a hangover before we made harbour.

In harbour, we took a steam train to neighbouring Minehead. Sent Nikki to wander around the shops, whilst Dad and I ambled over to the harbour for a look.

Nik enjoyed her wanders, but didn't buy anything. Dad bought another tee-shirt from the RNLI shop by the harbour-side.

That evening we caught a band at the Esplanade Club, a bar overlooking the marina, then had supper at an Indian restaurant. The food was good; I love Indian cuisine, very fond of spice, but wouldn't normally eat it whilst away on the boat. However, figured the following day we were heading home, so there wasn't much harm in it.

Got away with it. Just.

Ironically, as it was my birthday, the band we caught earlier in the evening was called "Mid Life Crisis". Always nice to see somebody else working a pub gig. The taste, style or quality of the music and performance don't really matter much to me, I find the spectacle fascinating. Very rarely get the chance though. If I'm in a pub, it's usually me playing.

Sunday morning, the gate dropped a shade after 0830, but we didn't lift out of the mud of the silted up marina until just shy of 0900. Wasn't expecting much wind, but there was a brisk westerly blowing as we left the harbour, so put the sails up, stilled the engine and had a fantastic hour's worth of lovely sailing until it eventually failed on us and we had to switch the engine back on.

Dad could've been persuaded, but it was clear that he'd much prefer to make the return on the one tide as we had a 90 minute drive home to look forward to once we were back in port.

The trip back to Cardiff covered 19.1nm and took 3 hours and 35 minutes, 1 hour and 15 blissful minutes were under sail.

A gorgeously sunny spring day to finish a lovely April weekend.

Calstar: Cardiff to Watchet Passage Notes

Saturday 1st April : Cardiff to Watchet
(23.1 nautical miles, 5 hours 27 minutes underway)

Standard Port Avonmouth HW 1105; midway between springs & neaps, tide times and tidal streams expected between Cardiff and Watchet for Saturday 1st April:

Distance from Cardiff to Watchet is 18nm; 4.5 hours at 4kts average SOG. Local advice is to arrive at Watchet at least 20mins before the gate closes.

Back in September 2015, a passage from Cardiff to Watchet took us 5 hours and 10 minutes from our berth in Penarth to a berth in Watchet and covered 18.3nm in getting there.

Knowing this, we left our berth at 0630 on Saturday 1st, 4.5 hours before Cardiff HW, aiming to be out through the Barrage and on our way by 0700.

Progress down the Pernarth Roads out to Lavernock Point punching the tide was smooth enough, but once past Lavernock it slowed to the expected crawl. Wind was F2 SW, so we motor-sailed with full main and headsail, just shy of close hauled to try and get the best course made good without flogging ourselves and the engine. Punching the tide under sail with Calstar isn't an option around here, certainly not into wind.

Some notes from the track, speeds given are speed over ground:

The passage took 5 hours on leaving the Barrage, and covered a shade over 18nm. Average speed for the passage was therefore 3.6kts speed over ground or as near as makes no odds. Slow for these parts, but reflecting the fact we punched the tide for 80% of the way.

Leaving 4 hours before HW from Cardiff is inefficient, to say the least. Could've made much better time if we'd left later, but would've risked missing the gate at Watchet. That would've left us anchored out waiting to make our entrance in the dark after the gate reopened at 2003. Watchet entrance isn't as intimidating as Portishead, but neither is it as familiar, and the margin for error is less, with much more hard stuff to hit or wedge yourself against if you get it wrong.

Getting in before dark was therefore really the only option, if at all possible.

I still wonder if we'd have made just as good time on the gate if we'd delayed our departure for a couple of hours. Will try that later in the summer when there is a little more daylight to play with. That is the third time we've made the passage from Cardiff to Watchet, and we've not managed to sail it yet.

That is a little frustrating.