Wednesday 24 May 2017

Linda Lines, South West GSD Rescue

I heard this morning that a dear friend passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in the night.

I don't know the details, and in any case they seem somehow inconsequential against the tragedy of the news. My thoughts are with her husband Bob and her daughter Lisa. I can't begin to fathom their shock and grief.

Linda Lines was young, a mere 51 years old. The news has left us all completely stunned.

I first met Linda in June 2012 in the car-park of a motorway service station. She handed over to our care a dog, a white German Shepherd bitch called Bojangles that my wife, Nikki, had agreed somewhat against my protests that we'd foster for the dog rescue Linda ran.

Sadly, things didn't work out between us and Bojangles so, within a week, I was driving the 132 miles back down the motorway to Linda's house in Bideford to take Bojangles back, certain and quite comfortable in the thought that I'd given Nikki a fair crack a this foster and rescue thing and had proven it just wasn't going to work for us. The plan was to hand Bo's lead back over to Linda at her door and head straight back home.

We got there, and Lin remarked how it had been such a long drive, we must've been tired, we'd really have to come in for a quick coffee before heading back.

A couple of hours later we were, indeed, on our way back. Buster was in the car with us.

I honestly can't count the foster dogs that passed through our home over the next couple of years after that, although I could tell you all their names and loved and love them all still. The photos of the dogs that accompany this post are only the ones that stayed.

The photo at the head of this post was one of a set taken some years before we met Lin, and is a copy of a photo I've seen on her living room wall. I've stolen it from her Facebook profile without permission and without too much shame, because it is just so the picture of her.

It was our absolute privilege to work with Lin and support her Rescue over the relatively brief but undeniably intense period Nik and I were directly involved. Her grit, dedication and determination to have created such a life's work and to have made such an undeniable difference and mark upon so many other lives is truly unfathomable.

If this is the measure of a life, then there has been a giant amongst us.

And she will be sorely missed.

Monday 22 May 2017

Calstar: staying local

Saturday's gig meant that I had to stick around this weekend, so any time aboard Calstar was going to be Sunday and staying local. Nice think about Cardiff is that the shelter of Penarth Roads means that's entirely possible.

The day started bright, then clouded over as we set out a little before 1100. The Barrage lock was crowded but once we were out of the harbour and through the wrack channel the crowd quickly dispersed.

Penarth Yacht Club were launching their Enterprise fleet from their foreshore as we passed. I think I've mentioned before that the only time I've raced my Ent with them, Hels and I broke her mast in a capsize. I remember how massive and intimidating this area felt back then. It feels much smaller these days, but miles traveled and familiarity will do that to a place.

There is still a tickle of that old intimidation remaining though.

I'd like to race again at PYC with Buffy some day. I know the boat and the area so much better now. Not sure it'll ever happen though, so many other distractions. Our poor humble Enterprise has very much been relegated to Wednesday evening dashes around the cans on the lake at Frampton these days.

With the sails up and a course set close hauled against the tide, we beat along the Penarth shore out towards Lavernock Point. The southerly wind seemed to average the top end of a Force 3 for the most part, so although we started with the first reef still in the main from the previous weekend, we quickly shook it out.

We cut just shy of 4 knots through the water, and in close to the shore a back eddy let us make good way against the set of the tide. Further out however, the foul tide reduced our speed to less than 2. As it was closer to neaps that springs it was only a small tide, otherwise I doubt we'd have even made that.

At 1120 our VHF picked up a distress call from a power boat out towards Flat Holm. We listened in as the Coast Guard managed it, and laid our course in the direction of the call out towards the island although the DSC details on the VHF showed the caller as being 4.4nm away and up tide; out of our reach.

They were reporting engine failure and were concerned the tide was going to set them onto the rocks of the Holm. The skipper seemed fairly sure his anchor was holding, but wasn't completely certain. Eventually,  at 1234, he got the engine running again and the Mayday was cancelled, the skipper advising the Coast Guard of his intention to return to Cardiff. We held our course out towards the island until they eventually passed a mile or two astern of us on their way back, clearly fine. We tacked and laid course for a final beat back to Lavernock Point, where we gybed near the spit and ran back towards Cardiff, foresail and main goose-winged.

The Penarth fleet were just finishing their race as we passed by them once again, furling our own sails and starting the engine in preparation for returning to the Barrage. By now the sun was warm and the sky was blue. A lovely day to be out on the water.

About three hours under sail in total, and just shy of 10 miles covered. Still very pleased with how the new sails are working, and still very pleased with Calstar's new home down in Cardiff, even if roadworks on the motorway added a half hour to the journey home.

The bay does offer a level of access and flexibility to our sailing that we just couldn't get at the more tidally restricted Portishead. What we really need now is a long weekend free of gigs so we can take advantage of the fact it's also a day's sailing closer to blue water and get ourselves down channel.

Not next weekend however. Next weekend I am without boat. I've promised to take Nikki for a weekend away to Cornwall. There are, of course, boats already there.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Calstar: tracks, tacks & gybes

The GPS track of the sailing of this weekend just gone. Blue line was outbound Saturday 13th, red was the return Sunday 14th. Wind was a F5 from the southwest both days, gusting to 7 on the Saturday, a little less the day after.

It occurs to me that the outbound track shows less of a downwind slalom from Steep Holm to Clevedon than I remember, there being only two gybes. I didn't put the preventer on until past Clevedon however, as I wasn't sure whether or not we were going to clear the shallows of North West Elbow on our starboard tack (question: is a boat on a "starboard tack" actually on a "starboard gybe" when sailing downwind? I don't actually know this and it's now bothering me)

In the event, the turning tide picked up as we neared the shallows and lifted us nicely around them.

I am going to invest in a second preventer. Silly not to, in that it's just a bit of string with a small carribena to clip it onto the boom with. I feel a lot more comfortable sailing deep with the preventer attached. The overtaking swell tends to slew Calstar's stern around like a drunk dad dancing (note: I've never seen my own dad dance, drunk or otherwise) which without the preventer puts us at risk of an inadvertent gybe.

Only having the one preventer line means if we're using it, every time we do intentionally gybe I have to head up and out onto the bow to re-thread the line back down the new leeward side, which means that I tend to not use it unless I know I'm going to be settled onto one tack (gybe?) for a good number of miles.

It's not that I mind going out to the bow when needed, but it does make Dad nervous so I try to avoid it unless absolutely necessary just to save on the surely affectionate but certainly persistent repetitions of "Oh, be careful Bill!" distracting me from the cockpit.

The clew of the new headsail is cut much lower than the old one, giving the sail a larger sail area, but also making the sail much more likely catch on the babystay when tacking. We'll get used to this. I still like my new sails.

Beating back into the wind on the Sunday, we reefed conservatively, but some of the gusts still heeled us through to about thirty degrees at times.

When Calstar does this, despite all the miles we've now shared together, I still can't shake the subconscious terror that she might actually fall over. I felt the same with the Drascombe, albeit in that case the risk was very much more real. I think it's basically a problem I have with any boat I can't actually practice capsizing, or at least wouldn't want to and couldn't without raising a few eyebrows.

I don't have this problem if I'm on somebody else's boat. So I guess it isn't the fear of capsizing that gets me, but rather the fear of capsizing and it being me responsible. Incidentally, any fellow sailors I've mentioned this anxiety to have generally laughed at me, with at least one pointing out, his voice dripping with good-natured amusement, "But it's physics, Bill. Big lump of metal underneath you. It just can't happen."

The other anxiety I have when the boat heels whilst beating to windward is losing Dad over the side. In this, we do at least have form, as I'll never forget the sight of him tumbling out of the Drascombe as she pitched over whilst caught between the branches of a tree and the inexorable push of the tide beneath her.

We've solved this one at least. I tethered him to the cockpit for the beat back to Cardiff. At least if he did try to roll out on me during a surprise gust, he wasn't going to get very far (as in no further than the right side of the guard rail because of the limitations on the length of the line)

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Calstar: the long way around

The temptation to try for Watchet was hard to put aside Saturday morning, but in the end the choice was made for us. We got to the boat in reasonable time, I moused the new outhaul through the boom without any great difficulty, but as 1000 closed in, it was obvious the boat was nowhere near ready to leave.

Rather than rush things, and rush Dad in what felt like the potential of challenging conditions, we conceded to discretion and circumstance, and opted for the later tide and a night in Portishead.

Unwilling to completely give up the potential adventure of the day however, we elected to go the long way around, head out a little before bottom of tide and round the Holms before heading upchannel to Portishead.

I hadn't been near Steep Holm since the Holms race of 2015, so found the lure hard to resist. And in any case, we had new sails to try.

We cast off at 1245, locked out through the Barrage and nosed out into the Wrach Channel with half a mind on the forecast, expecting to find things quite lively. But to begin with, we found little more than a drift, seeming set to frustrate our chances on the Holms.

I'm always minded to be careful what I wish for in these parts. 

An hour later we were mid way between the Holms when the wind set in. There was enough of an ebb still left in the tide to lift us into the wind and past Rudder Rock on the southern tail of Steep Holm without our needing to tack. By now, the first roll was in the genoa, and the little boat was tanking along quite merrily.

The wind continued to build as we turned north around the island, sailing as deep downwind as we could go without the headsail collapsing. The seas were getting confused and boisterous in a race that seemed to be forming in the shallows off Brean, so we put the first reef in the main which didn't slow us down much at all but made things all together more manageable.

The run up to Portishead was a downwind slalom from gybe to gybe until we reached Clevedon around 1630 and I settled the boat on a deep starboard reach fetching Battery Point and put a preventer on the boom.

VTS reported the wind at 21 knots from the southwest; checking the records on their website later I could see that it was gusting past 30 knots at times.

The little boat managed admirably, her new sails performing beautifully. At one point as one of the gusts came through her speed through the water clocked at 5.8 knots, and I know the instrument concerned under-reads by half a knot because I still haven't got around to calibrating it.

We arrived up at Portishead to lock in on the first lock of the evening tide at 1815, after a little under six hours underway and 27.7 miles covered.

Once in the marina, an enthusiastic tail wind made coming alongside the berth a bit of a challenge for Dad, but he managed it with his usual aplomb. We hastily tidies the boat up and made her good, keen to get up to the Royal for supper and a few beers. 

It wasn't until we stepped off the boat and had walked halfway down the pontoon that we realised that we'd somehow managed to berth Calstar on the wrong jetty. We'd been asked to put into berth G12, but we'd actually ended up in H12 instead.

Supper was delayed whilst we put right our mistake.

The following morning was original forecast to be slightly lighter wind, but expected on the nose all the way back down to Cardiff.

We cast off at 1030 and stopped at the fuel barge to refuel before locking out at 1100. All felt calm and serene in the shelter of the marina, but friends coming in on the inbound 1045 lock-in commented as they passed us on the fuel barge that we were in for a lively sail back to Cardiff.

Web edged out around the breakwater and found a stiff F5 blowing up the channel against the outgoing tide. Pretty much as expected. We put the second reef in the main, hauled up the sails, stilled the engine and got on with it.

It could just be in my head, but I'll swear the new sails have made her stiffer in a blow and more inclined to accelerate in a gust rather than just wallow and tip over.

It was a wet, lively beat down the Kings Road towards Clevedon, but once out of the confines of the channel, we tacked onto port and were then able to lay the Welsh shore.

The sun shone bright beneath a cloud freckled sky all the way across. The sea was occasionally lively, but as the ebb tide found its pace the wind became more predictable in pressure at least, so I shook out the second reef from the main and rolled the genoa in or out dependent upon how hard it was blowing and how far she was heeling to it.

The stiffness of the boat might have been in my head, but the acceleration definitely was not. Close hauled  and beating through a moderately enthusiastic Bristol Channel chop, we still frequently pushed past 4 knots, touching 4.7 at one point. 

With the old sails these sorts of conditions would have slowed us to less than 3. The last time I beat from Portishead to Cardiff against a F5, it took close to five hours.

This time it took three and a half.

We passed the Outer Wrack at 1427, locking back into the Barrage at 1445 and securing ourselves alongside our berth back in Penarth at 1515.

The moment I stepped off the boat and onto the jetty with our shorelines, the rain began.

You'd think, after all that, it could've held off just another mere half an hour. But I didn't really have cause to complain, it had been a fantastic sail over.

A little over 4 hours underway and 20.9 miles covered.

The drive home was uneventful, an hour and twenty minutes on the motorway and not much in the way of traffic to slow us. The Severn Bridge is becoming something of a familiar sight to me these days, both from above and below.

Saturday 13 May 2017

Tranquility false

Top of tide. Looks languid. Don't kid yourself, in a few more minutes she'll turn and bite ya.

Calstar: choices, choices

Ten minutes away from the boat, and I still haven't decided of we're going up channel to Portishead or down to Watchet today.

Wind is F4 from the SW, blowing up to a 5 and backing south later. Watchet is the more interesting sail, but although a windward shore, will mean waiting out the tide at anchor for a few hours before we can get in.

I don't know how comfortable that will be in the conditions. It's not a trip I've done often enough to be familiar with.

Portishead? Well, that's a well-known, well trod passage. Kind of the back-up plan in my back pocket.

Photo was laast night's gig, setting up before soundcheck. New drummer, short notice substitution; the man did good.

Haven't had much sleep.

Good to have a weekend of sailing ahead though, wherever we decide to go.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Calstar: shackled

I think the "luff length crisis" with our new foresail is solved.

The original fittings that came with the Furlex involved a pair of great big snap shackles; one on the swivel at the top and the other on the drum at the bottom. I say "great big" but by that I really mean about 4 four inches each in length. Everything is relative.

So last Saturday we nipped down to the boat for the morning, unbent the foresail, removed the top and bottom snap shackles and dropped in at the chandlery on the way home to buy a couple of lighter, 6mm twisted "dee" shackles, each being only a couple of inches in overall length.

So a saving of about four inches. If I was right, and the luff length was only in excess by an inch or two, the hope was that would fix it.

Getting the sail off to remove the snap shackles wasn't so straight forward. The wind was blowing in excess of 20 knots straight down the marina and straight in over the stern of the boat, initially moored bow-to in her berth. So the first job was to turn her around and put her back in stern first so we could unfurl the sail without mishap.

This picked up an interesting miscommunication between Dad and myself.

Our usual process when casting off is he takes the helm and I walk her back out the berth until the speed astern picks up enough for the rudder to overcome the prop wash, at which point I step aboard, and generally keep an eye on the receding pontoon until we're sufficiently clear for Dad to turn without the bow swinging into the jetty. His visibility down in the cockpit isn't that great and he's understandably not one for balancing on the coamings whilst juggling the throttle with his foot.

At least that's what I thought we were doing. Things got a little bit interesting the week before in lighter wind from the same direction, which I'd put down to Dad simply not swinging the stern around enough before engaging ahead. This time however, when I called out that it was clear to swing, he went immediately ahead, still more or less facing the berth, and tried to turn up into the wind. Which proved an eye opening repeat of the week before, except with significantly more wind against the beam to push us down onto the various bow anchors and out-drives of the other boats moored along our pontoon.

It all ended well enough with a little bit of anxious sweat and some colourful language but no tears, and whilst I did at one point step over the pulpit in preparation to fend off with my foot, I didn't actually have too, and we eventually ended up back in our berth after a couple of failed attempts stern-to, as required. All the enthusiastic application of throttle roused our lovely neighbour Lucy up from below decks aboard her gorgeous yacht "Dakota" and she kindly helped out by taking the stern line from me as we came back alongside.

I overslept by an hour Sunday morning. A gig and corresponding late night the evening before meant I didn't get to Dad's until about 0800, rather than the 0700 promised, so didn't get to the boat until about 0930.

We fitted the new shackles, hauled up the sail to check it looked okay before dropping it again to secure the shackle pins with some seizing wire, and then cast off and headed out to the bay.

It was about half an hour before low tide by time we locked out through the Barrage, making for a very long drop and us having to carefully pick our way from the outer harbour and into the Wrack Channel between port and starboard lateral buoys, the nearest of which were now sat high on the mud-banks they were intended to mark. The sky was grey and the sea flat. As we left the navigation channel and motored out towards Raine Point, what little wind there was failed completely, the surrounding waters smooth as smoked glass.

After half an hour of motoring along the Penarth shore, the tide close to turning, we unfurled the genoa and hauled up the main. The sky was beginning to clear, with broken sun now edging through, and a gentle, southerly wind began to stir, albeit hardly enough air to even ripple the water. Nonetheless, it was enough to give us steerage and trickle along close hauled on a starboard tack in the direction of Flat Holm.

The set of foresail seemed fine; I put enough tension into the halyard to put a vertical crease up the luff, and then eased it back until the luff was free of creases in either direction. As is the way with these things however, you fix one thing and another fails; as I pulled on the outhaul, the sheathing around the nylon core of the line frayed and then parted entirely, apparently abraded away by the cleat. Not exactly a disaster, and the core of the rope held in the cleat so we were able to continue sailing with it as it was, but annoying as we'd only replaced that line at the end of last summer.

As the tide began to flood, the sky cleared to a gorgeous, summery blue, and the wind kicked in. Very soon the little boat was heeled over with a bone between her teeth and charging along. Later checking the records of a local(ish) weather station, I read that the lunch time wind was gusting up to about 18 knots, which made for some fantastic sailing; more so in that the sea remained pretty much flat through out, the wind blowing up with the flood tide.

We covered around 10nm in the couple of hours we were out bashing back and forth across the bay under sail.

It was a lovely day's sailing. I think we've sorted the set of the new sails now, which is a tremendous weight off my mind. The damaged outhaul is an easy fix as we were able to thread it out attached to a mousing line ready to run the replacement line back through when we return to the boat this coming weekend.

Which, hopefully, will be a proper test of the new sails.

Wind is forecast F4 gusting 5 from the south and then veering west for the weekend and the tides are just right for what we have in mind. I have a gig Friday but am clear Saturday and Sunday, so assuming the forecast doesn't deteriorate any further, we're planing to sail over to Watchet and back.

Monday 1 May 2017

Calstar: Bank Holiday local sailing

Just spotted this post in my drafts. I think that means I was going to post some words around all the pretty pictures.

However, the moment has passed I think. These were taken a couple of weeks ago, our first trip out through the Barrage with our new sails, albeit with the luff of the genoa still hopelessly, horribly slack.

But it seems a shame not to post the photos; we'll have to content ourselves with just a few words to wrap around them for context.

It was a gorgeous day. Made all the sweeter by the fact that it was a Monday; a national bank holiday weekend, so a liberated Monday free of my usual station sat at my desk in the office. I won't say "chained" because I am routinely there entirely of my free will. But it was nice to be somewhere else for a change.

We locked out around local high water and spent a couple of hours sailing carefree circuits up to the Cardiff North buoy, back down towards Mid Cardiff, cutting back in towards the Outer Wrack then up and around again.

The creases in the luff and bellowing at the tack of the sail were distressing, although the winds were relatively slight and the little boat charged around as if a thing invigorated with the reclaimed joys of youth.

But it definitely set our minds that we'd have to do something about the set of the sail ourselves. It was about now that we settled to try and resolve it with shackled. We'd asked a local rigger to come look at it, but as is so often the way with these things, he was all enthusiasm when initially approached, but two weeks later hadn't found the time to amble down the pontoon to take a look and advise.

The lovely spring weather lasted throughout our entire time out on the water. Just shy of a couple of hours under sail, and 11.5nm covered going around and around in circles just for the sake of it.

We eventually locked back in, and headed over to Mermaid Quay where we moored alongside for an hour and went in search of lunch, settling on tapas at one of the many local restaurants.

The sun continued to shine as we made our way back to the marina, moored up in our berth and tidied everything away to head home. As we left the boat and climbed into the car, the western sky was beginning to darken ominously.

Twenty minutes later, on the motorway passing Newport, the heavens opened and the deluge came down.

I'm dismayed at my attempt at brevity. I did honestly mean just a few words. Seems I just can't stop myself. I think it's the click-clickety-click of the keyboard as I type.

Hypnotic. Therapeutic. Oddly ameliorative.