Friday 23 June 2017

Comment: replublicanism

I could, in principle, be a devout republican, except, as Gabby Hinsliff so neatly puts it in an article on the Guardian's website today:

"Hell, why not go the whole hog and come out for an elected president instead of a monarchy? Let the cursed burden fall to someone who actively wants it – although, as ever, the glaring flaw in this argument is imagining the sort of person who might want it. (President Blair? President Richard Branson? God help us, President Farage?)"


Not sure what the answer is. Democracy is a fine concept, but surely the obvious conclusion to that is to devolve leadership to committee. And that's really not so fine a concept.

Never mind. A gig tonight, then a whole weekend of sailing yachts and dinghies ahead. Temperature's crashed back from the low 30's to it's seasonal norm, which is a pity as I was enjoying the warmth, but at least the winds have returned.

Monday 19 June 2017

Assorted: a weekend medley

For the anatomy of a great weekend, add in to the following a sprinkle of wind and a great big dollop of sun and blue sky:

Gig + Sail + Gig + Sail + Red Arrows

Friday night's gig always showed every potential of being a little bit lively, and didn't disappoint. The venue was a canal side pub exactly seven minutes down the road from Dad's house called The Pilot. The really nice thing about the place is that we don't very often get to play so close to home. Aside from the obvious advantage that this means we don't have to drive an hour back up the motorway to get home afterwards, it also means that a lot of friends and family inevitably turn up to support us.

A particular treat: a couple of friends that turned up in the crowd hadn't seen us since we regularly used to play at various old venues around Gloucester, which has to be ..... oh, some twenty years ago now. It was very nice to see them again after all this time. Let's hope neither of them decide to leave it another twenty years.

A note of caution. The following video clip (if I've managed to get the embedding right to link it here) was taken from the stage part way through the second set. It's raw and loud and does no credit to the actual sound of the band; but it does capture the energy and mood of the night. I'd therefore turn your volume down a considerable way if you decide to play it!

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

Saturday was spent on the lake at Frampton, teaching juniors to sail. Considerably lighter conditions than the previous week, the sun shone relentlessly through the day. I'm always amazed by how quick kids pick things up, although the day did offer perfect conditions. By the afternoon, we had most of the instructors out of the boats and the kids managing on their own. They've another three or four Saturdays of training still to come yet; they're going to do fine.

Got home Saturday afternoon hot and tired but in good time to rest up for an hour before heading out to that night's gig. Except as I pulled up on to my drive, I realised I'd left my buoyancy aid on the lake shore with my mobile phone still in the breast pocket of the thing, so had no other choice but to head back the Club to fetch it. Fortunately, it was still exactly where I left it so all ended well, except I was then short of time to get home again then back out for the evening's gig down in Bristol.

Waking up Sunday morning was as gruelling as I'd expected it to be after getting home in the early hours the night before. The alarm went off at 0600. I ignored it. And ignored it. Until the phone rang at 0730 and my daughter Tasha asked if I'd left yet, slightly panicked as she'd apparently overslept herself.

I was half an hour late picking Tash up from her place, so we didn't get back across town to meet Dad at his until gone 0830. We then set off in his car for Cardiff. Tash was an unusual and very welcome addition to our usual crew of two. She'd been given the Sunday off work for a change so had called me earlier in the week to ask if she could come sailing with us. The chance so rarely arises as her work so often gets in the way, so I don't get to see so much of her these days, since she moved out to live with her boyfriend.

The forecast had been for bright sun and no wind, and looked to be coming true on the drive over; it was 22C already when we finally got to the boat, around 1000. A neap tide with high water expected just before 1400 and flat calm, we weren't expecting to sail but thought it would be nice to spend the day on the water anyway. There is something refreshingly unchallenging about the Bristol Channel at times like these. I'd been originally torn between heading up-channel to explore the Usk and Newport or heading across channel to nose into Weston-Super-Mare. Both were about 8nm away and both are places we've previously only sailed past at a distance. Whenever you're abroad on the Bristol Channel you always seem to be going somewhere, racing time to get there before the tide turns, you so rarely just potter and explore.

In the end we settled for Weston. It's somewhere we'd all visited by land any number of times before we got the boat, and there was a drying harbour on the north side of the town, a possible future spot to anchor for a night, and the flat calm of the day seemed the perfect opportunity to go and take a look at it.

Leaving Penarth, we found a huge scrum of yacht traffic all queuing up for the 1100 lock out trhough the Barrage. The congestion had been amplified by a hydraulic failure on one of the bridges guarding the three lock entrances, leaving only two locks available for anything with a mast. We squeezed into the second of the working locks with eight other yachts, rafting up in three rows of three abreast. A tight squeeze, but everybody was good humoured and supportive of each other so it all worked like a well oiled machine.

Once out into the Roads, to our surprise we found enough of a breeze to haul the sails up to catch, so the engine was hushed and for the first half hour we trickled happily along in the direction of Weston beneath the warm sun. It didn't last though. As the wind failed, I considered just ghosting along for the pleasure of it and giving up on our intended destination, but eventually caved in, fired the engine back up and started to motorsail.

We closed with the eastern shore off Sandy Bay, turning down-channel against the last of the flood tide to approach Weston Bay passing the derelict ruins of Birnbeck Island to port. Fascinating to get up close to somewhere we'd only ever seen previously from a distance when sailing down to Sand Point on a spring tide from Portishead. This alone probably would've made the trip worthwhile. The sandy foreshore of Weston Beach was thronged with beach-goers, soaking up the sun, the noise of their revels and entertainments rising from the shore like a great fug. With just the mainsail up we continued to motorsail around Knightstone and towards the Weston Pier, pointing out to Dad where the harbour was, but thinking we'd stand off rather than edge in as originally intended.

The shore and pier were heaving with sun-warmed, oiled bodies, but the bay was quiet with only ourselves, another yacht (also motorsailing back and forth under main alone), a couple of RIBS and a couple of motor cruisers. There didn't seem to be much risk of running over an occasional, unseen swimmer, but I didn't see the point in risking it.

And then we ducked reflexively as a phalanx of nine distinctive red Hawk T1 jets screamed out and over us from the shore, streams of white demonstration smoke trailing them as they pulled up into a graceful loop over the water.

It turns out this weekend was, unbeknown to me until that moment, the weekend of the Weston Air Festival, and we'd arrived on the tide just in time to be greeted by the Red Arrows on arrival.

So we were treated to ringside seats as my favourite aerobatics team did what they do best beneath the unimpeachable blue of a gorgeous summer sky on what, it later transpired, was the warmest day of the year so far, the temperature clocking at least 30C, possibly more. I've been to any number of airshows, and seen the Red Arrows perform any number of times, but I've never had such a unique, close up viewing position as we did on Sunday; out and away from the madding crowd, afloat upon the waters of Weston Bay, sat just beneath the scream of the jets themselves.

The Red Arrows done, we set our course back towards Cardiff; a couple of hours crossing the tide, engine gently thumping, mainsail drawing as much on our own apparent wind as any true breeze. The sluggish neap tide and almost near lack of wind made for a unusual lack of disturbance in the Channel waters. Instead of their usual silty brown, they'd turned a distinct muddy hue of turquoise. Blue seas these are not and will never be, but I think that's as close as we'll ever get to it around here.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Orange Monday

Yesterday I made my way down to Bidford in North Devon with my wife Nikki and daughter Tasha for the funeral of a friend, Linda Lines of South West GSD Rescue.

It seems to be something of a trend these days to ask folks to turn up to funerals in various colours other than the traditional shirt and black tie, and one I usually politely ignore, although I don't begrudge the sentiment to anybody. I still have the red shoes I wore myself to Mum's funeral. And have worn them to so many wedding and party gigs since that I've worn through the soles and so need to get them repaired before I can wear them again; she'd have approved.

This time however the request to wear "something orange" was so apt, so very Linda, and the totem colour of the rescue she founded and ran, that I couldn't really refuse.

The service done, and beautifully done at that, we all gathered back at Paula's house. Paula was Lin's best friend and a trustee of the Rescue over the last few years. Aside from catching up with a few good friends, one of the pleasures in an otherwise sorrowful, bittersweet day was meeting Paula's four dogs. One of them was the affectionately loopy, irrepressible Lobo.

Buffy: Sunday disqualified and retired

Sunday morning, quick early phone call to dad, and we concluded very quickly the forecast had got no better, and F5 gusting 6 with 2 meter seas had become no more attractive. Dad said he'd head down to the boat anyway to check on her. I went back to bed with the vague idea that I'd get up in an hour or two and try to find a crew for the afternoon's racing at Frampton.

photo: ken elsey
An hour or two later, and no joy with finding crew. Dad was posting pictures to Facebook showing he'd made it to Cardiff. I was looking at the forecast, looking at the webcam of the lake, looking at the forecast, telling myself I'd be stupid to try and single-hand the Ent in these conditions. My sailing kit, still soaked from the day before, was chunking around in the tumble-dryer. Not sure it's good for the kit, certainly not good for the tumble dryer, but Nik was once again working down the shop, so what she didn't know she couldn't mind.

The clock tumbling on towards noon, the day was now building exactly as forecast. The Club webcam showed a swamped Optimist tethered to the near jetty and little kids being put through their capsize drill. I thought briefly about cutting the still un-mown grass. Then grabbed my damp and musty but now warmly tumbled kit from the drier and headed off to the Club.

On the shore of the lake, contemplating the wind-flecked waters, I was collared by Mark who asked if I'd yet found anyone dumb enough to sail with me. Or words to that effect. And on learning not, offered to sail with me himself.

Mark is a Laser sailor. A good one, as his race results clearly prove. He's also fairly vocal, as his occasional moniker in certain quarters, "Mark the Mouth", fairly obviously states. He's also got a heart of gold and is never shy of a moment to help out anyone; despite being a self-confessed Tory voter he's a generous soul.

photo: roger gribble
I'm not sure of his exact dimensions, but set against my diminutive eleven stone and 5'7 (AND A HALF!), Mark's got to be close to 6' if not over, and has at least a couple of stone on me. It might be rude to suggest more, so I won't, and anyway, I'm quite sure it's all muscle. About my own age, maybe a year or few over but no more. He is active and fit with it though, and as is the wont of Laser sailors everywhere, apt to springing about all over the place with abandon; although another Laser sailor remarked "He's not as quick as he used to be", possibly in reference to our later capsize, which if so, would be completely unfair.

In short, not the frame of a body I'd normally choose to put in the front of my boat. But looking out at the conditions on that day, knowing they were only yet due to worsen, I think it is possibly fair to say I positively bit his hand off in my eagerness to accept his offer to crew. And besides which, as Mark himself said when making the offer: it'd be a laugh.

And it was.

Inarguably my worst results of the season, possibly of my entire sailing career. Two races that afternoon, our proud result by the end was a disqualification followed by a retirement. But it was also some of the most amazingly good fun I've had in an Enterprise in a very long time.

photo: ken elsey
Aside from the obvious entertainment and charm of my company, the wind-speed topped 37 knots at some of its more enthusiastically brutal moments. With one wet, ignominious exception when the gust was a accompanied by a massive header that got behind the close-hauled sails and flattened us to what was, until seconds before, previously windward, we had the weight and technique to keep the boat up and, most often at least, flat. And when we got it right, which was plenty often, she positively flew.

It was a well set course. And I rarely concede that if we finish with such terrible results. But there were two great beats to windward, a long goose-winged run across the breadth of the lake and a screaming, white-knuckled reach down the entire length of it to Yellow, followed by a gybe just to keep you on your toes. Funny enough, the gybe gave no problems. The inconsistencies inflicted by the wind-shadow up under the trees by the windward mark at Red gifted us with our one capsize, late in the first race, knocking us back to the rear half of the fleet from having almost clawed our way up to third place.

We were disqualified from that race anyway as I'd not noted the cryptically expressed instruction given with the course to go through the start / finish line. To be fair, it did not say to do so every lap, but enough people both noted it and understood its intent to leave us the odd men out in disregarding it. And, if I'm honest, I hadn't spotted the fact that it had been written on the course board at all when I was noting the course down.

photo: ken elsey
The second race saw possibly my best start of the year. Hitting the line at speed just as the gun went, nestled right up to the inner distance mark at the favoured end and climbing up on a lift to take us out towards our preferred side. A Solo had capsized on the line and was causing mayhem, but we dodged through the maelstrom of the fleet and were tearing away off up the beat with big grins on our faces. When they called a general recall and brought us all back to start again. The second time around a Laser barged into the line above us, and he and the Solo between us and him utterly disregarded Mark's enthusiastically assertive screams of "Up! Up! Up! UUUPPP! AWW! PROTEST!" as we were locked out from the line below them. I could've just hardened up and in to them and quite spoilt their day, but having spent what felt like the entire winter repainting my hull I was damned if I was going to risk scratching it for mere principle.

The gusts grew more random and ferocious as the second race wore on. Soaked by spray, battered by the elements, we missed a couple of tacks and ended up humiliatingly head to wind, stuck in irons. That hasn't happened to me in a long while, and it's a horrid feeling; until you look up and see that the gust has either put everybody else in the same predicament or knocked them entirely flat. I took an almighty smack on the head from the boom in one frenzied tack that put stars in my eyes and pins and needles into my neck. I thought I'd pay for that the next day, but the following morning, aside from the soreness of some abrasions to my scalp and a distinct unevenness from the bruising beneath the skin, a horrifically stiff neck that had been plaguing me since our trip away to Fowey a couple of weeks ago appeared to be miraculously cured.

I'm sure we were doing quite well, although it's impossible to tell in a race like that until it's done. But in what must've been the end of no more than the lap before last, brutalised between the teeth of of another vicious gust trying to knock us flat as we beat our way up from Green to White, it was ended. The wind hit, the boat heeled before my numbed arm could spill enough pressure from the main to let us hike the boat flat. Heeled over with the boom now pinned to the water and unable to payout more, I strained against the building weather helm to try and bear away against the rounding up of Buffy's hull. And her tiller snapped off, right at the base of the rudder stock.

Uncommanded, we rounded up out of control, tacked and then fell away before the wind, gybing and then rounding back up to lie too, the albeit quite baffled crew doing an admirably nimble job of both keeping the boat upright and not getting crowned by the flailing boom whilst I worked out and then communicated to him what had gone wrong.

Our race over, we lowered the mainsail and then sailed back to shore under jib alone. The Safety Boat did come over to check on us, but we sent them away again to keep an eye on the rest of the fleet.

It's been a funny old season so far. Hels has been distracted with work and domestic affairs and I've been far to inconsistent in my availability to be entitled to any expectation on her own. Ben, my usual default go to for company under such circumstances, has been too distracted with the pressures of new school, new job and finishing his post-grad teaching certificate. So I've either been left to sail alone or with a collection of ad hoc, random friends. I'm now pretty decided that once this year is through I'm going to sell the Enterprise and get myself a Laser.

Some of the stand-ins have been relative newbies, to misappropriate an Internet term. But in the best way. They always start out with an "I'm not very good at this" and then they perform tirelessly, attentively and  brilliantly and we've pretty much always wiped the floor with most of the rest of the fleet. And a couple of them have been some of the best sailors at the Club, which has been both a pleasure and potentially intimidating privilege, and always an education. But most of all, in every case, raw, stupid, unadulterated good fun.

This last Sunday Mark was fantastically good company. Very loud, very enthusiastic, hugely encouraging even when I was blatantly screwing up. Quote of the day: "I said TACK not bear away! What are you doing! What are you doing?" / "I am NOT tacking, I've dropped the tiller! Just try and fend off that other boat!"

I'd be lying if I said the results don't matter. The results always matter. The results always count.

But this time? Perhaps not so much. Mark, if you read this thank-you for a great day, and you'd be very welcome to sail with me again any time. It was both an education and an entertainment.

Just as soon as I've fixed the tiller!

Oh, and I still haven't cut the grass.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Buffy: Saturday ad hoc

The weekend just gone was gig free. Which has become something of a rarity, as the band's having a busy year. Had hopes of taking Calstar over to Watchet with Dad, but the forecast was marginal. By Friday evening it was still suggesting we'd be looking at a F5 gusting 6 with 2m waves on Saturday. Not the sort of conditions we really relished hanging around at anchor in off the Somerset coast, waiting for the tide to fill in enough to open Watchet's gate for us.

We reluctantly scratched the idea. Dad said had plenty of other stuff to entertain himself with for the day; perhaps if the weather slackened off enough Sunday we'd take a day trip around the Holms.

So I found myself at a bit of an unexpected loose end Saturday morning. An hour of karate shook the last of the sleep out of the system, then I figured I'd spend the afternoon cutting the grass and clearing up the back garden. I got part way through the clearing, dismantled an old kennel the dogs never use and was just taking up space. Debating whether to take it down the tip fir or get lawn mower out, I had half an ear on the wind whipping around the eaves of the house and bending the clumps of bamboo over down by the shed, half an eye on the clouds scudding across the sky like manic racehorses, reflecting that we'd been right to not try Watchet, this wasn't a day to be exposed out in the Bristol Channel.

Lamenting the fact that these days I only have a double-hander berthed by the lake in Frampton, would've been a lovely day to just drop everything and go bashing around the lake just for the sake of it. Thinking I really should get on with the mowing, the air tasted like the promise of rain later. Thinking the wind's definitely up.

Lovely wind.

Decided to hell with it.

Grabbed my sailing kit and headed down the lake. You can single-hand an Enterprise if you have to. Called in at the Shop on the way down to see Nik at work, promised I'd be home by 1700 and would cut the grass later. She rolled her eyes a little but didn't tell me no.

Got to the lake, stripped the cover off Buffy, dragged her over to the water's edge and started rigging her. It was a busy day at the Club, first day of the Junior Sail Training, and the instructors definitely had their hands full with the kids and the conditions.

And they I got press-ganged by the Level 2's.

Can't say I put up too much of a struggle. So I left Buffy on shore, which was probably a good thing given the lack of crew and the fact the blustery, squally conditions were only building as the day wore on, and spent Saturday afternoon blasting up and down the lake with a couple kids in one of the Club's training boats. Even double-reefed, with enough wind a Gull will plane easily with just myself and a couple of juniors aboard. Seeing their faces split wide with mad grins that only echoed my own adrenaline rush as the gusts hit and the boat they were helming climbed up onto her own bow wave and we went screeching across the lake was a rare treat, and everything I love about teaching people to sail.

The first day of a six day course, the one lad had done the course before so whilst sailing wasn't entirely new, I suspect the experience of handling a planing sail boat almost certainly was. The young lady aboard with us was completely new to it, and she'd caught the absolute perfect day for her introduction to sailing. I don't imagine their grins faded until long after I'd set them ashore again. I know mine didn't.

We came ashore and packed up around 1630. Then Charles, one of the other instructors on the course and a fellow Enterprise sailor "persuaded" me to go out for a bash around the lake with Buffy before I packed her away. Obviously the persuasion involved an awful lot of pleading and arm twisting.

An awful lot.

As well as being horrifically persuasive, Charles is a very experienced sailor; he's one of the long time club members who helped teach me to sail when I first joined Frampton some eleven odd years ago. But he's a relatively recent convert to racing. I crewed for him aboard his Enterprise "Boldly Go" a month or two back and whilst she's a lovely boat, I don't think it would be unfair to suggest she's configured more for cruising that charging around the cans. I would never suggest another man's love was a bit on the heavy side, but even Charles would have to admit Boldly sit a half inch or two lower in the water than my Buffy. Something to do with all the buckets he packs aboard, along with the kitchen sink and, I suspect, a kedge anchor stowed somewhere under the foredeck.

We were only out for about 40 minutes or so, but it was a scream. The gusts were brutal, but with no course to keep other than convenience we simply tore from one end of the lake to another on a broad reach whenever the heavy stuff hit, picking up Buffy and sending her hurtling across the lake in a massive ball of spray and foam and adrenaline. After seeing what a down to fighting weight Enterprise can actually do, it wouldn't surprise me if Boldly looses a bucket or two from her inventory by the next time I have the pleasure of crewing for Charles.

I got home a little after 1800, bruised and tired but sated.

The grass never did get cut.

I don't know how she puts up with me.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Recap: Cornwall, gig, Sunday rain, birthday girl

It's 18:11hrs on a Wednesday evening, and I'm just about to head out to a gig. Looking forward to it. Also looking forward to voting tomorrow. Fed up of elections, glad to get this one out of the way. However, many things about the lead up to this one however have made me smile.

Ironically, at times, but smile nonetheless.

A recap of the last week or two, ever so brief, in pictures.

Went away to Cornwall for a long weekend with Nik. Had a fantastic time. Very little sailing, as I'd promised the weekend would be all about her. Did have a couple of hours racing a friend's British Moth around the harbour.

Most appalling start, still managed to beat my way back up to second place. Entirely down to the boat. That boat should probably be illegal. But she was gorgeous. Her name was Dakota. A good name for a boat, I reckon.

When I point a camera at you and say smile, you should probably take that as a chance to smile. A sarcastic smile is still a smile, but reaps its own reward in kind. Two of my favourite things in one of my favourite places:

Home from Cornwall, the following weekend we had a wedding gig. Jason and Kerry got married in a place called Kingscote Barn in nearby Tetbury. Not the first time we've played there, but the first time we've played there in the summer, interestingly enough.

Jason and Kerry threw a fantastic party. They made a lovely couple, wish them every joy and luck for a long, happy future together.

They also had an amazing bunch of family and friends to celebrate the day with them. Like I said, a fantastic party.

Got home late Saturday night. Went to bed, got up about three and a half hours later to head over to Cardiff with Dad to go sailing. Headed out towards Flat Holm. Fantastic sailing at first, then as the tide bottomed the wind died completely and the rain came down.

Spent a good forty-five minutes drifting beneath sheets of vertical rain before the wind filled back in with the flood and we sailed back to Cardiff. At least it washed the salt off the new sails. Interestingly, even in those rubbish conditions, I found myself sitting in the cockpit of the boat in my foul weather gear, drinking a cup of tea as the rain ricocheted from my hat, thinking to myself there was still no place at that precise time that I'd rather have been.

I expect I'll grow out of it. Eventually.

Closer to home, we had a birthday this week. My girl Lilly was 6 years old yesterday.

I'm kidding myself if I say I've no idea where the time has gone. More and more aware of it sliding away these days. Makes what time we have all the more precious I guess.

Have a lovely evening, whoever and wherever you are. I'm off to Bristol now, got a gig to be getting on with!