Friday 24 November 2017

Calstar: dreaming of blue water

I mean blue as opposed to the silt-brown of the Bristol Channel. Not the "proper" blue water of ocean sailing; although that's always at the back of my mind, we shall leave that ambition for a later day. Walk before we run, etc, etc.

I think I've almost persuaded Dad on Plymouth as opposed to Torquay. I like Torquay, but would prefer to have it as a place to visit, and Plymouth is just so much closer to all the places I really want to sail.

When I'm not around, Dad visits the boat as much as we visit other places aboard the boat. So having it somewhere "nice" is important to him, as he spends a lot of time pottering about on and around her whilst she's moored up in her home berth. He likes the seaside atmosphere of Torquay and views Plymouth as being just a little bit too grimy and industrial.

I don't think he's necessarily seen Plymouth in its best light, so I've agreed Nikki and I will take him back down there for a wander about before the year's over.

Our current contract in Penarth Marina runs out at the end of March, so that's when we really want to move the boat around. Doesn't have to be then, but any variation either way is going to start to cost us money in short term berthing arrangements.

I'm a little bit daunted by the prospect of the trip. Although only a coastal passage, it's somewhat bigger and certainly more intense than anything we've done so far by quite some margin. Then again, if I were ever inclined to let a little thing like that put me off from doing something, I'd have never set myself afloat in the Bristol Channel in the first place.

Anyway. All of the following are just my initial thoughts and estimates. The one thing I do currently have is the luxury of time to mull all this over. Any comments or advice are always very welcome. I'm very aware this isn't anything anybody hasn't done before. It's just a first time for us.

So, the way I see it, the smallest I can reasonably break it down into is into seven legs. I can probably get two weeks off work in the spring and equivalent leave of absence from the wife, so finding seven stretches of favourable weather and tide in the space of two weeks seems plausible, even in March / April.

All measurements and estimates very approximate, times underway assuming an average of 4 knots over the ground, which I think is quite conservative:

1. Cardiff to Lundy - 60nm - 15 hours
2. Lundy to St Ives - 65nm - 16 hours
3. St Ives to Newlyn - 31nm - 8 hours
4. Newlyn to Falmouth - 35nm - 9 hours
5. Falmouth to Fowey - 21nm - 5 hours
6. Fowey to Plymouth - 21nm - 5 hours
7. Plymouth to Torquay - 43nm - 11 hours

Total 276nm - 69 hours / 3 days underway

The big stretches, Cardiff to Lundy, Lundy to St Ives, are early in the endeavour on purpose. In part, it's the Bristol Channel, so there aren't many options to stop off in between, and in part, it's the Bristol Channel, so if we get the tides right, we should manage an average speed over the ground of somewhat better than 4 knots.

On the Bristol Channel side, obvious bolt holes between Cardiff and Lundy are Ilfracombe or (a bit more out the way) Swansea. Between Lundy and St Ives I think we only have Padstow as an alternative.

Bristol Channel aside, which is a beast we know well enough, the two big, daunting lumps I think I need to worry about are rounding Lands End, and getting around The Lizard.

So St Ives seems a good staging post to time our rounding of Lands End. Calstar's bilge keels can take the ground happily if we want to, so the drying harbour isn't a problem. Unless the weather's very settled, I'm going to go around the outside of Longships. I'd like to do it in daylight, if only to enjoy the view.

And once around Lands End, Newlyn seems a good spot from where to stage our rounding of The Lizard. Once past the Lizard, everything there on is relatively straight forward.

I think the above, with bit of fair weather, Dad and I could probably manage on our own over a space of two weeks.

Alternatively, if we had a third or even a fourth hand to share watches with us, we could condense this into fewer, longer passages:

1. Cardiff to St Ives - 125nm - 31 hours
2. St Ives to Falmouth - 66nm - 17 hours
3. Falmouth to Torquay - 85nm - 21 hours

We would need assistance though. I reckon I could stand a 16 hour watch on my own, but more than that I suspect would be questionable. Dad's fine helming the boat under power or sail in good visibility and fair conditions, but he's a boatman at heart and not a sailor, so it wouldn't be fair to expect him to stand a four to six hour watch alone with the boat beating to windward through the dark of night whilst I slept below.

And, were it just he and I aboard, I know for a fact he wouldn't be able to leave me alone on watch above and go below to rest himself. So I think the passage will either be bite-sized chunks, or we'll have to find a friend or two willing to sail it with us.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Calstar: Bristol Channel webcams

There are a couple of webcams on the Bristol Channel that I quite like. The Porthcawl webcam has long been my favourite (the above was a screenshot taken during one of the October storms), but a close second has always been the Ilfracombe webcam.

Ilfracombe remains one of Dad's favourite destinations with Calstar, and following our last trip there this summer with the Lyndey Yacht Club mob, I think this year it's probably become one of mine.

They've just installed new cameras for the latter, and the image is superb. For a webcam, that is.

Having spent an idle few minutes watching it today, I was suddenly struck by how empty the harbour is a this time of year.

Then I remembered it is, of course, late November. Most sensible people around these parts are off the water now till next spring.

The last photo was taken back in August from up above in the town overlooking the harbour. Calstar is grounded alongside another bilge-keeler (a lovely couple visiting from Newport that same week) furthest but one boat to frame-left, by the bottom of the slipway.

I'm not actually sure when we'll get the chance to revisit. I doubt again this year now, with so little of it left, the weather turning cold and daylight growing short. And although jury is still out as to whether we move to Plymouth or Torquay next spring (in my mind, if not, admittedly, in Dad's), regardless of the choice, we'll probably just sail straight past Ilfracombe on the way down, intent on getting straight to Padstow or St Ives before rounding the corner.

It's almost a shame, but there is at least the comfort of new adventures to be had.

Friday 17 November 2017

Freefall: an October evening

Talking of moments. I just stumbled across the above snap amongst my photos. I'm not sure who took it, obviously not me, as I'm frame right, so it was probably Dad.

Last night's gig was a much quieter affair, as you'd expect for a Thursday evening in Oldland Common, but still very enjoyable. The photo above was taken on a Saturday night in Fishponds, Bristol, at The Railway, at the end of last month.

That was a good evening's work.

I have this weekend off. Watching the weather forecast, trying to decide where to go and when to sail. Current thinking is to sail up to Portishead Saturday afternoon, supper in Portishead Saturday evening, then back to Cardiff Sunday morning.

I have Monday off work, but at the minute the weather forecast is strongly suggesting I want to spend Monday ashore.

In pictures

Steve Earley is a man I admire as both a sailor and a photographer. He sails a Pathfinder called "Spartina", a gorgeous little yawl that he built himself, and keeps a journal of his adventures in his blog, The Log of Spartina.

In one of his more recent entries, he wrote of a collection of photographs he recently had cause to look through that ". . . . when scrolling through them . . . . I could remember the moments surrounding each of those images, some a decade old, often being able to recall what I was thinking about while taking the photograph."

I wouldn't, in any way, compare my own photos to the clear artistry in almost every image Steve captures, but in this, at least, we are quite the same.

I'm privileged to enjoy a chaotic, kinetic, fast moving life full of rich and varied experiences, and equally rich and varied relationships. And all to often the narrative gets lost amidst the noise and fury of living in the moment.

Ask me what I was doing this time three days ago, and I have no idea.

Show me a photo I took on a beach in Weston in 2001, or a souk in Kuwait in 1989 or a dog and a boy on a sofa in Gloucester in 2016, and I'll tell you exactly what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I could see, taste, smell and how I felt as the moment was caught by the camera.

One thing that does seem to catch me though, more and more, is just how much time has passed since the photo was taken. It's as if the perspective of time passed is amplified by how clear those images still remain in my mind's eye.

Thursday 16 November 2017


One of the contributions to the comments section of the previously mentioned Ormerod piece concerning the furore Greggs have kicked up:

What do you get if you spell Jesus backwards?
I rest my case.

That made me chuckle.

Comment: holy sausage rollers

This story made me chuckle; the whole outrage about Greggs the pasty shop substituting a sausage roll for the baby Jesus in a navity scene. And I chose my capitalisation and spelling with irreverent, intentional care.

Some of the comment that followed I found quite insightful though, especially Peter Omerod's thoughts in the Guardian:

I personally feel it's still far too early in the year to be putting up Nativity Scenes anywhere, involving sausage rolls or not, but I guess I'll have to bow to the inevitable. Halloween is out of the way, Christmas is as good as here. However, good on Greggs for scoring a double publicity win with a single PR stunt. It's certainly had me thinking about the convenience pastry chain store significantly more this week than I normally think about them.

Which is to say I probably thought about them twice. Three times, if you include my writing this comment.

Much as I enjoyed Mr Omerod's musings, one in particular made me chuckle:

"The fact that it’s funny tells us just how potent some of these key aspects of Christian iconography remain. A picture in which a sausage roll replaced, say, Alan Titchmarsh, wouldn’t have nearly the same effect."

I don't necessarily agree. We played a gig once, many years ago, for the Mess at RAF Brize Norton (a local airbase). It was packed, very lively, with a very good-natured, "work hard play hard" and exceptionally drunken, boisterous crowd. Really good fun. And one of the few gigs I've played where the bouncers had guns and combat boots.

At one point, they kidnapped our keyboard player from the stage and replaced him with a lilo.

They found it hilarious. As did we. Not so sure Jim (said keyboardist) was as comfortable with the joke, but it goes to support my own view that almost any ridiculous substitution is generally grounds for hilarity.

Besides, substituting a sausage roll into any pastiche involving Alan Titchmarch can surely only ever be a step in a positive direction in terms of increasing the interest and engagement of said picture?

Buffy: an unexpected day off

The forecast was an interesting one for this weekend just gone. An essentially moderate 15ish knots or so, but gusting to 35 or more. Things are around here are definitely beginning to feel autumnal.

That put paid to any plans for sailing Calstar, so Saturday was, following an hour of karate in the morning, squandered at home tidying up the garden and cleaning the kitchen. That pretty much saw off the day. The evening didn't involve anything more aduous than watching "Blackhawk Down" on Netflix and a few bottles of beer. I sometimes think I ought to feel guilty about drinking at home. But if I didn't drink at home, then when would I get the chance to drink?

We'd had a gig booked for early Sunday evening down in Bristol, which originally put certain restrictions on any other plans for the weekend, but on Saturday morning I had a call from the venue's new manager explaining that he'd been told the previous manager had cancelled us earlier in the year so he'd subsequently double-booked us with a karaoke. I'm never one to turn down the offer of a gig, but I have to admit I was almost relieved. I'd spent the week working up to it trying to work out what time we'd need to get to the venue to set up, and whether or not that would give me enough time earlier in the day to race Buffy at Frampton first. With the gig cancelled, I effectively had an unexpected day off, so freedom to race around the lake at my leisure. And I'd had the foresight to message Amanda a few days earlier to ask if she was available to race with me.

So I had a crew to race with.

35 knot gusts. I was trying, ever so hard, not to get my hopes up too much.

It was grey, flat and raining softly when I first arrived at the Club on Sunday morning at a little after 1000, so the first thing I did was go get changed into my drysuit before getting the boat out.

Which duly brought the sun out not ten minutes later. A light wind was blowing from a northerly direction as I rigged the Enterprise. Two minutes silence for Remembrance Sunday at 1100 and then we launched. Two races, the first a pursuit, then followed by a general fleet handicap, both races about an hour long and running back to back, the latter being a new format for Frampton. In the lead up to the start of the first race, the wind began to build as forecast. There was one other Enterprise on the water with us, Geoff and Sue in "Ghost". The wind, typically shifty as it always is when in the north, put a huge port bias on the start line but neither us nor Geoff thought to do anything with it. Ghost had a pretty grim start, about ten seconds late to the line; for reasons I can't explain let alone begin to excuse, ours was worse, and we were closer to twenty seconds late going over. The first beat was a boisterous, gusty affair, both Amanda and I hiked out hard for a lot of it to keep the boat flat and driving.

Since Hels retired from sailing to chase other interests, I've raced with Amanda a couple of times now, but both the previous occasions had been little more than drifts. We're not especially practiced at sailing together, and still find ourselves pulling on the wrong bits of rope and rushing the occasional roll tack, although we've mostly stopped colliding with each other when we do so (although I did in the second race accidentally clout her around the back of the head with the tiller extension). However, Amanda's quick on her toes, has good balance and is not shy of hiking hard when needed; although we started well astern of Ghost, the blustery, energetic beat up to windward saw us catch back up with them and pass ahead just before we rounded the windward mark.

They snuck back past us again halfway through, but with the conditions building through the race, our stamina paid off and we regained our lead again. And then, in the closing five minutes of the pursuit, we found ourselves ahead of and outside of a gust astern on a downwind leg that brought Ghost, Phil in his Aero and Ian in his Solo screaming down on top of us just as we hit the gybe mark.

The Aero left us for dust as we sailed high, pushing Ghost hard to windward. I don't remember if we broke her overlap, it's possible we might have cleared the leeward mark just ahead of them, but the wind had dropped for the last beat, and so between there and windward they inexorably pulled out in front to round ahead of us in the dying minutes of the race. Another unlucky gust accelerated the Solo past us to leeward shorty after, again leaving us untouched,fading just as the increased pressure would otherwise have hit our sails. Three places lost in the final moments of what was otherwise a great race.

The second race saw the wind building even more as noon came and passed. A heavy port bias but relatively short startline meant we all queued up and started in an unruly gaggle on starboard, with most of us tacking off onto port as soon as we were able.

I don't remember if we beat Ghost to windwards again in the second race, but we had a better start (which, to be fair, isn't saying much compared to start of the race before), and by the second lap were certainly ahead, but with her and a gaggle of Solos snapping closely at our tail. The OOD had set a classic Frampton course back and forth across the lake around six separate racing marks, including, perhaps maliciously given the forecast, four gybes; although even in the gusts, at least up until about then, they had been quite managable in the Ent. A few of the single-handers were capsizing here and there to keep the safety boat on their toes, but we'd not had any real concerns.

After the inital beat and the first windward mark at Yellow, the second leg of the course was a broad reach from the there down to the first gybe at Red, which turned into goose-winged run about halfway down as the wind bent to port. Ghost and the clutter of single-handers were just astern of us as we prepared to take the gybe, when a massive gust hit just as I started the turn to leeward. The little dinghy lurched violently, trying to claw back to windward and broach; already too far committed, I brutally forced the tiller over and Amanda hauled on the kicker to coax the boom across. A tangle of shouting and spray passed to windward of us as the boats astern, Ghost amongst them, aborted any attempt to gybe and instead tried to tack through. Our boom came across with a bang and a splash, Amanda and I hiked to try and bring the boat flat and hauled in on the sails. Buffy lept away like a thing possessed, gripped in the teeth of a huge gust.

The next leg should've been a close-hauled fetch, but I quickly gave up any pretense of trying to lay the mark and instead footed off to flatten the boat and let her plane down towards the opposite shore on a close reach, determined just to keep her upright until the gust had blown through. The compromise paid rich rewards, and we were already happily gybing around the next mark at Green-White by the time Ghost and the Solos astern had untangled themselves enough to finally navigate their way around Red.

The rest of the race kept up this brutal tone. A short while later, Ghost capsized, took a while to get back up, and so retired. We took one tumble, simply overpowered on the beat, my tiring hands not spilling the wind from the sail before the heeling boat locked the boom in to the water and a swim became inevitable. For Amanda, at least. For my own ignoble part, I stood on anything I could find and scrambled up over the windward gunwhale and straight onto the centreboard, keeping happily dry. But it also meant we were able to get Buffy back up quickly, still pointing in the direction we'd been going, and were able to get on with our race. Of course, an Enterprise being what it is, she came up swamped with water, gunwhales submerged, hanging on her bouyancy bags. The next half a lap was akin to sailing a bathtub full of water.

The rest of the hour was fantastic, physical sailing, hard hiking up the beats, joyous screaming down the reaches, and abject terror at the four gybe marks. We chickened out at two of them and wore around with a tack instead, but didn't capsize again despite everything the afternoon had to throw at us.

We finally finished fourth out of a fleet of twelve, the swamping that resulted from our one capsize inevitably costing us, despite our quick recovery. Of the twelve boats that started, six had retired before the end, so it's probably fair to say we secured our fourth place through simple attrition rather than any great merit due our sailing.

It's sailing like that which leaves me feeling conflicted and thinking twice as to whether or not I'm going to sell the Enterprise at the end of this year. I really enjoy the freedom and flexibility of racing single-handed, but there is definitely something very rewarding about finishing a hard race in a double-hander, about sharing the thrills and spills of such a race with your crew.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Of moonlight & evening classes

Last Tuesday evening after work; the lake at Frampton, very pretty beneath the moonlight. Back there again tomorrow night, in the middle of an RYA "Yachtmaster Coastal" theory course that's being run at the Club. Three and a half hours every Tuesday evening for 16 weeks, the instructor is running it alongside a Day Skipper course at the same time.

I'm finding this dual running format very tedious, it's very difficult to stay engaged. I appreciate the Coastal syllabus has to involve some revision of the theory we covered with Day Skipper, but so far the content has felt very "Day Skipper revision" heavy, so the three and a half hours every Tuesday night do seem to drag out interminably, despite the obvious proficiency, experience and charm of the instructor.

Not to mention I'm missing my regular, local Tuesday evening karate sessions. I'm trekking out to Cinderford every Thursday evening to train there instead. Same club, albeit a mostly different set of students, but 40 minutes drive each way which I've got to admit takes an amount of grit to work yourself up into doing after a long day in the office, even when you know it has to be done and it's always going to feel like it was worth it afterwards.

The course runs through till February. At this point I'm very much wishing I'd taken Dad's advice, spent the extra cash and taken the necessary two weekends out of sailing and the extra day off work to do the whole course in five days at a commercial training center down in Portishead.

Never mind. I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end.

And last week the moonlight did look ever so pretty as it danced over the waters of Frampton lake.

Monday 6 November 2017

Calstar: lake sailing

I had a gig Friday night, but the rest of the weekend free, and Nik, unusually, had the entire weekend off work to spend with me. So the original plan was to sail up to Portishead from Cardiff on Saturday afternoon, supper in Portishead Saturday evening, and sail back to Cardiff Sunday morning.

The gig went to plan. But that was about it.

November 5th is, of course, Bonfire Night here in the UK. In previous years, this hasn't caused much of a problem for our dogs; most of them couldn't care less, and those that did fret took comfort from the confidence of the others.

This year, Jack who in previous years has been oblivious, decided that this year he was going to go all barky and hyper excitable at the merest hint of a pop or a crackle. This in turn left poor Boo, not the most confident of furry souls in the best of times, feeling decidedly edgy and anxious every time Jack went off on one.

So instead of sailing up from Cardiff for supper in Portishead on Saturday night, I spent most of Saturday evening like this:

It wasn't entirely the fault of the fireworks. The forecast wasn't exactly playing ball either. It was lovely for Saturday, a fresh northwesterly set to drive us up to Portishead. But the promise for Saturday was not so great; wind increasing to 25 knots and backing more to the west of northwest.

Hardly terrible weather, especially with the sun expected to shine, but as a general rule of thumb, I don't take Nikki out sailing with us unless I can avoid it if the forecast is for more than 20 knots. Add in Sunday's spring tide of the weekend (13m range) and things had the potential to get quite lively.

I nearly broke the rule and went anyway.

Instead, we decided to have a quite Saturday night in (that is, Jack, Boo, Lilly and I; Nikki opted to leave us to it and go out to bingo, a strange, infernal game the charm of which utterly evades me) and then go down to the boat on Sunday and have a sail in the bay, behind the shelter of the Barrage, before heading over to Mermaid Quay for lunch.

The advantage of Cardiff Bay is that it's typically flat, sheltered water, essentially a big freshwater lake. So even if it's gusting past 25 knots, it's still usually a relatively benign place to potter about under sail with the family.

There were a couple of other yachts out, reaching back and forth across the mile wide stretch of water under their headsails alone, and a charming little Drascombe Coaster called "Pintail" making a very fine show of handling the conditions. We spent a very pleasant hour in the chill autumn sun ourselves reaching from one end to the other, Dad on the helm and me coaching Nik with handling the sheets through the occasional tack. She made an initially grudging crew, but gradually warmed to her task.

Although I kept two reefs in the main and a couple of rolls in the genoa, the conditions didn't really warrant it. The general wind speed was in the end within the shelter of the bay no more than a F3 or low 4, but the occasional gusts that blew did push into a definite 5. Having the sails reefed down made life a lot more relaxed for Dad at the helm.

I think Dad would happily have stayed out there reaching back and forth all morning, but hunger eventually got the better of us and we dropped the sails, put in alongside Mermaid Quay, and went ashore to get a late lunch at a Chinese in Cardiff's Red Dragon Centre. One of these "all you can eat" type buffet affairs, pleasant enough food within the limits of what it was but wouldn't have been my first choice. However, Dad had remembered the ice-cream machine from the last time we'd eaten there, and the lure of it was too much to resist a return.

What the food lacked in quality it more than made up for in quantity. Sated, almost to the point of unconsciousness, it was fortunately only a quick fifteen minute trot back across the Bay to our berth in Penarth, managed without mishap, and then a relatively easy drive back home.

A most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday.

Friday 3 November 2017

Morning Lilly

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on

You'd think she owned the place, the way she lords it around here.