Friday 14 December 2018

Freefall: my new American friend

I probably should've bought a radial rig for the Laser. I kind of need a radial rig, if I'm honest. On the other hand, the Takemine acoustic I currently use for gigs is long past her honourable retirement date. She still sounds as sweet as the day I first picked her up off the stand in the guitar shop, but she's looking very battered. She's done twelve years of hard gigging with me now.

A friend, Will, suggested a trip to a guitar shop over in Guildford. He wanted a new amp to go with his new guitar, and this was apparently the place to go for one. He mentioned they also had a nice range of acoustics. I thought, why not? It's a day out. Not like I have to buy anything. The Takemine's probably good for another couple of years at least.

Well, that didn't go to plan.

I spent a good hour or two in their acoustic room trying to persuade myself I didn't need this. It's not that I couldn't afford it. Although it was twice what I'd originally planned for in my head when I did a few "what if" mental calculations the night before, you know, "just in case". But like any guitar I buy, she'll quickly pay for herself after a few gigs.

So here then is the new mistress in my life. She's from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and she sounds just as pretty as she looks.

We have our first date tonight. A birthday party down in Bristol. The birthday girl is a friend of mine and long time friend of the band, so it should be an absolute ball. We can't wait.

Friday 7 December 2018

Thursday 6 December 2018

Link: Susan Smillie

Reading about sailor Susie Goodall of the Golden Globe Race, currently dismasted and awaiting rescue in the Southern Ocean, lead me to the following article written by a former features editor of the Guardian, Susan Smillie. She downed tools a year ago to sail around Britain, got as far as Lands End and decided to turn left instead of right.

Her story put a smile on my face, and is well worth a read:

Wednesday 5 December 2018

FOSSC: Sunday winning

On Sunday morning the weather came in heavy and wet. Not especially cold, but the water temperature is still biting. Despite not getting to bed until 0300 the night before, I tried to get to the sailing club early to give myself time to sort out the boat; I’ve replaced the tiller and renewed the XD control lines; the cunningham, outhaul and kicker, so they all needed to be rethreaded and set up properly. Whilst doing so, I removed one of the purchases from the kicker, reducing it from 18:1 to 9:1 to reduce the string in the cockpit and make the control a little more direct.

The wind was averaging in the mid-teens, but gusting up into the top 20’s or more, so I left the thicker mainsheet rigged. If I’d had a radial, I’d have rigged down to that, but instead I have a piano. Practice is going well, by the way, every evening is an adventure.

Ten boats rigged for the first race of the morning, a pursuit, but only one other Laser turned up. Jon does have a radial rig but although he mentioned in passing that he’d considered rigging it, opted for a standard sail to match mine. The gusts had eased back whilst we were setting up ashore, so I imagine that and the fact he’d be racing against me with my standard rig coloured his decision.

In a pursuit race, each different class of boat has its own start; the slower the boat, the earlier the time and the bigger the head start on the faster boats that follow. With only two of us in our class I was laid back about starting, loitering upwind of the committee boat at the starboard end of the line, right up into the last thirty seconds, when I realised that Jon had put himself a couple of boat-lengths to leeward of me, right on the layline to the pin, and had effectively shut me out.

Kicking myself for my inattention, I tacked then gybed to give myself a fresh run at the line, crossing an inexcusable eight seconds late, whilst Jon powered up and shot down the line, crossing at the port end bang on the gun. A hard, gusty beat followed, hampered by dirty, spoiled air from the slower Solos rounding to windward ahead. By the time we reached the mark I’d made good most of my mistake however, and found myself right on Jon’s tail for the downwind leg.

Dead downwind. I don't like dead downwind these days.

We hit the downwind mark in the teeth of a huge gust; unwilling to get too aggressive with Jon so early in the race, I conceded the overlap well outside the three boat lengths needed and positioned myself to take the outside line. Pulled on the controls in preparation for hardening up, and then lost control completely, broaching in the gust, before pitching back into windward by the mark, foot caught in the toe-strap and half the lake getting shoved up my nose as the boat then continued to power downwind on her side with the sail still proud of the water and full of wind.

By the time I recovered, giving myself a black eye from the flailing boom as I struggled to untangle the mainsheet from the rudder blade and get the boat sailing again, Jon was already half a lap ahead. Smiling to himself, I hope.

I closed the gap back up over the next half hour, inevitably gaining ground on the windward legs, but never getting close enough to pass.

And then we rounded the second windward mark and bore away for the long broad reach down the length of the lake to the gybe mark, and a gust hit, knocking him flat. I ducked past the end of his now submerged mast, hiked out hard throwing my weight back as the boat took off, skipping over her own bow-wave in a spume of spray as we shot away from him.

The conditions worsened over the last ten minutes of the race, the gusts coming in harder and quicker. I finally caught and passed the back of the Solos to climb back to the middle of the fleet, Jon caught another piece of bad luck and capsized on top of the windward mark. He was still struggling to disentangle himself from the buoy and get his boat back up, safety boat standing by, when the gun signalled the end of the race.

Back ashore for lunch, a hot mug of tea, then back out for the afternoon class race; two more Lasers joined us to make a fleet of four, both rigging their radial sails.

Determined not to be caught kipping on the start line by Jon again, I got their early and hovered, powering up in the final seconds before the gun to cross fast at the starboard end of the line, bang on time. The start, much improved from the first race, paid dividends. I can’t actually remember if I made it first around the windward mark, but within the first ten minutes I’d secured the lead, albeit with no great comfort in the margin; Jon doggedly snapping at my heels at every mark rounding.

The following hour was hard, muscle-pulling hikes to windward, screaming planes down the broad reach and perilous, tippy runs dead downwind. At one point, I misjudged the reach, failed to spot the gust before it hammered into me and had the boat roll over on top of me, just where it had caught Jon in the previous race. Past the point of no return, as the boat rolled on top of me, I grabbed the windward gunwale now directly above my head and as the mast hit the water, pulled myself up and rolled over to land on the dagger-board. I could see Jon on the leg behind, beating up the layline to the windward mark I’d just rounded, closing rapidly.

The boat came back up, blissfully untangled and pointing the right way, and we were off again, still desperately clinging to my now tenuous lead.

By the time it was all over, I’d landed and was pulling my boat back up the horribly steep concrete slope of the shore, I was happily exhausted, battered and bruised. Jon landed not long after me. Two races, and I’d beat him in both, if only just.

As he pulled his boat up the shore behind me, still insofar as I could tell looking as fresh as he’d been when we’d started out earlier that morning, despite his various icy and involuntary swims across the day, he commented a wry grin words to the effect that if only he were twenty-five years younger.

I think that put me in my due place. If in twenty-five years’ time I’m still out there on a hard, unwelcoming winter’s day like that and still giving the competition a good run for their money, I’ll count myself as having won. Regardless of where I might finish in any given race of the day.

Of birthdays, diamonds & gigs

It was a good weekend just gone.

My daughter and eldest child turned 30 on Saturday. I briefly pondered on whether or not that fact made me feel old. But no, it only leaves me feeling vaguely accomplished. Unjustifiably so, as any accomplishment in reaching 30 is entirely hers. But I’m very proud of all three of my children.

The pub where my daughter works had booked our band to play Saturday night, not entirely by coincidence alone, so the night turned into something of a birthday party for her.

Also, not entirely by coincidence alone, her boyfriend Dan asked her to marry him. She said yes, of course, and seems very happy. I'm delighted for them both.

And it was quite the party. My favourite kind of party, in fact. One where I can focus on the gig and not have to work at being sociable.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Holms Race 2019

I've just read that the date for the 2019 Holms Race has been announced as being 14th September. I don't have a gig. Unfortunately, I don't have a boat in the Bristol Channel anymore either.

On the other hand, you never know what opportunities may arise, so I might just pencil out the date in my diary anyway.

Meanwhile, as it's otherwise a slow news day, I thought I'd just repost some photos taken the first time Dad and I entered Calstar in the race back 2015.

The Bed Thief

Wednesday 28 November 2018

FOSSC: tryhard

Some say if you don't capsize, you're not trying hard enough. I know a few that would vehemently disagree with that but that's not the point, however fair a point they might well have.

I do think this is one of the cuter trophies in the club's catalogue; I'm not all together unamused at bringing it home again.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Calstar: Refloat

Got up before the crack of dawn to head down to Plymouth yesterday to re-launch Calstar. As the sun doesn't come up until just shy of 0800 at this time of year, that's not as harsh a start to the morning as it sounds. The work on Calstar's gel-coat has been finished, her anti-foul renewed, and the heads replaced.

It's fair to say that I've got more tolerance for Dad's driving than he has for mine, although I dispute any suggestion that this should be a reflection on my driving, and more on Dad's qualities as a passenger. The advantage of this, of course, is I generally get to read for the two and a half hours it takes each way on the journey to and from Plymouth. And have free hands and attention should a pretty photograph present itself.

Sunrise over the Severn Valley was more subtle creep than glorious dawn splendour, but for a minute or two the hazed light took on a lovely shade of pale ochre before the morning gave way to a drab, grey overcast that endured for most of the rest of the drive down.

By the time we arrived in Plymouth, the grubby grey sky had given way to a bright, cold blue and a glorious, still winter's day; perfect for re-launching and moving Calstar around to her winter berth, deeper into the shelter of the marina than she was previously moored.

All went smoothly, aside from a little confusion over the meaning of "left" and "right" in the last moments of guiding her into her new berth. The shiny, freshly rejuvenated gelcoat was saved however with an athletic landing onto the pontoon finger just ahead of Calstar's arrival and some energetic fending off.

I'm generally not a fan of jumping from the boat, but every so often it just has to be done, and at least there was another vessel already moored on the other side of the finger to stabilise my landing. The finger pontoons can be a bit wobbly if that's not the case.

It's good to have her back afloat. She's not quite yet ready to sail. Below looks like a disaster site, as we're mid-way through a long overdue replacement of the head-lining. It will be finished soon however, and she'll look like a new boat when it's done.

Well, new for a 37 year old lady, in any case. Hopefully we'll get a last sail in before Christmas.

Friday 23 November 2018

Not my stage

A night out with my wife to catch a band. Not done this in a while.

Wait, don't think we've ever done this....

Monday 19 November 2018

FOSSC: an unfortunate hat-trick

I had to miss the Laying-up Supper and prize giving at Frampton this weekend as we had a gig down in Bristol. Got to the Club Sunday morning for the usual racing, and various friends cryptically mentioned "Heard you won a trophy" and "Congratulations on the prize" and that sort of thing.

It was the prize-giving evening, and I've had a good first year with the Laser, winning the Personal Handicap and the Summer Class series, so it wasn't a great surprise, and I was at first a bit baffled at their apparent amusement.

Especially when the people offering the congratulations suddenly turned coy when I asked them which trophy they meant.

Turns out it's my old friend the Capsize Trophy. Which makes it the third time the thing has come home with me. I thought there was some sort of unwritten rule about winning it more than once, but apparently not.

And, apparently, the prize giving committee were quite unanimous in their choice this year. Amongst apparently may obviously qualifying achievements of the candidate concerned, there was some mention of something about a certain person being idiot enough to try racing a Laser Standard rig in 50mph winds.

That's not how the person relating the decision to me was kind enough to phrase it. Neither did they suggest that the clear lack of any apparent instincts of self-preservation were in any way some kind of character flaw; but I do rather suspect that was what was going through their minds.

Wednesday 14 November 2018


The view from my office window late this afternoon. Autumn hasn't quite yet conceded in full to winter's stark grip.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Freefall: drummer's view

Although once we get going, he'll mostly see me, stood in front of his kit.

FOSSC: weekend playground

Spent most of it here.

Yesterday working with the powerboats, training a new draft of drivers to rescue us when it all goes wrong.

Today, raced Amanda's Enterprise with her; went well, we are definitely improving. Then raced my Laser. Started well, very well. All went rapidly downhill from there.

Sat on the drummers stool, waiting for the gig to start; on in 20 minutes. The drummer has the most comfortable seat in the house, which is the only reason I'm sat here.

Hands hurt, fingers stiff from all the sailing of the last couple of weeks. Voice is much improved after a recent cold, but there are still some of the higher notes quite literally missing. Which worries me, but I'm sure they'll come back.

Oddly, despite my physical exhaustion, I'm really looking forward to the gig.

Cold beer in hand, only one of the evening until I get home later tonight. It does taste good.

Saturday 3 November 2018

Friday 2nd

My eldest son had news today that he'd lost a friend.

I had news that a friend had lost his son.

We are heartbroken for them both, their family, and everybody this will touch.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Laser: forecast

Laser Open at Frampton on Saturday. Looking at the forecast, not sure if I should be looking forward to it or quaking with fear. If it comes in as promised, I think I'm going to really regret not prioritising getting myself a Radial rig (ie. smaller, cut down sail for those of us not into racing little plastic dinghies around a puddle)

Browsing some photos from earlier this year, just to get my head into the right space . . . .

Tuesday 30 October 2018

FOSSC: wind shadow, shallows and running starts

The weekend finished here.

The lake at Frampton, from the lee shore by the clubhouse at least, looked idyllic in the early winter sun when I arrived Sunday morning. The temperature was around 6C  however, and chilled further by a sharp north wind that was forecast to gust up into the mid 20's by lunchtime.

Racing is now in the second week of the winter programme.

"earlier this month" - photo: ken elsey
Earlier this month, in the absence of an Enterprise of my own, I'd bullied a friend into sailing the Enterprise Open with me at Frampton. It had been terrific fun. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the Laser, but I'd forgotten, in such a very short time since I'd sold my own, how much fun it could be to race a double-hander.

So I'm sailing the Sunday morning Winter Pursuit series at Frampton with Amanda and her Enterprise this year. It's worked out well, because it means that my eldest boy Ben can use my Laser in the same race, which gets him out on the water again whilst he looks for a Laser of his own.

The course laid by the race committee on Sunday morning was questionable, to say the least. To compliment a gusty, foul-tempered northerly, the windward mark was set up as an unconventional starboard rounding in the dogleg of the lake at green, in the wind shadow of surrounding trees on three sides. The starboard approach to the start line was beset by centreboard grinding shallows. More than one boat got themselves grounded before the start. Those same shallows only worsened on the right hand side of the approach to the windward mark.

The rest of the course was a slalom series of deep, sluggish and uncomfortable runs, or pinched, close reaching fetches, seemingly designed to put the boats on different legs into direct conflict with each other. The only possible redeeming feature of the whole thing was that all the boats were in the same shared misery together.

Ben, still getting used to the vagaries of a Laser, capsized into the wind chilled waters more times than was comfortable. Although we stayed upright in the Enterprise, the only enjoyable thing you could take from the whole races was that we were at least out on the water. And the sun was shining. Even if the wind-chill was numbingly cold.

Back ashore between races, putting the Enterprise away, Les kindly offered me the loan of his own Laser for the afternoon race so that Ben could carry on sailing in mine, but the boy had had enough, and decide that an afternoon spent marking his student's homework for Monday was preferable to putting himself through another repeat of that morning's trial.

For myself, I figured the Race Officer couldn't possibly set any worse of a course than he'd done so that morning, so decided to stay to race the Laser for the second race.

Couldn't do any worse?

Taking on board our vocally expressed feedback that Green up in the shadow of the trees was a horrific windward mark, he instead shifted it upwind and to the right, further into the shallows, and set a "running start" followed by a starboard rounding at White for our first leg. The rest of the course remained a sleigh-race of painfully deep training runs and pinched close reaches with hardly a decent beat to speak of, and we still had to contend with a cantankerous, wind-shadowed green, but at the end of the lap instead of the beginning.

A class series, so only Lasers racing in our fleet, the confusion of an unconventional running start was further addled when the starting gun failed to give the all clear; Pete went for it anyway, trusting his watch and so stealing a thirty second lead on the rest of us that we never clawed back. I got free into relatively clear air early on, so maintained a lead in second place ahead of Mike for most of the rest of the race, until a couple of unlucky, ill timed gusts capsized me twice in the final lap, letting Mike close the gap.

An unfortunate header left him unable to lay what passed for the windward mark at Yellow, whereas I, slightly to windward, tried to shoot it. I was at this point panicking and seeing red through the adrenalin of the moment in my desperation to stay ahead; in the cold light of hindsight ashore, I'm not convinced I kept clear of him as he came into the mark on starboard but at the time, and in the absence of complaint, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt.

I'd like to think I'd return the same favour of doubt to him, but that's not really an excuse.

In any case, Mike settled the tussle between us when the next gust came through, and he tipped head over heels for an unfortunate, surprised swim, leaving me clear to finish ahead of him.

Regardless of my frustrations over the course set, or my own performance and judgement at times - a heavy night drinking with friends to start the weekend, an early, frostbitten sail on the estuary to clear the hangover Saturday morning followed by a gig in Bristol late into that night - as ever with the lake at Frampton, it was still far better a bad day out on the lake than a good day spent kicking around almost anywhere else.

So in case any of this sounds like complaint, it's not. I might question the Race Officer's judgement in setting the courses that he did, but he is a friend and I can't question his motive, and at least I was sailing and not caught with a club duty running the races myself. Setting a course in a northerly at Frampton is always a perilous task, I guess he was trying to make the best of the hand he'd been dealt by entertaining us with novelty.

LYC: fish pie and muddy Mirrors

The weekend began here.

Friday night at Lydney Yacht Club. My good friend Chris Orme's fantastic fish pie, copious amounts of fine ale served by Barney and Martin across the Club bar, followed by a substantial tipple or two (three?) of a dubiously named Scotch. I say "dubiously named", but that's about all I recall of it, other than Barney was very generous with his estimate of the measures he served and it went down very smoothly on the back of all that ale and fish pie.

Entertainment of a more conventional nature was supplied by our friends Hedley and Eric as they regaled us with tales and photos of their lengthy retirement cruise earlier this summer aboard their respective yachts "New Dawn" and "Darteign", which seemed to cover most of the west coast of Wales and Scotland and the east coast of Ireland before returning home to Lydney.

It was a good night to catch up with old friends and make a couple of new ones.

I was supposed to be meeting up with Steve to crew for him aboard his sailing canoe "Green Bean" first thing Saturday morning, so had brought a sleeping bag, a self-inflating mattress and a plan to sleep in the back of my car. However, in the event, Lydney's Commodore Sarah and her partner Martin took pity on me and offered me a bunk on their Westerly moored up in the harbour.

Only catch was the rather perilous, icy boarding plank we had to navigate to get aboard. Oh, and the other peril, being the comfort of the bunk. I woefully overslept the following morning. Sarah and Martin woke me at 0800, reminding me I was supposed to be meeting the others to go sailing. 90 minutes late, I thanked them again for their hospitality, crammed my sleeping bag into it's bag, and made a dash for it.

By the slip I found two Mirror dinghies already rigged and waiting for the tide, crewed by Annabel and Tina and Tom and his son Harry respectively, but no sign of Steve or Green Bean. A moment's confusion and concern was dispelled however when I glanced at my phone and finally caught a message he'd sent at 0600, apologising but crying off sick.

Steve is pretty unstoppable in his enthusiasm for sailing Green Bean, so if he had to call a sickie, I had nothing but sympathy for him, it must've been bad. Feeling pretty rough myself, albeit entirely self-inflicted, I almost felt relieved. The morning was crisp and bright. And very, very chill.

"You've been drinking" remarked Annabel, it being clearly that obvious. And then Annabel and Tina press-ganged me into sailing with them. Despite the hangover, despite the chill, and despite a mild concern as to how we'd possibly fit three fully grown adults into a little Mirror, of course I found it quite impossible to say no.

The tide was tanking past off the end of the slip in full flood as we launched. Annabel and Tina appeared to have proceedings well under control so I lounged out in the sun on the foredeck and tried to ignore the dull thumping headache and numb chill of the morning seeping into my fingers through the fabric of my wet gloves.

Tom and Harry launched their own Mirror behind us and soon we were both close hauled on port, beating into the stiff northerly blowing hard down the estuary. The bank on the Forest side gave a little shelter in its lee, but on the Sharpness side, with the tide running hard against the wind, the overfalls made pointed, wet comment about the lack of freeboard you get when you put three adults into a Mirror.

Annabel and Tina were unruffled however, and managed the boat skilfully, tacking away and back towards the calm of the western shore whilst I tried valiantly not to get too tangled in the jib. Yours truly then continued to lounge, the hangover slowly receding, even if the damp chill continued it's onslaught against my poor abused bones. Discomfort aside, it was a gorgeous morning, and the silted, muddied, violent majesty of the Severn was as unsubdued and as unapologetic as ever in her glory.

I do truly love this bit of local water.

Through the narrows off the Sharpness Old Dock we hit the claptopic churn that always kicks up on the edge of Ridge Sands. The GPS on my watch recorded a high of 11.3 knots, which is a silly number for three folks in an 11' Mirror, but most of it was, of course, the tide.

It's a bit like white water rafting. Except the water isn't white. And it's kind of running up hill.

We crossed close to Tom and Harry to discuss the plan; some thought was given to simply pushing on up river until the tide turned, but the conversation turned in favour of landing in Brims Pill for coffee and breakfast.

The idea of any kind of solid breakfast caused a minor revolt in my somewhat abused and still struggling to recover system, but coffee felt welcome. And with heavier weather due in around lunch, not pushing our luck upriver seemed the more sensible choice.

Tom and Harry, taking a more conservative line, judged their approach perfectly, but caught further out in the full throated pull of the flood tide, we overshot the mouth of the Pill. We turned towards the shore, bearing away to a broad reach, and for the next five minutes our ground speed turned to the negative as we took a slow ferry glide in towards what we hoped would prove to be a back eddy to take us back to the Pill

The physical feeling of forward momentum coupled with the contradicting visual sensation of going nowhere but gradually backwards is a very Severn specific phenomena.

As the back eddy took its grip on our little boat, we gradually began to gain ground against the rushing tide, and finally turned into the shelter of the narrow creek. Having contributed nothing else to the voyage so far except my wit and my charm (quote from Tina: "Stop talking about capsizing Bill!") I finally stepped up to the plate and was first to step off from the boat as we made shore, struggling through knee deep mud to take the painter up to firm ground where we secured both boats to a metal corkscrew pin Annabel had brought along for the purpose.

Brims Pill is a picturesque spot as any to sip strong, hot black coffee and what the flood tide flush in. It doesn't offer much shelter from the biting wind though. Although the clocks went back on Sunday and winter is finally here, most of the trees around these parts still haven't quite given up the ghost of the summer just gone, and still cling to a few leaves.


The tide finally began to turn, the wind was continuing to build, and after a little bit of fuss with the rudder of Annabel's Mirror, we were back aboard and casting off from the shore to begin our trip back to Lydney and home.

Downwind all the way, the gusts at times became quite lively and, for the sake of trim, I had to surrender my lounging spot on the foredeck and move my weight aft to stop the bow from burying. In the building conditions, Tom and Harry astern of us sensibly elected not to haul up any sail and instead row back to the club. 

Or rather Harry rowed, whilst his Dad presumable supplied a few words of encouragement to spur him along in his efforts. 

Under sail, at times the overladen little boat almost leapt onto the plane in the grip of some of the more boisterous gusts. Annabel is a stead hand on the tiller though, and knows the river well. We stayed clear of the overfalls off Sharpness, wind-flattened now even as they were with the turn of tide.

There was a moment of concern about Wellhouse Rock. We were hugging the shore off Purton, Annabel relaxed in the view that the tide always washes you around things and rarely into them, when we realised we couldn't actually see the rock because most of it was still submerged.

We arrived back at Lydney without mishap however, easily stepping ashore and Annabel guided the boat to a gentle landing on the slip, snug behind the shelter of the breakwater. Tom and Harry were still in view about a mile astern, hugging the Lydney shore as the rowed back down with the tide.

We dragged our boat up to the top, and then headed back down to the water's edge to greet them as they caught up. It didn't take them long.

8.5 nautical miles travelled in 1 hour and 35 minutes underway, albeit in my hungover stupor I failed to start the log on my GPS until we'd already sailed a mile or so. As I packed up and got in the car to drive home, conscious of a promise to take my youngest son and his mum out for lunch to celebrate his 20th birthday, the wind continued to build, bending the surrounding trees, and the sky blackened over and it began to rain.

We'd certainly picked the best of the weather for our morning's sail. And sailing out of Lydney is always an adventure.