Monday 26 March 2018

Calstar: blue water deliverance

[Weds 4th April 2120hrs: apologies up front, this should've been finished and posted after I wrote most of it on the evening of 26th. Instead, it's languished in draft until I could remedy my evident laziness, lightly proof read it and click Publish. All of the following relates to Calstar's delivery to Plymouth, the weekend of Friday 23rd March. We've had another weekend down there since, which I should also get around to sharing. Anyway . . . . ]

Calstar is delivered to her new home.

I booked last Friday off work, not that these people aren't sublimely capable of picking a boat up in one place, and then delivering and refloating her in another without my supervision, but they did all seem to take an awful lot of organisation and coordination and anyway, we wanted to be there.

We'd planned to be at Penarth for when she got loaded onto the back of the truck at 0900 Friday morning, but received a message from the Marina that the truck had already arrived, loaded her and left on its way by end of day Thursday, so we headed directly down to Plymouth.

Two hours and nineteen minutes, clear roads on a Friday morning, no traffic or any delays worth the mention. I don't imagine it'll always be this easy. But the journey went very smoothly, and we arrived in Plymouth to find Calstar there before us, patiently waiting for the crane to lift her from her cradle on the truck.

They weren't expecting us until the afternoon, so there was a good amount of hanging around, but they eventually managed to find us an earlier slot at 1300, just before low water made the slip untenable for a couple of hours.

Dad missed the launch. He'd gone to look for the riggers to organise the stepping of the mast and it all happened rather quick. Next thing I knew Calstar was alongside the pontoon and the Marina Berthing Master was saying we'd have to move her around to the mast crane quickly or we'd lose the water.

So I cast of and took her directly around there myself.

photo: thomas gregory (
I have to admit, whilst I suspect it probably alarmed Dad to have wandered back to the slip to find his beloved Calstar launched and apparently gone, I really enjoyed myself. I so rarely get the chance to manoeuvre Calstar under power in close quarters as Dad's always at the helm in those circumstances and I'm always jumping around with lines and fending off.

Needless to say, I delivered her to the mast crane without putting a single scratch into his lovely, freshly polished and shiny gel coat. A friend happened to be passing on the opposite side of the harbour as I did so and took the above photo of my as I was setting out the fenders. She does look very strange without a mast.

Although we got her to the mast crane in good time, the riggers didn't have anybody available until later in the day, so we waited patiently for a few hours until they turned up. At about the same time the rains came in, thick and hard.

John and Lucy of Allspars did a fine job of raising and rigging the mast, despite the drenching we all got. It took a couple of hours but went mostly without hitch. We had a bit of difficulty re-attaching the boom, as it turns out the outhaul has jumped off its roller and jammed, but managed to work around it, and with the outhaul jammed on, that's a job for another day.

By 1800 she was on her berth, all jobs for the day done. It was still raining hard, so we had supper in at the bar conveniently beneath the marina office, Chandlers. Fishcakes, washed down with a pint or two of Amstel. Really not much to complain about.

I'd originally hoped to sail Saturday, but we had odd jobs to finish up in the morning and by lunchtime the rain came back in, thick and heavy.

One of the jobs outstanding was to rewire the sockets at the foot of the mast.

Dad had the mast electrics replaced whilst she was on the hard in Penarth. New tricolour, anchor and steaming light, a new windex and VHF antenna, and new wires run down the mast. They didn't have time to rewire the plugs however, and with multiple lights running off three wires, the job proved a bit much for Dad and I to attempt.

So there is a birds nest of wires at the foot of the mast.

With the forecast suggesting there were 3m seas beyond the breakwater (and I could see them breaking over it around high tide earlier in the morning) I didn't really want to work around the birds nest in a lively sea, and didn't really want salt water flushing over the open sockets.

I suggested we go out for a potter in the Sound, but Dad declined, explaining that sailing about in the pouring rain was okay if we had somewhere to get to but if it was just sailing about for the sake of sailing, it wasn't what normal people considered to be "fun".

I''m not convinced we've ever been normal, but we are in danger of becoming fair weather sailors.

By the late afternoon, Dad had nodded off reading in his berth below decks, so I went shopping (at the local chandlery of course) and then retired to Chandlers to watch the comings and goings out on the water over a quiet pint and a book.

Dad woke a few hours later and we went to a local seafood restaurant for a fish and chip supper. And a number of glasses of whatever the house white wine was. I have to say, Carafes of wine are not as generous as I remember.

Sunday morning dawned dry and calm. Despite the lack of any electrics in the mast and the open sockets and birds nest on the coachroof, we decided to throw off our lines and poke our nose out into the Sound for a few hours before we headed home.

The sun was threatening to break through the overcast of the sky and catspaws of wind teased the surface of the water as we left the shelter of the Marine and headed out into the Sound. The wind was blowing directly off the shore, and once clear we hauled up the sails and turned on to a training run to take us out across the Sound towards the western entrance.

Blue water, as promised, if a little bit cold still for the time of year.

But it was a good first sail in new grounds. Out through the Western Entrance, then hardened up on to a reach and trotted across the tide and out to sea for a while, before turning to port, and then beating back in through the Eastern Entrance.

Just shy of four hours sailing and just over 14 miles covered. Other than the chill, the weather was perfect; warm sun and about 12 knots of wind, enough to tip the little yacht over and power her along but not enough to worry about bothering with a reef.

If we get a decent summer to compensate for the unusually late, nasty winter we've had, I can see we're going to really enjoy it here.

Actually, we're going to really enjoy it regardless.

Friday 23 March 2018

Calstar: neatness

Sipping neat gin because, with an alarming lack of foresight I neglected to bring any tonic with me to the boat and the only tonic we have aboard dates back to when it was first opened last autumn. And it's raining far too hard for me to want to get yet more kit wet looking for a handy corner shop in a strange new town.

There was still some fizz in the old tonic, but the taste was very strange. The gin tastes better straight.
Would rather have scotch or rum, but haven't the heart to steal the last of Dad's rum and the same lack of foresight has led to a lack of any scotch. I really should try to do better.

We're this Penarth or Portishead I could remedy the situation, both have very handy supermarkets.
But it's not. We're afloat on our new berth in Plymouth. And the taste of straight gin is growing on me.

Calstar: homing again to the sea

Friday 16 March 2018

A guitar story

There have been many influences in my life that have led me, musically, to where I am now. For better or worse.

James was a classmate of mine in my very early teens, and was one of three people that essentially gave me the guitar. Mum and another school friend of around the same time called Damien were the other two.

Mum taught me some very basic notes when I was very young, and her own interest in the instrument meant there was never one out of reach whilst I was growing up.

One day some years later, James brought his guitar into class and let me have a go. He explained what a capo did (for the uninitiated, it's a mechanical bar that locks across the fret-board and so changes the key of the instrument, a kind of cheat-mode), and showed be a very simple, exceptionally versatile chord shape. That re-ignited the interest Mum had originally kindled.

He even gave me one of his old capos. I'm pretty sure I still have it in a box somewhere. And I really don't have an awful lot else from back then.

Then a little while later, Damien explained to me, quite possibly by accident, why a guitar was so cool. The tips of the fingers of my left hand have been irredeemably callused ever since about then, and a guitar has never been very far from reach. In fact, two hang on my office wall at work.

Not that I've ever got particularly good at playing them. But they speak for me, as no other instrument really does, except my voice.

All that is a complete aside. I just really wanted to share this recent video clip of James playing at a recent gig in Bristol. His gigs are very different to mine. I really hope to catch one of his one day.

Friday 9 March 2018


One of the first notes in the prelude to spring is the blossoming of the snowdrops. On the road into work, I climb over a single hill before descending into the Stroud valleys and then on to our office. On the top of this hill is the village of Edge, and nestled in to a fork in the road is the village church.

Pretty enough a building of its own accord, but in the dying stages of winter every year the grounds of its surrounding churchyard are wreathed with a thick, luscious carpet of these flowers. I see them as I drive past, and every year they make me smile because they're the first whisper that winter is finally coming to a close. Every year I promise myself I'll stop on the way into work for a couple of minutes and take a photo. There's never enough light left at this time of year on the way home.

And every year I invariably fail to do so.

This year was no exception, except this year the promise of the snowdrops seemed to have been cut brutally short. One moment the churchyard was wreathed with their fresh white gleam, and then we had a late, hard snow.

More snow around these parts than I think we've had since the 80's.

Driving home early from work last Thursday afternoon to avoid getting trapped in it, I saw the churchyard and pulled over to the side of the road. The snowdrops were smothered in thick snow; smothered, frozen and quite gone. I took the photo I'd been promising myself anyway, wryly reflecting that I'd missed my moment yet again.

The dogs enjoyed the snow. I worked from home on Friday and was a bit fed up of it all by the time we got to the weekend, and so was quite relieved that by Sunday the cold snap was passed. Most of the snow was gone and the temperature was nursing its way back towards double figures. And, as I'm sure you can imagine, I was equally relieved to find that by Sunday the lake was clear enough to race on.

Although it is the first time I've ever had to dodge icebergs whilst sailing at Frampton, albeit none of them would've been too big to have floated in a washing-up bowl.

The weekend over, I was driving back into work on Monday morning. and as usual climbed the hill to drive through the village of Edge. The snow was gone, except for a dirty scattering of stubborn drifts still swathed across various hillside paddocks and fields.

But the snowdrops had returned. I finally got that photo.

Calstar: beached

She's out the water and being worked on. Rewiring the mast, replacing anodes and renewing the anti-foul. This time in two weeks time she'll be on the back of a truck and halfway down the motorway to her new home in Plymouth.

Really can't wait to get her back in the water again. But if the year so far is anything to go by, those two weeks are going to fly by quick enough.

Calstar may be beached, but I'm not completely. Plan to race Buffy again at Frampton this coming Sunday. It's become something of a regular event the last few weeks.

photo: ken elsey
For most of the weekends I've had the pleasure of Amanda crewing for me, but last Sunday she had work commitments so abandoned me to sail the second race on my own. A far from impossible task, but there are moments when single-handing an Enterprise that you wish you had five arms.

photo: ken elsey
But still, a 4th and a 2nd place respectively, so not a bad couple of results. Amanda and I are definitely beginning to sail better together. The same is not so true of Buffy. We had a lot of water in the hull after the first race. Mopped her out in the interval before the second and was very careful not to bring a bucket load in with my boots when I relaunched, but still ended up with a lot of water by the end, despite it only being me sailing.

It means we're leaking again. Not sure where from. I can only hope it's something simple like the bailers and not the repaired centreboard case failing again.

This coming Sunday Amanda's got safety boat duty, so I'll be single-handed for both races unless I find somebody at short notice to sail with me. May well not ask around though. It will give me a good chance to locate the leak. Must remember to find myself a sponge to mop the bilges out with though.

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Not used up yet

Just listened to Webb Chiles' acceptance speech on YouTube, recorded this weekend at the New York Yacht Club where he was awarded the Cruising Club of America's Blue Water Medal, and wanted to share it. For a man that has spent so much time alone in the middle of various oceans, he has a gift for public speaking.

And it was an award richly deserved.

If you didn't already know, his ongoing journal can be found here:

Saturday 3 March 2018

The courage of laughter

May you always have it.

Just read of the death of a fellow dog lover and columnist of the Guardian. Who, I confess, I couldn't always follow the thinking of, but always enjoyed when I managed it.

“Her philosophy was that in this life you either have to blub or laugh. Well, she had the courage of laughter. I can hear her voice now being acutely uncomfortable with these compliments." - Fielding

I love that tribute. From somebody she wrote about often.