Tuesday 26 February 2019

Calstar: Saturday local

It was a good weekend, all went more or less to plan after all. Yes, the plan was left loose for just that reason.

Got down to Plymouth too late in the evening on Friday to eat out, so called in at Sainsbury’s on the way down to pick up some olives, humus, salami and biscuits and Dad and I enjoyed them over a bottle of white wine aboard the boat. Also treated myself to a bottle of Laphroaig; it was discounted to £25 and whilst the truth is I don’t really trust myself with scotch at home, on the boat the damage I can do to myself (and my wallet) is limited by the duration of my stay.

And I was very restrained. Most of the bottle remains, and is still on the boat to welcome me on my next trip down, which will now be later in March.

After a lazy start and a good breakfast at Sound Bites CafĂ© Saturday morning, I really do recommend their omelette, we cast off to head out into the bay. It was a lovely winter’s morning, watery sun reaching through a hazed sky just enough to gently warm your shoulders, a light south-easterly breeze playing over the ruffled blue green waters of the Sound. We motored slowly out to pass the Mountbatten Breakwater to port, before putting her head to wind and hauling up the sails. It felt like an age since we’d last done this. It felt so good to be back.

We beat out towards the Eastern Entrance, the wind freshening, the little yacht heeling happily to 20°, trotting along under full sail. Leaving the Breakwater to starboard, we found ourselves sailing into a swell rolling in from the south-west; big waves occasionally blocking view of the horizon as Calstar climbed up then tipped over to slide down the backs of them. Most were generally around 2 meters or so but the odd group were somewhat bigger, but none of them breaking.

We bore away onto a beam reach, heading west towards Rame Head, just enjoying the day and the liberation of being afloat and sailing again.

We picked our route more or less at random, choosing our direction as much for a different point of sail as any other reason, sailing back in through the Western Entrance and along the inside of the breakwater, watching  a mixed fleet of dinghies racing in the sailing grounds between Drake’s Island and Jennycliff Bay. Then closing in on Bovisand, we tacked around, heading back in the direction of Cawsand Bay before hardening up to lay Penlee Point accompanied by the melody of breaking waves on the rocky shore of the headland, then beating away, back along our original path to re-enter the Sound from the east.

Light mist began to rise from the water as the afternoon wore towards evening. A solitary fishing boat was laying a maze of lobster pots just outside the Breakwater. A few of other yachts were out and enjoying the weather with us, but most staying inside the shelter of the sound, only a couple like us venturing out beyond it. The wind eased as the day wore on, and the swell with it. We headed back to Queen Anne’s Battery, lowering our sails and motoring back into our berth without mishap, after some four hours or so hours and just under 16 miles of sailing to take us nowhere in particular and bring us right back to where we started.

We walked into town Saturday evening and ate at The Village. Sunday was breakfast of another omelette at Sound Bites, then a morning doing odd jobs on the boat. The day began bright and still, so I was originally happy not to sail, conscious in part of the long drive home. The jobs needed doing; new dodgers lacing up to the cockpit guardrails and various fittings that needed to be screwed and bolted back on below now the cabin upholstery work has been finished. Then the breeze filled in around lunch time, I suspect just to mock me. It would’ve been a lovely day out on the water after all, and I’d missed the opportunity.

There’s possibly a lesson in that.

Anyway, whilst I laboured with lacing up the dodgers to the guardrail in the unseasonably warm sunlight, and Dad busied himself below decks, the harbour mullet made for very good company.

The drive home was uneventful. I got back before Nikki finished work at 1800 so cooked a curry for supper for her and Sam. A good end to a great weekend.

Friday 22 February 2019

On this day: Lupa

This day, five years ago, apparently. This is Lupa, one of three rescued dogs Nik and I picked up from one side of the country and transported to their foster homes on the other. I remember it as being a long day with a lot of driving.

She was in an utterly wretched state when the Rescue took her in. She was, over the long months that followed, meticulously nursed back to care by her foster home with the help and support of the Rescue and their supporters.

This photo, which I took of her in the back of my car moments after we'd picked her up, kicked off an absolute shit-storm. Please forgive the language, you know it isn't my normal fashion on these pages, but there really is no cleaner way to describe the cesspit of acrimonious politicking, backbiting and bitching that ensued over the months that followed.

I won't go into it further. Except to comment that the world of dog rescue is filled with generous, selfless individuals for whom the entire point and purpose of the thing about the care and welfare of these vulnerable, dependent, often damaged but incredibly resilient creatures. And is filled with a dismaying number of ego-manic individuals who are neither generous nor selfless but for whom the entire point would seem to be about them, and not the dogs they purport to care so much for.

Then again, perhaps that's just an analogy of life in general.

In any case, Lupa's story had a happy ending. The above photo was some months later that same year. It was a long road and convalescence, but she eventually made a recovery to full health, and ended up being adopted by her foster home and staying with them; the perfect place for her.

We lost contact with her and her foster family; the above mentioned politicking and backbiting somehow claimed that particular friendship amongst its victims before I eventually had the sense to bail out of the scene completely; to this day I've no real idea why or how, these things just go over my head, always have and always will.

I hope she and her family remain happy and well however. She was a lovely dog, and although Nik and I played but a very small role in her rescue and rehabilitation, no more than a bit part really, it was a pleasure to have been able to contribute even the little that we did.

Calstar: the vestige of a plan

The plan. Finish work at 1630, head home, pack an overnight bag (that I should've packed last night) and head down to Plymouth with Dad to the boat. Supper somewhere in Plymouth Friday night. Would be cheaper to eat on the boat, but I bet we don't. We almost never do unless it's just me and Nik, which is very unusual. Dad doesn't like making a mess in the cabin, and is of the opinion that any sort of cooking will make a mess.

Not that I ever need an excuse to eat out.

Forecast for Saturday and Sunday looks relatively benign with the wind dropping off and backing into the east as the weekend progresses. Wave heights of 2m+ seem a bit excessive, but not threatening.

The boat hasn't been off her berth since she went back in the water in December, and has been home to a succession of tradesmen working to Dad's order, so there will be lots of odd jobs to do to get her set up to sail again. So a shakedown cruise is most certainly order of the day. Would like to sail to Fowey, weather suggests it's quite feasible, but we'd be leaving before dawn and motoring back on the Sunday.

Alternative is to stay local. Perhaps head out in the direction of Eddystone then back in the afternoon. My current thinking is in favour of staying overnight in the Yealm Saturday night. Dad may yet veto me on that. Shore-power, iPads, techno-dependent OAP's, the comforts of a walk-ashore pontoon berth and marina facilities. You don't get any of that on the Yealm.

I'm going to take a guitar with me though, just in case.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

FOSSC: rinse and repeat

Crawling out of bed and getting to the Club on Sunday was a bit of an ordeal after the couple of late nights and lively gigs of the two previous evenings, but I made it. And beat Amanda to there by about fifteen minutes, so had the pleasure of dragging the Enterprise from her berth over to the shoreline all by myself, which built up enough of a sweat to properly wake me up.

The sun had been forecast to shine, but was proving to be elusive first thing. The southerly wind was blustery, as the forecast had promised.

Another simple figure of eight course, but with only the one upwind beat this week, and no dead run for us to goose-wing down. The turnout was impressive, given that this is only an unofficial, out of season, informal series, not an official part of the Club's racing programme; I didn't exactly count, but there must've been just over a dozen boats on the start line.

Despite my early arrival, we were late getting onto the water, but it turned to our advantage. The wind made the launching area an awkward lee shore which slowed us getting away, but once we were afloat we had time for no more than a quick run up and down the line to get our bearings before the gun went and we were racing.

It was, to be fair, a day for the Lasers and Solos. We invariably gained ground up the beat, but off the wind lost it again and then some, as the lighter single-handers were quick to plane in gusts that were often not quite meaty enough to lift our heavier boat up with them.

It didn't seem to matter though. It was great to be out on the water, the sailing a real pleasure, and we sailed well enough to finish somewhere in the front half of the fleet so we acquitted ourselves well enough.

Next weekend I'm off to Plymouth with Dad. Calstar should be fit to sail at last. Windguru's forecast for Saturday is from the south-east, gusting up to 26 knots first thing then backing and easing as the weekend wears on until it's in the east or Sunday, and less than 10 knots. The waves anticipated are 2m+ however, which makes me feel a little cautious.

Have toyed with the idea of sailing over to Fowey and back, but might simply opt for a day-sail, pushing out beyond the breakwater in the direction of Eddystone before heading back to spend Saturday night in Plymouth. I guess Noss Mayo is also a possibility, although Dad seems less keen on that idea, as there's no shore power and getting to the pub involves a trip to shore with the tender.

The more I think of it, the more attractive the idea becomes however. Especially as the temperature is supposed to be around 11°c for the weekend, so it shouldn't be too cold aboard even if we haven't got power for the electric heater.

It feels frustrating that Calstar has been harbour bound for so long this year, but to be fair, checking back on my journal to last year, it seems we didn't actually get out until the beginning of April, so if we do manage to get out this weekend, this year will be much improved on last.

Thursday 14 February 2019

Road sense

My youngest son is learning to drive. He's not exactly taking to it naturally, but he's getting there. Clear that he was going to need more practice than he was getting from driving lessons alone, we picked him up a cheap runabout just after Christmas, and I've spent a lot of time in the passenger seat being ferried everywhere by him, pretty much every day since.

I don't think it's something he actually enjoys (I'm reminded we are not our children; learning to drive was an adventure and liberation for me) but it is one of those "life skills" he is going to have to master. And I think he's figured that out and reconciled himself to that fact now.

And he's much improved. Simple fact: if you sit in the surf long enough, it's inevitable some of the sand is going to get stuck in your trunks. He has his test this coming Tuesday. It won't be his first. Regardless of whether he passes or fails, I suspect I'm still going to spend a lot of time riding shotgun with him in the passenger seat of his little Citroen. And I really don't mind.

Watching him grapple with trying to learn and develop skills and judgement that many of us have had now for so many years we simply take them for granted, in both ourselves and others, I'm frequently struck by just how not a natural environment and endeavour driving a car actually is.

And reminded just how important it is to always show consideration and patience for others on the road, regardless of circumstance.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

A previous February

On this day, seven years ago, or so Google tells me. Guess February is frequently icy; we should be okay for the weekend coming though, if the forecast is to be believed, the temperature is supposed to sneak up to 10°c plus by Saturday, so that should keep things happily liquid for Sunday.

Of course, this means Lilly must be turning eight this year. And she's still doing well of course, although sometimes it does quite break my heart as to how time flies.

Monday 11 February 2019

FOSSC: normal service resumed

A collection of die-hard stalwarts have been running an informal "Icicle Series" at the Club since the beginning of the year over what is normally our effective closed season. And, to my shame and chagrin (and frustration), other commitments have kept me away from supporting them and thus off the water until this weekend.

Admittedly, last weekend wasn't my fault. The lake was frozen solid. But by this weekend, the weather had warmed again and the lake thawed.

A pursuit race over a simple figure of eight course, Amanda was equally keen to blow the cobwebs off, so after rebuffing the tentative second thoughts of an initial early morning text from her along the lines of are we really doing this? it looks "minging" out there (in fairness, it did first thing; leaden grey skies, thick, cold rain, no wind) we met up by the lake for 1000 and rigged her Enterprise to race.

By then, the rain had eased off and the wind was building nicely. At one point, the sun even threatened to break through, though it turned out it was only teasing.

A downwind start went well, albeit with no contest on the line as we were the only boat in our class. The conditions were turning blustery, with heavy, shifty gusts rolling in from the northwest. I'd not felt especially ambitious for this one, we were both rusty and had no stake in the overall series, but the rust shook out quickly as, surprisingly, we held our own against the bulk of the pursuing Lasers and much faster Aero, pulling ahead of all but a couple of them and slowly closing down the lead on the Solo and Topper ahead.

Mike in his Laser eventually caught and passed us in the second half of the race, but then we almost made good again shortly after on a beat back up to red. The Laser is a faster boat on paper, but in the right conditions, deftly handled, an Enterprise can beat one on the water.

Laying the mark on starboard, Mike was tied up trying to pass Rob in his Solo, both coming in on port. We tucked a quick tack into the space they left us at the buoy, and would've stolen the lead except at that exact moment a gust smacked into us mid tack. Right conditions, not so deftly handled after all. I blame the loose nut on the tiller (that would be me).

By tacking right on top of the buoy, I'd left myself no room to bear away and, with two boats passing to windward, no room to round up. The dinghy heeled hard over to leeward, scooping a cockpit full of water and clouting the buoy with our mast. We saved the potential capsize, but the penalty turns almost cost us our hard won lead over Jon in his Laser and brought Phil and his Aero to our attention, now coming up fast behind.

The auto-bailers slowly cleared the water over the downwind run that followed, and we gradually edged back away from Jon and began to close up again on the Solo ahead. Mike however left us for dust, giving no second chances now he was free and clear.

We took the Solo on the next lap, but our tenure in second place was brief as, in the dying minutes of the race, I let him climb back on top of us at the windward mark rounding at Yellow and steal our wind for the run back down to White that followed. He took the overlap on the leeward mark and came out ahead for the next beat. We tacked off early, and I think we would have had him at the next rounding, but the gun went before we could consolidate and confirm our lead, ending the race, so we conceded Rob the place, settling for a not dishonourable third place ourselves.

It was, quite simply, brilliant to be back out on the water again. I've got gigs this Friday and Saturday coming, but Sunday's free, so I'll be back again next weekend.

I can't wait.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Freefall: Kite Ball 2019

Saturday night the band had the pleasure of playing for The James Hopkins Trust at their 2019 Kite Ball. An annual fundraiser for the charity (to over simplify it, they are a local charity that helps very poorly children and their families), this was the fourth year running they've thrown a party, and the third time we've played for them (we were regretfully unavailable last year due to an earlier booking).

This year is the 30th anniversary of the charity itself, and the function room at Hatherley Manor was absolutely packed. By the end of the night they'd raised £20k for the cause, which made it their most successful event yet. Nothing to do with us, I should add, we were just part of the night's entertainment; credit for the night's success really has to go to the lovely Ria and Sarah and the team at JHT.

Over the course of any typical year, the band usually gets invited to play at a couple of charity functions or so. It's always a pleasure and a privilege to get involved where we can. These things always make for a brilliant crowd, ever up for a being sure to have a great night.

And this one is consistently one of the best.

Thursday 7 February 2019

New year catch up

February already. It seems I only blinked and that was both Christmas and January come and gone.

It's been a funny old start to the year; I haven't sailed yet, wind, frozen water and family commitments all taking it in turns to thwart the odd occasion when the opportunity might otherwise have arisen.

Dad and I did get down to Calstar for an evening in January. She still remains in "project mode" however, with the interior head-lining replaced, the bunk cushions replaced, the heads replaced and the cabin lights rewired and replaced with LED units. The work on all fronts is almost complete, but enough bits were still outstanding in January to keep us marina bound for our brief visit.

Christmas was good and bad. Good to have time off and family around. Good that I got to race at the lake Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Bad that my daughter Tasha came down with appendicitis the weekend before Christmas, and so spent the last couple of days leading up to the holiday in hospital having her appendix removed. Amazing that it was only a couple of days though, and how small the incisions were to effect the removal. Back in the 80's when they took my own appendix out, it hospitalised me for a week, left a six inch scar and took six weeks before the stitches were out and I was back on my feet at school.

That said, for such a small incision, they clearly still knock your insides about as much; she was some weeks recovering herself and it put quite a damper on her own Christmas. She's back on form now though, so all good.

January was devoid of gigs, with my brother (aka the band's bassist) away on holiday, but we've been back to normal the last couple of weeks, and will be busy as usual for the next couple of weekends to come. The new guitar is lovely, a real pleasure to play. She spent most of Christmas and January in her case though, as without gigs to distract me, I spent most of my time noodling about with the piano rather than guitar. For the first gig, weekend before last, it did feel very strange moving back to strings from a keyboard.

Finally, we had a bit of snow. Enough to stop play for a day, then it melted. When I say enough to stop play, I really mean but a few inches. Our friends over on the Continent (if we have any left) or across the Atlantic would no doubt laugh at us. Which is fine, as we're quite able to laugh at ourselves along with them. Well, some of us are.

It was good to take the dogs for a Friday morning run in the snow however, and then have it all melt off in the afternoon to clear the way for me to get down the motorway that same evening to my gig in Bristol. It wasn't so good the Sunday that followed to discover that on the first day in a while I had the time free to go play with the Laser, the lake was, unhelpfully, still quite frozen solid.

Never mind. It's thawed now. And I'm feeling optimistic for this coming Sunday. Likewise, if we get the next couple of weekends worth of gigs out of the way, I'm hoping Dad and I can get out with Calstar for the last weekend of February.