Saturday 31 October 2020

Geneva: Penelope's land

The second island to the right is Ithaca. 

I had hoped we could stop for to explore, but problems with the boat's water pump and a visit from an engineer to fix it delayed us in Syvota.

So instead, we simply slip by in the night.

Geneva: Syvota

Full moon rising, very welcome company for when we depart for a night sail to Navpaxos later on this evening.

Friday 30 October 2020

Geneva: the South Ionian

This is beautiful country.

Geneva: vanity

I'm not big on "selfies" but this self-portrait was irresistible yesterday. If only to remind myself come the dark depths of the coming winter as to what my face looks like at 9.5 knots with blue skies, waves, a good breeze and fine company.

Geneva: 39° 02.6 N 020° 25.8 W North Ionian

Departing Gaious on the Ionian island of Paxos, heading southeast to Syvotta for tonight and then island hopping over to Ithaca for the day after.

"Geneva" is a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 389, and she is a pleasure to sail. We had 20 knots and a big swell to play with for the crossing from Corfu to Paxos yesterday, and we're hoping for more of the same when the wind fills in later today.

Saturday 24 October 2020


In common with sailing, I don't think I could ever grow bored of flying. And in common with sailing, it's as much the act itself as the means of achieving it.

I have a good book to read, but I've not made much progress as, as per usual, I've not yet been able to tear my eyes away from the view.

Friday 23 October 2020

to all things their season


I don't normally write much about the "day job" here. In any case, my company has it's own website, so can speak for itself to any that might be interested. If I do write about it here, it's never anything to do with the work but is instead generally about with the beautiful old mill we're lucky enough to be based in.

One of the obvious impacts of Covid is that everybody who can now works from home. I've held fort here throughout with a skeleton crew to keep the phones answered and our networks and servers ticking over, but we sent our staff home the week before lockdown and they've worked from home ever since. We're lucky insofar as almost all of what we do can be done remotely so it's had no impact on our business.

If anything, we've been busier throughout.

But it's clear the fifteen souls that work for us no longer need the 4000 square feet of office space to house them. Even once all this is over we've no intention of resuming the previous expectation that everybody will report into the office 9 till 5, five days a week anymore, but will instead move to a hybrid model of so many days a week in the office, so many days at home.

And our lease is up for review in April. So as of then we're moving to a fully serviced office of about a quarter of the floor space in a trading estate on the edge of town. It's not without some considerable regret. St Mary's Mill is a beautiful place to work and we've had a sanctuary here for more than seventeen years. I consider our landlady Jenny and her late mother Audrey, from whom she inherited the stewardship of this lovely old building earlier this year, to be friends.

But it is right for our business.

I shall miss the trout in the mill race, the deer in the field, the occasional kingfisher and heron; we even had an otter once, although the trout became a bit scarce for a few weeks following his visit.

And I shall miss watching the trees on the far side of the valley each year slowly fade with the autumn to match the rusted hue of the corrugated iron roof of the derelict old steam house next door.

I'm away for the next two weeks. It's quite likely the leaves will have turned and fallen by the time I'm next in the office. 

I haven't travelled abroad since about 2003, and so decide of all things to do so in the middle of a global pandemic. But the temptation was too great. Dad and I are sailing a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 389 called "Verona" from Corfu to Athens with Mark and Vernon, a couple of friends from my sailing club in South Cerney.

By about this time tomorrow Dad and I should have landed at Kapodistrias Airport in Corfu and be well on our way to meet the boat at Mandraki Marina. 

I can't wait.

Monday 19 October 2020

12 minutes of your life you'll never get back

A friend summed it up nicely, "2020, the year the bins went out more than us". However, bucking the trend of this year's theme, Nikki and I did get to go out Friday night. 

As I've probably previously mentioned, my daughter and her fella run a pub in Cheltenham called The Restoration. Since about mid September, they've started hosting "open mic nights" again every other Friday. To the uninitiated, it's basically a gig where anybody can turn up and have a go, but only the guy supplying the PA gets paid.

Or in normal times, that would be the case. In this modern age, you have to book your table and your slot to perform in advance, and demand is high so you'd better get in early. And you have to bring your own kit; no borrowing microphones or instruments anymore.

In that bygone age of innocence back at the beginning of this year when you could just turn up, ask for a spot and borrow the organiser's guitar, I did a few of these with my brother. In part to support Tash and Dan with their new pub, in part because it was a pleasant change from the pressures and expectations of the band.

Now "the Big C" no longer means quite what it did a year ago, we're all socially bemasked and isolated from other human contact, and all my gigs appear to have been cancelled for the foreseeable, the fact that the Resto has resumed their open mic nights has provided a bit of a lifeline and release for me, and I suspect more than a few others.

Anyway, this Friday just gone I stuck my phone on a table before I went up to take my turn and pressed record. Sorry about the quality of the noise - and not so much about the quality of the performance; it's true, I have no shame.

In any case, if you chose to press play and spend twelve minutes of your life you'll never get back watching what follows, the three songs from Friday were:

Be More Kind, by Frank Turner
Goodnight Salvador Dali, by yours truly
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), by Greenday

Friday 16 October 2020

birthday season

We took a ride down the motorway yesterday evening to visit my eldest son Ben whose birthday falls next Monday, and his partner in crime Hannah. On the way down we took a slight diversion through Cheltenham to pick up his sister Tash, who had the night off from the pub.

Hannah cooked us all  a lovely supper of spaghetti bolognese, and Nikki brought him a cake. None of us thought to provision the evening with any candles (and I honestly couldn't tell you how many would've been officially needed - somewhere between 20 & 30, I think) but Hannah improvised a fix so all was saved.

It was the second night running I've had spaghetti; the night before I'd dropped around to our guitarist's house for an evening jam with our guitars, and he'd fed me with the same. To be honest, it's one of my favourite meals; left to my own devices I'd probably eat pasta every night and spaghetti bolognese is one of those few dishes I can cook myself without breaking a sweat.

That said, the deliciousness of the last couple of nights' suppers have demonstrated that, as far as my own cooking goes, I really ought to up my game.

As we got into the car to set out for the evening, Nikki reminded me that the 15th was Mum's birthday. My youngest son Sam's birthday falls just over a week after his brother's on the 27th. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness aside, October has always been first and foremost birthday season.

Thursday 15 October 2020

within the big story

I am a man of relatively simple (arguably unsophisticated) literary tastes. I very much enjoy a good tale, an escapist distraction. I read compulsively, anything I can get my hands on. In the absence of any other available distraction, I'd read the ingredients list on a cereal box if I had to.

As long as I had my reading glasses. These days my near sight isn't what it used to be, and seems to deteriorate annually.

So all my reading is done electronically. But then that does mean my book is always to hand in my pocket now, and should I finish a particular episode in an ongoing series in the dead of night, the following book is always immediately available at the touch of a finger to a screen.

It does sadden me as to what that must've done to the high street bookshop. And I am entirely complicit. But then that's just a small cameo of the greater peril of our times. And again, I am entirely complicit. Although I can say I've never actually bought a car, boat or guitar online.

I read an interesting interview with Bernard Cornwell on the Guardian's website this morning. He's one of my favourite modern authors. Very much looking forward to reading the final instalment of The Last Kingdom, and utterly delighted to read that he's revisiting Sharpe; the latter was, back when books were published on paper and virtuously purchased on weekend trips to town in high street bookshops, my gateway drug into the world of Cornwell.

He makes the observation that historical novels generally have a big story and a little story. Obviously a winning formulae, because that describes every book he's ever written and I've read and loved them all.

I often wish I'd had the time, focus and patience to write a book. I'd like to think I'd have the talent. And I guess without the commitment to actually do it, I can happily go on telling myself that without risk of disproving it.

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Tuesday blues

Generally speaking, I habitually have a fair level of indifference to anything with four wheels.

No wheels and it could be a boat and you have me, totally. And that should come as no surprise here.

One wheel, and it could be a glider. I may have found the sea before I found the sky, and the sea may still hold me for now, but we had a love affair, one for which I remain unapologetic and to which I am committed one day to return. When either the sea releases me, or the opportunity of more time finally presents.

Two wheels and, despite the fact I'll probably never ride one again, it's a motorbike. And I do still truly miss riding the dangerous, lethal, crazy things. And the excuse to wear black leather.

Three wheels and it could be the undercarriage of an aircraft. So you still have me; even if it has an engine, it still flies, and flight is, in any form, poetry.

But four wheels? It's just a car. A tool I use to get from A to B, a tool that makes all the other interesting things possible when you get there. But still just a tool.

A boat, a glider or a motorbike is, for me at least, all about the journey and not so much the destination. A car patently is not.

I collect my next car at 1700 this afternoon. And I find that, despite myself, I am actually excited.

I guess it's been a long time since I last had a blue one.

Monday 12 October 2020

Calstar: staying local

Sunday morning was bright, a brief shower first thing, then blue skies and a brisk off-shore wind that started relatively light, more so whilst we were still within the shelter of the harbour, it has to be said, and then built to a gusty F5 by lunchtime. 

Blowing out over the land it was shifty and unpredictable, but the sea state within the shelter of the Sound was very flat.

We took Ben and Hannah out for a couple of hours; across the Sound to Cawsands with Hannah and Ben sharing the helm, out through the Western Entrance, along the outside of the Breakwater, then back in through the east side. A couple of tacks along a beat into what was now a stiff F5 on the nose, and then we put the sails away and motored back in.

A lovely morning's sailing, followed by an uneventful drive home.

That will be the last time we get down to the boat until sometime into the latter half of November I expect. It's not all bad though. Chance and pandemics permitting, Dad and I fly out to Greece on Saturday 24th, meet a friend in Corfu and spend a couple of days on a yacht he's been chartering for the last few weeks. 

Then another friend from the sailing club joins us and we deliver said yacht, in company with a few others similar vessels, back to its winter berth in Athens via the Corinthian Canal.

I've got no idea if the weather out in Greece is warm enough late October to top up my suntan. But it's got to be warmer that it'll be over here by then at the very least. 

That said, I did bring my waterproofs back from the boat, and I shall be taking them out there with me.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Calstar: retrieved

So we didn't sail to Fowey today. There is a brisk northwestern F5 blowing out there, so it would have been a fun, lively beat.

Instead I spent the morning car shopping. Possibly my least favourite kind of shopping except maybe grocery shopping. I like that even less.

But a car was found and by early afternoon Dad and I were on our way down to Plymouth to retrieve what was left of the weekend.

I'm now sat aboard Calstar. My son Ben and Hannah are joining us shortly, a stop off on their way home from Cornwall. 

Table booked for supper in the Barbican tonight, then home again tomorrow for work on Monday and to work out how I'm going to pay for this new car.

the best-laid schemes of mice and men


I was planning to sail for Fowey in the morning. However, I didn't even make it home from work and shall instead be shopping for a new car first thing tomorrow. Meanwhile does anybody want to buy a second-hand, much (over)loved Volvo V70? Turbo charger is dead, she's not fit to drive, will need to be towed away by the buyer.

The half hour commute home this evening turned into a four and a half hour drag. On the bright side, I finally stowed the casualty safe in front of my house in time to jog down to the local shop seconds before they closed and buy myself some beer with which to gently soothe the anguish of the evening.

I managed the entire trot down to the bottom of my road without having to pause once. So clearly my health is improving now normal physical activity (except the still much missed 2 to 4 hours live performance per week) is resumed.

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Laser: radial

Back in the early summer, as the lakes opened up again and I moved my Laser to South Cerney, a couple of blustery races on the water getting myself brutalised with my full-sized Standard Mk2 rig persuaded me that I finally needed to get a Radial. 

To explain, there are three (official) rig sizes for a Laser dinghy. Now these things are only ever a guide, but an old post on Sailing Anarchy suggested the following helm weights:

4.7 rig: 50 to 75kg
Radial rig: 60 to 80kg
Full rig: 75kg +

Another old 2007 SailJuice article listed the average weight of an Olympic helm with a full rig as 81kg, with a weight range of 78-84kg, whereas the average weight of the ladies with the Radial was 66kg, with a range of 58-70kg.

Following the enforced inactivity of six months lockdown (and the unenforced consumption of a certain amount of beer across said time) my current weight is a shameful 73kg, or 11.5 stone. That is heavier than I've ever been, and not a weight I expect (or hope) to maintain. I'm also a mere 5.7", which I suspect is somewhat shorter than any of those old Olympic sailors, except perhaps (some of) the ladies.

Neither, of course, am I anywhere near the superhuman fitness of an Olympic helm.

For a couple of years or so of racing the Laser at Frampton I stubbornly refused to get a Radial. Partly a point of pride, the Standard rig was also just too much fun, the people I enjoyed racing against most generally only sailed with a Standard rig, and the lake was relatively small. The friends I raced against were, mostly, bigger than me (or if not did have Radial sails they brought out for the heavier stuff) but whilst far from superhuman, I've always been active, so I think my general level of fitness helped to compensate for my weight disadvantage. And I had a thicker mainsheet that I could rig for the really heavy weather.

I won more than I lost. Sometimes a big pile of wind funnelled up the neighbouring estuary and mercilessly flattened me, and when that happened I lost badly. Very badly. But in anything up to about 20 knots I managed just fine. And in the light stuff I definitely had the advantage.

But South Cerney is a bigger, more exposed lake. And the first couple of races back at the reopening in July saw some blustery conditions, and caught me six months out of practice.

So I finally caved and bought myself a Radial.

And then, typically, the heavy weekend weather stopped. And then we were allowed to race double-handers and go cruising with the big boat again, and so the Laser sat idle for a lot of the remaining summer and my crispy new Radial sail went unused.

Last Sunday my usual sailing partner with the Albacore told me she was going away on holiday for the week. The forecast for the day was wet and wild; the tail end of Storm Alex apparently, heavy rain in the morning and 20 knots of wind gusting up to 30 plus.

I did briefly entertain the idea of sailing with the Standard, but then figured as I'd paid good money for it, I ought to finally stick the sail numbers on the Radial and take it out for a play.

And oh, was it fun. 

The wind came in as promised. The first race saw me capsize every other lap as I rounded the gybe mark; just poor, out of practice technique really. Despite that, I still managed to steal a 3rd place out of a fleet of 7, and on one of the reaches down to that dreaded gybe, I saw the boat speed hit 11.8 knots despite the reduced sail area of the Radial.

The conditions eased, just a bit, for the second race, and with a lucky start I managed to frustrate the GP14 that had beaten me the race before and steal a 2nd place, just 11 seconds of corrected time behind the leading boat, an OK class dinghy, that actually won.

So I reckon the Radial rig was a good buy. I might even break it out again next time we get a storm blow through and I'm left on my own to play with the Laser.

Calstar: raw stats

Freefall: raw stats

We were blessed in that we actually had a couple of gigs come through for us in September. The first was in the beer garden of a village pub in Chalford, just down the road from here. Lovely crowd, spread out on picnic tables across a spacious garden, warm sun, a gorgeous afternoon.

The following week was a quite different vibe. The skittle alley of a Bristol pub, limited tickets in advance, a necessarily small but enthusiastic and supportive gathering of the band's friends. It was a terrific evening.

We had hoped to do it again in October, but a couple of days after the skittle alley gig Bristol City put the kibosh on any live performances whatsoever and that was that.

We have a couple of dates left in December that haven't officially cancelled yet, but I think it's now safe to say that they won't be able to go ahead either. So the final tally for 2020: 48 gigs booked, 15 shows played, 33 cancelled.

Against the horror of the whole pandemic, what amounts to little more than a paid hobby frustrated is a small thing. And at least it's left a lot more time at weekends for messing about in boats. We have a dozen bookings for next year already, some carried over from parties this year that had to be postponed. But half of those dates fall before April, so it won't do to get our hopes up too much just yet.

The blackest thought, and I don't just mean for the band, is that I can't see an easy way out of this from here, for any of us. But there's no point dwelling on that. All storms blow through. It is what it is. But the sooner we can see the back of it, the better.