Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Calstar: ports of call

On the bright side, it turns out there are only four passages more than 30 miles, and only a couple close to the 40 mile mark. Of course, this is Navionics auto-calculating the distances for me; it tends to hug contours based on your draft, doesn't allow for headlands and overfalls, etc, and certainly pays no consideration to the wind or point of sail.

That would be my job.

On the not so bright side, the worry is, as ever in these parts, contingency and boltholes. 

I know the area from Plymouth to just beyond Falmouth at the Lizard as well as my own proverbial back yard, and know the ground from just after Lundy back to Portishead just as well. The rest of it is new to me. Which, of course, is part of the fun.

I don't think there is any cover between Penzance and St Ives, and once committed, turning back could be as difficult as pressing forward. Likewise, St Ives to Padstow, then Padstow to Lundy. Long legs for a little boat, and once you start them, you're pretty much committed to seeing them through. Once we get around the corner that is Land's End, we're going to want the wind in the prevailing southwest, and would like a ni8ce bit of it, but not too much.

All weather ports of refuge that we can consider in the Bristol Channel are Swansea and Cardiff. But if the weather turns foul you could have a lot of nasty water to cover to reach either of them. On the other hand, it is the Bristol Channel, so if you can just manage to stay afloat, the tide will eventually carry you to wherever it is you are trying to go.

Needless to say, we're going to be very careful with the weather. And that, much more so than any deadlines of work, band or otherwise, will determine when and where we sail, and when and where we arrive.

Calstar: homecoming plans

Seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only 2017 when we were dreaming of blue water and making plans to sail Calstar from Cardiff to Plymouth. In the end, we took the portage option and consigned her to the back of a truck. Regrettable, but it was worth the compromise to get her down there.

We've loved our time on the south coast.

But the time has come to bring her home to the Bristol Channel. Dad's not happy with the boat being so far away, and we've certainly had much less time to sail, albeit the sailing has been of a quite different kind altogether than we tend to find in our local, estuarine waters.

We are planning to sail her back.

We have two weeks, departing Plymouth Friday 28th May and needing to be back in Portishead by Sunday 13th June. I say "needing", but if the weather gods play foul, once we're around the corner, we could safely leave her in Padstow, Swansea or Cardiff and bring her the rest of the way over a sequence of spare weekends. 

It would be quite an inconvenience though, and risk running foul of any number of gigs. I'm keeping the band's diary clear until 25th June just in case, but the office will likely really want me back by week commencing the 14th, so that will be a consideration.

I think the trip breaks down into a series of mostly 40 mile hops:

  1. Plymouth to Falmouth (via Fowey, for old time's sake)
  2. Falmouth to Penzance (or possibly Newlyn)
  3. Penzance to St Ives
  4. St Ives to Padstow
  5. Padstow to Lundy
  6. Lundy to Ilfracombe
  7. Ilfracombe to Cardiff
  8. Cardiff to Portishead
That's eight destinations over 17 days. Not too bad a slog, but very weather dependent. It looks like it'll just be myself and Dad. It would be arguably easier if we had a third person to help out, but I think we can manage.

A lot of planning yet to do, and the small consideration of the weather aside, everything remains dependent upon how the situation develops nationally with regards to the virus.

I'm going to miss South Devon and Cornwall. But it'll be nice to get her back local to home. And, as with all things sailing, this one really is as much about the journey as the destination.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Mr Brightside (v2)

I've had a favourite old guitar re-fretted. When picking it back up from the shop on Saturday, I saw they had a couple of "partial capos" for sale, so grabbed those to play with as well. They say most fishing tackle is designed to catch anglers, not fish. The same isn't so very different with guitarists, I guess.

For the uninitiated, a capo is a clamping device you can lock across the neck of a guitar to change the key, usually to better fit a vocalist's range, but it can also change the tone of the guitar; it's not uncommon for flamenco guitarists to capo the guitar at the 2nd fret to brighten their sound, for example. They are conventionally designed to lock across all six strings.
I had been messing around with only barring certain strings with a capo towards the end of last year, but had indifferent results with a traditional capo as it applied uneven tension to the strings I was trying to adjust or interfered with the strings I was trying to keep clear.
I did pick up a "spider" capo on Amazon; a great idea but so poorly executed by the company that makes them that I sent it back and asked for a refund. A supposedly "universal" device designed to fit the neck of all guitars, for the sake of about an eight of an inch of bolt it wouldn't fit any of mine.
These are made by Shubb, not the cheapest, but a brand I know and trust and have been using for years. The one in the clip below caps off three of the six strings. Apparently (there were instructions on the back of the package. I wonder if their standard capos come with instructions? I've never thought to check!) it's supposed to be used at the second fret, either to emulate DADGAD tuning or invert it to emulate open A tuning. But before I noticed it came with instructions, I'd already found that if I locked it on at the fourth fret it gave an interesting harmonic twist to the chords of an old favourite Killers cover from the band's set. I've left a couple of bum notes in just to give it that authentic "live" feel and to try hide to the fact it took about the usual 57 takes just to get the one clip I was even part way happy to post. I've posted a version of this song up here before, on another guitar, thus the (v2) in the title line of this entry. So this is another version of "Mr Brightside" by the Killers, on my partially capo'd, freshly re-fretted Taylor.

Monday, 22 February 2021

something a little different

Was a time when a Friday night would've almost certainly meant a gig if I wasn't away for the weekend sailing. Things are altogether a little more subdued these days, and likely to remain so until the summer at best, certainly at the rate we're going.

However, a friend and the organiser of an "open mic night" I used to frequent over in Cheltenham on the odd occasion I had neither a gig nor plans to go sailing hosted an online event this Friday evening. Technically, you could say it was streamed, but as it was his first go, he requested the performers all pre-record their sets and then send them over to him to stream live, to avoid any unforeseen continuity problems I guess.

Understandable, I reckon. And it worked out well.

Obviously, both open mic nights and pre-recorded Internet performances are very much in my comfort zone these days, so I thought I'd knock myself back out of said zone and leave the guitar on its stand and words unsung for a change

I don't think the Friday night crowd were expecting classical piano, certainly not from me, but they're an eclectic, forgiving bunch, and it seemed to be fairly well received.

I played three pieces; Gymnopedie No. 1 by Satie, Beethoven's "Moonlight" and a third piece sandwiched in between the two that I'd love to name. But whilst my fingers still remember the notes and their order from all those many years ago when I was first taught it, I can't for the life of me remember the name of the piece or the composer, and all my Internet enquiries and searches have so far rendered neither.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

go, snow go

It's snowing.

Actually, I'm not sure if it technically qualifies as snow. It's more like the air getting crystallised by the wind-chill and falling out of the sky. It's being blown around in swirls but not settling. And although it feels very cold in the stiff breeze, it's actually only about 2°c, so I doubt very much it will settle. 

The wind is out of the east, gusting to about 27 knots; the direction, almost opposite to the usual prevailing in these parts, explains the vicious bite it carries.

Which will be a test of my convictions this evening.

I've been running a little bit. Not something I generally do unless something nasty is chasing me, but with all the enforced inactivity of no band, no sailing and no karate, my level of fitness has definitely crashed since the end of last year and my weight has climbed, albeit by only a little.

So I figured I had to do something. And the dogs are getting too old and slow these days for walking them to qualify as any kind of exercise.

So I've been forcing myself out of the house each (or at least some) evening(s) to run around the block as if something nasty is chasing me, and drinking a little more (sparkling) water and a little less beer on a night. Spiking it with a splash of orange juice if I'm feeling a little adventurous. A single lap is just under 1.5k, so not far or terribly time consuming or much to shout about.

And I have to say it feels like hard work and neither terribly sensible nor terribly rewarding. Which means I'm probably doing it all wrong. But desperate times, desperate measures and all that. Although I am enjoying the stats my watch generates, and, perversely, enjoying the challenge of basically racing myself each evening.

But I guess I'm built more for hiking than running.

And by "hiking" I mean the kind above, not the sort that involves heavy, mud-clotted boots and "bracing" views across the countryside. In the interests of transparency, I should probably confess that photo was taking about thirteen years ago. 

Which, I think, was about the last time I was allowed to go sailing?

Friday, 5 February 2021

friday am

Lilly would like it known that not everybody is a morning person. Although, as I pointed out to her as I left for work this morning, some of us have no choice in the matter.

My ambitions for this coming weekend are to clear up the yard, put some shelves up in the kitchen and take my youngest to the hospital for a chest x-ray on Sunday. I'm finding it difficult to work up enthusiasm for any of it, although the x-ray is past due; Sam's had a persistent cough (no, not that kind of persistent) and so it's about time he called the doc's to get it sorted.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

almost sprung

I noticed the first snowdrops had come into flower on the drive into the office this morning. Catkins are hanging off of branches and there is a downy blossom covering some of the smaller trees. Spring is just around the corner.

The photo was the closest Google could find amongst my photos when I typed "snowdrops" into the search bar. It's somehow reassuring to know Google isn't infallible. 

And a little surprising to discover I don't actually have any past pictures of snowdrops.


This was the song at the top of my playlist this morning as I plugged into start the day's work. I've no real idea who the Donots are, I only stumbled across them because they recorded this song with Frank Turner. However, if there was ever a band name I wish I'd thought of for myself, then this was is.

It's also a pretty good song. I've not tried embedding a song from Spotify into this site before, so not sure how that's going to work. Let me know if it doesn't.

Monday, 1 February 2021

a modern privilage

I've just realised that, revelling in my self pity, my last two consecutive posts both bemoan the general uniformity of my weekends in reference to these "present times".

Being bored is, of course, something of a modern privilege.

Actually, I do myself an injustice. I never get bored, I'm infinitely capable of entertaining myself. What I'm really whining about of course is the fact that the three pillars with which I usually do this, being karate, sailing and the band, have been denied me, and will continue to be denied to me for some time yet to come. So my days outside of the office have become somewhat uniform.

Although there has to be some light on the horizon. The nation appears to be pinning its hopes on a vaccine, and my dad and my father-in-law, both being in their late 70's, had their first dose a week ago. We are slowly edging our way back to liberation, it seems.

Over the years, I've posted a number of photos of St Mary's Mill, which is where my company is currently based. These photos, and their accompanying "Rules of Working" are on the wall of our reception. I'm not sure exactly when they date from; the Chalford Stick Co Ltd. which manufactured umbrellas, walking sticks and parasols here, took over the mill in 1903 after it had stood empty for a while, and employed around a hundred souls, so I imagine they date from about then.

In the top picture, my office, where I'm currently sat, is on the fourth floor of the mill. The two windows at the end of the building and the one just around the corner are mine. 

Until April 1st, at least.

the grey room

As of this morning, our company took on the lease for our new office. The overlap with the old office's  lease gives us until 1st April to complete the move. So first item on this morning's agenda was to meet with my four of my colleagues to work out a plan as to how we're going to achieve this.

It's the first time in quite a while we've all been in the same place together. Fortunately, there was plenty of space to to spread ourselves out. Unfortunately, between my usual tinnitus (look after your ears, kids!), the distance between us, masked faces and the hollow acoustics of an empty room I had a very hard job hearing anything that was said, but they all dealt very patiently with my frequent requests of "Sorry, say that again?"

And it was a productive morning. We got as far as setting a date for the actual move. Provisionally.

That Monday morning was the most interesting thing that happened to me all weekend is pretty much the signature of our present times.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

elemental snow

It says something of these present times that, aside from listening online to a talk a friend gave on the other side of the world Saturday night, the highlight of my weekend was that I successfully replaced the heating element in my oven.

I would imagine that, for the average man of my age, such a feat would be quite unremarked and unremarkable. I muddled my way through it and didn't really think twice. Until I spoke to Dad later that same evening and casually mentioned it.

I'll swear I heard the thump as he fell off his chair. It seems I lack a reputation for being practically gifted amongst my nearest and dearest. Personally, I reckon they do me a disservice, although given that Dad's an engineer and my brother has, variously, been a trainee gas fitter, run a tool hire company and then most recently been in a crane hire, I suppose I am somewhat overshadowed on the practical aptitude front.

What Bill? He sails and does stuff with computers. 

I think that's pretty much how they have me boxed and labelled. And I say that without malice or resentment. Although I also do stuff with guitars and pianos and karate. And I can, funny enough, actually manage a screwdriver and find and follow instructions in the event I can't actually work out what to do with the screwdriver once it's in my hand.

And of late I've both mended a garden fence and replaced an oven heating element. I really hope Dad doesn't think I'm rendering him obsolete!

We've had a little bit of snow. It fell overnight across the weekend and was mostly gone from the low ground by the start of the week. But it persisted on the higher ground and in the shadow of the valleys around Stroud for a couple of days.

I've always thought the Mill looked pretty in the snow.

It is gone today though. A few icy patches remaining, but even they're melting quick. I'm about done with winter now, truth be told. It's not so much the cold that bothers me. It's the lack of daylight, the persistent damp and continuous mud. 

Of course, the mud wouldn't be a problem if it actually stayed cold enough to freeze. But even the latest snowy spell was more of a slush anywhere except on high ground or the afore mentioned valley shadows.

Of course, if it did freeze I'd only complain that the lake was frozen and I couldn't go sailing. Except, of course, I can't anyway.

Friday, 22 January 2021

the mind's eye

We've had a frosty start to the day this morning.

I've just read an interview with Judy Dench, and from this moment I feel that whenever in the future I see her on the stage or, more likely given I've not visited a theatre in years, the screen, from now on I have a moral obligation to undertake only to see her as 6ft tall, willowy and about 39.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

elsewhere context

Having just called the last storm a damp squib, it occurs to me that we've been very lucky down here. From the photos on the Guardian this morning, other parts of the country have not fared so well. 

I guess that puts my worries about a garden fence and frustrations at not being able to go sailing into context.

after the storm


The repairs to my garden fence appear to have weathered the latest storm. Amazing what you can manage with a screwdriver and a small handful of self-tapping screws. 

To be fair, whilst it's apparently wreaked soggy havoc elsewhere in the country, the storm was a bit of a damp squib down here. A little bit of breeze, sheets of persistent drizzle. But no significant flooding, which is one up on the last storm, which pushed covers up off of drains and had me fording the raging torrent of an impromptu river across the road on my usual drive home from work.

And, of course, knocked my garden fence down. But according to the Met Office, unlike the lad Christoph who passed through this week, the storm before him was a lass, Bella, and well, you know, Hell hath no fury. Evidently.

Apparently, the UK Met Office started naming storms back in 2014. Apparently, according to a BBC Newsround post I just Googled, "The Met Office hoped that naming big storms will make people more aware of them and how dangerous they can be". Okay.

Also, courtesy of a quick Google . . .

Brand me a cynic, but if people can't read the weather forecast and judge the risk for themselves from the weather warnings given, then I don't see that naming the thing is going to help. It just feels like a publicity stunt. Although I am an absolute fan of our Met Office, and all those clever meteorological soothsayer folks out there in the world in general, as they do go a long way towards helping to keep me and my friends safe, so I guess who am I to gripe about a little bit of PR?

Personally speaking though, on the second point, I find names just as confusing as numbers. As evidenced by the number of times I'll smile genially at a friend or acquaintance as we're chatting along, whilst trying desperately to remember their name, and secretly pleading in my head that my dad doesn't ask me to introduce them.

I don't have to worry if it's my wife stood beside me, she knows me well enough to understand what's happened if I haven't already made the introduction. Dad does too, it's just that he's a little more malicious.

That said, and back to not belittling the storm that's just passed, as I was leaving for the office this morning, I did notice the phoneline to one of my neighbours' houses had snapped and was swinging loose from the telegraph pole in the street. Though there's an odds on chance they have cable anyway, so won't have even noticed.

The above package was delivered yesterday. It contains the replacement heating element for my oven, along with a grill pan grid I also took the opportunity to order a replacement for. The element was duly wrapped in a copious amount of heavy duty bubble-wrap so appears to have survived the transit intact. We shall see when I fit it Saturday.

However, the perilous state of the box as it was delivered by the courier (or rather, abandoned unannounced at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the office, but such are the times we live in) struck me as an amusing juxtaposition to the attached "fragile" sticker, and goes some way towards suggesting how much attention the courier companies pay to such labels.

That I find myself writing about boxes and garden fences suggests very strongly to me that I really need to get back out on the water, so I thought I should add a photo from last year to remind myself of summer sailing. Well, summer sailing in the UK at least, which was when the above photo was taken on passage from Plymouth to Fowey.

In fairness, the passage back, whilst still having to beat into the wind as it had, typically, switched directions overnight, was of an altogether more pleasant character.

I am feeling very landlocked at the moment. I haven't actually seen Calstar since early October, and haven't actually managed to sail her anywhere since the above trip out to Fowey and back at the end of August.

That's just crazy mad. But again, such are the times we live in.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

first signs


Spring has sprung. Noticed the first daffodils beginning to push through on my way into the office this morning. Weather has warmed up since last week, currently around 10c. I guess we're currently in the warm sector of a frontal system that'll push itself over the country over the next few days with the storm that's forecast.

Apparently the Met Office have named this one Christoph. Hopefully Christoph won't blow the garden fence back down that I've only just screwed back together and put back up after Bella had her fun with it a over Christmas.

I'm not sure I particularly like the Met Office affection of naming the various storms that hit us as if they were new born babes. In any case, Christoph sounds like a jerk. The weather's forecast to turn icy again by the weekend, so at least if he does knock the fence back down the swamp that is currently by back garden should be fairly solid to walk on if I have to go out there and put it back up again. 

And it's not as if I have any other plans.

In other news, whilst I might be unimpressed with the modern affection of naming storms, modern technology never ceases to amaze me. Nik told mentioned a couple of nights ago that the oven had ceased to warm up. I'm guessing the heating element has gone; it did this before some years ago.

However, to replace it, I've got a) remember to look for a replacement online and b) remember to make a note of the make and model of the oven so that I know what I'm looking for. Yesterday I forgot. So today Nik rang me to remind me. At which point we deduced that neither of us could remember the make and model of the oven and neither of us were home to check.

It needs to be fixed, but I can't say it's a huge priority for me. Most of the cooking I do is done on the hob. The call ended with a dissatisfied "Guess one of us will have to check when we get home" and the underlying, unspoken threat that I'd be cooking tea for the foreseeable until I got it sorted.

However, Dad and I refitted the kitchen back in 2014, which was when we replaced the oven. And I have a habit of taking photos of everything. 

So I went onto my Google Photos and typed "oven" into the search bar. And there it pops up, my oven, shiny and new in the showroom on the day I decided that was the one.

That has to be the singularly most boring photo I've ever posted up here. But from that, I was able to zoom in and sharpen the image on the label sat on the hob, and having then identified that it was Kenwood CK305 (which I don't recommend, by the way) it was a simple matter to source and purchase a replacement heating element for the oven which, if all goes to plan, should be with me by tomorrow.

Clever thing this technology stuff.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Dry January


I should've sailed New Year's Day. I've done so every other New Year for countless years now at Frampton, or if I've not it's either been because the lake has frozen over, or I was dumb enough to win the previous year's race and so was stuck with Race Officer duty for the year following.

But of course I'm now at South Cerney rather than Frampton, and South Cerney don't race on New Year's Day. We did have a race on the Monday following Boxing Day and that was fun. It involved a drive through the snow to get to the Club; I'd mean to race the Albacore with Amanda, but she rang to say she'd been snowed in and couldn't make it, so instead I cracked the ice off the Laser's boat cover and massaged life back into the frozen up lines and raced that instead.

I had meant to go play by myself New Years Day, race or no, but when the morning came around, the weather was so dank and dismal, without even the redemption of a breeze that, having glanced briefly out of the bedroom window, I rolled back over and slept off the excesses of the night before for a couple more hours instead.

I'm not proud of myself.

And shortly thereafter, of course, we went into a new lockdown. Or at least a lockdown-lite. We're still allowed to go to work if we can't work from home, and the definition of essential shops that are allowed to remain open is pretty broad, but we're not allowed out to play. And certainly not out to sail.

The one saving grace is that the weather has remained dull and boring. Actually, that's not true. We did have a freezing fog in the first week of the new year, which was atmospheric if not especially pleasant, but not the sort of weather than makes you wish you were out on the water. 

But freezing fog or no, with no boats to play with, no gigs and no karate, the weeks and weekends are kind of blending in to each other. Although I do still have work, and work is staying busy, which provides a demarcation of sorts, and for that I'm grateful.

Otherwise, my only real distraction other than work and walking the dogs has been the piano, which I've spent a fair amount of time at since Christmas. Possibly to the despair of my wife and, perhaps, next door. 

I've been struggling over the notes of Chopin's Prelude in E Minor and Beethoven's Für Elise, which of course has involved an awful lot of clumsy repetition. Both are, slowly, getting there, a progress which I've found very satisfying. But both have still a long way to go.

That said, a week ago last Wednesday was our 25th anniversary, so I guess Nik must've built up a tolerance to me by now. And whilst I don't actually know if next door can hear my piano through the walls of our semi-detached, I do try to be careful with the volume and constrain my practice to daytime at weekends and early evenings during the week.

Of course, it being an electric piano, I could always plug a pair of headphones in. But nobody's asked me to yet, and so until somebody finally feels driven to mention it, I'm going to not think of that.