Wednesday 15 December 2021

Calstar: the shortest trip

Calstar comes out of the water today, or rather, will have done already this morning if all went to plan. I can't be there, but Dad should've been for the 0900 lift-out. I've not heard from him, so can only assume all is well.

Not being able to be there to move her around to the hoist today, we did so yesterday. The lifting crew had the day off for some reason, so they were happy for us to move her around to the hoist dock any time yesterday, and leave her there for them to lift this morning.

She's overdue a fresh coat of anti-foul and anodes. We also need to renew the bushes on the rudder. The previous bushes have completely worn away; another Westerly owner kindly provided technical drawings of the bushes, Dad has sourced the appropriate material and will turn a set up in his machine shop.

The rudder is a bit of a beast, being about twice my height, so we'll solicit professional help in dropping it out and putting it back in again.

We could potentially purchase a set of bushes. despite the age of the yacht there are folks that make them, but there's some wear on the gudgeons holding the rudder in place (are they still called gudgeons on a yacht? I've no idea; a gudgeon is also a very small river fish, so whilst the term works for a dinghy, it feels a little incredulous on a bigger boat) so by making up our own, Dad can get measure and compensate for the wear. And in any case, he likes making things.

Her lift back in is scheduled for 15th Jan.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Freefall: American Pie

I'm not sure if this will work, I'm going to try and embed a video that was shared by my Dad on Facebook. Assuming it does work, the footage is a little bit raw, so be judicious with your volume slider.

It's a the final song from our gig last Friday night. I apologise unreservedly to anybody with the slightest fondness for Don McLean; in my defence the crowd were quite wired by the end of the evening and it was hard not to be carried away by their enthusiasm. 

I also apologise for getting confused over the verses. I accidentally repeated the second verse in place of the fourth. I did think about carrying on to correct my mistake by singing the fourth afterwards, but figured the patience of the band wouldn't wear my stretching an already eight minute song out to nine or more.

As it is, they rarely let me play it anyway because of its length, and my refusal to cut it down. But it was my daughter's birthday, who was of course in the crowd because it's her pub, and it was her particular request, so this time I had them over a barrel. 

That's her in there of course, in the foreground, providing the accidental backing vocals for the first verse, happily oblivious to the fact her grandad is holding a camera.

Jack says . . .

. . . every office needs an office dog, even the home office variety.

Tuesday 30 November 2021

summer done

Somehow, it's the end of November. My daughter's birthday tomorrow and then Christmas soon after. The year has flown. As have the months; I'm conscious I've not posted anything here since the Holms Race in September. Such lapses aren't unheard of, but they are unusual.

I've been scrolling through my photos on Google. I'm well, my family is well. Well, aside from a streaming cold that I'm pretty sure I caught from my daughter last week. But that will pass, and mainlining lateral flow tests seems to confirm it's nothing more serious.

On which note, I'm booked in for a booster in a couple of weeks. And a flu jab. I think I've had more needles stuck in me this year than the whole twenty years previous put together. But I guess I'm far from alone in that.

As I, in common with most of the nation, have spent the last half of the summer trying to believe everything is back to normal, there have been lots of gigs. I went away with Nikki and some friends for a weekend back in late September to, of all places, a Butlins holiday camp down in Minehead. My personal idea of purgatory, but the Saturday night's line up of entertainment included a set by Toyah Wilcox

Back in my early teens I was utterly in love with Toyah. It turns out I still am. 

Predictably, after spending a long weekend in a crowded holiday camp, mingling unavoidably with the masses, I came home with a stinker of a cold. Again, lots of successive lateral flow tests reassured me it was nothing more serious than that. But whilst I was fine for the gig that followed the next Friday, by Saturday my voice was completely shot. 

As in utterly. Nothing coming out but a monosyllabic croak. And a gig at one of our most popular local venues, The Pilot, on the Saturday night.

I've never been in that situation before. I've played through colds and sore throats and all manner of lurgies, and always been able to find something. But this time there was nothing there. Perhaps we're just immunologically out of practice because of our relatively germ-free isolation for most of the last 18 months, or perhaps it was just a particularly vicious bug amplified by the damp air of an outdoor gig the night before.

I even briefly thought of cancelling, but I couldn't bring myself to do it and put Rika, the landlady of the Pilot, in that situation. So we turned up, and limped through the first set relying massively on (it has to be noted, some very sympathetic and enthusiastic) audience participation; I croaked the words and they pretty much sang the tunes for me. Oddly enough, it worked.

Then a friend of Dad's, a young lady called Jen, volunteered to step up for a couple of songs. Dad knew her through a choir he used to sing in before the pandemic, she used to sing in a band herself, many years ago. She basically looked up the lyrics on her iPhone and then took her best guess at the tune of each song; we play covers, so obviously most if not all of our set is pretty well known.

She did such a good job of the last couple of tunes of the first set that the band spent their break huddled with her, pouring over the setlist of the second set and picking songs she was at least vaguely familiar with, and she took care of that as well. And to be fair, she did a fantastic job. If positions had been switched, I'm not sure I could have done it myself, so ad hoc and off the cuff, and in front of such a large, albeit exceptionally friendly, crowd.

And I felt totally replaced and utterly miserable. Turns out I'm quite the Prima Dona on the quiet.

photo: tony bundy

That was September. We've had nine gigs since, my voice obviously recovered and I've been just fine. And I remain extremely grateful to Jen for stepping in as she did, despite the battering to my pride and sense of self-worth. I've fully recovered.

Though in the grip of my second cold of the season, I did skip an open mic night I'd been planning to go to last Friday so that I could preserve my voice for the Saturday night gig with the band.

Which was a good one. I bought a new (to me, at least) guitar back at the beginning of 2020, a 1990 Japanese Fender Telecaster. A lovely thing to play, I'd originally bought it just to record with, but quickly pivoted on that idea and bought an amp as well with the intention of maybe gigging with it for a few songs.

Then lockdown happened and nobody was gigging.

When we were finally let back out again and business returned to usual, things felt very raw and out of practice. Loath to risk fiddling with too many variables at once and making life more complicated than it needed to be, I stuck to my usual Martin acoustic until things settled back down again.

So last Saturday, feeling a little apprehensive, I took the electric and my new amp to the venue, set them up under the ambivalent scrutiny of our bass player (who also doubles as both the band's de-facto sound engineer, my brother, and my harshest, most unsparing critic, second only to my wife) and opened the first set with an electric guitar.

And absolutely loved it. I picked the Martin up for a couple of numbers, but then put her back on her stand and went back to the Tele. I should've done this years ago. Electric guitars, and amps, and all the effects and electronics that go hand in hand with them have always terrified me. So much potential noise; the precision, knowledge and attention to detail required to keep it all under control has never been my strong point, and the scope for things to go so wrong is, frankly, a little intimidating.

But, a bit like bashing out the rough edges of a new song to see if it works, the only way to get over all that, I reckon, is with the help, support and pressure of an audience. And, as I think the Pilot gig showed, they'll forgive you anything if they see you're putting your heart into it.

Of course, now I've fallen in love with my Telecaster, I'm sat here idly thinking that wouldn't a Gibson Les Paul or a PRS make a nice addition to my collection? I confess I'm going purely on aesthetics. The merits of single coil over humbucker, independent coil splits, and aluminium Nashville Tune-O-Matic bridges are still something of a black art and a foreign language to me. I think the trick is to just plug the guitar in and play.

Of course, this all then raises the question of how many guitars is too many guitars. Which came up in my household about a month back when I went to the shop in town to buy some strings for the weekend's gigs and came home with a lovely Salvador Cortez nylon strung Spanish electro acoustic guitar. Martin at Gloucester Soundhouse clearly knows exactly how to snare me with these things; encourage me me to pick one up, then leave me in a quiet corner of his shop just to play.

In fairness, I had planned to justify the Cortez by working her into a couple of songs in the set, and did take her along to the gig in Thornbury a couple of weeks ago. But I think after last Saturday the Telecaster has shouldered her back out.

As to how many guitars is too many guitars? My wife and I will just need to continue to beg to differ.

It hasn't all been guitars and gigging since September. There has been some sailing. It feels like not enough of any of it though. There just doesn't seem to be enough time. I suspect I'm expecting too much.

I'd hoped to get a lot more sailing in with Calstar after bringing her back to Portishead. We have been out a few times. A neap tide day sail up under the bridges, then a somewhat longer spring tide day trip down to Sand Point and back. That was especially good fun, and our mate Mark (of the British Moths, Albacores and the trip out to Greece last year) joined us for that one, so the company was good to boot.

And Dad and I did get away for a weekend trip over to Cardiff in October. Nikki was supposed to join us for a long weekend, but she came down with a bug the week before, so being the diligent and attentive husband that I am, I cut the planned three day trip down to two, left her at home, peace fully asleep on the Saturday morning to sail to Cardiff, and caught the tide before dawn early the following day to get home in time for Sunday lunch.

The highlight of the Cardiff trip was probably the outward leg, when I finally managed to rig and hoist the cruising chute I picked up on eBay a couple of years ago. I told Nikki all about it over lunch when I got home on the Sunday.

I have a very patient, understanding wife. I think I might have mentioned this before?

Three trips out over a couple of months with Calstar feels like less than we'd been hoping for. Although Dad regularly drops down there without me now, just to potter. The biggest problem, of course, has been too many gigs. Which is a nice problem to have. And now the summer has gone, we need to find some time to have her pulled out to clean off her bottom and renew the anodes. And the bushes on her transom hung rudder have worn through, so also need to be replaced, which promises to be a beast of a job as the huge barn door of a rudder will obviously have to come off.

The electrics in her mast have also failed; I think the bulb has gone in the steaming light, and the LED tricolour and anchor light unit at the mast head has failed completely. It's inconvenient; it's easy enough to jury rig a temporary steaming light, which is what we did for our pre-dawn departure when returning from Cardiff. And for a couple of the legs coming back from Plymouth, for that matter. But whilst the deck level navigation lights are LED, so battery usage isn't a concern, the mast head tricolour also lit up the wind indicator which made sailing in the dark an awful lot easier, as it's the only wind instrument on our boat.

The trouble is, we haven't been able to find an electrician around here able or willing to sort the problem for us, and Dad won't entertain the idea of letting me shimmy up the mast, even suitably harnessed, to change the bulb on the steaming light half way up. It's kind of ironic, because running wild as a kid I used to climb trees (and cliffs and buildings and anything else that offered itself, and then jump out of them and abseil back down) an awful lot taller than Calstar's mast, and he didn't seem to mind back then.

Perspectives change, and thinking about it, a lot of the time I was doing the climbing, jumping and abseiling in my youth, I was away out of sight at boarding school, so maybe it wasn't so much that he didn't mind, but just that I didn't ask?

Of course, when not away with Dad and Calstar, or away with Nikki (aside from the afore mentioned Butlins weekend, we also snuck away for a weekend together in Ilfracombe at the end of October) business as usual continues on the lake at South Cerney Sailing Club.

I did a little instructing again towards the end of the summer, mostly (with one exception) on a Saturday so it didn't interfere with the racing, and I've been racing the Albacore with Amanda when we've both been available on a Saturday morning, or racing the Laser alone when not.

Such as last Sunday. Had a message from Amanda first thing in the morning to say she wouldn't be able to make it because of a migraine but, and exceptionally considerate of her, given the state she must've been in, she caught me in time so that I could grab the sail and foil bag for the Laser instead.

On the back end of Storm such and such (they have names these days, but I don't care to note them) that blew through on Saturday, there was snow on the high ground as I drove to the Club, and I had to break the ice off the boat cover and massage the mainsheet and control lines back to life before I could rig.

But it was worth it. Two races, and with a pure accident of the perfect amount of wind for me and a sympathetic course, I won both.

So summer is over. And whilst I will miss it I'm kind of fond of winter anyway. The sailing is so often great, and the gigs are kind of cosy. Not a big fan of the cold, but can work around that.

I'm just kind of hoping that, in the developing circumstances, we manage to carry on.

Wednesday 8 September 2021

savvy navvy

It's almost hypnotic. And as big a distraction as any I've yet found on the Internet.

Outside my window, the sky is blue and there's a gentle breeze. It's warm today. Summer is having a last bash at the UK and I'm glad of it and a little frustrated that I'm stuck indoors.

And the evenings have drawn in, so the Wednesday evening racing at South Cerney finished last week. I'm not sure what I'm going to do after work tonight. Cut the grass maybe.

But meanwhile, I know the tide has just turned to the ebb off Portishead. And savvy navvy tells me if we leave now, Calstar and I could be in Minehead in 6 hours and 26 minutes. In time to sit at anchor in the last of the sun and wait the tide before entering the harbour just before dark and taking the tender ashore to the pub.

I've long wanted to visit Minehead by sea. I'm going there later this month. But by road, and staying at the Butlins Holiday Camp with my wife and a couple of our friends for a long "80's themed" weekend. Don't ask. It's payback for all the sailing she lets me do. I'll be fine. I shall be sociable and take every opportunity to anesthetise myself with alcohol.

And when I can, I'll sneak away to stare at the sea.

savvy navvy lets you overlay the wind and tide onto the chart. The hypnotic thing is that the wind lines are animated and drift across the chart to indicate direction and strength, similar to the way the World Wind Map visualises them. The latter is a site you should visit if you're not already familiar with it.

The distraction, of course, is that savvy navvy is telling me where I could be going if I wasn't sat here.

It has the occasional niggle. Especially given the tides we deal with here. If it can't plot the route then it pretty much just tells you it can't, and says it's a combination of wind or tide that makes the route impossible, or suggesting you move some of your waypoints out into more open water. It would be much more useful if it told you where the route failed, then you could plan around it.

For example, if I left in an hour and a half (and as the boat is only half an hour down the road these days, I could so do that!) then I could repeat the Holms Race course in 7 hours and 25 minutes today.

But it tells me I'd need to use the engine to round Steep Holm. To be fair, I would've loved to have had the option of using the engine when we hit the lee of the island last Saturday! However, if I switch off the engine option, rather than telling me that I can only get as far as Steep Holm without the engine, computer simply says no.

Or in this case that my waypoints are too far apart. But whilst that's the third variation of route failure message I've now seen, and so much better than the arbitrary soft crashes that were clearing down the route last week (and which I'm told the developers have now fixed and I've as yet been unable to prove otherwise - that's very impressive support, in my opinion) it's too general to be helpful.

But it's easily remedied by switching the option back on to use the engine, then you see straight away that savvy navvy is having the same problem in the lee of Steep Holm that we did . . .

Complete aside. I do love how it essentially gives you its workings down the left hand panel. Arguably, they're sailing instructions; luff up here, bear away there, close hauled here, broad reach there, etc. But they're actually way too fiddly to be of any practical value on the water. But it's really useful to see how savvy navvy is working out your course. And it makes it easy to tweak it to improve things.

For example, if I ask it to plot a course from Portishead to Cardiff, which is a favourite of ours, on today's ebb it sends us around the outside of Cardiff Grounds and up the south entrance, suggesting it'll take 4 hours and 4 minutes if we leave at 1200. I'm so tempted.

However, we never use the south entrance when coming from the north, although I think if you read the cruising guides, that's the suggested route. But if you're careful with the tide and have the benefit of a shallow draft, the north entrance is quicker. And accordingly, if we add a waypoint in by the yellow utility buoy north of the Grounds, then it shaves half an hour off our time.

Which gives us a passage of 3 hours and 28 minutes. I'd have to check my logbook, but I think that would make it one of our fastest. However, it seems if we left at 1130 instead of 1200, then that would give us an estimated passage time of 3 hours and 18 minutes.

This isn't about racing, although it was obviously a big help for the Holms Race last weekend. The tides around here are significant, and the weather can, or in most cases, will change dramatically between one tide or another. If you want to go somewhere on the Bristol Channel, you should have a good idea of when you're going to get there so you know what the tide will be doing. It can often spare you a long wait at the other end for a lock to open or a harbour to float enough water to allow entry. And that, more than weather or available light, will usually inform when you need to leave.

Which makes this a really useful tool. Especially as it runs as a web app on my laptop and as an Android app on my phone, and my routes are synced between the two. I've still got 7 days to run on my trial. But I think I'm already sold.

Anyway, enough distraction. Coffee break is over. And actually, I return to my original point, it's hypnotic simply watching how the wind bends and curves around the Bristol Channel.

Monday 6 September 2021

Calstar: Holms Race 2021

This last Saturday was the annual Holms Race organised by Portishead Cruising Club. With Calstar now based back in Portishead, I really couldn't resist joining in. We've sailed it three times before, twice with Calstar in 2015 and 2017 and the last time aboard our friend Tom's boat "Sundance" in 2019.

I guess there must be something about odd numbered years. To explain what it's all about, from PCC's website, as they describe it as clearly as I possibly could:

The Holms race is the most high profile event in the club calendar with a typical entry of over 50 boats from clubs around the Bristol Channel.

It is held in late August or early September and is a down tide race starting and finishing off Portishead, with a course of NW Elbow to port, Flat Holm to Port, Steep Holm to port, NW Elbow to starboard and finish.

Competitors choose their own start time from 2 hours after high water based on the tidal streams and the wind with the aim of passing between the Holms at slack water.

The elapsed time taken is corrected for open handicap and with a tidal correction to correct for the natural advantage for slower handicap boats on down tide races.

The 2015 race was a particularly brutal baptism by fire, one boat losing her mast, another shredding her mainsail and a third beaching herself on the mudbank outside Portishead before she could even start. We placed 21st out of the 39 boats that managed to finish. There were more than 60 entries. A dozen or so were sensible enough not to even try to start.

The 2017 race was lively, but not quite as bad. We finished 20th out of the fleet of the 54 boats that made the start line. About ten of them failed to finish the course, albeit none for reasons as dramatic as the demasting, grounding or shredded sails of 2015.

2019 was a drift, and I screwed up the navigation badly, misjudging the tide and the lack of wind so we missed the first mark of the course, the cardinal buoy North West Elbow. As our skipper Tom observed at the time, we took it correctly to port, but were sadly travelling backwards with the tide on the wrong side of it at the time. 

With no chance of getting back against the strong ebb to round it correctly, our race was in default before it had hardly begun, and the rest of the day relegated to a pleasant Bristol Channel cruise until the tide turned around to carry us back home.

Saturday's forecast was for about 10 knots but, uncharacteristically, from the north east. That would turn the down channel leg into a 16 mile run. It sounds comfortable, but a Bristol Channel tide running with the wind can turn a light breeze into a listless drift. As we'd discovered to our cost back in 2019.

High water off Portishead this year was due 0608, but only a mere 9.9m as we were just coming off neaps. The start gate opened at 0800, so we could pick our start for any time after that. The down channel leg to Flat Holm is 16 nautical miles, and the idea, as the club's website states, is to get there for local low water, which was expected for 1144.

Calstar's average cruising speed under sail is around 4 knots. Get the tide right, and you can improve a little on that. Get the Bristol Channel tides right and you can improve a little more. But in the week leading up to the race, as the forecast settled out, I was growing increasingly paranoid about repeating our mistake of 2019, and ending up in a drift that failed to make NW Elbow, or perhaps less humiliatingly, didn't make Flat Holm before the tide turned and washed us all the way back home.

Early last week, my mind was settling out on a cautious 0830 start, maybe even 0800 if the forecast showed the wind easing even further as the week wore on. The Saturday before the race we booked the lock out for 0730 to keep our options open.

Around the middle of last week, against my usual instincts, I capitulated to some heavy, directed advertising on social media, and took a look at an app called savvy navvy. At first glance I thought it was a replacement or competition for Navionics, which is the chart plotter app Dad favours on his iPad. I prefer to use the raster charts supplied by a company called VisitMyHarbour using an Android app called Marine Navigator, though I did have a subscription to Navionics as a backup that had just expired (and as I never used it, had no intention to renew)

It turns out that savvy navvy isn't really a chart plotter, or if it is, it doesn't really compete with either mine or Dad's favourites on that score. What it is however is an excellent passage planning tool. You give it your boat's specs, say whether or not you're willing to use the engine, drop your waypoints on the chart, tell it to plot, and it works out your course against the tide and weather forecast and tells you how long the passage is going to take. 

Which is sweet, as it takes into account wind and tide strength and direction providing for the best course to steer. It then lets you set your intended departure date and time, and recalculates everything from this point, which shows you the difference the tide and weather make on your passage time dependent upon when you depart.

Which is exceptionally handy when your passage planning consists of lots of big tides and some very serious tidal gates. And, sat behind my desk in the middle of last week, it suggested that, whatever my misgivings, I was on course to make a very big mistake in leaving too close to the start line opening at 0800 on Saturday morning. In fact, setting the course and then varying the start times across the morning suggested the following:

Low water at Flat Holm was expected for 1144, but the tidal flow, which the savvy navvy web app showed very nicely, didn't actually turn foul for another hour after that. Which is all stuff I already knew from the actual paper charts, but seeing it so visually illustrated on screen was a real help.

Unfortunately, as the week progressed, on Thursday I tried recalculating the course with the app using the more up to date weather forecast, and the Bristol Channel won; the app had a kind of soft crash, repeatedly wiping my course every time I asked it to plot.

I raised the issue with their support (and it has to be said they've been ever so helpful since). But in any case, it had already given me the information I needed.

Anyway, enough of the prelude.

Dad and I headed down to the boat Friday evening, had supper at the local pub, and then a relatively early night set for an early start Saturday. At 0630 the following morning I met my friend Michele Inversi in the pub car park and walked him down to the boat. Mick sail a Scorpion at South Cerney Sailing Club and had mentioned an interest in coming out to sail with us on Calstar some time. The Holms Race seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We cast off at 0710 beneath a clear blue sky and a gently warming day. The lock was predictably busy, with seven of us crammed in. The gates opened onto the Bristol Channel to reveal a small flotilla of boats already outside, either waiting at anchor, moored loosely to the breakwater wall or loitering under power and stemming the tide.

We motored out, picking our way through the throng, and once outside the Hole clear of the mud bank, followed the shoreline a short way up channel before dropping the anchor in about 5m of water. Dad put the kettle on, lit the stove and we idled away the time before our departure with black tea and bacon sarnies.

The start line opened at 0800, some of the keener vessels began to prepare, and before long the VHF crackled with crews identifying themselves to the race committee ashore at Battery Point and announcing their intentions to start. 

We continued to sit tight, watching the colourful blossoming of spinnakers and cruising chutes as the departing vessels made their way down channel. Around 0910 we started the engine and weighed anchor. It came up easily from the soft mud, and Dad at the helm picked his way through the field of boats still at rest as I hauled up the mainsail into the face of a gentle breeze.

We turned down channel towards the line, stilling the engine. The headsail collapsed in the shadow of the main as we settled onto our course, so Mick and I pushed it out on a goosewing with the whisker pole. We didn't have a pole in the 2015 race, when it would've been very handy for the final leg back. We carried it in 2017 and although carrying it cost us 17 points on our handicap we never had the chance to deploy it because of the wind direction. 

This time it was definitely going to earn it's keep.

We called up Race Control on the VHF to announce our approach and intention to cross the start line in the company of a handful of other boats and at 0929 and 31 seconds we were over and finally racing.

For all that it was a race, it was gentle, leisurely sailing. Blue sky, flat sea, and according to the anemometer in my hand, a mere whisper of 3.5 knots of apparent wind from astern at deck level. Across the first stretch down to Clevedon and the narrows of the Bristol Deep we were continuously passed by a stream of sleeker, faster racing machines, their kites and asymmetrics lending the day a glorious bouquet of colour.

Seeing them all go by so soon was actually reassuring, except for the nagging doubt that if they'd timed the tide right then I'd have left it too late and would get shut out by the tide at Flat Holm. We dropped the pole and gybed the headsail as we approached Clevedon, staying over the deepest water and strongest tide, settling onto a broad starboard reach that promised to take us around the right side of NW Elbow this year. I sailed intentionally high just to be sure though. Our speed over ground was just shy of 6 knots.

We rounded NW Elbow at 1055, a couple of the faster boys streaking past on the inside under the gorgeous bloom of their asymmetrics. As we bore away onto a dead run to hold to the deep water, the headsail collapsed so Mick and I poled it out on to a goosewing to starboard again. The horizon astern was pebble-dashed with a riot of spinnakers as the bigger, faster boats chased us down.

An hour later and we were still goosed and on our final approach to Flat Holm. The sky remained warm and blue, the breeze astern beginning to freshen and the boat still pushing 5 knots or more over the ground. Most of the fleet were now ahead. We could see them stacking up between the Holms, with the front boats just emerging from the other side of Steep Holm to try beating their way back up channel but going nowhere fast against the still ebbing tide.

The Holms are beautiful, especially in warm sun and easy weather. Verdant, rugged and scarred, beaten by the relentless, elemental fury of the Bristol Channel but immobile and eternally defiant. They are like gatekeepers to my home sailing ground and gateway to the world outside, and I find myself continuously orientating myself relative to them when I'm within their sight, whether on shore or at sea.

We gybed under Flat Holm at 1210, and found our boat momentarily disorientated in the lee, bereft of both both wind and tide. We edged our way over the shallows and out in to the deep channel again above the Makenzie Shoal. The tide was ambivalent and with 2 miles to cover to reach Steep Holm before it turned, I was anxious not to get caught and washed back up in what felt like treacherously light winds that had, clear of the island, fallen astern onto our port quarter.

We sailed as deep as we could on a port reach without the headsail collapsing, the course suggesting it would just clear Rudder Rock on the western end of Steep Holm. Our speed sluggish at first, but as we left the deep water channel between the islands it picked back up and our course held good, the tide progressively lessening it's hold on us.

At 1240 we were abreast of Rudder Rock off the western tail of Steep Holm and safely across. In the lee of the tall island and too close to the shore, the wind stopped. We could see a sheer line ahead with surface turbulence suggesting more wind and, in the grip of its confusion, a boat ahead of us. We watched as their sails collapsed and then bellowed again, the boat doing a full 360° complete with a tack and a gybe before the flow took them out from the shadow of the island and they settled gratefully into clearer air.

We followed, using their own temporary misfortune as a guide to what was coming down the line for us. I took the tiller, the auto helm completely baffled, and hand on mainsheet, steered up on the fickle breeze, close hauled, hardening up and bearing away with the little way we carried; anything to tease the boat to keep her moving.

As we came out of the shadow of Steep Holm, the flood tide churned the sea against the breeze as it bit, and we went from becalmed in the lee to close hauled and shouldering through a short, sharp, foaming chop with 30° of heel. I played the main to keep the little boat happily on her feet until we were well clear of the eastern point of the Holm and the gravel spit that extends beyond it, and then we tacked. 

By 1300 we were clear of the Holms and on our way back via NW Elbow. Although we still had a handful of other boats for company, we could see most of the fleet pulling ahead into the distance now; most seemed to be holding a starboard fetch far out towards the Welsh shore before tacking to lay the mark. 

We settled onto our beat back out in to the deep water. The wind was fresh, so we put a roll into the headsail to stiffen the boat up and stop her fighting the helm quite so much. It reduced the heel back down to a steady 20°, but didn't seem to touch our speed over the ground, the little boat simply surging forward as the gusts hit rather than fighting the helm to round up.

We picked a course upwind to keep us in the deepest water and strongest tide, pretty much reversing the track we'd previously run down on our way out. With Mick and Dad to help with the sheet handling, tacking was easy, for me at least, so I kept them busy at it. And neither seemed to mind.

By the time we were passing NW Elbow again, the wind had eased a little, though the tide was now in full spate. We shook the roll out of the headsail and carried on up the beat under full canvas. The race off Clevedon was quiet today in the light tide, the only complication being a large freighter outbound from Royal Portbury Docks, but the timing was unusually good and our course took us inshore as she steamed down channel and past us, before we tacked astern of the ship and beat back out to the deeper water with no interruption to our intended route.

We crossed the finish line 32 seconds past 1624, just behind a handful of other boats completing the course. Out of the fleet of 46 there were only about 3 other boats behind us yet to finish. As we started the engine and dropped our sails, we could hear the lock having a busy time of it getting everybody back into the marina. We called up to ask for a place, and were told we were number 32.

However, by the time we turned into the Hole, most of the early finishers had already locked in, so we only had to wait half an hour or so for the lock ahead of us to clear before our turn came around.

By 1738 we were back alongside our berth in Portishead, our sailing done; 42.5nm left in our wake, and 9 hours and 18 minutes from slipping our lines to coming back alongside. More than an hour of that was spent at anchor sipping tea and eating Dad's bacon sarnies though. It's a brutal life, this racing lark.

Because of a computer crash, the results were delayed, so we had to wait until they were published online before we could see how we'd done. But it had felt good. All the timings had worked out, Mick and Dad crewing had made my life very easy for the beat back up channel and I felt we'd picked the best course we could to make best use of the small tide. 

And, whilst it arguably made little difference to the boat speed downwind, Mick's company had been a pleasure and, upwind, he had provided an extra body to flatten the boat and a practiced pair of hands to make the tacks fast, clean and easy. He's very welcome back aboard any time.

So I felt fairly sanguine about the result. We'd sailed well. The savvy navvy modelling had suggested a passage time of 07:12 for an 0930 start and we'd managed it in 06:55. For all the inconvenience of the app crashing, I have to say I was very impressed with it for getting the plot so close and saving me from an unfortunately premature start.

I figured something in the top 20 would be nice, especially if it was an improvement on our 2015 and 2017 results.

On Sunday evening the results were published. We took 11th place out of the fleet of 46. Our best result so far by a generous margin. I'm very pleased with that.