Wednesday 28 April 2021


Once upon a time a jiff lemon was easy to find and now it's patently not. Putting it with the tea seems obvious to me but no; baking goods, bottom shelf. Obviously, or so she tells me

Thursday 22 April 2021

Laser: midweek


Another Wednesday night, another race officer with a sense of humour. Although I write that with all the gratitude and patience one has to have for another fellow that's volunteered to take care of a complicated and thankless task so that you can go out on the water and enjoy yourself.

It was a downwind start again, albeit a broader reach than the almost dead run of last week. A necessary expedient with the wind in that direction I guess, if you're set on starting the race from the shore. 

Then a relatively short reach down to the first mark with (again) a starboard rounding. We do seem to like rounding the first mark to starboard at South Cerney. I've been racing for years and have to say that a starboard rounding of the first mark was almost as rare as a reaching start, but we've had both for two weeks running now.

Starboard roundings of the first mark are a recipe for chaos and mayhem as everybody comes tearing in on port and those few on a starboard approach have to make a late tack on top of the buoy, so a port rounding for the windward mark is usually favoured by the race officer when setting the course. But I guess if you're starting out with a reaching start, a downwind leg and therefore no windward mark, the starboard rounding becomes irrelevant. Chaos and mayhem are ready baked in by the start line and that first leg.

So, twenty-three boats on a Wednesday evening, on a relatively short start line, all proceeding en-mass down said short reach to arrive together at the first mark rounding. Needless to say, the first couple of legs of the first lap were fraught, but none so fraught as that first rounding.

Were it not for the fact that we were in open air and in our own individual boats, social distancing would have been something of an issue . . . 

I started at the windward end again to avoid getting smothered by everybody else's dirty air, but couldn't pick up enough speed to break clean ahead, so arrived somewhere in the middle of the pack at the first mark and got completely shoved out by a dozen boats barging in from astern. It's one thing to call water on others that have no right to push in, but these kind of crowds develop a momentum of their own.

The next leg was longer; a very broad reach on starboard and after the bottleneck of the first mark the other boats started to spread out, so I was able to pick my way down through the field to the leeward mark to enjoy a much less stressful rounding. Albeit with a gybe from a dead run onto a close-hauled fetch up to the next mark on the other side of the lake.

The sort of fetch where if you sail it cleanly and don't get hit by any unlucky shifts on a very shifty night, you can lay it in one beat. But if it doesn't work and you have to tack, it punishes you with time lost. The wind bend in the last hundred yards made for a nasty header as it funnelled out of the gap that leads into the little used backwater on the east side of the lake. You could see it in the angle of the boats ahead, so it paid off to sail high at the beginning of the stretch to give yourself some leeway at the end. I didn't spot that early enough on the first lap, but remembered it well for the remaining three.

A tack around the third mark put you on to a broad reach on port back across the lake to the next. The wind was fickle and shifty for that first lap, but for the remaining laps of the four lap race I got lucky, with the gusts blowing through more than enough to put my little Laser up onto the plane for the length of it.

The exhilaration of that ride was almost enough for me to forgive the brevity of the only beat of the race that followed on the next leg. 

The beat is where a small boat like mine makes most of its gains against the rest of the fleet, by picking her course up the leg, tacking on the headers and sailing up close on the lifts. Downwind is more of a procession, at best a drag race, and dead downwind gives all the tactical advantages to the asymmetric, if they're canny enough to take them, as they drive their big kites down the course from favoured gybe to favoured gybe.

So I like a course with a nice, long beat to windward, and this we were denied last night.

But I can't complain. The one thing that's always true of any race, is no matter how much you might not like the course you're given to sail, everybody else has to sail the same one.

I screwed a few things up. Mostly on the second mark rounding, gybing from a dead run, then having to sheet in fast and harden up the sail controls to lay a close hauled course to the next. On one instance, I actually dropped the tiller. I'm sure I heard laughter from the boats behind.

On another occasion, hiking hard against a very gusty beat on the third lap, I actually all but stalled the boat in irons on the final tack. I pulled out of it, but only just, and slowly.

Ultimately, I finished in 2nd place, beating everybody on the water except an Aero (whom I was catching) and an RS300, both of whom being faster designs then lost to me on handicap. I failed to shake one of the Solos, despite my best efforts (and perhaps because of my afore mentioned mistakes), and so he in turn finished close enough behind to beat me on handicap and take 1st place. 

And very well deserved, I should add.

It was a good evening's racing. A challenging course set, quite outside of my comfort zone, but once we settled into it, I enjoyed myself nonetheless. One thing I do love about the Laser; I can have a reasonably inauspicious start (ie. bungle it completely with my "tactical" decisions and clumsy boat handling) and the little boat still has enough guts in her to make the time up and climb back through the fleet, as long as I bully her accordingly and make her work for it.

Of all the little boats I've bought and raced over the years, this one, surprisingly, is most definitely my favourite so far.

Thursday 15 April 2021

Laser: hotdogs

The Wednesday evening Hot Dog series at South Cerney got off to a fine start yesterday evening. So called, it turns out, because there are actual hot dogs, fresh from the BBQ, available from the (outdoors, under present circumstances) bar after racing. That's an approach to sailing of which I can only approve.

It was a lovely evening; blue sky, light breeze, but from the east so still carrying a definite chill and very fickle and shifty. Amanda had to work late, and will do for most of this month, so the Albacore got to rest ashore under cover and I got to play with my Laser for the second time in a week.

The race committee, conscious of the limited light still of an evening, and keen to get things moving opted to run the race from ashore, with a start line running out from the committee hut. By definition, that meant for a "reaching start"; always a horrid, chaotic thing.

They then compounded the drama by setting the most simplistic of courses, a straightforward triangle, with all three mark rounding to starboard.

I elected to start at the windward end of the line, the alternative would've been the pin end amongst the crowd and whilst that would've given me a chance of getting an inside line at the first mark, the mob would've left my laser smothered in the filthy air of a score or more of (mostly larger) boats.

The first lap went exactly as you'd expect from a reaching start with no beat to windward to break up the fleet. I edged slightly ahead of most of the pack, reached the three boat zone with just a Wayfarer beneath me to claim room but an absolute mass of boats just astern. The Wayfarer, for some reason I either couldn't see from my own vantage point or reasons best known to himself, then elected to then give room to the lot of them, pinning me out and forcing me to overshoot by a half dozen boat lengths.

Gybing onto starboard, I hardened up beneath his stern for the next leg and rode over him and the rest of the armada to windward, slowly edging back up through the pack, but now caught to windward of the Wayfarer, with a smaller, lighter Aero just to windward of me.

Which was fine, until we hit the three boat zone of the next mark. I needed enough room to give the Aero space to pass between me and the mark, but the Wayfarer, who in turn owed me room couldn't give it because of the huge press of boats on the outside of him. By the time he'd given me space, he'd pushed me so far up to the Aero (who, in turn, may have taken the mark a little wide but I couldn't tell) that he couldn't bear away without his transom swinging into me. So we touched.

The final leg, for all the fuss and drama and poor design of the first two, turned in to a surprisingly good beat. With an eye to finding clear air and keeping good speed I followed the wind up the course until I had space enough to do my turns. I'm not convinced they were owed and nobody was calling for them, but somebody owed somebody turns and nobody else was offering.

The rest of the race was sweet. I spent it chasing the Aero that had touched me, closing but never quite catching, working hard to stay clear ahead of the Wayfarer that continued to dog my tail for the remainder of the race, and playing cat and mouse with an RS200, whom I generally caught on each beat, but who caught me back every time we settled back down on to one of the two reaches. But when the finish finally came, just as the sun was beginning to set, I caught her one final time on the last beat, and had the satisfaction of beating her over the line.

I still don't yet know how I did. With a handicap race, the timings have to all be kept and noted for the results to be calculated, and as it turns out there was some confusion over this with the race committee. I'm sure they'll sort it, but when I last checked a short while ago, the results still hadn't been published to the Club's website.

These things happen. We're all volunteers when it comes to the organising of these things, and we're all a little bit out of practice. I'm sure they'll get it all sorted. I, in the meantime, had a lovely race, and am really looking forward to doing it all again next week.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Laser: Wednesday evening


I'm racing the Laser tonight; the Wednesday evening series has restarted for the new season.

Amanda's stuck working late so the Albacore can stay ashore under cover. Which is fine. I love the company, but I also love racing the single hander. There's not an awful lot of wind forecast, but I can't find it in me to care too much. I'll be on the water again, and I'm pretty certain I can make the Laser move in almost anything. 

I can't wait.

quinquennial MOT

Received a belated birthday card in yesterday's post from the NHS. I jest; it was an invitation for me to make an appointment with my local GP for "your free NHS Health Check, which is being offered to people aged between 40 and 74 every five years"

Or, as I like to think of it, my quinquennial MOT.

Which is fine. It gives me the chance to feel smug that I'm still pretty active for my age, enough to raise the doctor's eyebrows, and gives the doctor a chance to feel smug for lecturing me about my alcohol consumption which, to be fair, is also enough to raise the doctor's eyebrows. 

It'll also be a chance to get my blood pressure checked, which has always been low enough to spark comment, but the last time it was checked, instead caused comment that it was "a little bit high".

Although at the time I was at the doc's surgery to see about a horrific, wracking cough, so she did concede even as she commented on it that it was most probably due to my chest infection. Which, looking back at the timing and circumstances now, was most likely me suffering the tail end of Covid, although who could tell, because tests weren't yet available and it wasn't, so say, in the country yet, although there did seem to be an awful lot of people around going through the same thing I was. 

In any case, it's not an experience I ever want to repeat.

But I digress.

In order to make the appointment, it was necessary to phone the surgery number they gave me on the invitation letter. Which is fair enough. However, trying to get through to my doc's surgery is always an absolute nightmare.

I hate holding music. It's almost always awful, brain mushing stuff on a short loop, although the other week whilst on hold (to whom I can't remember) I did get treated to a lovely bit of flamenco guitar.

And the doc's surgery doesn't have holding music. It has a beeping tone that lets you know you're on hold and waiting, which is cool. I like that. A lot. You can just sit there with the phone half hanging off your shoulder and only your subconscious listening whilst you get on with something else to productively fill the time in of that interminable twenty to thirty minute wait, knowing that when somebody finally does answer, it'll trigger and you can get on with making the appointment.

Except what I hate. No loathe. No, absolutely utterly infuriatingly maddeningly detest, is when they see fit to trigger a recorded apology for the the delay every ten damned seconds without fail.

Every ten damn seconds, the tone switches as if somebody's going to actually answer your call, and then you get a pre-recorded voice saying "Sorry to keep you waiting, we are experiencing a heavy amount of calls. We will answer your call as soon as possible."

No! If it's pre-recorded then you are NOT sorry. You don't care, or you'd have put enough staff on the phones to answer the volume of calls you were expecting. Except staff cost money and you probably aren't experiencing a heavy amount of calls and if you were the recorded notice wouldn't know because it's the same pre-recorded message we get every time we ring in hours, regardless of date or time of day and I've sat in your surgery waiting room and I know the phone isn't ringing off the hook because I'd hear it and see the panicked frenzy of your reception staff trying to deal with it the chaos. And it isn't there. Ever.

So you are not sorry, you probably aren't experiencing a heavy amount of calls, and it's not only insulting that you try to fob me off with this, but every ten damn seconds seconds without fail you trigger a little adrenaline rush from the boost gained by thing somebody's just answered, I've finally got through, that I've won the waiting game and am about to speak to an actual, real human being, and then  you crash me back down again with the same damned pre-recorded message I've been listening too for the last twenty minutes of my now completely disrupted life.

But at least there was no crappy holding music on a ten second loop to go with it.

Naturally, eventually a lovely lady did actually answer, offered me a couple of options as to what time I'd like my appointment, even had a bit of a laugh and a joke when I commented that asking me to pick a time was like asking me to pick a flavour of ice cream, and I could never make up my mind.

She sounded quite chilled. Certainly not the voice of somebody fielding a heavy amount (and you should have said "number") of calls. But that's fine. She's likely no idea of the aural hell I'd just been through in trying to reach her, so I wasn't going to take it out on her.

May 17th, 1340hrs. Appointment booked. Rant over. Thank you. Who needs a therapist when you've got a site on Blogger?

Monday 12 April 2021

Albacore: triangle sausage


Having spent Saturday racing the Laser, everything hurt Sunday morning. As long as I kept moving I was fine, but the moment I stopped everything seized up. It hadn't exactly been wild conditions the day before, but I'd forgotten how much that boat brutalises me. Saturday evening had been spent in an exhausted, sore huddle in front of Netflix. Nikki had no sympathy, and only baffled amusement that I'd do it to myself and, furthermore, proposed to go out and do it all again with the Albacore on Sunday.

But compared to the Laser, the Albacore is civilised, almost decadent comfort. And I'd promised to race with Amanda.

It's quite difficult to describe the weather we had on Sunday without resorting to unseemly profanity. I drove through falling snow to get to the Club in the morning, but on arrival found the sun was shining and a brisk breeze was gusting over the water. The breeze then dropped off to little more than a drift as we launched. 

We had a few issues with a twist at the head of the jib that, foolishly, I didn't spot until we were launching, and no time left to take it down and put it up properly if we were to make the start line, which was on the far side of the lake. I had half a mind to abandon the first race to put it right, but we decided to see how the start went and decide from there.

As it turned out, it was our best start of the season. Of course, there isn't an awful lot of competition for the spot yet. But, perhaps more by luck than judgement, we got to to the starting area just as the preparatory signal sounded, and six minutes later, seconds before the start, found ourselves on starboard at the favoured committee boat end of the line, with somehow acres of space to leeward to accelerate into as the gun went.

So we took full advantage. The first beat was a long stretch down the full length of the lake, and with clean air out at the front of the fleet, we easily made the windward mark ahead of everybody else. The pressure of the wind in the jib transferred the the twist in the head of the sail to the halyard, so it gave us no problems. 

The course was an unusual one for a club race; a triangle followed by a sausage. Basically, the first lap was around three marks of a triangle, giving a lovely long beat followed by two reaches, then the following lap dispensed with the second mark, taking us back up the beat and then on to a dead run back to the final mark.

Naturally, by the time we got to the second lap, Amanda and I had both forgotten that and I duly set out for the wing mark of the triangle again, before a very sporting gentleman in the boat that was, until then, just behind us, called out to warn us of my mistake. The minute or so of erroneous navigation probably cost us at least a couple of places and so squandered our glorious start, but after correcting it we still managed to finish with a creditable 5th place out of the fleet of 14 boats.

Then there was a long, cold half hour wait between races whilst the committee shifted the course around to cater for the wind backing through about 90 degrees. 

We then had all four seasons in the space of an hour for the second race. 

A squall came through, and we went from bright sunshine and easy sailing to hard hiking, snow, sleet, hail and rain, back to bright, warm sunshine and drifting conditions for the last lap. We finished middle of the fleet with a 7th place.

Overall, I was very pleased with how the boat went. There's still plenty of scope for improvement, especially as far as the helm and crew are concerned, but it's good to have things to work on and creases to iron out. I love the Laser, and really enjoy racing single handers. But, although I find it's much harder to do as well in a double hander, aside from the appeal of the companionship and camaraderie you get from racing with a friend aboard, there's also a particular kind of satisfaction to be found when you both get a halfway respectable result together.

It made for the perfect finish to a very active weekend, almost as if we're making up for lost time. 

This evening however, I think I'm going to put my feet up and relax.

Laser: Whitefriars Laser Open

Everything went according to plan.

photo: dave whittle

I finally managed to get down to the Club Friday evening to check the Laser and fix the road trailer. I had half intended to take her out for a sail, but the evening was flat calm with the definite threat of rain, so I instead settled for simply getting the boat ready to travel the six minutes down the road the following day to Whitefriars Sailing Club for their Laser Open, and then went home for an evening run.

photo: dave whittle

The wind picked up a little for the Saturday. It carried a definite chill and the ever present threat of rain between the occasional spot of warming sun to burnish the day. The turnout at Whitefriars was quiet for an Open, but understandable given the circumstances; a couple of weeks ago we weren't even allowed to sail. Five local boats were joined by three of us from South Cerney to make a fleet of eight, including two juniors with radial rigs.

photo: dave whittle

The club and its members were as friendly and as welcoming as you could wish for. The wind, veering through about 80 degrees and strengthening throughout the day, played havoc with the race committee, but they managed admirably, setting some interesting, challenging and entertaining courses for the four races. The afternoon's courses included a couple of apparently infrequently used marks down "the Cut"; the shifty, fickle wind funnelling down the throat of the narrows caused at least a couple of helms to take an unexpected swim.

photo: dave whittle

It was good to be back in the Laser, I love single-handers, and I love fleet racing. One of the locals, a university student called Will, quickly established himself as the boat to chase. I gave him a good run for his money, even putting him behind me for a couple of laps in the third race, but in the end he beat me convincingly in all four races, leaving me to claim a not disreputable second place for myself.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

reboot in progress

Just looking at the log from my watch, and life is slowly edging back to normal. Still no gigs, but our first is booked in for 22nd May, so not long now. I think I might still carry on running, not that I can pretend to have actually worked out what's enjoyable about it yet, but I'll keep it up at least until karate starts again, probably mid-May.

And life is so far back to almost normal that I've signed up for a Laser Open at a nearby sailing club (Whitefriars, just down the road from my own South Cerney) this coming Saturday. No changing facilities on site, clubhouse remains closed so no drinks or food available (bring your own) but the racing is going ahead. Same situation as at South Cerney then.

Only ever sailed one other Laser Open, when I first got the boat, and that wasn't altogether a happy experience (although nothing to do with the sailing, it was enough to dissuade me from bothering again until now). But that's well behind us. I find myself stupidly excited about this coming Saturday.

Need to get back down the Club before then to sort out my road trailer, however. Thursday evening, perhaps.

And then, once I'm finished racing the Laser at Whitefriars on Saturday, Amanda and I are racing the Albacore again on Sunday. 

Like I said, life is back to almost normal. Or at least it's safe to say that the reboot is now well under way. Except for the sub-zero temperatures forecast for the weekend. What's that about in April? We even had light snow yesterday and a frost on the car this morning. 

Clearly, the world still has capacity left for more crazy.

Albacore: refloated

It was a good weekend. They're usually all good weekends, but this one felt extra special. And, being the Easter Bank Holiday here in the UK, extra long as we got both Friday and Monday off work to pad it out.

So we started out Thursday evening. Being my 50th birthday, Nik, Sam (youngest, only one still at home) and I went over to Dad's where my sister-in-law Arya cooked us supper. Arya is Indonesian, which I think is synonymous with "amazing cook" and supper was accordingly delicious. And we got to eat with her, Dad and my brother Jamie for the first time in a very long time, which was possibly the best birthday present I could ask for.

Which is not to say, of course, that other presents were not involved.

Friday was spent in sunshine tidying the garden, and then that evening there was a virtual open mic night, so more good company (if only "in-video")  and an incautious amount of music and alcohol to go with it.

And then Saturday I met up with Amanda at the lake. As I've doubtless mentioned up here before, Amanda co-owns and races the Albacore with me. 

We had to raise the mast, twice as I rigged it wrong the first time, and check all the control lines and both sails were in good order. When we last put the boat away mid-October I hadn't intended to leave her like that for six months, but circumstances overtook us. And everybody else. But we were lucky and the boat has a good cover. The boat and sails were dry and, more to the point and my great relief, no sign of any nibbling vermin having made themselves at home in our absence.

Of course, having rigged the boat we needed to take her out to make sure she could still float, so spent a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon charging around the lake. The wind was blustery enough to get the boat up on the plane once or twice, but nothing too rough, perfect for our belated maiden voyage of the year. The temperature had been chilly rigging ashore, but once out on the water it was fine.

Home again after putting the boat away, and my other two children and their partners joined us for the evening. Less music was involved, but there was an equally incautious amount of alcohol again compared to the previous night. We've not had the chance to have the family all together since Christmas and it was good to see them all happy and well.

Sunday morning. Two races, the first race starting at 1100. The lake was a popular spot, everybody obviously very keen to get back and the weather playing along beautifully. But there's always plenty of space ashore so no issues with social distancing. It was great to catch up with friends, albeit with all of us doing the 2 meter shuffle, some of whom I'd not seen since Greece and others even before that.

The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and the wind from the east and very, very shifty, but quite light, which made for a much warmer day that the day before. There were 30 boats out on the water, a mix of single and double handers, split into three racing fleets, the largest of which was ours in the general handicap with 19 boats on the line for the first race.

I think we acquitted ourselves respectably, taking a mid-fleet 8th and 9th place. Although we've had her more than a year now, the Albacore is still a very new boat for us, and quite technical with a highly adjustable rig which includes things like shroud tension and mast rake, none of which were ever a concern on the water with our old Enterprise. She's also a fair bit bigger than the Ent and I'm not entirely used to her handling yet, which makes me naturally cautious when around other boats.

But we made no major mistakes, and when we got the rig right, the boat moved beautifully. Despite the mid-fleet result, there's lots of scope still for improvement. And, hopefully, a whole season stretching out ahead for us.

And, as you can possibly tell from the photos accompanying, all of which were stills taken from the GoPro on Sunday, it was an utterly lovely day to be on the water. So much so that, when the racing was all over, we stayed out a little longer and Amanda took the opportunity for a bit of practice at the helm.