Tuesday 25 May 2021

Calstar: here be dragons

Nikki and I drove down to Plymouth and back last night to deliver my kit bag and a some random bits and bobs to the boat. A six hour round trip was worth it to save me carrying 17 days of spare clothes on my back when Dad and I take the train down to the boat. Train tickets are now booked for he and I, we leave Gloucester at 1908hrs Thursday evening.

Haven't looked at the forecast since the weekend, obviously I will before we go, but don't see the point in stressing myself out about it in the meantime. If we get to Wednesday (ie. tomorrow) and it looks like another Atlantic storm is inbound for next week, we shall seriously consider scrapping our plans and putting Calstar on the back of a lorry. 

I have until the 13th June to get her back to Portishead. If things went south, then I could theoretically abandon her somewhere, get the train back to work, and then use the weekend of the 19th & 20th to finish the trip. After that, life gets very complicated with band and office commitments.

When I did check at the weekend however, things looked very promising for the coming weekend and week to follow.

The original plan was to head to Fowey and spend the weekend there with friends at the Gallants Sailing Club and from the Moth fleet who are also visiting that weekend. But if the weather forecast delivers as promised, we'll call in but won't delay there. Instead, we'll push on to Helford the next day, then around to Newlyn, and from there gather our wits and catch the next tide to take us around Lands End.

It's from there that I'm seriously reconsidering plans.

If the weather remains fair, I'm very, very tempted to use it and just carry on up the Bristol Channel once we're around the corner. Ignore St Ives, skip Padstow and aim straight for Lundy. There we can drop the anchor and wait for a fair tide to take us in to Ilfracombe if we want, or even straight up to Cardiff. Beyond Lundy the tide becomes a significant issue, but if it turns foul before we reach Cardiff, we can always wait it out in Barry.

The leg from Newlyn (waypoint 3 on the chart at the top) to Lundy (waypoint 6) would be, very roughly, about 100nm however. Which, being the harbour hoppers that we are, is significantly longer than any single passage we've ever tried with Calstar before. So quite how I'll manage it with Dad is unknown territory. And, once we commit, with very few bolt holes to opt out in. North Cornwall is, in typically conditions, a very long, very rocky lee shore.

On the other hand, nights are currently short (even if they're not yet warm!) and at an average of 4 knots, which we should manage easily, it's around 25 hours, which doesn't seem too daunting. 

So I think that's the new "Plan A"

Monday 24 May 2021

Albacore: lee shore blues

The forecast for Sunday was bullish; wind in the south west 20 knots plus but gusting into the 30's. Rain expected, but I didn't really pay much attention to that bit.

I had a late night Saturday night, a great gig, but hard to wind down after so didn't really get to sleep until around 3am. This used to be easy when I was younger, not so much now, but we're still having fun so it's worth the cost. When I did crawl my way out of bed Sunday morning, I messaged Amanda to let her know I was running 20 minutes late. I got to the Club around 1020hrs, by which time she'd got the Albacore out onto the foreshore and had pretty much rigged her.

Fourteen boats launched for the first race, split between three fleets. Ours, the general handicap, was the largest with seven competitors. The course was a good one; a windward start, a nice long first beat down to the bottom of the lake, a broad reach back on starboard, a gybe close to the bank then a port reach across, followed by a second beat back to the bottom and then a dead run back to the final mark behind the clubhouse, trying not to hit the committee boat on the way.

The wind was blustery, low to mid 20's with the occasional lull and more frequent gust, but steady in direction. The Albacore handled it well; with lots of rig tension and generous use of the kicker she seems very manageable in a blow as long as you're prepared to put the work into hiking and spilling the main where you need to, so as to keep her as flat as you can.

The first race was good. A very well sailed Laser 2000, crewed I think by a father and son, led us a good chase around the course. We gained on them easily going up wind, but off the wind they handled their big asymmetric like pros, reaching from gybe to gybe downwind, leaving us for dust. The rest of the fleet quickly fell away behind us both.

We finished with a very creditable 2nd place, the 2000 soundly beating us in the end on both the water and after handicap.

The second race didn't go nearly so well.

About thirty seconds before the start, hardening up to lay the starboard end of the line, hoping to hit it at speed just as the signal sounded the start of the race, we got slammed by a gust. I don't really have any excuse; my head was elsewhere than on the wind and sails, working out our approach to the line, half an eye on the clock, half an eye on the half dozen other boats all vying for the same spot. I was sheeting in fast, I should've been quicker spilling the wind.

So the gust knocked us flat. I rolled backwards over the hull and landed on the centreboard, Amanda went into the water between the hull and boom. From my perch on the board, jib sheet in hand, I stopped the mast from sinking and quickly pulled her back up. She was utterly swamped.

I opened the bailer and the transom flaps, untangled the lines and tried to bear away to begin flushing the water out the back, but there wasn't much room between us and the lee shore. As I hardened up, half a mind preparing to try to tack the swamped boat, another gust hit us and we were down again.

I'd been too far back trying to trim the boat to get directly onto the board, so accepted a dunking and swam around the hull to the centreboard. Amanda threw me a jib sheet, but by the time I'd got myself braced for the retrieve, the mast had bedded into the mud. 

Slowly, slowly, the wind swung the hull around until the mast was pointing to windward. The windage of the hull and my labours were then enough to free the mast, but as she came up, the boom swung viciously over and, unsurprisingly, she topped straight over to leeward again. 

We pulled her back up one more time, but by now she was firm against the lee shore, pushed up against the reeds, the centreboard dug into the rocks and mud at the bottom of the lake, pinning us in place.

We took the mainsail down. It's possible we could've rescued ourselves from there, but the race for us was over anyway, so rather take any further risk of damage to the boat, with a bit of help from some friends on the shore and a line from the safety boat, we towed her off the lee shore and back to the landing area.

Unfortunately, in one of our capsizes, I suspect the third, the boom was driven into the lake bed and buckled. It could've been worse; a boom is significantly cheaper than a mast to replace, and most importantly, neither Amanda nor I were damaged, except perhaps in our pride. I don't think I've ever had to accept a tow off a lee shore from the safety boat before.

The gust that initially flattened us was clocked at 34 knots; if we'd been anywhere else on the course, or even with just a little more sea-room between us and the lee shore, I think we'd have been fine.

I think that's the heaviest weather we've sailed the Albacore in and, damaged boom and pride aside, I was very pleased at how she handled. There were times when the gusts hit as we beat to windward that we were both fully hiked out and spilling so much main that it was doing little more than flogging, the jib alone and the top third of the mainsail driving the boat forward and up wind. But drive she still did.

And off the wind? The reaches were amazing. Spray everywhere, the boat literally skimming across the lake on her bow wave. Our fastest reach clocked in at 12.3 knots.

I'm hoping for a little less wind next weekend.

Friday 21 May 2021

end of a full week

Another week over. That went kinda fast. But then it's been busy.

Band practice on Monday evening went well. Odds are looking good that we'll get through most of the set tomorrow without forgetting anything, but even if we do, we'll busk around it and it's probable nobody will notice. That's part the charm of live music.

I even managed to fit a 3k run in before the practice. It's the only one I've managed this week however.

On Tuesday evening it was great to have an excuse to put my white pyjamas back on. Got through my first hour back at karate without injuring myself, and didn't feel too wrecked afterwards. As expected, we're not yet allowed contact, so no sparring. So I wore my Garmin through the session to track my heart rate. Purely out of curiosity. 

It peaked at 160bpm, but averaged at 119 across the hour. Interestingly, Strava gives a "relative effort" score to any activities you track. An hour of karate came in at around the same kind of effort I had to put in to running the 3k on Monday. Which surprised me somewhat. Or maybe it didn't.

By comparison, racing the Laser for an hour in moderate conditions is about a third of the effort, but sailing Calstar from Plymouth to Fowey is about the same as an hour of karate, or running 3k. Again, I don't actually know if that surprises me.

Lies, damned lies and statistics is a phrase that springs to mind.

Wednesday evening was a slightly lighter load on the old cardio. The forecast didn't look exactly exciting, and they were stuck for a safety boat driver so I volunteered, manning the RIB to watch over the evening's racing with my mate Mark, a fellow British Moth and Albacore sailor that I might have mentioned before once or twice on this site.

I gave him my old DSLR to play with to keep him quiet. Some of the resulting pictures accompany this post, along with some stills from the GoPro that I clipped to my buoyancy aid. Turns out there was more wind than was forecast; I would've loved to have sailed in it. On the other hand, the view from the safety boat was quite pleasant.

Thursday was my second evening back at karate. Strava reports that I put in even less effort, but it lies. Or was, at least, misled. I tracked the session on my watch again, but forgot to press record until about halfway through. Before that, I noticed my heart rate peak at 177bpm, which just about tops anything I've seen whilst running.

They're just numbers, but I find metrics fascinating.

This morning, my left knee hurts, as in enough to leave me limping, which is unusual. I might've overdone things a little this week. Nikki, as ever, is a font of sympathy. Actually, now I lie. She just rolled her eyes when I complained, said it was self inflicted, and asked me to take the bins out.

She's not daft, that woman. Tonight I'm taking her out to dinner. I'm actually quite excited, as it'll be the first time we've been able to eat out in a restaurant this year.

First gig tomorrow night. It would be disloyal to suggest that excites me more. But as well as being far from daft, she's also a very understanding woman. 

Some would say she has to be, to have put up with me for so long.

Thursday 20 May 2021

SCSC: photo boat

The rain held off. It was, in fact, an absolutely lovely evening; more wind than anticipated, bright sun. I almost regretted volunteering for the photo boat, sorry, I mean safety boat duty. But the company was good, the workload very light, and the view quite lovely.

There are much worse ways to spend a Wednesday evening.

proud parenting

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Laser: mark rounding addendum

A photo from the shore giving a different perspective of the mark rounding described in my previous post. I've blatantly nicked it from the club's group chat, so don't know who to credit it to other than South Cerney Sailing Club.

I'm on safety boat duty (again!) this evening. Doesn't look like there's going to be a huge amount of wind, so it shouldn't be terribly exciting. I'm just hoping the rain holds off.

Laser: mark rounding

A series of stills from my GoPro last Sunday. Basically, a leeward mark rounding, and for a change, one of my better ones.

There is an absolute bird's nest of rules that govern the rights of boats racing when they're all approaching the same mark. The usual port / starboard, windward / leeward rules apply, but only until you get to within three boat lengths of the buoy you're all trying to get around.

At which point, rights are determined by overlap. At three boat lengths from the mark, the boats on the outside, regardless of windward / leeward, port / starboard have to give any boat on the inside (ie.  between their boat and the mark) that has an overlap room to sail around the mark.

More often than not, the way things spread out, it's just one other boat involved. It can be an opportunity to gain a place or lose a place, but in the overall scheme of things, having to allow room for just one other boat to squeeze in between you and the mark when you go around doesn't make a huge difference, and you very often have the opportunity to sail high and steal their wind on the next leg.

But every so often, a crowd all arrives at the same place at the same time. It can be quite intimidating to be the one guy on the inside with a pile of boats stacking up outside of you, especially if they're all bigger than you. You're relying on every boat on the outside to give enough room for all the boats overlapped on the inside, and you often have to be quite firm in "expressing" your rights to the folks that need to give you water.

But when it works, it is a lovely feeling.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Laser: a full weekend


The weather has been all over the place of late, but for the last week or so the wind has at last moved back around into the west. It still feels a bit chilly out of the sun, but the temperature does at least climb into the teens now. On most days.

That said, on Saturday we were hit by a downpour of sleet and hail and then, once back off the water and I was trying to get changed back into my dry cloths in our alfresco changing rooms (ie. the car-park), an absolute deluge of icy rain.

All of this is interspersed with patches of bright sunshine that just seem to tease of the summer still to come. It would be very nice and I'd consider it a personal favour if it could arrive in time for a week Friday.

But I can't complain. The only reason that I think I'm noticing it is because I'm lucky enough to find myself out in it a fair bit. I stood my turn helming the safety boat last Sunday and again Wednesday evening, but got to race both Saturday and Sunday of the weekend just gone.

Saturday was an unplanned, impromptu opportunity taken; an afternoon race I hadn't intended to join but the chance was just too good to not take. I discovered Nikki had to work in the afternoon, so as soon as she'd headed out for her shift, I snuck off down to the lake in time to make the 1415 start of the pursuit race.

The Laser is a good boat for a pursuit at South Cerney. As I think I've mentioned before, every class of dinghy is given a handicap number that reflects how fast or slow it is in relation to every other type of boat it might race against. The lower the number, the faster the boat. With a pursuit race, the race is of a set length (in this case at South Cerney, an hour and a half) and each competitor then has a start time based on their boat's handicap; the slower the class of boat, the earlier you start.

Your position on the water when the time runs out and the race ends determines your finishing position. Basically, the faster boats get to chase the slower boats, who are given a head start proportionate to how much slower they are.

The Laser's handicap at South Cerney is 1100, which gives me plenty of boats to chase, and a few but not too many chasing me. Theoretically, the slower boats should have the advantage of clean air, and unless there's a huge disparity between the performance of the boats concerned, it's easier to hold a position in the front than it is to gain a position from behind.

But in any game of fox and hounds, I think I always prefer to run with the hounds. If you're sailing a slower handicapped boat in a pursuit, from the moment you start you're simply sailing to not lose. If you're sailing a faster handicap though, and therefore doing the chasing, you have to sail to win.

That said, I didn't win. But I had fun. And whilst it's not true that this is all that matters, it is a good consolation prize.

Sunday would normally be an opportunity to race the Albacore with Amanda, but we've damaged the rudder and it was still in the workshop, so I persuaded Amanda to take out one of the Club's Lasers, and I took out my own again.

Conditions were similar to the day before, a bit brighter perhaps, but still with the threat of shows and, although the wind was a little lighter, it was still gusty at times.

The first race went very well until the final lap when I finally got caught and overtaken by my friends Mark and Sue in their Albacore. That wasn't a problem in itself, an Albacore is a much faster class of boat so I still had them beat on handicap, but I then fixated on trying to win my place back from them, and inadvertently followed them to the wrong mark when Mark subsequently got himself confused over the course.

It's kind of amusing; although it was primarily Mark's mistake, I only had myself to blame. If I'd paid attention to my own race rather than trying to beat them at theirs, then I'd have sailed the right course, won my place on the water back from them anyway, and wouldn't have lost a couple of minutes taken on the detour. It wasn't enough time for the boats behind us to catch up, but those couple of minutes lost me two or three places against the faster boats out in front.

The second race went much more to plan, undistracted by Mark, I sailed the correct course this time and managed to take a second place. Better still, unlike the day before, when we came off the water the sun continued to shine, giving me the chance to mow the overgrown grass in the Laser's berth, and then get changed and then Mark, Sue and Amanda on the patio outside the clubhouse for a cold beer.

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Cheltenham Open Mic Night

In just over a week's time, on Friday 28th May, Cheltenham Open Mic Night will return live to the floor The Restoration. And I won't be able to be there, as we'll be moving our boat back around the corner of Lands End, from Plymouth to Portishead, weather permitting.

So this is the clip I recorded for their last virtual open mic, which my mate Jack hosted back at the beginning of April.

I left the piano and the classical stuff alone this time, and returned to my old familiar guitar with a couple of covers from the band's set, and one of my own. And still managed to screw a few bits up. But I reckon that's all part of the fun of it.

Three pieces then; Mr Brightside by The Killers, Buck Rogers by Feeder, and a song I wrote back in November last year that I still haven't actually named yet. I guess for now we'll continue to call it Me & You.

Tuesday 11 May 2021


I have a very good friend who names all of his boats "Woo Woo", purportedly after his favourite cocktail. He is a lovely, kind man, but a simple soul, clearly easily amused.

I once spent a very humiliating five or ten minutes trying to call him up on VHF 16 in St Austell's Bay outside Fowey; "Woo Woo, Woo Woo, Woo Woo, this is Calstar, over?"

The adorably handsome blonde in the picture above is called Boo. We fostered him as a puppy, picking him up a few days before Halloween that year and he came to us already named, and whilst it may seem appropriate, whoever named him could've had no idea that he'd come to us on Halloween, so we can't use that as an excuse, although my wife has tried. 

But I'd sooner rename a boat than ever rename a dog. And I'd only ever rename a boat very reluctantly.  Case in point, I've not yet rechristened my unfortunately named Laser and instead simply refer to it as "the Laser", conveniently ignoring the fact that a previous owner did actually name her.

Like a number of our foster dogs, Boo decided to adopt us and stayed. He's eight years old now. He did grow a little fat and lazy in his middle years but has, for the last six months or so been on a diet and has lost a fair bit of weight and is once again trim and energetic. Albeit he is a master of stealing my bed the second I'm out of it of a morning, and assiduously conserving his energy until the exact moment he needs it later in the day when it comes to time for a walk.

I would say the only experience more humiliating than babbling "Woo Woo, Woo Woo, Woo Woo" over channel 16 on the VHF in an effort to call up a friend's boat, is wandering around the local park of an evening, trying to call your dog back.

When your dog's name is "Boo".

white pyjamas

I'm actually a little bit excited. As of Monday, the prohibition against indoor sports gets lifted in England, so karate restarts again next week. I get to jump around in my white pyjamas again. I expect it'll be strictly non-contact still, so we won't be allowed to resume actually hitting each other yet. 

But fun though that may be, kumite (aka. sparring) is really only a small part of it. This feeling that life is slowly returning to normal is so good.

Of course, it means that the long, lazy evenings and weekends of leisure that I've gotten used to are almost a thing of the past. I don't know yet if I'm away with Dad and Calstar this weekend, or home and sailing on the lake (domestic negotiations are currently ongoing), but the after work, extra curricular itinerary for next week is as follows:

  • Monday: band practice (good to have one every once a decade or so)
  • Tuesday: karate
  • Wednesday: sailing (Laser)
  • Thursday: karate (maybe, if the Cinderford club has space yet)
  • Friday: no plans as of yet, mow the back lawn?
  • Saturday: gig
  • Sunday: sailing (Albacore)

Yep, in addition to letting me redon my white pyjamas and go punch at shadows, pubs are allowed to fully reopen again as of Monday, so the band has its first gig a week on Saturday. That's actually a bigger think than karate restarting, really. But still over a week away, so no sense getting excited about that yet.

Thursday 6 May 2021

Laser: wetwork


Wednesday evening's forecast wasn't pretty. Fine during the day, bright and blustery, but by evening the wind was set to drop and the rain set in. Despite this, a dozen boats still turned up for the evening's Hotdog race.

We rigged in the rain. We launched in the rain. The wind was fickle, light and shifty, but for once it was generally settled in its prevailing south-westerly direction across the lake, which let the Race Officer set a more or less conventional windward start.

I spotted the heavy port bias very quickly, but felt insecure, as everybody else was starting on starboard at the pin end. I toyed and toyed with the idea of a port flyer, but as the final minute counted down, my convictions failed; the wind felt too light and changeable to offer any real certainty, so I hedged my bets and sailed up the line on port, intending to tack just before I met the front of the fleet and start on starboard with the rest of them.

And then in the final seconds, the wind picked up, lifting me on port and I thought for a moment I might just do it. Then in the last second or two it eased, putting me on a collision with the front solo, which I just narrowly avoided by tacking under him, almost stalling the boat, and pinning myself out to port in his dirty air for the first third of the beat.

There are so many ways I could've got that start right. 

And I botched them all.

Regardless, I made it up to windward in the middle of the pack, a starboard rounding as usual, but with only a dozen of us out on the water, surprisingly civilised. At some point over the first lap, the rain stopped and the wind spun around 180 degrees. I spent the next fifty minutes climbing my way slowly back up the fleet over the three laps that were given to us.

I finished 2nd boat on the water, and scored a 4th place after the handicaps were worked out. Not displeasing, but totally undeserved given the hash I'd made of my start.

We put the boats away and got changed in the cold carpark behind the Clubhouse, and then retired to the patio outside the Clubhouse bar for a drink and the requisite hotdogs. A little later, post race dissections and socialising done, I glanced at the temperature on my dashboard when I finally got back in my car to drive home. 

It read 1°C.

Calstar: shakedown 2021

Saturday morning was a relatively early start; Dad and I were on the road, leaving Gloucester at 0700 to arrive at the boat in Plymouth for around 0930. With a big low slowly approaching from out west of Ireland over the Atlantic, the forecast for Saturday was showers and light winds from every which way but loose, Sunday’s was bright sunshine and dry, winds lighter but steadying from the west. 

Both days were expected to be unseasonably cold, as has been the norm here for the past few weeks. The general airflow of late has been against the prevailing, typically north and easterly, dragging temperatures down.

Of course, Monday was the UK’s May Day bank holiday, and true to tradition the forecast was for gales, gusting to 45 knots or more.

The weekend looked good for a shakedown trip out to Fowey and back, but we clearly needed to be back by Sunday and safe in harbour for when the rough stuff arrived on Monday.

Saturday 1st May : Plymouth to Fowey
(23.3 miles, 6 hours 2 minutes underway)

Within an hour of getting to the boat on Saturday morning Calstar was ready to go, and we cast off from Sutton Harbour at 1030. With only just under a couple of hours since the 0843 Plymouth high water, the lock was on free-flow so it was just a simple case of calling up the lock keeper on the VHF to ask him to open the foot bridge for us. We raised the main outside the lock in the Catteswater and then motored more than motor-sailed in the light air past the Mountbatten Breakwater and out across Plymouth Sound. The sun was bright and the sky was blue.

Despite the sunshine, out from the shelter of the harbour there was a definite nip in the air, so before long both Dad and I had put our wet weather gear on, just for the warmth.

A little after 1100 we passed through the western entrance and continued out under engine and main past Penlee Point, Rame Head slowly opening up beyond it to starboard. The chill wind picked up a little, settling from the south and west on our port shoulder.  The sky ahead remained bright and blue for the moment, whereas astern and back over the shore, the sky was darkening. I commented to Dad that at least the mucky stuff seemed to be downwind of us.

As Rame Head fell astern and the Cornish coast opened up to the west, we bore away to lay a course for Fowey, still some twenty miles distant, unfurled the headsail and stilled the engine, settling on to a close hauled fetch to port that seemed to be comfortably laying our destination. Despite having a very grubby bottom from sitting disused in harbour through the winter, the lockdown having prevented us from lifting her out and treating Calstar to her annual fettling, she tickled along beneath the still blue skies quite happily in the light airs at just over 3 knots. It felt good to be out and away again.

Over the next couple of hours as we crossed Whitesand Bay towards Looe, the wind slowly faded. And then around 1300 completely stopped for a moment, leaving our sails slatting, before easing back in again, but now from just north of east, directly astern. The headsail collapsed, and so I gybed it across to a goosewing. The sea remained slight, even as the wind picked up a little again, and so I let the autohelm steer us a course dead down wind with the boom hard out to starboard, and played the genoa by hand on its wing out to port. The air was too light and the sea too slight to worry over much about setting a preventer for the boom, I just eased the kicker off a bit, and the wind direction felt too fickle to go to the trouble of setting a pole for the headsail.

It was pleasant, easy sailing, with nothing more than the occasional need to play the genoa to stop it collapsing. I almost didn’t notice the sun go as the new wind direction brought the gloaming clouds that were previously constrained to the mainland out to sea to cover us.

Over the next hour, the wind backed further and dropped off again, and our pace faded with it. By 1420 had we had eventually gybed the main, put the headsail away, and were motor-sailing again. The wind, mostly apparent, was now just west off north off our starboard bow where, in the cleft of land where the pretty village of Polperro sits, we could see rain.

The squall came in around 1430, the wind veering suddenly backing to the north and picking up dramatically, bringing with it a driving rain. We raised the sprayhood, stilled the engine and set the genoa on a beam reach. Within a few minutes of doing so, the boat speed up and past 5 knots, we’d put a couple of precautionary rolls into the headsail to stiffen her up and, with the icy rain being driven straight into my right ear, I was idly contemplating a first reef in the main.

The squall was short lived though, and blew itself through within the next hour, leaving us with my least favourite kind of rain, the stuff that drops vertically from the sky without enough wind to trouble it’s gravity led course. By 1530 the engine was running again and we were motor-sailing once more beneath now leaden skies through the still persistent rain.

Over the next hour the rain eased and the sky brightened a little. We passed Lantic Bay and then beneath the cliffs of Polruan, more for sake of appearances, turned briefly into the flat wind to stow the mainsail. Outside the mouth of the Fowey we could see a flotilla of Troys and the colourful sails of the Fowey Rivers racing back into harbour.

Turning into the river, Dad took over the helm as we dodged between the two fleets as they tacked their way up through the confines of the harbour mouth towards their finish line off of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club.

We came to alongside one of the visitor’s pontoons on the east side of the river. The sky was still leaden, the air still carried a definite chill, but at least the rain had stopped.

I’d barely finished making the boat fast, tidying everything away and was on the verge of switching off the VHF when a call came through from us from the Yacht Club. It was John, our old friend and the man who hosts and organises the racing for the gathering of British Moths in Fowey each year at the end of May. With the day’s racing finished he, his wife Kate and our friends Andy and Suzy who had been out racing their Fowey River were retiring to the Gallants Sailing Club for a drink, and he wondered if we’d like to join them.

It was a silly question.

We called up the local water taxi, and within twenty minutes were sat with old friends on a table on the patio outside the Gallants’ club house, warm now we were sheltered ashore from the remnants of the chill wind. We were dry with a couple of old sails stretched out as a tarpaulin overhead to give shelter from any residual rain, and in the good company of old friends with a welcome pint of Cornish ale in our hands.

Sunday 2nd May : Fowey to Plymouth
(22.9 miles, 5 hours 59 minutes underway)

We would’ve loved to have stayed over in Fowey on the Sunday, but the intractable threat of Monday's weather forced our return. With high water Plymouth at 0929, the tide would run fair from around 0630, so we roused ourselves first thing for another early start and cast off at 0530, motoring out of the quiet, pre-dawn harbour and then turning east beneath the cliffs of Polruan, heading into the rising sun.

As the sun eased up above the horizon a little past 0600, to my delight it brought with it a brief stiffening of the wind tumbling down off the Cornish cliffs, over the shore and out to sea. For half an hour or so as the sun gradually climbed into a clear sky, we sailed on an easy beam reach, the tranquillity of dawn serenaded by the quiet trickle of Calstar’s bow wave.

As welcome as it was unexpected, it wasn’t to last. By the time we were off Polperro an hour later, with Looe Island and then distant Rame ahead in the milky early morning light, we were under engine and main again. The air still carried a chill, but it was easy to ignore as the ascending sun glittered prettily on the slight sea, the hum of the engine both reassuring in its reliability and an irritant in its disruption of the morning’s serenity.

The morning edged on, and we made slow but steady progress back east along the coast. Polperro fell astern, and then Looe and Seaton and Whitesand Bay, and then finally Rame Head. The wind began to ruffle the waters as we made our way around the headland and passed close in to Penlee Point on the high tide. Lots of boats were out and sailing gently back and forth across the Sound as we entered between Cawsands and the Breakwater, but committed now to making port and looking forward to the marina showers after our early start, we carried on for the last mile under engine.

Two hours after high water, the lock was still on free-flow, so a simple call on the VHF to the keeper opened the footbridge for us to enter, a shade before 1130. A few minutes later, after winding our way down the channel to the back of the harbour, we were home, safe alongside in our own berth.


It was a good little shakedown trip. I would have liked more wind and more sailing, less rain and more sun, but beggars can’t be choosers and it was actually reassuring to give the engine a good run.

And everything worked, despite the enforced neglect of six months of the UK’s last lockdown; Calstar is in good shape. Her engine has been serviced, and the sails and rigging survived winter in the shelter of the harbour in a perfectly fine state. Under sail she moves as well as she ever did, most of the winter growth beneath the waterline of the last few months' inactivity sloughing off quickly enough once we were underway. Under engine however, she felt sluggish; about a knot slower than we’d normally expect for the usual 2000 revs we typically cruise at under power, despite the slight sea and small assistance from the main.

Back in harbour on Sunday afternoon, we put the GoPro on the end of a pole and had a look underneath. The state of the prop gave us our answer. The best we can say is that the anode is still intact on the prop-shaft. It’s not ideal.

In three weeks’ time, we cast off from Sutton Harbour and again head west, but this time to round Land’s End and bring her home to Portishead. We have around 250 miles to cover in just over two weeks, if we can. I won’t take any chances with the weather though.

Our plan is to hop from harbour to harbour, but some of those legs will be up to 40 miles each, with little option for alternative shelter between them. Ideally, we’ll get Calstar lifted out, her prop scrubbed off and her bottom cleaned and antifouled before we go. 

But time is short, and the lifting gear at the Marina in high demand with everybody wanting to be back in the water. Or lifted out for belated maintenance denied to them over the long winter. The best they can offer in the next couple of weeks is the possibility of a short notice lift, if the chance comes up. Which I’m thinking it very well may not.

In which case we may just need to go with her as she is, and deal with it once we’re back in Portishead.