Sunday 8 August 2021

Moth: BMBA Nationals

[06/09: I wrote most of the following on Sunday 8th August, the weekend after returning from the Nationals, but it has since languished in my drafts folder as a busy month of gigs and boats and summer distracted me from finishing it. And knowing I hadn't finished this held me up from posting anything else, becoming something of a vicious circle that to my shame and chagrin I'm hardly a stranger to. So apologies for my neglect, and I shall at least try to do better from now on]

My home for much of last week was a small tent in a campsite on the edge of the River Severn in Shropshire, five minutes away from Chelmarsh Sailing Club where the British Moth Nationals were being held.

I'd been invited up by my friend Ray, and offered the loan of a lovely boat, 894 "Northern Soul" in return for bringing my guitar along with me and doing a couple of numbers with him on one of the evenings. Actually, the loan wasn't conditional on bringing my guitar, but it is another of our common interests aside from sailing, he did ask, and actually, I was quite flattered that he wanted to play with me.

Ray's a lucky man. He's retired from running a very successful business, has a lovely house and is married to his childhood sweetheart Mary. Although I think we make our own luck.

He doesn't sail Moths anymore as Parkinsons has finally robbed him of the agility needed for the little boats, but he still has a couple and actively supports the fleet and its association. He does still sail, regularly racing an International 2.4m at his club in Chelmarsh.

I drove up to Chelmarsh on the Tuesday, arriving at noon to meet Ray at the club. We checked and rigged Northern Soul and I took her out for a practice sail in the gentle breeze, chasing Ray in his 2.4m and another of his friends in another of Ray's Moths around the reservoir. Because of Covid concerns, camping wasn't allowed on site at the club this year, so I retreated the campsite at the nearby Unicorn Inn to pitch my tent. 

That evening Ray and Mary invited me to supper, joined by our mutual friend (and current chairman of the class association) Rich. Needless to say supper was as delicious as the company was good, and afterwards we retreated to Ray's music room where we spent the evening working our way through his collection of guitars and jamming.

The turnout for the Nationals was a little down this year, a few familiar faces missing, numbers perhaps suppressed by the pandemic and all that goes with it. But we still had 19 entries, so the competition was keen and the racing close and engaging.

Wednesday, and the first day's racing was in light conditions, winds no more than around 5 knots. The courses were set well however, and Moths are a treat to sail in light winds. They take only a whisper to get moving, and turn on a penny. 

One of the great things about class racing, where all the boats are of the same design and potentially matched in performance, is that wherever you are in the fleet, there is always some close racing to be had. I finished the day's couple of races comfortably in the middle. The lighter conditions had favoured the more canny, experienced helms, my friends in "Wobbily Bob" and "Ockhams Razor" most definitely having put me in my place. But I'd come out ahead of my fellow South Cerney club member in "Blue One" (ironically, of which there were two at the Nationals) and, surprisingly, "Gromit".

The weather changed the following day. Thursday brought in heavier winds; averaging around 15 knots but gusting well into the twenties. As things were not expected to improve before the end of the week, the race committee ran three races across the day in case conditions deteriorated even further on the Friday. 

The British Moth, a 1930's design originally intended for steep banked, narrow rivers with light, fickle airs, becomes a little bit of a handful in a blow. The first race went well. I set up a good start, then kept the boat upright through the vicious gusts to finish with a credible 6th place, beating Gromit, Wobbily Bob and Ockhams Razor, though Blue One did better, taking 4th.

Feeling confident, I lined up another good start for the second race, only to have it completely ambushed when the other "Blue One" from Medley Sailing Club got caught out by a gust and capsized on top of me on the start line, just as the gun went. That turned into the first of my two discards, Bob and Gromit beating me back into place, though I did in the last lap finally inch my way back past Ockhams Razor on the last beat and locked him out on the finish line to place myself just ahead of him in 11th.

The third race of the day gave me my best result of the event. With the gusts building, I stopped being quite so tender with the sail controls and flattened everything off hard upwind. It paid out, giving me a 4th and letting me have the best of both the Blue Ones, Gromit, Wobbly Bob and Ockhams Razor.

Thursday evening, back at the Unicorn, and the Association held their AGM after supper. The supper was good, the AGM as dry as these things ever are. They did however make Ray a life member by unanimous vote, in acknowledgement of his contributions to the class over the last few years.

Afterwards, some of Ray's friends in a band called Rumour put on a very good show for us; lots of Fleetwood Mac covers and the like. During their break I plugged my guitar into their PA and did a handful of songs with Ray, who then stayed up on stage to do a couple with Rumour when the band returned. Needless to say, Ray was brilliant, and worth every drop of the applause the crowd gave him.

The final day saw the wind shift into the west, averaging around 14 knots but bringing it over the trees on the far bank, making for some very treacherous gusts and shifts on the first beat up to windward. I got caught out by one on the first of the two races; hiked out hard on the beat and focused on the boat, I didn't spot the incoming gust. The wind headed me with it, stripping the power out of the sail and toppling the boat over on top of me. I tried to save it, but wasn't quick enough and found unceremoniously dumped in the water and frantically swimming around the boat to the centreboard to try and stop her turtling completely.

The carbon fibre mast and buoyant hull of a Moth makes for an easy boat to recover, but that's a double edged sword. Unable to vault up on to the centreboard before she came up, the first attempt saw the wind whip her straight back over on top of me again. Another frantic swim around the hull, and a second go, and this time, coming up in to the wind, I was able to pull myself back in before she fell over again.

My friend Ian sailing "Scruff" who was coming up the same beat behind me and saw the whole thing later complimented me on the speed of my recovery, but it still gave me my worst result of the whole event, placed in 12th position.

The final race was an improvement in that I managed to stay upright. The conditions remained tricky, but I managed a mid fleet finish in 8th place, which let me discard the result from my race with the fouled start the day before.

So my final result was 7th place out of a fleet of 20, which probably makes it my best British Moth Nationals yet, but I reckon was entirely down to the quality of the boat Ray was kind enough to lend me. And they gave me a trophy for it, amusingly called the "Bit in the Middle", which I suspect I earned as much for my set accompanying Ray on the evening of the AGM as I did for my sailing the boat he lent me.

As a postscript, I should add that most of the photos accompanying are not mine; I've shamelessly stolen any that featured me in some part of them from Chelmarsh Sailing Club's website, so credit should go to them, as it should also for hosting such a brilliant, fun event.

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Northern Soul

Home for the next four days. Currently sat under the stars reading and sipping air temperature Heineken. 

The campsite was intrusively noisy until about five minutes ago, but has now gone quiet. As if somebody threw a switch.

Tomorrow is the first day of the British Moth Nationals. I've been gifted a lovely boat for the duration. Her name is Northern Soul.

Monday 2 August 2021

Calstar: a Sunday neap

The forecast for Sunday was changeable, wind swinging from west to east over the day with showers around lunch time, but sunshine promised in between, and no more than about 10 knots. I had to go down to the boat to fetch my sleeping bag and a torch for this coming week's camping at the Nationals, so it seemed a waste not to take advantage of the neap tide and take Calstar out for a sail up under the Bridge and back.

I put the idea to Dad when we went around to his on Thursday evening to wish him a happy 75th birthday. It was a bit of a family gathering, with my eldest son Ben and his Hannah coming up from Bristol to see him too. They're both teachers and now very much chilling out into their (I'm sure hard earned) summer holiday, so when Dad asked if they'd like to come along too, they both eagerly said yes.

Ben's a (seemingly lapsed these days due to other distractions) sailing instructor, so whilst he's not spent a lot of time sailing Calstar with us, has been out more than a few times and knew what to expect. Hannah has sailed with us once, for a couple of hours out of Plymouth.

As we cast off and entered the waiting 1130 lock, the thought occurred to me that if you're trying to persuade your son's better half about the joys of sailing, it's probably best to do it on a day when the forecast doesn't include "showers"

As the lock gates opened, it was clear that the wind had veered around into the north east much earlier than expected, and there was definitely more of it than the less than 10 knots promised. As we nudged out past the breakwater, we were met by a choppy, white-capped sea blown by a squally north easterly set hard against the flooding tide.

We turned into the wind and set the sails. Out of deference to our novice crew, I left a reef in the main and a couple of generous rolls in the headsail, then set the little boat close hauled on a northerly course across the estuary.

The rain eased, and then stopped. As we beat our way up channel towards the bridge on the last of the tide, the sun began to threaten. Hannah was well wrapped up against any threat of chill on what was quite a balmy day once it had dried out, and was clearly enjoying herself. Ben, ineffably lazy, left all the work to her whenever I called for hands to help with the tacking.

Going under the bridge is always a little bit of a thrill, even now despite having done it any number of times. Despite the treacherous, fast flowing current, it's a wide gap designed to carry the motorway over shipping destined for Sharpness, and we're only a little boat. But Dad unfailingly asks if we should have the engine running "just in case" and I unfailingly laugh. 

But it always reminds me a little bit of landing a glider. Gravity, or in the case of our little boat, the tide, is inexorable and the patch you're trying to hit (sorry, poor choice of words) be it landing field or gap in the bridge seems so incredulously small at a distance. And it stays worryingly small as you approach.

Until in the last minutes, by which point you are totally committed, it finally opens up, as you always knew in your head that it would even if your heart has been screaming "liar!" for the whole approach, and expands in welcome as you pass through. 

Up under the bridge we passed our neighbour on the Portishead pontoon, the yacht Zephyrus, looking very pretty under her cruising shoot as she made her way back down channel against the last flicker of the flooding tide.

photo courtesy of Zephyrus

We tacked beneath Charleston Rock, and as the tide turned, gybed and followed Zephyrus back down. Dad wryly noted that whilst we'd to date failed to circumnavigate both the Eddystone, Denny Island and Charleston on our various passages, we had, in the small circle I'd just described, now neatly circumnavigated a patch of submerged rocks called "The Dumplings"

The wind failed as the tide turned to run with it, and back down through the bridge and into the Lower Shoots we furled the headsail and started the engine. The sea was a flat calm, in complete contrast to the passage up a few short hours ago.

Portishead held the 1515 inbound lock a few minutes for us, where we joined our neighbours Zephyrus and locked back in. We uncharacteristically misjudged the final turn into our berth and had to back out and try again. Zephyrus's crew was by then there to both witness our inelegant boat handling (though as they kindly pointed out, we've all done it) and assist us in by taking a bowline.

Four and a half hours underway, a Bristol Channel classic range of conditions, and a lovely 16.1nm sail up under the bridge and back.

It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday.

Goodnight Salvador Dali

As well as Dad's 75th on Thursday, it was our drummer's 40th this week, so other than playing at his party on the Friday night we had the rest of the weekend off whilst we gave him a chance to recover from his hang-over.

So with nothing else planned for Saturday night, we took Dad out to a local pub, The Pilot, for supper. We had a full table; my brother Jamie joined us, as did all three of our kids, Tasha, Ben and Sam, and Ben's partner Hannah. Sadly, my daughter Tasha's partner Dan was left running their own pub whilst Tash had the night off with us.

Aside from the very good food, the pub was running an open mic night that evening so, unable to resist, I took along my guitar. It was a lovely, friendly, relaxed evening, and they gave me the floor and time to do three covers and a couple of my own.

The above clip is of one of mine, Goodnight Salvador Dali, captured by my daughter, Tash. Who, to her apparent (but quite unnecessary!) embarrassment afterwards, can be heard in the background singing along with her dad.


Dad turned 75 last Thursday. I met up with him for lunch and treated him to coffee and cake at the cafĂ© local to my office, which I think he enjoyed, then we went around to his in the evening to give him his present and make plans for the weekend. 

We dragged my youngest son Sam over with us, and his other grandson Ben and his partner Hannah came up from Bristol to see him too. 

It was a lovely evening. And plans were made.

Laser: rig choice

I'm away at the British Moth Nationals in Chelmarsh this week, so won't get to sail my Laser at South Cerney this coming Wednesday. Which is a shame, as I'm very much enjoying it, but I can't really complain. I'm sure there is such a thing as "too much sailing", but I've yet to find it.

I imagine I'll have more to say of the Nationals in a bit; suffice to say I've been very lucky that a good friend has offered to lend me a very nice boat to race in return for the promise that I bring my guitar. Before we get to this week though, I have a bit of catching up to do from last week first.

So to begin with last Wednesday. Winds from the west south west, gusting up to 27 knots. Not to revel in too much self-pity, but I already had a bad back and some nasty joint pain in my left elbow; I pulled a muscle in my left shoulder at karate a few weeks ago (ironically, the week before we were allowed to spar again, so entirely self-inflicted) and in sympathy my elbow has for some reason flared up as well. Fortunately, I'm right handed, so it hasn't interfered with my drinking. Anyway, given my state of decrepitude and the blustery conditions, I decided to use the smaller Radial rig for the Laser.

On the shore the rig choice was split across the half a dozen strong Laser fleet, about half rigging Radials, and the other half bravely sticking to the Standard rig.

In total honesty, even fit and hale, the Standard becomes too much for me to race once the wind hits 20 knots. Just blasting up and down the lake for fun is entirely different, but I lack the control necessary for close quarters racing, and spend a lot of time swimming, which isn't fast.

Naturally, given the conditions, I strapped the GoPro to the bow. The subsequent footage, which, narcissist that I am, I've found compelling viewing in the week since, suggests that actually I'm not entirely in control of even the Radial once the winds hit the 20's either.

It was good fun though. Which I imagine you'd expect me to say, and you'd not be wrong. It was very wet, very challenging, and despite sailing, at times, like a complete lemon, I still managed a credible finish, and only the one capsize, from which I recovered surprisingly quickly.