Tuesday 25 January 2022

Albacore: Sunday morning start line


So Sunday wasn't as cold nor the air as dead calm as I was worried it might have been, given the forecast. I did, briefly, entertain the idea of sailing to finish last to try and fix the personal "adjustment" to our handicap we've picked up. Amanda found the idea amusing, but was convinced I wouldn't be able to do it.

Turns out she was right. I have this pathological need to chase the boat in front of me, just to see if I can catch it.

On Sunday we caught about a third of them in the first race, and about half in the second. So not our best results of the series, but it was nice to be out and afloat anyway. 

The clip above was from the start of the second race. A fairly relaxed affair, insofar as start lines go.

Friday 21 January 2022

Albacore: outlook chilly

So, plans for this weekend. Open mic night tonight at The Restoration, followed by not oversleeping tomorrow morning so that I can get to karate for 1100, and then finally racing on Sunday. I'm meeting Amanda at the lake for 1000 and we'll take the Albacore out to play.

As I think I've previously mentioned, we seem to be going very well at the moment. But, consequently, have picked up a 25 point penalty to our handicap because of this silly personal handicapping system they run for the Chillidogs series at South Cerney.

I've had half an eye on the forecast all week though, and I can't say it's looking promising. Westerly, 4 knots. My feet are going to get very, very cold. Perhaps this will be the week to "reset" our handicap?

On which note, with the temperatures dodging around a balmy 0°C for the weekend and very light winds, I guess it's possible the lake might actually freeze.

The photo at the top is a repost of a picture taken in a more innocent age, January 2020. It's a pretty month to be out on the water, even when there's nothing more on offer than a quiet drift.

Thursday 20 January 2022

Calstar: rebushed

Dad's been polishing. I think when we relaunch, Calstar is going to be the prettiest, shiniest Westerly Griffon on the Bristol Channel. For a week or two, at least. 

And other than the one trip down to provide the necessary muscle to help him rehang the rudder, he's pretty much taken care of this year's dose of TLC all by himself. I am very conscious of the imbalance in our nautical relationship. Basically, we sail things, I break them, he fixes them.

Polishing aside, the major achievement was replacing the bushes for the rudder.

The old ones were so worn away that we couldn't really see how they were supposed to fit, so I went begging for information from the Westerly Owners Association, and, of course, a wealth of guidance and advice came flooding back. 

Including a drawing. I'm not sure if it counts as a technical drawing, but it looks technical to me. And Dad's eyes lit up when I showed it to him. Turns out you can buy a set of replacement bushes to fit in the gudgeons for about £60, but Dad was concerned that due to the wear, a standard set wouldn't fit properly.

And, between you and me, I think he simply loves any excuse to disappear into his workshop.

With a fresh, custom measured set duly turned up, he had a bit of a challenge getting the remains of the old ones out. He initially designed a puller to try and do it in-situ at the yard, but all he achieved was to strip its thread. 

So he took the hanging straps off the rudder and brought them home to his workshop, where he then turned up what he tells me is called a step mandrel that he used to punch them out.

It worked. And the following week I helped him rehang the rudder, which now appears to turn smoothly on its locking bar.

The true test will be at the end of the month. Calstar is booked for the lift at 1500 on Friday 28th. I have no gigs that weekend and so, weather permitting, we'll lift her back in on the Friday afternoon, then on Saturday take the 1230 lock out and sail over to Cardiff for the evening.

Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

of new friends and the eye of the beholder

I've mentioned her a few times now, but realise that she's not actually been formally introduced. I have a new friend. Back in December, I bought myself another guitar, a Gibson Les Paul Studio.

It was an act that encompassed a couple of firsts. 

First, I've never bought a guitar sight unseen or, and more to the point, unplayed, direct from the Internet before, and found spending that amount of money on something I was intending to invest so heavily in emotionally quite unnerving.

But I was after a specific make and model of guitar for a specific reason, and none of the local shops had what I wanted. All Gibson Les Pauls are made in America, at their company's headquarters in Nashville, TN. So I guess if you're going to buy sight unseen, knowing exactly where it came from is some reassurance. And as they've been making these guitars there since the 50's, you'd hope by now that they'd know what they were doing.

I'd decided I wanted a Les Paul. The idea had been haunting me since early November, but always thought the Les Paul Standard was a bit, well, gaudy. Then I read about the Studio, which is essentially a Les Paul, but retains only the elements of that contribute to tone and playability. This includes the carved maple top and standard mechanical and electronic hardware but not the ornamentation, including the body and neck binding.

In other words, the gaudy bits. I guess beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.

The other first is that I've never agonised over the colour of a guitar before. The version that first caught my eye was the Tobacco Burst finish, and across some weeks of mulling over should I shouldn't I, I was certain that was the guitar I was looking for. And then, in the final few days as I approached my decision, I found myself being drawn more and more to the Wine Red version. 

I found myself completely torn. Over something as inconsequential as lacquer and colour scheme. It was totally ridiculous. 

So, as I do with all matters of taste and style, I resolved the question by asking my wife.

So on 15th December, a wine red Gibson Les Paul Studio turned up on my doorstep, just in time for our last gig of 2021. 

And she is an absolute delight.

Monday 17 January 2022

of old friends, great gigs and broken strings

Preparations for the weekend just gone began Thursday evening, when I sat down and restrung three guitars. Eighteen strings in total, and takes about three and a half minutes per string. It's a job I've done a thousand times before, although I rarely if ever restring more than one at a time, and all went well until I got to the last string of the last guitar; the high E on my Martin.

And the damn thing snapped.

In the greater scheme of things, it's completely inconsequential, these things happen. Though they don't happen to me very often. I can't remember the last time. My style may be ham-fisted when it comes to actually playing the guitar, but restringing one, I am a consummate pro.

So it was annoying. Very annoying.

The first of the two gigs that followed on the Friday night however was excellent. Our first gig of 2022, The Railway Tavern in Fishponds, Bristol, has long been one of my favourite venues so was the perfect place to start the year with the band.

I have a new guitar that I treated myself to just before Christmas, an American made Gibson Les Paul Studio; this was her second gig, and whilst we're still getting used to each other, I'm really enjoying the adventure, and the challenge of moving onto an electric. I think as I've previously mentioned, for the last thirty-one years (I've just done the maths, and shockingly, that's actually no exaggeration; I originally formed the band in 1991) I've gigged exclusively with an acoustic guitar. So it was about time for a change.

The lack of familiarity with my new rig is leaving me open to silly mistakes however. 

photo: tony bundy

At one point, having picked the guitar back up after having put it down for a song, I found I had no signal and couldn't work out why. Frantic pushing of buttons and frenzied attempts at problem solving followed over the next couple of minutes, eventually unsatisfactorily resolved by re-routing my guitar into another amp. Half way through the song that followed, I suddenly realised I'd forgotten the damn volume pedal, which I'd pushed to mute when I'd originally put the guitar down, as well as muting the signal via the tuner and on the amp.

photo: tony bundy

It sounds like a stupid mistake, and it was. But all too easy when you've got an albeit not unsympathetic but definitely heaving crowd of 150 or so (I'm guessing, but the pub was full) looking on and  all enthusiastically waiting for the next song. I guess that's the joy of live music for you, it comes warts and all.

It was a late night and, very uncharacteristically, I overslept badly the following morning. I'd meant to get up for about 0900 and go to karate, but after hitting the sack around 0430, completely missed my alarm and didn't emerge bleary eyed and baffled from under my duvet until just before noon. A horrible waste of a morning.

Saturday night was our second gig of the year, at The Old Restoration over in Cheltenham. Loki, a friend of mine and regular at the open mic night that runs at the Restoration every couple of weeks, opened for us with a terrific half hour set, and then we went on around 2130 and played through till midnight.

It was another great night. No broken strings, very few cockups of any note. Then, once it was all done and we'd finished a couple of extra songs for the encore, my daughter strong-armed me into playing American Pie for her and the retiring crowd.

So I picked by guitar back up, plugged back in, studiously pushed the volume pedal back up to full and unmuted the tuner. About half way through the second verse, with the guitar signal inexplicably very, very weak, I realised I'd essentially forgotten to turn the amp back on and all we could hear was the feed from the line-out through to the foldback and main PA.

Easily fixed, and it amused the crowd, but another silly mistake. And one I'm not going to make again.

Mistakes aside and easily forgiven, it was a fantastic gig, but another late night. I managed not to oversleep the following morning, however. As previously mentioned, there was no sailing at the club this weekend as they were hosting a Topper Open Meeting. As it turns out, this was a good thing. An old school friend of mine, Bayan, was flying out to Kuwait to escort his elderly mother home to live with him and his sister in Chicago, and the flight out from Illinois involved a layover at Heathrow before he could connect with an onward flight from there.

So I drove down to meet up with him for lunch, along with three other old school friends already in the UK; Vicky, Emma and Becky. Vicky and Emma I last saw at a small class reunion in 2009, but Bayan and Becky I'd not seen since we'd finished school out in Kuwait way back in 1990.

Needless to say, it was lovely catching up. Of course we all change and grow with the years, but in so many other ways we don't really change at all, but remain, fundamentally, the same.

Wednesday 12 January 2022

of Merlin & rockets and gaming the system

Although the Chillidog series, so called because (before covid) the club galley used to serve hotdogs after the racing, started only two weeks ago, this coming weekend will be without any sailing, as the club is hosting a Topper Open Meeting on Sunday instead.

Toppers are boats best suited to teenagers. Which is fine. Whilst I may no longer have a teenager's stature, I'd like to think I retain teenage enthusiasm. And Toppers are an absolute blast in a good blow, say F5+. However, the forecast for Sunday is about 5 knots. 

I had my fair dose of sailing last Sunday though. I raced the Albacore with Amanda in the morning. Two races; I screwed the start up on the first (a whole, unforgivable 24 seconds late crossing the start line) but redeemed myself for the second with a much better start, which took us on to win 1st place.

The Albacore is going well at the moment. That makes it our second win of the series so far, as we followed a similar pattern the week before; ie. screwed up the first race, and then woke up and won the second.

The downside is that for this series (and the summertime Wednesday evening equivalent, the Hotdogs) the club imposes a silly personal handicap system on the frontrunners. So as a consequence of our two wins so far, we now carry a penalty to our boat's handicap that essentially gives the rest of the fleet a whole minute's head start on us. Which in the final result, reduced our win to a 2nd place this week. And if we continue to do well, that's going to get worse.

Which is, frankly, a little frustrating.

A thought has just crossed my mind. We could, of course, game the system. In addition to picking up a penalty for finishing in the top three places, the last two boats to finish get a boost to their handicap. So three races of finishing last would both wipe out the penalty we've picked up, and give us a little bonus left over. There are 20 races in the series, of which you'll need just over half to qualify; the rest of the results can be discarded. 

So we could play our handicap by making sure we absolutely lose the races we discard, as in come last. The first race every Sunday is a pursuit, so that would be relatively easy to do, especially given my track record in the series so far. I'm not sure I have it in me to actually race to lose, but I can't say I'm not very tempted, if only to make a point.

Feels a little unsporting though. And to rant about the scoring system of the current series was not my intention for this post, so I apologise for the digression.

After the racing finished last Sunday and we'd packed away the Albacore, I met up with my friend Mick who took me out for a sail in his new (to him, albeit the boat is 40 years old) Merlin Rocket. 

I've not sailed a Rocket before, but always thought they were exceptionally pretty boats. And they're designed for speed with a wide, flared hull to make for efficient hiking to keep the boat flat. They're one of the very few boats on our lake with a faster handicap than the Albacore.

So this coming Sunday will be a shore day. But I don't think I have too many grounds for complaint.

Wednesday 5 January 2022

it'll only take an hour, she said

As I sat there Monday afternoon watching my wife valiantly struggle with putting together a flat packed drinks trolley that my in-laws had bought themselves over Christmas, I idly mused that IKEA had a lot to answer for.

But then I figured I was probably being unfair to the Swedes, that the construct-by-numbers drink storage utility in question and it's obscure, indecipherable instructions and vaguely aligned screw-holes hadn't in fact come from IKEA and that the Swedes probably hadn't actually invented the flat pack, although they'd certainly perfected the deconstructive art of it. 

And of tempting you in to their cavernous warehouse stores with the twin lure of flat-packed furniture stocked alongside frozen crayfish and Swedish meatballs.

So I Googled "who invented the flat pack"

Turns out it was IKEA after all. Specifically, a chap called Gillis Lundgren, in 1956. 

Monday 3 January 2022

back to the grind

Holidays are over. Back to work tomorrow. Would be back to karate Thursday, but that's our wedding anniversary so I'll probably take Nikki out for supper instead. Then the weekend, and racing on the lake Sunday. My neck hurts from where I fell over just before launching yesterday. It's a most peculiar pain, like I've pulled the muscles in my neck either side of my larynx. It's far from unbearable though, I think I got away lucky.

It's been a good break. I've drunk too much, eaten too much and not sailed nearly enough.

If circumstances allow and restrictions remain unimposed, we have two gigs booked for this coming month; Friday the 14th at The Railway in Bristol and Saturday 15th at The Restoration in Cheltenham. Then a short break followed by The Pilot in Gloucester in February. If I had to pick three favourite venues to start the year off with, they would be it. Very much looking forward to all of them.

I'm quietly hoping to squeeze in a weekend away with Calstar between the Restoration and the Pilot. We shall see.

The photo was taken on Boxing Day, when a couple of friends from Lydney Yacht Club invited me out to sail with them. I crewed for my mate Annabel aboard her Wayfarer "Ellen". We sailed from Lydney up the Severn Estuary to Brims Pill and back. It was a very small neap tide and light air that didn't really fill in until the last quarter of the return leg, so for the most part it was a hazy drift; some paddling was involved.

But it wasn't cold and the rain more or less held off. The company was good and the river was beautiful as always. I'm actually quite fond of estuary mud. It doesn't smell, washes off easily with a bit of water, and unlike sand, doesn't get into everything and stuck everywhere.

failed at the first post

Thought I'd start this year by trying to post at least one picture a day for January. And clearly I've already failed, as it's gone midnight. Anyway, this was taken this morning; my boat is on the right hand side, the race is about to start in about six minutes, and I'm flat on my back having just slipped up on the wet grass.

Why the first thought that came to me as I regained my senses was to take a photo, I don't really know, but there you go. We launched and did manage to start just in time, barely, but only took a 7th place. Second race we did much better however, and took a 1st.

Not a bad way to start the year, even if I do now have a minor case of whiplash from the fall that led to the photo!

Saturday 1 January 2022

New Year's Day: Dragonfly

New Year's Day, 2022.

In keeping with the spirit of the age, we had a quiet night in last night. Thought I'd use it constructively though, so recorded a rework of an old song I wrote many years ago when I was still young and idealistic and thought I knew what freedom and liberty were; that we'd gig forever and lockdowns only ever happened in prison movies 😁

So this is Dragonfly, and the images accompanying are a random scattering of my photos from across the year, sort of my 2021 in review, which seems to have been, in the main, sailing, dogs and gigs. I took most of the photos myself, except where I obviously didn't because I'm the subject and the camera is clearly out of reach.

Happy New Year and may 2022 bring you everything you wish for and more.