Tuesday 22 February 2022

Jack & Bill went up the hill

It had been a great gig the night before. But as previously mentioned, it had made for a very late night.

So I didn't then wake up until 1130 on the Sunday morning following, when I mistook my daughter ringing me for the usual 0730 alarm going off on my phone. I'd meant to get to the club for 1000 to check the boats, and if a race was in the offering, rig and sail the Laser, so the oversleep was a bit of a nuisance. 

So rather than my sailing kit, I put Jack in the back of my car instead as we set off for South Cerney, thinking that if I'd missed the race, I could at least give him a walk by the lake.

It's a 40 minute drive to the club. We got there for 1230 and it was all locked up, so racing had obviously been cancelled. I could see the lake through the slatted security gate, whipped and beaten by the wind. Thinking to check on the boats anyway, I unlocked the padlock, slid the bolt back, and the wind threw the gate back against its hinges at me, almost taking me off my feet and throwing me across the bonnet of my car.

I put my shoulder into it and pushed, and gradually got the gate back into line, holding it in place with my foot wedged into the gravel at its base whilst I slid the bolt back into place and put the lock back on. There's a lot of windage on a 10 foot tall security gate. I could probably have opened it and got in if I'd been really desperate, but the risk of damaging the gate, my car or myself alone at the club just didn't seem worth it.

So Jack and I drove back towards home again and he and I went instead for a walk up Robinswood Hill.

We used to walk up there all the time when the dogs were young, but haven't climbed its slopes now for years, despite it being just out the back of my house.

It was very muddy, slippy and steep and wonderfully good fun. We didn't get all the way to the top, at nine and a half, Jack's an old boy now, if still willing, and gets a bit stiff sometimes, so I didn't want to completely wipe him out. But taking it slowly, we did reach a clearing just below the summit. 

The views back over my hometown, out towards May Hill and the Malverns, are gorgeous, even when they're greyed out by the murk of a storm-washed sky. The city itself sprawls across the top of the Severn Valley. There are no high-rise buildings to break the skyline, so the graceful spire of the Cathedral is juxtaposed against the looming concrete edifice of the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and clearly visible.

The threatening rain held off until we made it back to the car; coming back down was, at times, something of a perilous slide, but be both made it back without mishap.

The weather is still rotten, but the nights are starting to draw out again now. It's still just about light when I finish work of an evening. Jack and I have promised each other we're going to spend more time back on the hill again this year. We'd forgotten how much we missed it.

Monday 21 February 2022

the little distractions

How to distract yourself ashore when it's too windy to go sailing at the weekend. Saturday night's show; lovely venue and the crowd were electric. Love the Pilot to bits, always a great gig. And only ten minutes down the road from my house.

I still didn't get to bed until about 4am though, so overslept horribly Sunday morning. 

Friday 18 February 2022



The two wind images, of course, come from https://earth.nullschool.net and were snapped from my screen a few moments ago. The local forecast suggests the worst of it will peak around noon, so we're still an hour or so off. The weather station at my sailing club in South Cerney has so far clocked a high of 62.7 knots, which is a little bit on the breezy side.

Aside from worrying if the roof is going to stay on my house and whether or not I've tied down my boats well enough, I quite like this weather. Jack, however, does not in the slightest, and would be ever so grateful if I could make it stop, please.

Thursday 17 February 2022

a storm by any other name

I'm losing track. I thought this bit of weather had been christened Dudley. Which is a bit of a silly name, even for a bit of weather. Unless your name is actually Dudley, then it's a lovely name and I'm quite sure it suits you fine.

But actually, turns out the storm due in tomorrow is in fact called Eunice. In any case, as the local forecast above shows, it's supposed to be gusting to 62 knots by 1200. Which is a bit frisky by anybody's standards.

Dad's planning to head down to Portishead Sunday to check Calstar's okay. He was down there yesterday and, although he said she was heeling against the pontoon in the wind, she seemed fine. Me, come Sunday I'm probably going to head to the lake at South Cerney and sail, unless they actually cancel the racing. It'll be the Laser, I expect. I don't think Amanda's going to be up for playing with the Albacore in those conditions.

We are lucky with Portishead, as it's very sheltered. High water this weekend will be almost 13m and a few miles up-channel at Lydney the Environmental Agency are closing the harbour to the public as they're anticipating a 2m storm surge on top of that. 

promises, promises


Monday 14 February 2022

Laser: rain, rain, blow away

It was only Friday evening, finished work around 1700, took Jack out for a walk and thought to myself, the evening is still light, the days are drawing out; spring is pretty much here already. 

Walking Jack down the road Saturday evening to meet my wife as she finished work, I noticed the bluebells and daffodils are beginning to push up, and I thought to myself, spring is pretty much here already.

Sunday morning, as I rigged the Laser on the shore at South Cerney, the southerly wind was fetching 20 knots but gusting up into the 40's and driving a cold, persistent, stinging rain. I thought to myself, this doesn't so much feel like spring anymore.

But the sailing was cracking good fun.

Friday 11 February 2022

Calstar : seven years

Google Photos has a charming way of popping up pictures of "x years ago" as a means of trying to endear itself to you and of reminding you of where you've been.

Oftentimes it just leaves a lump in my throat. There are an awful lot of friends, family and dogs we've loved and lost along the way, and now only photographs remain. Sometimes they'll put a smile in your heart, but sometimes some of them are still just a little bit raw.

Every once in a while though, a picture will trigger a memory that's nothing more than simple joy.

Dad and I bought Calstar back to Portishead from Swansea in February 2015, seven years ago. Those were heady, exciting times, and I've distracted myself for a pleasant half hour or so reading back over the things I wrote and pictures I posted back then up here.

Which led me to this YouTube clip I'd taken on the return leg of our first weekend trip out to Cardiff from Portishead. 

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Calstar: sitting pretty

She looks so pretty afloat and back on her berth. 

Not so sure about our immediate neighbour. Assume Border Force's presence in the Bristol Channel is necessary to intercept mid-channel and turn back the floods of Welsh refugees we're expecting now that Wales no longer enjoys EU development funding after they voted for us to get our sovereignty back and secure £350 million a week for the NHS off the side of a bus.

Damn, that's more political than I've been since about the end of 2019, and far more than I ever mean to get in my writing here. I apologise. 

But talking of borders, now that we're afloat, we fully intend to cross the other way, weather permitting. Which I don't think it will be this weekend; rain and 30 knot gusts forecast, so I think I'll stick to the lake and the Albacore for Sunday. I have a gig the following weekend, but the weekend after that is free, so fingers crossed the weather turns better for then.

It'll be nice to see Cardiff again.

Dad went down again yesterday morning and tells me he managed to free the recalcitrant seacock off without damaging anything. My soaking it overnight with WD40 then his gentle application of some extra leverage via a spanner did the trick. He said the only thing that went amiss was that once he'd gotten down onto the cabin floor between the wet-locker and the heads to reach the seacock, he very nearly had to phone for help to lever himself back up and out again.

I'm continually told by engineering types considerably more knowledgeable than me that WD40 is not a lubricant, but a water displacement solvent (just Googled an interesting article on the subject here). But it does do such a reliable job of getting stuck bits moving again.

Basically, the extent of my engineering abilities run thus:

Does it move? Yes. 
Should it move? No.
Gaffa tape.

Does it move? No.
Should it move? Yes.

Fortunately, I always have Dad for the more clever stuff. And he's got cable ties.

Monday 7 February 2022

Calstar: and she floats

Lift fixed, boat relaunched, water staying on the outside. Now safe and snug back on her berth.

One of the sea-cocks is frozen shut, which is annoying. But that's a problem for next time.

For now, enough that we're back afloat.

Calstar: third time lucky?

Maybe. Maybe not. Booked for an 0900 launch, appears the hydraulics on the lift have failed overnight following some "maintenance" at the weekend.

Off to find a coffee whilst await the verdict on whether it can be repaired today.

Friday 4 February 2022

Calstar: transduced, not

Last Friday was supposed to be the big day. Rudder bearings replaced, anodes renewed, her bottom painted with a fresh coat of antifoul and her sides lovingly polished by Dad, the lift was booked for 1500 on Friday 28th Jan, and Calstar was to re-float.

The trip down to Portishead was uneventful, we arrived in good time to find the lift crew were running late, so Dad and I retired to a local coffee shop for a brew and a very sticky, very sweet almond croissant each that had proven irresistible, taunting us as it did from behind the coffee shop counter.

The day was calm and warm in the broken January sun. A pleasant day to spend on the dockside.

The lift finally turned up, it's crew strapped Calstar in with professional efficiency, lifted her off her blocks and walked her out of the yard, across the road and onto the slip.

The last thing I'd done before we lifted her was refit the speed transducer for the log. It had been previously taken out, the crusted up paddle wheel cleaned and replaced with a temporary plug when we'd last had her out for her annual tlc, a couple of years ago, pre-pandemic, in Plymouth. And then we'd forgotten to put it back.

The log, of course, gives us our speed through the water. It's hardly critical information, as the speed over ground that we read directly from the GPS via the chart plotter is a much more useful number. But I like measures and numbers, and it's a useful metric to have as it gives you an immediate clue as to how well the boat is sailing and, when compared to the speed over ground, what the tide is doing.

Plugging it back in seemed a simple, obvious thing to do. You can, in theory, do it whilst the boat is afloat, but I've never had the nerve for that.

The lads manning the lift paused as they lowered Calstar towards the water to let me climb aboard over the bow. I didn't anticipate any problems, but conscious that the transducer is fitted through the hull, I wanted to assure myself the fitting was watertight before we moved away from the lift.

It wasn't. It was hardly a flood, but a steady, incessant weep. I asked the crew to lift her back out, unscrewed, re-seated the transducer and screwed the cap down tight again. We re-floated. And still it came in, if anything, quicker and more incessant than before.

We lifted her back up, and I removed the transducer and replaced the plug that was in there previously, screwing it down tight. 

Back in, and this time there was a definite leak coming in through the top where the cap was screwed down. Conscious we were using up the lift crews' time and holding them back late on a Friday afternoon we had a hurried consultation and they offered to leave her in the slings over the weekend for us to work on the problem, then relaunch first thing Monday.

About an hour later, browsing the shelves of the local chandlery for some waterproof grease, Dad noticed a notch in the top of the plug, clearly intended to mate with an indent on the hull fitting, to ensure it could only be fitted one way.

It seemed obvious, in retrospect, in the dim light of the cabin, working in the bilge, I'd overlooked this and so mis-fitted the plug, and, presumably, the transducer before it. We returned to the boat, and Dad and I head down in the bilge with a bright torch greased up the transducer, located the notch and secured it into the housing. Confidence we'd identified the problem we went home for the weekend.

So Monday came around and, dead on 0900, we lifted her back up and re-floated.

Dad and I climbed aboard over the bow, and heads down again in the bilge with a bright torch, watched the fitting with bated breath as Calstar settled back into the water.

All seemed good. For just a moment. Then I spotted the slightest bead of moisture, gradually swelling, around the seam between the housing and the hull.

It was but the slightest weep. In truth, it could well have been doing this all through the previous year and we might not have noticed. She's a very dry boat, but there's always a bit of wet to mop out of the the bilges. But the idea of putting her back on her berth now we knew the integrity of the seal was definitely compromised?

It wasn't ever really a serious proposition. 

So she was lifted back out and returned to the yard. The log is an old AutoHelm Bidata ST30, the same age as the boat. Dad wasn't happy with removing and refitting a 40 year old piece of plastic, but Sam from the Marina boatyard was able to source a Raymarine ST40 transducer. 

As I understand it, AutoHelm was the brand name used by the original UK company Raymarine until they were brought out by a US company called Raytheon. Then there was another buyout and Raymarine became independent again, and reverted to the Raymarine brand.

In any case, the upshot is that the Raymarine ST40 speed transducer has the same footprint as the old Autohelm ST30, and uses the same Seatalk1 data, so remains compatible with our existing display. And I've received an email from Sam this morning to confirm that the log has been fitted and the lift booked for the re-launch.

So come Monday 0900hrs, we go again.

january sky


0829h, January 31st; the land sliding by at 70mph, somewhere on the M5 between Gloucester and Portishead.