It's been busy, the last few days.
Friday morning, a nice chap and his mate turned up with a ladder and a good head for heights to fix my roof. One of the ridge tiles at the back of the house had blown loose in one of the storms we had earlier in the year, and on inspection it turned out the mortar on the rest of them had disintegrated to the point that it was only a matter of time before the rest did the same.
The job took them the morning and a good part of the afternoon, but they finished in time for me to get away with Dad to the marina, where the crew were relaunching Calstar with her newly serviced and refurbished rope cutter as the last job of their day. Once she was afloat, Dad and I moved her around to her berth and made her secure before heading back home again.
Saturday morning was the usual hour of karate, and then an early afternoon departure for a gig down in Yate. A garden party for a lady's 60th. It was rather sweet; the birthday girl, Elaine, had booked us to play for her daughters, Lucy and Charlotte, at their joint 18th and 21st birthday party some 14 or 15 years ago. Apparently, we made an impression, so with their mum's 60th coming up, the girls tracked us back down and booked us as a surprise for her birthday party.
When we turned up to play on Saturday afternoon, we were met at the door by Charlotte, led through to the back garden and (re)introduced to her Elaine with a "Mum, your birthday present's here!"
I don't think I've ever been somebody's birthday present before. It was fun, they are a lovely family with some lovely friends, and a great gig. The sun shone, the band played, people danced and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody in the surrounding neighbourhood complained about the noise.
It was an early start and an early finish though, in deference to said neighbours, so by 2200 I'd dropped the band's trailer off back at Dad's, temporarily stowed my own guitar and amp in his garage, then he and I headed straight back down the motorway to the boat.
Sunday 1st May: Portishead to Cardiff
(18.7 miles, 3 hours 24 minutes underway)
Saturday was sunny and relatively warm, but true to the forecast so not unexpected, the temperature dropped overnight and the rain rolled in. I awoke in my bunk at 0600 to the gentle patter of it drumming on the cabin roof, accompanied by the occasional drip from a seam of water welling along the aged seal of the forward hatch above me. That's going to need some attention soon.
It was a leisurely start, the lock out was booked for 0930, an hour after high water, so plenty of time for a shower and a cup of tea. As we readied the boat, Dad wryly asked if I was sure about the trip, explaining "You don't actually have to do this, you know?"
Light rain was forecast to stay with us through till about 1600, accompanied by a westerly, backing to the south west, of around 10 knots set over the ebb of a 13.2m spring tide.
There's no point in having a sail boat if you don't sail her.
We called up the lock to check they were expecting us, and cast off at 0920. The marina was quiet in the early morning drizzle, and we had the lock to ourselves. At 0936, the seaward gates opened and released us to the dank, grey arms of the awaiting Bristol Channel.
By 0940, we'd rounded the breakwater and were being carried along on the tide. We put a little distance between us and the shore and then turned head to wind and hauled up the mainsail. The boat lent to the wind as we turned back away, stilling the engine and unfurling the headsail, leaving the final roll in for the sake of prudence as we settled onto a port beat down the King Road.
The wind was steady as we left the shelter of the headland at the top end of a F3. The sea was short and choppy, but nothing more than half a meter. Calstar sat happily heeled to around 20°, the autohelm not labouring, and the rain easing to a light drizzle.
On the approach to Welsh Hook, we put a short tack in to take us back towards the Clevedon shore. We were still early on the tide, with about 8m still to fall, but the sand banks of Bedwin Sands and Welsh Hook in particular have caught more than a few boats out on a falling tide in their time, and I didn't want to add to their number.
The wind freshened as we tacked again and left Clevedon to fall away astern, the sea building a little and beginning to break against the wind as we crossed the Bristol Deep. We beat west towards the Welsh shore, hoping the tide would lift us and I'd be able to ease off on to a close reach, but the wind headed us as we left the Somerset coat behind, keeping Calstar close hauled, increasing the gusts frequently tipping her over to 30°.
At that angle heel, she starts to lose her grip in the water. She's a benevolent little boat, and does nothing more aggressive than simply head up into wind when she's over powered, but although it can be fun, it's not efficient, and the leeway can be quite severe once she heels past 25° or so. With that in mind, we eased the mainsheet briefly and pulled the first reef in. With all the lines led back to the cockpit, it's a simple and quick enough process; still beating to windward under her headsail alone, Calstar hardly slows as you do it.
With the first reef in her main and the one roll still in the headsail, she stiffened up nicely and continued to crash on cheerfully through the chop towards Wales. It was around 1030, and happily, at some point over the last half hour or so, we realised the rain had actually stopped.
We settled down for the long beat across the Channel to Cardiff. The only other excitement of the day was a short tack to avoid the South Middle Grounds Cardinal. The whole area of the upper Channel is peppered with navigational buoys. They're really hand for working out where you are, but do get in your way a bit if you don't watch out for them.
By 1215, we were alongside Lock #3 of the Cardiff Barrage for a long lift up into the shelter of the bay. Some twenty-five minutes later we were alongside a visitor's berth in Penarth Marina. It had been an absolutely cracking sail across.
With the boat secure in her berth and the rain all but stopped, Dad and I took a walk along the Barrage wall to Mermaid Quay on the other side of the bay, where we had a very nice lunch at an Italian restaurant called Signor Valentino. Dad had the Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare, and I the Spaghetti con Capesante e Gamberoni; in English, basically two slightly different versions of seafood pasta. Which is to unfairly over-simplify both. The food was great and the service was friendly. We'll definitely be back again.
Supper that evening was back on board Calstar, a tube of Ready Salted Pringles and a bottle of white wine bought from the Sainsbury's on the top of the hill in Penarth town. Dad supplemented his share of the Pringles with a packet of sliced chorizo and a tub of humus. I focused on the wine.
Monday 2nd May: Cardiff to Portishead
(17.8 miles, 3 hours 27 minutes underway)
We had an early night. An 0400 alarm turfed me out of my bunk Monday morning, and we set about preparing the boat for departure.
The forecast was cloudy and overcast but dry. The wind was negligible at 1 or 2 knots, and in the shelter of the Marina, mirror smooth as we set about our preparations.
High water at Portishead was a 13.0m tide due for 0859. I'd considered leaving in time to take the 0500 lock out through the Barrage, but sunrise was 0543. The departure from Cardiff is well lit and very well marked, but with no moon, I figured we could afford to take the 0530 if necessary and still make Portishead in good time for the tide.
So by 0530 we were alongside Lock #3 and by 0540, the gates opened to disgorge us onto the Bristol Channel.
It was a flat, grey sunrise, quite unworthy of an early rise. We left the harbour, made our way down the Wrack Channel and into the grey murk of the Cardiff and Penarth Roads without mishap. The engine purred along happily at 2000 revs, pushing us through the water at 4.0 knots, the tide, even in the shelter of the Roads, adding an extra knot and a half to our progress over the ground.
The only breeze was the apparent wind generated by the tide, dead on our nose in the direction we needed to go, so we pushed on with the engine. Like the walk back up a hill after the thrill of the sleigh ride down, it felt a little bit like payback for the fun of yesterday's sail over.
Time always seems to pass slower when you're not under sail. Visibility was poor, so we had to keep a keen watch, all sorts of potential flotsam and jetsam gets pushed up and down by a spring tide in these parts, and there are always those big navigation buoys to watch out for.
So I spent my time crossing them off as we passed, Outer Wrack, Cardiff North, English Welsh Grounds, East Middle Grounds, our old friend, Welsh Hook.
By 0740 we'd left the latter to starboard and were making our final progress back up the King Road to Portishead. We had the entire channel to ourselves, no freighters in or outbound from Royal Portbury or Sharpness to avoid, nobody else silly enough to want to be out on the grey murk, just for the fun of it.
At 0800 we passed Battery Point, its light, still live (Q3 10S) in the gloom of the morning, flashing us a stuttered welcome home. We called up the Marina on channel 80 as we rounded the headland and were invited to sail straight in for the 0815 lock they were making ready for us.
With less than an hour left of the tide, it was only a short lift into the Marina, and ten minutes later Calstar was snug and safe back alongside her berth, the weekend done.
It was a good weekend. I was home by 1100, and after a hot shower and lunch, spent the rest of the afternoon preparing supper for when Nikki finished work later; I'd found a recipe for Stifado, a Greek dish, kind of a slow cooked beef and onion stew. I walked Jack down to meet her at the shop when she finished at 1800. We ate about an hour later and nobody complained. Then we settled down on the sofa to watch the latest Batman movie together, a rare night in.