Thursday 27 October 2022

birthday season

Supper in Bristol earlier this evening with the kids. Well, most of them. Tasha's partner (wait, husband now, still feels funny to think that) couldn't make it. It's Sam's birthday tomorrow, was Ben's birthday last week. It was a good meal, and lovely to have the kids all together with us in one place for a change.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Freefall: Rich & Suzie

A friend of mine from the sailing club at South Cerney got married this weekend and asked us to play at his evening reception. The venue was West Oxfordshire Sailing Club, which I've not had the pleasure of visiting before. The band set up beneath an awning on the veranda of the clubhouse. It being October now, this was almost certainly our last outdoor gig of the year.

We were very lucky with the weather. There was a heavy shower as we arrived, so we delayed unloading the kit and setting up, but once it passed, the rest of the evening stayed dry. Insofar as the elements were concerned, anyway. The guests most certainly did not.

The groom is, obviously, a dinghy sailor. A very good one at that. He races an OK class dinghy at South Cerney and, to be honest, beats me more often than I beat him. The bride however, is not. Despite this, on Saturday she consented to be sailed down the lake by her new husband from the marquee where they held the blessing to the clubhouse that was the venue for the reception.

I have to say I was impressed. It was a blustery day on Saturday with gusts up into the 20's and, whilst it wasn't cold, it wasn't exactly warm.

It was a terrific party though, and a beautiful setting for it.


A portrait of me on a Friday afternoon. Actually, it's a picture of Lottie who accompanied me to the office on Friday, but it captures the essence of how I typically feel on a Friday afternoon.

They say owners often resemble their dogs. Or is it dogs their owners, I forget? Actually, there are times when I'm not sure if I own them or they me. I don't really care, just as long as they do as they're told.

Wednesday 12 October 2022

when life gives you lemons

Once upon a time a jiff lemon was easy to find and now it's patently not putting it with the tea seems obvious to me but no, baking goods, bottom shelf obviously so she tells me

Tuesday 11 October 2022

ball dog

Jack's going to be 10 in December, which I think is 70 in "dog years", although to be fair, I don't think the calculation is that linear in reality. Sure, he's a little slower these days, but he's still really just a big kid at heart.

On which note, he has a few more weeks of taking his heart pills twice a day then it'll be back to the vet's for another check-up. 

I'm pretty certain there will be no change though. The key will be whether or not he's lost any more weight; it was a 5kg drop since his last visit that made Tania, his vet, particularly vigilant when checking him over and so led to her spotting the arrhythmia. 

But he doesn't look skinny to me, and he's still fit, well and happy in himself. If it is just a heart murmur, previously undiagnosed as I suspect, then he's not the only one in the family with one, and mine's never really slowed me down either. Or rather, it hasn't yet.

Had a conversation with the veterinary nurse when we collected him back from the surgery last week after they'd run their tests. There's always uncertainty when you not only don't know what the problem is, but whether or not there is actually a problem. Just because you don't find something doesn't mean there's not something there. I guess it's the nature of these tests that they only ever deliver bad news, if they deliver anything at all.

So I asked what we should do about his exercise over the next few weeks. After all, Jack's main joy and passion is chasing a ball around the park with me.

Julie's known our family and our dogs for many, many years, and her advice was very succinct and to the point. Let him carry on doing what he loves.

So that's what we do.

Monday 10 October 2022

Albacore: Frostbite

Amanda and I finally got to race the Albacore again. Sunday was the start of South Cerney's winter Frostbite series.

Arrived at the lake to find a flat calm. The morning wasn't cold, but my friend Gary found ice in the bottom of his RS300 when he took the cover off his boat to rig. Fitting, given the name of the series, but more a sign of things to come, I think.

I rigged the Albacore alone as Amanda was running late, she'd messaged me to say she'd been delayed "sorting a bread disaster out"; I was intrigued but didn't dare enquire any further. By the time Amanda arrived, the breeze was filling in.

Things had turned quite lively by the time we launched. The Albacore is a steady boat in a blow, and can manage some pretty heavy conditions when manned by a well practiced crew. We were somewhat out of practice, so she was a bit a of a handful to begin with.

photo: tim hampton

Despite that, we managed a good start in the first race and managed a creditable 4th place out of the 19 boats that made the start. By the end of the race however, conditions had gotten quite blustery, so 3 of the 19 retired before finishing (and another was disqualified as being to early over the line at the start)

Things were looking as promising for the second race, another reasonable start and a good beat saw as the third boat to round the windward. Then our lack or practice bit hard. As we bore away, we were slow settling the boat onto the reach down to the first gybe mark; a vicious gust came barrelling through, and catching us with everything set wrong, the little boat broached and capsized.

photo: tim hampton

We've only capsized the Albacore a couple of times, and again the lack of practice told as we struggled with the recovery. It was slow, and when an Albacore comes back up, she comes up swamped, and getting that water back out again is also slow.

The fleet sailed on by. We got the boat back up with nothing damaged except our pride and the loss of the burgee from the masthead to the mud on the lake floor. The rest of the fleet were half a lap ahead by this point. Over the course of the next hour we caught up with the back markers, but, aside from a couple of retirements, once our time was adjusted for our handicap, finished comprehensively last.

But at one point during that second race, screaming down a reach we maxed out at 11 knots, so I can't pretend it wasn't fun.

beach dog

On Saturday, Nik and I took Lottie to the seaside for the first time. It being the Bristol Channel, the sea had run away, but that left a lot of flat sand for her to run about on.

Despite the profusion of caravan parks and holiday camps on the other side of the dunes that back Brean Sands, this late in the season the beach was still relatively quiet. We arrived mid afternoon and parked at the top of the beach in a row with a handful of other cars. The tide was far out but on its way back in, the sky was blue and the sun still held some warmth.

There was a cool breeze blowing in off the channel, and over to our left we could see a handful of kite buggies (I never knew that was a thing!) racing over the flat sands, so we walked in the other direction, out towards the rocky cliffs of the headland.

I like this beach. There's lots of room at low water, and you can see out over the channel to Cardiff on the Welsh shore, with the two Holms between. We used to bring the dogs here a lot. I used to stand on this shore and look out towards Steep Holm and Flat Holm beyond and dream about about sailing past those islands. And I've done that any number of times since; the thrill never gets old.

Brean is just over an hour down the motorway from home, but we've not been back down here for years. We're only allowed to take dogs on the sands out of season, so I guess it was an easy habit to fall out of.

In other news, none of Jack's tests came back with anything to explain his arrhythmia. Which is kind of good news, although it doesn't rule out anything the admittedly limited resources of our local veterinary surgery might not have been able to spot at this stage. 

We had the option of referring him on to the veterinary college in Bristol for more tests, but he seems perfectly fine in himself, so we didn't want to put him through the stress of sending him away to a strange place overnight.

So he's on meds for a few weeks, after which we'll take him back for a check-up to see if things have improved and decide then on any further action to take, if any at this point.

Wednesday 5 October 2022

no mermaid

I'm not entirely sure what moved me to buy my GoPro. It was something of an impulsive purchase. Dad already had one, but rarely got it out as he found it too fiddly. 

His was an earlier version though, and the version that was current when I bought mine (the Hero 9 Black) seemed to have resolved some of those earlier issues. Although it's far from perfect. And the supporting software is exceptionally janky, poorly documented, clumsy to use and isn't supported on PC, which is where I do most of my work.

Having a new tablet with a decent screen has partially resolved that problem for me, but it's still very frustrating.

But, perched on the bow of my Laser or strapped to the mast of the Albacore, it has caught some great sailing footage. And clipped somewhere out of reach of the crowd at a gig, it's gotten some half decent video of the band, which is always helpful.

It really came into its own on my last two trips to Europe however. And the thing I hadn't fully appreciated when I bought it is that the stills you can take from the video you shoot can be superb. They might lack the resolution you can get from a camera (phone or otherwise) but as most of our viewing is done on screen these days, I don't know that it makes much difference. A "proper" photographer might beg to differ, perhaps.

The accompanying shots are far from superb but they were fun; I simply left the camera afloat, bobbing upside down whilst I swam around it, they amuse me so I thought I'd share. I'm certainly no mermaid, but I think I enjoyed the swimming in Croatia and Greece almost as much as I loved the sailing. 

I'm possibly going to miss the former more over this coming winter.

Amore: Lakka, all the little lights

My last night aboard Amore was spent in the anchorage at Lakka on the island of Paxos. Quite a different night to our previous anchorage at Parga, very still, very sheltered. What little wind there was overnight was coming from the south, over the island.

There was a lovely beach bar on the south side of the bay where we spent the afternoon swimming, drinking and soaking up the last of the afternoon sun on their sunbeds, then in the evening we took the tender over to the town quay to find supper.

An exceptionally popular spot, we counted over 50 masts crowded into the small bay. At least two, arriving after us, dropped their hooks unreasonably close and were, politely, asked to relocate. Which they did with good grace. As dusk fell, the gloom over the water was festooned with all the little lights marking each as being at anchor.

The Ionian is a wonderful cruising area, fantastic sailing, a beautiful coast with a backdrop of mountains, islands and coves. There are lots of places to explore and always somewhere within reach to take shelter in almost any weather.

But it is, correspondingly, very popular. It sometimes feels like you can't move for other boats, especially the chartered flotillas, and therefore every passage is, rather than about the sailing, about getting to where you need to be in time to ensure you can find a berth or space to drop your anchor.

Croatia, by comparison, felt fresh and new, at least amongst the islands between Split and Dubrovnik where we spent those two weeks in August. And, aside from the super yachts that you seemed to trip over almost everywhere you turned, much quieter out on the water.

Tuesday 4 October 2022

office dog

Lottie's first day in the office with me. Reckon she's handling it well enough.

Took Jack and Boo to the vets for their booster and annual check-up yesterday evening. The vet noticed Jack had an "irregular" heart beat. She seemed worried, which worries me. He's booked back in for a raft of tests tomorrow morning.

I'm hoping it's nothing more than an aberration, a heart murmur. I'm not convinced he hasn't had one all his life, and it might be that the vet has only just now noticed it. Other than occasional ear infections, he's not had much call to see the vet over the years. 

Tanya has seen him the last half a dozen times now though, mainly because of his ears, and I reckon she's grown quite fond of the boy; they're very comfortable with each other. Could be she was just paying closer attention than previous vets have done. He does seem otherwise fit and well, although he has lost a few kilos since his last check-up. 

Amore: on the hard

Just heard from Mark that Amore is safely out of the water and settled onto the hard for the winter. So all done. With the boat out and safe, he's off to Indonesia tomorrow to catch up with some mutual friends of ours for a few weeks before heading to Cyprus to overwinter himself.

Tough life being retired, I reckon. 

Amore: Parga (by night)

Lightning at play, backlighting the fortress ruins above Parga whilst we were at anchor on the evening of Wednesday 27th October. 

Amore: Parga

It took two attempts to get to Parga. It’s a very pretty little harbour town with an adjacent bay giving reasonable shelter for anchoring overnight, overlooked by a ruined fortress set atop the headland separating the town and bay.

We’d originally planned to make it our second stop, but making our way there on the Sunday afternoon after a lunchtime stop at Mark’s Rock, motoring against a light headwind, the engine inexplicably stopped. We diverted to Gaios instead, on the basis that if we had a problem with the engine it would be easier to solicit help moored against a town quay than it would be anchored in a bay. As it happens, the engine restarted without problem and gave us no more trouble after that.

The following day, the weather turned rotten, with strong winds and inclement weather forecast overnight from the south east, so we headed back to the shelter of a small cove called Karvouno Bay near Sivota, where we were able to call ahead to the tavern there and reserve a mooring on their shore lines.

So it was finally Wednesday 27th that we set out once again for Parga, expecting light winds from the south and hoping that the seas had calmed a little following the storm of the night before.

Out from the tranquil shelter of Karvouno we were met with a brisk wind from south of south east and an enthusiastic, rambunctious sea with a 2m swell (my best guess, I can’t really judge these things) that was still occasionally breaking. Mark judged anchoring overnight would still be feasible, so we had a log, energetic beat to Parga, covering 25 nautical miles in around 5 hours of sailing. In the last hour, approaching the bay where we planned to anchor, we were treated to a visit from some dolphins, who spent a few happy minutes playing beneath our bow wave as Amore beat south.

The wind backed as the day wore on and eased as the forecast had suggested, but although the seas had subsided quite a bit by the time we dropped our sails and turned into the bay west of Parga, there was still a bit of swell running.

We briefly considered long-lining to the rocky breakwater sheltering a small “marina” on the west side of the bay alongside a couple of other yachts that had already done the same, but on investigation, found the swell over there wasn’t much easier than it was elsewhere, so decided we’d be safer anchored somewhere in the middle of the bay with room to swing on plenty of chain. With the anchor down and Amore as settled as she was likely to get, I went for a swim. Despite the day being overcast, the water was still pleasant.

With a couple of hours to go until dusk we inflated the tender and Amanda and I headed ashore, landing in the shelter of the breakwater, and then walked the couple of kilometres up to the ruined citadel to explore, stopping at a restaurant overlooking the bay for supper on the way back. Mark stayed aboard Amore, I think more from reluctance to walk up the hill as from any concern for her safety.

The night was a bumpy one. I sat up for a couple of hours in the cockpit, watching the stars, admiring the view of the lit up castle ruins, reading and sipping a beer. The sky overhead was clear, but to the south over Lefkas clouds were boiling, unseen in the darkness until lightning began to play across them. It was an eerie, spectacular show, backlighting the castle ruins, playing out in silence, presumably too distant for the roll of thunder to reach us.

When I finally retired below to my bunk, it was for an unsettled night’s sleep. The pitching and rolling of the boat didn’t bother me; far from it, I found the cradle like rocking quite soothing. But a large boat in incessant motion is a noisy thing, the rigging creaking, unseen things stored in myriad lockers rattling, the anchor chain, running to its locker not so far from my head, groaning and something occasionally banging when the motion of the boat was just right to catch it. I spent some time trying to work out what it was but eventually gave up. 

In the morning, I realised it was the lid of the anchor locker, only loosely secured open against a stanchion by a bit of bungee that had long ago given up any pretence of elasticity.

I like sleeping at anchor. But that Wednesday night aboard Amore, it was a bit like sleeping inside a drum.

The following morning we were all up with the dawn, evidence that neither of the others had had a better night’s rest. A swell was still running into the bay despite there being next to no wind, presumably the aftermath of the distant storm of the night before.