Tuesday 26 December 2023


It appears, and we're 17 weeks in now so I'm comfortable talking about it, that I'm going to be a granddad. I am stupidly, stupidly delighted. Also very much feeling my mortality. By the time these two boys (twins, heh, male) are twenty, I'm going to be into my seventies.

If I'm honest, was never sure I was actually going to make it past sixty-five. Genealogy was against me (excepting my Dad and most of his brothers) so was reconciled to that.

So it's now a target. Not a cut-off. And I've always been fond of targets. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, near and far.

Friday 15 December 2023

best dog

Everybody thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.
- W.R. Purche

Tuesday 21 November 2023

fair weather sailor: reprise

It was a two gig weekend just gone, Friday and Saturday evening. Both at the same venue, The Whittle Taps in Cheltenham, both very lively, very hard work, and exceptionally good fun. The kind of gig that reminds us why we do it.

I could've gone sailing Sunday morning,. I'd meant to. I'd been planning to race the Laser around the lake at South Cerney, but the forecast was for rain and strong winds gusting into the high 30's. 

I got up Sunday morning. A little later than planned, but still in time to get to the club if I rushed. Even go so far as having packed my kit into my bag. Then decided I really didn't have it in me after all, put the kettle back on and had another cup of tea, followed by a very lazy morning.

Later, as the rain eased a little into the afternoon, I took Lottie for a nice, long walk.

Monday 13 November 2023

Petrella: fair weather sailor

I've just had a rare weekend without any gigs. Intentionally; we originally had a booking pencilled in that fell through, but once it did I decided that was providence and turned down a couple of subsequent offers to keep it free. I don't now have another weekend free of gigs until after the New Year.

Dad, seeing the weekend free, decided he'd take the opportunity to go visit a friend on the east coast. A lack of joined up thinking - he timed it so he wouldn't miss any gigs, not appreciating that I'd kept the weekend intentionally free of them so that we could go sailing.

However, my friends Mark and Amanda were kicking around at a loose end so were happy to join me.

We met up at the boat in Brixham at around 2000hrs and wandered into town to find a pub and a beer, settling on a table in the back room of a cosy harbour-side place called "The Blue Anchor". A very good duo was performing in the bar; from our table we could hear it and enjoy it all but were enough out of the way to still enjoy our catch up chat.

The original plan was to sail out on Saturday, overnight in Dartmouth, then back on Sunday. But sat in the bar looking at the forecast on Friday night, Saturday looked lovely but Sunday grim; a fresh storm was blowing in for Monday, but was to be presaged on Sunday by rain and squalls potentially gusting up to 30 knots. 

So we settled for a day sail. There's no point or fun in taking chances with the weather at this time of year.

With no particular plan or agenda, we had a slow start on Saturday, as much, I expect, due to the over-indulgence of the late night before as lack of any ambitions for the day's sailing, but we told ourselves we were waiting for the wind out in the bay to fill in a little for the afternoon. We cast off at 1400; only the second time I've taken Petrella our of her berth myself, but all, more or less, went to plan. I was a little too cautious reversing her out, so didn't get enough rudder authority to turn as I'd intended, but a little bit of shuffling ahead and astern on the throttle let me correct my misjudgement without any mishap. Luckily our berth is very sheltered.

I'm still not entirely confident with slow speed manoeuvring under power and was, perhaps, guilty of being a little over cautious with the throttle. But we are slowly getting to know each other better, so it's getting easier all the time.

We made a quick stop at the fuel berth to top up our half full diesel tank. The bill for that was a bit of an (albeit not completely unexpected) eye opener. Calstar's 20hp Beta Marine diesel engine was served by a 38 litre fuel tank. Petrella has a 55hp Volvo, with a correspondingly larger 110 litre tank. So she costs more to refuel than my car, although hopefully we won't need to do it as frequently. It's certainly an incentive to sail more!

Watching the harbour seals languorously basking on the marina wave screen in the autumnal sun, we made our way out past the breakwater. Leaving the shelter of the harbour, we turned into the wind and hauled out the sails. The day was benign, with blue sky, calm sea and about 8 to 10 knots of wind blowing in from the south west. We set a course close-hauled for open water in the hope of finding the cleanest air out to sea and were not disappointed. With 10 knots of wind Petrella barely heeled but her big genoa pulled her along very nicely at around 3 to 4 knots over the ground.

With no particular aim or ambition, we tacked back towards Berry Head for no reason other than the last time we were out we'd instead sailed all the way across to the other side of the bay. The sun continued to shine, the sea remained calm, but the wind as we approached the headland did pick up to a very pleasing 11 knots. Under Berry Head, we tacked back again, then bore away onto a reach, the boat speed picking up as we did to occasionally touch more than 5 knots over the ground, helped a little perhaps by the flood tide.

To our delight, we were briefly joined by a couple of porpoises. Once they'd fallen astern, hunting their early evening supper and not particularly interested in us, with the sun now lowering over Brixham, we gybed. Heading back towards the harbour, we crossed just ahead of another yacht heading in from the headland and over towards Torquay, sails elegantly goosed wing on wing, and then followed the restored 127 year old Brixham Trawler "Pilgrim of Brixham" as she made her way back into harbour ahead of us.

The engine started beautifully on command, and dropping the sails was simple and quick in such light conditions. I'm still not convinced by the whole roller-boom arrangement with the main, especially with regards to the reefing options and the way it'll undoubtedly compromise the kicker, but with somebody tailing the main halyard from the cockpit as I wound the sail back onto the boom from the mast, dropping the main was an exceptionally quick, easy and very tidy affair.

So jury remains out.

We put her back into her berth without mishap, a light wind astern pushing us in but presenting no real complication in the shelter of the marina. As I began the final turn I did, briefly, worry I'd left it too late, but careful handling of the throttle kept just enough rudder authority to bring her bow around and bring her in alongside our finger pontoon, with only a brief twitch of astern to bring her to her final stop and let Mark step off and secure the stern spring.

As the last of the light faded, we secured her lines and made her safe, putting the cockpit tent back up and reconnecting the shore power, then headed into town for supper at a very nice harbour-side restaurant "Simply Fish", just across the road from the pub where we'd spent the evening before. I had the fish soup, which was delicious, but the plain old battered cod and chips that Mark and Amanda both went for looked absolutely magnificent.

The following morning dawned bright, sunny and calm, leaving me to wonder if, perhaps, I'd misjudged the forecast. Then at 1030, the rain settled in, thick and intransigent. The drive home that afternoon was uneventful, but the road conditions quite filthy..

Thursday 2 November 2023

under pressure

I was vaguely disturbed twice yesterday evening by an unexpected buzz on my wrist and a message that flashed up on my watch saying "Storm alert". In the five years I've owned this watch I don't think it's ever done that before. 

I checked the settings on the barometer and, apparently, it's set to trigger the alert if the pressure drops 4mb or more in a 3 hour period.

I tried to check the various Brixham webcams first thing this morning, but until a few minutes ago, they were down, presumably as a result of what was essentially the equivalent of a DDoS attack from a collective of concerned boat owners all trying to check on conditions in the harbour.

I did a few minutes ago finally (and briefly) get access to the camera overlooking the marina, and all looks well; as expected, the wind is coming in over the headland, so the sea is blowing out of Torbay rather than into it. So situation pretty much normal, except all the trawlers are, understandably, packed like sardines into their own harbour.

On the home front, the worst of it seems to have blown through overnight, though the day remains grotty outside; about 10°C, persistent rain, grey skies, and a blustery autumnal breeze. Could've been a lovely day for playing with the Laser (albeit with the Radial rigged) on the lake if I didn't have other commitments.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Petrella: accidental selfie

Scrolling back through my photos of the last couple of weeks and this one made me chuckle. It was unintentional; I was trying to catch a quick, surreptitious snap of my wife, Nikki, and my Dad, sat opposite me, enjoying breakfast at a cafĂ© in Brixham overlooking the breakwater, beach and (the then) tranquil waters of Torbay. 

It's an easy mistake: you double click the button on a locked Android phone to open the camera, but once the camera is open, a double click then becomes the shortcut for switching between the rear and front facing cameras. 

We spent five very pleasant days aboard Petrella last week. The weather was too patchy to go anywhere, so we took Lottie down with us and concentrated on the various odd jobs that needed doing rather than taking the chance to sail. 

Lottie is taking to boat life very well. Well, marina life, anyway. She seems perfectly content to be wherever we are. But away from the comforts and convenience of the marina, jury is still out as to how well we'd manage it. We've mastered getting on and off from alongside a pontoon, but I'm not sure how she'd cope with our tender if we didn't have that luxury. Or how the tender would cope with her.

With regards to getting on and off in the marina though, the first couple of days were a struggle. Basically, I'd pick her up and put her over my shoulder when embarking or disembarking. She tolerated it, but didn't enjoy it. And, to be fair, it's an undignified and perilous way to get on and off a boat for a 32kg German Shepherd and her human.

Petrella has a couple of meters of freeboard. And lacking a gate that a lot of the more modern boats of her size have, getting on or off requires climbing over the guard wires, typically using the shroud as a hand hold. And with one hand supporting the dog over my shoulder leaving only one hand for the shroud, by the end of day two it was becoming a little undignified and perilous for me as well.

The answer was obvious. I released the lower of the two guard wires, and once out of the way, Lottie was able to hope on and off under the top wire without any difficulty. So I need to be able to tension and secure the lower guard wire when we're at sea and underway, but need to come up with some kind of system where I can easily relax and release it when we're in the marina.

Five days in Brixham gave us plenty of time to get a few other jobs done on the boat. We removed and replaced a rusted, seized shackle at the foot of the mast that's the fixing point for the kicker. That required judicious use of the Dremel to grind through it. We also drilled a hole through the anchor that let us then pin it with a 10mm drop-nose pin securely on the bow roller, where it was previously only lashed. That also has the advantage of now keeping the tip of the 20kg Rocna a few mm clear of the bow, where before it was actually connecting and damaging the gel coat.

We also re-fitted the handle of the oven door, a "five minute job" that, unsurprisingly, kept Dad busy and entertained for the best part of a morning and afternoon. And we now have a pocket for a winch handle fitted in the cockpit. We also had the chance to have an engineer give the engine a once over. We're satisfied that the coolant warning light we saw previously was a consequence of my misconfiguring the batteries, and the shudder when we change transmission is perfectly normal; it's just the drive plate engaging.

Other than that, the engine runs sweet and was given a clean bill of health. We are going to get her booked in for a service, however.

Petrella: pretty colours

Just had a call from Dad, worrying about the boat and the forecast for the week. It's one of those weeks when I'm very happy she's in a marina, both for the shelter and the fact that you know somebody will be keeping an eye on things. Weather, of which there is a lot of at the moment, looks like it's going to peak late Wednesday, early Thursday. Happily, the wind direction all stays in the south and west, so we should get plenty of cover from the headland and breakwater.

I was going to race the Albacore with Amanda at South Cerney this weekend coming, then head back down to Brixham the following weekend; Dad will be away, but my mate Mark and our mutual friend (another) Amanda are around, so I'll have crew and the possibility of a sail, if the weather looks kind once all this muck blows through.

My ambition is to get to the point where I'm perfectly happy taking Petrella in and out of her berth single-handed. But for now, if the offer of crew is available, I'd be silly not to take advantage of it.

Complete aside; last week I watched an elderly gentleman shortening up lines and preparing a spring on his gorgeous 37' Hallberg-Rassy, berthed opposite us. A shock of white hair and that careful, considered posture and gait that comes from, well, long experience, I'd guess he was Dad's age, or a little bit older, and of similar mobility. I offered to hold a line for him if it was of any help, though observed he was obviously very practiced and clearly had everything under control. He cheerfully declined, as I expected he would, saying he always sailed single-handed and had done this a thousand times before.

So I just watched as he powered gently ahead on an aft spring set up from his midships cleat to the cleat on the end of the the finger pontoon, and released his bow and stern lines. The boat held snug to the pontoon against the spring.

Then he clicked the gear into neutral to take the weight off the spring, lifted the spring off the pontoon cleat and went astern to back out of his berth. All text-book and beautifully done. I did compulsively think "cheat" as I heard the buzz of a bow-thruster briefly engaged to correct the drift of his bow towards his neighbour caused, I guess, from the initial prop-walk, but in fairness, it was a perfect demonstration of how much and how to to use a bow thruster if you happen to have the advantage of one.

Anyway, I am planning to race at the Lake this Sunday coming, but if the weather's really rotten I might instead take a trip down to Brixham with Lottie just to check on Petrella.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Petrella: Webcam

A day for sitting ashore wishing you could be out there, rather than out there wishing you could be safe ashore. To my delight, have found a webcam overlooking Brixham Marina. I can actually see Petrella when it pans to the marina view. The lateral pontoons are assigned A, B, C, D, etc. Berth numbering is from right to left. We're on D09.

 Sea Tang Guest House Webcam

Monday 16 October 2023

Petrella: First date

It would have been Mum's 75th birthday yesterday. It passed unremarked, although she is obviously not unremembered. Dad and I went sailing. 

We were joined by our mate, Mark Wiltshire, back from his travels around Turkey and Greece with the yacht "Amore", the lovely Hans 415 that I spent four weeks on with him last year. Aside from the pleasure of catching up with him and the obvious advantage of having an extra set of able bodied hands to handle lines, a pleasant forecast and an old friend aboard made it very hard to find any further excuse not to finally slip Petrella's lines and take her out for our first sail.

So we did just that. 

Dad and I arrived in Brixham for 0930 Sunday morning, having enjoyed an easy trip down of about two and a half hours to reach the boat. Mark joined us not much after that, and we all adjourned to the nearby beachside Breakwater Coffee Shop for breakfast.

A northerly 9 knots was forecast, with broken sunshine and and around 11°C, so we anticipated a bit of a chilly afternoon. But the cloud was slow to fill in, so the day felt surprisingly warm in the autumnal sunshine.

After a lazy start, showing Mark around the boat and catching up on things, we slipped our lines a little before 1300. As I backed her gently out of the berth, the wind and prop-walk conspired to push us towards our neighbour, so Dad stood by with a spare fender, just in case.

At the helm, I felt the slightest tickle of nerves as she pulled out of her berth and her bows finally cleared; although there was never less than half a foot between our hull and the boat next to us. I took her back down the aisle astern, unsure if the breeze and prop-walk would let me turn her to face bows out in the space available. Once out into the fairway, it was a simple enough manoeuvre to then turn her around in the extra clear space we found there then nose out of the marina's exit

Out into the main harbour, Mark pulled in the fenders and stowed our lines as I guided Petrella down towards the end of the breakwater and the bay beyond.

Clear of Brixham, we turned head to wind. Mark briefly took over the helm to hold her steady whilst I made my way to the mast to haul up the mainsail. The sail went up quickly and painlessly. We had a bit of initial trouble setting the main when I mistook the spinnaker halyard for the topping lift, but once I'd realised my mistake and released the right line, the sail set beautifully. By 1315, we'd stilled the engine and were under sail.

Beneath the lightly hazed sky, the blue waters of Torbay glittered, a small swell ruffled by the light wind pushing in over the far shore. We were set more or less close hauled on a starboard tack. I'd misjudged the position of the fairleads, leaving the working fairlead set much to far forward, so our progress and ability to point was hampered by a headsail with too much body and too tight a leech, but I set the starboard fairlead all the way back in anticipation of correcting the problem when we finally tacked.

With 7 or 8 knots of wind, Petrella tickled along quite happily at around two and a half knots. In such light air we'd have needed the engine if we'd wanted to get anywhere in any reasonable time, but with no aim other than to sail and no destination in mind we were perfectly content.

Actually, more than that. I don't think Dad stopped grinning once.

Approaching Torquay, we tacked before we lost all wind in the shadow of the windward shore. I took the easy job at the helm, Dad released the port jib sheets as we passed through the wind, and Mark hauled in on the new working sheet to starboard then Dad tailing the sheet for him as he ground in the last of the headsail on the winch to set us on our new tack.

One day I might replace the old traditional winches with a pair of self-tailing winches. But second hand on eBay a pair are sitting with a current bid of £800, and new they cost over £1k each. So it's not a priority for the near future.

I thought converting the rolling boom to slab reefing might be, but jury's currently out on that one, too.

Now pointing out to sea, with clearer air the breeze picked up by a knot or two. With her headsail now set properly, with 10 knots of wind she occasionally touched 4.5 knots of speed over the ground, making easy work of the light chop in the bay.

A little before 1500, now closing back in on the Brixham shore, we furled the headsail, restarted the engine and turned her head to wind to lower the main. The mainsail came down neatly and easily as I rolled the boom with the winch handle, feeding the halyard over the winch drum to control the speed of the fall. I'm still not convinced we will keep the arrangement, but can easily see why all three generations of past owners were so fond of it.

Back at the helm, boat under power, we approached the end of Brixham's breakwater. As Mark set about deploying the fenders, I knocked the engine down to tick-over to make life a little easier for him as he scrambled about the deck. A few moments later, an engine alarm sounded.

Knocking the engine in to neutral, I checked the LCD on the engine panel, and could see what looked like a coolant heating warning showing. I silenced the alarm. The temperature gauge wasn't showing anything of concern, so I double checked the exhaust was still spitting out water, and Dad went below to check the engine. Nothing felt or smelt like it was overheating below or in the engine compartment.

After a minute or two in neutral, the warning on the LCD cleared. So we re-engaged the engine and motored in behind the shelter of the breakwater, whilst Mark returned to deploying the fenders and setting the lines.

Approaching the marina entrance, I again knocked the engine back to tick-over, waiting for traffic from the fishing harbour to clear ahead. Again, the alarm went off, again the LCD showed a problem with the coolant system. Again, I silenced the alarm, drifted in neutral for a few minutes, and again the warning cleared.

We proceeded into the marina, and weren't troubled by the alarm again. There was a slight breeze blowing down the causeway, pushing us off our finger pontoon, so on the final approach to our berth, I left the turn in a little late, expecting the wind to have more effect than it actually did, and very much not wanting to bump our neighbour.

That left me without enough space for the turn, so I took some way off by kicking the engine astern, whilst the momentum of the boat continued to carry her on through her turn. As the turning movement began to slow, I slipped her back into neutral and then nudged gently her ahead again, Mark up on the side deck confirming what I'd already guessed, that my line was now good. She slid to almost a complete stop as we came into our berth, Mark stepping off onto the finger and securing the midships spring around the end cleat, giving me something to power against to hold her in whilst we secured the rest of our lines.

And so our maiden sail with Petrella was done; a short but very lovely trip of 6.6 nautical miles out across Torbay and back, over 2 hours and 34 minutes. Petrella is now absolutely, irrevocably ours.

The electrics on Petrella are a little different to Calstar. Our previous boat had a domestic battery and an engine battery, both separately isolated by individual switches and independent from each other.

Petrella has three domestic batteries and one engine battery, both systems with their individual isolators, but with a third isolator switch labelled "cross bank" that connects the two systems together. When the domestic isolator switch is horizontal, the system is off. When it's up, then the system is on. By contrast, when the engine isolator is down, the system is off, when it's horizontal the system is on.

Tidying up after having secured Petrella in her berth, I went below to switch the engine battery off, and found it already isolated. It seems that when I switched the battery on prior to starting the engine before leaving, I somehow, inadvertently switched the engine battery off, but switched the cross bank on, connecting the domestic batteries to the engine circuit.

A stupid, stupid mistake. And not one I intend to make again.

With the domestic batteries connected, the engine started despite no engine battery being in the loop. But I wonder if, in not having its own dedicated battery, and therefore having to share the load of the engine with the demands of the navigation systems off the same circuit, the engine couldn't draw or generate enough power in tick-over to keep the coolant at the required temperature, and therefore triggered the warnings?

In any case, there is also a bit of a shudder when moving between the engine transmission states (neutral to dead slow, dead slow to ahead and vice versa, and likewise neutral to astern) which neither Dad nor I nor Mark particularly liked, so we're going to find somebody to look at it for us and at the same time double-check and service the engine. It's not something I really want to take chances with.

But that was just a very small dent in an otherwise perfect day.

Friday 13 October 2023

Albacore: spot yourself?

photo: mark barrett

I received a message from my friend, Nicola, on Monday, with the above photo attached and the question "Can you spot yourself?"

Her husband, Mark, is a pilot (I can't remember for which airline) and took the above as he was passing at 1240 on Sunday afternoon. Which would've been about the time Nicola was trying to take Amanda and me out in our Albacore by crashing through the start line on port in her RS Aero. 

photo: rob caston

It was definitely one of those "How on earth did she get into that situation?" moments.

The winds were light and, other than a dent to our collective pride, no damage was done. It put a bit of a hiccup into the start of our race, but the Albacore sails well in light air and we went on to take a joint third place with one of the Solos, out of a fleet of eighteen. 

photo: rob caston

A fair start to the winter's Frostbite series.