Friday 28 April 2023

Laser: Wednesday Hotdog

It occurred to me that with all the "motorboating" that seems to be going on at the moment, I should perhaps mention that I am still getting a bit of sailing in.

This Wednesday evening last the conditions were significantly lighter that the week before. The wind was in an awkward direction, blowing onto the lake over the clubhouse, so as well as being light, it was also very shifty. Which was both an advantage and a peril, depending upon how you played it. And how it played you.

The Race Officer ran proceedings from the shore, not unusual for a Wednesday night, so that set us up with a reaching start on port down the length of the lake to a starboard rounding at the gybe mark. Which made for a fair bit of confusion on the start line, but conditions were benign and the fleet well behaved so everything went off without mishap.

I managed to win some reasonably clear air for the long fetch down to the first mark, so rounded with the front of the fleet, albeit needing to give room to the bulk of a Wayfarer gybing around the mark inside of me. The first gybe was followed by a reach across the width of lake before finally rounding up on to the beat back.

Which compensated for the long, slow drag down, as the convergence where the wind effectively wrapped around the clubhouse made for some interesting choices that either paid off or punished, so split the fleet out nicely over the first lap and left me out in front and hounded by Andy and Joan in their Graduate and Camilla in her Aero, the three of us chasing chasing Burt who'd broke out to lead the fleet with his OK. And it pretty much was for the rest of the race.

Out of the fleet of twenty-four boats that started I finished fourth on the water, seconds behind the Graduate, but took 3rd place after the times were adjusted for handicap (albeit still behind the Grad, who took 2nd).

Mary-L: deliverance

The coming weekend is a bank holiday, which means we all get to take Monday off work. I say "we all" but, of course, I generalise. I mean those of us in regular 9-5 jobs. For plenty of others, my wife include as she works in retail, Monday will just be another day of the week.

I don't know that that's fair, but life so rarely is.

A friend of mine who also works in retail but is getting Monday off anyway is taking advantage of the three day holiday to try and move his boat, a 25' yacht called "Mary-L", from Portishead, down along and around the corner to the south coast. He has a mooring reserved on the Dart, but if we can get her to Newlyn or, even better, Falmouth, then he can do the rest himself easily over another weekend or two.

The weather for the weekend looks to be quite settled (the image above is for Lands End) and the neap tide on Saturday is, by Bristol Channel standards, very small (a range of only 3.8m) so it should be a long but very routine slog of a delivery under engine. I am hoping we'll get some sailing in, especially once the wind turns on Sunday, but the main priority is to cover as much ground as possible.

The plan is to leave Portishead at midnight tonight, use the ebb tide to get us down to through the Holmes and on to Minehead, then assess how the crew and boat are doing as the tide turns against us. Then we either push on if we're happy and still making way, or anchor off Minehead and await the next tide.

On paper, the neap tide is so slight it shouldn't really be an impediment this weekend. But that's on paper and this is, after all, the Bristol Channel. So we mean to take a conservative approach and see how it goes.

Opt-outs if anything unexpected comes up are to turn back to Cardiff, divert to Swansea. or put in at Padstow. There is still a lot of ground to cover after Padstow, but once we've passed there, the only option we have if we can't push forward is to turn back.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Freefall: don't shoot the pianist

Saturday night's gig down in Bristol was brilliant as usual, leaving aside the fact that I got accosted in the gent's at half time by a drunken old man who, I'm guessing, had mistaken me for somebody else.

The thing about playing in a band; you can often play some quite interesting venues in some quite thematic parts of town where, on a Saturday night, there can sometimes, and very rarely, be a bit of rough and tumble. But, whilst I hesitate to tempt fate with never, it hardly ever, ever targets the band. There's a kind of unspoken consensus amongst even the most sodden of drunks and inebriate and intemperate bar flies that you just don't shoot the pianist.

That said, Saturday's venue wasn't one of these places. It's one of my favourite Bristolian haunts. The sort of place I'd take my gran to. Or would, if she hadn't passed away some twenty odd years ago. It's the sort of place where you walk in to be greeted by a warm smile and friendly welcome that makes you immediately feel you've found a home from home.

Anyway, I say he was old; by that I mean he was clearly older than me, but these days it's hard to tell. He was certainly bigger than me which always puts an edge on things, but being obviously drunk and, I would guess, in his 60's, I figured that didn't count for too much.

After asking if I knew some woman (I initially assumed he was asking if I knew a song, but it was hard to tell as his words were quite slurred) and disbelieving me when I said sorry but no, he said yes you do and shoved me against the wall, which was awkward as I had my hands full at the time. 

It was such a drunken, ineffectual shove that I assumed it was just an inebriated stumble, so, once my hands were free, I steadied him up and politely asked him to mind himself. But my brother had come in behind him and, picking up on the tail of the conversation, recognised the implied threat, so reiterated to the guy that he had the wrong person. The man quickly backed down and left the toilets.

Only to confront me in the bar when I followed out a few minutes later. He angrily accused me of having had a "relationship" with some woman (I seriously couldn't catch the name, but discretion would forbid me from repeating it anyway) and refused to believe my continued, patient and polite denials to his increasingly heated accusations.

He concluded with "Go on and finish your next set, but after I'm going to do you in" which I thought was a little arrogant to say the least, as he clearly felt entitled to another hour's worth of entertainment before finishing what he'd quite obviously specifically set out to do that night.

He spent the second half looming over by the bar, quite visible at the back of the crowd due to his height, spacing his efforts between glaring at me, videoing the show and vigorously typing into his mobile phone. Which I have to admire, because after I've had a few drinks I find it very hard to type anything coherent into a message. Yet he seemed to be doing it in the middle of a very crowded, very lively pub. 

Of course, I only assume that what he was typing was coherent. I'm guessing it was along the lines of "this the guy?" to accompany the videos he was posting.

As I said though, it was otherwise a brilliant gig. The band played well and the crowd, packed full of friendly and familiar faces were lively, enthusiastic and noisy in their appreciation. Out friend Leah, who often stands in on drums for us, even drove down from Cheltenham with her fiancé to surprise us. We had a really great time.

And once the set was over, my new friend over by the bar staggered to the door and disappeared off into the night.

There are lots of bands that play around Bristol. There was, at one point, even one that had taken the same name as us (though we had it first by the best part of a decade) and, for a while a few years before the pandemic, caused some confusion, with their people turning up to our gigs and our people turning up to theirs. But whether they're still going, I don't know. I've not heard of them for some years now.

I'm guessing the front man of one of these bands, perhaps another Freefall, has had a relationship with somebody close to the gentleman (a daughter or granddaughter, maybe?)  and that it has tragically gone sour. So the man is out and about seeking some kind of retribution. 

My deepest sympathies to the lady in question, but I truly hope he doesn't find what he's looking for. For both his sake, and that of everybody else involved in what seems to be a very sad, sorry affair.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Laser: ill judged machismo

Now we're back into daylight saving and the evenings are drawing out, the Wednesday evening Hotdog series has started again at South Cerney Sailing Club. Over the winter, I've been racing the Albacore with Amanda; we're going to carry on doing that for the Sunday races across the summer, but we're going to individually race our Lasers on Wednesday evenings. 

The forecast was for 15 knots gusting 24 from the north east. I prevaricated all afternoon as to which sail to use. In anything over 20 knots I'm hopelessly overpowered with the Laser's Standard rig, but anything less than 15 and the smaller Radial rig is too dull.

So I took both sails to the club with me and resolved to decide once I was stood on the shore. Forecasts so often over promise the wind you're actually going to get.

And so I found myself stood on the gravel beach, not looking out over the water to judge the gusts, but watching the other Lasers beginning to rig. Ben's rigging his Radial, Suzi has her Radial, there's another Radial and another; ah, there's Kean and Sam, both rigging their Standard sails. That's it then, I can't rig a Radial if they're sailing Sandards. All the Radial sailors are youngsters or women, or both. I'm obviously neither.

I understand the wisdom of reefing early. But wisdom and understanding are two different things. I realised my mistake almost as soon as I put out from shore and the first gust hit. But it's too late to change your mind once you're on the water.

There were 23 boats on the starting line. The first start was pandemonium, a big gust bringing a significant lift and hitting in the finally seconds, driving half the fleet over the line too early. A general recall was triggered from the committee boat, and we all came back to try again.

The restart was a much more ordered affair, and I managed to pick and hold my spot on the starboard end of the line next to the committee boat, guarding just enough space to leeward to give me room to accelerate.

Aside from a slight collision with an Aero barging in and tacking in my water at the windward mark (women drivers!) the first lap went well. It was a good, long beat up to 6 which separated the fleet out nicely, followed by a bit of a tight fetch up to 5, an easy gybe in the shelter of the windward shore and a run up to 4. The broad reach which then followed down the length of the lake to 2 was exhilarating, as was the high speed gybe that followed, then another, slightly closer reach back across to 3, to finally harden back up onto the beat for the second lap.

Which is when my decision to not rig my Radial first bit me. Approaching the mark, just on the tail of the two leading boats (one being the Aero that had earlier hit me), I pulled on the controls ready for the mark rounding and then hiked out as I hardened up sharply around the buoy. Or that's what I thought I was doing.

And a gust flattened me. The boat was heeled too far before I had time to spill the wind, the boom trapped against the water and over she went. I rolled the other way, flipping back over the windward gunwale to land, fortuitously if not too gracefully, on the dagger-board. As I began to right the boat, Sam rounded the mark and sailed on past, calling out a cheerful "Unlucky!" as he went, which I'm sure was earnestly intended.

It was a quick recovery but still allowed the bulk of the middle of the fleet to follow Sam past, leaving me with the rest of the lap to claw my way back through them. Onto the beat for the third lap, I was hiked out hard for a gust, sail spilling the excess wind, boat staying lovely and flat and moving fast, when the gust blew through and the wind simply stopped. 

Before I could move my weight back in, the boat was falling back on top of me. I tried to pump the sail as I let the water take my weight through my buoyancy aid, but I'd flattened the sail so much to cope with the heavy weather that there was no power in it.

I can at least say the water is now warming up. Pushing myself out from under the sail and untangling my feet from the mainsheet, I swam around the boat to grab the dagger-board in time to stop her from inverting and set about the recovery as everybody else sailed on past. Again.

The lull that had dropped me in the water was only fleeting, and rather than conditions easing as dusk approached, the gusts became more brutal and sustained. On the last lap, one of them picked me up just as we rounded 4 for the long reach across to 2, the boat singing like a TIE fighter as we screamed across the water in a ball of spray and adrenaline. I could see Sam was now the next boat ahead, by half the length of the leg. 

He gybed around 2, still in the grip of the gust, and got flattened. I briefly entertained the thought of going wide to avoid him, but decided there was room between his capsized Laser and the mark, so went for it myself, my boat moving fast as we turned and I flicked the sail. 

It was a good gybe. We stayed flat, didn't oversteer, and hiked out hard as the sailed powered up on the opposite side. As we shot past Sam, busy working to right his own capsized dinghy, I called out a cheerful "Unlucky!", earnestly intended.

I finished 10th after handicap, which isn't the best start to the series, but better than I deserved. I should've rigged the Radial, but signed on with the Standard handicap, which I now know was an option, but hadn't realised at the time. But I had some stupid fun moments, especially on the reaches, where we topped out at 11.5 knots, which is entertaining when you're sailing along with your backside mere inches from the surface of the water.

The Safety Boat was kept very busy, with a second boat and crew conscripted to assist as there were so many people in the water rather than on it. Of the 23 boats that started, 4 didn't finish. Of the Laser fleet, I finished 3rd, soundly beaten by half a minute on adjusted time a youngster in a 4.7 (the smallest of the Laser's three optional rigs) and young Ben with his Radial by close to a minute and a half.

I have some catching up to do. Which is fine, it's a long, long series ahead of us.

Monday 17 April 2023

Calstar: motorboating

It's been a fallow couple of months or so for this journal, it seems. It's explicitly not a "sailing blog" but simply an online diary where I can muse above the events in my life that have interested me. But I think I'm more inspired to write when sailing is involved, and there hasn't been that much so far this year.

I could say it's been a combination of being very busy with family and the band, and the weather being generally uncooperative. But that does feel somewhat like I'm just making excuses. Although we did have seven gigs in March and have had three family so far birthdays in April (my own, my wife's and Lottie's) so the excuse isn't entirely without substance.

But, finally, opportunity and weather chanced to collide at last; Dad and I snuck off to the boat this weekend just gone, and took Calstar over to Cardiff and back.

A bit more wind would've been nice, but it wasn't too cold, and the rain we had coming back on Sunday was relatively light and brief.

Saturday was a neap tide, so conscious that our mast lights (which include the steaming light) aren't working at the moment, we left just before dawn on the morning tide (attaching a temporary steaming light to the spinnaker loop on the front of the mast), locking out of Portishead at 0530 in the company of another Westerly yacht who told us they were bound for Swansea.

The only wind we had was our own apparent dead on the nose, so we didn't trouble with the sails, instead giving the engine a good run. The almost cloudless sky made for a pretty quality of light as dawn approached but a not terribly inspiring sunrise as Portishead fell away astern.

I like being on the water in any form, but compared to sailing, "motorboating" is a little dull. When the wind is blowing and the sails are up, you are constantly aware of the situation and continuously making decisions that affect the passage and safety of the boat.

With the engine running for the 17 miles to Cardiff, aside from deciding when to put the kettle on, I think I made three: alter course 10° to port to avoid the Welsh Hook cardinal buoy, alter course 10° to starboard to avoid the South Middle Grounds lateral buoy, and finally, deciding when to put the fenders out and set the lines in preparation for arriving at Cardiff.

Which isn't to suggest for a moment that I was bored. There is something magical about standing in the cockpit of a boat at sea, mug of steaming tea in hand, watching the sun rise over the receding land.

The passage back to Portishead on Sunday was a far more relaxed start. A very good full English (okay, I guess, technically, Welsh) breakfast at a marina-side café called "The Galley" in Penarth, followed by an 1130 cast off to make the 1200 lock-out through the Barrage.

We shared the lock down with a gorgeous Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter called "Peggy" and a very confused swan that had followed us both into the lock. I fed him a few Ritz crackers by way of consolation. Not exactly health food for the guy, but then the bacon and black pudding I'd had for my breakfast fry-up hadn't been for me. It doesn't hurt to indulge a guilty pleasure every once in a while.

Out into the Wrack Channel and heading for open water, the little wind there was was right on our nose, so I took the chance to raise the mainsail. But out in to open water, as expected, there wasn't enough to use, so the first ninety minutes of our passage home saw us motor-sailing under the main.

The sky was overcast and leaden, threatening rain, and the sea almost mirror flat.

Once across the channel and approaching the Bristol Deep off of Clevedon town, I noticed the wind finally move off our nose and onto our starboard bow. We unfurled the genoa, cut the engine, and, finally, we began to sail. 

It doesn't seem to matter whether it's a drift or a full-throated blow, but that moment of silence as the engine goes still and the sails fill is always an intoxicating blend of the exhilarating and sublime. 

Turning to run along the Somerset coast and up the Kings Road on the final stretch towards Portishead, the wind moved further back onto our aft shoulder, so we rolled the genoa away, rigged some lines and launched the cruising chute for another very pleasant forty minutes or so. The threatened rain did set in with the slight increase in wind, but, already wearing my waterproofs for their warmth, it was easy enough to ignore.

Arrival back at Portishead was uneventful, other than some frantic shouting, waving and dancing from an angler on the breakwater's head who had his fishing line cast out across our approach. It was both calm and a neap tide, so with not much force in the flow of water, taking a wider than usual angle on our approach to avoid him was simple enough. There was plenty of water and a rising tide over the mudbank at the entrance, so it wasn't in anyway a problem. But when conditions aren't quite so benign, it often can be.

I generally like to coexist with a live and let live approach, although I suppose I am secretly on the side of the fish (I just can't help rooting for the underdog in most circumstances, although I have no scruples against eating them) but I sometimes find it very hard to not get frustrated when tide and weather give us very narrow margins of approach to our safe harbour and somebody decides to obstruct it with a fishing line.

So 35.5 nautical miles covered from Portishead to Penarth in Cardiff Bay and back over the weekend, just shy of eight hours underway, with about ninety minutes of actual sailing. It was very good to be back aboard Calstar with Dad and out on the Bristol Channel again.