Saturday 15 July 2023


So tomorrow I predict another Radial day on the Lake. On the brightside, the boat is already set up for it, which saves all of about 10 minutes of rigging. And on the even brighter side, it's a "Club Trophy" race so not part of a larger series. Which means I can sign in and race under the Radial's actual handicap.

All I have to do is get up in the morning, which might not be that easy as tonight's gig is a ninety minute drive away in a village called Midsomer Norton on the other side of Bath, so I'm not likely to be home tonight much before 0300.

It's a tough life, never growing up.

Friday 14 July 2023

Laser: Wednesday rinse and repeat

This Wednesday was another "couldn't decide which rig to use" evening at the Lake, but this time at least I remembered to take all my sailing kit with me. The forecast was only around 13 knots, and dropping as the evening wore on, but gusts were predicted up into the early 20's. 

photo: william gardiner

As I was getting the boat out to rig, the "gusts" seemed pretty much continuous, serried rows of little white capped wavelets dancing down the fetch of the lake to where I was looking out from the lee shore. I rigged the Radial again.

photo: william gardiner

It was the right choice. The lulls between the gusts were more the exception than the rule.

I made a mess of my start. I misread the line as having more port bias than it actually did, so chickened out of holding my position up by the committee boat early, sacrificing height and position to bear away to pick up speed down the line in the final seconds before the go, getting myself stuck out at the pin end. 

photo: william gardiner

Kean, the only sailor with a full Standard rigged Laser, punished me for it, stealing the lead off me and beating me easily around the windward mark. I kept nipping at his heels despite my smaller rig, but he kept his lead persistently over the next couple of laps, whilst I ducked variously between him and Gary who was being a friendly nuisance but clearly having fun in his RS200.

Monty, this season's junior nemesis in his own Laser Radial, seemed to have fallen safely behind, tangled with Ian and his Solo.

photo: william gardiner

It was a great course and fantastic sailing. A couple of challenging beats to split up the fleet, spaced by two exhilarating reaches and a potential dead  run along with a couple of gybe marks to spice up the entertainment. The little Laser screamed along, the log later showing we often touched just short of 11 knots, which is stupidly good fun when your boat only has about six inches of freeboard.

Still tangled up with a terribly persistent Gary, I rounded the final mark into the last lap just as a big gust came through, Kean was still just ahead, but Gary just astern to windward and bearing down on me, leaving me no room or option to tack despite the gust bringing an obvious header with it. 

photo: william gardiner

I held my course until Gary tacked and cleared, but could see the gust had brought the rest of the fleet down fast behind us, and the foremost of them had tacked directly after the mark, making the most of the lift we'd missed.

I tacked, still in heavy wind, and saw Kean ahead and to windward do the same, but get suddenly into some kind of trouble, stuck head to wind with his sail flogging. I hiked out hard and sped away, cackling gleefully to myself, with hardly the time to wonder if he'd had some sort of gear failure or had just got caught out by the gust mid-tack.

photo: william gardiner

And Monty appeared, crossing just astern of me on starboard, looking inanely pleased with himself for catching us up. It was there I should've tacked and covered him, but I pressed on. At this point it would've made little difference to my result as he was sailing on his proper handicap but I was still carrying the handicap for my Standard rig respite sailing with my Radial. 

But it might've saved me the indignity of being beat on the water by him again.

Tacking to lay the windward mark, my mistake was realised, and Monty charged in just ahead of me but clear on port. I spent the rest of the lap trying to chase him down and almost had him on the second beat, but failed to keep clear as we bore away around the windward mark, my mainsheet just tapping the bow of his boat to leeward.

By the time I'd completed my penalty turns, he'd stolen a safe lead on me, rounding the bottom mark and crossing the finish line a clear 24 seconds ahead, leaving me with an ignominious 2nd place finish in the Laser fleet and a 4th place overall in the general handicap.

But with a smile on my face. The sailing has been fantastic. Whilst everybody else sailed in to head to the bar, I stayed out for another ten minutes or so just for the sake of it, reaching back and forth in the last of the now fading gusts, playing on the water, looking out for the perfect angle for a fast plane.

I couldn't help but reflect how lucky I am to have this. A fresh breeze and clean, open water beneath a moody sky that glowered with storm-threatening clouds lit by the amber light of the sinking sun. It had been a good race, adrenaline fuelled and challenging from start to finish.

But sometimes it's nice just to sail.

Calstar: a Cardiff weekend

Last Friday was a strange serendipity. We'd had a gig booked the diary for months, yet after last Saturday's gig, Jay (my brother, our bassist) mentioned that Matt (our guitarist and adopted brother) had told him that he was away this weekend, had told me, so wasn't playing any Friday gig.

Which would've been the second diary catastrophe he's had this year. Unusual, out of character, but stupidly infuriating. I went to bed that Saturday night (well, early hours Sunday morning) angry, to say the least. Woke up Sunday morning, decided I'd go sailing before confronting him and dealing with the problem.

In between races, I had a text message from the Friday venue's contact, apologising profusely, but explaining he'd double booked us so they'd have to cancel. He promised he'd make it up to us with next year's bookings. Bemused at such a turn of luck, I gracefully accepted the cancellation, and perhaps failed to mention that he'd only just beaten me to the punch with the cancellation.

Later on, finally talking to Matt, he explained that he'd got himself in a muddle talking to Jamie, and once he'd got home that night had checked his diary, realised that the gig had been written in for ages (in his wife's handwriting) so he wasn't going away for the rest of the weekend with his family until after the gig had been done.

I told him the gig had already been cancelled. And, despite the temptation to hold the details back, did eventually explain to him why, and that it wasn't his fault.

Somethings are meant to be. Somethings are clearly not.

All this is merely prelude, however. With the gig cancelled, I took a look at the forecast for the weekend. Friday was gorgeous: clear skies, wind F3 to 4 from south of south-east, temperature in the mid-20's. Saturday's forecast was squally rain and generally quite horrid. Sunday was grey, a little cooler but with Saturday's squalls blown through, leaving a light breeze still south of south-east, and the possibility of showers but not until the afternoon.

Friday 7th : Portishead to Cardiff
(18.8 nautical miles, 3 hours 55 minutes underway)

The Bristol Channel Cruising Association was holding a rally on Mermaid Quay in Cardiff over the weekend, alongside an "International Food and Drinks Festival" being held by the town on shore. Dad had mentioned an interest in going; the conditions looked so very tempting, so I booked Friday off work and Dad booked a 1300 lock that would take us down channel with the Friday afternoon ebb.

Friday morning was fraught and rushed, a dentist appointment at 0900 followed by an unexpected trip to the vet with Lottie for 1000, a critical visit but nothing serious. But all ran to the clock, and with dentist and vet done I was on the road with Dad and heading down to the marina for a little after 1100.

By 1250 we'd been aboard an hour already, the boat set up to depart, and were casting off for our 1300 lock. The sun was bright above, the day lovely and warm. Nudging out of the lock gates to join the falling tide at 1315, we found the estuary waters barely ruffled by a fresh breeze coming fine off the land. Within ten minutes, the engine was stilled and the sails up, the first reef in the main and a couple of conservative rolls left in the genoa.

We were heeled over, close hauled to port, Welsh Hook a little under a mile ahead of us, making 8.5 knots over the ground with the running tide. The breeze was a steady F4, peppered with the occasional gust that heeled us hard over and challenged the autohelm to stop the boat from rounding up into the wind in surrender.

By 1400, we were passing Clevedon, and slacked off onto a beam reach, laying a course for the Welsh shore. The wind had eased a little and, no longer close hauled, Calstar had stiffened up, so I eased the rolls out of the genoa, but left the reef in the main. Despite the lessening wind, we were still covering almost 8 knots over the ground. Except for a single sail far astern of us, perhaps coming down from Thornbury with the tide, the only other company was the dredger Arco Dart, holding stationary against the tide off English Welsh Grounds as she worked at keeping the shipping channel clear.

An hour later, approaching the spoil ground north of the sandbanks that marked the outside of the Cardiff and Penarth Roads, the wind failed completely. As the ground speed dropped to less than a couple of knots, we furled the headsail and started the engine, motor-sailing the last couple of miles under main.

Entering the Wrack Channel that leads up to the Barrage a little before 1600 on the still falling tide, we had less than half a meter of water left under our keels as we felt our way up the channel and into the outer harbour. Barrage Control cleared us in, directing us to lock 2 for 1615. We locked into the bay with the lock entirely to ourselves, and were putting to alongside Mermaid Quay amidst a flotilla of other yachts already moored up half an hour later, a little under 19 nautical miles behind us.

Saturday 8th : Mermaid Quay, Cardiff

Saturday was a pleasant harbour day, wandering about Mermaid Quay, browsing the stalls of the food festival, ducking into a lovely little café for a mug of tea and a still warm, Nutella filled doughnut they'd baked and filled fresh that morning. Dad had an Americano and an equally fresh cheese and onion pasty.

The name of the café on the wall above the shop window read "PORTUGUESE COFFEESHOP" but I can find no other trace of it anywhere on the Internet other than it's image on Google's Streetview. Which is almost as refreshing as that mug of tea in its own, odd way.

Afterwards, we tried to walk up into Cardiff City Centre, about 30 minutes or so from Mermaid Quay, but the afternoon rain set in with earnest intent and so, wet and bedraggled, we abandoned our efforts about half way there and headed back to the shelter of the boat.

That evening we had an early supper at an Italian restaurant, Signor Valentino, overlooking the bay.

Sunday 9th : Cardiff to Portishead
(18.9 nautical miles, 4 hours 35 minutes underway)

Low water Cardiff was at 0607 Sunday morning, so we cast off from Mermaid Quay a little after 0700 and took the 0730 lock out through the Barrage in the company of three other yachts and a charter boat full of keen anglers and their tangle of rods and reels.

Of the other yachts, one was a pretty, green cutter-rigged boat called "Niarbyl" that I recognised from Portishead and the other a single handed yacht who's skipper had cheerily informed us was out of Thornbury. I suspect he was the sail we'd seen astern of us coming down with the tide on Friday.

At 0745 the lock gates opened, disgorging us out into the outer harbour. We followed the Thornbury yacht out, the skipper of Niarbyl courteously inviting us to go ahead. 

In an orderly procession, the five of us made our way down the Wrack Channel and out into open water. the sea was calm, a light breeze blowing towards us from the North Somerset shore. The charter boat's engines roared as she set her course to clear Lavernock Point to the south, leaving the rest of us to raise our sails and set our own northerly course in relative peace and quiet.

We set full sail, and settled onto a close hauled course to starboard, tickling along with the flood tide, covering 4 or 5 knots over the ground, but not quite laying the eastern channel past the still distant sandbanks of the Middle Grounds. With everything so calm, Dad went below to sort out our breakfast; a very welcome mug of tea and a bacon roll. He makes an excellent galley slave.

To leeward, Thornbury held a similar course, slowly pulling ahead. Astern, Niarbyl had set her main, but had clearly elected to motor-sail in the light conditions, heading directly out towards mid-channel, perhaps hoping to find better tide and a kinder angle to ride it back to Portishead.

It was nice, easy sailing. A light but steady wind and a tide that lifted our course as we approached the banks of Middle Ground so that we stood easily clear of the shallows and made the channel of the Bristol Deep off Clevedon without any undue drama or even the need to tack.

The sky was grey with the occasional crease of blue behind the clouds, but not particularly cold and the rain, aside from the merest hint as we made the Kings Road past Clevedon, held off beautifully.

Thornbury pulled inexorably ahead and Niarbyl dropped gradually astern as we made our way up channel. The wind freshened a little with the threat of a shower, but eased shortly after, the threat unrealised.

By 1045 we were off Portishead, engine running and lowering our sails. We locked in at 1100, the lock to ourselves, and a short while after that, with a stop via the fuel berth to top up our tank, we were safely back in our berth, the weekend all but done.

Postscript: Niarbyl, Portishead

We found out later that Niarbyl ran into some drama when she made it back to Portishead herself, and locked in about an hour after us. 

From the Portishead RNLI site:

Just as the volunteers were tidying up and preparing My Lady Anne, your Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat, for service again, a call came in to one of our crew from their daughter. She asked if we were still at the lifeboat station and knowing that the crew are trained in casualty care, she said that a person was laying in the Marina lock next to their sailing vessel and she was concerned for them. 

Just a couple of minutes away by foot, the crew grabbed medical equipment and blankets and made haste directly to the Marina. 

photo: RNLI, Portishead

An ambulance had already been called so the volunteers went through their assessments whilst waiting for them to arrive.  The RNLI volunteers called for support from Avon Fire & Rescue Service so that they could start planning the safest evacuation for the injured man.  The casualty was constantly being assessed and once the Ambulance Service arrived they were able to administer pain relief to help make the casualty more comfortable.  It was then agreed that the safest evacuation would be to use the Fire Service crane.  Once safely away from the lock the crew member was then taken to hospital for further treatment.

It transpired that the skipper's crewmate, whilst they were coming alongside in the lock, slipped and fell off the boat onto the concrete pontoon. Thankfully (all things being relative) what was initially suspected to be a back injury resolved into six broken ribs, some in multiple places.

An awful end to an otherwise fine weekend. I very much wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Dire Straits, Local Hero

Chatting with our neighbour Geoff in Portishead Marina as Dad and I were putting the boat away on Sunday after a weekend's sailing. Talked of various things. He has and his wife have a large 1980's motor cruiser, a Princess, shamefully I forget her name.

Turned out he and his wife live in Downend, Bristol, which led to me mentioning I play in a band and Downend is a regular haunt. Talking of music he mentioned Dire Straits. Which is probably what put them in mind, and probably why I'm listening to them now.

Spotify has just played a live recording of Local Hero, recorded at a concert in Nimes, France in 1993, apparently. My own band would've been in its first year then, I'd have been 22 that year, a complete baby. I'd forgotten how hauntingly beguiling the melody to that song is, carried along so movingly by Mark Knopfler's guitar.

I'm happy to have been reminded.

Monday 10 July 2023

Laser: barefoot prevarication

Couldn’t decide which rig to use with my Laser at South Cerney Wednesday evening last, full sized Standard or the reduced Radial. Forecast was for gusts up into the low 20’s, which are great fun with the Radial but survival conditions for the Standard when you're my size. On the other hand, the average was forecast to be in the low teens, which turn the Radial into a bit of a slow slog. Never used to have this problem when I only had the one rig.

So I prevaricated, I umm’d and ahh’d before setting out, and then loaded both sails into the car, resolved to decide once I got to the lake and could have a look at the conditions first hand.

On getting to South Cerney, I went to grab my kit from the car, thinking I’d get changed before I rigged, and was crushed by the realisation that in all the dithering about which sail to bring, I’d forgotten to bring the bag I'd meticulously packed with my sailing gear.

Rush-hour traffic would’ve meant a 45 minute journey home, so heading back to fetch it wasn’t an option. Instead, my friend Gary leant me a spare wetsuit, my mate Suzie lent me a pair of her shorts (amused to discover that we’re actually the same size) and I “borrowed” a stray buoyancy aid from the lost property. I had my own gloves, as I keep them with my foil bag, so whilst not cutting my usual stylish figure in a hodgepodge collection of begged, borrowed and stolen gear, I was at least kitted out to race. Except for my feet. Lacking any sailing boots, I resolved to sail barefooted.

How bad could it be, I thought?

Well, the water felt almost warm, although the gravel shore was painful underfoot as I launched, but 20+ knots of wind on bare, wet feet turns out to have quite a numbing effect, and by the time the race actually started, I couldn’t feel most of my toes. Which was awkward, as the only way I could make sure they weren't tangled in the mainsheet on the cockpit floor, and they frequently were, was to actually look, and whilst I didn’t capsize despite the entertaining conditions, I did very nearly throw myself overboard as I hiked out to flatten an energetic roll tack in what turned out to be a mistaken assumption that my feet were secure under the toe-straps. 

Evidently, they were not. I only recovered myself and saved the capsize by somehow bouncing off the dagger-board, I’m not entirely sure how. It must have looked acrobatic, but it was pure accident and more than a little good luck that saved me.

Yet it was all great fun. In the end, with the sneaking premonition that my bare feet were probably going to be a vulnerability and that both borrowed wetsuit and (temporarily) stolen buoyancy aid were ill fitting, I’d rigged the Radial. It was a good choice. The gusts were frequent and hard, with more than enough pressure to keep the boat moving up through the challenging beat to windward, and sending us positively flying over the water down the four reaches that zig-zagged back down the course. It was a very wet, very lively evening with some very close racing.

I managed to beat almost all of the other Lasers, despite a couple carrying Standard rigs; all except for one. Monty, one of the Club’s youngsters, in his own Laser Radial, thrashed me convincingly, both on the water and, because I was signed on with my Standard rig despite using my Radial, after handicap. I got close enough that I could’ve stolen the bung out the back of his boat a few times across the course of the race, but never quite managed to slip past. Then, in the last half of the last lap, he found clean air whilst I got tangled up in the back markers as we lapped the fleet, and he shot away, leaving me for dead.

I’m really going to have to up my game, or he’s going to be stealing my Laser trophy at the end of the season.

Thursday 6 July 2023

gardening leave

Time flies when you’re having fun, apparently. Which might explain where the last few weeks have gone. Took the last week of June off work and, rather than going sailing, spent it in the garden, replacing my old garden shed and various other gardening jobs I’ve been putting off for an age. 

Dad, seemingly having nothing better to do, spent the week with me, his help, as ever, totally invaluable. Lottie, who's company was fine but who's help somewhat less valuable, absolutely loved having us both out in the garden all week. 

It did mean though that it was around day 3, which is when we came to fixing the roof on, before I was allowed to actually hold a drill or put a screw in myself. The perils of being an engineer’s son.

Despite being away from boat and water, I really enjoyed spending the week outdoors and working with my hands for a change. And the weather was very kind.