Thursday, 14 September 2017

Spotify: Joan Osborne

Love this album, it is getting me through my morning: Joan Osborne, "Relish"

Calstar: Bristol Channel Passage Planning


When we first took ownership of Calstar, almost three years ago, one of the first things I did was type the subject of this post into Google. As always, Google returned an assortment of gems, but the one I really loved was an annex to the Watchet Boat Owners Association webpage set up and run by a chap called Bob Hitchings. Bob sails a Sadler 26, based (predictably, given his obvious association to the website) out of Watchet. The annex detailed a collection of plans for ten of his favourate passages around and about our mutual sailing area, the Bristol Channel.

Now don't get me wrong, I draw my own plans, my own conclusions, and take my own risks.

However, reading up on what amounted to somebody else's experiences in a similar vessel to ours in the same very sailing area was an inspiration at a time when I was still very new to all this. It gave me something to measure my own plans and expectations against, and gave me ideas for the sort of trips that were within the art of the possible and reasonable to aim for with our own boat. Although Bob's pages were far from my only inspiration or source of wisdom or advice for sailing around here, they did provide a fantastic bedrock on which we've built the last three years of cruising we've so much enjoyed with Calstar. And we've now sailed all but one of the ten passages he describes.


At the beginning of this year I noticed the Passage Planning pages had been taken down, so emailed Bob, only to thank him for posting them in the first place, to express my appreciation and lament their loss. You meet some lovely people on the Internet, and Bob emailed me back pretty promptly to reassure me that he planned at some point to restore the pages.

A summer has gone by, and every once in a while, usually as I'm pondering what next to do with our boat, I have to admit I've missed those pages and Bob's passage plans.

I had an email from him yesterday evening, to let me know the pages had now been restored. I'm absolutely delighted:

www.wboa.co.uk/passages.html

He's also added a link from the Portishead to Sharpness/Gloucester passage to a PBO article he had published in 2013 describing a passage from Watchet up to Gloucester. A trip I've made a couple of times myself now, albeit from Portishead and Cardiff rather than Watchet, which is yet another tide further down the channel. It's well worth a read, the stretch up from Portishead to Sharpness Dock is an absolutely fascinating bit of water.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Calstar: Holms Race 2017


As I think I mentioned earlier, the forecast for Saturday 9th September in the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel was grim at the beginning of the week; Force 5 gusting 7. A spring tide running out against that would add an extra 6 to 7 knots to whatever you already had.

It wasn't looking too promising.

But as the weekend approached, the forecast for the really nasty stuff pushed back to Sunday and Monday, leaving us with a relatively more moderate F4 to 5 expected for Saturday afternoon. 20 knots out in the Bristol Channel isn't to be taken lightly, but we've managed worse.

The last time we sailed the race in 2015, we took 21st place out of 39 boats finishing (so not counting the retirements, a couple of which were in quite dramatic style), completing the 42 nautical mile course in 6 hours and 11 minutes. My only real ambition for the race this year was to not break anything and improve on that.


Saturday morning's HW was 0955 in Portishead, the start-line opened from 1100. The Holms Race is an unusual format. A simple course: the start-line is between the Portishead Yacht & Sailing Club in Kilkenny Bay and the southern tip of Denny Island, the North West Elbow cardinal mark nine miles down channel is taken to port, the island of Flat Holm to port, the island of Steep Holm to port, then back up to North West Elbow again but this time to starboard and finally back to cross the finish line off the PYSC clubhouse in Kilkenny bay.

All the boats competing pick their own start time from any time after the start-line opens until it closes at low water. The idea is to time your start to the performance of your particular boat so that you reach Flat Holm at low water, cross between the two islands in relative slack, then pick up the flood as you turn Steep Holm.

Low water Flat Holm was 1615. Back in 2015, in similar conditions to the forecast, it took us 3 hours 15 minutes to cover the 16nm down to Flat Holm. Being one of the slowest boats in the fleet, we were one of the first to start, but arrived a little early at the island to didn't make the best of the tide.

The risk, of course, is if you leave your start too late you won't get to Flat Holm before the tide turns. Which means you won't get to Flat Holm.

I had my mind settled on a 1300 start. This year, contrary to being one of the first boats to start, it had become obvious that a good number of the 54 boats that had entered this year were planning to start earlier, some of them clearly bigger and thus faster than us. I have to admit, the belated realisation left me anxious that I might've miscalculated something. But the lock had been booked, we were committed.


We locked out at 1230, the sun shining, the winds feeling light in the shelter of the headland. The lock was packed, and once down opened to disgorge us out in to the shelter of an even more packed Portishead Hole. We picked our way out through the crowd, intending to make our way direct to the start-line and get on with it.

Looking over the breakwater, the sea looked relatively benign. I'd pulled two reefs into the main in expectation of a blow, but thought, briefly, about shaking them out. Then I heard Bristol VTS report over the VHF to some outbound shipping that the wind-speed out there was 18 knots, so decided to leave the reefs in a while longer.

The sky down channel looked black and angry.


We'd barely left the shelter of the wall and entered the Kings Road, and were getting ourselves ready to go head to wind and put the sail up when the squall hit.

Slamming us broadside, the little yacht heeled to 20 degrees or more under her still bare poles, Dad struggling to bring the nose up into the wind, cold rain hammering down in drops as big as golf balls, smearing his prescription sun-glasses and effectively blinding Dad at the helm.

I briefly toyed with the idea of heading back in, but kept the thought to myself, not wanting to even tempt Dad with the thought that doing so might even be possible.

Dad gunned the throttle to bring the bow up into the wind, then cut it back, holding it there as much through guess work as judgement. I hauled up the main, both reefs firmly in, and pulled the kicker on tight then, as Dad guided the boat off the wind, pulled the genoa out until it was just shy of the two dots on the foot that marked the second reef.


The sails filling, Calstar heeled hard over to the wind as we stilled the engine and began our beat down to the start-line, a couple of boats in front of us and one behind. Misery like company; the sky was as black as sin, visibility grim, and silt laden seas were breaking over Calstar's bows as she ploughed through the churn of wind over tide.

We called up Race Control on the VHF to advise them of our sail number and that we were approaching the line. They replied that visibility was so poor that they were having trouble working out who was who and asked us to call again as we crossed.

We went over the line close-hauled on a starboard tack, cutting 4 knots through the water and close to 9 over the ground. With the hood up, we at least had some shelter from the vicious downpour of the rain. The squall began to ease, and with it the sea. We slowly gained on one of the twos boat ahead, which was a little unexpected but not unwelcome. Closing with the shore, we tacked to get out into deeper water and the faster flow and, having done so, tacked back again.


Sometime in all of this, at first quite unnoticed by me, the rain had stopped and sky had cleared, although the turgid darkness in the sky further down channel suggested more might be coming our way. But for the moment, things were looking up. The wind was blowing hard, but the seas had eased, and the sun was breaking through.

Things were looking up, at least in our little bit of sea.

We stood in towards Clevedon until we began to lose the tidal flow then tacked on to port to stand out towards Middle Ground. This put us straight in the path of another yacht closing from astern on starboard. I held course for a moment or two thinking we'd clear ahead, but couldn't be sure so tacked back, waiting for the other boat to tack of themselves, which they did soon enough leaving us free to tack again ourselves and push out from the shore to find the best flow of the tide.


The darkened sky down channel cleared ahead, instead pushing in over the Somerset shore and leaving us happily alone. The wind strength built and eased; we kept both reefs in the main but eased rolls out of the headsail as it dropped and pulled them back in as it hammered us again, keeping Calstar on her apparent sweet spot of 20 degrees heel, and cutting through the water at between 4 and 4.5 knots.

Leaving North West Elbow some way distant to port, it became pretty obvious we were going to be too early on the tide. But not as early as some. There was a scattering of boats around us, but a big clutch of sails ahead, already at the Holms far too early and another mass some way behind; the faster, later starters. The sea was intemperate, sometimes relatively slight and at other times eager to throw us around



Still over the deeper part of the channel looking for the fastest water it became obvious we were not going to lay Flat Holm. So as we passed the Monkstone Light we tacked to try and get up to the layline. Close-hauled and hard to the wind, the port tack set us slightly against the tide, our speed over the ground dropping from over 8 knots to less than 4, a slow, painful progress so we held it only for so long as we though we'd need to before tacking back onto starboard.


As we closed with Flat Holm the lead boats in the fast fleet astern began to catch up and pass us. Another short take to be certain we'd clear the rocky shallows, then tacked back to lay the holm.

We rounded the island at 1532, moving at 4.2 knots through the water, 6.8 knots over the ground and with 19.8 nautical miles behind us as we bore away to cross the gap to Steep Holm. Arriving 43 minutes earlier than I'd aimed for, it wasn't perfect but was tolerable, and with the front runners of the serious racers now catching us up, I was happy we'd timed it okay, with only a little bit of tide still left to ebb.


The short crossing over to Steep Holm was lively. A beam reach, I eased a little of the genoa out but soon regretted it as we cleared the tidal lee of Flat Holm and hit the confused race between the islands that forms past the Mackenzie Shoal. It smoothed a little past Holm Middle and the deep water of the main channel, but the race off Rudder Rock on the western tip of Steep Holm was in fine form and gave us an enthusiastic battering as we pushed on into it, our little boat charging along at a good five knots but taking the confused sea abeam.

We'd largely left the steerage to the trusty autohelm for the beat down, but I'd now taken charge of the tiller myself since bearing away around the first island. The Raymarine is a fantastic gadget, as good as a second pair of hands, but it has its limitations. Reading ahead the thrust and pull of the sea abaft and abeam is one of them, especially with a crowd of other boats about us to account for as well


We rounded Steep Holm at 1600, gybing onto port, and set off on the return leg, punching about a knot of foul tide, but the ebb fast fading now with low water on this side of the channel expected for 1610. As we cleared the gravel spit on the eastern end of the holm we hardened up a little to lay North West Elbow again.

By now the later starters were catching up, crowding around us or, for the much faster boats, pushing past. To windward of us, in a direct echo of the last time we were here in 2015, was a yacht called "White Spirit" of Portishead Cruising Club.


White Spirit is a boat of similar shape, size and vintage to Calstar. I think she's a Bavaria 26, although I might be wrong. And she's a hardened, veteran, proven Bristol Channel racer. In 2015 she placed in the top three of the Holms race; I think a Sonata called "Fantasy" took first place from her. I recall there was some confusion over application forms lost, originally assumed to be not submitted that caused some confusion in the lead places.

In 2015, White Spirit caught us at Steep Holm, slowly pulled away from us towards North West Elbow, then hoisted her kite and disappeared ahead. As the faster boats screamed by, White Spirit again kept us company for the leg back to the next mark.


It was, at first, a fairly deep reach with most of the fleet sailing high as if they knew something I didn't, so I kept with them, but let them mostly pass well clear to windward. The sea state smoothed as Steep Holm fell astern, so I returned the tiller to the autohelm and, with the wind abaft and now with the tide, let out the full genoa, but kept the double reef in the main.

Our speed increased as the flood tide began to take a grip in earnest. Ahead I could see boats crabbing up. As the tide bit and the miles flowed away beneath us, the wind was veering, heading us and turning a comfortable reach into a lively fetch as we all converged onto the next mark. As we approached North West Elbow we were on a close reach. I was back on the helm and the rolls were back in the genoa; we were doing 4.9 knots through the water and 8.4 over the ground, 32.6 miles now behind us.


And, just like 2015, I was both beginning to feel quite dehydrated and really needing to pee, but didn't dare leave the helm for the moment.

The hard work for North West Elbow proved worth it. As we bore away to lay the finish line, the lifting of the wind meant our course was back to a beam reach, with none of the genoa collapsing, "should I wing it out with the pole or reach from gybe to gybe" anxiety that a broad reach would have brought. It also meant that nobody else got to use their kite, so we kept up with the pack for the rest of the way home, only falling out the back of it in the last few minutes, in company still with White Spirit.


We crossed the finish line at 1827, 5 hours and 28 minutes after we'd started, and a good improvement over the time of our previous race, giving us a respectable 20th place out of the 54 boats that started. There were 10 retirements, presumably boats that had left their start too late and not made Flat Holm on the tide.

Although our time was much improved, our position only improved by a single place. For some reason our handicap has dropped from the last time we sailed. In 2015 it was 1159, whereas this year it took quite a drop to be set at a much less generous 1142. I don't pretend to understand the technicalities of the system. The only change to the boat has been the addition of a whisper pole; that might be the cause of the difference? If so, it's almost amusing, because I very rarely use it and we didn't get the slightest chance to even consider using it this year.


So I guess the lesson from that would be to lose the pole next year. If it mattered. On the rare occasion we race Calstar, we're only ever really racing ourselves. I'm pleased with the position, pleased with the way we handled the boat and especially pleased with the improvement we made on our overall time compared to the 6 hours and 10 minutes of last time.


It took a couple of hours to get back into the marina at Portishead, 31 other boats ahead of us. The lock was packed. We waited it out at anchor just outside the Portishead Hole; the wind had dropped as the race finished, the sea was calm and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset out over the Bristol Channel.

Holms Race 2017 - 41.7nm - 05:28 hrs

Today, the forecast was for up to 33 knots out of the southwest.

We left Calstar safe and snug on the berth in Portishead and drove home. We'll take her back to Cardiff and her own home in Penarth when things are a little bit calmer again next weekend.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Buffy: Wednesday evening light


Mistakenly thought yesterday evening was the last of the Wednesday evening races on the lake at Frampton. Delighted to discover on arriving at the Club that I'd muddled my dates and we've got one more race next Wednesday before we totally lose the light in the evenings and racing reverts to Sundays only for the rest of the year.

Hels sailed with me again; her second race of the year, so we could no longer excuse ourselves by claiming to be out of practice.

So it was probably just as well we won.

It was a gorgeous evening on the water; shorts and t-shirt sailing, of which I suspect there's not a lot left to be had this year. Wind was light and shifty, but constant enough in pressure to keep you moving, and moving well as long as you paid appropriate attention to the lifts and headers and keeping clean air downwind. Which was relatively simple for us, as we broke away from the pack early, first around the windward mark, then didn't really look back.


One last race next week and Hels has already said she'll be available (oh the sweet intoxication of a win?). I'm guessing she won't have looked at the forecast. Next Wednesday is still a long way out, but Windfinder is currently teasing me with the promise of gusts upto 31 knots.


Meanwhile, Dad and I have the Holms Race this coming Saturday. The forecast earlier in the week was looking like it was going to blow us out. A couple of years ago we might have risked a F5 gusting 7, but we've bothered the lifeboats too much already this year to take chances and have become very aware of how easy it is to break stuff. But Windguru is now predicting north westerly at a far more moderate 15 to 20 knots. That's still a thrash for our old boat and her old crew, but doable. Conversely, the forecast for Sunday suggests 23 gusting 35 from the west south west. If it does that, we're staying put in Portishead another week and taking Calstar back home to Penarth the following weekend.

Spotify: R.E.M. "New Adventures in Hi-Fi"

I'd forgotten how much I loved this album: spotify.com/album

In particular, the first song, "How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us"

Haven't been on Spotify for a while. Most of my listening is done in the car, and it's an old car that doesn't stream, or connect to anything that does, so subscribing to a streaming service seemed a bit daft for me, personally.

Last time I went on Spotify as a non-subscriber, I seem to remember you were essentially limited to pulling up one song, then it would play various other songs it thought you might like as well, interspersed with adverts.

Seems you can now search for an album and play the whole thing as if it were yours.

Perhaps you could in the first place, and I just missed it. Obviously, you still have to stream the thing online, but that's no problem whilst I'm sat at my desk.

I first stumbled across REM fashionably late, back in 1991. Well, not them, but a busker in Edinburgh whilst I was midst pub crawl with some friends who was playing REM's Losing My Religion, and the words and tune snagged in my head. Home again back down south the next week, I brought the song to band practice with me and it became the first cover in what was, at that time, an otherwise original (and still then, un-gigged) set.

I've loved REM ever since. Even saw them play live in Cardiff, making them one of two live concerts I've ever taken Nikki to.

The song stayed in the set for years. It would probably still be there if I'd had my own way. I can certainly still play it, though I've not played it live for years.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Calstar: gratuitous blue

A video clip I loaded up to Instagram last Sunday, for no other reason than to share it. Gratuitous blue skies, mock blue sea (by that I mean it's pretending, it's really brown), the gentle gurgle of a bow wave (if you can ignore the horribly amplified noise of the wind against the microphone that drowns it out for the most part); perfect antidote to a long week in the office.


I like Instagram, mostly for its convenience. Neat, easy photo sharing, basic filter and editing functions. Not so good for video clips though; impossible to eliminate the camera shake induced by my hand. Video shot on the mobile's native camera app doesn't have this problem.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Calstar & Buffy: one extreme t'other


It was a painfully early start Saturday morning. On the road from 0600, delivered the car to Portishead Marina, then a combination of Shank's pony, bus and train got Dad and I from Portishead to Penarth where, after grabbing a quick breakfast at Compass Coffee, we boarded Calstar and cast off from Penarth, heading out through the Barrage and off up to Portishead with the flooding tide.

From the forecast, I'd honestly expected us to need to motor all the way; 2 to 3 knots of wind generally isn't enough to do much with the Westerly. But a combination of slightly more wind than expected, from harder on the nose than anticipated, along with our still crispy new sails meant that once we passed the Outer Wrack, the sails went up, the engine went off and the little yacht trotted happily through the water, close hauled at a respectable average of 2.5 knots.


It was an absolutely gorgeous day, the Bristol Channel at its most benign, bright sun and the waters so settled that the characteristic silt settled enough to almost fool you that they might turn green.

An easy sail all the way up, even after the wind dropped off and turned through 180 degrees as we passed Clevedon, leaving us inching our way up the last four miles with the sails goosed but the flooding tide now in full flow.


We left Calstar moored comfortably in Portishead, ready and waiting for us to join in with the Holms Race next weekend.


Sunday couldn't have been more different.


I overslept; having planned to be at the lake for 1100, I awoke bleary eyed at 1000, had a quick shower then 50 minutes of panic as I realised I couldn't find my drysuit, before giving up, grabbing a wetsuit instead and heading off down to the Club.

I still haven't found it, and have no idea where I could've left the thing. Frustrating, as it wasn't a cheap bit of kit and I've only used it through the one winter so far. If I can't find what I've done with it, I'm going to have to replace it. And I had other plans for that bit of gig money.


At the lake, the skies were low, angry and grey, the rain thick and merciless. With three races running from 1200, I hadn't been able to fine anybody available to crew my Enterprise "Buffy" with me so I was solo, "Billy No Mates" with a double-handed boat and a handful of weather to deal with.

I rigged anyway, feeling bloody-minded and belligerent.


The wind was gusting up to 26 knots through the first race. Two capsizes, both through my own clumsiness rather than the fault of an absent crew. The first was ten seconds before the start, when everything had been going so well, tacked, and accidentally locked the now lazy jib-sheet back into it's cleat. I saw the mistake, tried to get back across to free it, but too late and could only vault over onto the centreboard as the boat bowled over, losing any chance of a good start, but at least keeping myself dry.

Two laps later, boat finally clear of water, and we were flying along. Heading into the windward mark, hot on the tail of Geoff in "Ghost", picking my way through a scrabbled of Solos, a gust hit and I hiked out hard to try and keep Buffy flat.

And missed the toe-straps.


A perfect back-flip off the windward gunwale of the now hard-heeling Enterprise, I hit the water like a rock, popping back up indignant and spluttering. Almost got run down by an overtaking Solo, I was still holding the tiller extension and mainsheet, being dragged along behind, trying vainly to steer the boat from the water. I let go of the former before I twisted it off the tiller, but kept hold of the mainsheet to stop the boat sailing away without me, capsizing her so that I could finally climb up on the centreboard, right her and get back in.

The capsize recovery was quick, as always, but a boat full of water for another lap meant that although I clawed my way back through the rear of the Solo fleet before the end, I never regained the lead on them I needed to beat them after correction for handicap.


So an inglorious last. But nothing broken, except perhaps a slight denting to my pride, and it was fun.

The second race I redeemed my earlier performance by taking a respectable 5th place out of the 14 boats racing, to my delight soundly beating Ghost. The third race saw me drop back though, 7th out of 10, with Ghost soundly thrashing me, which to be fair, happens more often than not.


Not really sure what to expect weather-wise this coming Wednesday evening, but looking at the forecast has scared me witless for the Holms Race next Saturday. I really hope it moderates a little as the week wears on. I don't really want to deal with a F5 gusting 7 out in the Bristol Channel. Must be getting old or something.


A week next Wednesday looks like a bit of fun though; F6 gusting 8 is an entirely different thing on the lake. As long as I can find crew to sail Buffy with me!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Buffy: Wednesday gone, Sunday comes

Looking at the forecast for the weekend; we're delivering Calstar to Portishead Saturday, so I'm thinking Sunday is a lake racing, Enterprise sailing day.  Just need to find crew to race with me as Hels isn't available. Preferably crew that doesn't mind a bit of rain. Or the odd capsize or two.

Wednesday evening just gone played out markedly better than my original expectations. I'd anticipated a damp, miserable drift (not that the idea of that would possibly stop me from sailing anyway) but the rain eased off shortly after we launched and only showered briefly once or twice during the race. The sky was gorgeous, rain-laden, saturated clouds lit by low and broken rays of late summer evening sunlight. The wind was fickle but distinctly playful, building and lulling, veering and backing, keeping us on our toes to keep the boat moving throughout.

Hels crewed for me; her first sail of the year. It felt like ages since I'd last been at the helm of our own Enterprise as I'd either been crewing for others over the last couple of months, or away myself. But we had nothing staked in the race, with no chance of qualifying for the series this late in the season. So no reason to try and pressure ourselves into a particularly good performance. Except a race is a race, so you're either in it or you are not.

The start-line was chaos. Piles of boats everywhere, most of them unsure or of or oblivious to what the wind was actually doing. Frantic screams of "Up! Up! Up!" and the crunching of contact. I made our own final approach at the pin end, slightly astern and windward of our nearest competition, Geoff and Sue in "Ghost". Seeing the situation developing ahead, I ducked away and then hardened up tight to the wind with just a few seconds remaining, shy enough of the line to not cross early, albeit more by luck than judgement.

Ghost, likewise keen not to cross too early, tried the same but got caught up with a couple of boats to her leeward, I think they were Tony's British Moth and Pete's Comet "Tipsy Toad"; meanwhile, Alan in his Enterprise, windward and astern of our us, charged into where he thought there was a gap, but found our boat filling it. He shunted us, the impact of the thump accelerating us forward over the line just as the gun went, momentarily jarring the tiller extension from my hand.

Retrieving the tiller and recovering our balance, we sailed on, only looking briefly back with amusement at the tangle of boats behind us, catching Geoff and Alan each taking their respective penalty turns deep amongst the mix.

A post shared by Bill G (@tatali0n) on
The lift in the wind that had caused the maelstrom of crunching and screaming on the start-line meant  that, clearing the line from the pin end, we were able to lay the windward mark on a single, starboard tack. We cleared it ahead of the rest of the fleet, a couple of British Moths and and Henry's Enterprise a little way behind.

Over the next four laps, we slowly drew ahead of the bulk of the fleet; only Ghost edged inevitably closer to us with each circuit, but we still finished a full leg ahead of her in the end. Although first on the water, once the times were corrected for our relative handicaps, we found ourselves in joint 2nd place with the first of the two British Moths, with Pete and Tipsy Toad clear in 1st.

Not a bad end to a lovely evening's sailing.





Calstar: train tickets booked


The Holms Race is next Saturday. We're all signed up, entrance fee paid. Can't wait.

I've got a gig the Friday night, so bringing the boat up to Portishead the evening before, which would have bene the conventional way of doing things, is a no go. I did suggest to Dad that I could head straight to the boat from the gig, sail up on the 0300 tide, anchor off Portishead until the start of the race.

He vetoed the idea. Explained that the thought of sailing three tides straight, essentially 18 hours out on the Bristol Channel (albeit not all of that underway) didn't appeal to him in the slightest. Apparently fine if we were using it to actually go somewhere, but not fine to "do that to a 71 year old, just to go racing".

So we're moving Calstar up to Portishead tomorrow and leaving her there for the week.

Causes a bit of inconvenience with cars though, so to get there and back without losing one Cardiff for a week or two, or using two cars and driving back and forth from Cardiff and Portishead to successfully retrieve both, a number of trains, busses and about an hour  and a half of walking are involved. The up shot being that to be certain we can lock out of the Barrage by 1330 and ride the afternoon flood up to Portishead (HW 1727), I need to be at Dad's house for 0600 tomorrow morning.

Perhaps the two car juggle was the better option. Too late now, I've bought the train tickets.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Calstar: chocolate flavoured hue

From the very start of our couple of weeks away back at the beginning of August, we'd been constrained by my absolute need to be back in Cardiff for the morning of Saturday 12th and home by that evening, ready to head straight out to a gig. All my plans were therefore set around putting us back within easy reach of Cardiff by Friday.

The Lydney Fleet caught up with us in Ilfracombe on Tuesday afternoon; Wednesday and Thursday the weather effectively kept us all pinned in harbour. A gusty, northerly F5 for the most part, if we'd needed to get somewhere it would hardly have stopped us, but Dad wasn't keen on braving it simply to get somewhere for the sake of going, I wasn't especially keen to put Nik through the same for no more reason than that, and our Lydney friends seemed content to stay put for a couple of days and patronise the Ilfracombe Yacht Club bar, so we sociably elected to do the same.


By Wednesday evening the general feeling amongst our friends was to head back via Porlock or perhaps Watchet. I'd considered Swansea, but certainly wasn't adverse to Watchet again. Thursday's forecast looked great, with a late lunchtime low water and a west or southwesterly F4 to carry us back up channel. The outlook for Friday morning was more of the same: beginning southwest 3 or 4 but building to a 5 later into the afternoon or early evening. This seemed fine to me for a Friday afternoon dash back to Cardiff from Watchet, but Dad, using my gig as the reason, along with the attendant, absolute need to be back in Cardiff for Saturday and the (apparent) foolishness of wearing myself out before a gig, decreed that we'd head directly back to Cardiff on Thursday and not take any chances.

Although the gig was cited as the reason, I suspect that at the end of two weeks he was exhausted himself, had quietly had enough of the discomfort of being in a harbour on a mooring buoy and away from the comforts of Calstar's Penarth berth, the shore power hook-up and the Marina facilities, and simply wanted to get back.

The last time we sailed direct from Ilfracombe to Cardiff, we'd made a very inelegant hash of the passage, getting caught out by the tide somewhere between Breaksea and Minehead, and spending about four or five hours reaching back and forth in thick rain, next to no visibility and uncomfortable seas. I wasn't adverse to trying it again, if only to see if we couldn't make a better job of it.

The general advice was to cast off the mooring on the falling tide in the morning, before we lost water in the inner harbour, make our way to just outside Ilfracombe and then drop the hook to wait at anchor until about two hours before low water, expected that afternoon a little after 1400. Two hours before low water, weigh anchor and set off, hugging the Devon coast close, punching the tide up-channel until it turned at low water, hopefully just shy of reaching Lynmouth. Then push off northeast and ride the big, chocolate coloured tidal escalator all the way back to Cardiff. I'd already established on our trip out that my crew didn't do waiting at anchor with any great degree of grace. Dad gets bored and Nik hasn't yet got used to the rocking of the boat when she's not actually underway.

With this in mind, and with lack of hardly any wind, after dropping our harbour mooring at high water around 0900, we set directly off with the engine chugging at a sedate 2000 revs, hugging the rocky cliffs close, never more than a cable's length out from shore. As the tide turned hard against us, staying in so close meant we found back-eddies aplenty to push us up and along our way, but around each headland invariably got thrown around a fair bit by the enthusiastic tidal races that were forming with a spring ebb now in full flow. We kept a sharp lookout for lobster pots, especially as the occasional headland generated a fine back-eddy for us to ride, but would also potentially make for a distinctly unwelcoming lee shore if the engine failed or the prop got tangled in a stray pot line.


But the scenery, especially scale of the cliffs so close in, was breath-taking; well worth the anxiety of the pot-watch and discomfort of the occasional battering we took to enjoy it.

The wind was very light, which undoubtedly helped through the various tidal races. The sun was a sometimes companion, but lovely and warm when it was out from behind the shelter of the cloud-scattered sky to keep us company.


We reached Lee Bay, just west of Lynmouth around 1200, three hours before low water; earlier than expected. Much less hindered by the adverse tide than I'd counted for, we'd covered 10 miles in around three hours. Beyond this point were the shallows and sandbanks off Lynmouth and then the serious tidal races of Foreland Point. I didn't fancy either with the tide still dropping hard. The sun was warm and bright overhead, so we picked a spot close in the bay where low water would still leave us with a couple of meters to float in, and dropped the anchor for lunch.

I mentioned the crew don't do waiting at anchor gracefully or with any great patience. It turns out that if you pick a warm sunny day, the shelter of a picture-postcard-perfect wooded bay and time it for a picnic lunch in the comfort of a sunny cockpit followed by a quiet snooze afterwards to let it digest at leisure, they do it just fine.

At 1415 we retrieved the anchor, hauled up the sails, set a course for the Welsh shore opposite with as deep a reach as we could go without collapsing the headsail and left the tranquillity of Lee Bay behind us. As the tide turned and we left the shelter of the North Devon coast astern, the wind built steadily to an enthusiastic F4, the bullying, quartering sea making hard work for the auto-helm but pushing the little yacht along at close to 5 knots through the water at times. With more south in the wind than expected, even once the tide turned and assisting us we couldn't set a course deep enough to lay any further east than the Nash Passage without sacrificing one or another of the sails. I briefly considered setting the pole and goose-winging them; it would've been the appropriate thing to do and not being able to otherwise sail any closer than about 30 degrees to downwind was frustrating. But by this point, the conditions had become quite lively, so I decided to opt for the quieter life of not frightening Dad by playing about on the foredeck and settled for a course that would see us make our way back up channel in a series of gybes.

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We knew our Lydney friends were out there with us somewhere. We'd sighted sails that I reckoned to be Peter's Achilles 24 "Suomi" and had made radio contact with him and his crew Bill to confirm that they were somewhere a little ahead, having passed us whilst we were still napping in Lee Bay. They advised that Annabel and Tina aboard their 16' Wayfarer dinghy "Windlord" were somewhere a little behind us. A short while later, a little over half way across but still some miles off Aberthaw, as the emerald sea patchily returned to its natural, chocolate flavoured hue I spotted sails astern and slowly closing. The boat's sails were either goosed or she was flying a kite, hard to tell at the initial distance, so I couldn't at first believe it was Windlord. However, as they closed the gap it became obvious that was exactly who it was.

Closing with the northern shore, we gybed, and Windlord crossed our track some way astern, but sailing a much deeper course with their spinnaker aloft. They very soon overhauled us, the girls giving us a cheerful wave as they on sailed by. By the time we got back to Cardiff later that day, we would've clocked close to 50 miles of sailing ourselves over the course of that single passage from Ilfracombe to Cardiff. Windlord would've covered close to the same, albeit a little less with the advantage of their deeper sailing angle; but still a very creditable day's of sailing for two people in a small, open and unbalasted sailing dinghy. By the time they finished their week's cruise, Windlord, with Annabel and Tina living aboard, would have covered over 150 miles in straight-line distances from their home port in Lydney Harbour, down to Ilfracombe and back again.

Although they crept steadily ahead, we kept the little dinghy in sight for the rest of the trip, until they finally rounded Ranie Point and entered the Penarth Roads ahead of us. We gybed a couple more times, zig-zagging our way home, until a final gybe some distance off Barry let us just about lay Ranie point ourselves. The wind had stiffened considerably and the sea between Barry and Lavernock Spit had pushed up into its inevitably boisterous race. With a breaking sea on the stern quater and the wind now pushing up into the top end of a F5, I put an extra couple of rolls away on the headsail and relieved the auto-helm of its duty, taking over the helm myself. As a helmsman, the auto-helm has considerably more nerve than me (or more accurately, a simple, complete lack) but I'm much better at anticipating the swell. Calstar surged along, trying valiantly to surf her orcine form and weight along the front of each overtaking waves, before falling off its back  to get picked up and surged along by the next.

We hit a shade over 6 knots through the water riding one of those waves off Sully Island. Hull speed, the the fastest I think our little boat will go; without, that is, attaching her to the towline of the Barry All Weather Lifeboat, which I'll add I'm in no keen rush to do again.

We finally turned around Ranie Point at 1918, after more than 45 minutes of tearing along on that final reach. Hardening up, we beat up the Penarth Roads, charging along heeled hard over, lee rail digging in, but the water was smooth in the shadow of the sheltering cliffs to windward and the boat felt stable and happy to be alive in my hands.

We caught up with Annabel and Tina in the Barrage, locking in at 1945, checked they had a tow to their intended berth in the Graving Docks from friends aboard "Kittiwake", another Lydney boat that had followed up from Ilfracombe in our wake and had locked in behind us. By 2005 we were comfortably back alongside our own berth in Penarth; Calstar was home.

Some basic raw figures for the day's sailing, mostly for my own interest:

Ilfracombe to Lee Bay (leisurely punching the tide with engine and headsail)
Underway: 03:13 hours
Average: 3.1 knots
Distance: 9.9 nautical miles

Lee Bay to Cardiff
Underway: 06:00 hours
Powered: 00:37 minutes
Average: 6.0 knots
Distance: 36.4 nautical miles

Ilfracombe to Cardiff
Underway: 09:13 hours
Powered: 04:15 hours
Distance: 46.3 nautical miles

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Freefall: posh frocks & smart togs

It's been a busy old year for the band. A good thing, I think.

Despite taking the first two weeks of this month off to play with boats, it's still been a four gig month. This coming Friday we're playing at The Pilot again, just down the road from home. I could walk there and back, except the trailer that carries the band's kit is a bit heavy to drag along without a car.

Last Saturday was a bit further afield; the annual Officers' Mess Ball for the Royal Marines Reserve in Bristol, so posh frocks and smart togs for all.

They had a guy there from Absolute Choice Photography running a novelty "photo booth" for the guests. Digital photography is brilliant stuff, how ever did we manage without it? Once the evening had worn on a little and I guess he had less of a queue for his services, he took a few snaps of the band. I quite liked a couple of them, so I hope he won't mind me sharing them here.

Calstar: overoared in the "Combe"


So to recap, we arrived in Ilfracombe on the Monday afternoon, and spent a very comfortable night on a visitor mooring in the outer harbour, complete with a gorgeous sunset, a chilled bottle of white wine and a fish and chips supper.

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After breakfast ashore Tuesday morning, Nikki and I left Dad to fuss about the hull of the boat and as she dried out again on the beach and spent the morning together exploring the town. Nikki is very new to yachts and cruising; I mean, so am I, but she is so much more so than me, both practically in terms of the hours and miles covered, and emotionally. As I previously mentioned, she's definitely warming to it, and has proven to have an eagle eye when it comes to spotting dolphins and porpoises (less so navigation buoys or lobster pots, it must be said) but truth be told, it's neither unfair nor a disservice to suggest she only does it to spend time with me.

In fact, far from meaning that observation as a disservice, I'm touched, flattered and quietly impressed that she'd tolerate with the inevitable boredom and discomfort that intersperses the underlying majesty and raw beauty of the sea and the English and Welsh coastlines where we sail just to be with me.

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It does mean the character of our cruising has changed. It's less long hauls interspersed with late nights in various harbour bars, and now more short hops interspersed with respectable rest breaks characterised by long shops. I don't really do shopping. A secret to our long and happy marriage is that, over the years, Nik has recognised this, and gets her fix on her own time when I'm not around. To me, one New Look, or Salt Rock, or Primark or whatever little fashion boutique you're likely to find is not only the same as another, they're invariably stocked with much the same as one another. And don't start me on shoe shops or craft shops.

In a way, and I stress I am being tongue-in-cheek here, I guess the price and consequence of Nikki and I getting to spend time together is that she has to tolerate the discomfort of sailing and I have to put up with the boredom of shopping. I'd say that's a fair trade.


The Lydney fleet caught up with us on the Tuesday afternoon tide. We had supper that evening with Eric and Jeanette of "Jander", a Lydney boat that had picked up the mooring alongside us, in a very nice resteraunt called The Quays overlooking the harbour. We retired afterwards to the Yacht Club bar to catch up with the rest of our friends to discover most had moved their boats off the outer visitor moorings to the inner harbour; the wind was expected to increase and veer into the north overnight, which could make the outer harbour a little rolly. With not much water left on the ebbing tide and the light beginning to fade (and nothing to do with the charm and comfort of the Ilfracombe Yacht Club bar) Jander and ourselves decided to stay put in the outer harbour. The forecast really didn't look too horrific, and by the time the Club bar kicked us out we'd be able to walk back to the boat.

When we'd come ashore earlier in the evening, I'd left the tender secured high on the outer harbour wall, above the tide line, the paddles clipped in and strapped down with the bungie clips fitted to the dinghy for that purpose. Despite being well clear of the tide line, the swell pushing into the harbour at high water as the weather had built up had still reached the dinghy quite the beating; both of the paddles were completely gone, snatched from their clips and bungie fixings by the violence of the tide.


It was a peaceful night's sleep with the boat at rest on the sand. I awoke around 0400 as she lifted off, but I think only because I'd expected to, and had gone to sleep anxious that it wouldn't be too rough a lift from the sand with the incomming swell. And it wasn't a particularly rough rise, a couple of thumps, then we were away. The wind and swell soon pushed us onto the neighbouring mooring buoy however, which set up an arythmic thumping on the hull, seemingly inches away from my head, until I crawled above decks and in the pre-dawn gloaming strung a necklace of fenders around the bow to guard it; a trick I'd learned on the first night in Tenby the previous year.

A little before 0700 that morning, we moved onto a visitor's mooring in the inner harbour. The weather was expected to worsen over the next couple of days, so our week's cruising plan devolved through mutual consent to walking, shopping, eating and drinking our way around Ilfracombe for the next couple of days. I think of Calstar's crew, only I really felt the regret of lost opportunities, and even that was mitigated by the fact the the Lydney Fleet were now storm-bound in harbour with us for the duration, so at least we had good company to drink with.

Around 0830 I paddled ashore using the dinghy's seat for propulsion, and set to wandering about town looking for anywhere that might sell me a pair of replacement paddles. The only place that seemed to open before 1000 in the town turned out to be the RNLI charity gift shop, and they didn't sell paddles. They did, however, sell a beach spade, which although a little short, proved to be a more elegant paddling solution than the dinghy's seat, to the amusement of neighbouring boats when I returned to Calstar. As the tide ebbed away, leaving us high and dry, Dad and I toured the width and breadth of the inner and outer harbours, looking for our lost paddles but with little hope and, predictably, to no joy.

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A while later, Nikki and I headed to shore to look for breakfast and, perhaps, an upgrade to my temporary, foreshortened paddle. One of the gift shops sold me a pair of "collapsible" plastic paddles for £7.50. We returned to the tender and standing at the top of the slipway, I screwed them together; a distinctive black and yellow, I observed to Nikki that they were "Batman themed" and a definite improvement on my beach spade, even if they did seem a little bendy. I think she might have deigned to roll her eyes. And then said, "Bill, what's that?"

Resting at the top of the slipway, at about the high water mark, nestled in one of the groves formed between the lateral slaps of concrete, was one of the dingy's original paddles, returned by the tide.

So, from having to paddle ashore first thing in the morning with the dingy's seat, I'd gone from the seat being contingency to my spade, being contingency to my batman paddles, to being contingent to the now returned original.

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I was, if you'll forgive the horrific pun, left amused, bemused and utterly over-oared by the change in circumstance.