Day Skipper - Day 1

We started the morning after sleeping aboard, not the best sleep ever but got just enough. We went through the workings of a life jacket after breakfast, explaining the mechanism and how the automatic firing works. We then spent some time talking about weather information and where it can be sourced, explaining the Almanac, etc. We covered Diesel engine daily maintenance and learned the WOBBLE mnemonic, water, oil, bilge, belt, lecky, exhaust.

I helmed the boat out of the Marina which went okay although the wheel was locked (whoops) which wasn’t ideal and it took me a little while to figure out! We got out fine though, nice and steady with no issue. We then did some mooring practice under power and got a feel for the boat.

Simon the instructor demonstrated how to use engine wash and walk to turn the boat in a close circle. A very neat trick. Every boat will pull to port or starboard in a certain way depending on the propeller type.

We then worked to put the sails up but had some issues with the cars in the mast track, which seemed to get stuck in the just below the top spreaders. We tried a few things to check what the cause could be, we disconnected the halyard and attached a line to make sure it could run free which it did. And then disconnected one of the cars from the sail to see if it was getting caught. We believed that the newly installed rolling Genoa may have resulted in the mast bending back more than before and the track being slightly pinched as a result.

We motored up the Fal river just before the chain ferry and anchored up for lunch. During lunch we oiled the cars of the sail and successfully pulled the main up.

We pulled the anchor up and motored out of the river a little before putting the sails up and doing some light weather sailing. We practiced identifying marks and talked about points of sail. In the mouth of the River we performed a heave-to manoeuvre to stop the boat while in the wind.

We sailed past the lighthouse at the mouth of the Falmouth and sailed back into the river. With the wind fading we furled the Genoa and motorsailed back to where we were for lunch.

Luckily we found a pontoon to moor up to for the night, I was given helm duty for coming alongside the pontoon which seemed to go quite well. We tied up and called it a day.

We had sausage and mash for dinner and spoke to a full-time sailor called Terry on a boat named the Josephine of Exe who had done some transatlantic crossings. Very interesting character who shared a few bottles of red!

Race 3 - 2021 Spring Series

A quiet, sporty and wet race this week. It was going well right from the start, we had plenty of beer as we boarded Astral with both Andy and I bringing beer, in addition to a big crate of Stella already on board. We slipped the berth for the 9am lock and were joined with Elite Sailing’s Spirit and Lightning. Lock out took a little while and with low tide approaching we only had half a meter below the keel. The three boats in Class 1 were already in the river, where we had around 11 knots of SW wind, much more than last week. We were racing course 26, with the other boats racing course 38 (rounding the wreck and back). Small drama as we got going, while hoisting the main a snagged reefing line tore the sail cover - not ideal. The start was otherwise sensible and calm, despite being surrounded by cadets in Toppers and Optomists!

We made good progress off the line and along short reach, for a while we even overtook ‘The Works’, a Projection 762 in Class 1. They closely hugged our starboard aft until we passed round Hoo Island into Gillingham Reach where they then got away from us very quickly! We watched the other boats disappear into the distance from here, as they put up their big sails. We were having a gentle sail, passing Folly point then running down to our first mark, 23. Then on to mark 15, passing Kingsnorth Power Station and it’s jetties. Easing round into another run we put the genoa out on the pole, doing about 7 knots we passed Kethole Reach and the West Bulwark mark.

I didn’t know until recently that the West and East Bulwark marks are named for the wreck that lies here. The explosion of HMS Bulwark was a very significant naval incident, 741 men lost their lives in 1914, the single biggest loss of life in naval history at the time. This was later exceeded by the much more known, explosion of HMS Vanguard while at anchor in Scapa Flow in 1917.

Rounding west Bulwark we briefly tacked back upriver to round mark 16. It was clear to us here that the weather was coming in! We got geared up as it came over the horizon. The wind picked up significantly, we were showing 24 knots and as the rain hit everything got a bit hairy. Getting round 16 was a relief and as the same weather pushed us back downriver towards West Bulwark for a second time we furled some genoa to keep things under control!

Heading out to the furthest mark, Stangate Spit we put in a mainsail reef anticipating the need to tack back in reasonable wind. We saw the Elite Sailing boats around here, practising man overboard drills. Gybing round Stangate Spit we still had a good amount of wind and were making an easy 7 knots over ground. Heading home we were tacking all the way, with no course marks left to significantly alter our journey. As we did the weather came back once more, although we’d barely dried of from last time!

Mark 22 provided us with a little entertainment, despite only keeping a small amount of shore between us and the mark we got stuck on the mud! If it hadn’t been on the course we probably would have avoided it, but we didn’t have too much choise. Luckily the tide was coming in so we weren’t there too long, a few gusts of wind and close-hauled sails got us going again. As we made our last tack into Gillingham reach we could see the Class 1 boats steaming back into sight. We had a sensible amount of wind to take us over the line, expertly skippered by yours truly.

A fantastic race today, where enough was going on to not need any competition! The few beers went down very nicely, as did the coffee and walnut cake. Afraid there won’t be a race report next week, we’re off to Cornwall. Expect more from the Regatta the weekend following.

Race 2 - 2021 Spring Series

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With the first race of the shortened 2021 Keelboat Spring Series abandoned due to lack of wind, this was the first real race. A 10am start with five boats, fewer than usual with many still on the hard due to COVID mixing things up. There were five boats racing, two in class 3 ‘white sails’ and three in IRC, class 1. With so few boats a start from the club line was announced, with both classes to start simultaneously. Class 1 were racing course 20, in Class 3 we were running course 15. On Upnor Reach there was reasonable wind, but three faster boats jostling for a good start meant that we struggled to get away well. We were squeezed on the line by Reefer forcing us into the main part of the river.

Our only class competitor, Muskrat Ramble got away calmly, hugging the club shore away from the rising tide. With that advantage, they took and held the lead for the rest of the race. As all boats headed towards Short Reach the IRC fleet stayed in the main channel, initialling struggling for speed until bearing away past Hoo Ness. We made some ground once we passed mark 31 but were forced into a tack at Hoo Ness to avoid getting stuck. The SSW wind picked up in Gillingham reach and put us in a healthy broad reach past mark 25 (Folly), leaving it to port. We watched the rest of the fleet take off, with us tailing Muskrat where we ran through Pinup pulling in to a beam reach through Long Reach to mark 15 and 16, leaving them both to starboard.

Heading back up river we left mark 18 to starboard, passing MYC 4 to port before heading home. An easy close-hauled sail back toward to club with some good speed in places. There were plenty of small craft out by now, with the club’s new Musto Skiff fleet and plenty of cruisers heading out to Stangate Creek and Queenborough. We were chased by Mercury but who despite being on a much longer course caught us as we passed Upnor Line with their Asymmetrical showing the difference a big sail can make! We weren’t bothered, we had beers in-hand and smiles on our faces.

The cadet Topper and Laser fleets surrounded us as we finished with an easy cruise past the line. The wind picked up a lot as we waited for the lock, which had been closed since we left for a 10k running event. The tide was full by now so we were in the marina before we knew it.

With us back earlier than expected I went up the mast to fix a guide line between the fixed rigging and the radome, which had come off in the race before last. In lighter winds the guide line makes a big difference in helping the genoa shift from either tack, it caught several times today. I took the opportunity to clean the bottom of the spreaders which were green with algae! We had a few beers and packed up. Home in time for the grand prix!

Despite the excitement, we managed to get a short video crossing the line. Will try to get some more in future, it’s trickier than it seems!

Dent Reckoning

The dents are gone! I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner… There have been two dents on the car that have been driving (hah!) me crazy for months now, one was on the rear quarter which has obviously been caused by somebody opening their door, not very big but it stood out when I was washing the car or whatever. The other was much more severe and was caused when I reversed into a metal pole in a car park, it was overhanging the wall and so the parking sensors didn’t pick it up. Luckily the paint and everything was intact or it would have looked much worse.

I took the car to a scratch and dent place on the city estate and they said that everything would need to be resprayed. That seemed a bit nuts so I just left things for another day. With not much to do with the ‘Rona going round I messaged Kent Dent Repair who fix dents without needing to do any respraying. They turned up a few days later and after two or so hours of banging away everything was back as it should be! I don’t know how the bloke did it, but I handed him my credit card and that was that. The price was pretty reasonable, £180 for both and I didn’t even need to leave the house. Very pleased, glad to have my car back the way it should be. Just need to deal with some of the tiny hairline scratches now!

There’s a new trend going around where people record themselves doing a short activity after being thrown a toilet roll. Those videos are stitched together into one bigger video and the idea is that people throw the loo roll from one person to another. Some of them are pretty funny, and it’s all in aid of mental heath awareness week. This was the perfect opportunity to get my scuba gear on, seeing as it’s almost six months since I last used it. It was HOT. I don’t recommend wearing a dry suit in the summer sun, my clothers under my dry suit were drenched. You can see the full video here.

Fun and games aside it was also a Sailing School night. This was the hardest lesson yet, I really struggled. The theory of each step makes perfect sense but to calculate each thing is quite challenging especially when trying to do it quickly. Wednesday’s lesson of converting compass headings from true to magnetic and vice versa (TVMDC) was complicated enough on it’s own but is then just a part of the process used when working out estimated positioning. Here’s my brain dump on the process used to calculate an estimated position, there are three key steps:

  1. Water track. For this we need to convert the vessel’s magnetic heading (given by the skipper) to true using the TVMDC process. Once we know the course we can note this on the chart with a long line with an arrow indicating direction. We can then calculate the vessels dead reckoning position by using the speed (knots to understand the distance that will be covered. Since 1 knot is equal to 1 nautical mile per hour this is relatively easy to establish. This position is then noted with a small perpendicular line along with ‘DR’ and time it was noted.

  2. Tidal Vector. This is the impact of the tide on the vessel’s direction. For example, if a vessel is travelling from north to south and the tide is running from east to west the vessel will be moved off course to the west despite it maintaining the same heading south. We can calculate how much the vessel is moved off course by understanding the rate and direction of the tide. To calculate the tidal rate we need to understand the date and time of our passage, we can then look up the tides in the closest port’s tide table. Once we’ve found that information we can calculate the tidal range (by subtracting low water from high water) and using this to check if it’s closest to a spring or neap tide. We will also note how many hours before or after our passage is from high water. With that information we can look up the speed and time of the tide. We can check this information in one of two places, either using the tidal diamonds and associated table on the chart or by using a tidal atlas in an almanac. In either case it’s necessary to look at the speed/direction based on the time before or after high water. Once established another line can be drawn from the dead reckoning position based on the direction of the tide and the distance can be calculated using the speed of the tide (which is shown in knots) and noted with a dot and a surrounding triangle along with ‘EP’ and time it was noted. The line should be noted with three arrows.

  3. Ground Track. This is a line which is drawn on the chart from the vessel’s position to the estimated position. The line should be noted with two arrows. Once drawn it’s possible to reverse calculate the course over ground (COG) and speed over ground (SOG). Using this line we can check that the vessel isn’t going to pass any obstructions in reaching it’s estimated position.

It’s worth noting that these calculations assume that the sailing vessel is either running or reaching, if the vessel is heading to windward (beating) then it’s necessary to tack which will also need to be noted on the chart accordingly. A similar process is followed to complete this but it hasn’t yet been covered in the course. Tonight I’m going to run through some more exercises to make sure that I know what on earth I’m talking about. but it seems to be making sense in my head…

Sailing aside, today I went to London. Projects at work are all largely continuing despite the current situation and one of the projects we kicked off this year is to replace all of the internet for UK branch offices. As the lockdown has slowly been relaxed it’s allowed for an opportunity to go and connect up the new lines and get them tested. Being a good citizen and following government guidelines I decided to drive in, something I’ve only ever done to this office once before. There was very little traffic at all and it took just over an hour (faster than the train!), I drove through the city and passed Picadilly Circus which is now all up and running. At work we got what we needed to get done, had a little time for some lunch and enjoyed the peace and quiet, there were a fair amount of people walking around but a lot less then you’d normally expect to see on a Saturday. All a little strange.

Anyway, I should probably get back to work and drive home rather than typing up a blog post. Verdant beer awaits at home!!

Cocked Hat

Wednesday’s Day Skipper lesson was great. The Zoom format continues to work very well and I’m enjoying being able to be in my own space and not have to worry about other people. We covered some interesting topics, how to calculate bearing, position fixing, and compass variation and deviation, which was a new concept to me. We also covered tides and depth theory, the concept of tides is something i’ve sort of understood but it’s nice to learn about it properly. Homework from lesson 2 wasn’t too difficult, perhaps two hours in total and most of that I wrapped up straight after the lesson like the good student I am. A cocked hat by the way is a positing term, for when three position lines are taken but don’t perfectly intersect, creating a triangle.

In ‘Strong Holm’ I posted about how people were abusing the ‘take away’ for the pub. Well, turns out somebody must have said something because there are now warning notices duck-taped to each of the pub benches. For those wondering, it wasn’t me, I’m far too lazy to bother complaining about something like that, I’d rather just moan about it here. I suppose it could be that my blog is now so popular that it’s having an impact in the real world, but I highly doubt that since the post has only been read six times.

In booze-news, I ordered the new Verdant beer releases on Wednesday, little late off the mark my order didn’t complete until 10:42 which meant they didn’t ship that same day. They look pretty good, one of the beers, All together IPA is a charity beer and Verdant split a portion of the profits with Hospitality Action South West. The other beer, Where does time go is an 8% DIPA, not sure it’s going to be quite up my street but we’ll see. The more exciting booze-news is that Tarquin’s released Hell Bay Seaweed Gin on their Thirsty Thursday. It’s the first time that i’ve ever seen it sold online and it’s usually only available from behind the bar of the Hell Bay Hotel on the Scilly Isles. I’ve checked this morning and it’s now sold out and I’m not surprised. Very much looking forward to giving this a try and adding it to the collection.

Holm Point

It’s hot. It’s super hot, the Audi said it was 30 Celsius in the car at lunch time and I believe it. The weather is absolutely gorgeous and I almost envy those who are on furlough and able to make the most of being away from work. Aside from working I made a few small tweaks to the CSS on the blog, I added a footer for Github/Jekyll and adjusted the borders of those items. I think it looks a little better. Next task is to remove the social icons from the top for mobile browsers.

Today was homework day following yesterday’s Day Skipper Theory lesson. I managed to find time this evening at 9am to start and have only just finished everything now (it’s 11pm). Homework was actually good, during the lessons yesterday I was struggling to get to complete grips with finding location, bearing, etc but I’m now pretty comfortable with that. I was a little bit naughty and bought a pack of charts from the chandlery (£45!) so I could work out real-world information and check it against google. Good news is that I’m super familiar with the process now, I can do it pretty quickly and my answers are the same as those on the instructor’s slides. The YouTube videos I mentioned from Elite Sailing are new, or certainly have been uploaded new and they are really very good. Very clear and easy to follow, it’s

Good news of the day is that the window in the kitchen is now fixed. Annoying that it broke but at least it’s no longer full of condensation and looks like a proper window again. The guy turned up in full mask, gloves, etc and just got on with it. It’s good to see that people are getting back to work, especially in places where it’s relatively low risk (I didn’t need to get near the guy).

Anyway, it’s late and I have class number two tomorrow and the weekly 10:30am Verdant beer launch.

Strong Holm

Blimey, it’s been a busy day since the last post! Last night was a lot of fun, I watched Iron Pier run a meet the brewer and can launch via their Facebook page. It was great, there were about 30 people on the live feed and the two brewers explained everything to do with their backgrounds to the canning process and their future goals. You can watch the video of the session here, I asked a few questions (and was the first to do so!). I’ve very much enjoyed their beers and am particularly looking forward to trying their Breezy Day IPA once it’s canned up in the next week or so.

Following yesterdays spur of the moment decision to sign up to do my RYA Day Skipper theory, today I completed my first lesson. In the morning I headed down to the marina to collect the learning materials and a USB stick with all of the guides. The call was at 18:30 via zoom and there were probably ten or so other students on the course. The experience via Zoom was actually really good, it was very easy to follow the instructor when I could hear him clearly and see the presentation on my own monitor right in front of me. Some parts of the lesson were a little too fast, for example where it is necessary to find a location and work out the lat/long but I will simply repeat these in my own time until I’m familiar. It was a little tricky having enough desk space for the large charts, I think I may use the big table downstairs for future lessons. I have some homework, nothing too major, an hour or two for tomorrow evening which includes some excercises, reading and watching of YouTube videos. I expect I shall have no issue with the latter task. By the way, the random name of these blog posts are fictional names of places on the charts, thought it’d be fun.

Last, Victoria and I were discussing when the ‘lockdown’ timer should end. At home we have a little black board where we update the number of days since we have been in government-mandated lockdown, we’re currently on day 62. We were a few days ahead of the official date, but agreed that our date was our date. With the gradual, well, I say gradual, there’s been hoards of people in Upnor for the last week, it’s literally the only time in my life I’ve seen people enjoying Upnor ‘beach’ and yes, there are people swimming. Anyway, with the gradual change in lockdown when are we considered to no longer be in lockdown? My opinion is that we’re out of lockdown only when the pubs are back to normal. Until you can go to a pub, sit down at the bar, have a pint of cask ale and not have to wear a mask or any of that nonsense, I consider us to still be in lockdown.

Oh, speaking of the pub, yesterday there were people sitting on the pub tables outside the Ship drinking ‘take away’ bottles of beer and eating a ‘take away’ roast dinner out of a foil take away container. This is NOT take away. If you’re eating and drinking it on the premises from where you purchased it, you’re not taking it away. I don’t normally give 2 seconds notice to what people do so long as it doesn’t impact me, but this one was just silly and I’ve seen lots of stupid things over the last few months. The rules are the rules, I don’t necessarily agree with the rules, you may not agree with the rules, but they are for whatever good it will do, the rules. And let’s be real, we can all go 60 days without a fucking roast dinner, let alone one in a foil container - GO HOME. Anyway, maybe they had a special reason to need to eat a roast dinner from a foil container whilst enjoying a cool, crisp bottle of Bud - who am I to judge?

Going to go and have a gin now.

In better news, the kitchen window is getting fixed tomorrow (it has moisture between the panes) and I’ve just booked the Audi to have it’s dents fixed too. I’m very excited about both of these things. They are going to cost me more than the Day Skipper course, but they will bring me much happiness.

Fitzroy Bay

This weekend couldn’t have come sooner, it’s been a long week, productive, but long. Yesterday I spent most of the day drafting out Leg 8 of the Train To Turkey blog post. It’s coming along but it still seems to take me absolutely ages to get it all together. I’ve got a bit of a process now which is 1. Sort through pictures, edit and prepare 2. Research and made notes 3. Write up post with support from research and pictures. This process seems to help me stay away from the Wikiedia research-rabbit-hole, although yesterday I did spend an unnecessary amount of time reading about Nazi occupation of Bulgaria and it’s liberation by the Soviet Army. Interesting, but not really a valuable use of my time when I should be blogging.

Aside from reading Wikipedia I did make a few adjustments to the blog. One thing that I really dislike is when I write a post it’s quite often about a trip or a thing that happened in the past. Leg 8 for the Train to Turkey is an example, I will end up posting it in a few days time when actually the event took place almost a year ago. I had no solution to this with Squarespace, but with Jekyll I can add whatever front-matter I like to posts and display it or process it in any way I choose. So I’ve added a ‘history’ field which I can optionally populate and have the date displayed at the top of the post. That way I no-longer need to mention when something happened in the body of the post, I can just write and get on with it. It should also be possible to have the archive page list posts based on this ‘history’ date so that posts show in the order they happened rather than when they were posted. That’s a project for another day but something that in theory shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.

I also added a location field which you can see on this post too, which I thought would be cool for when I’m travelling (if we’re ever allowed to again). I did set it the location information up as a URL but I need to sort the formatting out so that it works better. Few other improvements too, I reduced the title size so that it now fits on my iPhone screen without rolling over to a new line and I added a little tag icon for tags and moved them to the bottom of the post. Not yet sold on them being at the bottom, I may bring them back up, but we’ll see how we go.

In other news, I’ve signed up to complete my RYA Day Skipper Theory course. This has been something I’ve been considering since last year and it seemed like now was a sensible time to commit to it. With COVID-19 the course is run online via Zoom which is much more convenient and easy to manage around work. It’ll be 3 weekday evenings for three weeks, so I’ll carry on my my imitation commute and then switch to learning mode. I actually started my Day Skipper a few years ago with evening classes at Cushman but I kept getting interrupted with work calls and had to quit. I was pretty disappointed but, well that’s in the past. This time round I’m going to study with Elite Sailing who are just across the river in Chatham Marina, so it should make transitioning to the practical much easier too. The course is essentially the RYA equivalent of PADI’s Open Water but it seems a little more involved. I’m excited, with this and perhaps some more water time I can confidently close off Number 18 on the list.

Medway Regatta 2019

The Medway Regatta is a big weekend of racing for all classes of keelboat. There are races for Sonatas, Squibs, Dragons, Cruisers and even Thames Barges! The past few years I’ve focused my time underwater rather than on the water but not too many years back I used to spend time sailing dinghies on the Medway in the cadet class. This year I had the pleasure of joining my father and brother-in-law aboard Astral to participate in the Medway Challenge Race.

The Challenge Race was a single held on the Sunday which allowed participants to take part in the regatta without needing to race for three full days. The course that morning was identical to that of other competitors also racing cruisers and sonatas for the full weekend but the start time was staggered and a different pennant was used to differentiate vessels. We started in to the wind in Gillingham reach and we got off the line well, with only one or two other boats around us and headed up river and out in to the estuary with about 15 knots of wind behind us. We passed a dragon which while waiting to start had collied with another and dismasted - not a good sight!

It was a relaxed sail out into the estuary with the wind gradually picking up as we began to make our way past the Montgomery. We turned back towards Medway and taking advantage of the now stronger 22 knot wind had managed to keep at least one boat behind us. We were tacking down river against the tide which we had hoped would have changed before we passed sheerness point. In shallower waters we opted to reef the sails to maintain control of what was becoming a reasonably windy race.

Back into Gillingham and the stronger winds and changing tide played into the hands of our immediate competitor who had a better line and cleaner wind across the line. A fantastic Sunday on the river and no shame in losing to a bigger boat! After the race we attended the Regatta Dinner at the clubhouse which was a great little opportunity to get dressed up and have a little too much wine!