Nothing much going on- for a reason

I realise that our blog for the last two seasons has basically been an opening post, then not much, and then a sort of end-of-season round up. This isn’t great, and we’ve not posted anything this season at all.

There’s a reason for this. Karisma hasn’t been commissioned for 2019. She had her sails serviced by Sanders as usual in the winter, but we have not found time to bend the on, or use her at all, this season. She is securely moored in Milford haven as ever.

We have been overwhelmed, basically, by two job changes (me) and a house move in early summer, and now in July we find ourselves with a little bit of family time (maybe a week) to use her, or defer to 2020.

The result is she isn’t going to sail this year.

On the plus side: she certainly won’t be sold, and we will be sailing her in 2020 and blogging about it.

This year, sadly, is her first ‘year off’ in 18 years since she was built.

Not great, but bear with us to next season.

First Day Out

As a reminder to myself later in the summer- when we will no doubt be sitting in a damp and cold boat rocking in gale-force winds- I am going to write the following words:

The weather is fantastic right now!

And it has been fantastic, both here and in Norway, for the last ten days or more. That’s important in Norway, because May is a month of many public holidays, culminating in the National Day of the 17th May. For high school kids, this is the final day of the Russefeiring, a month-long celebration of nothing much other than leaving school (they haven’t even taken their final exams) but which essentially involves dressing up in coveralls and going bezerk:

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For the last month the youth of Stavanger has been singing, shouting, dragging ghettoblasters around the city, and no doubt engaging in other similarly pastoral pursuits; the authorities issued warnings that teenagers should not have sex on roundabouts. Consequently, the day on which this all comes to a head has a dark reputation amongst expats- either close your curtains and hide in the basement/bathroom on 17th May, or leave the country was the general advice. Choosing discretion as the better part of valour, then, the warm dawn of the 17th found me stepping aboard a KLM aeroplane bound for Amsterdam and connecting to Cardiff. After packing a quick bag and thundering down the M4 in our ancient Passat (which, thankfully, had passed its MOT days before) the cool evening found us spending the night at our usual Milford Haven staging post-the Beggar’s Reach Hotel- ready to rig Karisma up the next day.

Rigging her up (properly, ‘bending on’ the sails) is usually a bit of a labour, not difficult but prolonged, with the four battens and three reefs of the mainsail best rigged up via a succession of hoists and drops, requiring coordinated family effort. The boat had been moved, in our absence, to a new berth (C38– bring wine if visiting, anything you like except Pinot Noir) and she was parked nose-in, stern to an unexpectedly stiff breeze from the south and west. PredictWind had been suggesting four knots of nothingness, but even if we turned the boat around it would be a bit breezy to rig up. So we went for a drive and waited. One of the PredictWind forecasts: that from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting or ECMWF (that’s a mouthful)- saw a breezier start with the wind falling away; when we returned at lunchtime, that was exactly what had happened, an accuracy that was duly noted.

So after lunch we started the job, got the headsail on in 15 minutes, and within 40 minutes I had the main up and on the track, ready to drop and fit its battens. Usually after first hoisting it I re-fit the stack pack, so the sail drops into the lazy jacks and I can pull it back up, fitting battens and reef lines- job done. The lazy jacks are of course left up the mast all winter; they drop from a turning block about a metre or so above the spreaders, with the jacks running down to the stack pack and control lines to cleats on the mast at about the level of the halyard entry. The whole lot are tied down tight to the spinnaker ring on the front of the mast during the winter.

The port side of the stack pack went on easily, and I was already congratulating myself on a record rig-up time as I ran the starboard side of the pack into the groove on the boom which holds the cloth and reached for the lazy jacks to tie them off. Strange! they’re not moving- in fact, they’re jammed, and bloody well too. The winter gales had somehow blown the starboard lazyjacks over to the port side between their turning block and the starboard spreader, and wrapped them behind the only obstruction there- the steaming light. A lot of cursing ensued, there being no obvious way of freeing them. I tried to run the lazyjacks out of the jam behind the light by ‘mousing’ them out- attaching a thinner line to the end of the jacks and pulling it round to the area of the jam, hoping the result would be a freer tangle that might possibly work itself loose from behind the light; but all that happened was that the force required to move anything through the jam parted the whipping (stitching) that I had used to attach the mouse to the jacks. and everything ended up on deck, that was that.

So there was no alternative but to run for help, and once again Windjammer Marine saved the start of our season. Dave was at the boat within an hour, and despite a bit of good-natured grumbling, he was up the mast straight away and re-attached the lazy jacks. Next weekend I owe him a bill, and beer.

I finished rigging up the main, slowly realising that I had now been out on deck for about four hours, and was pretty sunburnt. We retired to the Griffin at Dale for a dinner of scampi and chips. Sunburn and Scampi, must be a Pembrokeshire summer.

Freeflow in the Milford locks was on until 9.30am on a windless Saturday morning, so with all set we motored out around 9.15am near the top of the tide. Eira is now 14 months old, almost walking, bright as a button, and instead of lying below in a bunk as she did for most of last season, she is togged up in a baby lifejacket and roaming the cockpit on the end of a tether. So we took it easy for her first trip as Competent Crew, motoring up-channel with the last of the tide towards Hazelbeach. Delighted with herself, she stood on the coamings commanding all her eye could see, and even jumped down into the cockpit to take the helm with enthusiasm. Eira’s enjoyment of the trip was aided by a bunch of new toys, kindly presented to her by Chris and Bianca of Sea Ptarmigan, whose own kids have outgrown them.

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Commanding all her eye can see- with maracas, should a point need emphasis

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The Cabin Boy, cool as a cucumber

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“I’ll show you how to do that properly, Daddy.”

We pulled onto the Hazelbeach pontoon without too much fuss. A group of divers were training in the shallow waters; there was only a little beach in front of the Ferry Inn pub, and it was too early in the morning for the pub to be open (shame), so Eira had her first ever paddle in the clear, if still cold, water.

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After motoring back for a fab lunch at Martha’s Vineyard, we finished the day off with some crabbing and a beach barbecue at Dale.  A really nice start to the season, and a fab family day out. Let’s hope the weather holds!

 

Back to sea- soon

So this blog has been a bit dormant lately. Let me fill readers on all the changes that have happened since we visited Neyland Marina during the summer holidays of 2017…..

Well, we carried on sailing in Milford Haven until August, with Karisma visiting Lawrenny for a lunch, Dale and the griffin pontoon a couple of times for fish, chips, crabbing and beer, and ending the season with a fabulous bank holiday afternoon at anchor off the golden sands of Watwick Bay.

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Jenny, Fionn, Eira and Karisma arrive for lunch at the Lawrenny Arms pontoon. Getting alongside against the strong tide in the Cleddau was a real challenge, but we did it at our first attempt.

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Karisma finally moors to the Griffin Pontoon at Dale, the beach of my childhood holidays. Fish and chips at the surf cafe were followed by beers at the Griffin inn. My ten-year-old self remembered being one of the little children running up and down the pontoon, casting lines for crabs and ogling the fabulous, mysterious yachts alongside, which one day they might sail off on an adventure.

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Watwick Bay from our deck on a fabulous bank holiday afternoon.

I meant to write blogs about all these adventures but, with a busy family life and a small baby aboard, the record failed to make it from Karisma’s log book to the internet. And then in September our circumstances changed quite significantly; readers may know that I’m a petroleum geologist, and that the oil and gas industry has been in a trough for quite a while. I hadn’t had regular work since my days with Maersk Oil in Denmark, ending in 2015, but in October I found myself (with 2 weeks notice) working full time in Norway for the former BP Norge company (now known as AkerBP). This has meant us adopting an international family life, flying back and forth to Stavanger in Southern Norway on odd weekends, catching whatever time together as a family we can. Fionn still has school to go to in Wales, so we haven’t been able to make a permanent move to Norway.

As a result, I have only seen Karisma twice since the summer, and not at all since before Christmas, which has been a wrench. She has been placed in the care of Windjammer Marine, the marine engineers at Milford Marina, who lifted her out of the water in January for her winter maintenance. She’s been on the hard ever since. She has now had her saildrive and engine serviced, all her remaining original seacocks replaced (following the failure of one of her original seacocks last May) and has also had her saildrive diaphragm replaced (an expensive job, which only comes up once every seven years, but unfortunately was due). Anyhow, she’s going back in the water on the 29th of this month at the very latest, and we are going to have Easter weekend aboard! Our sailing will necessarily be more constrained this year than previously, but we will make our very best efforts to give the kids the best possible adventures aboard, and report back to this blog.

Reflections

One other bit of news. A few weeks ago we received the sad news that our good sailing pals, Simon and Kirsten, have sold their boat Kizzie and, for now at least, given up yachting. We all started sailing together seven years ago and, although we haven’t had time to catch up and chat about their choice, we certainly feel a loss that our partners in crime are not for now plying the high seas anymore. Naturally, this makes you reflect on the time you have spent with your own boat, and I want to mention a hoary adage: old salts in yachting often say that the two happiest days with a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. So I found myself looking back over seven years’ of photographs of us, our growing family, and Karisma; and I can happily inform the old salts that they are talking bollocks. We’ve not girdled oceans or arrived at ports in paradise, but in seven years we’ve faced enormous seas, watched beautiful sunsets, raced (and beaten) the fastest crews, taken our kids to beautiful harbours, clipped through blue waters, and had the privilege of seeing the coast of Wales from a unique and beautiful perspective. We’ve grown as a family and grown as sailors, and we will continue to do so, because I have no need to worry about the day we sell Karisma (it will never come), and they day I bought her now seems a thousand years ago. Every day we sail her gets better and better, so I’ve made a simple slide show to remind us in case we ever forget. Here’s to Karisma, to 2018, and beyond. Fair winds for the new season- we will see you on the water.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter Neyland Marina on a Monday night

It's a Monday night and Karisma is in Neyland Marina. We came to try it out, in particular to try the restaurant which is supposed to be very good- and do something with the very changeable weather this week.

Our visitor berth is costing 27.30 for the boat alone. We have paid for electricity- a flat fee of £3.50 for ONE night- and a further £5.50 to do some laundry (washing powder not included, obviously). All in £36.30, not a small sum for the night.

"What time does the restaurant open?"

"On Monday nights? Oh, he always closes on a Monday night". Just like that.

There are no other restaurants within walking distance of the closed restaurant which the marina leases to a man who can't be arsed to open it on a Monday night during school holiday time. So for our forty quid we can now either a) cook onboard and enjoy the tranquility of a marina in which you need a taxi to buy a beer, or b) engage a taxi so we can get a beer.

We thought about getting a taxi to Milford to fetch our car, but that just seemed all wrong.

Looking at the positives, the showers are good.

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We’re having a couple of weekends without the boat due to other commitments. I had meant to write a longish post about our trip down the haven to Dale two weeks ago, but manic family life has rather left it behind and a couple of phone shots will have to do. Anyway, I fulfilled a long-standing ambition to bring Karisma to one of the beaches of my childhood, and we even did it with my parents on board! We motored down the haven and put Karisma on the floating pontoon, which behaved itself well. We had a lunch and pumped up the dinghy, with Fionn and myself going for a tour of the harbour. After a grand afternoon we sailed back to Milford in light winds. A brilliant afternoon and, with two weeks of holiday booked, more of it soon to come.

It was sunnier than it looks in the photographs!

 

 

And we’re back

So my previous estimate of the return of the boat to the water was, er, a little bit out. Karisma finally hit the water on Thursday last week, after a little over seven weeks on the hard. We had an estimate for the turnaround of four to six weeks, so what went wrong? Well, firstly, the job somehow slipped between the cracks of the marine engineers booking system, and after three weeks of nothing happening a gentle reminder got the wheels turning again. This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last I suppose, that some marine job or other has ended up like this, with almost every contractor I have ever used (the noble exception being Sanders Sails). The replacement seacocks took some time to arrive, and once all the port-hand side skin fittings had been changed (loo in and out, plus the sink outlet) it was discovered that the boat had been positioned in her shore cradle with a pad over the galley sink fitting, which is on the port hand side. Looking at it, it’s hard to see how it could have been put in the cradle any other way, but the way the cradle was built meant it was impossible to prop it either side and remove the cradle pad without cutting it off in some manner. This meant that the only way of finishing the job was to lift the boat with the travelling hoist, and here we ran into the real problem, which was that the marina had sent the travelling hoist away to the docks area for a load of welding in the middle of the summer season. Given that most people launch in April (or thereabouts) and come ashore in October (or thereabouts), and few people want a boat hoisted in December or January, you might think that wintertime is a good time to service a hoist, as through the active season there will always be a certain number of boats coming in and out. Digging further it transpired that the hoist was being serviced (or rather repaired) because of a “grinding sound” coming from the steerable wheels, and that it had already been serviced for something-or-other only a month earlier. We lost ten days waiting for it, but I suppose we should thank our lucky stars becuase once it had trollied all three tonnes of Karisma down to the slipway it tried to lift a nine-tonne boat (it is, by the way, rated to lift 13 tonnes, which is not really terribly heavy as boats go) and the hydraulics blew up, so nobody else got a lift that day. Chatting with the engineers they made the point that the hoist was costing them a lot of business and I can believe it. Reflecting on it all, I think the best thing to do is get on board with a bit of ‘marine manana’ when operating out west. The work done on the boat was excellent and the price maybe two thirds of what it would cost in Cardiff, which was a pleasant surprise at the end of the process, so I can’t complain too much. Plus, the boat is not now taking on water, which is always a Good Thing.

So we bundled outselves, Eira’s baby things, sleeping bags and all the rest of it into the car on Friday night and down to the boat we went. We ate in Martha’s Vineyard, the bar immediately above the marina offices, and I can highly recommend it- a great welcome and good food. High tide on Saturday was 12:30pm so we decided to go up-channel to the Jolly Sailor at Burton and pull onto their pontoon for lunch. Our berth had become a bit cramped- a large open area immediately behind us on the finger opposite has been occupied by a gignormous ?ferro or steel boat, but we got off the pontoon and away with a solid shot of reverse. Due to Jenny being needed to tend to and feed Eira, Fionn stepped up to serious deck work and excelled. We came alongside at the fuel berth to discover another boat using it as a waiting pontoon, and had to come alongside a little finger pontoon and wait for them to push off. Fionn did a great job getting the stern line onto a cleat in a tight space.

Once we had fuel we enjoyed the novelty of a freeflow lock out to the blue sunny waters of the haven. leaving Milford’s approach channel, we then had some genuine excitement as Fionn, moving onto foredeck duties, fumbled a fender overboard. Man Overboard practice ensued, and we had the off-fender back on board ten minutes later, having had to pick it up to leeward because it was blown so quickly over the sea surface by a wind of around 10 knots. Jenny proved an expert with the boathook.

With the wind in the west we ran up-channel on some deep broad reaches and training runs. Fionn took over headsail grinding duties; it was a good time to start when running downwind and not a lot of sheet tension needed. Generally, however, Karisma does not much like to be sailed so deep and the 10 or so knots of wind was not really pushing her along at more than four knots. This changed a little south of Pembroke dock where a jet of wind got us doing 6.2kn at about 150 degrees, which was probably the best downwind experience we have had with the boat. Of course, going downwind is something one never does in the inner Bristol Channel, so perhaps there are hidden depths yet to her performance!

Just before 1pm, with the tide already turned against us, we were passed by the Irish Ferries “Isle of Inishmore”- how many times have we watched boats sailing the haven from her decks, and wished it was us! – so we waved enthusiastically at the people on her decks, who waved enthusiastically back. I don’t know how many yachts bother to wave to the ferry, but we spend so much time on her visiting our family in Ireland it felt like the natural thing to do. By this pont we were off Hazelbeach, which has a pontoon and a pub (the Ferry Inn) and this seemed a better option than pushing on against the tide to Burton. We dropped our sails and motored onto the pontoon, having to take the windward side on account of a few small motorboats clustered to leeward. We managed to avoid a very unusual obstruction which is unknown in the inner Bristol Channel (someone swimming!) and came alongside in 4.5m of water. Comparing it to the height of tide, I figured that the pontoon dries 0.9m at its hammerhead, which fits exactly the estimate in the pilot book. Neat!

The Ferry Inn is a nicely appointed pub but, very oddly at 1pm for a waterside pub on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was all but empty. In fact I had to knock on the kitchen door to get someone to dispense coca-colas. Being paranoid about making our first stop on a drying pontoon after high tide- and because it seemed rather a chore for the staff if you wanted to order anything- we made do with coke and crisps for lunch and pulled off an hour later. Of course, the water depth had dropped by only 0.3m; we have to get out of the Cardiff mindset, where metres of tide can come and go in an hour. 4.5m is a lot of water when the range is only 5m in the first place.

Here’s Jenny Fionn and Karisma- and, a man and a dog and Karisma- on the pontoon at Hazelbeach.

Looking at that blue sky it’s amazing to think that we set off after lunch into a wind gusting to 19 knots and under a completely grey sky. We cut our losses and motored back to Milford, taking a detour to peek int Gelliswick bay where our new yacht club is housed. The club’s dinghy regatta was in full swing, so we stayed clear of the racers and headed back to enjoy a Carribean-themed night- complete with pirates- and rather a lot of Chardonnay at Martha’s Vineyard.

Sunday was time to clean the boat, becuase after seven weeks under another earth bank  she had got rather grubby on deck. She now looks spiffing.

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After all that work a decent lunch was in order so we headed over to Pembrokeshire Yacht Club just in time to see the dinghy regatta come to a close, with boats returning from a long-distance race around Dale roads. Fionn had a swim in the bay before his scampi and chips and the long road home. A perfect weekend, but the best bit? Well, we’ll be back for more on Friday night. Can’t wait!

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Milford Haven has a very nice boatyard.

Dear Reader. Would you like the good news, or the bad news?

Well, it isn’t that bad. Karisma is in Milford Haven! Myself and our pal Julie set out on Saturday afternoon (6th May) from Penarth, locking out of Cardiff Barrage for the last time at 15:30 (HW-2) for Karisma’s first night sail, expecting an approximately 18 hour journey to Milford. The weather forecast showed the tail of a system moving away, with stronger winds on Saturday morning dying away overnight. The wind was whistling through the marina as we settled our final bill (£45 for five nights, on top of two-hundred-and seventy-ish for the month of April- short term rates hurt) before slipping our lines. As soon as we left the barrage the wind dropped away to about 14 knots from the north-east, but the boat was being thrown about by a big, ugly swell coming straight on our beam as we made our way south to Rannie. Where does it come from? There is  not much sea north and east of Cardiff, and hardly anything to build up a fetch. But, that’s the inner channel for you. Julie hand steered as I got the kettle on as we waved goodbye to Penarth Head, standing stark above the lumpy, grey sea.

Minded that we were delivering the boat and not having felt like raising the sails downwind in a slop off Penarth, as we were passing Barry the sea flattened out, but so did the wind. We were down to about 10kn apparent, which is not enough to keep Karisma on the 5kn through the water that I wanted to average for the trip. We passed a moored tanker and eventually decided to pull the headsail out. It filled well enough but didn’t do anything much if we throttled back the engine, so we kept running at 2000 rpm. The headsail seemed to at least give a steadying effect in a still restless, churning sea. The only other leisure vessel was a fair old gin palace of a mobo which overtook us as we passed Rhoose.

South of the Aberthaw Caisson we were able to lay a waypoint off St Govan’s head, some 60 nautical miles to the West-North-West, without encountering any dangers. Accordingly, the steering duties were handed over to Sinbad the autopilot. Readers may remember indifferent performance the last time Sinbad steered us west, but on Saturday he proved an exemplary helm, keeping course for mile after mile. Here’s the course we took:

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This course meant clearing outside the Nash, Scarweather and Helwick sands, and the plan revolved around getting west of Helwick bofore local low water (22:45), so that we punched the foul flood tide in Carmarthen Bay, where it is generally weaker than in Swansea Bay. I was also keen not to run any risk of being set down onto the Helwick sands by a foul tide at night. Although the course looks relatively offshore, it didn’t feel particularly so, with the long, dark bulk of Gower on our starboard as the light faded away. Somewhere between Scarweather and Gower we saw a lone bull seal; by this point the wind had long ago died to nothing.

The pilot book makes the point that Gower is inhospitable to sailors at night because it is so poorly lit, and that’s certainly true. We struggled to make out the lighthouse on Mumbles, and saw little of any shore lights until we had Port Eynon abeam. The west cardinal at the western end of the Helwick sands is tremendously bright, however, and it gave us a definite point of reference as darkness flowed around us. We both remarked that the western horizon took on a strange, murky quality, with the horizon difficult to make out. Were it not for the cardinal being clearly visible whilst still miles east of it, we would have concluded that there was fog. It was a strange, slightly disquieting, slightly exciting, effect.

As the last light faded and still east of the Helwick cardinal, it became possible to make out a low orange flash behind and to the north-west of the bright cardinal. We had not expected to see the far shore until much closer, but this was undoubtedly the lighthouse on Caldey Island. We could see Pembrokeshire!

We had just passed Helwick in windless conditions when the tide turned, which was spot on for the passage plan and saved us having to punch past the sands. Caldey continued to flash its orangey beam, and before long a faint, indistinct red light became visible high up to the west. As we ran down the miles, this resolved itself into several red lights on three refinery towers actually inside Milford Haven. The wind had long since blown itself out, the sky was overcast, and darkness complete. We motored across Carmarthen bay through the long, quiet hours of the night with just the stern light, and the occasional big ship on AIS, for company.

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By 3am we had made better progress than expected and were some three nautical miles off St Govan’s head. Now we began to get a little jittery. St Govans is completely, and I mean completely, unlit, and we could not tell land from sea because the pre-dawn light – which so often dramatically shortens the night at sea- was still over an hour away. Our plotted course ran beneath St Govans and Linney heads taking the shortest route to the entrance to the Haven; that is, it was about 1Nm offshore. From a completely unlit headland. At night. That didn’t sound great, and worse, we had had a warning about lobster pots in that area from one of the old salts in Penarth Marina before departing. Whether a pot encounter was likely or not, it seemed sensible to turn west and stay a little further offshore. I had no qualms about entering the Haven in the dark; big ships are very obvious at night and the entrance holds no particular dangers for a small boat in settled weather, but we were ahead of our plan, so there was no need to rush either.

Rounding Linney Head, a grey dawn broke as we headed for the East Channel in the entrance to Milford.

And then, after a short motor up the grey- and very quiet- Haven, we found ourselves locking through Milford Lock at 07:00 and tying up on berth F4. The sky might have been grey, but the water was a deep green-blue, filled with the promise of sparkling sailing to come.

The total run was about 88Nm over the ground, taking 15 hours. Jenny and Eira arrived about midday to ferry myself and Julie home. We tidied up the boat, and as we did so I remarked that there was a bit of water in the bilge. Not a lot, but some, and there is usually none. That’s boats though, and I figured that I’d mop it up mid-week, when Jen, Eira and myself were coming back to spend a night (our wedding anniversary) on board.

Did you say something about water in the bilge?

Oh yes, the water in the bilge. Well, Jen, Eira and I arrived on Wednesday evening in beautiful sunny weather and stowed beds and food on the boat before heading out to sample the beers in Pembrokeshire yacht Club. The marina and club, which is based round the corner at Gelliswick, have a reciprocal deal- join the club for fifty quid and get a hundred quid off your berthing fee. A complete no-brainer, and something I was always trying, without success, to tie up between the Penarth marina and yacht club.

Before we headed out I checked on that water in the bilge. And found that there was about twice as much as we’d left there two days eariler. Not a huge amount- about a bucketful- but definitely more than we’d left there. I pumped it out with the bilge pumps (we don’t have an automatic pump, which is why the water was there in the first place) and contemplated. Could it actually be a leak? Surely not. The boat is always dry. The keel bolts come through into the bilge so that would be an obvious source of a leak- but I had checked the keel bolts after launch in January- and keel bolts tend to leak in a catastrophic sort of way. Surely it couldn’t be the keel bolts leaking. I had checked all the skin fittings and seacocks, they had all been dry at launch too. One thing I had done was fill the bilge with water and pump it out to check the bilge pumps worked properly. Could it be that the same water was just cascading back down the bilge pump lines, having been “stored” up there somehow, and not fully pumped out? Well that water was fresh and this water is decidedly salty. But maybe. Time for a beer.

We had a great night at Pembrokeshire Yacht Club which I highly recommend. A couple of Coors and all that stuff about water in the bilge was forgotten.

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I’m sorry, did you say something about water in the bilge?

A good night’s sleep, up and brew coffee, better check the bilge is still nice and dry, which it will be.

The bilge is absolutely completely full of water.

Bucket, sponge. Two buckets worth taken out. This has got in in about 12 hours, so we have a leak, it is quite fast and getting faster. Could something have happened to the keel bolts? Time to get the entire cabin sole up. Screwdriver out, saloon table up, cabin sole up, chaos and stuff everywhere. There was no obvious leak on the keel bolts, which was a relief, but one thing was clear. It was time for a marine engineer and we were going to need to get out of the water pretty quick.

The onsite marine engineers are Windjammer and I had heard good things about them, so I went straight round. In the office were Meurig and Dave. Meurig took my name and address; and on seeing the spelling of my first name- “Huw, the Welsh way”- asked if I spoke Welsh. Well, as it happens I’m learning- so Meurig flipped straight into Welsh and we did the rest of the explanation in the native tongue, which was more than I’d banked on but was a huge pleasure. So it’s Welsh from now on in Windjammer.

Dave was at the boat within half an hour and, after we tore more bits of it apart, we traced the leak to the heads seacock. Water was trickling out of the fitting whether open or closed, getting between the inner moulding and hull, and finding its way to the bilge.

The seacocks are the “ordinary” bronze type, and I’m as aware as the next chap that these aren’t approved any more because they de-zincify (is that a word?), become brittle, and fail. However, in my defence I have always checked them each season, they have always been sound, and pre-emptively replacing the lot with DZR (corrosion resistant) fittings has seemed a bit unnecessary. Anyhow, they are now giving up the ghost, and I suppose I should be grateful that we did not have a sudden or catastrophic failure with one snapping off.

The only remedy was to haul the boat out, having been in been in Milford Marina for a grand total of four days. We will replace all of the below water seacocks immediately, and do the above-waterline ones in the winter. The Marina were incredibly efficient, and it was quite something to see Karisma being trucked down the road to the boatyard with a queue of cars behind her. We are probably looking at a longish wait due to the workload in the yard, but as we are away doing other things for most of May, hopefully it will not have too much of an impact. And at least the boat can’t sink in the yard. Ah well. Roll on summer!

Oh, and I’ve bought an automatic bilge pump, too. Suddenly seems a good idea!

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Thinking about wind

We were planning to deliver Karisma to Milford Haven this weekend. The boat is ready, I victualled her yesterday and, as Jenny is out of sailing action because of Eira’s arrival, our pal Julie was coming to help me get the boat west. But, as so often happens in the Bristol Channel, the weather- that is, the first real blow for a couple of weeks- forced some choices, and none of them terribly good.

Julie’s excellent suggestion to head off overnight yesterday (Friday) direct to Milford was scuppered by forecasts showing the weekend blow moving into St Anne’s Head before we could get there, making our destination a lee shore in a fair old bag of wind. So I figured we would go to Swansea today (Saturday), which was a good idea except for a couple of problems: one, it isn’t Milford and two, it has lock closures over low water this weekend. Until yesterday, the forecast suggested we’d have light winds on Monday, so it looked like we could sail to Swansea, skip Sunday and complete our delivery to Milford on the bank holiday Monday. Worth the effort to get there, then. This morning though, the forecast showed a hard westerly blow all day Monday, meaning we’d be (at the moment) indefinitely detained in Swansea. This was the story of our 2016 sailing season, and I have to admit being less than keen to repeat it. Going today also meant arriving a couple of hours before the Tawe lock would let us in, and in a southerly blow the only possible shelter being to enter the river. That would risk running aground on low springs and maybe not even finding any shelter anyway. Or sail in circles in a rising wind. Finally I took a look at the Met Office inshore waters forecast: “strong winds are forecast…. force five or six from the south….. seven later… moderate or rough”, that sort of stuff. Even though Julie is a Yachtmaster and a much better sailor than me, it’s still the sort of stuff I always say we don’t sail in. Yet I’ve sailed in that sort of stuff offshore on plenty of RORC races… and yet, that was all on pretty big yachts. Perhaps it’s the sort of stuff I just don’t skipper in; or I don’t skipper a relatively light, small boat like Karisma in. I don’t really know.

In the end I canned it for the weekend, ultimately because I wasn’t really sure getting to Swansea was a better idea than staying in Penarth. But it’s another one of those fifty-fifty weather decisions which have got me starting to loathe the inner Bristol Channel. There are no harbours of refuge and everything is a lee shore most of the time; you spend your sailing life trying to second-guess the GFS in the various chunks and snatches of time you are able to put aside for sailing. Can we get from here to there before that window closes? When can we get from there to elsewhere? Will we be stuck somewhere? With a young family and a busy life, we just can’t sit and wait for weather windows. The unfortunate truth is, we need them on the weekends. Today would have been a bit of work, but we would have got to Swansea. But I’d rather be stuck in Penarth than Swansea, and stuck for this week at least we would be. Go or stay, stick or twist, round and round and round. The boat’s still in Penarth tonight, and we will try a direct overnight delivery (so we are not constrained by the tides) as soon as we can. But when you have a pal coming as crew, you can’t expect them to keep life constantly on hold for weather windows either- it’s not fair. Round and round and round.

So how much of this is an impression about the Bristol Channel that doesn’t hold up, and how much of it is a real picture of the wind and weather here? Well, I figured I’d try and get some actual wind history and compare it to someplace which gives the impression of perpetual light winds- that, of course, is the Solent. It is the centre of British yachting and you have to suppose that the weather has something to do with it. Sometimes it seems that almost everyone is there (certainly, and at least from a BC perspective, it often seems there’s nobody else here).

A bit of internet digging quickly made it clear that if you want this sort of info from the Met Office you had better be an academic or willing to pay for it. Being neither (and proud of it), further digging found a useful site called Rensmart.com. It is aimed at the renewable energy industry and nothing to do with sailing, but it carries an archive of wind speed data, gathered hourly, for the ten years between 2000 and 2010 for a good number of locations around the UK. After downloading the data for Cardiff Airport and Southampton EGHI and fiddling about in Excel (to convert m/s bins to Beaufort forces) I got this chart.

weather

What’s quite interesting about this is that winds above F4 are pretty rare both in the BC and the Solent; big blows are a little bit more common in the BC but not terribly so. What is striking, though, is that the wind speed is less than F3 for an astonishing 45% of the time in the Solent, versus just over 20% of the time in the BC. So while big blows in truth are relatively rare in both locations, the real difference is that light winds are very, very common in the Solent. In fact, according to the rensmart dataset, they are more common here than in any of the (generally representative) locations I looked at, across the UK.

Light winds of course open up those weather windows, and together with the density of harbours, there’s no better way to make each precious weekend count. I can’t see that we’ll ever base Karisma in the Solent- it is too far from home and too crowded, but you can see the attraction. Especially after another crappy trudge home to stare at the GFS.