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:

big_big_russ-norge-norwegia-norway-www-nportal-no1

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.

32892533_10156524314186209_2405061572704600064_n

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

32911350_10156524313846209_6044038709492318208_n

The Cabin Boy, cool as a cucumber

32932590_10156524313686209_2553345297124163584_n

“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.

IMG_0412

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.

20525187_1599764053408226_2337278807636471263_n

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.

20604250_1601379313246700_373238990242822388_n

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.

21122356_1623676061017025_4067545499879443067_o.jpg

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.

Dale

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.

IMG_2013

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!

IMG_2019