Time for tea

I’ve just got back from this week’s sailing adventure and it was a very pleasant evening. Not only was the weather fine (after a generally miserable day, meteorologically speaking) and the crew large enough and experienced enough to make for a smoother sail than we often have, but we even had time for a quick cup of tea on board before we started.

This was particularly welcome since, as so often happens when I have to go out for things (usually sailing or a band practice) shortly after getting home from work, I didn’t have time to finish the cup of tea I started before I went out.

In recent months, when I’m in the situation of wanting a cup of tea but not really having enough time to make and properly enjoy one, I have tended to go for Russian tea, but I’m beginning to get a bit tired of that pun and it recently occurred to me that green tea has several natural advantages for an occasion such as this. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll restrict myself to considering only green and black tea, rather than other types such as oolong or white tea, or non-tea-based infusions; I’ll also consider them generically rather than thinking about the specific details of particular types or blends.

The first benefit of green tea is that it is optimally brewed with slightly cooler water (around 75 degrees, instead of 100 degrees for black tea), which means both that the kettle reaches the desired temperature quicker and that the tea cools to a drinkable temperature quicker. Allied to this is the fact that green tea often requires only a relatively short brewing time (say around 2 minutes, instead of 3 or 4 for black). All that adds up to a beverage that is ready to drink somewhat sooner than black tea – very handy when time is limited.

The second benefit is that green tea leaves can usually be successfully brewed at least two or three times, and often in fact they reach their best on the second or third brew. This contrasts with black tea leaves, which are generally best the first time round. Hence, if you do run out of time and have to abandon half of your first cup, you can reuse the leaves later on when you have a bit more time to spare. This is obviously less wasteful than having to chuck them away. The cold tea left over from the first cup can be used to good effect for watering houseplants, and I’m not sure that it makes too much difference for this whether green or black tea is used.

Anyway, I’ve just finished my second cup of green tea (and I’m sure my spider plant enjoyed the latter half of the first cup I brewed before I went sailing), so it’s time to draw this musing to a close.


Not all plain sailing

Normally I’d be out sailing at this time on a summer Wednesday evening. More or less every week between early April and the end of September I crew on a yacht for a race at the Holyhead Yacht Club.

This evening, however, our race was cancelled on account of heavy fog. This surprised me when I first got the message, just as I was about to set out, as the weather here is lovely and only slightly hazy. However, I’m well aware of how variable the weather in this part of the world can be, both in space and time, so the weather 20 or so miles away (i.e. up in Holyhead) could well be notably different from what I’m experiencing at home.

The first, and as far as I recall only, time I previously mentioned sailing on this blog was just over a year ago, shortly after I’d started. As it turned out, I carried on sailing for the whole of the last season and am doing so again this year (weather permitting); I’ve also learned a great deal about sailing, although there’s plenty more to learn.

One exciting change this year is that we have a new and bigger boat. Our previous one, Mikki Finn, was a 33′ yacht of about the same vintage as me (well, about 3 years younger). Over the winter, our skipper bought a 42′ yacht called Lily (built around 1991, as I recall) from Sweden. Sadly I was unable to be part of the epic adventure of the delivery voyage from Sweden to North Wales, which began before Christmas and ended sometime after Easter. However, she is a real beauty and the extra space and self-tailing winches are particularly welcome, not to mention the greater speed afforded by a longer hull and larger sail area.

One benefit of the bigger boat is that she is better suited to longer journeys due to the increased capacity and more comfortable fittings on board (including two heads – i.e. toilets – although the door of one of them fell off on the voyage back from Sweden and hasn’t yet been refitted). So far we have only done one longer voyage, apart from the delivery one. This was a race from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire (in Ireland, just south of Dublin) a couple of weekends back. I was able to take part in this race, which was by far my longest sail to date (the only other time I’ve so far been out for more than a couple of hours was a day last October when I went to help the skipper with some maintenance tasks on Mikki Finn and we quickly decided the weather was too good to waste so we went for a sail up round the north coast of Anglesey for most of the day).

The distance from start to finish, as the crow flies, is about 60 nautical miles (which still seems to be the standard measurement for distances at sea, so it’s what I tend to use – along with the related knots (or nautical miles per hour) – in this context although I generally prefer metric measurements on land) but the course set for the race involved going round a couple of virtual waypoints, one just out from Holyhead harbour and the other a reasonable way up the coast of Ireland from Dun Laoghaire, so the actual distance was nearer 100 (nautical) miles. We had hoped to manage that in about 10 or 12 hours. However, the wind was extremely light on the outbound journey (and since we were racing we couldn’t put the motor on to assist) so it ended up taking just over 20 hours to get there. Starting as we did at 8am on Saturday morning, this meant that we got to enjoy an exciting blood moon (or at least half-moon) and a lovely sunrise before we eventually crossed the finish line, motored into Dun Laoghaire harbour, moored up at the National Yacht Club there and collapsed exhausted into our bunks for about 3 hours of sleep before having to get up and make preparations for the return journey. It was a lovely day and night of sailing but sometimes quite difficult to remember that we were in a race and had to be keeping a close eye on the trim of our sails, etc.

The return journey was not a race, so we were able to sail directly back. We had somewhat better wind than the previous day so we made much better speed as well as having less distance to cover and consequently it took only about 10 hours. I had a go at helming (i.e. steering the boat) as well – the previous day I’d left that to the more experienced crew members who knew what they were doing.

All told, it was an excellent experience, though I was very glad that the next day was a bank holiday and I was able to relax at home and recover from the exertions of the weekend. Although the sailing was mostly fairly slow paced and we were tending to stay on the same heading for several hours at a time, which meant a lot less hauling on ropes and suchlike than we usually get in a Wednesday race, there was still enough to do (including stripping some unwanted varnish from the deck when we weren’t otherwise employed) and just the length of time we were up and subconsciously adjusting our bodies to the constant, albeit mostly gentle, motion of the boat took its toll.

Last Wednesday we were out again for a Wednesday night race and this time we had the opposite problem to the Irish Sea race – too much wind. Actually, it was not excessive wind conditions for sailing but we made the mistake of starting with a genoa (headsail) that was much too big, so we were quite seriously overpowered and had to struggle to keep control of the boat. Even when we were able to get that down and put a more suitable sail on, everything that could go wrong seemed to – with everyone contributing their share of mistakes (my own worst one was probably to forget to thread the genoa sheet back through the fairleads when I had to go forward and retrieve it after it got caught up with the spinnaker lines – don’t worry, if you’re not a sailor yo’re not expected to understand any of that; suffice it to say I forgot to put a rope where it was supposed to go) and a handful of equipment failures, the most serious of which was the snapping of the metal fixing that held the bottom corner of the headsail in place (fortunately that happened just before we were due to go round our final waypoint and replace the genoa with the spinnaker in any case – not that the raising of the spinnaker went especially smoothly either, but at least we narrowly avoided dunking it when we took it back down, which we did the first time I ever helped fly a spinnaker last year). By the end of the evening we were all completely exhausted and slightly grumpy, but we were able to have a nice cup of tea while we tided the boat up after mooring, which certainly made me feel a lot better.

After last week’s experience, I had been looking forward to a nice gentle sail in the light winds that had been forecast for this evening. Sadly that was not to be, but at least it gave me a free evening to get round to writing a blog post at long last.

All at sea

The sea has always held a certain fascination for me and it’s long been one of my dreams to try my hand at sailing.

I did have a quick go crewing a 2-man dinghy one afternoon last summer (or possibly the summer before – I lose track of time), which served to whet my appetite further.

Last night I got my second opportunity to sail – this time as part of the crew of a 30′ (or so) racing yacht called Mikki Finn.  We were racing up at Holyhead, where she is usually berthed, and we came fourth out of seven in the race.  Considering it was my first time ever sailing on a yacht, the third time for one of the other crew members and the first time out this year for the remaining two (as the boat has been ashore for repairs since the end of last season), that was not at all bad going.

My opportunity to sail Mikki Finn came because my friend Luke has been crewing her for several years now and was recently looking for someone to give him a hand with some of the aforementioned repairs.  I jumped at the chance and found myself a few weeks ago helping to refit the forestay, which led to an invite from the skipper, Mark, to join the crew.  Last week I went back to help again and the essential repairs were finished earlier this week, so she was able to go back in the water on Tuesday and be ready to race last night (there are still a few more repairs to do, but nothing to compromise her sea-worthiness).

Last night, I was mainly responsible for controlling one of the headsail sheets (i.e. the ropes used to control the sail at the front of the boat – the one we were using yesterday was a genoa, which you can look up for yourself if you’re so inclined), which is essentially the same job I had crewing on the dinghy, though in that case I was controlling both jib sheets at once.  A yacht, naturally, has much bigger sails and heavier rigging than a dinghy, so there are winches and things to help you and it becomes a multi-person job (at least if there are sufficient crew).  A handful of times I also had to run forward and skirt the genoa (i.e. bring the foot of it back inside the guardrail of the boat when it got caught up on the outside of it).

I’m looking forward to going sailing several more times in the coming weeks and increasing my knowledge and skill at nautical procedures.


No pain, no gain…

This year hasn’t been a particularly mountainous one for me, in the literal sense.  As in, I haven’t been out walking and climbing in the mountains much.

In fact, I think my trip to the Glyderau range last Saturday was probably the first one of the year.

The Glyderau, part of Snowdonia, are about the second closest group of mountains to where I live (the Carneddau are closer, and the Snowdon Massif itself is just a little bit further away) and are the ones closest to my heart.  Largely that’s because my first trip into Snowdonia after I moved to Wales (fourteen years ago last week) was to these very mountains.  Also, I find the rugged, rocky, windswept landscape up there particularly beautiful.  I’m fairly sure I’ve been up there on at least five previous occasions, so it’s almost certainly my single most-visited bit of the mountains.

On this trip, we ascended via Bristly Ridge, a scrambling route up from the foot of Tryfan, to the north.  This is classified as a grade 1 scramble (i.e. the easiest grade) although it’s apparently towards the top end of the grading and the particular route we took, up the appropriately named “Sinister Gully”, is one of the more difficult ones.  The scrambling itself is not too bad but the fact that a lot of it is quite exposed and even on a dry, sunny day some of the rocks are quite wet and greasy adds to the fun.

This was my first ascent of Bristly Ridge itself, although on one previous occasion I went up the scree slope just to the left of it (on my way “down” from my first ascent of Tryfan).  After that trip, I wrote a couple of tunes in honour of a friend’s wedding (my friend Phil, with whom I made the trip).  One of them I named “Bristly Ridge” (I think in the mistaken belief that I’d actually been up the ridge itself) and the other was called “I don’t Adam and Eve it” (a reference to the two stones at the top of Tryfan).  I haven’t played either tune for several years, but I have managed to find the manuscript book in which I wrote them down and I hope soon to make a recording of them that I can put online (not that they are particularly great tunes).

Once we got to the top of Bristly Ridge, we checked out the Cantilever (a popular photo spot – though I forgot to take my camera with me on this trip) and the summit of Glyder Fach before scrambling up Castell y Gwynt on our way up to Glyder Fawr.  The clouds came in briefly several times while we were up on the top, although for the most part it was a lovely clear day.

We went back down y Gribin, the next descending ridge along from Bristly Ridge.  This was at least the third time I’ve descended from the Glyderau via this route, although I don’t recall ever having gone up this way.

Interestingly, when I first went to the top of Glyder Fawr its height was listed on the map as 999 meters.  It was resurveyed in 2010, using more accurate (GPS-based) techniques and the height was established as 1001 meters.

It was a lovely day out in one of the most beautiful places I know, with some good friends.  It was also quite a physically (and at times psychologically) demanding walk/climb and I’m still feeling a little stiff and sore almost a week later.  Looking on the bright side, every time I feel an ache in my limbs it reminds me of my exciting mountain adventure.

Nantlle Ridge

Last Saturday I had my first trip into the mountains of Snowdonia for several months (in fact, the last one I can remember was back in January!). I went with a couple of friends to walk the Nantlle Ridge, which is on the Western fringe of Snowdonia.

We started at the Rhyd-Ddu car park, which is also the starting point for one of the classic routes up Snowdon (not one that I’ve done yet) and walked through a boggy field before climbing up Y Garn, the first peak along the ridge (which runs along to the south of the Nantlle valley). This is one of several peaks called Y Garn, and I’m not sure what the name means – it’s not a word used in modern Welsh, except as a proper name. At 633 metres above sea level, it’s not an especially high peak but the starting point is just below 200 metres and it is quite a steep climb.

It had been raining as we drove to the car park but the rain had more-or-less stopped by the time we started walking. However, the cloud was quite low and we were into it by the time we reached the top of Y Garn. There were some nice views to be seen on the way up, though, including a lake called Llyn y Dywarchen. This was mentioned by Gerald of Wales (aka Giraldus Cambrensis or Gerallt Cymro) as having a floating island in the middle of it. Although there is still an island in the lake, it is apparently not the one that Gerald was talking about. More information about this legend can be found here.

Llyn y Dywarchen

From Y Garn, we climbed up Clogwyn Marchnad, which required a bit of scrambling at some points, to the second peak, Mynydd Drws y Coed and from there it was a fairly straightforward walk to the third peak, Trum y Ddysgl. This was the highest point of our journey so far, at 709 metres.

Unfortunately, due to the cloud cover and the fact that we didn’t stop to check the compass sufficiently early, we started coming down the wrong ridge and found ourselves heading south towards Moel Hebog instead of west towards Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd, the next peak on the Nantlle Ridge. Once we realised our mistake, we decided instead of retracing our steps to cut round the edge of the mountain and then climb up a fairly steep, vegetation-covered slope to rejoin the ridge. This venture was successful although I think it was probably much harder work than just going back up the way we came.

We eventually reached Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd (only 653 metres above sea level, although you have to drop down much lower and climb back up even if you stay on the official route) and stopped there for lunch. Because we had been somewhat delayed by the detour (and I at least was consequently fairly knackered), the weather wasn’t great and we were due to be going to dinner with some other friends that evening and didn’t want to be too late, we decided to turn round at this point rather than carrying on to the end of the ridge. I was quite pleased with that decision as there was another very steep climb in store before the next peak (which is evidently nameless, though at the top of Craig Cwm Silyn, and weighing in at 734 metres).

On our return journey we went back almost to the top of Trum y Ddysgl and then back down the ridge we’d accidentally descended earlier. Before too long, we turned off this and descended into the northern reaches of the Beddgelert Forest, from which it was a fairly gentle walk back to the car park.

By the time we got back, it was turning quite sunny and so I persuaded my friends that it was worth dropping down to Beddgelert to check out the local ice cream parlour before we went home. This is one of the two best places in the world that I’ve so far found for ice cream (not that I’ve tried a very large proportion of them; the other one I particularly like is in Szeged, in the south of Hungary). Fortunately, the place lived up to my hype (it’s been several years since I last went there, so I had hoped it would still be as good as I remembered) and I enjoyed a cone of coffee ice cream, followed by one of chocolate and ginger (complete with big chunks of crystallised ginger), before returning home for a well-earned (and much-needed) shower.

I hope to be able to go back one day, preferably when the weather’s a bit nicer, to do the whole Nantlle Ridge.