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.

Cold Comfort

For the second week running, I found myself unable to go sailing last night. This time, however, it wasn’t the weather that kept me ashore but the fairly heavy cold I’m currently nursing.

This sprang up from nowhere on Monday morning and steadily got worse as the week progressed, reaching its zenith (I hope) yesterday and rendering me unfit to go sailing. At least, I would have given it a go if the crew had been short-handed but there were enough other people available and I was feeling sufficiently rough to consider that it would be better all round if I stayed at home.

I think I feel marginally better today, but it’s still at a fairly yucky stage (I’m sure you’ve experienced enough colds to be able to imagine the gory details without me spelling them out) and I’m also missing tonight’s band practice, though I hope to be well enough to go to tomorrow night’s.

While I’ve been sitting at home, reading the fictional exploits of Horatio Hornblower and dreaming of a life on the ocean wave, I have been soothing my throat with a concoction that my boss (officially “line manager”, but that sounds too corporate for my liking) told me about this afternoon while I was manfully struggling on with my work and looking forward to the moment I could knock off and head home to hit my rocking chair. (Incidentally, in case my boss or any prospective future employer is reading this, I should emphasise that when I’m at work I don’t usually just sit there looking forward to going home – only when I’m feeling ill but can muster just enough strength to drag myself to the office in the first place.)

The concoction in question is actually a decoction (I think that’s the correct technical term) of ginger, black peppercorns and cloves in water. As such, it bears a certain similarity to the honey, lemon and ginger decoction that I usually make up when I have a cold. It also reminded me somewhat of masala chai, which is perhaps not surprising given that my boss is Indian and is therefore steeped in the same culinary/medicinal tradition from which that fine beverage comes.

My method of preparation was to roughly chop a bit of fresh ginger, crush a few cloves and peppercorns in a pestle & mortar and then simmer the whole lot for a few minutes in a small saucepan of boiling water before straining into a cup. I drank a little bit of it neat but used the bulk of it, while the water was still nice and hot, to brew a cup of coffee (as suggested by my boss).

I can’t speak for the medicinal properties but it was certainly pleasant and soothing to drink (with or without the coffee – I’m sure it would also work as a masala chai mix with a bit of black tea thrown in, without the coffee of course!) and will be a useful addition to my repertoire of brews to make myself feel better (if not actually get better any sooner) when I have a cold.

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.