Hearing the weather

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain lashing against my windows, accompanied by wind. This is not unusual for where I live, especially at this time of year.

More or less my first conscious thought of the day was “The weather sounds pretty horrible today”. This was followed by a time of pondering the fact that if we can hear the weather at all it is usually a bad sign.

Obviously it’s quite possible for the weather to be very bad in complete silence, for example heavy snow. However, I am at a loss to think of anything that would be considered as good weather by most people in most circumstances that would make a significant noise. All the loud weather phenomena I can think of (heavy rain, strong wind, hail, thunder etc.) would definitely fit into the category of bad weather.

Fortunately by the time I actually set off for work, an hour or two after waking up, the rain had eased off substantially and the wind had dropped quite a bit. It was actually quite sunny (albeit still moderately breezy) by the time I cycled home, though it did start raining again fairly soon after I arrived.


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.