The Summer is Over…Long live the Autumn

One could say the “summer is over” all activities seem to have stopped and I find myself being “back at work” which for me is making small-pipes and busking. But I can still write about the various activities I have done over a month or so, some of which were a welcome change: a travel to Orkney (a birthday present to myself); sailing once more after a period of 3 years; going to Piping Live 2015 in Glasgow; and a trip to the Isle of Arran (my last visit was when I was 21, a few moons ago!), and where my small laptop got a wash in seawater and decided not to work again (the laptop I had used on many of my previous blog entries R.I.P.)

There was a new insight into my electric bike which I will add to the review blog. I will be reworking my Dinghy Cruising Association articles for the blog, as I think they could be of some use to those who wish to cruise the Solway Estuary.

Over the next few days/weeks I will be writing several blogs on these topics and others too, such as: folk sessions; a new Small-pipe workshop which will be in October; and unintentionally learning an old instrument, the recorder! An instrument I hated when I was at school, but I find myself starting again.

So the summer might be over but let’s look forward to the autumn!


Lake District on my 50th Birthday


My 50th birthday was turning out to be a depressing day. I had not found anyone to spend it with and I was seeing that as a reflection of my current position in life. “50, alone, friendless…” not a good beginning. I had decided to go off to the Lake District to walk to Watlendeth and have a coffee at the farm house coffee shop; the walk is always nice if you get off at Rothswaite walk over the tops into the valley of Watlendeth. A bus to Keswick then another to Rothswaite by using the North West Explorer Ticket is still good value.

My walk was still in a negative mood, the weather was not brilliant and the people I met were all coupled. Having my coffee was not much better; everyone seemed to be with someone and all talking about children, relations, and friends. I decided it is better to be alone than to spend it with others as one can feel lonely in a crowd.

I changed my route and retraced my steps not choosing the easier flatter option to Ashness Bridge and Surprise View. When I got to the top of the pass I decided to change my route again and go off the path into the hills. It was a little like a fairy story of going into the “magical forest” my mood began to change, I began to be happier, I began to take pleasure in getting my boots dirty, in noticing the beauty around me, I was alone but not lonely.

I took videos and photos I sank into the bog; I slipped over long grass and scrambled over rocks. The view was different; no longer the same route I often take, my perspective was changing.

Later, I regained the path and descended to Rosthwaite, but then I took another path one I had not been on before. A less used path through trees and high ferns.

I video emptiness, the magical forest was indeed magical a stillness and beauty with the richness of the colour. I was heading back to Keswick but it felt like in a different country.

I got to the road but then I decided to go another route again this time I did not know where I was going. I climbed, and when I fork came, on the disused track, I took the higher path.

It ascended sharply, was it an old shepherds track or a sheep path, it was certainly unused. I walked through high ferns, often the path disappeared underneath the grasses. It went higher, steeper; the flowers became wilder, colorful.

I thought to turn back as I had to get back for the bus, but again I found myself continuing higher, further way from the road. Sweat was pouring down my face, no water and feeling a little tired, the heat was intense. I was enjoying myself immensely.

the path went up the mountain

I got to a stone wall and saw the path going higher but this was my limit, I knew it. So I turned back and descended the same way. It took me a fraction of the time, soon I found myself by the road and then I detoured off the road to the river. Standing in the cold water splashing myself with water I felt very good, not lonely, not depressed, and only content. I did not need people, I needed to find myself and I had found it that day from going to new places, new routes, and new journeys, it had engaged and interested me.

Byocycle City Speed Review


I do not normally do reviews of things I buy, but I chose this electric bike after a lot of research, but there was a lot of info I could not find online or via the shop, so I thought to add to the reviews that are currently on line.

I bought this electric bike online, I did not see it or try it out before hand, a risk? Yes, as to send it back would cost… but the reviews were promising. 
I was looking at two bikes the Byocycle City Speed and the Wayfarer, both had similar spec and both had good reviews. There was very little in the way of videos, the Byocycle Cameleon had a few videos but the city speed was poorly documented. The Wayfarer had a couple of good videos which showed durability. The Cameleon looks the same as the City Speed, in fact only a few of the components are different if you compare them, but there is a big difference in price. 

Although I have not had my bike long (a few months) I have been on long bike rides, around trip of about 25 miles to and from the boat. The trip involves quite a lot of hills and gradual climbs and the weather is not always good. Today for example I had strong icy winds in my face and heavy showers. The roads I cycle on are farm roads, tractors often produce cracks and pot holes and generally uneven surfaces, so not the ‘typical’ conditions that the info uses for getting the most out your battery. The spec say the battery will last between 20-30 miles on flat terrain with no head wind! 
I generally cycle everywhere, I do not drive a car, I have had no interested in learning to drive, and I try not to use the bus or the train if I can help it. Cycling is my chosen transportation, good for a lifestyle, fitness and low cost. The bike I was looking for had to be practical and useful to the distances I needed it for. It is not for a pleasant ride on a Sunday…
This morning the battery was fully charged and I had little luggage to carry. I learned a few years ago not to cycle up steep hills. I get off and push the bike up. This is not laziness but it saves the chain and it stops lactic acid building up in the muscles, by using other muscles it leads to a less painful experience. I only do this a few times as I cycle to 25 mile round trip, generally I cycle. 
On my way to the boat I peddle as much as I can, I use the “peddle/motor” option when I need it on gradual hills and when I get tired legs. I try and be in 3rd gear when I use this option as otherwise I am pedalling for nothing, as least in 3rd I can add to the motor.  When I am not using the peddle/motor option I knock it off. 
By the end of the 12 miles I was feeling tired… this is not because I did not use the motor enough, but I think because of the weight of the bike one is pulling the equivalent of a loaded trailer, when you come off the peddle/motor option the bike slows down, you feel the weight underneath you, and you feel your legs having to push that weight along. It is like riding through treacle! 
Coming back from the boat I try out the “motor only option”. As my legs are tired I need to rest them on certain parts of the journey. Also when you use this option you can peddle and not use the battery. I prefer this as I can have more option depending on the terrain. 
By switching from ‘peddle/motor’ option (by holding down the button on the control box) it automatically switches to the ‘motor option’, I can access the motor while peddling by slowly moving the throttle leaver next to the hand grip. This can be unsteady to achieve the right amount, so I press my thumb into the hand grip and rotate my thumb next to the throttle, I can get minute variations to suit my leg requirements.  When I release the throttle again it feels like I am cycling through treacle, the weight of the bike is apparent. You need the motor for this bike… it is too heavy to go long distances without it. 
The lights are very good, very bright and penetrating, the front light is turned on/off by the control box on the handlebars, it is connected to the battery. You need to have the control box set on ‘motor option’ mode otherwise you will be peddling all the time whether you want to or not. The back lights are not connected to the battery, but they are good lights.
I like the bike stand it is useful, I like its sturdy frame especially when I fly down the hills, there is no shaking of the frame. 
After the ride I noticed the 3 green lights indicating the battery strength was still on green (all 3) so I have not used a lot of battery to achieve my 25 miles. I will keep experimenting how to use the bike more efficiently, maybe increase the usage of motor only on this hills and give my legs more of a rest.

a bunji elastic on the folded bike will keep it together, and it is a lot easier to transport.

A Path of Colour – Summer Flowers

There has been a few entries in this blog about the journey getting to/from the boat in different seasons of the year. Summer is upon us and sadly disappearing. When I came back from Sweden I noticed how ‘green’ our roadsides and fields looked compared to the multicoloured equivalents in Sweden, “What has happened to our wild flowers?” I thought. 
Recently I have noticed a change in our country roads, there is more colour, more natural growth of different varieties. I do not know the names of these flowers (there is no need to know to appreciate their colour and beauty) I am just happy there are there; and perhaps they are becoming more widespread than compared to other years, I hope it may continue in years to come. I also notice fields being left and wild flowers growing, if this is EU policy or Farmers taking the initiative, so may it continue

Wind Gusts

The evening of the 22nd looked promising, Sunday evening and the sun was out and the wind had died down to a breeze on the way to the boat. I brought out the mainsail hoping to mark reef points onto the sail but this was difficult with the midges attacking from the gorse bushes nearby. As the sun set I hoisted the sail to test it out, not a great success, so I dispensed with the lower baton and furled it around the boom, it set fine. I packed everything away as the wind came back and remained with me all night; I made food and prepared to sleep. I did not sleep much as the wind howled and rocked the boat. At 4am the tide came in and Sadaf began to scrape on the stony bottom, then she heeled drastically as her keels got stuck on the stones and the wind pushed her over, she skidded and slid away and came up again. When there was depth she danced around the mooring as the wind pushed her about. She would get a gust on her beam and she would heel over and come into the wind then would right herself. Often the gusts would blow her to her mooring chain’s length then she would jerk forward. I did not sleep at all, the rain pelted the cabin, we were tossed around, and the sounds of the jerking and heeling made it impossible to feel calm.

When the tide was out I ate, read then slept until about 1pm. I went for a walk and saw a mass of pink flowers along the saltings; I walked over the sands out to the low tide mark. The wind was shrieking across the shallow pools leaving dark streaks on the water, shaking my hands as I took the videos. The wind increased when I got to the tide, it was lifting the waves and throwing them over the surface as spray. In the distance the dry sand of Rockcliff Marshes was treated in the same way making it look like the Sahara in a dust storm. I turn and faced the wind and it nearly blew me over. The center of the channel was a mass of white tops and I noticed that the tide was advancing against the wind, tide was coming in and I was a long way from Sadaf. There was a channel between me and the boat. I walked fast but was hampered by the wind, I ran and could hardly make headway so strong was the gusts. I waded through the channel and headed for the boat, reaching it as the tide encroached.
On the boat there was a repeat as the morning, but with more wind strength and gusts that heel Sadaf drastically and pulled at her mooring chain with loud bangs. I changed into my wet suit and put on my life jacket, I also got ready 2 anchors incase she pulled from the mooring. After a while I got used to these conditions and read and cooked, amazing how you can get used to new situations. I videoed the sea but the wind’s strength actually flattened the waves and made it look quite flat on the video.

A brief shower brought with it a glorious rainbow over the estuary. The Shipping forecast for that day reads: Irish Sea, Gale warning issued 23 May 15:30 UTC. Storm force 10 veering westerly and decreasing gale force 8 imminent
• Wind Westerly or southwesterly 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9 at first, decreasing 5 or 6.
• Sea State Moderate or rough.
• Weather Showers.
• Visibility Good.

An Unpredictable Day

The day started off routinely, I cycled to the boat intending to clean the inside ready for painting. I checked it for water in the bilges. There was quite a bit of water but it was fresh water it was not from the sea, I have no idea where it is coming in from. I played flute for a short while, made a coffee… Then my friend and his 2 children came over and the kids climbed on board and came in the cabin. They were asking a lot of questions about the boat and they had never been on board a cabin boat before. They asked questions about sailing and other nautical things “how do you know what 3 knots is?” errrrrrrrr! I did not do any painting as the tide rushed in and as I was closing up the cockpit and preparing to leave my friend started talking to me about his new love in his life. We headed back to the shore and went for a walk around the village. As I was leaving I realised I had left my bike bag on the boat with all my tools, phone etc lying in the cockpit. I thought to leave it until another day but it could get stolen or I could have a puncture and walk home. So I decided to wait until the tide went out. I calculated it would be out about 7pm, it was 3pm when I realised so a long wait was in store. I laid down and watched the sky pass above me, but it was cold the wind was blowing the clouds by, so I got on my bike and headed out past Bowness along a small road along the salt marshes. I had not biked along that road for decades and it was lovely, quiet and windblown. I headed back to the boat but the tide was still coming in. I cycled in the opposite direction and walked for a bit by the shore, getting chilled as the wind got stronger. I cycled back and then I cycled again towards Bowness. It was getting dark when I reached the boat again and there was my friend waiting in his car. He had come back with a flask of coffee and prepared to wait it out with me. We had a nice chat and as 7pm approached he drove off leaving me to wade out to the boat in freezing water in the darkness. I took off my shoes and the icy water went above the knees and they went numb. I got my bag and returned and realised I had forgotten my phone so back I went this time inside the cabin searching in the darkness for my phone. Luckily I noticed some beach shoes in the cabin and wore them so no stub my frozen toes on the rocks. As I jumped down from the boat my sole of the beach shoe went through a spike that was in a fishing weight on the sea floor. If I did not have the shoes on I would have had a 4cm spike through my foot, as it hit the sole it bent and missed my heel by millimetres. Then I cycled home without lights on my bike, when a car came towards me I used my mobile phone light as a lamp light. I got home about 8.30pm.

Cruising Area

Reviewing my video clips from last year brought me to sun and warm weather, lazy days sitting by the incoming tide and enjoying the vistas out to sea. My cruising ground is a small area between Port Carlisle and Drumbrugh a distance of 4 miles by road but by sea it is a depending on tide, wind, currents and how lazy I am on the day. The area can be a pleasant afternoon’s walk, from Port Carlisle past its canal basin and docking area of the harbour walls where a fleet of ships once unloaded cargo and took passengers to far off places. Continuing along the coast around a headland one comes in contact with very few people. It is quiet and peaceful. If the tide is in then you have to negotiate fences and and if the tide is high then keeping to the old canal/railway track is essential. Sailing in the bay i have seen porpoises and an occasional seal poking its head out of the water and overhead geese heading off to colder climates. Looking forward this this years sailing in that area and others too.

A Cycle to the Artic

A frosty morning to go and check the boat, I pedaled 10 miles over icy back roads and when I got to the sea there were large blankets of ice flowing down with the ebbing tide, it reminded me of the ice fields of the Arctic on a much smaller scale! I parked the bike and gingerly waded out to the boat, underneath the water I could see the white of the ice still frozen to the gravel. I walked around the boat inspecting the hull and slipped, nearly ended up in the water as some submerged ice made the ground like glass. I climbed into the snow that lay in the cockpit and undid the lock, amazingly inside was ok, no leaks, only a small patch of snow inside, how did that get there? As I lifted the floorboards to see into the bilges I could hear the small pieces of ice scrapping the hull as the ebb took it along. The antifouling paint was scraped off in many parts of the hull down to the fibreglass itself, on the starboard side where the sun had got to it; on the port side where the sun could not reach the ice was over the hull half way up the boat with ‘veins’ cracked into the ice. I am not sure if the cracks were part of the ice or that the paint had cracked due to the cold. A line of ice showed where the water level had been. I made myself a coffee and noticed how neglected she looked, the weather was taking its toll on her and she badly needed some TLC. When spring comes she will get painted and a brushed up. The surrounding area looked beautiful, ice and snow covering the shore line, Scotland looking pink in the sun light, the few birds were searching for food, it would be nice to linger but I had a 10 mile cycle ride back home and it was already past 2pm and sun went down at 3.45pm.

A Glorious Spring Day

A Glorious spring day, the daffodils were out in abundance, the sun was shining, a cool breeze made cycling to the boat a pleasure. I was enjoying the country roads, dodging the flies and other insects that were trying to get under my eyelids and up my nose and into my mouth. I reached the boat and leisurely unpacked my things and undid the tarpaulin, a task all the more quicker now that the second tarpaulin had been stolen. I was preparing to sail today so I made the boat ready, but the tide was racing in and I had to climb on board long before I was ready and the rest of the preparation had to be done in a cramped and messy cockpit. I secured the tiller hoping that it would hold the rudder in place on her maiden voyage; I unfurled the main sail and secured it to the mast. I was trying a new system today instead of the normal way a Bermudan rig is set up with a mast and boom, I was dispensing with the boom altogether hoping to make the rig less heavy aft and therefore less dangerous. I did not know if this system would work it is not normally done, but I took confidence in seeing that a similar type of rig exists on boats that are sailed on the Persian Gulf and traditional Arabic Dhows still use them today. This system is called a ‘lanteen’ rig, it has a triangular sail that is connected to the mast and the free corner is connected to the mainsheet, as in the Bermudan rig style. Having no boom means there is no ‘shape’ to the sail, it flutters in the wind when not sheeted in. A boom helps the sail have a flattened shape, and makes it a highly effective power engine, catching the winds and making the most of them. Without a boom it is like a flag blowing in the wind the energy is dissipated until you pull in the mainsheet which tightens one corner and gives it s curved shape enabling wind to spill out easily. This makes the sail safer as more energy/wind is lost; having a boom makes the sail hold more wind making it more powerful and therefore easier to capsize with the inexperienced like myself.

As the tide was coming in I connected the pulleys and sheets and tidied everything as much as I could by throwing things from one corner to the other corner as I searched for missing items, the wind had picked up and black clouds where thrashing Scotland only a few miles away across the estuary. Sea fishermen had set up their gear on the shore opposite me, I could not sail now even if I wanted too, but it was a blessing as the wind picked up to a force 5 or 6 and we were bouncing around as the swells and wavelets, as a present from Scotland, came fast and furious. The wind swung me on the mooring chain, it came on strong and increased quickly, very soon there were white-tops hitting the shore shooting bursts of surf over the fishermen; the sun had gone and we were now a lee shore; it was a different scene from the beautiful weather when I had first arrived.

I still tried to put up the sail in the wind and found that if I pulled in the mainsheet from the beginning I stopped the ‘flag’ fluttering at its corner, this made it a lot safer as it was whipping around the cockpit like a Whirling Dervish, and the metal fixing was making it a lethal weapon. It took me a few tries of getting the mainsail up but when it was up it looked ok. I let go the chain that connected me to the mooring so I could put some distance for me to sail. I was not going to let go totally but have a length of rope connecting me to the mooring so I could get back when needed. All I wanted to do was to see how the mainsail performed in such winds and if I could tack without a boom.

I let out the rope for about 15 meters and I drifted with the tide which by this time was starting to ebb, I was side on to the waves getting bounced around and soaked by its spray as it “slapped, slapped” against the hull causing surf to hit me as it was carried by the wind, also it had started to rain heavily that made the sail wet and heavy pulling the mast backwards. The wind was on my port side so when I pulled in the mainsheet the sail took effect and the boat immediately started to move forward, the boom-less sail worked fine, but now I was running out of rope and starting to pull on the mooring chain. Fearing that I should pull-up the mooring or break the rope I tried to release the mainsheet and let the sail flutter. The wind was now behind me pushing the sail against the mast and shrouds, this was “running” with the wind and although I was happy that it worked also, it was not what I wanted right at this moment! I had to release the main halyard and bring down the sail altogether, in doing so the tide brought me backwards and saved the mooring.

My second attempt was to try and reef the sail, what followed was a clumsy attempt of rapping the foot of the sail around itself then tying both ends to stop it unfurling I then took up the tension on the main halyard. I did not really know what I was doing as I never had expected these conditions on my first attempt but I thought to give it a go as it is in such conditions that one needs to reef. I tried out my attempt and the sail looked a sorry sight, baggy and limp, but when the tension was taken up on the mainsheet, she did its job and I could manage the sail more easily.

By this time the sea fishermen had gone home it was too wet and too windy even for them. I admitted I could not do anymore too and took shelter in the cabin and waited until we bounced on the sea bed and then fried out. I packed up in the ever dimming light and struggled with a lock that would not open on the cockpit locker. The wind never abated and it was an icy wind that made work slow and uncomfortable; as I tried to cover the boat with the tarpaulin it was blowing away like a kite. I finally got on my bike as it was dark and cycled 10 miles home, tired and cold and ready to do the same tomorrow hoping that it will be another glorious spring day.

Off Again

It is the time to be travelling again, the itchiness in the feet has made me don boots once more and head off for the hills…well in this case it is Spain for a bit of sun and relaxation. Ironically it has started to get warm here. I left the boat yesterday in glorious sunshine. I was underneath the boat trying to apply marine sealant to the join between the keel and the hull as I think she has started to let in a bit of water. I was flat on my back squeezed between the hull and the water, sand and stones. It is a fiddly job and I do not think it worked. The marine sealant is noted for sticking to anything and everything and it certainly stuck to my hands and hair, clothes and parts of the boat that I did not want it to stick too, but it would not stick to the parts I did. Anyways, time ran out and I had to leave her alone on the beach. I watched the incoming tide and I wanted to sail away in her and to see a distant shore, but the wind blew me home, and now it is blowing me to Spain. Forever on the move. I once wrote “Movement is Life” and I think it is still true, to move on is something positive and healthy otherwise we can become to obsessed and too narrow minded. It is time for a break.