Author: David James Inc

Two men in a boat

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old-sailboat-on-a-beautiful-beach-at-sun

 

Sailing.

The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill
while slowly going nowhere at great expense.

A simple question maybe (albeit rhetorical) but even so worth exploring. What is the purpose of a sailing dinghy? The purpose is to place it in the water and allow a mixture of wind and human ability to propel you in the desired direction. This would seem to a reasonable answer without getting to the technical or indeed the philosophical aspects.So why did it take us around two years to finally launch our craft?

Well maybe I should start at the beginning. Andy, a good mate of mine, had floated (no pun intended) the idea of purchasing a sailing dinghy between us. The thinking being that living on an island, Hayling to be precise, and having sailed in our respective youths it was time once again to climb aboard. Eventually Andy found us a bargain and we set off to collect it. Upon arrival at the then current owners house we were rather surprised to hear that the road trailer for the Enterprise that we were soon to own was squirrelled away behind the garden shed. This we considered to be somewhat strange. In my mind I had visions of this galvanised multi roller dinghy trailer and a growing concern of how we were going to remove it from its curious resting place i.e. sandwiched between a shed and a fence. Not only this but also how if we succeeded with phase one how were we going to achieve stage two, namely extract it via the garden gate, an aperture that was woefully inadequate for the task. All was soon to be revealed. Stage one, other than a shoe full of stagnant water from an old plant pot, was relatively easy. This was because the trailer fell slightly short of my expectation. Actually I’m being kind. It actually fell short of being a trailer. It was three scaffold poles and a set of wheels welded into a sort of trailer shape. It was as much trailer as it was legal. We eventually hooked it onto the car and, in a bid to lessen the multiple of motoring offences that I was about to commit as I pulled it along the Queen’s highway, gaffer taped a warning triangle to the rear in order that other motorists might have a chance of seeing it.

With Heath Robinson’s very own contribution to nautical trailering we set off to pick up our Enterprise. It came with a relatively new launching trailer and it was securely strapped to it. So we elected to lift it up and strap the whole bundle on to our trailer. Defying physics and metallurgy the scaffold poles remained resolutely defiant and accepted the burden we demanded of it. As we proceeded out of the sailing club our purchase shifted and wiggled around a bit in order to get comfortable and soon settled. However the mast was having none of it. Like a dog in a convertible car it was everywhere. As soon as we got it secured one side it decided it wanted the other and set this rhythm for the whole journey home. Eventually after a slow and nervous drive back under a cover of darkness we arrived back on Hayling. Unhappily when we reached the sailing club all nautical types had gone the way of bye byes and locked it all up for the night. We ended up stashing it around the back of a garage block for the night with a plan to return once again in the morning and deliver it to the dinghy park, which is where it would stay for two years. Foiled by a mixture of weather, experience and tides it rested until finally, having become very experienced at the ‘standing at the bar talking about boats’ side of the club we thought the next progressive step of sailing membership was perhaps to actually sail the bloody thing!

A beautifully hot July day and we had arranged to finally launch the boat. It was more used to rain now than seawater but after its two-year rest all that was now at an end. We turned up equipped with wetsuits and buoyancy aids and really looking rather competent and boaty which just goes to show how deceptive looks can be. Our vessel having been removed to the furthest most spot in the boat park (presumably having been considered abandoned) now bore witness to our return. The first thing we noticed upon arrival was that, despite an absence of anything to perch upon for at least a hundred yards, our boat cover which had started off in very good condition was now crap central for the local and indeed visiting seagull population. Not to be thwarted by mere guano we hoisted off the cover and finally let in the daylight. This, we thought, was it. Something great. Not of course for the seagulls who had now lost their toilet but good for us. Luckily for us the mast was already stepped (don’t I sound all nautical) but that was as far it seemed as fortune was prepared to venture. I looked at the collection of ropes and poles in the bottom of the boat with a look on my face that must have been similar to the one I wore when first presented with algebra. We put the obvious bits in the obvious places but soon started to run out of steam. Fortune, clearly recognising desperation and hopelessness when she saw it, momentarily returned with a final gift. Another Enterprise pulled up alongside us complete with a Grandfather showing a Granddaughter the 101 of how to rig it. Via sneaked observation we managed to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. It now looked like a sailing boat ready to take on the oceans. Of course if the sport of sailing consisted of standing around boats in proprietorial manner then we could have aced it. But it doesn’t and we hadn’t. There was no putting it off. The next step was water. Screwing up in sailing is exponential. There is only so much to go wrong on dry land. This multiplies dramatically when you add water and we were now going to seriously up the stakes.

We stood just for a moment at the bottom of the hill to the slipway that would soon liberate us on our maiden voyage. With due diligence we wheeled the boat up and then down the slip to the waiting body of water. With a making tide and a gentle wind we floated the dinghy off of the trailer and while I retreated to park it Andy held the painter and stopped it drifting off. Upon my return it was decided that I’d be the first to climb aboard and would attempt to balance the boat while my shipmate climbed in.This would’ve been a great plan if we hadn’t nearly capsized in the process. Being made of sterner stuff we blundered on, hoisted the sail and let it fill with wind. Far from elegantly slicing throughout the water we lost control, turned 180 degrees and smashed into the side of a yacht that was worth around the same as a nearly new Bentley with a couple of matched Holland and Hollands in the boot. Far from threatening legal action and mobilising a lynch mob the man was very understanding. He untangled our ropes from his cleats, gave us a shove and watched us drift back to where we started. Not to be thwarted by mere bagatelles, we made ready for another launch. This would normally be done by once again employing sails. However most of what we do cannot really be considered as normal. This was no exception so, in order to avoid Mr posh yacht, out came the paddle. It was agreed that I’d paddle us out 50 yards or so from the shore which would hopefully result in potentially less damage and reduce the entertainment for the small knot of people had gathered to watch us. They had obviously having smelt disaster in the air. We would then hoist the sails. So off we set towards a relatively uncluttered patch of water. As we neared a green marker post (marking what we were unsure of) we hastily hauled the main sail skywards swiftly followed by the gib and proceeded to go backwards. At this point as Andy had the tiller and I was nominated paddle man, I paddled. We were rewarded with a gentle breeze and I once again put down my paddle. Again the green post crept up on us from behind. Eventually we found the wind and managed to fill the sails which seemed to take delight in blowing back towards the post which seemed we seemed to be inextricably tethered. Needless to say the crowd had grown by a couple. We decided on drastic action and elected to dump the jib. Our logic being that we’d have less to contend with and this would ease our problems, how little we knew. So we did and it didn’t, we just got unceremoniously dumped on a mud bank. It was dawning on us that the jibs usefulness although alien to us maybe have been significant, this was reinforced by a member of the crowd hollering “put your jib up, put your jib up”. We of course just pretended not to hear. Eventually, due to Andy’s persistence, we left the post behind and managed a sort of tacking, often to fast and perilously close to moored boats but some progress was managed. We actually started to feel like sailors. Of course in essence we looked like a pair of pillocks but momentarily it was coming together. That was until we had to head for home. This meant dealing with an entirely new direction. Andy, who was now ignoring my whimpering, kind of aimed it towards the slip the plan being that we’d keep going until we came close to the slip then pull down the sail hoping we didn’t run short of forward momentum. If this occurred we, by which he meant me, would paddle until the craft was landed or fatigue/unconsciousness overtook me. With the sail luffing, Andy steering and me paddling we completely overshot the slip and with a weary resignation pretty much downed tools and gave in to fate. This, to anyone observing took the shape of being dragged down the creek to get dumped on a very muddy shoreline that was going to be something akin to the Krypton factor to get out of. After a walk back to the club to retrieve our launch trailer (easier than trying to sail it back) we battled bushes ducked below trees and eventually walked it back to the club. The day produced an interesting mix of emotions. There was fear, anger, shock, humour, paranoia more fear and euphoria, albeit a minuscule amount. Generally though, a scream was never very far from my lips.

So what had I learnt? Well I now realise that sailing isn’t called sailing out of a sense of irony. They are definitely the things to use if you want to control your boat (other than an engine or maybe a crew). How to maximise their efficiency still escapes me. Spending money on lessons may have been more worthwhile than spending it a boat and when someone who knows says “I wouldn’t if I were you, it’s a bit too windy” you’re better off taking their advice. We had returned wiser and indeed more bruised than when we left. We will undoubtedly return.

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It Pays To Accessorise

A-few-Bits-from-my-Vintage-Tackle.-Collection

 

A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.

Bob Hope

We’re all fisherman here (if you’ll excuse the assumption and yes I did say fishermen and I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned it’s a generic term not a sexist one. It’s a noun used to describe a pastime so just get over yourselves, and you know who you are. I don’t think sex of any kind has any place in fishing. It’s asexual. Now let’s move on). We all know the score regarding tackle. We need a rod reel and a few sundries. Most of the gear we troll around is handy, not essential. Someone once remarked that fishing gear is designed to catch fishermen not fish. I doff my waterproof wide-brimmed hat with  in-built in midge net to this simple but perspicacious thought. But we’re not going to stop. It’s like a disease, part of the deal. I fish, therefore I habitually buy spurious bits of tackle that, in all honesty, I’ll never use. Fossiking around in tackle shops is one of the pleasures of fishing. Small, off the beaten track emporiums with the capacity of a Tardis and an aroma of naphthalene, ground-bait and boilies that assaults your nasal passages as soon as you cross the threshold. The proprietor will have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the equipment in his shop and the fisheries surrounding it. Often, not always, he’ll have some idiosyncratic tick that will lend him an air of individualism that so befits the personality of his shop. He always has time to talk and share information and this soul warming experience will usually end with the confused angler stood outside the shop, peering bemused into a small brown paper bag at a collection of tackle items various that, with all probability, he will never use and wondering how it had all happened. However, before the non believers start their heckling remember that we have quite a way to go before we usurp the philatelists and the Stobart spotters In the eccentricity stakes.

So if, as fate seems to have ordained for us, we are going to be compelled to tread this path, festooned with tackle various, we might as well get some benefit. We may not be able to resist the net with the scales built into the handle, despite the fact that we already have both net and spring balance already, but if we are destined to make the purchase then use it we must. Of course our favourite items will always get more use than the other less worthy ones. Worthy will of course be dictated by usefulness, aesthetic appeal and of course the luck they bring. It’s funny to think that we consider ourselves to be competent fishermen but we’re still reluctant to trust a successful day on skill alone.

After one particular fishing trip, whilst having repaired to a suitable looking hostelry, the subject of ‘your favourite fishing accessory’ came up. Items were discussed merits were debated and opinions proffered. Then it was my turn. My accessory of choice, and has been for many years, is my dear old Kelly Kettle. For those who don’t know what this item is I will explain. It’s a kettle, obviously, that is powered on twigs sticks and grass making it ideal for the outdoorsman. It consists of a fire bucket at the bottom and the kettle with an built in chimney sits atop it. It has the capacity to hold a litre of water which, conditions being propitious, can be boiled in less than four minutes. Truly a fantastic piece of kit. I first saw one being used by Chris Yates in a Passion For Angling. I knew I had to own one. A purchase was soon made and it. was taken out on the very next trip. The principle behind its efficiency is simple. The wind enters via an aperture in the fire bucket and exfiltrates via the top of the chimney creating a cyclonic effect which burns like Hades on a particularly hot day when all the heaters have become stuck on the hottest setting. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t need a little practice to get the hang of it but it’s great when you do. Not only hot water but in the summer the smoking embers double as a deterrent to the ubiquitous midge. Of course the scorn pouring then began. Wouldn’t it be easier to take a flask. What if it’s been raining and there’s no dry fuel. What if there’s no wind. What about gas. What about you buying a round of drinks!!!! The thing is I’ve heard it all before (especially the round of drinks one) and I don’t care. Yes it’s not the most efficient use of my time and resources. Yes a flask is less trouble and maybe I do go thirsty occasionally due to meteorological conditions and it’s not funny when the smoke temporarily blinds you, well not to me anyway.  Again I don’t care. My kettle has class and quirkiness. It’s the impoverished aristocracy to the gleaming new canister cookers. But when the gas runs out and flask is empty my kettle is still left with options. It needs no maintenance and has an attachment which sits in the top so it can also boil a pot. All this and it’s still ticks the green box. Just a small pile of ashes and that’s it’s only footprint. It’s the series three Landrover of the stove world, far from perfect and well knocked about but still going strong while the competition flounders.

So am I ashamed of my accessories? No. I know I’m a sucker. My fishing trips would be equally successful with quarter of the gear at half the price. But not to buy the gear would mean avoiding the purveyors of piscatoria. This is all part of the angling experience and I think we would be spiritually poorer without it.

 

Armani Of Angling

Armarni

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.

Bertrand Russell

Now I know that this is going to be contentious but it’s a subject that, In my opinion, will always need addressing (no pun intended). Apparel or suitable habiliments covering our person. Clothes suited to or indicative of a way of life. Fishing to me is a way of life and all aspects of it should be treated with due reverence. Garments for an occasion are what we’re talking here and I deliberately leave out the eccentric and the feckless. It would be eyebrow raising for the clergy to turn up to an internment in an Hawaiian shirt, board shorts and flip-flops in the same way that you would be disturbed to see a high court judge sat behind his desk, gavel in hand, wearing a baseball cap and a fluorescent pink tee-shirt bearing the legend “Kill Em All, Let God Sort Em Out” instead of his robes of office. As all walks of life have their eccentrics and they will dress as they will act. We will leave them to another chapter and focus our attention to the gentleman fly-fisher.

All fisherman dress for a day on the bank, boat or beach but the fluff flicker in most cases sees his apparel as a consideration of the process. Not for him the oldest warmest clothes in the wardrobe. No his rig out will be a considered and specifically purchased part of the proceedings. The only other angler with a reputation for appropriate clothing will be the carp fisherman but there the similarities end. So leaving him behind on his bivvy laid out on his bed-chair and smelling of strawberry boilies we’ll move our attention to the fly caster.  First I want to scratch across the whole waistcoat or fly fishing vest thing. I know they’re useful and have more pockets than a snooker hall. But I don’t like them. I own one that has a life jacket built into it (very sensible and primarily bought to in order that my good lady would worry less). However I only wear it when wading or boating and if it weren’t for the life jacket side I wouldn’t posses one let alone wear one. So why do people wear such garments? Well we’re told that with all those pockets it’s really useful storage for all the bits we need to carry on the bank. Unfortunately this allows us to slowly slip into rucksack syndrome.

This is the principle that most people will take enough stuff to fill their rucksack instead of taking enough of what they actually need. I used to sell hiking gear years ago and it never ceased to amaze me that people would always come in and ask for a really big rucksack. I would enquire why. they would then explain that were to scout camp or backpacking for a couple of days and would need a big one in order to take all the kit they would need. To which I would enquire “And what kit do you think you’ll need then”. At this point they would tend to look puzzled and nine times out of ten reply “I don’t really know”. Of course they didn’t. Eventually someone would supply them with a kit list which would probably take up half of their jumbo rucksack. So then they’d fill the rest with clothes and the like which would return home with them in more or less the same condition as it went out, creased and maybe a bit wiffy, but certainly unworn having only served the function of being a space filler and the promise of back problems in later life.

This is what happens to the fly fishing waistcoat wearer (with the exception of storing clothes). Having a surfeit of pockets he feels honour bound to fill them. When I’m on the bank, which is a damn sight less than I’d like to be, my equipment is kept to minimum. Forceps, nippers or scissors, priest, floatant and sinkant, amadou, retractable pencil loaded with a needle for hook eye cleaning and a box of flies. Now granted that this is just me but even if you do take more, wouldn’t a shoulder borne trout bag look more respectable? It’s certainly more English. Now having got that item off of my chest (sic) I’ll move on to the other items.

Starting at the top we will discuss hats. Only Americans and people who half think things wear baseball caps. Usually adorned during hot weather with the purpose of protecting the head and eyes from the sun. What makes theme acceptable for fishing is 1. If you’re going to wear a hat with a brim make sure it goes all round as the sun is not precious whether is burns your nose neck or ears. 2. They are often worn but by adolescents with little capacity for originality and the inability to tell whether it’s on the right way or not. Moving on, trousers.  Blue denim jeans should never be worn. It’s just wrong. In the same way that slimline tonic is wrong in gin. Moleskin, cords or coloured cottons are fine. Polyesters and their close relatives are acceptable but beware that they represent the top of a slippery slope that has baseball caps at the bottom of it. Colours should be nature’s own and shades of browns and greens are perfectly adequate. Make sure your colours compliment each other which is sometimes harder than you may think. These things aren’t set in stone but some combinations won’t work. If you’re not sure seek guidance from someone you trust. Trunk coverings are best achieved with shirts not t-shirts. T-shirts fail on most fronts by the water. No top pocket, no collar to be turned up (sun protection), sticky in the hot weather and, having your arms exposed leaves more of you for the midges to dine upon and as with any ‘next to skin’ garment, heeding the caveat regarding natural rather than man-made materials. Outerwear is allowed a little more leeway. After all, if you’re not on the bank you can’t land a fish and as we’ve been circumspect regarding our initial layers we will have scotched potential odours and retained valuable heat.  However we still need to maintain our appearance. We are after all trying to blend with the countryside and uphold tradition. The main factors here are shades and the ability to remain waterproof. There are many superb technical fabrics out there and many are used to fashion garments with the piscator in mind. All I’d say is invest wisely and think about the use it will get as they won’t be cheap and you’ll only get what you pay for. Waterproofing for a fisherman is however just one of the requirements. Forcing your way through trees and bushes, its proximity to sharp items like hooks and knives, navigating barbed wire the list goes on. I plump for and would recommend a wax cotton. It’s ability to shrug off penetrating trauma is legendary. It’s easy to maintain and will double as a ground sheet. Although not particularly renowned as a breathable fabric, fishing is not particularly renowned as a sweat inducing pastime unless you count day ticket prices on the chalk streams which can cause the wealthiest of angler wipe himself down with a ten pound note. Finally we must consider our ‘daisy roots’ or ‘rhythm and blues’  or acceptable parlance footwear. What does the gentleman fly fisherman adorn his ‘plates of meat’ with. Well Duke Ellingtons….. I’m sorry I’ll stop that now. Wellington boots would be the choice for the more waterlogged months and indeed some, having invested serious cash, would have obtained themselves a pair so well made that all year round use would not be unreasonable expectation. The other option is of course boots and shoes. I personally sport a pair of dark brown leather brogues boots in which you will find me shod in all but the dampest of bank-sides. Just remember, we’ve gone to a lot of trouble with our ensemble thus far, let’s not fall at the final fence. So with the wellies. First of all no black or even worse white (yes you know who you are Mr mortuary boots). Blue is okish if not bit horsey but green and brown are sartorially safe. Leather footwear. Shoes or boots brogue in style and can only really be varying shades of brown but always polished which will ensure smart appearance and longevity for the leather. Walking boots and shoes? Hmmm. Well they are fit for purpose assuming the right colour shades are observed  but I’m personally not fussed.

I know this may seem anything from eccentric to ridiculous but think laterally. As an example some have the burden of formal occasions foisted upon us and despite our reticence we adorn ourselves in garments suitable for the event, black tie, suits etc. But we all choose to fish. We love it. Is it so much to ask we dress with due reverence to occasion. The thing to remember is that we are always ambassadors for our chosen sport so we need to dress like ambassadors not chavs after a stag night.

Cycling vs Everything Else

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Never let an arsehole rent space inside your head.

So bikes and cars. Well there’s no disputing that the car would keep me drier (leaky sunroofs and soft tops aside). They are also quicker unless you happen to live in, or are trying to get around, one of our bigger city centres. You can listen and sing to your own music without looking strange or inviting scorn pouring and generally you tend to avoid sucking up a lung full of particulate. For this though you pay a price. Exorbitant fuel prices, over inflated maintenance costs paid to nerds with laptops calling themselves mechanics without so much as a dirty finger nail to show for their toil. Add to that congestion charges which don’t stop congestion, parking charges which, left unchecked, will soon eclipse the cost of road tax and the futility of having to put up with sadly inadequate and arrogant BMW drivers and self-righteous and over opinionated taxi drivers. All these things and more make the private motorist, quite rightly, pause for some introspection.

Finally enter the cyclist. Now I’m not saying a two-wheel conveyance is a perfect all round answer. There are still the elements to consider. For those who defy the meteorological caveats sternly issued by the sages of Exeter, a panoply of weather resistant clothing is available and advisable via the high street or by the click of a mouse. After all it was once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. This, I concur, maybe stretching the whimsical somewhat but is nevertheless fundamentally true. Of course if presentation and aesthetics are an issue at your final destination, then walking in looking wetter than a fishes wet bits may not enhance your chance of promotion. However these occasions, although unpleasant while you’re sat there steaming like fresh manure on a frosty morning, thankfully are rare. The other piece of grit in the cyclist’s hub grease is of course our motor powered highway sharing contemporaries. Hard bitten cynics paranoid that all other road traffic is deliberately conspiring against them personally to ensure that they arrive late. Desperate to cover any inch of Tarmac so that no one else can, regardless of whether that’s a bus lane, cycle lane even pavements are sometimes considered fair game if they’ve got their hazard lights on! But that’s where my diatribe ends.

So just to reiterate, why do I ride bike? Well dampness and dickheads aside, like most of the things I enjoy, cycling’s beauty is in its simplicity. I do maintain my bikes but in essence they ask for very little and give plenty. They are the gift of freedom without the financial demand. Of course I’m not being unrealistic here. I know that modern bikes can easily run to thousands but that’s not the sort of rider I am. I don’t want to be daunted by my transport or it to be the cause of sleepless nights, I want to feel equal to it and a part of it. Riding or fettling, time spent with a bike is never wasted.

I have a car and am guilty of being a motorist. I have a family who don’t see the light like I do. I’m sanguine with that and have no desire to force my proclivities onto others. After all, a passion should come naturally. But I wonder at those who crook an eyebrow at the Lycra clad apparition wafting by as they sit locked in their sealed metal boxes on their daily commute. Do they ever feel the temptation to discard what they perceive as comfort and security, grasp a set of bars with both hands and give life to another wise inanimate collection of steel tubes and componentry.