One of the good things about having my surgery cancelled at two days notice last month was that it meant I would be able to make it to the last OCSG meet of the year at Coniston.
I left Helensburgh mid morning on the Thursday before the meet and headed south down the M74 and M6. I'd arranged to go and see Solway Dory to have a look at a new decked sailing canoe that Dave Stubbs (one of the partners in the company) is building for himself as a prototype for a new production canoe. As I headed into deepest darkest Cumbria towards Solway Dory HQ I was glad I had the sat nav to guide me. To say that the Solway Dory R&D bunker is isolated would be an understatement, there's no danger of industrial espionage compromising their latest canoe designs that's for sure! Fortunately the sat nav was spot on and I found the workshop without problems. Dave showed me the new canoe and despite having followed the build on SD's facebook page I was unprepared for how good it would look in the flesh, it's a stunning boat and a credit to the craftsmanship and skill of SD. We discussed various aspects of the canoe over a cuppa and a piece of cake and I asked Dave if he'd build one for me for next season which he agreed to do (something to look forwards too for sure). It was interesting to see the SD workshop knowing that all the bits I've used to adapt my canoe for sailing originated there.
Time was getting on and Dave had things to do so I set off on the short drive up to Coniston Hall where the meet was to be held. My family have used Coniston Hall campsite a lot over the years and I love the unregulated feel of the site, it's beautiful setting and it's proximity to the lake in equal measures. Unfortunately in recent years it's become very rowdy and overcrowded during busy periods and as it was coming up for half term holiday week I was a bit concerned that might be the case on this occasion. I needn't have worried though, as I drove onto the site I could only see one other tent! I met Sue B (an OCSG member) and her husband walking their dog as I drove in and stopped for a chat, it transpired that they were in their caravan on the adjoining Caravan Club site for the weekend.
I set up the awning on the van (after finding a spot that I hoped would stay dry enough to prevent me getting bogged down) and then made some dinner. After that I went to bed early and read my book until I fell asleep.
During the night the wind picked up and I could hear the rain hammering off the van roof, although I was cosy in the van I was a bit worried that it would be a miserable weekend if the weather didn't improve.
I woke about eight O'clock on Friday morning and got sorted out and made breakfast. Dave had said he'd be there at ten and although I thought he might be a bit later I wanted to be ready if he arrived on time. Sure enough at exactly ten he drove up. We had a chat and a brew and then started getting our canoes ready to sail. Dave had brought the wrong leeboard thwart by mistake and tried to call his business partner Dave P to ask him to bring it the next day when he came. In the meantime he had a clip on leeboard he could use (a prospect he wasn't relishing in the strong gusty conditions). Soon Andy, Walter and Roy turned up too and we all headed out to grab a first sail of the weekend. Dave set off first and sailed straight across to Brantwood House on the far shore, myself and Andy followed to find Dave with his canoe beached and sail furled. I was a bit surprised as I'd expected a longer sail but Dave wasn't enjoying the conditions much and decided to visit the cafe at Brantwood (owned by the National Trust) for lunch. Andy and I didn't take much persuading to join him! Inside was a welcoming open fire and the cafe provided a nice haven from the wind and rain outside. Walter and Roy joined us as well so lunch ended up being a sociable, drawn out affair while we chatted and ate. When we emerged again the rain had eased off and the wind had moderated a little so we continued sailing about all afternoon. Dave wasn't happy sailing his plastic canoe with clip on leeboard so I offered him a go in mine. He was only out for a few minutes before returning and asking if I realised how much the rig was causing my canoe to flex. My canoe is quite light for it's size so we put the flex down to this (I knew it flexed but had assumed that all plastic canoes did this). Dave recommended bracing the sailing thwart and mast foot to stiffen it up in future however when I spoke to him later he said he'd been back out in his canoe and it was flexing a similar amount. I guess he's just become accustomed to sailing stiffer glassfibre boats recently. Food for thought nonetheless.
After sailing about for a while we beached our canoes and walked back up to the campsite to find more people arriving all the time. Some people had travelled a long way, Andy B had come from Norfolk, Declan from London and Gavin from Southampton while Adam took top prize for commitment having driven from London to Devon to collect his canoe before driving to the lakes all in an ailing car!
I made some food and then a group of us took a stroll to the Ship Inn for the evening. Unfortunately the beer that myself, Dave and Graham chose to try definitely didn't taste right, the landlord was a bit surly about changing our pints (although once he tasted the beer he admitted it wasn't right). Once we switched to a different brew all was well and we spent a pleasant evening chatting before wandering back to the campsite later on.
Saturday dawned a bit murky but by the time breakfast was done it was brightening up nicely and the wind was even stronger than it had been on Friday. We had a quick meeting for the usual safety brief then folks started hitting the water. Most decided to sail adjacent to the campsite due to the strong gusty wind and sizable waves (safety in numbers and plenty of watchers on the beach to keep an eye out for anyone in trouble). After doing a bit of filming I headed out with my sail reefed (I was still worried about the flex in my canoe). I thought it might be a bit dull with such a small sail area but it was good fun with waves breaking over the gunwales on a regular basis and enough power to make hiking out a necessity. I had to land a few times initially to bail out the water that had splashed into my canoe but as time went on I became comfortable bailing while continuing to sail. I was buddied up with Graham and Andy B so tried to keep an eye out for them. Whenever possible I sailed close to them to ensure that they were okay. Graham had fitted a new sail to "Cochon Vert" which was even bigger than his previous one. He started out with it reefed a lot but in typical Graham fashion he seemed to have more sail out everytime I saw him and was flying about in a cloud of spray! At lunchtime some headed to the cafes (at Brantwood or in Coniston) but we elected to go back to camp and cater for ourselves. After lunch I went back out with my full rig out which was great, a lot of the people sailing with bermudan rigs (which are infinitley reefable) didn't seem sure how much sail to use and were being conservative so instead of being one of the slower boats I was able to compete on more even terms. Wayne had been badgering me to have a sail in his lovely "Cream of Manchester" custom Fulmar decked canoe. Whilst I was keen to have a go I felt that the conditions weren't the best for learning a new boat. Eventually I relented and jumped in while Wayne hitched a lift with Graham to keep an eye on me. The canoe felt fantastic, much stiffer and more responsive than my canoe and quite different to sail. Unfortunately I was caught out by a lull in the wind whilst hiked right out and as the boat heeled to windward I found myself slipping on the varnished wooden side deck and was unable to prevent myself toppling backwards into the water. Normally when a canoe capsizes it stops either on it's side or upside down in the water but as I'd not capsized but fallen out Cream of Manchester sailed majestically off with no one on board! Solway Dory design their boats to have some weatherhelm which means that in a situation like this the boat will head into the wind and stop (a very good safety feature) and this is eventually what happened but not before I had to swim faster than I thought possible in an attempt to catch her! Getting back in was easy and I was sailing again before Graham and Wayne got to me. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and sailed back to shore to give Wayne his pride and joy back before it could come to anymore harm. Unfortunately nobody managed to catch this comedy moment of the weekend on film.
Once the sailing was over Graham and I had a barbeque in a sheltered corner of the beach (thanks Graham) then we wandered into Coniston to meet up with Andy, Andy, John and Walter for a beer. We decided not to grace the Ship Inn with our presence after having suffered all day as a result of the previous nights dodgy pints (Dave was made of sterner stuff and went back there again on Saturday night as well).
On Sunday we awoke to rain and no wind at all and a few people packed up and departed. Later in the morning though a breeze started to pick up so after a hasty discussion a plan was hatched to sail to Peel Island (and if time allowed the southern end of the lake). By the time we'd assembled on the lake shore pretty much the whole of the remaining members had decided to join us so it was an impressive sized armada that set off down the lake. Initially the wind was quite strong but it moderated as we made our way south, still we made good progress down the lake. As we approached Peel Island it became obvious that all the canoes wouldn't fit into the small natural harbour on the island so myself, Graham, Keith and Ann and Walter made our way to a small beach a little further south and stopped for lunch (while the rest of the fleet landed on the island). Peel Island was used as the setting for Wildcat Island in the film Swallows and Amazons (based on Arthur Ransome's kids novel). After having a bite to eat we set sail again for the end of the lake in flukey gusty winds. One minute it'd be a decent blow then it'd lull then blow again from a slightly different direction. Combined with the narrowing, twisting lake it made for interesting sailing. We eventually reached the outflow where Coniston drains into the River Crake so it was time to turn around and head for home. Sailing back was easy as the wind was behind us but once we got north of Peel Island the gusts of wind started to increase to a level that made for scary sailing for those with a lot of sail up. Graham had a few dodgy moments with his new sail fully unfurled and had to stop to put a reef in. As we approached the campsite we spotted Dave and Steve out sailing. They'd gone to Solway Dory's workshop in the morning with Gavin to have a look at the new canoe and had consequently missed our departure. We landed and Graham, Andy, Walter and some of the others started to pack up to go home, I decided to stay another night as a few others were staying on as well. After eating and showering I joined Greg, his wife and daughter (Gina and Hilaire), Steve, Dave and Declan at Greg's tent for a chat and some drinks. They'd already been socialising for a while before I arrived and some interesting discussions were taking place. As the night wore on, one by one people wandered off to bed leaving Greg and I to talk red wine fuelled nonsense into the early hours.
On Monday morning I woke feeling a little rough around the edges but not as bad as I'd feared I might have been. By the time I'd had breakfast and a wash I was raring to go. The wind was blowing and the sun was shining so myself, Wayne and Julie and Jeremy and Pauline sailed into Coniston for tea and cakes at the Bluebird cafe. On the way back the wind dropped completely and I resorted to paddling. We packed up our boats and after an enjoyable late lunch with Jeremy and Pauline I said cheerio to a very bleary looking Greg and the others before setting off home.
That's it for organised OCSG meets this year, every one that I've been to has been really enjoyable and I'm looking forwards to going to more next year.