“Essex Boys on tour” is a well-worn phrase around the Blaze fleet. This select band of nomads travel the length and breadth of the country in their quest to re-write the Great British Pub Guide, and occasionally sail.
So, with all this travelling being done by the Essex Boys it was felt last year that the time had come to return the favour and schedule an open at Blackwater SC. Armed with Mosquito (or is it Musto?) repellent, lots of drinking water and a Machete, eight visitors braved the road in to deepest darkest Essex to take a sample of the local wildlife and bring stories of glorious conquest back to civilization. That was the plan anyway.
Three races were to be sailed each day, around enough club marks to give a grand tour of the Blackwater estuary. The courses (one for each day) stretched the length and breadth of this great L shape of heavily tidal water. On arrival though, with lovely sunshine but precious little wind and no sign of a seabreeze the outlook was dire.
Still, optimism prevailed and the fleet launched in to a painfully light south westerly breeze. The tide claimed its first victim as it pushed local sailor Ben Fullalove (764) over the start line moments before the gun. Blackwater’s Mark Crook (700) led his brother Terry (760) to the windward mark, followed by Nick Miller (757). A reach across the tide was followed by a run dead against it, forcing the fleet to the far shore and despite an awful lot of gybing little advantage was gained or lost. On a long reach across the other side of the L the fitful wind finally chose its champion and launched Terry -who had eeked a narrow lead over his fellows- ahead of the fleet, allowing him to sail the rest of the race unchallenged. Simon Beddows (767) got the best of Miller to take 2nd.
By the time race two got underway the wind had come round further to the West, almost coming off the shore and freshening a touch. Miller led Jon Saunders (611) off the start and with the windward mark almost a fetch away, the two looked set to lead. One collision later and local Alex Williams (723) and Kieron Holt (699) had gotten through on the right, followed by Miller and Saunders. Current National Champion Rob Jones (678) had suffered on the start line, but worked his way well up the fleet by the second mark, only to miss the third and spend several minutes trying to recover the ground from the tide. T Crook, also recovering from a bad start, finally found some room for overtaking tactics on the second beat, and expertly worked his way to the front, where he stayed for the duration. Beddows led the chasing pack, closing on Crook by the end, followed by Miller and a fleet strung out by the tide.
As racing goes it was frustrating stuff, a strong tidal flow compounded by the kind of course that requires a big yellow lead boat for EVERY lap (not that there was any hope of managing more than one). Lots of gains could be made by playing the tidal flow, choosing your moment to cross the estuary and work your way up the other side and the price for misjudgement was punitive. So the fleet spread out rapidly and settled in to a procession that enthused nobody.
Race three was abandoned in favour of lunch, sleep and tinkering. With a little alcoholic lubrication, the Warsash contingent took to solving the great problems of the universe; how to refill a lighter with butane whilst smoking, how to make a steel pintel bushel out of string and how to make a cover more breathable with the help of a Stanley knife.
Despite all this, everybody survived un-exploded for the evening’s planned entertainment, an all-you-can-eat Indian Curry buffet (is there a greater thing?) with live musical entertainment. At the appointed hour a rabble of spruced up Blazers arrived, sat and frankly had no idea what to do when of all the acts to stride between the tables, Michael Buble appeared. Not the real Michael Buble, but an uncanny-valley Essex-bred undead soundalike (and to be fair he sounded pretty good). Poor Michael then went about trying to drum-up some audience interaction and while the visitors didn’t know where to look, the Essex boys were in their element. They swayed and sang, lighters in hand and didn’t heckle once. Honest.
After ruining Michael’s self esteem and having a bit of a snooze our intrepid explorers awoke to a new, very still, day. More tinkering followed, including getting everyone’s sail out and laying them on top of each other. They were all the same, which ended that argument. With the approach of those pretty ripples across the water all caution was thrown to the very light wind and the fleet launched, an hour or so behind schedule.
After spinning a wind indicator a couple of times the direction settled on North North East. A leading group emerged quickly, comprised of Fullalove, Miller, Crook, Beddows and Williams, all in contention. Two legs later the group faced the choice of how best to fight the incoming tide on their way up a long second beat. A pair of club boats from a previous start had favoured the right hand shore and the leading pack followed suit. Fullalove, imagining/spotting higher pressure across the pond tacked off and gambled everything on it. After taking the lead, he won unchallenged. Miller eventually had the best of the other chasers, followed by Williams, Beddows and Crook on a photo finish.
The tide duly reversed, flowing quickly over the gate and prompting a cautious approach. With nothing to lose, Saunders finally remembered how to sail and managed a flying start, sailing the race in constant fear of an Essex Boy sandwich, which while threatened, never materialised. Fullalove eventually broke from the chasers for 2nd, whilst Miller bested Williams on the penultimate leg, a fitful reach.
While only managing a pair of 5th's on Sunday, Crook’s earlier work brought him victory on 7 points, followed by Fullalove, Beddows and Miller all on 8, order decided on countback. He thanked his club for their hospitality and commitment to getting the races in, despite the conditions, as well as the competitors for making the trip across the outback to visit the eternal visitors. The consensus: great club, great company, shame about the wind.
The absence of another group of hardy travellers did prompt one interesting question: What would happen if you combined a Michael Buble tribute with an Indian Curry and a trio of drunk Welshman. We will never know.