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Salcombe Yacht Club Autumn Series - Race 5

by Graham Cranford Smith 2 Oct 2017 13:08 BST 30 September 2017

Do you know, we survive on a diet of but one club race a week here in Salcombe? Many folk would no doubt scoff at this de minimis sailing programme. However, since a "Salcombe race" is upwards of ninety minutes' duration, rain or shine, it does not always feel like we are sold short.

And, such are the intricacies of sailing in Salcombe, races frequently assume an arm-wrestle between proponents, of epic proportions from beginning to end requiring immense concentration. It leaves one limp. There are "gates" and pitfalls to trap the unwary or complacent. There is also "The Bag" which is (usually) a sheltered part of the estuary. This is the scene of many a race lost and won. The Bag may be benign, when Dante's inferno rages elsewhere. But it will often toss in a gust of twenty-five knots, with a downward component, just to keep things interesting. It pays to be awake.

For example, we held race 5 of the Salcombe Yacht Club Autumn Series on the 30th September in what turned out to be a brutal South Westerly. By the finish we were operating in a decent force 5 gusting 7 with a briskly ebbing tide. To the cognoscenti and those that know Salcombe, this produces some seriously lumpy conditions in the Ria off the Watch House and out to Bar. Here lies the waiting Blackstone mark today only occasionally visible in the swell as the race unfolded. That last beat, though brutal, was a sleigh ride to windward in a steep chop. We were conveyed by the tide towards the sea. So memorable.

It is not all beer and skittles. Not for us, the constant breeze fluctuating a couple of degrees either way. No, expect instead wild shifts and iron-fisted, unforgiving gusts. All this produces a work out, unmatched by the most masochistic of personal trainer. After the racing is done, lying down for perhaps twenty-four hours or so, is a minimum.

Given the weather, it was good to see so many takers for what promised to be a highly unpleasant aka, "specialist" afternoon on the water. The sky was a slate grey. You can forget the aquamarine of August as well. The beaches were largely empty.

First off the Cadet handicap. To the plucky five who competed, we say: excellent. Not for them the sofa and smartphone. Nor yet the attractions of the newly opened (and appalling) TOFS Factory Outlet on Island Street flogging tut. Well done to all of you. Evie Booth won out in her Tera Pro.

Tim Fells keeps about his person an RS Aero. He has done so for some years, overlooking the obvious attractions of the Solo. He deploys this to fill the gaps in his Merlin programme. This he did to good effect finishing thirty seconds ahead on elapsed in front of George Alexander in a Laser 4.7. George in turn edged the formidable Peter Cook and Janet Exelby in their newly acquired Firefly; for George, a notable achievement.

Salcombe YC has a growing fleet of Phantoms. The overall boat park count is now four. 75% of them made it to the line. Paul Ellis, helming Alister Morley's boat held sway over his Phantom compatriots plus the Merlin of Simon and Laura Evans. It was beyond several to complete the last lap to Blackstone, by which point the Ria was especially annoyed.

The Solo start garnered twelve starters. Not for the unaccomplished is the port tack option on the Portlemouth shore in a force 5 in the face of eleven boats on starboard. However, Geoff Allen did duly nail this. At the gun he smoothly crossed the whole fleet while the rest of us looked on glumly wishing we had had the nerve to do it. It was most impressive.

On the first beat Olly Alexander showed fabulous speed and arrived at Blackstone hotly pursued by Cranford Smith, Dobson and Yates. The ensuing run was characterised by some exciting gusts. Alexander effected a gybe in one such and succumbed. In fact, were it not for multiple capsizes, Alexander would have surely been up there at the finish.

As it was, Dobson and Cranford Smith duly embarked on a ninety-minute duel being never more than a few boat lengths apart. Yates remained an ever-present threat. The final journey back from Blackstone was especially notable. Aircraft airframes have clearly defined "Velocity Never Exceed". This is usually posted in foreboding letters on the instrument panel by the makers. As we traversed past the club, the Solo was close to, or beyond its VNE and certainly anything Jack Holt had in mind. It was epic. A gybe for Cranford Smith in the lee of the bin pontoon seemed judicious.

Only at the finish, did Dobson fluff his last tack leaving Cranford Smith to win out. Given the conditions it was great to see five Yawls on the line. A Yawl upwind in this kind of breeze is like witnessing an "Over Sixties Matron's Leapfrog Club: 100m hurdle event". And as such, it is a spectacle not to be missed. These boats carry a serious amount of sail. The response to a gust is for the mast to bend like a longbow. The boat flogs heavily as she then hitches her skirts to clear the jump, bloomers well on show. Double vision for the crews during these paroxysms, can surely not uncommon. De-powering, trust, there is a lot of it, does not seem to be an option. Plainly this is not for the faint-hearted nor is the racing anything but hard fought. The crews this day were nothing short of heroic.

Despite our new club manager Jules McColl falling out twice, hanging on only by the jib-sheet, Andrew Wood came home victorious ahead of Andy and Liz Savell.

Our sincere thanks to PRO Nigel Blazeby, SYC race and safety boat teams. Great.

Race 5 Results:

1 Tera Pro (larger,mylar sail) Evie Booth
2 Tera Sport (smaller,dacron sail) James Alexander
3 Topper, Dom Holt-Wilson
4 Topper, Louis Tollins
5 Topper, Gus Howells

Medium Handicap
1 Aero 7, Tim Fells
2 Laser 4.7, George Alexander
3 Firefly, Peter Cook

Fast Handicap
1 Phantom, Alistair Morley
2 Merlin Rocket, Simon Evans & Laura Evans

1 Graham Cranford Smith
2 Simon Dobson
3 Simon Yates

Salcombe Yawl
1 Yawl (B) Andrew Wood & Jules McColl
2 Yawl (B) Andrew Savell & Elizabeth Savell
3 Yawl (B) John Smithers

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