Photos © Sally Collison/ www.sallycollisonphotography.co.uk
The world's largest local one-design fleet celebrated its 75th Anniversary at its home
On Friday, August 18 2006 the world's largest local one-design fleet celebrated its 75th Anniversary at its home - Seaview, on the Isle of Wight. Exactly 175 of the locally built 'Sea View One-Design' (SVOD) dinghies hoisted their multi-coloured sails for a mass-start fleet race in the morning and an historic 'sail past' hundreds of spectators lining the Seaview Waterfront.
Class Captain William Edwards explained the unique characteristics of a class built by the same family and only raced in one village: ‘The boats are traditional wooden boats made of spruce and oak and elm. They are clinker-built which means that they are planks laid over the top of other planks on a frame. They have spruce masts which are 18ft tall, the boats are 12ft long, they are very difficult to sail because they are sharp in the bow and any chop, they take water over the leeward bow. We are very unusual and unique in the sailing world in that we have multi-coloured sails. All other classes have the same coloured sails – our sails are a complete myriad, eclectic mix, as diverse as the colours for jockeys. The whole point being that each family is identifiable by their unique colouring on the sails.’
With 175 boats on one start-line it was a relieved race officer, James Mitchell, who managed to get them all off with out a general recall. ‘It was like Air traffic control at Heathrow! It was quite challenging to get everyone out onto the water on time and we were only 15 minutes late! It was quite a shifty breeze today which made it quite difficult to get the first mark in the right place.
‘We had 175 boats started and 170 finished which is good, a couple of capsizes which is always good entertainment, and they probably did a 4-5 mile race this morning. The first boat finished in about 40 minutes and last boat in about one hour.’
The 1931-dated fleet of Seaview One-designs' now totals 198 boats which lie off Seaview on swing moorings during their summer season. Every evening in August about 50 SVODs enter the Evening Dinghy Race. Each SVOD has a unique sail pattern made from different colours, making a spectacular sight when racing in the Eastern Solent. The fleet includes many Ex-Olympic sailors and, when their schedule allows, the odd America's Cup sailor has been seen battling with the regulars - and quickly finding out how hard it is to win in this competitive fleet! The man who knows exactly how to win – and is a regular at the front of the fleet – Raymond Simmonds, led the other 174 boats home across the finish line. For Raymond, this is an important achievement – this was the big race to win, but what is his secret? ‘Go out and get a good start and just keep your nose clean. I’m also pretty wedded to numbers – I look at my compass, and I look at the weather and I try to forecast what the wind is going to do on the water – Sometimes it works. Today it did.’ Raymond is a great sailor and he explained why he isn’t getting bored of winning just yet: ‘What happened in the last race is not relevant, every race you go out and you want to do well. You don’t look back and say, “I’ve won the last race”, you look at this race and think, “This is going to be fun! What can I do to win it?” I’ve got plenty of practice and a lot of people sail two or three weeks a year. I have to admit I sail all the year round – so I get out there with a small advantage.’
The Evening Dinghy Race has always been very much a 'spectator' event as the race-course often brings the boats right into the shore - zig-zagging their way into the wind against a strong tide. The shallower the water, the less tide will be pushing the racers backwards, but the rocks are hazardous and the spectators often get great some great laughs. The 75th Anniversary was held at the end of the Seaview Village Regatta Week - during the busiest time of the year - to ensuring that everyone could join in the celebrations.
Trying out a Sea View Dinghy for the first time was singlehanded offshore race Nick Bubb. He was finding out how hard the boats are to sail well. ‘It was good, very tweaky, lots of little things to learn, a bit wetter than I expected, it took a while to find the self-bailer – it was amazing to race with 180-odd boats! The boats are just a tiny bit slower than what I’m used to which is my excuse for a bad start, as I ended up stuck in the middle of the line when I was trying to get down to the other end. It is really nice thought to have a slightly more tactical sailing which I haven’t done for a few years.’
The race was followed by a Sail Past the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight and the family of the class founders. In 1931 there were 6 dinghies in existence! In 1981 on the 50th anniversary there were 100 dinghies. Most of these were built by Bunny Warren with some early boats built by Feltham of Portsmouth and in later years 10 were built by Norman Newell. Dinghy no. 100 was built by Bunny and Michael Warren together to mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the class in 1981. Since then Michael and his son Nick have built a further 98 dinghies still locally in the village, Michael Warren: ‘For me, the fleet race and the sail past is the highlight of my working life building the dinghies. I’ve built 98 boats myself which makes me two short of my goal for building 100 boats.’
Racing and sailing Sea View Dinghies is a family affair. Addie Bottomley explains the draw of the fleet: ‘We had seven or eight boats from our family and it is really lovely, coming in and having a quick chat and giving them a pat of the back. It just feels like everyone belongs to something and everyone is part of something.’ She had one problem though, ‘About a minute for the start I managed to t-bone my best friend’s father’s boat and put a little hole in the side of it so I spent most of my race thinking about how I was going to approach that conversation with him.’
Testimony to the atmosphere of the class, the father in question replied that it was, ‘Just so good to see her and everyone else out racing and enjoying themselves.’ The competition is intense, the spectacle is a powerful landmark for the local are and the Sea View Dinghy class really is the only fleet of it’s kind in the world. Pure one-design, totally local and utterly unique.