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Thames A Rater Nationals at Bourne End Week

by Mark Laity 8 Jun 2009 23:59 BST 23-26 May 2009

An enthralling Thames Championship for the Thames A Raters went down to the wire as Osprey, helmed by Paul Browning, and Spindrift, helmed by Martin Hunter, started the last race within a few points of each other. Osprey triumphed but Spindrift will be rueing a series of costly errors throughout the series, although she gained much consolation by going on to triumph in the Queen's Cup.

The Rater Nationals are always held at Bourne End Regatta, under the flag of Upper Thames SC, this year being for the 125th time. Fourteen Raters entered the series held in mainly light winds and under glorious sunshine. Race 1 proved to be the first of Spindrift’s disasters, as they took a big early lead but then later had to go back after discovering they had crossed early. The first mark was placed in virtually windless area, not only causing a fair amount of chaos as the boats bunched together, but also made the early stages something of a lottery. The leading pack stayed close until Osprey finally moved past Kevin Pearson in Lady Jane to take a winning lead. The 1909 Kingfisher, helmed by Martin Collen, and celebrating its 100th year, took 3rd, with Spindrift a lowly 8th.

Race 2, for the Clayton Jackson Cup, saw Spindrift, the most successful boat of recent years, speed away early to an unassailable winning lead. Behind them Osprey, Lady Jane and Kingfisher tussled for 2nd and 3rd, but eventually lost out after finding a hole in the wind, and Kingfisher, although finishing just behind Osprey took 2nd because of her handicap.

Race 3, the first leg of the Scamp Cup, started in light and patchy winds, and saw another disaster for Spindrift, as after taking their customary early lead they managed to round the marks the wrong way! Further back Osprey took what they thought was a distant if clear 2nd, with behind them Atlantis, helmed by Julian Smith breaking away from the pack for 3rd. Paul Armitage in the 1907 Vagabond recovered from having to take a 720’ at the start to steadily work his way through the fleet on the run, passing Lady Jane and Bess Holbrook’ Lady Iona into 4th. With Spindrift’s disqualification Osprey, Atlantis and Vagabond moved up into 1st 2nd and 3rd.

In Race 4, the 2nd leg of the Scamp Cup, Spindrift yet again raced away, but beset by doubt then waited at the first mark to make sure they rounded the same way as everyone else, before speeding off again. Behind them Atlantis was a clear second, but Osprey after a good start elected to go the other bank to everyone else and paid the price ending 7th. Atlantis led the following pack, followed by Lady Iona. Vagabond, this time helmed by Miles Palmer, had another slow start after tangling themselves in mooring line, but once again a superb run moved them through the fleet, passing Jane and then Iona to take 3rd. It meant Atlantis took the Scamp Cup, with Vagabond 2nd and Osprey 3rd.

It meant at the half way point of the championship that Osprey’s consistent boatspeed gave them a clear lead over the fast but wayward Spindrift.

Race 5 proved a trial for everyone as the wind lightened even further to a virtual calm. Spindrift took an easy victory, with Osprey 2nd and Iona 3rd, but most of the talk was about why the race had not been shortened, and as a result condemning the back markers to hours of drifting.

The start of Race 6 for the Commodore’s Cup was postponed to give the wind a chance to pick up, which it duly did. In the usual manner Spindrift quickly built up a huge lead and took another bullet. Behind, the usual leading pack had a tight battle, with Vagabond yet again recovering from a slow start to catch them on the final run. With Kingfisher and Vagabond staying out of trouble as they closed on the heavily biased finish line, Lady Jane used its right of way to take Lady Iona and Osprey the wrong side of the mark, leading to a flurry of collisions, 720’s and shouting. Amidst the chaos Kingfisher took 2nd and Vagabond 3rd, while an infuriated Osprey scored a fifth that, with the discard coming into play, saw Spindrift eliminate its overall lead the championship.

With everything to play for on the final day the wind and rain arrived, and plenty of both, with some nasty gusts. In fact some boats decided to stay ashore for Race 7, which proved a disaster for Spindrift. Even before the race started it was obvious to onlookers that the rig was wrong for the conditions. Right from the start she was very much off the pace, while at the front Osprey, Kingfisher and Atlantis, now helmed by Johnny Smith, fought out a tight battle. Osprey had the early lead, but Kingfisher held on to move past on the 2nd lap and hold on to the finish. Not far behind at the end, Atlantis only just held off a cheeky attempt by the fast-closing Lady Jane to use the line bias to take 3rd. Spindrift struggled home in 5th.

That gave Osprey a 3 point advantage for the final race, while Spindrift’s crew took her mast down for urgent adjustments. Race 8 for the Wokefield Cup proved the most spectacular race of the week, with most of the morning absentees joining in. As 25 knot gusts came through the fleet only got away after one general recall. As Atlantis moved into 1st, followed by Osprey and Spindrift, the run towards the home mark saw a squall skittle over 3 raters. Another 5 somehow made it around the mark in front of the enthralled clubhouse spectators, while out in front Atlantis’s mast went overboard. As the wind settled Osprey, never looked like being caught by Spindrift, which was followed home by Ossie Stewart in the 1898 Ulva.

So Osprey ended a victorious Thames Championship with another bullet, followed by Spindrift in 2nd, and then the consistent Kingfisher in 3rd. Now the rivalry switched to the Queen’s Cup, first awarded in 1893 by Queen Victoria. A nine-mile race, the Cup (in a similar manner to the single race PoW Cup for 14s) is even more eagerly sought than the Thames Championship series.

With strong gusts blowing through and much more forecast, there was a debate about postponing the race, but in the event it got off only 15 minutes late. It proved the right decision as, although never less than tricky, the winds dropped rather than rose. After the spectacle of the previous day, the Cup proved something of an anti-climax. Spindrift took an early lead, and although Osprey held fairly close she never looked like a threat. Behind them Kingfisher and Lady Jane had a good fight for third, but Kingfisher finally worked a lead on the last beat to round off a good week with another 3rd.

So ended the 2009 BEW. Spindrift will look back on some silly mistakes, but Osprey throughout showed consistency and judgement to deserve her victory in the overall championship, while Spindrift gained her due reward for startling pace in the Queen’s Cup. Also encouraging was the size of the leading pack where Atlantis, Kingfisher, Lady Jane, Lady Iona and Vagabond all had good moments in some close racing.

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