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Thames Sailing Club Vintage and Open Regatta

by Bess Rhodes, Andre Bajaria and Nick Hoskins 28 Jul 2009 08:19 BST 18-19 July 2009

When the cyclists on the Thames Tow Path are stopping to watch you know that something exciting is going on. Well, thanks to the ever energetic Thames Sailing Club Small Fleet Captain Ben May has put the club firmly on the map with vintage sailing craft throughout the country by getting TSC’s CVRDA event recognised as a key date for those in the South East. Indeed, there were again a significant number of faces and boats that had appeared last year and some 14 boats crossed the line in the first of 3 races for the day.

This year’s Vintage and Open Regatta as with previous years saw the vintage Thames A Raters and similar representatives of the handicap fleet at their most spectacular. The fleet was mixed in both age and variety but all were enthusiastic. The wind was brisk, the rain was absent and the stream was almost non existent so for many it was an ideal day.

Handicap Fleet Report

Interestingly the CVRDA events have there own handicapping ratings and this meant that for the day The Old Grey Fox helmed by Steve Collins from Minima in his Enterprise came first. A wide variety of clubs were represented with Leader no 26, Mike Sherwen from Deben Yacht Club Woodbridge, Suffok came second with another Leader, No 1083 Chris Wharmby from Milton Keynes SC came third. Suzie Scotcher and Ian Pratt from TSC came a respectable fourth in their Merlin 2069 Water Nymph.

Three Albacores joined in the fun, all from TSC as did another Merlin and a Solo. A Firefly came from Whitefriars, Ashton Keynes near Cheltenham, Roger Morse from Welwyn Garden City sailed his Leader. Tamesis was represented by a Merlin and there was another from Shearwater SC, Near Warminster. We also had a Cherub from Island Barn and a Solo from Frensham Pond.

The course for the day was down to D with all obstacles to Port. The breeze was challenging, maintaining true Thames traditions, which meant that places were constantly changing. Those that sussed out the best positions on the river up and down the reaches definitely gained.

The day was deemed a success by all, bar two. The Cherub had a rigging issue and his mast fell down in the middle of the first race and a clash between a Leader and Chris Barlow’s Merlin No 6 meant he had to retire with a badly torn cotton, yes cotton, mainsail.

Sunday morning was dry and clear however the strong winds from Saturday had shifted from westerly to south westerly and continued to blow and also build. The Met office had reported sustained winds of 15mph with gusts exceeding 30mph. Nine boats came to the start area for a similar long course to Saturday with an upstream mark in the distance and a downstream mark below Raven’s Ait. The first lap was the closest of the weekend with eight of the nine boats jostling for position in the narrow upstream channel on the Middlesex side of Raven’s Ait. Once out into clear air, the wind picked up for a race to the line. At the end of the first lap Steve and Kathy Collins from Minima YC in their Enterprise ‘Old Grey Fox’ were in the lead with a single second separating them from Ian Pratt and Suzie Scotcher in their Thames SC based Merlin Rocket ‘Water Nymph’. Approaching the downstream mark, an unexpectedly strong gust blew Water Nymph over and despite valiant bailing attempts the fleet passed them. Old Grey Fox proceeded to finish first over the line closely followed by Chris and Jane Wharmby from Milton Keynes SC in their Leader ‘Birubi II’ with Paul Seaman and Eileen Barry from Minima YC’s Merlin Rocket ‘Warrior’ in third place.

After a short break for tea, coffee biscuits and in some cases a late breakfast for additional ballast the fleet returned to the river. The gusts seemed to be getting bigger though the boats were becoming familiar with the conditions as no major incidents were encountered. The fifth was another close race with the leading five boats crossing the line after one lap within a minute of the first. After another trip round the island, Birubi II took the honours from Water Nymph and Warrior though Mike and Val Sherwen from Deben YC in the Leader ‘Naiad’ took second place on handicap.

A pause for lunch and consideration of the conditions followed with entertainment provided by Thames SC cadets Natalie Kingsley and Jack Cooper providing a show of Topper racing in front of the clubhouse. Natalie was the clear winner as Jack appeared to prefer swimming and practicing his capsizes to the amusement of the spectators.

As the wind continued to build, only seven of the original 17 made it to the starting area. At the end of the first lap, Leaders Naiad and Birubi II were fighting for the lead however this led to Birubi II taking on much water. As the gust continued the fly down the river, the race box wisely chose to shorten the course to two laps. Birubi II continued to bail and attempt to regain position however the conditions were unfavourable and soon the fleet were past. Making the most of the gusts, Water Nymph put in the fasted lap of the regatta at 11m59s to cross the line in first place, with Naiad hot on their heels is second place and close enough to take the race on handicap. Crista Illingworth and Andre Bajaria’s Albacore ‘Rivelin’ from Thames SC crossed the line in third place.

Thames A Rater Report

As the winds built during the weekend the Raters were transformed from elegant skimming-dishes into terrifying high-performance craft. By the end of the regatta even the motor boats were scurrying to escape from them.

It all started relatively sedately. At Saturday lunch-time the wind was gusty, but not excessive. As usual the Raters jostled enthusiastically for the first start. Some boats were a little too eager, and when the gun went a number were over the line. Lady Jane (helmed by Kevin Pearson) got a good start and led the fleet for much of the race. Spindrift (helmed by Martin Hunter) crossed the line too early, and had to return, putting them at the back of the fleet. They did not remain there for long. Spindrift rapidly made its way up through the fleet, finishing first with a substantial lead. Lady Jane managed to defend second place from challenges by Osprey (helmed by Paul Browning) and Vagabond (helmed by Miles Palmer). The only capsize was from a misjudged roll-tack by Lady Iona (helmed by Bess Rhodes).

By the next race the wind was increasing. The start was postponed because Carina (helmed by Sam Christie) capsized in the starting area. Carina had sailed determinedly during the first race, but sadly was so full of water after her immersion that she was unable to make the second race. Spindrift dominated this race too, quickly gaining a considerable lead, whilst Lady Jane, Vagabond and Osprey remained close together.

It was, though, on Sunday that the racing became truly exhilarating. Even in the morning the wind was stronger than the day before, and it increased as the afternoon wore on. Initially most of the boats coped well with the more difficult conditions. This was particularly pleasing as there were several younger and lighter helms and crews out on the water, notably in Vagabond (helmed on Sunday by Ben Palmer), Carina (helmed by Sam Christie), and Lady Iona (helmed by Bess Rhodes). The first race of the day was again won by Spindrift. In the second race Osprey led on the first leg. Unfortunately her crew were unaware of a change of course, and rounded an incorrect mark. After this Paul Browning managed to push Osprey back up to the top end of the fleet but he never regained the lead, and first place eventually went to Spindrift.

In the final race of the regatta carnage commenced, and only one boat completed the course. The wind had been building steadily over lunch time, and some Raters (perhaps prudently) decided not to go out. Those that went out had an interesting time. The first beat was magnificent. The longer course that the Raters had been set meant there was space for exciting tacking duels. The combination of speed and manoeuvrability that the Raters enjoy ensured that the entire fleet rapidly reached the windward mark. This buoy was placed in a particularly windy stretch of river and it is to the credit of the crews that all the boats rounded successfully. On the next leg, though, the process of elimination began. Downwind the mainsails were massively overpowered, the boats were careering downstream at astonishing speeds, whilst the 44 foot tall carbon-fibre masts were flexing forwards alarmingly. Osprey achieved a spectacular run downriver but then experienced difficulties with her rig. The boat broached, recovered, was hit by another gust, and capsized. Shortly afterwards Lady Iona retired (pruning a tree on the way). At this point the wind was still increasing. Spindrift successfully completed a lap, but was not finished, and so Martin Hunter (who had already won the series) decided to retire. This left Lady Jane and Vagabond still racing. Ben Palmer (Vagabond) had a light crew, but had been sailing in an impressively controlled fashion and completed a lap. Just then though disaster struck, and Vagabond capsized opposite the clubhouse. The crew made a heroic effort and righted the boat, but it capsized again immediately, this time blocking the channel beside the island of Ravens Ait. With one of their crew now injured Vagabond accepted assistance from a safety boat. Lady Jane was the only boat left standing, but was sent on a second lap. In an outstanding display of seamanship Kevin Pearson and his crew completed the race, and gained a well-deserved first place. The A Rater Regatta was won overall by Spindrift, with Lady Jane in second place. Vagabond was the highest placed wooden boat, and so won the Vintage trophy. For the Handicap Vintage Regatta first place went to Naiad helmed by Mike Sherwen, second Andre Bajaria in Rivelin and third Birubi II helmed by Chris Wharmby.

This brought to a close the racing on a fantastic two days on the river. Thanks to visiting boats and crews from Minima, Deben, Milton Keynes, Whitefriars, Welwyn Garden City, Tamesis, Shearwater, Island Barn and Frensham Pond and also to the event sponsors Guildford Marine and Classic Boats for their prize sponsorship.

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