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Bosham Classic Boat Revival

by Dougal Henshall 8 Sep 2017 15:30 BST 2-3 September 2017
Bosham Classic Boat Revival © Dawn Cheshire

One of the top topics for discussion around sailing club bars of late has to be the worrying trend in the downturn of Championship attendances. However, at the same time, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of boats that are attending alternative events, such as the growing number of sailing weeks at clubs around our coasts.

Poole, Chichester, Abersoch and Pyfleet are just some of the locations that have developed a winning formula of mixing family fun with good quality racing and as a result are seeing their numbers on the up. One club that has taken this policy of being inclusive and made it into something even more special is Bosham Sailing Club, on the waters of Chichester Harbour.

Sandwiched between the August Bank Holiday and the Goodwood Classic Car Revival, Bosham's Classic Boat Revival (CBR) has grown in stature to become the premier classic boat event anywhere around the UK, with the profile, not to mention the super success of the Revival, being reflected in the quality and support from top quality sponsors. Most events are happy these days to have a sponsor, singular, yet the attractions of the CBR have seen names such as Strides, the Sussex based Auction House, Haines Boatyard, the nearby centre of boatbuilding and restoration excellence and Pusser's Rum – a classic, as the original and best rum that used to power the Royal Navy - all coming together in support of the event.

It helps of course that the Bosham clubhouse must be in the most picturesque of locations, as it is situated right on the quayside. The building might look to be 'Olde Worlde' but with the recent redevelopment of the changing rooms and facilities, is bang up to date. Mention also has to be made of the food on offer, for if you can get good grub at a reasonable price, then this too can help swing the decision to turn up for an event. The National Trust open the Green for visiting boats, which also allows a surprising number of the general public to wander around looking at the 'classic' boats, for it is part of the Bosham story that more and more of the boats on display are superb examples of the art of small boat restoration.

It also helps that Bosham seems to have a good relationship with the weather gods, as after several days of unsettled conditions, the Saturday dawned to hot sunshine, but a flat calm. No matter, for at the briefing, Nick Fox, the PRO for the event, reassured the competitors that after a short delay under AP, the sea breeze would arrive on time to give the very best of sailing conditions.

In keeping with the very high degree of organisation exercised by Bosham, the sea breeze that had been ordered arrived on schedule and as the three fleets (Fast and Medium on the outer course, Slow closer to the head of the creek) all headed away from the slipway, crews were soon moving from down to leeward to up on the sidedeck. Bosham is home to strong club fleets of National 18s, Yachting World Dayboats and Tideway dinghies, with these boats forming a backbone to their three respective fleets, though there was also a strong representation of other classes and visiting boats, with the Merlin Rockets again sending a strong trio to contest for the fast fleet prizes.

The event this year saw some welcomes new additions. With Wayfarer 1 joining the Medium fleet and a pair of International 12s competing with the Slow Fleet; it must be hoped that more of these iconic boats will fit the CBR into their calendar for 2018. In the moderate winds the National 18s, with waterline length and sail area on their side, were sailing very well, yet the nimbler Merlins were great at making gains on the shifts and in the sometimes-congested mark roundings.

The CBR might well be a celebration of some boats from yesteryear, yet there was little quarter given in the close competition, with boats of advanced years being squeezed into gaps that were 'only just there'; it was something to see boats in all three fleets contesting every place!

As the afternoon wore on the sun got hotter, the breeze grew fresher and the fleets enjoyed a true 'classic' afternoon out afloat before the sailing back up the creek to a warm welcome at the clubhouse. After the first day, honours in the Fast fleet were shared very evenly between the National 18s and Merlin Rockets, though the very quick National 12s were snapping at their heels. Beer, food and an evening of talking boats, all to the accompaniment of a cool jazz band was just more of the 'this is how to run an event' – proof that there is more to sailing than just thrashing around a race course.

If it all sounds too good to be true, then sadly, it was. Sunday dawned to a beast of a day, strong southerlies and rain. Even before it was time to go afloat, the freshening breeze was enough to see some of the older boats being de-rigged, though it is a testament to how good the classic boat scene is, that all of the leading boats were seen to be heading out towards their respective race courses. With the conditions deteriorating fast, RO Nick Fox decided on two quick races then home, but even then, some of the gusts had been strong enough to cause problems with one real belter snapping a National 18 mast like a matchstick.

It is another part of the Bosham Classic Boat Revival that on the Sunday the returning competitors are greeted by a high tea and with the rain now lashing down this was a welcome interlude before the Prize Giving in the marquee. It was fitting that to be amongst the prize winners, boats had had to sail across both days, taking in the blustery rain with the Saturday sunshine. A shame about the weather, for it limited Peter Shaw, in his Tideway, to wearing 'classic clothing' only on the Saturday, yet his sartorial elegance was matched by sufficient boat speed to win the slow fleet from the Kittiwake of Team Mackenzie-Wilson and the beautifully presented National 12 of Colin Blewett.

The change in the weather certainly shuffled the pack somewhat in the medium fleet, for if Saturday had been a YW Dayboat day, the brisk conditions on the Sunday brought the Devon Yawls to the fore. Dayboats still took the top two positions, with Mark and Shirley Stanton winning from James Hewitt/Rachel Bullingham, but with a 2,1 score line on Sunday, the Yawl of Will King and Rich Kershaw came up into third place. Wayfarer 1, which had been scoring well was one of the boats wisely deciding that the conditions were too much for a lady of such age!

The Fast Fleet went to the National 18 Classic of Will Reid, Tom Reid and Nick Philips, who deserve a special mention for flying their spinnaker on all of the downwind legs, presenting the spectators with some of the sights of the weekend as they drove their boat hard in a cloud of spray. Runner up was the oldest Merlin Rocket in the event, sailed by Martin and Margertha Hunter, who showed some great skills in picking their way around the course across the range of conditions.

With a win in the final race, the National 12 of John and young Dan Meadowcroft took third ahead of a close bunch of National 18s, Merlins and the Finn of John Tremlett. There is though so much more to the Bosham CBR than just success on the race course, for the event also celebrates the quality of classic boat with the highly desirable Concours d'Elégance award. Each year the standard of entry in this category gets higher, with 2017 proving that showroom quality can also be matched with race winning boat speed. Colin Blewett's home built International 12 got a special mention, whilst John Tremlett's beautifully presented classic Finn was unfortunate to only take the runner's up spot. These two boats and the other eye catchers had to accept second best to the National 12 of Neal Lilywhite, who - despite losing his mojo whilst racing - somehow chose the perfect colour of grey for his hull to match the colours afloat on the Sunday; at times it looked as if there was just a stunning varnished deck cutting through the waves!

Once again, thanks must go to all of the hard workers at Bosham, both ashore and afloat, for serving up yet another classic weekend of classic boat sailing. With so much fun and finesse crammed into one weekend it really does suggest that even if you don't have a classic boat, beg or borrow one and come to the Bosham CBR in 2018. This really is now one event that 'has to be done'.

Full results and more information can be found at

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