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Highfield Boats - Sailing - LEADERBOARD

Royal Lymington Yacht Club XOD Saturday Series - Race 12

by John Olliff-Cooper 15 Jul 2019 09:08 BST 13 July 2019

Weather: Fine, sunny.
Wind: 6-12 knots, shifty - north to north-west.


B (Pennington) to pt
North East Shingles to sb.
North Head to pt.
South West Shingles to pt.
Black Rock to pt.
Finish at Y (west of the river mouth).

The Long Race West beyond the sanitized confines of the Solent can offer anxious moments. West of the Needles the sea stretches out to the shores of the New World Colonies, where tobacco is grown, so they say. Our little 'X' Boats sit very small indeed atop that vastness. Out at South West Shingles, the beaches of Normandy can seem very close. Nevertheless, that is where our fleet ventures, once each year. When the wind rises into the high teens our tiny ships battle into unfamiliar waves and troughs, especially if the tide is in opposition to the wind; but when the wind arrives in but gentle zephyrs there is a different eerie stillness about the place, cut through by the cry of gulls, and the Dickensian peel of a starboard-hand bell. It is the world of Britton's Peter Grimes.

Happily, this year's race was blessed with perfect conditions, although the shifting north-west wind tested tactical skills and skippers' patience in equal measure.

Passing B (Pennington) the fleet poured out of the Solent, past the long-silenced gun ports of Hurst Castle, to North East Shingles, where X32 Ibex led from X63 Astra, X9 Zest, and X117 Xray.

There followed a long run to South West Shingles, which only Philip Brewer in Zest seemed to know the whereabouts of. Most of the fleet sailed too low towards the wrong buoy, eventually, as the penny dropped, correcting their course by about 20 degrees, having sailed two sides of a triangle - expensive! At the mark Zest had a huge lead, with nothing but fair expectation of laurels crowding his rear view mirror. X63 Astra and X179 Expeditious turned in second and third spots. The tide had yet to come to any firm decision about its intentions.

Thence it was back into the Solent, on the long, long slog to Black Rock, off Yarmouth. Depending how skippers sailed this leg, it was something between a one-sided beat on port tack, and a fine fetch. A few fortunes were made and lost, but what is certain is that those who sagged off towards the Needles in search of the new flood tide, paid heavily. Those who stayed high to lay past the forts (Zest, Mersa, Expeditious, Ibex, and Excalibur) did well. It was they who filled the leader board at Black Rock.

With Zest in a commanding lead, and the relatively short beat back to the river mouth to follow, one might easily have thought the win well and truly sewn up. But Zest tacked left, into a header! And so spirits rose in the following boats, who followed up a providence-sent lift on port. Only the Almighty knows who went where after Black Rock. Indeed, it was all about prayer and wind shifts. But prayer for intercession seemed to do little, and the wind shifts followed no predictable pattern.

What we now know is that those who kept right did best. James Markby (X179) read the beat brilliantly, and won by over a minute. He was followed by John Morrow (X8) who swept up to the line on a big lift, under boats to windward who were thus rendered 'overstayed' for finishing mark Y. Paul Woodman (X32) was then just ahead of John Olliff-Cooper (X87) who pipped Eric Williams (X34) by just one second. Having prayed less (probably) and he therefore having been punished by the capricious wind gods, Philip Brewer's remarkable and well-deserved lead had evaporated, and he placed seventh.

Worthy of note, is that the winner, James Markby, sported a Panama Trilby hat throughout the race, and managed to retain it, despite a great many gybes and tacks: a remarkable achievement.


1st X179 Expeditious - James Markby
2nd X8 Annex - John Morrow
3rd X32 Ibex - Paul Woodman & Oli James
4th X87 - John Olliff-Cooper & Dunlop Stewart
5th X34 Mersa - Eric Williams & Tim Blackwell

Grateful thanks must go to Malcolm McKeag and his excellent race team, who logged all competitors at every mark. Malcolm added some interesting comments: "This one presented everyone, not least the race officer trying to set a course, with new challenges. And not least among these was the discovery, mercifully made by Nigel Brooks and Roy Froud the day before the race, that two crucial buoys in Christchurch Bay were missing."

"Forecast by many to go into the west in Christchurch Bay the breeze stayed resolutely N or NNW. What should have been a nice beat from NE Shingles to N Head was almost a fetch with just a short hitch to make the mark. Nonetheless the swirls and vagaries of the tidal streams round the Shingles and in the Needles channel provided the opportunities for gains - and losses - that the lack of conventional true beats did not. There were still, in the words of Nigel Brooks afterwards 'many decisions to be made - and lived with'."

Full race and series results can be found here.

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