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A review of the way that Plymouth has returned to racing during June

by Keith Davies 4 Jul 06:52 BST

As soon as the RYA issued their guidance about recreational sailing and starting to recommence competitive sailing, a few avid competitive sailors in the port started to get the ball rolling by arranging what we eventually described as a 'purposeful sail'. This is because the issued guidance did not permit the use of any yacht or sailing club assets and had to be competitor organised and driven.

Following a Royal Western Yacht Club sailing committee zoom meeting it was confirmed that the club could not arrange any events, even though we were desperate for competitive sailing to recommence and to see people back enjoying the marvellous sailing waters of Plymouth Sound from which they'd been denied for too long.

As a local competitive sailor I took the lead with organising our first event, with many discussions and calls later it was decided that a WhatsApp group for all interested parties was the way to easily communicate, in addition to social media posts. The first message was a simple 'who'd be interested in a 'purposeful sail' and the group quickly grew by word of mouth across the 7 plus sailing clubs in Plymouth from 20, to now well over 100 interested and keen sailors. We have set strict directions regarding crew allocations; from single-handed and double-handed boats (sailed by people from one household) as well as bigger crews containing socially distanced pairs, or larger household groups and pets too!

The first event was initially going to be Saturday the 6th of June, unfortunately by midweek the Sunday was looking best weather-wise - so we changed the day mid-week instantly received by all competitors on the WhatsApp, and contacted directly for those using email only. So, the course was sent out via the group:

  • Start, between end of Mount Batten breakwater and Mallard Beacon
  • Leave sound via western end of the breakwater
  • Leave L4 met buoy to port (Approx. position 50 degrees15.0'N; 4 degrees13.0'W) (best part of the way to the Eddystone Lighthouse)
  • Return via eastern end of the breakwater,
  • Finish between Mount Batten breakwater and Mallard Beacon!
We are blessed by a generous sailing area with fabulous buoyage, so this was a large and not too complex course, to facilitate mark roundings.

With a generous starting time window boats could choose when to start, some took advantage of this generosity by starting well into the afternoon to maximise on a building breeze.

Upon finishing boats were required to submit the following information:

  • Boat Name,
  • Boat type,
  • Sail number if possible,
  • Singlehanded, two handed or family crewed,
  • White Sail or Spinnaker,
  • Start time
  • Finishing time
For this first event it was decided that as it was a 'purposeful sail' that competitors should use COLREGs not normal racing rules, and all declarations be sent to the WhatsApp group.

For a means of calculating positions and eventual winners it was decided to score using a VPRS derived system - in part to Ruth's generosity of sponsorship of a case of Plymouth Gin. The VPRS rating certificate has correction factors for white sail and for full sail configurations, which along with a localised correction factor for crew status has proved ideal for managing results for a wide and varied fleet of boats from a Colvic 26 to a Dazcat 1495.

The VPRS support really started momentum and quickly Ullman Sails UK made contact that they wished to sponsor a youth prize, after all, this was going to be a series of events for same-household crews and gave some a first time for competitive sailing.

The thought of non-contested starts certainly had an appeal and I was amazed at the turn-out for the first weekend, with nearly 30 boats taking to the course.

PR Systems Marine Electronics, having seen the banter leading up to the first race, offered a prize for the best photo of the day this certainly kept people focused on having fun, and seeing the smiles of the competitors has certainly made it worthwhile organising the series of events.

Highwater Sails kindly offered a MOCRA price and Simon Baker of Multimarine enthusiastically motivated the multihull fleet for week two.

Jon Pegg from Ullman Sails quoted, "Fantastic to see Plymouth boats back on the water. What made it even better was that we saw over 27 boats short-handed, White-sail and families all joining in with pictures and banter aplenty. After such a success, with much credit going to Keith Davies for all his organisation, we are more than happy to keep supporting prizes for family of the week."

The build-up to week two saw the WhatsApp group grow it was again decided that again we should go for a Sundays 'race' mostly in part due to Saltash Sailing Club and Tamar River Sailing Club both having craning in on the Saturdays and wanting as many in the port to participate I wanted to include all. We had boats representing most of the clubs in the port and week two had 40 participants.

The course for week 2 was slightly different as I chose a course around marks just south of the breakwater and scored on an average lap elapsed time, this allowed boats to do multiple laps and sail for as long or short as they wished. The only difference with the starting was that we narrowed the start window from 930-1100 to reduce any potential condition variations throughout the day. The Royal Western Yacht Club kindly donated three cases of Plymouth Gin to towards the next three weekends which were originally allocated to its Mayflower 400 anniversary regatta. Ullman Sails, PR Systems Marine Electronics and Highwater Sails again all provided prizes.

For the Sundays of the 21st and 28th of June I set a long and short course, as we'd forecasts of gusts exceeding 25kts on the 21st and well over 30kts on the 28th to enable the smaller boats or less experienced sailors to still head out and have fun with others doing a longer course which gave the spectacular pictures of them revelling in the heavier conditions and large swells further offshore. A local chip shop, the West Hoe Fryer kindly donated prizes to be drawn at random throughout the fleet, in addition to the continuing Plymouth Gin from the Royal Western, Ullman Sails for the family prize, PR Systems and Highwater Sails.

Annie Haigh, owner of Fire Fox (Laser 28) said, "It's amazing that Keith and his mates have organised this sailing event which encourages every type of sailor and boat out onto the water. From single handed cruisers to families with children and dogs, from club racers to experienced international yachties - we are all out there and enjoying every minute (except the 35 knot gusts last Sunday!) It makes lockdown bearable. Thanks Keith."

Having such positive feedback from all the participants has certainly made it all worthwhile, and even the ultra-competitive sailors are saying that it's been joyful to be back out on the water - even in a different format.

I am now in the process of preparing ready for the continuation throughout July and, as the Yacht Clubs and Sailing Clubs reopen, we can establish a 'new normal' for competitive racing in the short-term until fully-crewed can recommence in the future.

The main objective and focus have been on having fun, and the Plymouth sailors who have participated through rain or shine (or 35kts!) certainly know how to do that.

Thanks to the following for their much-valued sponsorship and support; Ruth Kelly VPRS, Royal Western Yacht Club, Ullman Sails UK, PR Systems Marine Electronics, Highwater Sails, Paul Gibbins Photography and Multimarine.

Also a big thank you to all participants without which wouldn't have made it so enjoyable to organise.

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