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Pacers compete in Around the Isle of Sheppey race

by Mike W 10 Sep 2006 23:29 BST 9 Septeber 2006

The 'Around the Isle of Sheppey' race is the longest dinghy race in Britain, covering 40 miles in all sorts of different sailing conditions. It turned out to be an epic battle lasting 5.25 hours for Guy and Thomas Marks in Pacer 1703, and Mike Warwicker and Kate Fitzsimmons in Pacer 2032, and for Laurence Trim and Paul his crew it turned out to be a test against the elements.

Saturday morning and there were 3 Pacers ready for the 48th around the island race, the wind was from the east blowing force 4 to 5, this meant a beat against a very strong tide to Leys down a spinnaker run to the Bridge, reaching and beating up to Garrison point then a beat back to Sheerness.

The slow handicap started at 10:30, though a muddled start sequence meant most boats were not prepared - Mike and Kate started about 20 seconds late, and Guy and Thomas started a further minute after that - after 20 minutes or so Guy and Mike were swapping tacks with the lead Bosuns and a GP14 for company. This continued for a few miles, with the 2 lead Pacers pulling clear from the slow handicap fleet, apart from a solo and the GP14 just ahead. Guy and Thomas had overtaken Mike and Kate, and had pulled out a handy lead of 100m, but were tacking slowly.

Mike and Kate were losing ground and started to ease off a couple of degrees and sail faster. This was effective as the 2 Pacers were locked together as they reached Leysdown, Mike and Kate had a small lead by now, 2 tacks later and Guy and Thomas had regained the lead as they were lifted past Leysdown. Guy and Thomas took a 100m lead as they turned Shellness and hoisted the spinnaker, staying fairly central. Mike and Kate decided to stay in the shallow water and effectively 'cut the corner'.

Guy and Thomas seeing this moved to cover, however the lead was down to 50m, though varied from 10 to 50m as gust after gust came through. Mike and Kate, seeing the Solo in the central channel had passed both Pacers, swung 50m lower into the same channel - this gave them a 50m lead on the approach to the bridge. The gusts were now getting fluky, and as Mike and Kate went to drop the spinnaker, a gust capsized them. You could hear Guy shout, "yes!" as he sailed past.

Mike and Kate quickly righted and drifted on the tide and wind to the bridge, only to see that Guy and Thomas had also capsized, and were joining the queue to pass under the bridge. Mike and Kate drifted right up to the bridge before capsizing, and had regained a 50m lead on the other side. This did not change to much until Queenborough, where the lead went from 30 to 100m by Garrison point.

The wind filled in as the Pacers turned for the final beat home - straight into an 8 foot swell, with waves crashing over the boats. Mike and Kate tacked inshore to get out of the swell and drain the boat, while Guy and Thomas persevered and headed for deeper water and the stronger tide - this proved to be the deciding factor on who would win. As Sheerness loomed it was going to be very tight with Guy and Thomas nipping inside the furthermost orange buoy to take victory by 68 seconds!

So after 18000 seconds of punishing racing, 68 seconds divided the 2 boats! What was also pleasing were Guy and Thomas taking the slow handicap prize. Apare a thought for Laurence Trim and Paul his crew who on their first race could not have been prepared for the onslaught that followed. However they did not give up like 30 other boats, and despite being swamped within the first few miles with no self bailers, not only did they finish, they were not last finishing in 6 hours and 32 minutes.

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