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Craftinsure 2021 - LEADERBOARD

Solo Open at Dittisham Sailing Club

by Martin Thomas 12 Jul 06:22 BST 3 July 2021
Dittisham Solo Open © Will Loy

Imagine the sensation. You finally reach Dittisham for your first visit on one of those grey, misty mornings that suggest we've skipped, not from June to July but straight into autumn. The visibility was bad. The drizzle was sullen. And yet... through the murk, mast tops swaying invitingly at their Anchorstone moorings, a partial vista of that lovely sailing area curving to the Dart's gentle bend, oyster-catcher shrills from Gurrow Point, and, best of all, the warming blush of a decent south-westerly breeze. How could we doubt her? Dittisham would work her magic as always.

By 10am the foreshore was an industrious production line. Owners made final checks before rolling their Solos into the shallows, and into action at DSC's one-design Solo Open Meeting. Sailors are a redoubtable bunch and, undeterred by the early morning gloom, several had travelled some distance to make the event. Visitors from the West Midlands, South Cerney and Chew Valley, from Lymington, Starcross, the Teign and Torpoint, and, most impressive, five hardy souls from Fowey made for a diverse team-sheet. Hugely welcome, the visitors' presence was a testament to the terrific organisational work of Dittisham's Solo fleet captain Trevor Kirkin and his team. A very big thank you to them.

By the time the DSC bell summoned the thirty-two competitors for their morning briefing, the sun had banished the mist and the wind was filling in nicely. It would continue scooting along at somewhere between a force three to four. Perfect conditions. No room for complacency though. Seemingly obligatory, those Dittisham weather gods would lob in the occasional gust-bomb and, as usual, aimed their most incendiary packages at the gybe mark. Capsizes aplenty, frantic scrambling for righting lines and impromptu kisses exchanged between boats thrown together by those curve-ball gusts - all of this was still to come. First we had to be told where to go. The clubhouse, redesigned and newly extended, kept its jewels hidden under the blanket of Covid restrictions. So our race officer, James Dodds addressed the multitude in open forum. He spiced his explanation of an expansive 'triangle-sausage' course with improvised whiteboard etchings of the River's topography and its likely consequences in wind bends. Crikey, double geography and physics, and not even 10.30. Class dismissed, we readied ourselves for the first of three races.

James had warned us of a short start line at which polite stacking and exceptional vigilance might be required. In the event, proceedings began without incident. A phalanx of Solos advanced solidly over the line. Then the racing began in earnest. One after another boats broke rank as the first of those gust bombs exploded. Some boats tacked off out of the adverse tide. Others got such instructional headers that a change of tack was obligatory. Heading shorewards made sense, but which side? Boats lying at anchor in opposite directions on the two sides of the river hinted at a strong counter-current but there were gains to be made in feathering up on those gusts and playing the shifts mid-channel. Work up the middle or bang the corners? A familiar dilemma, and those capable of thinking in vectors, of using a compass, or of reading their tell-tales would reap their rewards. Perhaps inevitably, the long beat towards a gleaming windwind mark bobbing in the sunshine off Greenway did its job in identifying the classiest acts.

As boats rounded for their wing mark, the day's leading pack was already clustering. Chris Meredith (Chew Valley), Andy Hyland (Lymington), Alex McKay and Charlie Nunn (both Fowey Gallants), Gary Molton and Malcolm Davies (each Teign Corinthian), Ian Bartlett (South Cerney), plus Dittisham's Jon Clarke and Stuart Hydon would all keep their places in the leading cohort throughout this and the coming races. Their spray-scattering progress downwind offered little comfort to the mere mortals still battling to that first rounding. But, as is so much a part of enjoyable sailing, the chasers resolved themselves into sub-races. John Steels (Starcross) would put in three strong performances, as would Dittisham's Peter Sturgess. Others did best in the morning races, the delicious lunchtime fare perhaps adding a bit too much ballast as we resumed for the afternoon.

The course having been reset to ensure copious tacks throughout, club commodore Anne-Marie Coyle defied the soporific effects of lunch, making excellent progress up another long beat. Another Dittisham regular, Sam Westcott, got her boat flying downwind. And village resident Adam Milton worked his way up the fleet, saving his strongest performance for last. As before, the day's final race would see places switching as good tacking decisions, nightmarish gybes, exploding kickers, and fun-packed reaches kept everyone concentrating - and smiling - to the last. Final tallies saw Andy Hyland (Lymington) secure first place, with Chris Meredith (Chew Valley) second, and Alex McKay (Fowey Gallants) third.

Hearty congratulations to them, but fun-filled concentration? Just what is it that makes this little boat, the Solo, such an object of devotion? Your correspondent, not a Solo sailor, was left pondering this imponderable as he limped along at the back of the fleet aboard a vessel generously lent him by Les Moores, a seasoned devotee. Perhaps a clue lay in the name of what would be the day's winning Solo: Andy Hyland's Pretty Vacant. Those readers with long memories and damaged hearing will recognise the invocation of a Sex Pistols punk classic - ahead of its time in the '70s and still the subject of unswerving loyalty among fans of a certain age in the 2020s. Perhaps that's it. Fads and foiling may come and go but it takes a boat of real quality to inspire a longstanding fleet. And on this particular day, Dittisham, the River Dart, and a superb race team afloat and ashore kept that faith alive. As Johnny Rotten would have it, Never Mind the B*llocks, Here's the Solos!

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