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OGA60 Jubilee Celebration on the River Orwell

by Beverley Yates 18 Aug 2023 11:36 BST 3-6 August 2023
The parade of sail - OGA60 Jubilee Party on the River Orwell © Sandy Miller /

Over 100 classic yachts, working boats and open boats with 320 skippers, crews, family and friends travelling by sea, road, rail or ferry began to arrive on the River Orwell, Wednesday 2 August, 2023. They came to welcome the return of 15 OGA60 Round Britain Cruise boats and celebrate 60 years of the OGA, the Association for Gaff Rig Sailing.

Mike Beckett, Association President and participant in the OGA60 Round Britain Cruise said: "It was fitting that the Round Britain Cruise should end up in the Jubilee Party on the East Coast. After visiting eight Party Ports and many other harbours and anchorages all around the coast, we completed our voyage in the area where the OGA was founded 60 years ago. The East Coast Committee had worked hard to put on an excellent programme."

As more and more boats arrived into Beacon Marina, Ipswich the OGA welcoming committee, clad in bright orange t-shirts, were ably assisted with berthing new arrivals by a team of ABP staff, wearing their corporate orange hi-viz. There was a buzz of excitement as the VHF crackled indicating another group of boats was approaching the lock.

Pete Thomas, East Coast OGA Committee member, had made a careful assessment of who could raft against whom to fill the available spaces cleared by ABP for the event. There was an excited air of anticipation from organisers and participants alike for the long-awaited Jubilee Party weekend.

Skippers hoisted their bunting and a party atmosphere began to grow as late arrivals were squeezed into their berths. Apart from the opportunity to visit boats on the pontoons, tours of Spirit Yachts and guided tours of Ipswich had been arranged. Meanwhile, downriver at Suffolk Yacht Harbour, Levington 30 participating open boats were arriving by road to settle into their campsite, B&B or campervan park and check out launch facilities.

The Party started in earnest on Thursday afternoon with a Civic Reception, sponsored by Associated British Ports (ABP) and Ipswich Borough Council, addressed by the Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor Lynne Mortimer, who proposed a toast to the 15 returning skippers and crews. Taxis had been arranged for the open boat sailors based in Levington to join the gathering and a throng gathered beside the Old Custom House. Assisted by Paul Masters, Vice President of the East Coast OGA, the Mayor awarded individual plaques to each OGA60 RBC skipper, commemorating their achievement.

The Reception was followed by an excellent supper at Party HQ, the recently restored, deconsecrated St Clement's Church, formerly one of the mariners' churches of Ipswich and looked after by the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust. The after-dinner speaker was the legendary dialect coach, hired by Netflix to train actors in the Suffolk accent for 'The Dig', Charlie Haylock.

On Friday morning, bright and early, BBC Radio Suffolk arrived to record the first of three interviews broadcast throughout the morning. Although starting bright and sunny, there were warnings of a change in the weather as skippers began to think about preparing to leave for the Parade of Sail while the lock was on 'free flow'. Untangling all the careful rafting from Wednesday, striking the bunting and deciding about how many reefs may be needed, 80 classic yachts and working boats slowly departed ABP Beacon Marina.

The fleet was organised into 'squadrons', each group streaming a long coloured ribbon to identify them to their lead boat. The locking out was brought forward to accommodate a commercial vessel making way upriver and by 1.30pm, the larger boats were hoisting sails and gathering under the Orwell Bridge. On schedule, they were joined by the flotilla of dinghies and open boats sailing up from Suffolk Yacht Harbour, Levington.

As the first 'squadron' began to line up for departure the skies began to change. Dark clouds had been gathering and there was a rumble of thunder. Within 20 minutes or so of the Parade setting sail the water began to churn, lightning struck and visibility dropped to only a few metres in the driving rain. Already sailing, skippers had to don waterproofs, shut hatches, scandalise sails and prepare to sail in close company through the spectacular thunderstorm. After perhaps half an hour, the rain stopped, the wind dropped and the Parade continued in relative calm down to Suffolk Yacht Harbour.

East Anglian Sailing School and East Anglian Sailing Trust provided water taxi and safety boat support for events throughout the weekend. As well as providing safety cover, they provided a platform for the OGA's official photographer, Sandy Miller, who said: "Whilst acting as support boat EAST volunteers went out of their way to get me into good positions for photos and then continued to do so amidst the biblical downpours of the Parade of Sail on Friday. A huge thank you to Ed Harvey of EASS. It was down to his skill, amidst lumpy seas, that I was able to get into such good positions for the EC Race on Sunday. Photography is, after all, mainly about being in the right place at the right time!"

We were made most welcome by all the staff at SYH Marina and Haven Ports Yacht Club who ran the Lightship Restaurant and Bar tirelessly for us all weekend. The Harbourside Kitchen staff also gave excellent service, including the delivery of barbecue packs on Monday morning for those boats embarking on the Jubilee Cruise to Chatham.

Gathering in the Harbour Room at SYH, supper was an al fresco paella supper followed by another toast, proposed by OGA President, Mike Beckett, this time to the Association as a whole, with birthday cake, of course. Briarbank Brewery had brewed a special 'Gaffers Ale' and 'Impractical Boatowner' Dave Selby provided the after dinner talk. Sponsors of the event, Teamac Marine, had been busy judging the Concours d'Elegance and presented the trophy to Keith McIlwain for his boat 'Dipper'.

The rains returned on Saturday with a vengeance. The planned sketching and ropework workshops were held undercover, the Lightship was made available all day for shelter, the planned visit to Sutton Hoo and Woodbridge went ahead and everyone made the best of our British summertime! Captain Trevor Dann, a Trinity House Ambassador, gave an illustrated talk about the history and work of Trinity House before supper.

Later in the evening there was a charity auction, ably run by auctioneer Clare Roberts. This was both entertaining and successful in raising around £2,500 for the East Anglian Sailing Trust, a charity providing sailing sessions for disabled and disadvantaged adults and children.

Decisions about a course for the OGA60 Jubilee East Coast Race, sponsored by Dartmouth Gin, were made early on Sunday morning with winds forecast gusting to force 6. Several registered boats remained in harbour, their skippers and crews joining others meaning just 25 gathered at the start line with reefed sails and oilies at the ready.

Claire Scott, HPYC Race Officer set an inshore course with her team and they provided an excellent service to all competitors from signing in to the finish line. Five boats retired leaving 20 finishers who had battled with the wild elements for three or four hours.

The overall winner was 'Charm', an Albert Strange yawl, skippered and crewed by the OGA East Coast President, Robert Hill and Secretary, Lorna Hill. The open boat race attracted a very small entry with only two finishers. The winner was Steve Mitchell in his smacks boat, 'Joy'.

The Race Team commented: "The race team, better sheltered in their hut on the line than they would have been on a committee boat, were impressed that despite the still challenging conditions, 25 boats turned out for the start. They sympathised with those who chose to stay in the marina, but admired the determination of those gaffers of all ages, shapes and sizes wanting to race."

Sunday evening was the 'grand finale' with prize-giving and hog roast followed by music and dancing into the night with John & Mario in the HPYC Harbour Room.

Here's to the next 60 years of the OGA!