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Norfolk Punt Championships 2023 at the Norfolk Punt Club

by Andrew Friend & Kath Mason 25 Aug 2023 09:37 BST 19-20 August 2023

The Norfolk Punt is a restricted development class representing the ultimate high performance dinghy for restricted and inland waters. Its roots date back to the addition of sails to traditional Broadland shooting punts in the early twentieth century.

Nowadays the fleet comprises of a mix of carefully restored and maintained traditional boats, popular design variants ('hard chine' and 'Morrison' designs) and newer one off and experimental boats many of which return year after year to compete for the class championships hosted every august by the Norfolk Punt Club on Barton Broad. This year saw 20 boats on the water, ranging in age from almost 100 years old (25, Goldeneye, 1928) to the launch of the newest boat in the fleet (106, Wahoo, 2023) the boats are pointed at each end, vary in length between 22 and 19 ft, carry up to 22m of upwind sail area with unlimited downwind, must all be named after a bird or fish (very important) and race under a handicap system to allow older boats to remain competitive with the newer designs.

After overnight storms cleared the fleet were greeted by unusually good weather - windy, warm and sunny - perfect punt weather! After a briefing from race officer Kath Mason to explain the course - a short upwind leg off the line followed by a high octane 2 sail reach across the broad, another beat, reach, beat and long fast downwind leg back to the pontoons (far more interesting than windward leewards!) the fleet set off from the Punt club's raft with some trepidation, as some very large gusts were tearing down the broad. Alistair Drew (89, Goosander) opted for safety in numbers filling his boat with as many crew members as he could find (the 3 crew still having a combined age of under 30).

Race one got away cleanly with Decoy 40, sailed by Simon and Rachel Clayton winning the start and leading the fleet off to the first mark. The following reach had some almighty gusts giving a fast and for some wetter than others reach down before the first of the longer upwind legs. By the second bouy the faster twin wire Morrison boats had started to revel in the stronger conditions and break away from the main pack. The long downwind leg really opened up the chance for the boats with the big masthead kites to extend on the fleet, so long as they could keep their masts in the sky! Blackbird 74, sailed by Andrew and Robert Friend managed to avoid too many mishaps and obstacles (tourist boats, Wherries, cruisers etc) and charge down the board in the lead followed by Jackdaw 100 and Merlin 82 all sporting full carbon twin wire masthead set ups. By the end of the race Blackbird had enough distance on the fleet to claim to first race, followed by Decoy and Gamecock 37, sailed by Mark Elson and James Mason on corrected time.

The second race saw a bunched up start line as boats accumulated around the box end with one boat capsized on the line, fortunately no-one was over and most came away unscathed as the race got under way. Blackbird, got clean away and managed to hold it together up until the finish, Richard Parker and Robert Snelling sailing Razorbill 73 crossed second over the water followed by Jack and Max in Jackdaw, after the handicaps had been applied Blackbird took the win, with Gamecock, second and Decoy in third.

After refuelling in the Punt Club's tea raft race 3 got under way. William and Robert Daniels sailing Swallow II 35, had the measure of everyone on the start line, expertly taking advantage of a wind shift to shut the door on almost the entire fleet pushing numerous boats out and over the line. They followed this up by pulling a clear horizon job on the whole fleet. Blackbird and Jackdaw challenged for the lead, but a misjudged gust sent Blackbird into the water with the kite up (much to he excitement of the spectators on the pontoons) and spinnaker trouble on Jackdaw let Swallow extend and take the win over the water and on corrected time, Gamecock and Decoy rounded out the top 3 on corrected time.

Sunday dawned to slightly lighter breeze for 2 morning races to round off the championships. With few points separating the leading boats everything was to play for.

After the success of their starting technique in race 3 Swallow II didn't quite manage to time it right and were OCS there was some more swimming from Goldeneye and and an expertly saved near capsize from Decoy allowing the rest of the boats to sail clear off the start. These actions didn't seem to slow down the traditional boats who were enjoying the lighter conditions and quickly caught up with the leading pack. Blackbird opted to use their kite on as many legs as possible, allowing them to sneak away into the lead, but were unable to exend enough to fend off the challenge from Decoy who went on to take the win.

By the final race the wind had dropped and making some large shifts, leading to much closer racing between all the boats and giving the hard chine designs a chance to take the lead. Swallow II managed to push 4 boats over the line opening up the way for Blackbird, Jackdaw, and the hard chines Woodpecker 99 and Wild Goose 53, to have a lap of close racing. Jackdaw were best able to sail the long downwind and finally had some luck with their spinnaker system allowing them to sail off into the distance and take the line honours. Blackbird followed, with Swallow II, Woodpecker and Decoy not far behind.

Following racing the fleet regrouped on the Punt club rafts for the prize-giving. One of the hotly contested trophies this year was the Cuckoo Cup for first helm or crew under 18, this year there were many new faces including the helm on White Eagle 95, and team on Graylag 50, though they were pushed back by the super crew on Goosander 89 made up of a combination of Drews, Elsons and Daniels talking their helm Alistair Drew around the track and finishing all the races in challenging conditions. The spirit and future of the class looks to be in good hands!

The Hard Chine Salver for first Hard Chine Punt was won by Jane Pye and Karen Armitage sailing Wild Goose, Traditional trophy for first placed traditional boat won by Simon and Rachel Clayton sailing Decoy and the Progress Trophy for fastest over the water was won by Andrew and Robert Friend in Blackbird.

The overall results were very close, a sign that the handicap system seems to be working well with close corrected times between the fastest and slowest designs. And overall result going back to count back.

Overall results after handicap were Swallow II sailed by Robert and William Daniels in third, Simon and Rachel Clayton in Decoy second and Andrew and Robert Friend Sailing Blackbird taking the win.

Massive thanks to Kath Mason and her team for organising a top weekend sailing in near perfect conditions, next race for the class is the down river Athene Cup in the Autumn.

Overall Results:

1 Blackbird 74pts
2 Decoy 40pts
3 Swallow II 35pts
4 Gamecock 37pts
5 Jackdaw 100pts
6 Wild goose 53pts
7 Razorbill 73pts
8 Goosander 89pts
9 Woodpecker 99pts
10 Grebe 66pts
11 Goldeneye 25pts
12 Cormorant 88pts
13 Greylag 50pts
14= Peregrine 86pts
14= Rainbow Trout 75pts
16 Grayling 81pts
17 White Eagle 95pts
18 Rushlight 27pts
19 Cavander 32pts
20 Merlin 82pts

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