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Dart 15 Summer TT at Marconi Sailing Club

by Jenny Ball 24 Apr 06:07 BST 20-21 April 2024

Having concluded a successful Winter Series, the Dart 15s held their first Summer TT at Marconi Sailing Club on the beautiful River Blackwater on the Essex East Coast.

Nigel and Fiona Denchfield had kindly agreed to be Race Officers for the event and Alex Metcalf from Windsport International provided event support across the weekend.

Despite a very mild month to date, the wind went round to the north and had been exceptionally strong during the preceding week. This did not deter the fleet and 24 competitors signed on for a weekend of racing alongside colleagues from the Shearwater fleet, joining us at the Marconi TT for the first time.

On Saturday, the racing was scheduled to start at 11:30am and the course was set round in the bay off Osea Island to maximise the possible length of the beat. With winds ranging from 15 to 25 knots and decidedly chilly, a few fleet members decided to sit racing out for the day. The plus side of the northerly direction was that the sea state was pretty flat as it was wind across tide.

The square course was set and following the Shearwater start, the fleet set off for the first race of the weekend. It was the top of the tide so for a brief period of time, the tide was slack and the key to success for the first lap was getting lucky on the shifts and the gusts - of which there were plenty - both on the beat and the downwind leg. Osea Island created some additional shifty conditions at the top of the course - added to by Thames Sailing Barge Blue Mermaid (run by the charity which had a birds eye view of Shearwaters and Dart 15s managing the gusty reach (and wind shadows) from Mark 1 to Mark 2.

Steve Sawford (Rutland) led the fleet round mark 1, closely pursued by Jon Pearse (Marconi), Mark Aldridge (Grafham), Jenny Ball (Marconi) and Jason Clarke (Marconi). By lap two, the ebb tide had started to make itself felt and standing out to the right hand side of the run from Mark 2 to 3 started to pay off, possibly helped by some extra puffs coming round the western end of the island. This enabled Jenny and Jon to edge to the front of the fleet. A few more closely fought and lively laps saw Jenny go on to take the win with Jon second, Mark third, Steve in fourth and Jason fifth.

Race 2 got swiftly under way with Jason leading at the first mark closely followed by Jenny, Mark, Steve, Ed Tuite Dalton (Draycote) and Jon. The fleet set off down the run and rounded Mark 3 in time to see Jason do a spectacular pitch pole on his way to Mark 4. After calling out to check Jason was OK, Jenny wasted no time in sailing round him and hope she could put a few boat lengths between them before he righted the boat, which Jason did remarkably quickly. Mark was chasing hard with Ed, Jon, Steve, Andrew Dowley (Marconi) and David and John Ball (Marconi) also in the pack. The windshifts made it difficult to decide the best route up the beat and all variations were tried to different levels of success each lap. Jenny held on to take the win with Mark second and Jason very impressively regaining ground after his capsize to take third. Ed was fourth followed by Jon, Steve, Andrew and David & John.

The falling tide necessitated the Committee Boat and start line to move slightly further up the course for Race 3 to be stationed in deeper water. This time, Mark and Steve decided to opt for a port hand flyer. Jason, Ed and Pete Sherwin (Stone) duly sailed down the line on starboard to close the gate, which they did, but unfortunately incurred an OCS for their pains. Despite having to duck a few boats, Mark and Steve's gamble paid off and they were clear first around the windward mark with Jason, Pete and Ed chasing hard. Jenny, Jon, Andrew and Scott Wilcox (Stewartby) were in the pack not far behind. Christophe Clarke (Marconi) managed his second capsize of the day on leg 2 but righted again and went on to finish the race. The downwind leg again proved to be tactical and Scott, in particular, showed great pace. But despite best efforts, there was no catching the leading pair with Mark taking the win and Steve second. Jenny managed to sneak past Jon to take third and fourth respectively with Scott fifth, Andrew sixth and Rob Wilson (Stone) in sixth.

The fleet headed home after a lively and energetic afternoon of racing. But at least that kept them warm, unlike the Safety Boat and Committee Boat crew who were decidedly cold by the time they came in. After hot showers, tea and cake - the bar was duly opened. The fleet sat down to a hot meal up in the clubhouse, with views across the sun setting behind Osea Island before returning down to the bar for an evening chatting about sailing, life and the universe. And the Shearwater helm who had fallen off the back of his boat during race 3 leaving his boat and his young crew hurtling towards Maylandsea whilst he tried not to be run over by the fleet of Dart 15s descending on Mark 4.

Sunday's forecast was for 17 to 23 knots from the north - with a plan for two "round the cans" races followed by a stand-alone long distance race - a ten mile figure of eight race around Osea and Northey Islands. The race is a long standing feature of the Marconi TT but has not been raced for several years due to lack of wind. This year, there was confidence that the long distance race would take place with a breezy but manageable forecast and straight line sailing both ways - potentially making for a record time.

However, Sunday morning dawned with more breeze than forecast and by the briefing at 9am, the weather station had been fluctuating between 25 and 30 knots with an unpleasant sea state off the club. The decision was reluctantly taken to cancel the long distance race as spreading competitors and safety boat cover over a long course was imprudent given the conditions. The start of the "round the cans" races were postponed to enable the Race Officer to head out to the race course and assess conditions round in the bay. On a more positive note - the fleet took the opportunity to surprise Vice Chair, George Love, with a birthday cake to celebrate a milestone birthday, successfully organised in secret by his wife Pauline and fellow Carsington sailor, Ray Gall.

On returning to the club, the Race Officer reported that the conditions were breezy but sailable and the fleet opted to go ahead with the remaining two races. A number of the fleet decided to stay ashore but very kindly got kitted up to help people launch safely in the onshore breeze for which the eight competitors were very grateful.

Race 4 got under way and for this race, the tide was still on the flood causing at least two boats to come into contact with the windward mark as a result. Mark got an early lead off the start line with Steve and Jason on his heels, whilst Jon, Jenny and Andrew were chasing hard behind. Jason and Steve had a close fought battle with Jon and Jenny having their own battle close behind. Jason managed to get clear of Steve on the final upwind leg and Jenny managed to do the same with Jon. Mark's lead was, however, unassailable and he went on to take the win. Jason followed in second and Jenny managed to pip Steve on the finish line with Jon in fifth.

By the start of Race 5, the tide had turned and was pushing competitors towards the Committee Boat. Local sailors duly started a little further down the line but Committee Boat end was favoured by the wind shifts and the ability to tack off with the favourable tide. Jon and Jenny who banged the left corner found themselves at the back of the fleet vs those who had gone right. Mark and Steve were in the lead but were being hunted down all the time by Jason. By the second lap, Jason had got himself to the front and stretched out a convincing lead although Mark and Steve never gave up the chase. Andrew, Jenny and Scott were having their own closely fought battle with Andrew and Jenny gaining on the upwind leg and Scott faring better on the downwind leg. Jason went on to take the win with Mark second and Steve third. Jenny tacked off early after Mark 4 for the finish line and managed to take fourth place from Scott with Andrew close behind.

The fleet returned ashore and were grateful to have some assistance from kitted-up pit crew in the water to help with an onshore breeze landing. It was still a very cold northerly breeze, but at least the sun was putting in an appearance!

Hot showers, tea and cake got everyone ready for prize-giving. The many people who had made the event happen both ashore and afloat were thanked. In particular, the safety boat crew who had a very cold job indeed plus the Committee Boat Crew and Race Officers Nigel and Fiona were thanked with bottles of wine for their efforts.

Spot prizes were awarded to Jemma Clarke for gritting her teeth and completing all three races on Saturday and to John Ball as our youngest competitor who got frozen whilst racing as a crew on Saturday and eventually got brought ashore by his dad after two races.

Prizes were then awarded from 8th place and were a good mix of local sailors plus pond sailors.

Overall Results:

PosHelmSail NoClub
1Mark Aldridge66Grafham Water Sailing Club
2Jenny Ball2025Marconi Sailing Club
3Jason Clarke2037Marconi Sailing Club
4Steve Sawford2033Rutland Water Sailing Club
5Jon Pearse2035Marconi Sailing Club
6Scott Wilcox1359Stewartby Water Sports Club
7Andrew Dowley1410Marconi Sailing Club
8Christophe Clarke1988Marconi Sailing Club
9Robert Wilson1966Stone Sailing Club
10Keith Chidwick2016Queen Mary Sailing Club
11Ed Tuite Dalton2023Draycote Water Sailing Club
13David Ball1923Marconi Sailing Club
14Jemma Clarke1339Marconi Sailing Club
14Peter Sherwin1839Stone Sailing Club
15George Love2019Carsington Sailing Club

A big thank you to Nigel and Fiona Denchfield for giving up their weekend to run the racing and to all the safety boat teams for enduring two very cold days on the water. Thanks also to everyone shoreside who supported registration, tally board, results, galley and bar - very much appreciated.

Full results at

Event pictures at

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