Sunday 8th Sept – tea and cake day at Tollesbury – and 2 TSC boats arrive at EYC’s superb new club house for round 9 of the GP 14 travellers series. Built on stilts right on the waterfront the conditions looked idyllic from the balcony at both ends of the day but what we experienced as the tide and wind picked up during the racing made Tollesbury and the Blackwater feel like a millpond. It was their regatta w/e with lots of youngsters racing along with the historic Hamble Star dinghies and also some cruisers taking part. EYC’s officers and rescue boat crews were doing a fantastic job managing the racing and setting different courses to suit the various boats and the experience of their crews.
The starts – slow h/c, fast h/c then GP14s were in Anchor Wharf Bay, out of the tide and close under the shore and a large wind turbine; the wind was fluky to say the least. The windward leg was short and we then turned down river, it generally paid to stay inshore (on the Kent side) as there was less tide and even an eddy ,however, with the gusts backing to the south the temptation to bear of into the tide was too great and infact it worked in R1 as we arrived at the leeward mark (a mile or so down river on the Essex side) with the leaders. The beat/close reach sometimes, up the Essex shore was very fast and with the wind and tide increasing the water was getting steadily rougher. We then had to re-cross the river back to the C’tee boat before beating in the bay back up to the windward mark.
With R1 successfully completed confidence grew but with R2 shipping began to appear along with rain squalls and more wind. The safety RIBs started to act like safety cars! Obviously it is unsafe to blast across under spinnaker in front of a fast moving bulk carriers so the RIB blows whistles and you are held back (or returned) until you can pass through the wash under its stern. (DSQ if you ignore all of this) This is great if the normal boats are leading as it gives everybody else another chance and could even completely change the race order. It is difficult to judge relative speeds so the RIB driver has quite a responsibility deciding whether to let the boats cross the river. It didn’t always work in our favour as sometimes the fleet can get split in half and in R3 a good mid fleet position got reversed leaving us near the back! R2 was great for Richard and John who finished 2nd. By R3 Jilly and I were getting a bit like dazed rabbits and after being buffeted about by the wash from yet more ships (including an RN corvette and a frigate) began to get indecisive about the gybes and capsized near the leeward mark, the ‘safety car’ stood by as we sorted ourselves out amongst soggy Marmite sandwiches, Nicky’s cake and disintegrating pork pies (fortunately we had eaten the Mars bars left from the ROI race)
Back on shore the only consolation was that Richard and John had also had to retire following a capsize even earlier in the same race. Nevertheless, it was an excellent effort as they hadn’t sailed together before and Richard has not sailed a GP competitively for 20 years . I think we were the only GP capsizes which was rather ironic as we were the only sea sailors in the fleet and they don’t get many ships on the Harp! Packing up in the rain was a bit grim but tea and cake in the club revived us. Our old friend Richard Lord-probably the oldest competitor won but he had easily had the youngest (girl as) crew. Lesley Sharp was the only lady helm and Jilly the only other lady crew. EYC used to have GP14s and part of David Innes’s strategy in taking us to new venues is to show off the versatility and seaworthy nature of (most) the boats as compared to more modern designs.