April 18th 2009

With the sun breaking through, a brisk if rather shifty breeze and the replica “Matthew” (the Ship in which John Cabot discovered Newfoundland in 1497) patrolling in the background, conditions were perfect for the 9 classic and vintage dinghies which met at Baltic Wharf Sailing Club at the heart of Bristol on Saturday 18th April.

Nigel Vance’s Pisces was the newest design there – as a lost class, with only a few left in existence, the Pisces didn’t have to fulfil the 1965 design cut off rule. The oldest Boat was, as usual, Merlin 6, built in 1946 and sailed by Chris and Lois Barlow. Following her new rig’s first tentative outing at Whitefriars a couple of weeks before, the 25 foot tall spruce mast and 60 year old cotton sails were given their first proper test. The other classes represented were Firefly , Mercury, Albacore, National 12, OK and Finn.

The first race was the traditional Head of the Harbour race, where competitors have to contend with fickle, swirling winds, huge dead patches in the lee of tower blocks, ferries plying their trade and numerous other water users, all of whom have to be kept clear of. Bob Corfield and Sue Hogg in Mercury 101, the last ever built, and Rupert Whelan in Firefly 2324, which celebrates her 50th birthday this year, broke clear of the fleet to battle upwind to the top mark. The Mercury lead until the last few yards to the mark, but a lucky lift saw the Firefly turn first, and she was able to keep her narrow lead down the harbour and round a few short sharp laps at the bottom end of the harbour. 3rd home was Merlin 6 and 4th Alan Eastbury and his daughter Tracey in their Windfall design National 12competing in their first cvrda event. On handicap the order stayed the same.

Races 2 and 3, before and after lunch, were set on short, tricky courses at the lower end of the harbour. The crowded conditions and short tacking needed suited the more manoeuvrable boats. The short 2nd race saw a very narrow victory on handicap for the Firefly, ahead of Stu Budden in his maroon OK, Jon Rawson and his crew in their Fairey Albacore and the Mercury. The N12 had taken a swim earlier in the race and retired to prepare for the 3rd race.

The longer 3rd race was sailed at the same time as a club race, and suddenly the main tactic was to stay out of trouble and in clear wind on the very crowded piece of water. For most of the race, the Mercury was able to make the best of the conditions, but towards the end, the Firefly was able to find some clear air and close the gap enough for a close handicap win. The Albacore also closed up, but was just pipped into 3rd by the Mercury.

All the competitors were left exhausted by the intense concentration and physical hard work of sailing in such crowded conditions. The race officer was pretty worn out too by not only having to get all the boats marked down each lap, but to do so while being asked questions by passers-by on the towpath! A big thank you must go to the race team for managing in such conditions.

Rupert Whelan

Baltic Wharf April 2009 results