Report by Michael Brigg
Last year’s Classic Revival at Bosham seemed perhaps hard to improve on, and having pencilled in the week-end some months ago, I arrived full of expectation of warm autumnal sailing with steady sea breezes.
Everything falls into place. In September the summer is waning, but nevertheless this has always been my favourite time of the year for sailing in Chichester Harbour. The weather tends towards long, warm, dark evenings. This is augmented by hospitable accommodation within walking distance of a location that cannot fail to impress itself in your memory, with spectacular sunsets over reed banks and a flooding tide from the Club terrace and wall, illuminating the historic quay, mill and church. All of this enhanced by the memories of sailing earlier in the day, or perhaps the prospect of tomorrows races on a harbour where the waters have been warmed by a season of long summer days, but a little less crowded, as the season draws to a conclusion, and all held within the mind that has been suffused with rich Sussex ales.
So the question remains, are these memories enhanced or are they true reflections?!
The answer was to be found at Bosham this year, joining with over 70 entries and this years event, both in it’s build up, and its execution (on the social, hospitality, gastronomic and racing fronts,) has firmly imprinted itself in my mind as a must do annual outing.
A report of this nature simply cannot do justice without a link to the programme laid on, giving detail on the Food, the Music, and the Ales!
Arrival for this event is recommended on the Friday night, giving time to register, settle in to accommodation and then after a gentle twighlight hour of unhitching and general faffage, settle into the sailing club bar. The simple supper was complemented by “Ultraswing,” a guitar duet as sharp as any that is to be found in all the bars of Buenos Aires giving us contemporary gypsy jazz music by Django Reinhardt.
More arrivals in the morning were greeted with essential bacon butties, and a warm clear day with a light, but freshening easterly. After a prelimary run through of the race instructions, a leisurely start time of 1pm was set, giving adequate time for preparation, last minute modification, and essential mutual admiration and chatter, a pleasure that is a mandatory requirement for ownership of a classic sailing dinghy.
There was a good turnout from both regular sailors from the CVRDA circuit and other forum contributors. In the Fast handicap there was Chris Turner & Jamie Prescott from Dell Quay sailing Fireball K6, Pat & Sandy Lavelle with the Albacore, Nessa Weedon Jones, with Nicky & Jon sailing Kestrel K854, Andrew Richardson’s Jolly Boat J26, with Ian Sinclair also from Thorney Island SC sailing J261. To complete the Jollyboat presence there was also J325 with Chris Wood from Alton Water. (Plans are already afoot to combine this event with a Jollyboat National Championship next year) There were also several Merlins from Upper Thames including Merlin 774 with Martin Hunter, and Merlin 1066 with Tim Bury from Banbury. I also saw Ed’s old Fairey 14, Iolanthe K556 now in the hands of Harry Hutchinson at Lymington, having undergone a further refit and looking superbly maintained. In the Medium fleet was Ian Marshall from Oxford SC with his Moth, and finally myself (Firefly F3184).
Numerous other mouthwatering craft were also on view. This included a variety of craft displaying acres of dark ageing varnish and clinker, especially amongst the National 18 class, but in addition to that, there was a stunning “Penultimate” ’18. Much time and effort has gone into this boat which was rebuilt from its Carbon Nomex hull upwards having languished in a works yard for many years. On the water she looked unbeatable, charging around the fleet like Usain Bolt at a junior school sports day. Also out, but not racing was a Thames “A” rater, to add to the spectacle. As the gun went for the start of the “Fast” handicap, there were so many tall rigs out there that to the untrained eye, one might have thought one had stumbled upon a practice session for the Louis Vuiton cup! In the event there was a general recall , so we had the pleasure of seeing the spectacle all over again!
One of the great joys of racing on Chichester’s waters that will always bring me back is the wide variety of conditions and challenges that can be served up. On this occasion the Easterly breeze was steady and allowed a comfortable three races to be completed over the afternoon. Shortish races kept the fleets close enough for some challenging tactics around the marks, but enough distance to reward consistent sailing. Neap tides and wind over tide conditions minimised local knowledge advantage and with low tide in the middle of the day, an ebbing tide carried us out, so there were no problems getting down to the start for late arrivals, and the flood bought us back at tea time with a comfortable journey back to the club at the racing’s end. It is usually possible to have at least one of Chichester harbour’s mud skipping challenges, short tacking up the shore against a foul half tide into a breezy autumnal Southwesterly, or a brisk broad reach across the harbour entrance, but we must look forward to another year for this.
It became clear that the Irish 18 had so looked forward to the challenge of the Mud, that on arrival they could not resist a bit of practise, as after launching their ’18 with the aid of their very smart BMW towing vehicle, they set about attempting a 3point turn from the Gravel slip. At a seemingly implausible 50m away from the nearest hard ground, they got that sinking feeling…the result is to be found here in Jonathon Hoares exellent compilation of the weekend’s sailing!
The other joy of racing a weekend meeting in Chichester is contrast. Many of us were oblivious to this on the Saturday evening as we were entertained by the rhythm and blues of “The Fortunate Sons,” giving us a range of tributes including plenty of Rolling Stones and Seventies rock. More significantly as the music played loudly into the night and our senses were dimmed by the beer, we didn’t notice that when it blows from the east in Chichester Harbour they say it gets steadily colder and stronger for 5 days, and then stops all together. So, the Sun on Saturday was replaced on Sunday by a cold mizzle on a steadily rising easterly, with gusts of up to 35knots forecast for about lunchtime. And so, on Sunday morning we were greeted by our race officer who called a meeting to advise those with fragile yachts to consider the prospect carefully, but as the weather brightened, with winds at @ force 5, a decision was made to race and with several deciding to go with discretion over valour, there were plenty of spare crews volunteering to make up weight.The Thames Rater launched and the sight of his towering mast challenged those of us with scores to settle in the series to follow him out. In the event I didn’t see him but I am sure it would have been spectacular.
As the foolhardy few reached the starting area we were served with a further omen as a tremendous clap of thunder replaced the warning signal. Starting in a steady force 5 with driving rain, from “Park”, after a prelimary beat to an inflatable we were then sent on an “L” shaped course that took us on a thrilling reach down to Rookwood and back before a longer beat all the way up the fairway. No one was bothering much about staying out of the tide, as plenty of searoom for safe wear turns for the faint hearted in lieu of gybes was more important. The course was wisely kept short to allow a reappraisal of the weather. This was just as well as the barograph for the day showed a steep drop in pressure at @ 14.00, just as the medium fleet was approaching the final leeward mark. It seems that all boats that were still racing were effectively flattened, and the race results from Sunday clearly show this.
I remember that I was already a little deep on the run, and as the boat went steadily faster I realised I was going faster than I had ever been in a firefly, and that I would have to bear away just a little bit more. My classic spoon rudder classically cavitated as I tried to make a correction and the death roll that followed was inevitable. With big crew on board, and a (classic) firefly’s inherent lack of buoyancy I had to head for the shore to empty out. On a leeward shore now, I had to drop the main to keep control, and with soft mud making it impossible to hold the boat even in shallow water, I had to make the decision to retire. A support boat assisted me with getting off the lee shore and after securing the jib I was ignominiously but wisely towed home.
This final race was sailed in extreme conditions and all the support craft were kept very busy. Without them there would have undoubtedly been more damage and the race organisation are to be commended for giving sufficient support for those of us who wanted to test our selves and our craft to sterner measure. I suffered only some blown out batten pockets and a pocket ful of mud and scallop shells, and a few others suffered some superficial damage with only one boat suffering any serious damage, as Nessa’s Kestrel, (not a boat known for being fragile) suffered a broken mast and some damage to the hull arising out of forces exerted on it by the tide and wind after loosing buoyancy, turning upside down and entangling the mast in mooring tackle.
There is some interesting debate to be had on the management of a classic craft regatta in severe weather, especially where there is a range of value and toughness, and there is a need for at least some sensible stewardship where some of our craft (not to mention crew) are getting towards their twilight of racing, or perhaps carry some special provenance.
On must nevertheless remember that if boat does get broken in a strong wind, that is because it is serving its original purpose of being pushed up to, and occasionally beyond its limit. This applies often as much to a very old racing craft as it does to a new one and to my mind, being prepared to confront this kind of weather is at least one way of ensuring that these historical objects are maintained (and on occasion when necessary repaired) to a high standard.
If Shakespeare himself had been possessed of a Classik Dinghy, and had sailed at this event then he would surely have written his Sonnet 18, about the eternal beauty of his National 18 ft dinghy
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day at Bosehame?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
But Rough winds do shake the darling buds on Sunday,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair forecast from fair outlook sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course of cyclone untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this sailing passion, and this gives life to thee.