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Maldon Yacht Club: 10th - 11th July 2010

It was hot, hot, hot! The hottest weather and the hottest racing. Five, high standard boats competed. Two tents were pitched on Friday evening, which by 6:30 am on Saturday had become quite unbearable ovens, causing their inhabitants to fear for their lives and eject themselves with uncharacteristic haste. Early on Saturday morning, the making tide, essential for launching at Maldon, brought with it small rippled patches moving across the perfectly blue mirrored Saharan sky.

A pleasant F2 to F3 easterly breeze then filled-in with sufficient strength to permit the experienced Race Officer, Jim Marshall, to quickly start Race 1. The wise helms close-tacked on the North Shore to keep their bows out of the flood tide, working eastwards towards the point, before tacking onto port to round Fairway Buoy 11 to starboard and then cross the fairway flood tide to round ‘Saltings Buoy’ to Port. A choice then existed a) to chose wisely and sail inshore to the southern bank, out of the tide, and then eastwards towards Nipper or b) to chose unwisely and take the shorter route on the edge of the tide to Nipper, fame and glory. Brian and Guy chose unwisely and quickly consigned themselves to the rear of the fleet, but still undaunted and with high hopes of a miracle. The fleet rounded Nipper to port and ran Northwards down the next reach towards Lock Buoy off the Blackwater Sailing Club. The wise helms, who now numbered Brian and Guy, kept close to the western bank out of the flood. The fleet took Lock to Starboard, crossed the flood close hauled on a starboard fetch and rounded Boundary on Starboard to return southward up river on a port reach with the flood. Number 11 was rounded to starboard followed by Old Prom and Number 13 to complete the first lap. The race was won by Alan and Richard, who, being a new husband, unwisely finished in front of his wife Debbie, crewing for Ian Knight in the second boat.

Race 2 followed the same course, however the tide turned during the race and began to ebb, thereby requiring the fleet to think and plan differently; a painful activity for the Snipe Fleet. Ian and Debbie lead the fleet close hauled on port tack on the return leg from Boundary towards the point and Number 11. They ended up close inshore on the western bank unable to fetch the point and so tacked away onto starboard. Brian and Guy, astern, had rather unsportingly watched their plight with unremitting glee and so, in preparation, Nelson style, had hauled-up close to windward on port tack and were able to pass under their stern to fetch the point and round the buoy to attain and keep first place to the end of the Race.

On Saturday afternoon and evening the crews, support teams, families and friends were then able to enjoy the sweltering heat, the very pretty and nautical setting of Maldon Town and the splendid hospitality of Maldon Yacht Club. Generous helpings of fish and chips were served followed by a vigorous card game, apparently named ‘Pig’, which gave the players, acting in synchronism, the appearance of a Victorian Steam Engine rapidly going two paces forward and one back. This game brought out and separated the character traits of the players in most unexpected ways, some otherwise benign folk, apparently underneath being ruthless killers, whilst others, despite outward appearances, being bemused gentlefolk.

The ensemble retired to their beds in various tents and camper vans. Fortunately a gentle breeze lowered the temperature for the slumbering souls, who awoke to a strengthening breeze, with a few welcome clouds in an otherwise blue sky.

With a Force 4 breeze Jim Marshall was now able to set the longer and more venturous courses for which Maldon YC is justly famous. Jim sent the fleet ‘foreign’; broad reaching against the flood and around Fairway Buoy 8 positioned off the point of Northey Island. The fleet then reached South Eastwards across the wide expanse of water, keeping comparatively close to the northern shore out of the flood to round Shambles Buoy off Osea Island to Starboard. It was of remark how closely grouped the fleet were up to Shambles. The fleet then turned South West, close hauled on starboard, to round Midway Buoy to starboard. On this leg Alan and Richard showed the rest of the fleet a clean pair of heels and opened up a significant lead, before returning on a close port reach/fetch to re-round Fairway Buoy 8, this time to port. Upon returning to the Maldon finishing line Alan and Richard kept their first position and were followed in second by Andy and Carol Gibson.

For the fourth and last race the tide was nearing high water and was beginning to slacken. The fleet had worked out that it was now better to start at the starboard end of the line, ignoring the weaker flood. However, the fleet, underestimating the power in their sails, crossed the line early and were puzzled to hear a general recall, this being an almost unheard of event for the Snipe Fleet at Maldon.

The wind had veered to the SSE and had strengthened to a ‘Force 4 and gusting’ to produce the occasionally unstable running conditions over the flood for which Maldon is famed and feared. Alan and Richard were in the lead as we sped from Boundary Buoy northwards towards Fairway Buoy No 8 when to our astonishment they went into a near-death roll with the boat doing its best to roll rapidly from one gunwale to the other, with those aboard rushing about to and fro, uncertainly and reminiscent of the passengers in the final moments of the Titanic. For some unfathomable reason the boat let them off the hook and the crew recovered their composure. Afterwards Richard’s wife Debbie, who was in the following boat, said that she was initially quite concerned for her husband until she recalled that they were in a competing boat and so this was acceptable, however she did consider them to be a little inconsiderate in performing this manoeuvre in full view of her, rather than discretely to one side.

Another even newer husband and wife were sailing together. Laura Marshall had kindly volunteered to crew for her husband Iain so that he could get afloat and increase the size of the fleet. Nobly, and in good Instructor style, he was heard throughout the competition explaining in advance what the next manoeuvre would be and which ropes should be pulled. In the fourth race the wind was considerably stronger and the boat moving significantly faster. We noticed that Iain’s voice had become a little higher in pitch and a little more strident, whilst Laura was heard to say ‘Just tell me which rope to pull’. We were in admiration of both their composures.

On turning eastwards the boats were on a Starboard reach will their jibs poled forward. They immediately leapt onto a powerful plane. Andy and Carol Gibson were well placed at the van of the fleet, but suffered a mast inversion and, during the remedial action, capsized, suffering a jib that was almost completely torn off the luff wire, forcing them to retire and head back to the Club. These were the planing conditions in which skilled Ian Knight and his fiendishly rigged pole system excel. He and Debbie forged ahead followed by Brian and Guy to hold these positions at the end of the race.

The South Eastern Championship positions were remarkably close with only 0.25 of a point separating Alan and Richard, in first place, from Ian and Debbie in second. Both boats were sailed very well and consistently.

We thank Maldon Yacht Club, Jono the Sailing Secretary, Jim the Race Officer, Pat the Social Secretary I/C Galley, Simon the Commodore and Richard the Snipe Fleet Captain as it was clear that Maldon had made a special effort to prepare the Club facilities and to welcome us. They expressed the wish that the Snipes would return next year. Overall, a very enjoyable sailing event for all hands and an excellent family venue.

Brian Gregory - Three is a magic number!

Rank Boat Helm Name Crew Name Points
1 GBR30316 Alan Williams Richard Marshall 4.5
2 GBR29164 Ian Knight Debbie Marshall 4.75
3 GBR29374 Brain Gregory Guy Welch 6.75
4 GBR29501 Iain Marshall Laura Marshall 10
5 GBR23974 Andy Gibson Carol Gibson 11

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