When the weather forecast is perfect and with 21 dinghies assembled on the fore-shore in eager anticipation of another splendid event, you would expect that everything should be nicely set up for an enjoyable, if slightly hum-drum, pair of late-afternoon races.
Indeed, taken in the round, there was nothing overly dramatic that the casual observer would have spotted down at Dittisham Sailing Club last Sunday. Apart from a bit of shiftiness in the wind and a fairly healthy spring flood, what was there to see?
In the PY fleet the usual people would be ahead on the water; the maths of the handicap system would promote the unlikely, while in the Solo fleet the natural order of things would quickly establish itself. Wouldn’t it?
But behind the scenes, invisible to the lone spectator thronging the bank, were all the individual dramas that afflict the unwary over-heated sailor crammed into a wet suit in the middle of July.
Even before the briefing, Les Moores, returning from a pre-race recce in his Solo, had contrived to snap his tiller extension (the bit that waggles the bit that waggles the rudder) and attempted, by means of a yard or so of sticky tape, to turn his emergency paddle into a make-shift splint. This inspired piece of improvisation confused his fellow competitors for a while (giving them the impression that the paddle-waving was some form of distress signal) and ultimately proved too unwieldy to be an effective substitute, causing his retirement halfway through the race. More mini-dramas were to come.
Out on the water, Neil Drew, the race officer, had set a figure-of eight course over near the Galmpton shore, (the only place where there was any wind at the start, in spite of the forecast) With the first big-ish shift he bravely put up the postpone flag, swiftly re-arranged the marks and the PY fleet was away. The wind now picked up to around force two, with the odd gust at three which had the skinnier boats planing.
Craig Franklin and Chris Bates, who regularly come home first in their RS400, did not disappoint but were downgraded on handicap, while Martin Thomas and Roger Morley, now getting more expert in the ways of their new pair of Zeros, finished close behind the RS.
It was Thomas’ Zero that triumphed overall on handicap, with Martin Ely, who suffered from an exploding main-sheet traveller (on the boat that was, not his person,) managed to hold it all together to come in second but had to abandon any thoughts of the second race. Steven Black, always in contention in these conditions, came third. More drama down the fleet, with Anne-Marie Coyle upending her Streaker, being re-instated by the safety crew (and thus automatically disqualified) but sailing on with good old British pluck, to the end!
In the Solo fleet John Clark narrowly avoid being luffed over the start line by an unusually polite Jonathan Weeks and went on to win in spite of a spirited attempt to catch him by Richard Allen. Allen was second and Weeks just managed third after a big battle with a very combative Martin Fodder.
For race two the wind dropped quite a lot and towards the end was dying fast. In the PY fleet Martin Ely had retired, Bevis Wright, who had, not altogether unusually, missed the start of race one, was on the water and Pam Spittle in the Quba, and the sole representative of the Belles, was out practising to beat the absent Catherine Johns.
Newcomer John Lewis in a standard Laser was first on handicap, (what does this mean for the Laser fleet?) with the Thomas family, Martin in the Zero and Sue in the Laser 4.7 (Blodge), second and third respectively.
Last start of the day was the Solos. Les Moores had nipped ashore during race one and with a much more professional prosthetic was back afloat, managing a well-deserved third place. But it was John Clark and Richard Allen who again led the fleet home in first and second places. Jonathan Weeks had adjudged himself to be over the line at the start and dutifully went back, only to be told by the race officer, back ashore, that if he was over it would have been by no more than the thickness of a coat of varnish.
So, what with breakages, capsizes and foolish errors, what could have turned out to be a routine day at the races down at DSC, turned out to be the usual fascinating story, at least for those involved! (Your correspondent fears, that a bit like golfers, if you ask a dinghy sailor how he got on they will tell you, blow by stultifyingly boring blow. So a simple enquiry along the lines of “did you have a nice sail dear” is usually the wisest spousal greeting - take it from one who knows!)