Sunday, June 24, 2018


Racing Reports 2018

Dateline Dittisham Monday 7th May 2018

Summer! Sunshine! Sailing! Champagne!

What a glorious, memorable, morning at Dittisham Sailing Club this May Bank Holiday Monday!

Twenty Five single-handed dinghies all rigged and waiting on the beach, the committee boat prepared and two fully manned safety-boats tethered to the running-moorings, all awaiting the call to action.

Not a dry-suit in sight but many a well-filled, if slightly mildewed, wet suit and even, whisper it quietly in case the fashion police are listening, one or two sailors dressed in shorts and tee-shirts.

The missing ingredient?  Wind!

Wind had been spotted up around Halwell Cross. Wind was forecast.

Wind was rumoured to be coming in on a sea breeze from Torquay.

(Sailors with the most sensitive noses were dispatched towards Galmpton to see if they could detect even the faintest whiff of sun-screen and cooking oil). But nothing, the 10.00hrs start time came and went.

Sitting quietly on the wall the Old Hands smiled to themselves and nodded to each other saying, “half-past ten is the magic time on a day like this, ten forty-five at the latest”. And, sure enough, just after 10.30, over near the Galmpton shore, the surface of the Dart darkened, the few remaining doubters rushed to the changing rooms and the last two races of the Easter Point Series were on.

Peter Symons, the Race Officer, who up to now had been striding up and down the launching ramp somewhat nervously re-assuring the waiting multitude, now sprang into action, setting and then quickly re-setting a simple triangular course as near to the patch of wind as possible. (As the morning progressed this turned out to be a solid decision with only minor adjustments to the angle of the start-line being needed).

Out of the 25 boats 11 were Solos and it looked like a Solo kind of a day, light, shifting winds, tricky beats, ideal for a Solo’s fully battened sails which hold their shape when the wind falters and other sails just droop.

But it was Martin Thomas in his D-Zero who not only finished first on the water, beating James Dodd’s Phantom and Roger Morley in the second D-Zero across the line by the odd thirty seconds, but on handicap also came first, with Jonathan Weeks and Les Moores in a pair of Solos only managing second and third.

The race officer, keen to get two races in, sensibly shortened course on the tail-enders giving then average lap times for the laps completed and thus still leaving them in contention.

With the wind now swinging further easterly, after a brief adjustment to the course, race two began.

This time, for line honours, it was once again a battle between James Dodd, Martin Thomas and Roger Morley and they finished in that order.

The Solos now had their day with no fewer than 7 finishing in the top 10 spots on handicap.

On handicap Jonathan Weeks swapped places with Martin Thomas to take first to the latter’s second while Paul Honey in a full-rig Laser, defied the odds and came third. Solos then filled the next six places.

Back on land it transpired that it was a very ancient Solo sailor’s somewhat significant birthday, so, to round off a perfect day, there was champagne, suitable nibbles, the smallest birthday cake imaginable and a rousing if not altogether in-tune rendition of the traditional song. (Where is Gareth Malone when you need him?) By now, sailors already in trouble over lateness for lunch, were past caring about the dreadful consequences, and it was early afternoon before the club finally emptied.

The series winners have now been calculated and while the Thomas family can rejoice it was a cruel blow for Sue Thomas. Widely expected to triumph, with a record of more individual wins than any one else, she had unfortunately fallen foul of the rule which says you have to sail the same type of boat throughout the series for your results to count. Her two early wins in a Laser 4.7 could not be counted, leaving husband Martin the overall winner with Sue nevertheless coming second. A moral victory and since both Easter Trophies will be sitting on the same mantelpiece the recipients can argue as to which gets the more prominent position when the neighbours come round! Mike Bennett in his Solo was third in the series with Martin Ely in a Laser radial fourth.

Next Sunday is the annual race to Tuckenhay. (It’s called that but for the past few years the fleet have never quite got to the turning point at the pub wall so if you are planning to turn out to watch this spectacle position yourselves just off Stoke Gabriel and wait to see what happens). After that, on Sunday 20th May the Solos get their own separate racing for the next two series and will be able to cross the start-line un-hindered by the terrifying presence of the four RS400’s and a keen bunch of Lasers all trying to luff them to the wrong side of the line.  

Dateline Dittisham Saturday 28th April.

It was not one of the best day’s dinghy racing at Dittisham last Saturday!

The forecast was for very little wind and that is exactly what the 14 hopeful sailors got – very little, almost no, wind.

On the way to the club most drove through a cloud-burst but down on the water’s edge conditions were pleasantly dry with a deceptively steady breeze from the south-west and even a patch of sunlight gleaming in the distance over towards Torquay.

Such breeze as there was promptly swung round through 180 degrees and, still convinced that all would be well, the self-deluded fleet set off to enjoy an Olympic course set by Race Officer Chris Taylor. (Olympic in this context does not have the heroic overtones usually associated with that phrase but merely means the more mundane process whereby a whole lap of the course consists of a triangle followed by a sausage.)

It took a very long time to reach the racing area.

It then took another very long time, including a postponement, for the hapless Race Crew to find enough wind to dare to start the race.

The triangular bit was scrapped and the course became just sausages, (or windward/leeward for the initiated).

Although a handful of boats managed to creep up the first beat and somehow round the windward mark, for the majority progress was painfully slow and sausages might just as well have been beefburgers.

Mike Bennett in his Solo, using his decades of experience in sailing this particular patch of water, tried to use the tide to drift him down onto the start- line but even that inspired tactic went wrong and he was awarded the extra blast one gets for being a premature starter.

Two Solos, a Laser Radial and Roger Morley’s D-Zero were the only boats to make any serious progress initially and indeed they were perilously close to finishing a SECOND lap when the Race Officer, noticing that the most of the rest of the fleet were now drifting backwards towards Dartmouth on the ebb tide, decided enough was enough.

The second race was abandoned and the bulk of the fleet were grateful recipients of a tow back to shore.

The only bright spot, for the lucky leaders, was that times had been kept for the first lap so, for them, the whole affair turned out to have not been a complete waste of an afternoon!

Hunched grimly in the bottom of his Solo, for what must have seemed like a lifetime, Jonathan Weeks claimed top spot on the podium, with Martin Ely in his Laser Radial and Terry Phillips in a second Solo, third.

On the point of being lapped by these three and Roger Morley’s D-Zero, a couple of thoroughly disgruntled entrants retired, to rapidly regain their gruntlement back at the club-house with a hot shower and a cup of coffee.

The next racing is on the May Bank Holiday Monday when, it is hoped, the Weather Gods will relent and smile upon the Dittisham fleet of deranged optimists, once again! 

Dateline Dittisham Sunday 22nd April.

Last Sunday was Marathon day in London and, for the Dinghy Racers of Dittisham, races 9 and 10 of the Easter Points Series.

So what you ask?

Well, for a start, there were important identical issues about suitable apparel. Should the runners run dressed as Paddington or Daleks or set off in their underwear? Should the sailors dress as Multi-coloured Life-boat men, space walkers or triathlon competitors?

Because, for the sailors too, these were tricky conditions worthy of some serious thought.

While it might have been warm enough for shorts and a tee shirt on dry land, the water, to cover the brutal truth in the manner of the Reverend Spooner, was floody breezing! Shorts were not quite yet suitable; a wet-suit would be too hot in the dinghy while racing but still very chilly if you fell in the water; a dry-suit would be splendid in the water but presents a distinct chance of producing a lightly steamed occupant after two minutes in the changing-room, never mind two hours on the water.

In both events many unsuitable choices were made and, perforce, stuck to. (Several surreptitious checks in the changing rooms after the racing confirmed to their anxious owners that the “humidity” inside many a dry suit was NOT caused by it leaking.)  

The marathon is, of course, a wonderful social and money raising event but as a competition leaves your dinghy racer a bit baffled.

In a dinghy race the race officer tries to make the start-line long enough to accommodate the number of boats competing. This gives everyone an equal chance to start on time. In the London Marathon only a couple of dozen of the 40,000 runners get to start on time with the serried ranks of the rest penned in and jogging on the spot for another twenty minutes at least! Leaving 1 yard between each starter on the line would only mean a start line some 22 miles wide so surely a suitable location could be found somewhere? (The M25?).

In Dinghy racing there is generally a time limit, typically 30 minutes after the first boat has finished, after which you are disqualified and you result is null and void.

Surely applying this rule to the Marathon would save an awful lot of people a great deal of time and trouble?

Anyway, back to the racing.

Things began to look ominous when the race-officer, Paul Mogridge, moved quietly among the 20 sailors waiting for his call to arms, to whisper that there would be a half-hour postponement. At that very moment, as if to confirm his worst fears, the slight south westerly breeze that had been gently stirring the surface of the Dart over by the Greenway shore, stopped dead.

Fortunately, half-an-hour later, more or less as promised, he had discovered a patchy but useable area of wind up under the Waddeton shore and after briefing a compact course with two beats, that is where he sent  the waiting multitude.

Race one was dogged by tricky shifts and sudden holes in the wind which promoted some groups and just as quickly abandoned them into mini doldrums. Many a tale of what might have been were recounted to bored spouses over lunch that day but in the end, as always seems to be the case on these occasions the same set of skilful sailors seemed to triumph.

Richard Symons and Craig Ely in their RS400 got clean away and built up a huge lead with Martin Thomas in his D-Zero and Mike Webster and Christine Carmichael in another RS getting all the strings to work properly at last, in hot pursuit. Of these clear winners on the water only Martin Thomas survived the brutal application of the handicap system to hang onto a podium place, the others, having enjoyed their moments of glory, being relegated to the back of the fleet. (As Pres. Trump might have tweeted “So unfair!”)

Mike Bennett in his Solo, always the master of these difficult conditions, was first on handicap with Martin Thomas second and Sue Thomas in her Laser radial, never off the podium in this series yet and looking like the helm most likely to win it, third.

Race two and, thank goodness,  a proper force two to three breeze blew up from the north, held, and provide some good straightforward competitive racing.

Right from the start the RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates and the Albacore of Jonathan Weeks and Jennie Richardson set off to windward to enjoy a race-long tussle for line-honours. Behind them Martin Thomas in the D-Zero and Ian Wakeling and Sue Thomas in a pair of Laser Radials managed to break free of the pack with Martin’s D-Zero, showing incredible acceleration as the breeze increased, closing rapidly with the leaders near the end of the race but a little too late to change the result.

Sue Thomas was once again at the top of the leader-board with Ian Wakeling second while the Albacore of Weeks and Richardson had managed to hang on to a third place on handicap from a second on the water.

There are only two more events in this series, next Saturday and on the May Bank Holiday Monday. Then the fleets will spit into two and the Solos can enjoy their own start with the line unencumbered by the five or six much bigger two-handed boats that have begun to make a very welcome appearance during this series.

So, in the time it took Mo Farah to come third in the Marathon, Dittisham sailing club had held two races, had their showers, put their boats away and set off for home to watch numbers 38,468 and upwards stagger home in London. Not better, but different and just as enjoyable!  

Dateline Dittisham - Saturday 14th April 2018

Easter Pot Handicap Stakes

Going:  Light to misty (soggy for some).

Grand National Day at Aintree on the telly, or a spiffing sailing day at Dittisham?  That was the choice for Dittisham sailors last Saturday.  Emboldened by a beautiful sunny Devon day and the first warming breezes of the year, about 20 sailors ambled down to the boat paddock for a couple of Easter Point-to-Point Series races.

Only to find the entire club and course shrouded in a thick mist, the Devon sun a distant memory and a decidedly chilly northerly breeze.  And appearing out of the mirk, silently, speedily and dangerously, herds of sleekly thoroughbred rowing craft, taking part in their own long-distance gallop from Dartmouth to Totnes (and straight through the middle of DSC racetrack) in the annual Head of the Dart Race.

Debutant Race Officer Craig Franklin calmly took all this in his stride, set a small, eminently simple triangular course within the bounds of our truncated sailing waters, donned his starter’s hat, waved his starter’s flags and called the runners and riders to order for the first start.  Quickly taking up the running after the off were various Lasers, an RS Aero and an Albacore pulling ahead of the field after the first obstacle, and on around the Waddeton turn.  Much fancied Tim Littler in his RS Aero, neck-and-neck with Nick Barnett in his Laser, misread the eminently simple triangle in the fog, and headed off on the wrong bit of track, allowing everyone else to catch up somewhat. 

But after veering back onto course, Tim and Nick fought it out at the front with the Albacore of Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black (handicapped out of existence and carrying much extra weight), to complete the first race on the card.  As ever, much of the real action was back in the pack with the smaller Laser Radials and Solos sailing up on the rail to claim placings on handicap.  Eventually Nick Barnett took the race in his fully rigged Laser, while Martin Ely crept up on the inside in his smaller Laser Radial rig to secure a well-deserved second place with veteran chaser Richard Allen in third aboard his Solo “Ocho”.  Early leader Tim Littler trotted in a decent fourth on handicap.

The race saw only one major faller: novice RS400 pairing of Mike Webster and Christine Carmichael making a spectacular late charge for glory complete with sky-blue spinnaker colours blazing out of the gloom, only to come unsaddled at the last hurdle, wiping out completely, and for a while we had a riderless boat on the loose.  The muddy depths of Owers ditch is no place for a venerable retired cavalry officer to be, but in spite of close attendance from the rescue team, nobody needed to be picked up (or put down), and Mike and Christine gamely remounted (eventually), trailing in a bedraggled last, and then valiantly lined up for the next one!

Second race; same course; same fog; same wind (mostly).  The starter got them away cleanly again, but a bit of a pile up at the first mark joggled things around quite a bit.  Littler and Barnett avoided the worst of the carnage and once again made the early running.  This time, proving themselves to be fine stayers, pulled further and further ahead, leaving everyone else to jostle for the minor placings.  It was tremendously close, with the crowd baying in excitement from the beach (or they would have been if they could’ve seen the racing), with Tim’s Aero just taking it by a short three seconds on handicap from Nick’s Laser.  Popular local favourite Mike “Devon Loch” Bennet thrilled the stands by unseating himself as he threw himself across the line, but after a stewards’ enquiry, it was established that he fell in after having fully crossed it, and was awarded a soggy third in his Solo.  Paul Green cantered into fourth in the lovely purple colours of his Laser.

Excitement over for another weekend, the field subsided into the mists of the South Hams, to reassemble next Sunday at 10.00.


Easter Points 7

1          Nick Barnett      Laser Full Rig                                       

2          Martin Ely         Laser Radial                                         

3          Richard Allen     Solo  “Ocho”                         

4          Tim Littler          RS Aero 7 Rig                                      

Easter Points 8

1          Tim Littler          RS Aero 7 Rig

2          Nick Barnett      Laser Full Rig

3          Mike Bennett     Solo  “The Boat from Beer”    

4          Paul Green        Laser Full Rig                                       

Overall (8 out of 14 races sailed)


1          16 points          Martin Thomas  D-Zero             

2          17 points          Mike Bennett     Solo     “The Boat from Beer”    

3          19.4 points        Martin Ely         Laser Radial

4          22.6 points        Paul Honey       Laser Full Rig   

No animals were harmed in the running of these races.  But maybe a few bruised egos?

Double Dose of Datelines Dittisham - Sunday 24th & Good Friday 30th March 2018

With the seasons changing more quickly than a CD of Vivaldi on random play, Summer popped in for a brief visit to Dittisham SC a couple of weekends ago, before Winter reprised itself in time for Easter.

And here’s what happened….

Two Sundays ago, the fleet were treated to the magnificent sight of three RS400s lining up on the beach, their exotically fabricated sails glinting dangerously in the early British Summertime sun.  Even more remarkably, given DSC’s strange penchant for lonely single-handed sailing was the presence of an Albacore and a Wayfarer next to them.  Nearly 50% of the fleet being double-handers is a radical and welcome sociable departure for the club. Obviously the new Handicap Fleet Captain is making his mark.  Well done Craig Franklin.

The RS400s dominated the fleet over the water, with Craig Franklin & Steven Black taking the gun in the first race, and Richard Symons and Emma Stephenson taking the honours in the second.  It was a shame that the brand-new pairing of Mike Webster & Kit Noble experienced rigging problems in their new RS400, and so couldn’t show off their full potential.  Luckily there is a long season ahead for them to attach the correct bits of rope to the right bits of boat.

But while the RS400s went nice and fast, the real action was taking place further back amongst the gaggle of singlehanded boats…

Sue Thomas, fresh from winning the first two races of the season was so blinded by reflected magnificence from the RS400s’ sails, that on leaping into her Laser Radial, she head-butted her centreplate, and procured herself an early Easter Egg-like protrusion on her forehead.  Fortunately, her boat was not damaged in the collision, and Sue went on to win yet another two races, giving her an unprecedented four out of four wins at the beginning of the season. 

Indeed the day proved to be a bit of a benefit for the Thomas collective, as Martin Thomas was second in both races in his D-Zero.  Paul Honey in his Laser was the first non-Thomas, finishing third in the first race, while Mike Bennett took third in the second in his Solo.  The second race was notable for the first seven place being split by only 37 seconds on handicap, which is indicative of very close, highly competitive racing, even at this early stage of the season.

Easter weekend is normally the first big weekend’s racing of the year, with four days available for racing.  Unfortunately this year’s extremely odd tides meant that Dittisham had no navigable water for racing over the entire weekend except late Good Friday afternoon.

But given the miserable rainy freezing outlook for the festive period, this didn’t really upset the sailors too much.

PRO Paul Honey tried to cheer everyone up by drawing a set of Easter Bunny ears on the blackboard, which he later explained was his highly innovative tactical course.  Which was as cheery as it got for Paul, as he proceeded to freeze his hot cross buns off on the committee boat….

With an unreliable wind from the North, a tricky beat, a long run into the tide and two reaches, it was indeed all very tactical (for those at the front), or pure luck (for those who weren’t).

The big question was could Sue Thomas make it five wins out of five for the series?  For much of the first race it really looked like she might do it, as she shot off the start line, fighting it out with the much bigger RS400s and Albacore for most of the race.  However, tagging along close behind in his similarly paced Solo was Jon Clark, inexorably closing in leg after leg, until finally overtaking Sue on the last lap.   These two easily claimed first and second on handicap, while      Martin Thomas took third in his D-Zero.

The Ditsum Belles has been an extremely successful initiative at Dittisham, encouraging ladies onto the water, and now several of them join in the racing.  The latest graduate from the Belles Academy is Denise Winks, who joined in the fun on Friday for the first time with her new Laser Radial.  And having seen off the horribly tricky conditions and freezing weather with some aplomb, racing for the rest of the season should be a doddle.  Now all we need to is encourage all the other racing Belles out of their winter hibernation….

Race 2 saw an even start, with boats crossing the line in all directions, and after another tricky beat, bearing off round top mark onto a run, and into nothing.  An absence of wind and an increasingly strong tide made for some very interesting sailing/drifting, and It all became deeply tactical (or lucky) again.

The wind did come up again towards the end, and we were treated to the splendid spectacle of two RS400s battling away at full pelt on the ante-penultimate leg, resplendent with spinnakers billowing.  All as it should be, were it not for, chugging along just astern, Jon Clark in his rather more sedate Solo, riding their bow waves.

Unsurprisingly, Jon Clark won the race on corrected time, with Mike Bennett’s Solo claiming second, while Martin Thomas notched up another third.  New member Ian Wakerling nursed his aged Laser Radial round the course for a well-earned fourth place, much to the consternation of several longstanding local Laser sailors, immersed as they are in much hard-earned knowledge and lore of Dittisham conditions and tactics.

Our next race is a long-distance trip upriver to Stoke Gabriel on Sunday 8th April.  Hopefully Winter will have moved back into Indian Summer by then.

Dateline Dittisham Sunday 11th March 2018

The 2018 racing season fluttered briefly and breezily into life last weekend at Dittisham Sailing Club.  After a short winter’s nap, a few of the more restless DSC sailors came out of hibernation to brave the wintery weather, before scuttling back to their burrows for a fortnight, as the fledgling season is stopped in its tracks next weekend by unhelpful tides.

 A small, but perfectly formed fleet of eight local members ventured out into the wind and gloom for this first weekend’s fun.  The more far-flung sailors must have still been snowed in inland somewhere, or at least pretending they were. as the forecast of force five to six winds, rain and single digit temperatures were not exactly encouraging.

 The honour of running the first races of the season fell to the Club Commodore, James Dodds. So keen was our Commodore that the season be underway, that after the briefest of briefings, he whizzed off to the Committee Boat in indecent haste all ready for a prompt 10.00 start.  He and his race gallant team then froze slowly out on the water, while the racers themselves had another cup of tea in the warmth of the clubhouse before finally setting off for the official start time of 10.30! 

However, when it finally came, the start went off promptly enough, with Sue Thomas in her Laser 4.7 placing herself bang on the line as the hooter sounded, leading the fleet off to the first mark set in the direction of Galmpton. Sue was still almost leading when the fleet got to the first mark – no mean feat considering her 4.7 had the highest handicap (and therefore supposedly the slowest boat in the race).

 The conditions were not as bad as forecast, but it was still a pretty windy reintroduction to their boats for everyone after several months apart.  While the figure-of-eight course was lovely for all the single-handers, with a short beat followed by two tight reaches and one broader one, for the single double-hander (Craig Franklin and Chris Bates in their RS400), the tight reaches were rather taxing, just on the cusp of control with their spinnaker up.

 Being the fastest boat on the water, Craig and Chris soon planed off into the lead ahead of Sue Thomas to take the line honours after an extremely brief 16 minute two lap race.  A straw poll of the racers was taken to see if they’d like any more laps, but there were few takers.

 Exciting times further back in the fleet, as the Laser 4.7, and its two larger relation Laser Radials (sailed by Martin Ely and Paul Mogridge) all converged on the final mark together, with Martin just leading them into it.  But after a gust and a wobble, Martin was no longer leading coming out of it, with Paul and Sue taking advantage to sneaking through, to finish one second apart.  As a result of his wobble, Martin followed in eleven seconds later. 

 The two Solos of Richard Allen and Les Moores battled their way round against the elements and each other, with Richard keeping Les at bay for most of the race, before tipping himself in at the penultimate mark, and becoming the first DSC swimmer of the year.

 Sue Thomas absolutely destroyed everyone on handicap, to win the first race of the season handsomely, with the Laser Radials of Paul Mogridge and Marting Ely second and third.

 The second, equally brief race followed a similar plot, although the RS 400 was on the line this time, and lead on the water from start to finish (as it ought, given its power and speed), but was again knocked back after handicapping, with Sue Thomas once again sailing peerlessly and untroubledly to her second win of the day, series and year.  The Radials trailed behind her again, this time transposed with Mr Ely ahead of Mr Mogridge.

 Martin Thomas also ventured out for the racing in his sleek ultra-modern D-Zero, but had a difficult and somewhat wet day, mainly as he put it, because no amount of sleek modernity can compensate for the old-fashioned problem not being able to get one’s head under the boom when its lashed down so low to cope with the windy conditions.

 Racing resumes again on Sunday 25th March, when it will be summertime









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