Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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Racing Reports 2017

Dateline Dittisham Sunday 12th November 2017

Your experienced dinghy sailor takes even a local weather forecast with a pinch of salt. They know, from bitterly disappointing decisions they have taken in the past, that the actual outcome, down on the water at Dittisham, may well be that a forecast of too much wind could turn out to be a blissful day of planing about in perfect safety or that similarly, a forecast of no wind at all, might mean that those hopefuls who did turn out enjoyed a local zephyr or a stiff sea-breeze.

So, last Sunday morning 17 of the usual 25 or so regular Autumn Series sailors came down to prove that the forecaster’s prediction of 30 mile-an-hour gusts from the north-west was wrong, while the rest stayed at home to gather leaves and assumed there would be no sailing.

Up to about ten minutes before the start the cynics were right.

It was a bright, sharp, perfect Autumn day, with some mild gusting visible over on the Galmpton side of the estuary, but clearly nothing to deter a resolute soul.

John Phillips, the Race Officer had set an imaginative course with two beats and configured it so that, theoretically, there was no need to gybe. (In heavy weather it’s your gybe, the action of swinging the boom from right out on one side to equally far out the other, that tends to destabilise a small craft and dump you in the drink).

At two minutes past eleven, after a respectful silence in the club-house, the seventeen sailors launched their 15 boats and set off for the starting area.

Doubts set in just a few hundred yards from the shore.

A couple of gusts, more like sustained, baleful, blasts, had one or two upside-down within seconds.

Somehow everyone was upright again by the start but you could tell that most were already concentrating on survival because, at the gun, only two boats were anywhere near the line.

The sole Albacore, a larger, more stable boat than the rest of the fleet, with around thirty stone of moveable ballast in the shape of Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black on board, steamed off up the beat, comparatively untroubled by the conditions, while behind them, mayhem.

Of the fifteen starters only seven finished the three lap race, only two of those did all three laps and only one or two of those had remained upright for the duration!

Even to the leaders the thirty minute race had seemed like a whole morning and enormous relief greeted the shorten-course flag.

Weeks and Black, incident free, took line honours and the race on handicap, while Pete Joscelyne in his Laser, who had been fairly close to them at one point, took a ducking but recovered quickly to claim second place. In third slot showing remarkable skill not to capsize at all in these conditions, came Michael Bennett in his Solo. Bennett was clearly taking things very cautiously having found time for an Attenborough moment when, approaching one of the windward marks, he spotted a young seal hanging on to it in the teeth of the gale. It could have been the adrenaline pumping through his veins but he later swore that as he passed the seal had given him and admiring nod. (The seal of approval perhaps? Sorry, couldn’t resist that.)

With almost as many competitors back on the shore than out on the water race two had a field of just eight, of whom only six managed to finish.

With the wind and particularly the gusts, now so strong that at times the only way to survive was to stop trying to race and let the sails flog, the Race Officer, very wisely, called it a day after just fifteen minutes and two laps of a slightly shorter but just as challenging course.

Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black in the Albacore repeated their (outwardly) serene sail to come first, with Pete Joscelyne again taking second place, this time with less drama. Martin Ely in his Laser radial captured third slot.

Izak Hemmings, one of the junior Topper sailors joining the Autumn series from Dartmouth Yacht Club, looks like qualifying for the True Grit award of the year having completed both races in extremely difficult conditions, while many more experienced helms had opted for the early shower.

 Back on shore and little or no damage appeared to have been done to boats, some to pride, while the odd boom had caused minor and, we trust, temporary re-arrangement of the facial features of one or two well-known sailors.

As the tired helms were finally putting their boats away a couple of extra strong gusts convinced Tad Urbanowicz and Emily Goatman, who had sailed down river in their Graduate from Stoke Gabriel to join the racing, that trying to sail it back would be the least good idea of the day. A friendly fellow competitor drove them home leaving their boat in the safety of the dinghy park.

Everyone else went home to try to persuade their partners that,

a.They had not been out on the water.
b.They were perfectly safe/competent.
c.The cuts and bruises would heal in time for the racing on November 26th.

What a day!


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 29th October 2017

Having been involved in the sport for almost fifty years your correspondent has long been of the opinion that no other such activity can regularly suffer the capricious whims of nature, such egregious outside interference or such complex rules and processes as dinghy racing.

Cricket, to foreigners at least, is admittedly a somewhat complicated process but the game itself is rarely, if ever, disrupted by the Cardiff Castle steaming majestically (and, be it freely admitted, very carefully) across the pitch.

Formula 1 has its own overtaking rules and other conventions but seldom, if ever, do they involve other competitors deliberately crossing the track at right-angles or advancing head-on towards one–another bellowing their claims for certain rights-of way above the roar of the engines.

Track athletes do not have to decide which of seven or eight individual controls require adjustment every time they enter a straight or tackle a bend.

Cyclists are rarely capsized by sudden gusts or cross-winds.

Rugby players are never prevented from crossing the line by a powerful ebb tide or by getting weed caught round their ankles.

And yet your Sunday dinghy racer, out for what appears to all the world as a simple, innocuous pastime, can and does have to take all these things and many more into account, each time the starting gun sounds.

These things being so you would expect that to actually win a race one would have to be extraordinarily lucky. Indeed luck does sometimes come into it but another odd thing about the sport is that however difficult the conditions, however fickle the wind, no matter what random obstacles are put in their way the best sailors usually come out near the front.

And so it was last Sunday.

While the rest of the country started to feel the cold, the last remnants of a brief Indian Summer hung on in our blessed corner of the country and those who had brought dry-suits against the chill found themselves wishing they had fumigated their wet-suits one final time.

A North-easterly breeze off the Waddeton shore inspired Race Officer Paul Mogridge to set a novel course.

Some said that in  shape it resembled a Churchillian gesture, other thought it was more like an oven-glove but with two beats and a splendid reaching leg that had several of the lighter boats planing, all agreed that it was a triumph of invention.

For race one, with eighteen boats all starting together in a handicap fleet, the relatively short start line meant that only the bravest souls managed to extricate themselves from the ruck and get cleanly away. A battle for line honours ensued between three of the faster boats and the redoubtable John Clark in his Solo.

The Albacore of Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black read the tricky shifts on the first beat correctly and were first to the windward mark but they were passed later in the lap by Martin Thomas in his Aero, the latter revelling in the occasional gusts which accelerated the slender craft at an astonishing rate.

Line honours in both races went to Martin Thomas with James Dodd second and the two-man Albacore third but these apparent successes came to naught once the handicaps were applied.

John Clark and Mike Bennett in Solos filled the first two slots while Martin Thomas, in spite of a huge time difference, was relegated to third place.

Further back in the fleet a capsize and, more crucially some broken sun-glasses caused the retirement of a well known Zero sailor, while one hapless Solo sailor managed to capsize just a few feet after the finish and was roundly told off for obstructing the line by an outraged race-officer.

The Toppers from Dartmouth Yacht club are a very welcome addition to the Autumn Series fleet and are clearly beginning to get the hang of this very tricky sailing venue  with Miles Jones beating local Belle stalwart and Topper expert, Catherine Johns.

Race two and with the start line somewhat longer there was plenty of room for an orderly start. A slight bias towards the port end resulted in one or two near collisions but all in all a less rowdy departure ensued.

With everyone having to concentrate on the wild wind shifts on the beats and the occasional plane-inducing gust, it proved to be almost a re-run of race one, with a pair of Solos, John Clark and Mike Bennett again showing a good turn of speed. This time Martin Ely interposed his Laser Radial between these two to take second place.

At the briefing, prior to the race it was suggested that the wind would drop off as the morning wore on. Naturally it promptly increased, and, just as happened a fortnight ago, on the way back to the club-house the whole fleet were treated to a force four breeze which sent half the fleet planning off towards the Greenway Quay out of sheer joie de vivre.

A lovely Autumn day at DSC and a great sail. More, we hope, in two weeks time.


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 15 October 2017

If you have been anxiously scanning the sports page of the Dartmouth Chronicle these past few weeks wondering why Doings on the Dart at Dittisham have been absent. fret no more! Your correspondent has returned from a Month in the Med. to bring both his readers further tidings. (Good word, “tidings” for reports on dinghy sailing, don’t you think, might work that into a piece one day?)

Actually he was in Menorca near Fornells where the huge and very active sailing school is based. There, on a huge inland sea of shallow, warm water the sun shone almost every day, there was always a reliable breeze, the tide never bothered the sailors, doing its usual Mediterranean thing of just slopping up and down a few inches twice a day and conditions were perfect for Dinghy racing. Only problems in this paradise? Lone casual sailors could not join in, any racing was mainly for beginners and it just wasn’t Dittisham.

As it has turned out while he was away you have not missed all that much. One weekend the club was closed because of the annual Dart10k swim, on another it so much wind was forecast that very few turned out and even though there was a race it was only the one, and on the next there was too little wind to bother to go afloat. The Dittisham version of Bart’s Bash on the other hand was well attended and by all accounts a big success.

So to last weekend.

With hurricane Ophelia in the offing and a forecast of 10 to 15 knots of breeze, twenty-five sailors crowded onto the beach keenly anticipating a fine blow and a good day’s racing.

The weather gods had other ideas. It was if the fair Ophelia had withdrawn all the local winds to reserve them for her own furious assault later the following day.

Richard Allen, the Race Officer for the day, did his best by setting a figure-of-eight course well out into what he could see of the wind but to no avail. It came and went, changed direction in huge shifts and even when it finally settled down, in roughly the forecast direction, it was patchy, favouring the right hand side of the course one minute and the left the next. After a General Recall (That’s when so many boats are over the line at the start that the Race Officer cannot reliably identify the culprits) and a swift re-arrangement of the start-line from the port side of the committee boat to starboard, the whole fleet, all competing against each other on handicap, were away for the first race.

The difficult conditions saw disasters and triumphs unevenly distributed among the fleet. At one point the leading group were passed and left in the Doldrums by a small chasing pack of skilful (lucky) boats and at another a whole section of the fleet were detached from the rear and left floundering and frustrated forever at the back.

James Dodd in his Phantom and Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black in the Albacore, both recipients of a little bit of good fortune, battled it out for line honours, Dodd winning by just one second. (Such was the excitement in the Committee boat over this mini-drama that they clean forgot to sound the hooter for either boat, leaving both crew wondering how much longer it would take to finish a third lap after 50 minutes for the first two. It was only when a safety boat plucked the windward mark that they had been reluctantly trying to reach, out of the water and made off with it, that the penny dropped, it was all over.

On handicap, Jon Clark in his Solo was first, with Patrick Bromley, sailing a blinder as they say, in another Solo, second, with the Albacore third. Pam Spittle, sole representative of the Dittisham Belles came a very creditable seventh.

Race two and even less wind. With a Solo capsized on the starboard end of the line (how that happened neither the anonymous helm or anyone else will ever know) a few boats were somewhat delayed at the gun and once again the wind seemed to be picking on certain sections of the fleet, cutting off supplies in an arbitrary fashion and leaving two groups with no chance of catching up wallowing along in dead air.  Even with just a single lap race the leaders were finished and on their way back to the shore before the benighted tail-enders had got half-way round the course. The results showed that, irrespective of boat type the favoured boats finished in under 12 minute the next group were a clear four minutes later and the bunch at the back were a full ten minutes after that. Ah well, that dinghy racing for you.

John Clark and Mike Bennett were first and second in a pair of Solos with Sue Thomas in her Laser Radial, third.

On the way back to the club-house, up under the shore by the village the early finishers discovered that a splendid 10/12 knot breeze had set in. Had it been there all afternoon or had it sprung up to mock the ever-optimistic sailors? Looking back up the estuary to see if the tail-enders were enjoying this delightful zephyr they could see that the back end of the fleet were still be-calmed and gritting it out. All good character building stuff we are told but enough to send a sailor rushing off to the nearest pub for a consoling pint.

This Autumn Series has been augmented by the presence of a visiting Graduate dinghy from Stoke Gabriel Boating assoc. which did very well in the first race before deciding that with a dying wind and an ebbing tide it was time to turn for home, and three Toppers from the Junior section of Dartmouth Yacht Club who must have found the windless conditions very irksome. They are all most welcome and all the regular sailors at DSC hope that more of their colleagues will be tempted to come for the balance of the series, and that the wind for them and everyone else, will improve.

Due to adverse tides from now on there can only be racing at DSC every other week until this series ends on the 10th December. Then, apart from the masochists day out on Boxing Day, covers will be firmly strapped on and boats tied down until next March. The truly, madly, addicted always mutter about running a little mini-series of their own during the winter months but they never quite seem to get round to organising it, preferring instead, we can only assume, to take it out on the dog.       


Bart's Bash Sunday 27th September 2107

Bart’s Bash @ DSC  -  Sunday 17 September 2017

 The fourth global festival of sailing known as Bart's Bash took place last weekend with events around the world, this year raising funds to provide aid for rebuilding grassroots sailing programmes & communities in the Caribbean affected by Hurricane Irma  -  (http://www.bartsbash.com/post/raising-funds-for-victims-of-hurricane-irma).

In Dittisham’s little corner of the globe, our Bart’s Bash tripled up with one of our occasional long distance jaunts, The River Dart Cup, along with the Ton Up Cup (for two-handed boats with a combined crew age > 100 - not that difficult an ask at DSC!).

With a forecast of a dying breeze and a strongish near Spring tide, the task of weaving these diverse nautical and weathery threads into a seamless afternoon’s entertainment fell to PRO Martin Thomas.  With the entire River Dart as his canvas, Martin could have sent us far upriver, or way downriver (whichever is which), but in the end opted for both, with a bit of cross-river thrown in as well, followed up by some sausagy doodles at the end. To the more artistically minded amongst the fleet, his course diagram was reminiscent of something by Kandinsky.

In a further outbreak of artistic autumnal abstraction, Martinski proposed a revolutionary combined club-line and committee boat start.  Trying to explain further would lose something in the telling (you really had to be there), but bizarrely, against all odds, it worked, and the fleet of Bashers headed off on a cross-river beat to Galmpton, thence downwind upriver downtide to a roving mark somewhere towards Stoke Gabriel.

The 17 boat fleet quickly sorted itself into two distinct tranches.  At the fast boat end, Tim Littler in his regatta-winning Aero, and the newly assembled Ton Up team of Paul Honey & Steven Black (taking a break from their Lasers in a gentlemanly Albacore), duly steamed off into a decent lead.  And tagging along just behind, snapping at their heels like an annoying terrier, the allegedly not so fast Solo of Jon Clark.  Someway astern of this trio trailed the rump of the fleet in an assortment of Wayfarers, Solos, D-Zero, Streaker, Quba and a couple of Lasers.

After a pleasant enough run towards Stoke Gabriel, it was back against the wind and tide all the way downriver to Owers.  With the wind dying off as predicted, the tide came even more into play, with the leaders ducking and diving into and out of the muddy shoreline bays and coves until crossing the tide towards Gurrow Point. 

At which Point, the Albacore was merely a few yards behind Tim’s Aero.  Until the Albacore stayed at the same Point for several minutes while the Aero whizzed off into the distance.  All very puzzling until Paul & Steven discovered their centreboard was firmly embedded in said mud at said Point.  Jon Clark was now but yards behind them.

Back in the bulk of the fleet, Solos, Streakers, D-Zeros traded tacks and places with gay abandon, while the Wayfarers of Martin & Anne Ely and Chris Taylor & Sally Fisher goose-winged their way around the Dart as if it was going out of fashion.  Pam Spittle gallantly soldiered on in her diminutive Quba, never letting all the faster boats out of her sight.  The Lasers went very slowly.

The latter part of the race consisted of an unspecified number of ever-slowing sausages between a mark off the Anchorstone (Cafe) and the Club Finish, until the race officers got bored, and finished everyone with varying degrees of artistic licence/mathematical imprecision.

Barring one crossed tack behind the Albacore on the first leg, Tim Littler led from start to finish, while Jon Clark energetically roll-tacked, carve-gybed and maintained his Solo in a splendid third place on the water throughout the whole race, well ahead of several quicker boats and all the other Solos.

And after all that, Tim Littler’s Aero had just pulled out enough of a gap to take the gun, and the River Dart Cup on handicap (just) from Jon Clark, with the Albacore sandwiched between them on the water and third on handicap.  But the Albacore (absentee owner:  Jonathan Weekes) had done well enough to retain its hold on the Ton Up Cup, albeit under a less aged helm this year – Paul Honey.  Not bad for a Laser sailor who had never set foot in an Albacore before.

In an agonising turn of events, Johnny Moulsdale and his Solo, having held a strong fourth place on both the water and on handicap up, down and across the Dart, lost concentration on his final sausage and was pipped on the line by Bob Thomas, in yet another Solo. 

A lovely sunny afternoon, a weird and wonderful course, and all in all a splendid Bash, raising oodles of money for a very good cause.

Dateline Dittisham Saturday 19th to Tuesday 23 August.

If the Senior Dinghy event, hosted once again by Dittisham Sailing Club and part of the Dartmouth Royal Regatta Sailing Week, had been a film, the critics would have given it a unanimous five-star rating.

LOCATION; set on the beautiful Dart Estuary where the river widens out between the wooded hills of Greenway, Waddeton and Gurrow Point a producer would be hard pressed to find anything more enchanting.

(Much more photogenic than any slice of anonymous ocean).

ATMOSPHERE; The first two days of overcast skies and challenging breezes injected some tension into the early part of the event, followed by a magical Monday of warm sun-lit zephyrs lulling the competitors and spectators into a dream-like trance, (that might have been the beer after the racing). The last day saw a furious finale of fierce easterly winds that brought the event to a thrilling climax. So much so that the outcome of the racing in two fleets was not settled until the end. A quarter of the forty competitors elected to stay safely on the shore while half a dozen retired during the first race. One boat, upside down for the fourth time, was last seen being swept away by the strong flood-tide towards Stoke Gabriel while its owner, plucked from the water by one of the busy safety crew, watched in despair. (Both since reunited with only minor damage to rig and pride.)

PLOT; a traditional story of four days of racing with two races each day of between thirty minutes and an hour, each race spiced up with winds and gusts from almost every direction with building spring-tides adding the odd dramatic twist. There were four main sub-plots with a twelve-strong PY (handicap) fleet, a fleet of various variants of Laser, again twelve, a fleet of five Streakers and a strong representation of a further twelve Solos, but of course every one of the forty-odd had their own human story to tell!

CAST; In PY fleet everyone was a star, especially during the violent scenes on the last day.

DSC member, Tim Littler, in his RS Aero, shone particularly brightly, coming in first in the series but did fluff his lines on day three, being over the line on the start.Paul Lingham from Salsombe SC in another RS Aero Zero, co-starred in the supporting roles with Sebastian Prowse from Queen Mary SC in a Zero, coming second and third after some tremendous tussles.

In the Lasers Sam Mogridge of DSC put in his usual storming performance, particularly relishing the more hairy moments during the week. Nick Barnett was second and Paul Mogridge, playing the real-life role of Sam’s father, was a steady third in his Laser Radial, both DSC members.

The parts in the five-strong Streaker fleet story were, unusually, predominantly allocated to the ladies, with the male interest being provided by Joe Wellard who went on the win the event. Not before being acted off the stage by Jennie Richardson in races five and six. (As things stood on Sunday morning, Jennie still had a chance of top billing but the big wind and a small rig put paid to her chance of stardom.)

As expected the star of the Solo fleet was John Clark of DSC who won all but one of the eight races. Race six however saw a scene-stealing performance by Johnny Moulsdale, the first local sailor ever to have bested the redoubtable JC. (There was a man who went to sleep on Monday night with a contented smile on his face.) In supporting roles came Graham Don from Tata-Steel SC (Port Talbot) in second place with Mike Bennett, after an epic battle with Richard Allen and the elements, third.

SCRIPT; dinghy racing requires very little dialogue and the only sound to be heard above the shrieking of the wind in these productions are the occasional cries of “Starboard” or “Room please”, deliciously punctuated by the whoops of excitement (or fear) as the dinghies plane away at speed towards an uncertain fate at the gybe mark.

PRODUCTION TEAM; Janie Harford, in charge of the event over-all was warmly congratulated on an excellent production, showered with blooms at the post-race party and, if anyone could have found a spare Oscar, Jennie would have been awarded it.

Jonathan Weeks and his rock-steady team of scorers, lead by Sheila Phillips, directed the production out on the water, with no visible signs of panic, employing courses that made best use of the available water and conditions.  

Apart from a few moments in race seven when there seemed to be more boats upside-down than there were safety-craft Chris Taylor’s safety team were never over-stretched and they laid courses, righted dinghies and ferried folk most expeditiously. (Sitting in a safety boat for two hours at a time in howling wind and driving rain, while a bunch of idiots are hurtling around you enjoying themselves, is not to everyone’s taste and folk that do it deserve much sympathy and praise).

No film crew or cast can ever be expected to succeed without its chuck-wagon. Mary and Richard Hayes and their splendid team of helpers, fed and watered the sixty-plus participants for four evenings in a row, with a huge variety of grub and liquor, culminating in the prize-giving party to end all prize-giving parties on Tuesday evening. More Oscars all round.

This year the Senior Dinghy Race Series received the generous sponsorship of Savills of Exeter. Savills Director, Sara-Jane Bingham-Chick ferried some fifteen VIP’s up to the club-house from Dartmouth for the prize-giving and presented the silverware herself. Judging from their reaction they all enjoyed the evening and got caught up in the extraordinary atmosphere that this epic four-day production had generated.

Everyone involved will now lie down in a darkened room for a while, or at least until Bank-holiday Monday when the fleet is off to Stoke Gabriel for one of the most idiosyncratic events on the racing calendar.


Dateline Dittisham Sunday August 13th.

Any fervent follower of this occasional column will know by now how obsessive Dinghy sailors are about wind. Your correspondent himself cannot pass the anemometer, the wind-sock or the small wind turbine beside the Dartmouth road near Halwell Cross without putting himself and other road-users at risk by carefully checking their indications in order to try to work out what the wind will be like down on the estuary at Dittisham.

 Something very strange was happening at 08.45hrs last Sunday.

The anemometer seemed to have seized, the wind-sock hung lifeless and the turbine stood rigidly to attention, jammed in a perfect vertical cruciform.

Down on the foreshore it was a beautiful, nay perfect, Summer’s morning. Warm and windless, perfect, that is, for holiday-makers, farmers out harvesting, ornithologists and lepidopterists. But, for the gross of optimistic dinghy sailors slowly rigged their craft, absolutely hopeless! With the race scheduled for 10.00hrs, as that moment came and went, still nothing.

“A sea breeze will come in from Torbay”, said some; “the forecast is for a South-Westerly 2-3” said others; “there will be nothing until eleven o’clock” announced a cheerful faction.

Just before 10.00 there had been the merest hint of a breath of wind coming from the West. It died, and at twenty-past the hour a tiny patch of ripples appeared over near the Galmpton shore, this time blowing in from East. “Wind” announced Peter Symons, the race officer, “follow me guys”. They did. Slowly and with great difficulty and if it had not been for the incoming tide most would never had got to the start line. As it was one had to be towed there and two slightly irate and quite vociferous lady sailors were late for the start through no fault of their own as the race team decided it was now or never and got the flag and gun sequence under way.

A one lap drifting match ensued with much frustrating lead-swapping as boats fell into random doldrums or picked up minute stray zephyrs and, unaccountably, drifted past one-another.

In the PY nine-strong fleet these conditions seemed to suit the Phantoms as James Dodd and Stuart Richardson bracketed Ged Vardy (second in his Laser) for first and third places, in a race that, mercifully, took them less than a quarter of an hour. Chris Bates, normally the front half of the RS400 duo, demonstrated that he also knew the front end of a Laser from it stern by coming in a very creditable fifth.

Something splendid is happening to the Solo fleet at Dittisham in recent times. Under the captaincy of Richard Allen the fleet has grown from the four or five die-hards of a few years ago to a fleet of almost twenty boats. This Sunday, in spite of one of their number on safety duty and the fleet captain himself heading off to the Midlands (after standing on the foreshore and  deciding not to stay as obviously there would be no wind) there were a round dozen Solos taking part. (Could have been fourteen!)

In the nineteen minutes the first race lasted Les Moores and Bob Thomas managed to overhaul Johnny Moulsdale’s seemingly unassailable lead,

(lack of concentration the latter later admitted) and they finished in that order.

Not even the victors had really enjoyed the first race so it was a great relief when the wind suddenly went round through 180 degrees and started to blow steadily from the West. Desperate to take advantage of  this the Race Committee hurriedly reset the course but missed a further shift during the start sequence, leaving a start-line which was impossible to cross on starboard. Of course the more savvy sailors immediately took advantage of this pushing the port-end hopefuls away from the line into a jumble of confusion as they held a starboard tack along its length.

This time the PY fleet almost completely reversed the order from race one with the Phantoms doing less well on handicap, the race being won by Jennie Richardson in her Streaker. Ged Vardy, Mr. Consistent, was second again while Martin Ely in his Laser Radial came third.

In the Solos the cunning manoeuvres on the start line had benefited Jonathan Weeks, Bob Thomas and Peter Edwards and they initially built up a decent lead. Twice Weeks caught Thomas in a port/starboard encounter as they rounded the committee-boat and Edwards caught him for a third time, sailing him off to what seemed doomed to be a third place. Such is Bob Thomas’ determination that, tacking twice more on the shifts, he cleared the fleet and came home first. Peter Edwards, last but one in race one, took second place with Mike Bennett gaining “room” at the last mark beat Jonathan Weeks for a well sailed third spot.

This weekend Dittisham Sailing Club is again hosting the Senior Dinghy Races as part of the Dartmouth Royal Regatta sailing week, Saturday through Tuesday inclusive.  All the usual suspects will be in action and are right now busy sacrificing strange offerings to the weather gods to ensure light airs for the slight of build, a blow for the bigger blokes, but most of all, some useable wind (please!), some fine competition, and lots of enjoyable craik.


Dateline Dittisham Weekending August 6th.

That was a week that was!

Like most dinghy sailing clubs the facilities at Dittisham are usually used for, at the most, two days a week. In the last seven days only Friday saw an empty foreshore and even then the inside of the club-house was the scene of preparations for the coming weekend.

Monday through Thursday and Anna Chrystie and her band of heroic helpers from Dittisham Sailing and Dartmouth Yacht Clubs ran Family Sailing Week, involving over fifty participants and helpers from eight-year-old novices to rusty grown-ups.

On Monday and Tuesday relatively benign weather allowed them all the usual activities; sailing, raft building,  and kayaking, but the rain and wind on Wednesday kept everyone on shore for a treasure-hunt and water-borne games were restricted to messing about on upturned Topper hulls to see who could stay on the longest.

 A very windy Thursday started with the dramatic rescue of a visitor’s Wayfarer dingy, spotted upside-down over on the Galmpton shore, with the three occupants clinging to the upturned hull. With the mast firmly embedded in the famous fundus it took the combined efforts of two safety boats to drag it clear, mast snapped in half, and back to the club foreshore. Here a small lad from Germany was given a hot shower and lent dry clothes while the adults on board laboured to get the mud off the bedraggled rig.

A trip to Stoke Gabriel in the safety boats (and with a bunch of intrepid kayakers), in fierce wind and waves, for ice-cream(!), more mucking about on paddle-boards and, finally, a barbecue, rounded off a very memorable and highly enjoyable four day event.

Saturday, Dittisham Village Regatta day, and the Old Gaffer Association added a spectacular sailing dimension to the event with around twenty of these traditional sailing boats taking part in a parade of sail just off the village pontoon, followed by a full-blown one-hour race out on the estuary. The regatta spectators on the Ham were given a fascinating commentary on the finer points of the historic vessels in this procession, slightly disjointed due to the loss of the commentator’s notes into the water, (it is rumoured). As to the race itself, once the Gaffers had mastered the concept of a start-line, off they all went and a fine dramatic spectacle they made too.  The highlight of the day was the sight of Joe Wellard, in a tiny single-handed clinker-built dinghy hanging on for dear life in the strong breeze, keeping up with the much bigger craft and winning the race by a big margin on handicap. As fellow dinghy sailors this feat and several other similar efforts were much appreciated by the DSC members manning the committee and safety boats.

Sunday brought another stiff breeze and two separate races for regatta trophies. The first was a pursuit race for the Anchorstone Trophy. (As the title, pursuit, suggests, the slower rated boats go off first and the fleet is released, according to handicap, to try and catch them. At the end every boat you pass you’ve beaten and every boat that passes you has beaten you.)

Once again it was Joe Wellard, this time in a Topper, who streaked off up the first beat of the windward/leeward course set by race officer Chris Taylor, and was almost a whole lap ahead before the next class was released. It is always difficult to work out who finished where in a pursuit race, because although in theory the whole fleet should be clustered together at the end, often they are spread out all over the course and tend to try to nip past each other, illegally, after the final hooter has been sounded.

Fortunately there was no confusion about the first three places with Joe Wellard first, Sue Thomas in her Laser 4.7 second and Jonathan Weeks, and Steven Black in the sole Albacore third with the RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates was only a few meters behind in fourth.

Intriguingly (at least to fellow dingy sailors) these results seem to show that relatively strong wind favoured the boats with the slower and faster handicaps. Mind you, it did not help that a number of the 20-odd competitors spent rather a long time IN the water and not ON it.

It was also great to see two splendid Juniors in Toppers battling away with the elements among the more seasoned sailors. They will be very welcome to join the fleet again.   

The wind piped-up a notch between races and while the course was being re-set as a triangle for the Blackness Cup much glorious planing took place. It was during this recess that James Dodd’s tiller extension came off in his hand, causing him to limp precariously back ashore in his Phantom, body contorted in the stern while hanging onto the remains of his tiller. John Raad, in a Solo, decide that he would save his energy for the up-coming Dartmouth regatta and followed Dodd ashore, a decision he regretted ten minutes after the start when the wind dropped back to a much more manageable force 3-4, while Bernard Moles also in a Solo, feeling that enough capsize practice was enough, joined him back at the club-house.

The last race - mass-start traditional handicap - saw the faster two-handed boats come into their own for the first time in a long while. Craig Franklin and Chris Bates did a flying port-end start in the RS400 and led all the way to the last gun hurtling round the course in a cloud of spray, and also winning, by almost two minutes, on handicap. Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black were in their element in the Albacore, running in second place behind the RS on the water and finishing in that spot too. It was left to Martin Ely in his Laser Radial to salvage the pride of the single-handers with third place.

All safely back on shore for the prize-giving and a mini-feast of beer and burgers kindly donated by the Dittisham Regatta Committee.

What a week!


Dateline Ditisham Sunday 30th July.

Smugness is not an attractive characteristic but your correspondent has to admit to a certain degree of satisfaction, not, he hastens to add, on his own behalf but on that of the dinghy sailing fraternity that fate has enrolled him into for the past thirty or more years. What occasioned this up-welling of self-satisfaction? Well it was two things. One was the rain- induced interruptions to play in the third test-match and the second was being held up on the way to the racing at Dittisham on Sunday by the queue waiting to get into the local Agricultural Show and the sight of a great brown scar of soggy field that looked as if tractors would be needed to get people in, never mind out.

Well, he mused, in Dingy Racing, although wind can be a problem, no matter how much it rains it never ruins the pitch.

A couple of weeks ago it was recorded in these columns that the Solo fleet was down to a mere four boats. Such is the power of the written word that this weekend no fewer than nine hit the water for Sunday’s brace of races and with the PY fleet at their usual numbers the helms of  twenty boats crowded into the Ditsum Club-house to hear race officer Bernard Moles’ plans for the morning. A big triangular course was in store with the windward mark tucked up under the lee of village and the leeward one right down near Galmpton. With a start-line from the club box and the promise of a freshening breeze, all was set.

It was to be a race with quite a few retirements. Even before the start Anne-Marie Coyle, who had arrived by kayak from Dartmouth, wisely decided that the wind was too much for her Streaker while Mike Bennett, having launched his Solo, thought better of setting off without a rudder and went back for it.

Martin Thomas caused the odd eye-brow to be raised, setting off from the shore with a curious blue lozenge attached to the top of the sail on his Zero. Was it his birthday? Was it a good-luck charm? Was it a device to stop the boat inverting if (when) he capsized? Whatever it was it seemed to slow the boat right down as he was almost last away at the start and seemed to struggle up the first beat. It was not on the boat at the finish but one of the safety-boats recovered a soggy blue object from the water and the crew were searching for its owner as the fleet came ashore at the end of the day.

Eleven boats started the first PY race and although it wasn’t that windy only seven finished. Simon Bennett in father Mike’s Devon Yawl was well placed when SOMETHING IMPORTANT snapped. (A pin holding the stay which holds up the mast). Sometimes this can cause the mast itself to snap but the Yawl got back to its moorings in a seaman-like fashion and that was it for the day. Capsizes and other fateful interventions also accounted for Roger Morley in his Zero, Craig Ely in a Laser and Barrie Kenyon in his beautiful International 12 footer. Although Craig Franklin and Chris Bates took line honours as usual, with James Dodd in his Phantom less than a minute behind, it was clear from the outset that the conditions would favour the Lasers. So the results, once the handicap calculations were made, making Sam Mogridge, first and Peter Symons and Martin Ely second and third, all three in Lasers, were no real surprise.

 In the Solos the imperious John Clark led from start to finish with Jonathan Weeks and Mike Bennett battling it out for second place. Weeks failed to cover Bennett up the last beat to the finish so they finished in reverse order.

Race two and a wind shift caused the Race officer to move the windward mark to the west, even closer under the lee of the hills around the village. On a course where generally, the wind was getting up, this tiny patch of the Doldrums was to pose a few problems for both fleets.

In the PY Janie Harford wisely decided that the wind was now rather more than a Streaker was designed for while husband James Dodd appeared to be trying to impale a Laser on the bow of his Phantom shortly after the start and retired, either as an apology or because he too was over the stability limit.

The PY fleet was now down from eleven to SIX!

With the wind now inducing some delicious planning the same three Lasers came home in exactly the same order as in race one. Sam Mogridge first, Peter Symons second and Martin Ely third. For the first time since the two Zeros have joined the fleet Roger Morley beat Martin Thomas by a cool half-minute, a feat he ascribed, somewhat self-effacingly, as being down to superior avoirdupois!

These two Zeros have done very well so far this season in light-to-medium wind strengths but in Sunday’s stronger breeze they were slower on the water than Sam Mogridge’s Laser and nowhere near the podium on handicap - interesting, (well at least to other dinghy sailors). 

Race two for the Solos saw John Clark and Jonathan Weeks neck-and- neck at the first mark with Weeks edging a whole three feat in front for a fraction of a second at the start of the next leg, in a feat he promised to pass down to his grandchildren. This momentary triumph was short lived however as on the next lap, still chasing Clark and clearly over-excited, he failed to notice a following gust and that was, a very wet, that.

In the chasing pack Richard Allen held off Mike Bennett by a mere eight seconds to take second place to Bennett’s third while the rest of the nine strong fleet remained, very creditably, upright. 

This coming weekend on Saturday DSC is running a race for the Old Gaffers - Gaff-rigged more traditional style sailing boats, as part of the Dittisham Regatta  - well worth an ogle or, for Arthur Ransome fans, a gongoozle.

 On Sunday there are two dinghy races for separate trophies, also as part of the Dittisham Village Regatta.

Let’s hope the current traditional British Summer weather relents and becomes more like Mediterranean.


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 23rd July

When the weather forecast is perfect and with twenty one 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 biggish 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 a round force 2 with the odd gust at 3 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 thought s 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  practicing 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!)


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 16th July 2017

Last Sunday at Dittisham Sailing Club was held the second event in the three race series, the Brigadier Jenkins Memorial Cup. Normally on a Sunday the fleet races “round the cans”. That is to say, round a set of marks laid, usually, within sight of the club-house out on the Dart estuary -  a journey which takes you nowhere in particular and ends up where you started.

The point of the BJMC is that all three events go Somewhere.

One is a race to Tuckenhay, tantalizingly close to the pub but never actually inside. However, unless the wind obliges by blowing straight up and down the creek the fleet rarely gets anywhere near  the pub and in any event they would probably not be allowed in because a lot of the time is spent clambering about in the water extricating dinghies from the mud. Another is a race to Stoke Gabriel where the boat must be abandoned on the foreshore and a (very small) amount of liquor has to be imbibed actually in one of the pubs before continuing to race home. Older sailors are keen on the pub bit but find they lose out to fitter, younger folk on the pound up the hill to the village (Though running is technically forbidden). A fairer and more popular version of this race has the competitors picking up a drink from a safety-boat moored off the Stoke Gabriel shore, sailing off while consuming it, returning the empty can to the safety-boat (mandatory) and then racing away down the river.

Sunday’s version was what used to be the Castle Ledge Race. This consisted of sailing all the way down the Dart estuary, past the Anchorstone (if the wind allowed) through the two ferry crossings, past dozens of pubs, out past the castles, round the Castle Ledge buoy and all the way back to Dittisham. For a bunch of 11 to 15foot mostly single-handed dinghies this was sometimes a daunting journey and in strong winds and with big waves at the sea-ward end of the trip there were heavy demands on the safety crews and some hair-raising adventures. Wisely but somewhat sadly it was decided to convert this epic race to something, rather like a pint of beer, long but satisfying and hence the relatively newly minted Long River Race last Sunday.

The difficulty that faced the Race Officer, Paul Honey, was how to make this destination-less single race interesting and above all long enough?

His entirely satisfactory solution was to create a course combining a standard round-the-cans figure-of-eight course with one leg well over a mile long that took the fleet all the way up river, almost to Stoke Gabriel. The clever bit was to add an optional smaller figure-of-eight within the main course for use at the end of the race in case the fleet got round the bigger version too quickly.

With 20 boats starting together and an indifferent wind in the vicinity of the club line it was clear that getting to the first mark, positioned near the village shore, early and without getting involved with other boats would be critical. Some went out into mid-stream hoping for wind, others went inshore avoiding the tide but it was the Zero of Martin Thomas and the Aero of Tim Littler that got there among the leaders and these two battled away at the front of the fleet for the remainder of the race, at times so far ahead that they were indistinguishable. The main fleet went well to the east of the Gurrow Point massif as they entered Long Stream, tempting Sue Thomas in her Laser to cut the corner. Gently becalmed, her race was virtually over.

The wind picked up on the long beat to Stoke Gabriel sufficient to dump one or two other Lasers in the water but once the bulk of the fleet had turned for home (at a mark politely laid just short of the SGBA Junior Regatta course) it dropped again and a sedate run back was the order of the day.

The handicap system is a cruel dasher of a sailor’s hopes. Of the three boats that crossed the line first, (seemingly well in contention after over an hour’s racing), Martin Thomas in his Zero, Tim Littler in the Aero and Jonathan Weeks and Jennie Richardson in the Albacore, only Littler had earned a podium finish coming second overall while the Solos of John Clark and Les Moores bracketing him in first and third places respectively, after the maths had been done. At one point the Solos had been separated from the leaders by a huge distance but on the “optional extra” lap they had made good the deficit.

As things stand Les Moores in a Solo leads this three race series with only four points separating the next three places. Their fate will be decided on August 28th when the fleet will finally get their hands on some beer at Stoke Gabriel!


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 9th July 2017

Down at Dittisham Sailing Club the burning questions of the weekend had nothing to do with the British Lions draw, the outcome of the Test Match or how well would Lewis Hamilton or Andy Murray get on in their epic battles for supremacy. No, they were focussed on much more exciting, if admittedly somewhat local, issues.

Would Roger Morley and Martin Thomas in their new Devoti-Zero boats finally master the art of keeping them upright and start to dominate the PY fleet? Would Catherine Johns in her Topper continue to win the battle of the Belles against the ever improving Pam Spittle in the Quba? Would there be any wind? Whence would it come? Where were the Solo sailors?

The Devoti-zeros will figure again in this column we are sure. (To save ink we will hence-forth refer to them simply as Zeros.) These boat look like the sailing equivalent of the paper-dart we used to make as kids and fly just as quickly and, in the gusts, uncertainly. (Do children still make paper darts, or do they fly virtual drones from their i-phones?) No matter, that’s what these craft resemble and very exciting and dramatic they look too as they slice the water apart.

There were 11 PY boats but, unusually, only 4 Solos. There was wind of a sort but it was one of those delightfully tricky versions which splits into two as it rounds Gurrow Point and can easily convince the unwary that they on a lift when in fact they were being headed. (For the uninitiated, a lift is A GOOD THING a header is A BAD THING).

Just to make things interesting Paul Mogridge, the Race Officer, set a figure-of-eight course with the windward mark cunningly positioned right under the Gurrow Massif quite near where this phenomenon manifests its evil self.

In the PY fleet Peter Symons spotted the port-end bias and was away at the pin-end, left his tack onto starboard ‘til the last moment, picked up the incoming tide and gained enough advantage to take a comfortable first place on handicap. In spite of being a cool three minutes ahead on the water this was not enough to put Craig Franklin and Chris Bates on the podium in their RS400, that honour going to the Thomas household, with Martin second in the afore-mentioned Zero and Sue in a clearly-labelled Laser 4.7 third. (Well it was an attempt at clear labelling but putting both numbers on exactly opposite sides of a semi-transparent sail means that with the sun on it it just reads BLODGE.)

Catherine Johns and Pam Spittle, starting with the PY fleet but in a battle of their own as part of the Belles first ever series, were clearly overcoming their fear of getting in the way of the more experienced racers. Indeed, Catherine would have qualified for third place in this race if her results had been included. More Belles please!

In race one the four Solos split into two groups of two to explore the vagaries of the Gurrow Split. The two that guessed right (as in starboard) built up a huge lead on the very first leg and the two that went left were doomed to remain a long way astern. In the front group Patrick Bromley was so fascinated by Jonathan Weeks’ dramatic attempt to recover from a botched gybe that he missed his own footing and capsized himself, thus allowing Weeks an unopposed first place. Thanks to Bromley’s upset the remaining two Solos, Les Moores and Colin Holmes, inevitably, filled the second and third spots.

The wind now dropped a notch and shifted to the right. Spotting this  Race Officer Mogridge did everyone a huge favour by moving the windward mark out of the Gurrow Point zone of uncertainty and the PY fleet got under way for the second race. This time the situation was fraught with the potential for family tension with Sue Thomas in the Laser 4.7 (Blodge) reversing the order from race one leaving husband Martin way back on corrected time, while Craig Ely only just avoid paternal wrath by beating father Martin on the water, only for the natural order of things to be restored on handicap with Martin’s second place. Even then this turned out to be, unusually, a joint second place with an identical corrected time to that of the RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates. Since they had beaten Martin Ely by a massive six minutes on the water this showed once again how well a fast boat has to be sailed in a handicap fleet to score any points at all.

In the mini-belles series Catherine Johns continued to hold Pam Spittle at bay with another convincing sail.

The last fleet away was the four Solos, this time Les Moores and Patrick Bromley fought for the lead until Bromley again succumbed to his nemesis, the accidental immersion. With Moores reading the shifts superbly he cruised on to victory while Weeks and Holmes took second and third spots by the simple virtue of remaining upright.

The wind, seeing that the racing was over, now died away to almost nothing and it took some skill to get all the boats back on shore.

Back in the club-house some-one had unearthed a huge box of luxury chocolate biscuits so, irrespective of any dinners that might have been waiting at home, these were duly polished off.

It was thus a doubly satisfied set of Dittisham sailors that lugged their gear back through the dinghy park and into their waiting cars.

Next Sunday the vaguely entitled “Long River Race”. Who knows where that will take the fleet?  


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 2nd July 2017

Summer returned for a whole day to the Dart estuary last Sunday

Perhaps it was the delicious juxtaposition of the two events, the Blackawton Brewery cup and the annual Commodores Picnic at Dittisham Sailing Club that inspired Commodore, James Dodd and his team to transcend all previous incarnations of this event. There were to be two races for the famous cup and to characterise the sumptuous spread that awaited the sailors as they came ashore, as a mere picnic, would be to further debase the English language. No event at the long-forgotten establishment can ever have eclipsed the splendour of this feast and no-one, after this, could ever entertain a smidgen of doubt concerning the ability of DSC to organise a Pleasant Undertaking in a brewery.

Life is not perfect (although at DSC it gets pretty close at times) with the wind favouring picnicking over racing and indeed at the height of the feast, and after one or two beers, a great calm settled over the river and in the hearts of the participants.

Prior to that a suitable breeze had been difficult to find. First it blew gently over near the Galmpton shore. This persuaded the Race Officer, Jonathan Weeks, to anchor the committee boat in that general area prior to setting a course. But when the race team got back to the Club-house foreshore in the safety-boat it seemed that the wind had now filled in from the west. So, grasping at straws (in the wind, so to speak) they abandoned that plan (and the boat) and set a simple triangular course using the club line. It was just as well they had, for the wind came and went, flickered from the west and then south and caused all sorts of the usual Ditsum mayhem during the actual racing.

As it turned out there was enough wind to get every one of the 22 boats around the course for race one. Being a handicap race it was difficult for the swelling band of spectators (there more for the picnic if the truth be told) to work out who was winning. With the RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates in their usual position out front, would it be them or maybe John Raad in a Solo, further back but clearly doing well versus the other Solos? Raad’s hopes were dashed when, coming in too close to the shore near the start-box he ran out of wind and a whole bunch of Solos nipped smartly past him. A pair of these, Les Moores and Richard Allen, went on to take first and second place in the first race, once the maths were done, with Paul Honey in his Laser, never too far behind the RS400 on the water, coming third.

In the middle of the five-minute start sequence for race two the wind suddenly ceased. With only two or three boats anywhere near the line and the rest of the fleet drifting on the tide towards Gurrow Point the race team, showing great presence of mind and unprecedented nerve, signalled a postponement! Great was the confusion thereat. Some boats started to race, others could be heard asking their fellow competitors what on earth was going on while a few, who knew their sound and flag signals, sat quietly in the bottom of their dinghies and waited patiently for the wind and the racing to start again.

Both did, but just after the start of the second lap a huge wind-shift turned the leg to the wing mark into another beat and with only the RS400 around the mark in time the rest of the fleet were left struggling under the Greenway hills. With the race more than half completed, sausages browning nicely and the salad sitting in the sun it did not seem a good moment to do the correct thing and abandon the race and re-start, so, after only two laps and a clearly fading breeze, shorten course was sounded.  A collective sigh of relief could clearly be heard above the dying breeze. After the signal there was still the matter of finishing the last leg. Les Moores, who had won the first race, while not the lead Solo, seemed to the onlookers to be in contention for an overall win. Then, in a momentary aberration, he allowed the boat to heel while alongside a moored Crabber and neatly inserted the top fifteen feet of his Solo rig between the forestay and the mast of the former.

It seemed, to the astonished race team in the box, to be a perfect geometrical fit and took a full, disastrous, two minutes to extricate (with the fate of the unfortunate burgee still unknown).

The RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates were worthy winners of race two both on the water and on handicap. Paul Honey’s Laser was in the frame again, this time in second place and Bob Thomas led the Solos home, taking third slot.

Paul Honey’s consistency won him the two race event overall with Richard Allen in a Solo second and Craig Franklin and Chris Bates in the silverware, with third place in the RS.

Back on the bank, boats rinsed and put away, the 24 sailors joined another 40 or so members, lured by the promise of the picnic and, in the still air and bright sunshine the sailing equivalent of a traditional English garden party got under way. When your correspondent left, some two hours after the racing was over, there were still strawberries and cream a-plenty, very little wine left, some washing-up to be done and some very contented sailors sitting slumped in sun.

Who needs Wimbledon when here on our doorsteps there is Dittisham Sailing Club?


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 25th June 2017.

It was another great day to be racing dinghies on the Dart at Dittisham last Sunday. With the figure-of-eight course set on the far side of the estuary where the wind was much stronger than it appeared from the foreshore near the club, and with the big flood tide running for the duration of the race, conditions were challenging. The safety team of Martin Ely, the race officer, were in action before the racing had even begun when Roger Morley got separated from his Zero with barely time for him to be repatriated before the off. Clearly exhausted by their efforts at the previous weekend’s Laser Open and depleted by the absence of the Streaker ladies at their own National Championship just over the headland in Torbay, the PY fleet was reduced to just three boats. Steven Black’s Laser was also downed by a gust before the start and although he was first across the finish line it was Martin Thomas, still relatively dry, who took Race One on handicap, with Black second. Morley, whose earlier capsize had dislodged a vital piece of gear needed further assistance on the water and was thus disqualified.

In the Solos it seemed that Richard Allen’s late season form was making him impossible to catch, for after a brief tussle with Mike Bennett he was off into a very big lead and first place. Bennett yielded what looked like a very secure second place to Johnny Moulsdale right at the end of the race.

By the second race the wind had dropped considerably and although Martin Thomas contrived to capsize between races there were no more encounters with the fundus mud.

The excitement was not over by a long way and a long way neatly described the first beat. The heavy flood (a 5.1m tide for the cognoscenti) had picked up the windward mark and carried it off upstream towards Stoke Gabriel. What had at first been a beat of three or four hundred yards was now over half a mile long. It was fortunate that the anchor finally caught the bottom otherwise the slower boats would have had to sail much further than the faster boats and the Race Officer would have had to consider his and its position!

This time Roger Morley led the PY fleet home but his half-minute lead was not enough to give him first place, Martin Thomas and Steven Black repeating their previous performance for the first two slots with Morley third on handicap.

The Solos then set off to search for the windward mark with Jonathan Weeks, following Steven Black’s lead in the fleet just ahead, starting at the port end of the line and staying with the flood in the centre of the estuary. He built up a substantial lead, was almost caught by Richard Allen but held on to the end of the single lap race, for first place. Allen was second with a close battle for third place being won by Johnny Moulsdale.

For the first time in living memory the racing on Sunday included a start for the Dittisham Belles (the ladies section) who, coincidentally, celebrate their tenth anniversary next month. Even though the conditions were not ideal it was good to see Catherine Johns ands Pam Spittle fighting it out with the tide and each other in a Topper and a club Quba. (It should not be another ten years before there is some serious competition in this group).

Just to add a little spice to an eventful evening the wind dropped after the last race and the fleet was sorely tested against the last of the flood as they struggled to get back to shore. As if he had not already enjoyed his fair share of their attention Roger Morley managed to wangle a tow from a passing safety boat. (The committee is now rumoured to be actively considering changing the dinghy park fee structure, based, not on the width of your boat but on the number of times you call on the safety crews for assistance).

This pair of races brought the Early Summer Points Series to and end. All the 14 races scheduled had been completed in wonderfully varied conditions, from the unsailably light to the almost unmanageably heavy. The PY section was won overall by Steven Black in his Standard Laser, with Martin Ely in a Laser Radial second and Jenny Richardson and her Streaker third. The Solo fleet was led home by Les Moores with Richard Allen second and Mike Bennett third.

This coming Sunday there are two races for the Blackawton Brewery Cup. The club still races for the cup but, unhappily, there has been no trace of the Brewery, much less any beer, for many a long year.
This year the event has been twinned with the Commodore’s picnic, so if the race team can work out the results quickly enough cup and beer might be re-united.


Dateline Dittisham 11th June 2017

A burgee, (that little flag on the top of a racing dingy mast) leads a lonely life, carries huge responsibilities when in use and often meets a sudden and inglorious end. Perched, unobtrusively, 20 feet up in the dingy park most of the year, it is used from time to time to gauge wind shifts and predict gybes. But, when its hapless owner finally loses control, capsizes and inverts the boat, it’s the poor old burgee that is the first casualty of the disaster as it smacks into the glutinous, grey, gunge that lurks on the bottom of the river Dart.

Sales of new burgees will surge this week.

They won’t cause a spike in the Retail Sales Index or the Footsie but they will be there, hidden away among the other statistics.

The usual reason for their random demise is, as every dinghy sailor knows to his cost, your gust.

Last week down at Dittisham Sailing Club was a very gusty week. There were so many gusts last Thursday night that only three brave (or foolhardy) sailors ventured forth whereas, on the previous evening session there had been eleven. On Sunday only fifteen sailors turned out (not bad but there have been twenty or more) and there were more gusts. A gust knocked Les Moores’ Solo over while he was out sampling the breeze long before the briefing. A gust caused Peter Symons’ Laser to entangle its main-sheet round a mooring buoy on the way to the start whence he was unhitched by the extraordinary selflessness of Emma Stephenson, a member of the safety crew who threw herself into the water in the call of duty. (Emma is crew to Richard, Peter’s son. Such a crew is clearly a jewel in what is usually a motley band and, in the opinion of your correspondent, should immediately be clasped to the bosom of the Symons family!)

Oh, and there was racing.

Martin Thomas, the Race officer and a keen Laser man himself, in an act of selective sadism, (some suspicious sailors secretly suggested subsequently), carefully positioned the triangular course, not in the comparative calm of the lee of the Dittisham hills in front of the club- house, not in the quieter area around the corner at Gurrow Point but slap bang in the windiest area of the estuary, beyond Owers and near the Waddeton shore. “The wind is pretty steady down there” he said at the briefing “except in the gusts”. ( Greeted with gusts of laughter).    

At least he had the decency to put out all three Safety Boats, none of which were exactly idle during the racing itself.

As Race One got under way you could see that just getting to the start-line roughly on time and while upright was going to be a challenge.

The nine assorted PY boats set off into the teeth of the blustery conditions. The RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates with their large sail plan and huge spinnaker looked very vulnerable as they hurtled round the course throwing up dramatic plumes of spray on the reaches and finishing first on the water. But it was the more stable rig of Pete Joscelyne’s Laser Radial and Sue Thomas’s Laser 4.7 which proved most suitable for the hairy conditions allowing them to fill the first two spots on corrected time. Steven Black in a Standard Laser did well to stay upright long enough to take third place. Roger Morley, in the much more delicate-looking Zero fell victim to rather more gusts than he relished and was forced to retire burgee-less, while Jennie Richardson, wisely choosing the smaller of her two Streaker sails, kept going to the end.

Now it was the turn of the Solo fleet, who, with arguably the least stable boats in these conditions, were mostly very late for the start. Jonathan Weeks was more or less on time, his lead being challenged almost immediately by Les Moores whose race was swiftly ended when he crashed in behind him at the first gybe mark.  Richard Allen took up the chase but his attempt to pass went wrong as a gust hit him in the middle of a tack.

With only two legs of the course to complete Weeks was himself upended by a mighty gust, performing a fair imitation of the Kiwi’s Emirates capsize as his Solo dived nose first beneath the water. Mike Bennett, cruising around behind all this carnage, was the deserving beneficiary, coming in first, with Johnny Moulsdale, sailing, he said, very cautiously, (wasn’t everyone?) was second and  Les Moores back upright  and flying along, came third. Of the Six Solos only two had finished the race with their burgees intact!

As race two got under way there seemed to be a slight reduction in wind strength and the boats who had retired began to wish they had stayed out. For the PY fleet the results were a carbon-copy of race one with Pete Joscelyne again showing his mastery of the elements with a second win of the evening while the second and third positions went once again to Sue Thomas in the Laser 4.7 and Steven Black’s standard Laser. In spite of crossing the line a full three minutes in the lead in a twenty-two minute race the RS400 of Franklin and Bates was relegated to fourth. Peter Symons, hurtling down to the final gybe mark in his Laser got dumped by the dying gust of the night and, the boat setting off for Galmpton Creek faster than he could swim, had to be re-united with it by the ever-vigilant safety crew.

Race two for the Solos and Richard Allen, the lightest helm in the fleet that evening, showed great determination and skill to finish first, with Les Moores up to second and Mike Bennett, still upright, third.

It’s a good thing Lasers don’t have burgees on top of their masts otherwise the lost flag count would have been even higher.

So far this season it seems as if there has either been too much or too little wind, so for the balance of the Summer all at Dittisham Sailing Club are hoping more for what are now known locally as Goldilocks conditions.

Dateline Dittisham Thursday 25th and Monday 28th May 2017

There were two contrasting events at Dittisham Sailing Club either side of this Bank Holiday weekend. In the first there was almost too much wind, in the second there was nothing like enough. Dinghy sailors being who they are a total of 26 boats hit the water in spite of the conditions and if you include the safety teams, spectators, barbequeists and refusniks  there must have been almost 50 people involved.

The first event was the fourth race in the Mid-week series and as the competitors arrived you could see the look of happy anticipation on their faces turning to mild apprehension as the gradient wind from the south-east increased steadily from around 12 knots to gust at nearer the forecast of 24. As the time-keeper Sheila Phillips went around asking those on the bank whether they were going to go out many hesitated, some changed their minds and some slipped quietly away back to the car-park. About 20 minutes before the start time the wind seemed to slacken and Steven Black, in a Laser, cruising up and down, acting as de facto path-finder, seemed to be coping quite well, so 11 boats ventured out. (Black’s reward for this selfless act was to lose the connection to his main-sheet just before the start and he was forced to drift ashore in order to fix it, thus missing out on the race itself.)

With one boat over the line at the start, Black’s misfortune and another boat with gear failure the fleet was now down to 8 boats. Most were upright for most of the time and the Laser Radials of Pete Joscelyne and Martin Thomas made the most of the planing conditions coming in first and second on handicap. Third was Richard Allen in his Solo, a doughty effort from someone who, only a few minutes before the race began, was having serious doubts about the wisdom of taking part. Once again Craig Franklin and Chris Bates in the RS400 had come in first on the water, this time a whole four minutes ahead of the fleet, but were relegated, on handicap, to fourth place. The triumphs, trials and tribulations of the evening were quickly forgotten over the excellent beer and barbeque waiting for them on shore and tended by the multi-talented Stuart Richardson. 

The second event was the ninth and tenth races in the Early Summer Points Series last Sunday.

From the beach there was NVW(no visible wind).

Mike Bennett, the Race Officer, re-assured the 20-odd assembled competitors that he had found some over by the Galmpton shore but swiftly undermined his own credibility by promising to tow the fleet out to the racing area and to tow them all back afterwards. Some were indeed towed out but just before the start the merest trickle of wind came in from the direction he had predicted and the first 11 boats, the PY or handicap fleet were away.

With a distinct starboard bias to the line, going right seemed right but was, for at least four of the boats, a dreadful error. Right was into a hole in the wind under the Gurrow Massif and across the tide-line into the last of the flood tide. Those four boats sat in this puddle of misery for at least five minutes while the rest of the fleet crept up to the windward mark and were away (relatively speaking.)

After an excruciatingly slow single lap and with the theoretically faster PY boats being overhauled wholesale by the slower Solo fleet, the eventual winner was Nick Bennett in a Laser who had swopped places several times with second boat Paul Honey, also in a Laser.

Jennie Richardson, slender helm in an equally slender Streaker, was a solid third.

In these eerily quiet conditions your correspondent could clearly hear those sailors who claim to be bored by windless days chatting together across the water about the America’s Cup footage they had seen the previous evening, while the sailors at the front were totally silent, absorbed as they were in concentrating fiercely on every tiny wind-shift and adverse current.

Back in the Solo fleet the start had proved a little less of a lottery than for the PY fleet but the incoming tide swung the fleet around before the start so that instead of crossing the line side-by-side the fleet was line-astern with Trevor Kirkin and Roy Pryor leading.  These two built up a healthy

lead over the others but were eventually overtaken (crept past) by Jonathan Weeks and it finished with them all in that order.

Race two was a very short affair, 15 minutes for the winner, a simple windward/leeward course with just two marks and one lap.

Once again the PY fleet was dominated by three Lasers, with Nick Bennett pulling off a second win, this time under pressure from Paul Honey and Ged Vardy.

In the Solos and Les Moores and Jonathan Weeks got away first with the rest of the fleet battling to stop themselves being swept over the line by the now out-going tide and then finding themselves well off the pace in less wind. Weeks’ Solo seemed to be pointing a fraction higher up the beat than Moores’ and, arriving just ahead at the windward mark was not caught again. Les Moores held on for second place while Trevor Kirkin got his second podium place of the day in third place.

The race Officer was just about to explain that he had not dared to make the race any longer because of the lack of any breeze when, you’ve guessed it, up sprang a very pleasant force two/three zephyr to whisk the fleet back to the beach. To be totally fair, once the boats were all on shore being hosed down by their loving owners it died again. That’s sailing!    

Dateline Dittisham Sunday 21st May 2017

It’s not a notion that immediately springs to mind but Dinghy racing is an excellent character-building experience for young and, if it is not already too late, old alike. There cannot be too many sports where, however good your equipment, skill, experience, effort or concentration may be your performance can be utterly ruined by random, unmanageable elements.

OK, in Formula One someone might drive into the back of you or your engine might blow up; in the Grand National the horse in front might fall and bring you down with it; but in most other forms of racing you don’t expect to meet and have to give way to, a competitor in a different class, on a different leg of the course, coming at you from the opposite direction. Shot putters and javelin throwers do not find their missiles flying more slowly through the air because they have accidentally picked up a lump of bladder-wrack, marathon runners do not have to stop and give way to tripper boats, sudden gusts do not knock down hurdlers, high-jumpers do not collapse to the ground in mid-leap because the wind stopped blowing just as they took off.

And yet Dinghy Sailors can suffer any or all these misfortunes almost every time they venture out. There is no one to blame, it’s not your fault,  and yes, it is totally unfair but you have to, as the Americans say, “suck it up and get on with it”.

The previous weekend when the fleet was on the water very few of these unfortunate incidents occurred. As your correspondent wrote at the time, it was a perfect day. This Sunday, with the wind just a touch lighter and from a mere whisker of a different direction it was still a lovely day (there was sailing so, by definition, lovely) but, by golly, things were difficult.

Part of the problem was that, fearing he would not have enough safety crew, Chris Taylor, the race officer, had decided early on that he would not employ the committee boat. Using this vessel means that you can set a course anywhere on the estuary where there is clear wind but not doing so meant setting a course from the club starting box which involved the fleet sailing, at least for part of the course, among the trots and under the lee of the hills at Greenway. (Trots are lines of moored boats not members of a political movement.)

 In race one the thirteen PY (handicap) boats were immediately in trouble on the start line. A sudden shift meant it was almost impossible for the fleet to start in unison on starboard. When it just as suddenly changed back the first boat to tack caught the others by surprise and in the melee Stephen Black in a Laser found he had Peter Symons and his rig as an unwelcome passenger. Most of the rest of the fleet went inland to avoid the last of the flood where they found themselves abandoned by the wind close to the shore.

Only Tim Littler in his Aero seemed able to puzzle out the quickest way to the first mark and he picked his charmed way between the gusts and holes to finish a whole four minutes ahead of the rest on the water and first on handicap. Paul Honey, who only a couple of weeks ago was ruing his decision to sell his Solo and return to Laser sailing managed a very creditable second in his Radial while Steven Black, who had meanwhile rid himself of the stowaway, caught up well to claim third spot.

Paul Johns in a Laser broke something very important and was acting as an extra mark for some time, while Bevis Wright had hit another traffic jam on the Tamar Bridge, launched too late for the start and consequently both ended up off the scorecard.

Meanwhile the eight Solos had started with Roy Pryor building up a substantial lead with Jonathan Weeks hot on his transom. Very close to the finish line on the first lap they were well ahead and jousting for the lead in very little wind when, to their utter mortification, the entire Solo fleet cruised past them on a lift, way off shore. Character-building or what? On the down-wind leg it was like being on a section of motorway  where some-one (the God of winds) had imposed different speed restrictions.  It mattered not what strings you pulled or where you sat in the boat, what you got was what you got and the fortunate few prospered.

Bob Thomas came home first after a doughty contest with Richard Allen in second while Jonathan Weeks managed to choose a lucky lane on the motorway and nip back into third place.

Race two and similar conditions and a slightly different outcome. Tim Littler triumphed again in the Aero, this time shaming the Solos by finishing a lap ahead of most of them even though he had started just five minutes earlier than them. This time, by dint of starting on time, Bevis Wright came second in his standard Laser and Sue Thomas, who in the previous race had seemed to put her Laser 4.7 into all the windless patches on the course, was third on corrected time. Before the start of the race Paul Johns had recovered his boat and had mended it in time to take part. Nothing discourages the dedicated sailor.

Bob Thomas had mentioned earlier that he may have to take his Solo off the water before the end of race two because he had that affliction feared by all dingy sailors - “visitors”. The Solo fleet were sad to see him ditch his social responsibilities by staying on the water to the end and, much worse, winning race two into the bargain. Richard Allen was again second while Colin Holmes, who had led for a brief moment of glory, came third. Patrick Bromley, who had been dumped into the water by a random gust in race one suffered a similar fate in race two and decided to retire, not from sailing, just that last race.

Avid readers of this column will have noted that by and large, in spite of all the wonderfully unfair things that can afflict a dinghy sailor, the better ones almost always seem to come out on top. Strange that isn’t it.


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 14th May

There were two events at Dittisham Sailing Club last weekend both, dare it be suggested, displaying the qualities of British amateur sports organisations at their finest.

On the Saturday evening, as part of the RYA Push-The-Boat-Out initiative, he club held a free tasting session for anyone interested in sailing.

Chris Taylor, the organiser, had publicised the whole event earlier in the month by setting up fully rigged racing dingy half way up Totnes High Street (without the water) and this, together with publicity provided by the Chronicle, had elicited no less than 50 responses.

Under Chris’s management the club rose to the occasion. Almost thirty volunteers were on hand to man the Yachts, Sailing Dinghies, Safety Boats, Ferries and barbeques and with enough Life-jackets to have saved half the passengers of the Titanic and enough grub to feed them all too, all was set fair.

Concerned about the weather, (at one point the forecast was for gusts of over 20 knots and heavy rain), a huge temporary awning was set up over the multiple barbeques and the cooks lit up. Pam Macey, chief of chefs, even insisted on dragging the club Hostess trolley from the kitchen upstairs down onto the foreshore, how cool (or perhaps warm) was that? At one point Sausage-smoke drifted into the boat-house and triggered the fire alarm but after a hurried check for a real fire and a rapid flick through the hand-book it was silenced.

Out on the water things went swimmingly with no-one getting much wetter than up to their knees and happily it did turn out to be calm enough for people to try out racing dinghies. Although it did rain from time to time it was never enough to dampen the British spirit.

The weather had put many off from attending but everyone who came got out on the water, sometimes in more than one type of craft, and all agreed that it had been a worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable event.

On the way home the rain really belted down, so there are weather gods after all and DSC had somehow partially appeased them.

The second event was on Sunday with the usual brace of races.

In contrast to the weather the previous night Sunday morning was just perfect. What is perfect for a bunch of dinghy sailors? Well, it’s a day when the conditions are such that, however badly you do in the actual race, when you gat back to shore and are pulling the boat up the slipway you have a smile on your face and spend the next half-hour agreeing with your fellow competitors that “that was great”. Not too little wind, so you are left crouching uncomfortably in a hot dry-suit, in the bottom of the boat begging for a breeze; not too much so that you hurtle about fearing for your dignity and the safety of the boat, yourself and others; not so much wind that you have to fight to keep it upright up the beats; just enough to make it plane for a whole leg of the course but without the violent gusts that threaten to turn you over; all taking place in sunshine; and that’s perfect. And Sunday was perfect.

Bob Thomas, the Race Officer had set a figure-of eight course but had forgotten to bring out enough marks. Ever resourceful, he nominated a strategically placed empty mooring buoy as a surrogate leeward mark and after a short delay the 20 strong fleet, split into two for this series, 11 PY and 9 Solos, were away for race one.

The newly acquired purple-painted RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates quickly got into its stride and provided a dramatic spectacle as it appeared to be planing everywhere, even up wind. Behind them the Phantom of James Dodd (that is to say the boat called a Phantom with James in it) was also relishing the conditions. But in spite of these two finishing on the water a minute and a half and one minute ahead of the Lasers it was the latter who were having a field day. On this perfect day the Lasers were staying upright and planing for all they were worth.

Pete Joscelyne, Martin Ely and Steven Black all in Lasers, filled the first three spots with the fast boats placed way down the order on handicap.

High drama in race one for the Solos where Richard Allen, who had built up a decent lead in lap one, misunderstood the role of the surrogate leeward mark and was on his way back up the beat to the line before having to return to round it properly. Although he caught up later with only one more lap to go this left Les Moores leading with Jonathan Weeks and Mike Bennett scrapping for second place. What Bennett later generously described as “a lucky gust” settled that contest at the penultimate mark with Bennett going so fast that Weeks had not time to work out which rule, if any, applied.

Race two and in the PY fleet the Lasers were rampant again. This time the RS400 crossed the line a whole four minutes ahead of the leading Lasers but with a longer race it still was not enough. Once again Pete Joscelyne showed he was master of the conditions with Paul Green second and Steven Black third once more, (having been leant on by a Phantom giving way erroneously to a friend in a Solo!)

In the Solo fleet a tremendous tussle for first between Richard Allen and Mike Bennett was settled by the former’s extraordinary speed off-wind and his evident determination to make up for the mistake in race one.

Les Moores was third, cannily protecting his lead over two rivals by a judicious tack for the line at the last moment.

Back in the changing room the banter was between the fast boats claiming that the Lasers were going too fast and ought to be in a separate fleet and the Lasers claiming their rivals were too slow and agreeing. Since there are not yet enough of either type to make this practical they can dream on! Meanwhile fast or slow, Lasers or Solos, they are all looking forward to another perfect day at Dittisham Sailing Club.


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 23rd April 2017

Yacht-racing and its more economical cousin, dingy-racing, can be an exciting, frustrating, fascinating and at times a thoroughly cruel sport. It’s not just the elements or the wicked machinations of the other competitors as they seek to employ the rules of racing to send you to the back of the fleet. As if that’s not enough there’s the unique scoring system too.

In motor-racing’s Formula One series, if you win, you get and keep, 25 points for every race. At the end of the season the millionaire with the most points is the World Champion. In a yacht or dinghy race series you only score 1 point for a win, 2 for a second and so on. Just to make it more interesting you only get to keep the lowest (i.e. best) points you score, in half the races that actually take place, plus one. (That means that even if you win all the races you sail in but don’t sail enough you will get points added to your score equivalent to the number of boats that took part in the entire series, and that could be enough to put you out of contention).  It also means that people not in contention but who do well occasionally can mop up valuable low-score places depriving you of what would otherwise have been a winning position. With only four points separating the top four competitors, (the first three being various species of Lasers), as they went to the start-line for the final pair of races in the DSC Easter Points series, this esoteric system was to have some fascinating, not to say dramatic, consequences.

What looked like the tail-end of a force one/two sea-breeze greeted the seventeen boats and twenty sailors assembled for the pre-race briefing.  Not the most auspicious start, for in a moment of madness the race team had managed to drop the mast with all the signal flags over the side of the committee-boat to await recovery on Monday’s low water. Panic over, with a little improvisation and some rather red faces they managed to put on a perfectly professional brace of races over a figure-of-eight course.

With a flood tide driving the fleet up-stream and the wind varying in strength and direction all over the course, starting on starboard and keeping left was right and port and right was wrong. (Sailors will understand that bit, everyone else should read on.) Bob Thomas in his Solo and Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black in the Albacore read this correctly with the latter rounding the windward mark ahead of the other fast boats and Thomas right up there with them in spite of the Solo’s much lower handicap rating. The RS400 of Craig Franklin, with Jennie Richardson standing-in for the regular crew, quickly surged into the lead on the water but in the light air and flooding tide drifted the across the start line on the down wind leg and had to sail back across it the way they had come to avoid being disqualified. Half way through the race Bevis Wright’s Laser caused some doubt in the minds of the leaders, suddenly appearing to have magically caught them up but it turned out that he had missed the start and was simply cruising around waiting for the second race. As the two leaders looked back they could see that most of the series-leading Lasers were too far back to be making any impact and were mostly buried in a group of Solos when they needed to be much higher up the order. On corrected time Bob Thomas’ early brilliance gave him a comfortable win by 30 seconds over Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black in the Albacore with the RS400 coming in third.

Race two was almost a replica of race one except that on the penultimate leg the wind dropped away and then filled in from behind to put a trio of Solos between the chasing Lasers and thus ruin the winning sequence with which they had started the day. These unintentionally divisive Solos were Les Moores first, Bob Thomas second and the rapidly improving Trevor Kirkin third. As things turned out Thomas might easily have won the whole series but failed to sail enough races and so collected too many penalty scores.

As for the Easter Point series things could not have been closer or for those leading at the start of the day, more unlucky. The result was the Weeks and Black Albacore first, with 14 points, Martin Ely in his Laser Radial, second, also on 14 points and Paul Mogridge in another Radial, third with 18 points. (First and second were separated using a calculation known as “count-back” which would take a whole page of news-print to explain).

With the Easter Points series over the fleet now splits into two with the Solos being given their own separate start for the next two series (commencing on Bank Holiday Monday, May 1st) and all the remaining boats battling it out in what is known as the PY fleet.

In spite of the vagaries of the weather, with sometimes too much and occasionally too little wind, no fewer than 36 different boats have turned out for this event. The way things are going at Dittisham Sailing Club there appears to be no reason why these numbers cannot be surpassed in the balance of the season.


Dateline Dittisham Easter Monday 17th April 2017


A busy week at Dittisham Sailing club last week with racing on the Tuesday evening and again on Easter Monday, the latter to give the sailors a chance to discharge their social obligations and still fit in some sailing.


The Tuesday evening had been idyllic. The sun shone, the wind held and no less than twelve delighted dinghies took part. Martin Thomas, for his first time in charge as race officer, set a straight-forward triangular course and just to add some spice to the event half way through the start sequence the wind suddenly veered a good 20 degrees to the west. The only one to spot this in time was Paul Honey in a Laser who executed a nifty port-end start and was never seen again. Jonathan Weeks, back in his Solo for this evening series,  swapped places with Richard Allen several times but established a big enough lead on the last two legs to come a comfortable second on handicap with Paul Green, also out for the first time this season, in his Laser, third. 


Monday, and again the weather gods obliged. 


One of the most fascinating aspects of racing a sailing boat is that in addition to battling the elements and your own ineptitude you have to a relatively simple set of rules, mostly to do with avoiding collision and the outbreak of fisticuffs. It’s a bit like chess on water.  In chess, if you say “check” to your opponent, a quick glance at the board will confirm that they must move their King, take the offender or interpose another piece. They can’t respond by saying “rubbish!” or threaten violence or point out that they are younger, stronger or better-off than you, or kick over the board. (Well they can, but no one would play with them again). So, in racing, if you shout “starboard!” at a boat on the opposite tack (port) they have to tack or go round the back of you. If they get in the way or force YOU to tack off  (you are discouraged from hitting them) they have to do two penalty turns. In the second race on Sunday there was a splendid example of this rule at work, more on which later.


With a fleet of 23 sailors to satisfy, Paul Mogridge, the Race Officer, set a big figure of-eight course up under the Waddeton shore. He had to contend with a north/northeasterly breeze which came and went, never dying completely but never settling down to blow steadily from any fixed direction. Two new boats had joined the fleet, Nick Barnett in a Standard Laser and Richard Symons and his crew Emma, returning from several years absence, with another RS400 to keep the Franklin/Bates craft company. At the start the last named got away to their usual prompt manner but unfortunately were well over the line, failed to see the starting pennant at half mast and were half way up the beat before a safety boat arrived to inform them of their misdemeanour. This left James Dodd’s Phantom, the new RS400 and the Albacore battling it out for line honours and they finished in that order. None of these did enough to see off the Lasers on handicap, a trio romping home first to third with new member Nick Barnett demonstrating that he came from good racing stock after a fierce battle with Paul Honey who claimed second place and Martin Ely third, after almost an hour’s racing.


A slight drop in the wind strength and a further shift or two caused The Race Officer to compress the course but once again the shifts favoured the port end of the line. Spotting a gang of Lasers all conspiring to start down there on port and timing its run with deadly accuracy, one of the two-man boats cruised along the line on starboard catching the first of the group and forcing them to tack into the rest. The chaos that ensued resulted in much shouting, some penalty turns and at least one capsize followed by some swotting up on the rules and much head-scratching on dry land after the race. Well satisfied with its manoeuvre the boat concerned tacked off onto port and headed for the windward mark unchallenged. Nearer the committee boat end of the line the RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates had got the start exactly right this time and went on to lead the race, crossing the line a whole minute ahead of Richard Symons and crew Emma, in the second RS, who were in turn just three seconds ahead of Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black in the Albacore. This time the ebb tide and the fickle wind had put paid to the chances of the chasing pack where Bevis Wright had briefly looked in contention in his Laser before eventually being overtaken on handicap by a couple of Solos.


The corrected time gave victory to the Albacore with Richard Allen in second place in his Solo and Roy Pryor, who just loves these fluky conditions, third in another Solo.


Barrie Kenyon is beginning to master the intricacies of the standing-lug in the International 12ft, Roger Morley caught up briefly with the faster boats in his new D-Zero but fell back after minor mishaps while Jenny Richardson was so pre-occupied with thoughts of illegal trailers in the boat-park that she missed the toe-straps on a tack and ended up in the water. Thank-goodness for dry-suits!


Next Sunday will see the last two races in this Easter Points series at DSC. With only four points separating the top four contenders it promises to be a gripping finish.



Dateline Dittisham Sunday 9th April 2017


The weather, the weather, the weather! What would we talk about if it wasn’t for the weather? After a glorious week of it your correspondent is willing to risk his reputation as a sage, nay inspirational forecaster, by stating, unequivocally, in these pages, that last week was our Summer, this coming week will be Autumn and the rest of the year will just be normal British weather. So let’s hope you were on holiday, had time to savour it and will pop it into your memory bank as The Summer of 2017.


The 19 sailors and their faithful attending safety crews that turned out at Dittisham Sailing club this Sunday certainly enjoyed the most spectacular late afternoon’s racing in perfect conditions. They were rewarded with bright sunshine, a stronger breeze than forecast, and a two mile beat all the way to the creek at Tuckenhay for the first of the three-part BJMC series of races.


Steven Black, the race officer, kept his instructions very simple.  A running start at the Club line, a port- hand mark way up at Duncannon, one more somewhere up the creek and head straight back for home. With a wide disparity between the quicker and slower boats competing he was aiming for about an hour’s racing, to avoid having the fleet spread out all over the estuary, which would have made safety cover difficult. (The DSC fleet usually comprises mainly Laser and Solos but this fleet of 17 boats had no fewer than 10 different types - diversity is coming to a village near you!)


A running start is always a gamble because you can’t slow down easily if you get to the line too early but the faster boats were bravest and got clean away. Rounding Gurrow Point the whole fleet were treated to a force three to four breeze which had most sailors sitting out hard and some spilling wind in the even stronger gusts.


Two miles is a long beat for sailors more used to the few hundred yards of the usual triangular courses, so it was some tired tummy muscles that turned for home after almost 40 minutes of exertion. 

Up at the front Craig Franklin and Chris Bates’ RS400 was showing its paces until the jib sheet came undone and flapped around uselessly for a while, allowing the Albacore of Jonathan Weeks and Jennie Richardson and the Phantom of James Dodd to catch up. But this was soon fixed and off they went into what looked like a serious lead. By the time the chasing two and the rest of the fleet had rounded the windward mark the RS400 was a distant speck, flying down past Stoke Gabriel with its big yellow foresail a splendid spectacle.


On this running return leg The Phantom surged past the Albacore into second place on the water and also built up a big lead. The rest of the fleet, apart from Tim Littler’s Aero, remained relatively close to each other in a bunch but some distance behind.


When the two leaders, now a long way ahead, disappeared round Gurrow Point with only a couple of hundred yards to go to the finish it seem to the chasing pack that that was that. Fate and the wind in the River Dart, can be very cruel. Hugging the shore, the shortest and most logical route to the finish, put both boats in the lee of the Gurrow Massif. (Well it seems massive if you’re stuck under it). Rounding the corner the Albacore crew could not believe their luck. Not only were their main rivals becalmed and facing the last of the flood tide but there was Patrick Bromley in his Solo, returning after a capsize had caused him to retire, acting as pathfinder to the line.  Against all instincts Patrick knew that to find even the slightest breeze, you had to sail out into the middle of the river, into even stronger tide, before cutting across to the finish line near the shore. Gratefully the Albacore followed his lead.  By the time the rest of the fleet arrived Patrick’s wake had long disappeared and his boat hauled up the beach, so everyone else got stuck too, hovering just short of the line for several agonising minutes until, mercifully, a little zephyr whisked them over the finish. 


Jonathan Weeks and Jennie Richardson in the lucky Albacore were first on corrected time. James Dodd crossed the line first and was rewarded with a well-earned second place while Les Moores, leading home a small pack of Solos, was so delighted and relieved to have beaten Richard Allen by just one second for third spot, that he promptly capsized just a few feet past the line.


Back at the club-house there were dramatic indications that DSC is surging into the twenty-first century. Following the Roy Pryor Instruction Manual for Recalcitrant Race Runners Steven Black dangled the dongle and before most of the competitors were out of the showers the results were on the web-site! No more fumbling with calculators or sucking pencils, technology had arrived in a small damp starting box on the edge of the Dart. 


There remain two more races in this mini series. It is unlikely that the weather will be as wonderful or the fates so capricious but if you sail a small dinghy you thrive on hope. 


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 2nd April 2017.

It wasn’t April Fools day but it might as well have been. The weather forecast was for little or no wind and 26 over-optimistic sailors decided that, as usual, the forecast would be wrong, but it was right!

After one Sunday when it was too windy to go out and two when it was only just survivable, the fourth set of races in the Easter Points series at Dittisham Sailing Club were, like the War, something you should not mention. (Two single-lap races in drifting conditions do not really make for a memorable day out). 

However, it was a wondrously sunny, mild day and there were indeed some interesting things happening but none of them had anything to do with the actual racing.

For instance Roger Morley launched his brand new Zero dinghy, a very modern boat with a dramatic rocket-like shape and no big black asymmetric sail to trail in the water. There was not enough wind to judge how well it will perform but it certainly looks the part.

Over the winter Barrie Kenyon had been building the most beautiful wooden, clinker, one time Olympic class, standing-lug, International 12 foot dinghy, from a 1912 set of plans. This too was out for its maiden race. One of only two wooden boats on the water it added a touch of vintage class to the proceedings but again, without any wind, we will have to wait to see how it goes.

Another debutant was Ged Yardy in his newly acquired Standard Laser, finishing very creditably in the middle of the fleet on a day which was did not favour Lasers.  

After the Heads-of-the-River rowing racing of the previous day the fleet had been told to expect 300 paddle boarders to swarm around Gurrow Point towards the end of the morning but although this would have added some excitement to an otherwise featureless morning they never appeared. (Perhaps they set off UPSTREAM or fluffed their first pull on the paddle, Oxford Ladies-like and all fell off?)

So, reluctantly, let us turn to the racing (drifting?)

Although a decent little breeze had propelled the fleet out to the starting area only the Albacore of Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black caught enough wind to look like it was going to gain any advantage up the first beat. By the end of the second leg they were well in the lead but then, while becalmed, were caught by Trevor Kirkin in his Solo. These two drifted on round the course together and into the outgoing tide, their hearts pounding with the certain knowledge that they would be sharing the first two places. Then just 30 meters from the finish line, Neil Drew, the Race Officer, decided that so many of the fleet had passed through the start-line on the down-wind leg, against his express instructions, that he had no choice but to abandon the whole race.

Race two (or was it the abandoned Race one?) started almost immediately. Unfortunately many of the fleet were still down-tide at the far wing mark with little chance of getting back to the start in the five minutes between the first warning signal and the off. Those fortunate enough to be near the line were also rewarded with a slight breeze and again it was the Albacore that rounded the windward mark first just a couple of feet clear of Paul Honey’s Laser and crossed the line first after just a single lap. But without enough wind for any of the quicker boats to get clean away, on handicap it became a Solo rout, as they took all three podium places. Last season’s champion Bob Thomas, showed that he had not lost his excellent form over the winter, Mike Bennett scored a well-earned second place while Colin Holmes, who seems to have been reading up on the Solo Handbook during the off-season, scored a tightly-fought third spot.

Back at the club-house even the victorious Solos agreed that a bit more wind would have made a much more enjoyable day but, ever the optimists, everyone is looking forward to a good strong breeze to take the fleet to Tuckenhay and back next Sunday afternoon.


Dateline Dittisham Sunday 26th March 2017

For your correspondent this has been a faltering start to the 2017 dinghy racing season at Dittisham. Races 1 and 2, back on the 5th of March were cancelled due to the violence of the wind. For races 3 and 4, on the 19th, he found himself spirited away by his wife and a Monarch flight to the sunny Mediterranean, (warm by day but a bit chilly by night.)

Not having been afloat since last December it was with some trepidation and a distinct feeling of “can we remember how this works?” that he and 9 other intrepid sailors stood on the river bank and wondered aloud about the wisdom of tackling the higher than forecast force 5/6 gusts of wind that were beating the waters of the Dart into a sunlit froth.

Not unexpectedly it was to prove a day of some drama and moral dilemma.

The drama began almost at once, with the news that the Race Officer Les Moore’s  partner had at that very moment phoned him with the news that she had a broken her wrist.

Step forward the Commodore, James Dodd, to selflessly offer to take his place. (The more cynical sailor might have noted that the cover of the Dodd Phantom was still securely fastened at this point, but a selfless act is, when all’s said and done, a selfless act!)

The moral dilemma or sticky social situation, was, of course, how had those present got  away to sail on Mothering Sunday? Easter lasts four days so a sailor can usually excuse him or herself for half a day. The Christmas holiday nowadays, seems to last for months, so a few hours away from the family for a quick race on the Dart probably comes as a blessed relief for all concerned. But Mothering Sunday?

Had we no Mothers? (Thinking about the average age of the Solo fleet almost all mothers would have to be centenarians, so perhaps not?)

Had we left prosecco-sodden wives with their adoring offspring and simply sidled off to the garage?

Were we (and there was some evidence of this) angling for a couple of short races so that we could nip home and fulfil our maternal obligations?

Still there were, as we have noted, at least ten sailors with sufficient pink tickets, loving and understanding partners (or impending divorces) together with another eight brave race crew, enough for racing to take place.

And what drama filled racing it was too!

Safely ensconced in the warmth of the Start Box James Dodd had set a figure-of-eight course, thus doubling the number of gybe marks. (A gybe is a tricky turn in windy weather when the boat is most likely to topple over). As far as anyone could tell the reason for this was for the sheer joy of watching the hapless fleet capsize from the safety of the shore. The course was also cunningly arranged across the estuary so that sometimes the wind was so strong and lumpy the boats were uncontrollable and at others they were sailing along in almost windless conditions with the helms desperately praying for more wind.

Of course the inevitable happened.

In race 1 the RS400 of Craig Franklin and Chris Bates surrendered their early lead with a pair of spectacular capsizes at each of those very gybe marks. Sue Thomas, sensibly sailing the smaller rig Laser 4.7, sailed round serenely for a win, while her husband Martin, in another, inexplicably spent most of the race upside down and finished near the back. Martin Ely survived a couple of near-immersions to come second while the Albacore of Jonathan Weeks and Steven Black in third place appeared to be totally un-phased by the conditions, finishing first on the water and third on corrected time. (In reality Jonathan was cowering in the back clutching the tiller while Steven hurled himself about inside the boat, with cat-like reflexes, preventing any number of potential capsizes).

 In race 2 male pride was restored in the Thomas family. This time it was Sue who  capsized early in the race and appeared to be forming some kind of longer term physical attachment to a local bouy (boUy), while Martin stayed upright for a well earned third place.

It was clear to the experts on the beach (in very windy conditions everyone on the

beach is automatically an expert) that if only the Lasers Radials could stay upright their superior planning speed would easily outpace the rest of the fleet and thus it proved. Even though the RS400 and Albacore came in first and second on the water Paul Mogridge, exhausted but ecstatic, won on handicap after a very close battle with Martin Ely who scored his second second place of the day.

In the end nobody suffered anything worse than a few bruises and the odd bit of gear failure and in the changing room afterwards all agreed it had been worth going out.

Next week racing is again on Sunday, starting at 1000hrs. Let’s hope there are kinder conditions and without any other irritating, artificial, social obstacles to allowing the sailors to take part (Mothering Sunday indeed!)  many more will turn out to enjoy the finest sport these islands have to offer.

 




 

 

 







 
 




    
 




 





  
















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