I was camping and sailing with my family on the Norfolk Broads last week. Stepping ashore, I overbalanced and fell into shallow water. On the way down, I hit my side on the gunwale of the boat, broke six ribs and punctured a lung. I am just back from amazing care in Norwich hospital.
As you can imagine, I shall not be able to return to sailing at Strand for a while. I have decided in principle to sell Tonic, my Lightning 368 dinghy. She is an old boat but perfectly sound and everything works. She has two sets of spars, all recent, and two sails, one being new and unused. The Lightning is an ideal boat for a lightweight single-hander: self-draining, pivoting centreboard, sail on a halyard. She is amazingly fast in some conditions. So meanwhile, if anyone would like to use her or try her out, that can be arranged.
I hope that this will not be my last boat at Strand, but I may need to find something more sedate. I shall continue to sail elsewhere with my family in our various small boats. I learned to sail from my father in the Straits of Johore at the age of eight, seventy-two years ago; now my four children have families of their own. All four are experienced sailors, both my sons being Yachtmasters, one the volunteer skipper of the Cornish Maritime Trust’s mackerel driver “Barnabus”, the other Lt Cmdr RN. In Norfolk, a good time was had by all, except me.
After days of unbroken sunshine, attracting all the weather attention, the wind and the rain both agreed: “Nope” “No more”. In a grey sky full of their sullen resentment, they crossed their arms, sat down and said: “We’re not moving”. “Anywhere”. The river agreed; sliding in as flat as a sheet of aluminium foil from the slow unfolding roll of a low neap tide. The scheduled ’B’ course was impossible. The former Bason & Arnold boatyard refueling jetty, where 1980s Wheelhouse Club parties sometimes extended out for silent drug dealing and the waft of incense, is now only occupied by gulls – and is simply a Maginot Line that cannot be rounded without a wind.
Even the ‘A’ course was impossible. An almost certain encounter with Kew Bridge would also be without the Brentford Football Club’s fans with their dozens of red flares celebrating its Premier League promotion – and giving a warning for an entire fleet sliding into collisions with it.
The SGSC windsock limply shifted occasionally with a barely detectable south-west wind. Should we abandon the race completely? With 7 boats in various stages of rigging there was some impetus for doing something. Anything. Even, possibly, an extraordinary innovation. Like sailing backwards? Everyone agreed we did that too often. Moving on the spot, going nowhere? Ditto.
From the hubbub of conflicting suggestions, a strange new hybrid, a new genetic mutation emerged. What about a course starting exactly where we are? And coming back to where we were?
The key challenge would be to see if anyone could actually get to a start line that could be defined as the railway bridge itself. The downstream edge of it would be the line. The challenge would be to see if anyone could actually sail far enough further on beyond it to eventually be able to turn into the mainstream – and so get round the first of the wooden posts in the mid-river, opposite the Bull’s Head. And then allow the tide to carry boats back under the bridge to a buoy set at the City Barge. And then see if anyone could do it again?
But it was improbable that even this would work, given the time it could probably take in what seemed like an absolute calm – and with the prospect of a slow rising tide meaning that the two Enterprises, but not the small boats, would get stuck behind – or even under the bridge.
So, a variant in the genomic sequence of a course was created in the SGSC laboratory. The first lap would be this ‘through the bridge’ manoeuvre. And a second lap [and any possible subsequent laps] would be by rounding a buoy at the City Barge and then back to the Club for a second buoy [also acting as a finish line] at the ramp. The entire course was only about 50 yards.
Dave assembled all the buoys and the equipment in the Safety Boat, grounded on the foreshore. Then Tim, in a moment of divine inspiration and prophecy, declared that he alone would perform for the crowd his miraculous trick of “walking on the water” to lay the buoys. Astonishingly he did so! Seizing the bucket of weights and the buoy he strode forth. And lo and behold! He walked out upon the water to lay the first buoy opposite the City Barge. A cynical disbeliever pointed to the fact that he was ankle-deep in water. But when a full English breakfast was accounted for, it was agreed by all that a miraculous event, never before seen on the river, had indeed occurred.
Anxious for a start, Henry and Mary had snuck up the foreshore to get beyond the bridge – and then had to return back through the bridge before the start. But Lev and David had cunningly stood under the bridge and only at the last moment got in the boat – just before the start. But it had not helped them at all. They still stood absolutely still. As did all the rest of the fleet. Or they began to slowly drift away upstream.
Then a very faint hint of a wind came in from the south-west. And one-by-one, the fleet came up to the bridge and through it – and edged and wobbled and tacked and jiggled their way along the foreshore to get far enough up beyond the Bulls Head to be able to turn to cross diagonally into the tide to get to the wooden post – and so back through the bridge.
And they all arrived, all the same time, at the City Barge buoy. Amidst many friendly exchanges of “Hail and Be Gone” – some expressly nautical, the same thing then happened at the buoy at the ramp. Ian urged Ben politically to “consider his position” – and in doing so Ben hit the buoy and was fruitily informed that the rectification of his sins was through a 360º turn – which he did, while sliding backwards all the way to the City Barge.
Meanwhile, John slipped by unnoticed multiple times and Ariel, who had joined the fleet 30 minutes late, seemed to storm through on the faintest of winds and rapidly caught up with everyone. Chris and Rob were inspired by the rapidity of the boats passing in opposite directions and found they could easily slipstream their way around this very short course.
Small warm spots of rain began to splat onto the OOD’s time sheet, making the task of keeping a record of the rapidly accelerating convergence of boats increasingly difficult. And the astonishing rapidity of how they were all actually managing to get round the course – in almost no wind at all, meant that space on the paper was beginning to run out!
So a finish was called as Lev completed his 11th lap, just one more than both Henry and John. With Chris and Ben and Ian completing 8 – and Ariel following with 7 laps.
(Post-race discussions and analysis of the race sheet determined that Ian had (probably) done 9 laps. The OOD’s task in the circumstance of 7 boats, each doing up to 10 laps, is challenging to say the least. He has my sympathy, and our thanks. Ed./Master of Sums)
What did it all amount to? An astonishing SGSC innovation with adaptation to circumstances!
TIK TOK is famous for the amazing virtuosity of people dancing to very short music themes, and so this new hybrid unrepeatable short course demonstrating a zero-wind theme and variations should have been filmed to display to the world SGSC performing its unique and brilliant short course singing and dancing in the rain routine that we should call TIK TOK SAILING.
OOD Team: Training: Stephano, Bianca & Ecia; Supervising: Tim Wellburn
Sunshine, a fair easterly wind and a moderate but strengthening flood tide.
A two-buoy ‘A’ course; 5 boats competed.
Emanuella, having launched early, decided to return to the Arch before the racing commenced. This led to an exciting Le Mans start for James, who took on her crew member in mid-stream, seconds before the start. Discrete enquiries suggested that the crew, Ariel Biekarak, was almost certainly a ringer, with very serious Brazilian racing blood, of whom we hope to see more in future.
This may have accounted for the remarkably quick times put in by Enterprise 23444, which reappeared to complete the first lap after about only 71/2 minutes, with Lev’s and Henry’s Ents chasing +/- a couple of minutes astern, and John’s Laser about half a minute later. Ben, whose Laser’s hull and self-bailers both seemed less than watertight, at times struggled a bit more to make headway against the easterly wind and tide, and followed John about 23/4 minutes later.
By the second lap, Lev & David, having overcome last week’s temporary aquaphobia, had overhauled Henry & Mary, albeit by less than half a minute, and generally gained time by managing to point closely into the wind after rounding the upstream buoy.
This sequence of boats then endured for the rest of the race, which ran for just over an hour, with James completing 9 laps; Lev 8; John and Henry 7; and Ben 6.
A cloudy, breezy Sunday Morning with an SSW wind predicted blowing 6 gusting 14 Knots.
Two visiting guests, mother and son, Felicia and Ariel were welcomed and agreed to crew for James and Chris.
5 Boats assembled on the foreshore.
James plus crew Ariel (Zephyr), Henry and Mary (Big Polly), Lev and David (Porpoise), Chris and Felicia (Distant Thunder) and Ben (Envy).
The Safety boat was launched by Ian and Dave, and the course setting was agreed with the OOD.
As the gusts developed and the threat of rain loomed, Henry decided to return to the Arch.
Four boats set sail up stream for the 11.10 start of the scheduled short A course.
The buoys were set, upstream of the Bell and Crown Pub and upstream of the Grid with the start line at Bell and Crown Pub. As the start line was forming, Ben experienced problems with his Laser and with assistance from the safety decided to retire from the race.
The race started on time with James leading and Chris and Lev close behind. James lapped the first lap in 5.34 and Chris 7.57 and Lev 7.58. The race continued with James slowly increasing his lead and Lev and Chris – Chris and Lev exchanging positions for 6 laps with little between them.
All three boats seemed to take different tracks especially going up stream. The down stream track was favoured by all to be close to the Strand Bank. Moreover, the wind direction seemed to change throughout the race switching to the West and gusting. This made the sailing very testing. Unfortunately, on the 7th lap as Lev had established a lead over Chris, he was hit with a unexpected gust of wind at the Bell and Crown Pub buoy. He capsized and within seconds his Enterprise (Porpoise) was full of water, the transom completely covered. Lev and David managed to right (Porpoise) and keep her from capsizing again in the strong gusts. With frantic bailing they then carefully sailed on to finish the race. An amazing spectacle for Sunday visitors to Strand, brilliantly executed by Lev and David.
James completed the race 8 laps – 51.05 minutes, Chris 7 laps – 52.56 and Lev 7 laps – 57.35
Many thanks for Ian and Dave manning the Safety Boat.
Under a thundery, rainy sky and with a SSW wind of 9mph with occasional gusts, it was a pleasant surprise to find six boats willing to risk a soaking in the name of Sunday sport.
Sailing an A course starting by the Bell & Crown, James Armitage in Zephyr stunned nobody by taking an immediate lead. He completed his first lap in just under 10 minutes, with Lev Kolobov hot on his heels a minute later in Porpoise. Within the next three minutes, we saw Tonic, Phoebe and then Distant Thunder completing their first lap, with Envy bringing up the rear shortly afterwards.
Over the course of the hour-long race, James extended his lead over Lev to some six minutes – an impressive performance for Mr Kolobov who was, after all, sailing an Enterprise on his own. By the end of the race, James and Lev had completed six laps each; Rob Adams in Phoebe completed five laps, with Nick Floyer (Tonic), Chris Greenwood and crew (Distant Thunder) and Ben Chappell (Envy) all finishing with a highly respectable four laps each.
Many thanks to Dave for manning the safety boat on a rather damp and grey Sunday.
It is a truism that: “A rising tide raises all boats”. But as the tide comes in, does the water actually tilt forwards to flow uphill? Or is it simply: ‘Levelling-Up”? And if it is doing it just to be politically correct; does it get any votes?
That was the question on Sunday. The thunder-clapping sound of loose sails banging about amongst the boats on the foreshore was quite intimidating enough. Could “Levelling-Up” actually mean “Levelling-Down” masts and sails: all flattened on the water? That was suddenly the opinion of Nick who, having rigged, promptly de-rigged. And Mary, too, looked decidedly anxious as Chris struggled to keep his boat on the trolley, even without a sail up.
Tim Young and Leona with Tom were early on the water in the Safety Boat to help guide boats under Kew bridge for a ‘C’ course. But as the OOD made his way up Strand, it was apparent that Chris had very clearly been better advised – and had thought better of it: they were returning to the Club.
The OOD took up a bank position amongst the snowdrops and bluebells on a line from the last post on the barge pontoon to the water tower as the fleet of Rob, Joseph, Lev with David, and Lotte with Pat, came through the bridge and moored up on the pontoon rather than risk jilling about in the stiff wind, with rowers sculling about. As they waited, so the north-easterly wind began to drop. However, Tim Wellburn with his son Rob had been blown through the bridge – and then onwards along Waterman’s Park. By a stroke of luck, the RNLI lifeboat was coming that way – and towed them back to the start line.
As they all set off, so the sun came out – and later news recounted how the Safety Boat had chased after them to set the buoy somewhat before the London Apprentice – and Joseph had overshot it. Meanwhile, Rob [who had already capsized and righted once] spotted the opportunity to make up time and rounded it ahead of Joseph – eventually to finish 59 seconds ahead.
Co-incidentally, the wind then veered from north-easterly to southwesterly. But it was quite unsure about it – and so held its breath in long lulls that meant that by the time it picked up Rob and Joseph and Lev were nearly 20 minutes ahead of Tim and Lotte across the finish line. However, quite extraordinarily, now with a following wind, they were all back before the tide had fully turned.
Expert control of the Safety Boat meant they were all slowly and carefully manoeuvred under the bridge since a “Falling tide lowers all boats”: except for Rob and Joseph who both deliberately decided that they were in charge themselves – and would get under it in their own way by “Levelling-Down”.
OOD Andy Ross 10.05.2021
Lovely photos from Hans Styrnell high up in Brentford Dock. Many thanks. HB
While the boats were being rigged, except for random gusts, much of the surface of the River was ominously smooth, suggesting that progress downstream might be difficult against the incoming tide, so the course was switched from the scheduled B to a 2-buoy A course.
In fact, by the start, the wind had happily re-established itself as a reasonably steady westerly, allowing a stately run downstream and some brisk tacking back up. And, as a bonus, the sun shone for most of the race!
Congestion on the slipway and lack of wind having left half of the 6-boat fleet still working upstream as 18:00 approached, the start was postponed by 8 minutes to allow them to come up under Starter’s Orders.
Chris’s chronometers disagreed with the OOD’s ancient iPhone timer, so he declared a unilateral start, but after thus slightly extending his first lap put in some brisk sailing, including a rare sub-5 minute time on lap 5, and thereafter was consistently second round the upstream buoy leading a group of boats that were keeping the OOD busy capturing times sometimes only seconds apart. The assistance of Andy Ross in calling out their approach was much appreciated.
However, the consistent race leader was Henry who put in two sub-5 minute laps and filled all 10 boxes on the race sheet in just under an hour, at which point the OOD yielded to Mary’s sign language that enough was enough, leaving Alex, on his inaugural return to the water, to complete the race with his brisk 10th lap. John Bull and Chris were also 10-lappers, the latter also completing the race in just under the hour.
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And smale foweles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open ye So priketh hem Nature in hir corages, Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
When April with its sweet-smelling showers
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
And small birds make melody
Those that sleep all the night with open eyes
So Nature incites them in their hearts,
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages.
The General Prologue: The Canterbury Tales: Geoffrey Chaucer 1343-1400
Except that it hasn’t rained for the whole of April; with not even a sniff of ‘sweet-smelling showers’. A blocking High pressure over the UK as the jet stream shifted south bringing Arctic air across the North Sea had produced clear blue skies. A gusty East wind randomly tumbled over the Strand’s houses and helped to push on further the incoming tide that was meeting with no resistance from water coming down the river.
The small fowls [the geese anyway] were all making a honking melody – and Nature indeed had incited the hearts of SGSC sailors as: ‘folk longing to go on a pilgrimage’ since nine boats turned out to set forth on the scheduled ‘A’ course. But pilgrimages are difficult journeys.
With a consistent wind apparent out on the main river the OOD decided to add in a ‘sausage’; historically reflecting our fondness for ‘beer and bangers’ [but perhaps more properly described as a loop], into the base of a triangle of buoys – and specifically requiring a return beat back and forth across the river from the Bell & Crown to the Surrey bank, before heading on the next lap downstream again to a third buoy that was set at the grid.
Carried with the wind and the tide the fleet easily reached the open water; roughened up with gusts. As they turned and tacked back up to be at the start, so they separated.
A ‘Super League’ of James [with Emma], Rob, Lev [with David] and Henry [with Mary] more or less maintained a start line position while a ‘Championship League’ of Ian, Chris [with Laura], Tim Young, Ben and Tim [with John] carried on being drifted upstream by the tide.
Ominously, Rob capsized just before the start – and failing to get across the boat in time he fell into the water and struggled to get back on board but eventually did – and, soaking wet, resumed his position to be second across the line after James, followed by Lev, then Henry. But the rest of the fleet, without the sponsorship of such rich owners of ‘the luck of the gods’, were finding the combination of strong wind and tide were hard to overcome.
Chris, in this second fleet, found the trick of sticking to the Surrey bank paid off sufficiently well to be able to cross over between the PLA trot and Oliver’s Island and then return and be able to cook his own sausage on this grill of a course. But it took them over 40 minutes. And then, having done it, they very gratefully proceeded back to the club to recover.
Meanwhile, exhilarating gusts were still sending the second fleet streaking back and forth – but without ever providing sufficient momentum to get them up to the start line.
Ian in Vibe followed Chris’ idea and tracked up all the way along the Surrey bank to try and get round the top of Oliver’s Island but was defeated there with no wind and returned back to the start – and then got drifted all the way back down to Kew bridge, where he crossed the river, and found himself becalmed at the Steam Packet – and decided to retire.
Ben had begun his race with at least two capsizes before the start, but quickly re-righted and re-joined the race with a constantly zig-zagging course which eventually took him up to the buoy at the grid, where there was also very little wind – but he manged to round it and returned to confuse the OOD with a second lap largely spent sailing backwards while heading forwards while also tracking sideways; turning through all points of the compass. Eventually successfully.
But where was Tim Young? At the back of the second fleet, he had not only tipped over in a capsize just before Kew bridge but had turned turtle with the mast at risk of grounding on the riverbed.
With David Jones in the safety boat, crewed by Nick Jeffery on his first induction into the dangerous and complex procedure for rescue, they faced a collision with the bridge. Scraping the side, they got through it, though the sail was badly ripped by a log hidden in the water – and emerging on the far side, they tried to right the boat. The gusty wind, funnelling through the bridge arch capsized it again, and again. They could not right it. Carried on by the tide and heavily waterlogged, they all drifted off together to Brentford.
Tim and John had been gallantly jilling about, back and forth, and they eventually crossed the start line and found their way all the way around the triangle, until sinking back into a lagoon right in front of the Kew Pier pontoon – with the imminent risk of being carried into it with the heavy tide. Where was the safety boat? Nowhere in sight! Thankfully, and very skilfully, they gradually eased their way forward again, completed their sausage in a dancing skittish wind – and finally completed the course after well over an hour of strenuous sailing.
While all this was going on, the ‘Super League’ triumphantly managed to score points.
Both James and Rob each completed four roundings of the course. In particular, Lev [with David skipping lightly around from moment to moment with every shift and nuance in the wind to perfectly balance the boat] completed their first lap just 6 minutes behind James – though the strain began to show, and they dropped down to 6 minutes behind Henry and Mary; similarly completing three laps in just over one hour. They too, had manoeuvred their way around this complicated course surviving hair-raising dramas in sudden deep gusts followed by instant patches of dead calm – and back-sliding to end up exactly not where they wanted to be.
This racing spectacle was watched by an increasing crowd of spectators at the Bell & Crown.
They had dared to bare pallid skin in shorts and dresses that had not seen the sun for a year; and never in such company; either on the water – or amongst each other. Fiona, the landlady of the pub, standing guard on the pub steps with her laptop to QR her customers – and keenly observing how the dramatic sailing enabled them to engage in romantic conversations, pulled a pint of London Pride for the OOD! His first of the year! And by way of joining in with the telling of the tale, the scudding clouds blew off the froth on the beer!
Oh! How this Spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day
Which now shows all the glory of the sun
And by and by a cloud taketh all away.
Shakespeare: The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Act 3. Sc1. L178.
Sunday was a lovely spring day with buds bursting, geese gaggling, pubs finding unaccustomed and thirsty customers, but little wind. We set a short A-course starting at Zoffany House, top mark at the Bell and Crown and the bottom mark above the slip dock.
Five boats launched, including an Enterprise retrieved from the back of the site. Lotte Cutts is the new owner, sailing with her neighbour, Pat.
The trick, as ever in light conditions, was to hug the bank downwind against the flood tide, which was fortunately weak. James Armitage (solo in Zephyr) was first around the short course in less than 6 minutes, followed by Lev Kolobov and David in Porpoise about a minute later, and then Ben Chappell in his Laser. James proceeded to lap everyone else and tick off 6-8 minute laps but after his second lap he was very closely followed, and sometimes led, albeit a lap behind, by Lev.
James finished 8 laps in the hour, followed by Lev on 7 laps. Lotte did very well given a new boat and unaccustomed tidal conditions to finish 5 laps. Ben and Jane Watkins both did 4 laps.
Thanks to Mary Brown for officiating and to Chris and Mary for providing cans of outside-the-arch refreshment to celebrate our gradual return to normal.
With F3 NNW wind blowing straight down the river the consensus was for a B-Course.
Eight boats launched and Rob Adams (Laser) led for most of the 3 laps ahead of James Armitage (Enterprise), but was pipped by 20 seconds at the finish. Third over the line was Lev Kolobov (Enterprise).
Rob took the Handicap points ahead of Jane Watkins (Gull) and Chris and Mary (Leader). James won the Big Boats and Polly points, and Jane won the Little Boats points.