Crowded out from our usual Sunday by multiple rowers ‘Bumps’ racing, and onto an empty river and under an empty blue sky, 5 boats came out to enjoy the Bank Holiday Monday. But it offered no relaxing rest and recreation. A stiff breeze topping 15mph banged the sails about; presaging a rough and tumble ‘D’ course.
James and Tamina [Zephyr, Ent], with Chris and Felicia [Distant Thunder, Leader], and Andrew and Enoch [Comma, Ent], were joined by Sam and Catherine [SY2, Wayfarer] while Joe, as OOD replacing Lev, firstly thought to get on board the Safety Boat with Frank and Kieran – but then decided to quickly go home where he managed to press-gang Marian as OOD; so he could sail his Laser (Punt). Jilling-about the start line revealed that multiple wind twists and turns were to be expected; the Union Jack pointing fully and horizontally across the river.
James led across the line, followed by everyone on a broad reach – with Joe clambering onboard his Laser to catch up. So far, so fast, down to Chiswick Bridge. It seemed it was going to be manageable: just.
In particular, ‘Comma’ was put to the test. As the oldest boat in SGSC with an ownership history dating back to Peter Hatton, who first won an SGSC Cup in 1966, she had been showing her age. Subsequently sailed by James Armitage until 1986, then Peter Osbourne until 1995, she was taken over by Andy Ross in 1999 (having previously sailed the small boat ‘Bumblebee’), ’Comma’ must now be approaching 60 years old. Two years of restoration work, repeatedly discovering soft areas of wood requiring one repair after another, and determined to stick to the original wood glue and timber, with no plastic or fibreglass, and freshly-painted, she appeared to be truly sturdy, and with no leaks detected, she shone – and she flew with the wind. The original Scots pine wooden mast, that often defined for itself whether it was acting as heavy ballast keeping the boat upright – or was going to swing about with the wind and let momentum decide, has been replaced with an aluminium mast; with a pivot bolt in a tabernacle foot to lower the mast to get under the railway bridge. A tensioning lever now held the new mast rigging bar-tight.
All still together, the fleet sauntered gently in a sudden near total calm under Chiswick Bridge. Ah! The warm sun! How very pleasant this Bank Holiday journey was actually going to be! But as we rounded the bend to Barnes Bridge, the North-East wind sucked in deep and blew its cheeks out. Off we galloped! But at the rear of the fleet the suddenness of this great blast hit Sam really hard, producing a spectacular capsize.
Looking back from ‘Comma’ we saw Sam and Catherine were now both just heads in the water – and they were drifting far away from their boat. There was no sign of the Safety Boat. So we decided to turn back and offer help. Coming back around from the rear we seized the bow and, broadside on, enabled Sam and Catherine to grab their hull. Sam then swam back off again to pick up pieces of gear floating away while Catherine, totally unperturbed, and astonishingly glamorous, confidently made-up and ready for her leading actress role, simply asked if her handbag (that she had shrewdly stowed very tightly onboard), was still there? A handbag! It was a truly Lacy Bracknell moment worthy of Oscar Wilde. Funny and wonderful! But their mobile phones were another matter.
The Safety Boat then re-appeared and with Catherine transferred onboard the boat sped off back downriver to re-find the fleet, while the Wayfarer was brought ashore for a ton of bailing-out.
The pre-agreed plan was that the fleet (those who got there) would turn themselves at Corinthians, which is what had indeed happened, as James soon came back under Barnes Bridge – and the Wayfarer was then taken in tow by Frankie in the Safety Boat back to the Club.
Comma set sail back under jib alone as the rest of the fleet caught up and with varying rough gusts (Joe performing two ‘death role’ capsizes, including one after he had finished!) and yet still with frequent dead calm spots – and still against a strongly ebbing tide, we all made our way back.
Never has tea and biscuits been more welcome! What a very unrelaxing, but very memorable, Bank Holiday Monday.
30 May 2023