Sunday was a lovely sunny autumn day with a nice F3 NNW wind blowing down the river from Kew Bridge. We had scheduled a D-course (Hammersmith and back) but since the COVID restrictions came in we have been sailing laps on the B-course (between the railway bridge and Chiswick Bridge) instead, so that the safety boat can keep an eye on all competitors. The fleet tends to get very stretched-out around all the bends to Hammersmith. The main problem on Sunday was that we also had a strong ebb tide boosted by recent rain going in the same direction as the wind.
At 15:45 the fleet, an exceptional turn-out of 11 boats, set off with a rush down-wind and down current and reached the bottom buoy in a large bunch at the downstream end of Chiswick Staithe, in about 5 minutes. That’s when the difficulties started. The current was just too strong for most boats to make the turn and beat back against wind and tide. And there was the added problem that, it being low water, the shelving gravel threatened centreboards and rudders and there wasn’t the width of river to luxuriate in long tacks. And rowers, canoes and paddle boarders were also out in strength.
There were, of course, exceptions. James Armitage with Ayanda as crew showed the way with short and accurate tacks in the lesser flow along the Middlesex bank, but even they made painfully slow progress. Rob Adams (Laser) kept reasonably close company with them, as did Lev Kolobov (solo in his Enterprise). James took 32 minutes to complete his first lap with Rob about ten minutes behind. It was a full hour before Lev reached that point. He was followed in 8 minutes by James on his second lap with Rob a quarter of an hour later. Lev did his second lap in half an hour, finishing about 8 minutes after Rob.
Meanwhile the rest of the fleet tacked and cursed, and cursed and tacked, gradually drifting downstream of the bottom mark until, one by one, they gave up the struggle and either walked their boats back up stream or reluctantly accepted a tow from the safety boat. Chris and Mary’s Leader was an exception: they persisted heroically and completed a lap in one hour and 38 minutes. Ian Nethersell almost made it but, after capsizing once (while remaining dry above the knees), decided that was enough. And Ben Chappell, in his first race with us, in a new (to him) Laser, with a dodgy tiller extension and an immersive capsize, after almost two hours of struggle accepted a cold tow home.
In contempt of the tide tables (low water at Strand 16:14) the ebb was still running by then, although less strongly as the river level built up against the flood.
Mary Brown logged all the action from outside 1 Strand on the Green, and Henry B spent a busy afternoon in the safety boat.