The Dart 15s are celebrating their forty-fifth anniversary as well as a welcome return to the name Dart 15 this year. Their first Summer TT under both banners was held at Marconi Sailing Club on the beautiful River Blackwater on the Essex East Coast.
The wettest spring for decades required precision instructions for visiting sailors to park their boats, cars, vans and tents in the grass boat park without getting stuck but that did not deter an exemplary entry of 33 competitors, including a number of local sailors for whom this was their first ever TT.
Nigel and Fiona Denchfield had kindly agreed to be Race Officers for the event and Tom Phipps from Windsport International provided event support across the weekend.
On Saturday, the first race was scheduled for 12 noon start but the forecast showed no wind until later in the afternoon – somewhat frustrating as the previous week had been filled with 20 knot winds. And some breeze is important when trying to race in a tidal river estuary. So the competitor briefing took place mid-morning as planned but racing was postponed and the long distance race around Osea and Northey Islands was to be reluctantly replaced with a “round the cans” race instead. On the plus side, it gave competitors the opportunity to eat additional bacon rolls and catch up with good friends whilst waiting for the breeze.
The race committee afloat and event organisers ashore were watching the conditions like hawks and eventually a gentle breeze filled in from the sea and the race course was set to the east of the club where it was likely the best of the breeze would stay. With a bit of help from the RIBs, all the competitors got out to the race course against the tide and the first race got underway around two hours later than planned but in a steady, if not exciting, breeze.
Race one got away with a clean start, helped by the windward leg being against the tide and Jason Clarke (Marconi) established an early lead at the windward mark, with Liam Thom (Shanklin) and Angus Cook (North Devon) in hot pursuit and the rest of the fleet very close behind. By the start of lap two, the wind had shifted significantly to the right which meant the windward mark could be laid in one fetch from the start/finish line. A pattern the wind chose to take across the whole of the weekend just to make the race management team and the competitors work even harder! Liam managed to get in front of Jason, Angus was in close pursuit in third and Jenny Ball (Marconi), Stuart Snell (Grafham), Ed Tuite-Dalton (Draycote) and George Love (Carsington) were in a closely fought battle behind. The tide turned part way through the race and contributed to a couple of competitors touching mark three on the final lap which shuffled a few positions. Liam went on to take the win, followed by Jason, Angus, Jenny, George and David & John Ball (Marconi).
The race course was quickly re-set to reflect the change in wind direction and tide for race two. The start saw enough competitors carried over the line to warrant a General Recall followed by the dreaded Black Flag for the next sequence. Despite several knots of tide, the black flag was a sufficient deterrent that the line was well clear when the gun went again. This time, the windward mark was well in the main channel of the river and a number of competitors stood on too far on starboard with the tide under them and found themselves having to reach back into the windward mark. Those who spotted the tidal effect and sailed a much lower course to mark two benefitted and saw Liam round first, followed by Jenny and a close knit group including Angus, Ed, David & John, Jim Bowie (Thorpe Bay) and Peter Richardson (Marconi). By lap two, the fleet were finding their feet with the tide and competitors were adopting different approaches to playing wind and tide to reach the windward mark. There was added interest when a yacht with a spinnaker up (unconnected to the event or the host club) decided to sail through the majority of the fleet at mark 2 for reasons which escaped us all. The wind was beginning to soften by the end of lap 3, and some of the fleet were finished by the Race Officer at mark 4 to ensure everyone got a result. Despite hanging on to his rudders the whole way round, Liam managed to hold off Jenny to take first and second respectively, followed by Ed, David & John and Angus. The fleet then headed home in the sunshine with some being towed back as we were all getting hungry by then.
Following a well-earned evening meal, the fleet benefitted from a racing debrief in the bar by Tom Phipps from Windsport International. Tom had been out on a safety boat to watch the racing and take notes and explained to the fleet all the things we had got wrong, but in a very nice way. It was a really interesting session and very much appreciated by all the competitors.
Sunday’s forecast was for a decent breeze (and rain) until early afternoon and with a plan to get the four remaining races in, the fleet set off as soon as the tide allowed for the RIBS to be launched. This time the race course was to the west of the club with the committee boat stationed off the Osea Island shore and the course set across the channel due to the wind direction.
The first start got away and although there were a couple of individual recall boats, they duly exonerated themselves and cleared the line correctly. After a difficult second race the day before, Jason was back on form and led round the windward mark, with Liam and Angus behind and a following pack of Ed, Dave & John, Jenny and Jon Pearse (Marconi). The fleet headed round mark two and then began the very tactical downwind leg, back across the channel and with the tide running from right to left across the course. As with most estuaries, the tide varies in strength across the channel and became increasingly stronger at the approach to mark 3. The local Marconi boats knew this and stood on for much longer on the starboard gybe, travelling further distance in the weaker tide. And were proved completely wrong (for this race at least) by Liam and Angus gybing off onto port much earlier and reaching mark 3 just ahead of Jason. Liam went on to take his third win, although Angus and Jason chased very hard in second and third. Ed gained two places by tacking on mark 4 and heading straight to the finish line with Jenny in fifth and Jon taking sixth place.
The wind had shifted slightly and the incoming tide provided additional sea room. The race officer took the opportunity to move and extend the windward leg accordingly. A couple of competitors were again OCS, but no requirement for a recall. The majority of the fleet headed off on starboard but a few at the committee boat end took the opportunity to tack off early onto port. When the fleet converged at the windward mark, Angus was in the lead, followed by Jenny, Ed and the rest of the pack hot on their heels. The downwind leg from mark two to three proved to be as critical as before, even more so because the tide had strengthened so tactics that worked in race three did not necessarily pay off in race four. Angus and Jenny stayed on the starboard gybe sailing low, closely watching the pack behind including Liam, Stuart Snell (Grafham), Ed and Yvonne Pike (Shanklin) who sailed higher on the starboard gybe and then gybed off earlier onto port, coming back into mark three on starboard. In the event, Angus and Jenny made it to mark three still in front of the fleet who found a stronger tide running against them on their last run into the mark. The same leg on the second lap proved to be a pivotal point in the race with Jenny holding on to the starboard gybe for longer and being able to edge past Angus and with Stuart giving a master class in how to use the downwind leg to move up the fleet. Jenny held on to take the win, with Angus second, Stuart third, Ed fourth, Liam fifth and Yvonne in sixth.
Another slight shift in wind direction saw the mark layers re-lay mark one and two yet again to enable a proper beat. This time, those who started at the Committee Boat end and tacked off early definitely benefitted and came into the windward mark ahead of the pack who had stayed left. Jenny led round the windward mark closely followed by David & John and with Angus, Jason, Liam, Stuart and Jon close behind. Again, the downwind leg proved to be critical. Jenny adopted the same approach to the previous race whilst David & John were adopting more reaching angles as they were in two sail format. The rest of the fleet tried just about every different route up the course to see what worked best! Jenny and David & John managed to hold off the fleet for the second lap and with the wind strength reducing, the race management team successfully shortened legs two and three for the final lap. It was all to play for on the final downwind leg. Jenny stuck to her tactical guns whilst David & John reached further off out of the tide before gybing across and coming in at a tighter angle. Despite sailing the greater distance, this proved to be the right strategy as they held their place and did not let the fleet behind through. The final result was Jenny (sister/aunt) in first place with David & John (brother/nephew) in close second, followed by Liam, Angus, Jason, Stuart and Jon.
The final race was temporarily thrown into doubt as the wind faded whilst the middle of the fleet were finishing race three but returned sufficiently by the time the final boats came through the line to make race four feasible. But the wind still had a final trick to play. Well into the start sequence the breeze veered from SW to NW causing havoc on the start line. Those who had lined up for a committee boat start were now broad reaching into the line and had not noticed those who had run down to the pin and now coming up with right of way from their left. In order to avoid collisions, a number of right of way boats including Liam, Angus and Jenny were obliged to deviate around said “offending” boats, thereby having to miss the committee boat altogether, turn round and restart. But those who were “second row” or had got right down to the pin were able to get a decent start and good on them – but now the entire fleet were reaching to the windward mark!
Undaunted, the rest of the pack chased hard and there was a shuffling of positions as the middle half of the fleet gybed at the “windward” mark and made good progress to mark two overtaking some of the fleet. Yvonne was leading the way with Jason, Jim, Stuart, David & John and Jan Elfring (Draycote).
The race management team were completely on top of the situation and as soon as the fleet had cleared mark one and two, the marks were moved to reflect the entirely new (and un-forecast) wind direction! Marks three and four had already been “optimised” too.
So it was a proper beat to the windward mark on lap two and Jenny, Liam and Angus had caught up a bit by then but not enough to get to the front of the fleet. By the end of the race, Jason had returned to form to take the win, with Jim in second followed by Stuart, David & John, Yvonne, Jenny, Liam and Angus.
After four races in cool drizzle with changeable winds, tidal tactics and the associated mental concentration, the fleet returned to shore after a demanding day of racing.
Hot showers, tea and cake restored everyone’s spirits whilst they took stock of an interesting and mixed set of results over an “interesting” set of wind conditions over the weekend. The race management team understandably looked like they needed a stiff drink after all their hard work and were rewarded with wine and chocolates on behalf of the competitors as thanks for all their efforts. The many “thank yous” completed, the prizegiving took place. A special award was presented to Karen Corley (Marconi) who was completing her first TT and was rewarded with an unplanned capsize on day one. But Karen had not only returned to the course on day two, she had completed all four races which was an achievement in itself.
Prizes were then awarded from 12th place and were a good mix of local sailors plus both coastal and pond sailors from other locations. As has been the way in recent times, the overall result came down to the final race but with three bullets, Liam had done enough to win the event with Jenny second, Angus third, Jason fourth and David & Jon (official fleet mascot and Youth winner) in fifth.
A big thank you to Nigel and Fiona Denchfield for giving up their weekend to run the racing and to all the safety boat teams for more mark laying and boat towing than they probably anticipated. To complete six races in such conditions was a real achievement. Thanks also to everyone shoreside at Marconi and most importantly to all the competitors who turned out in force to support the event.
Pictures by Paul Metcalfe
Full Series Results available here