Angela Shephard reports:
On a sunny Saturday 3rd June at 0800 (a time not previously recognized by the fleet) six well provisioned RBOD crews met for a briefing on the sea wall with race officer Peter Howard before embarking upon their long distance race to Tollesbury. The instructions were simple, Club line start, Ray Buoy to port, finish at the Nass Beacon and make sure you do not run aground. The northeasterly wind that had been present throughout May remained and as we were intending to cross the Ray at high water, we did of course encounter a foul tide necessitating short tacking along the north shore. As the intrepid RBODs went beyond their comfort zone (i.e. Holliwell) the seas and winds got bigger making for a challenging beat to Ray, particularly as the geography of the shallows was a bit of a mystery. PHALAROPE, RED JACKET and MANDARIN showed themselves to be masters of those lumpy conditions rounding Ray in that order for the fetch through the Ray Sand Channel. The crews were remarkably quiet between Shore Ends and St Peters on the Wall as there was no opportunity to enjoy the vast picnic which is normally a part of this offshore adventure Chris Corrigan on PHALAROPE led through the Thames Estuary equivalent of the Southern Ocean which is probably best as he frequently makes that journey on AURORA.
As the fleet approached St Peter’s Flats led by PHALAROPE then RED JACKET, MANDARIN, AQUAMARINE, RAE and WHITE ROSE the fleet breathed a sigh of relief that the seas and the wind had calmed a little. Despite having been able to bear away a bit, the fleet continued to play it safe, not hoisting their spinnakers, until, that is, AQUAMARINE in fourth place decided to try and improve on that position by hoisting first but that activity promptly saw the spinnaker poles appear on the leading three boats. Positions were maintained with PHALAROPE taking a well deserved victory at the Nass Beacon and the whole fleet finishing within just five minutes.
As the fleet sailed towards Tollesbury they were greeted by launches from Tollesbury Sailing Club coming out to us. While the TSC representatives may have expected to tow us, the fleet again demonstrated their able seamanship in navigating the creek into Tollesbury Marina and through the Marina to the Fuel dock in the far corner of the marina under sail power alone.
The packed lunches remained largely untouched due to the challenging conditions so the fleet then tucked into their food and drink with gusto whilst sheltered from the wind in the harbour. The early arrival concerned the less hardy RBOD sailors as there were several hours to while away until the next scheduled event (drinks) but, as ever, they rose to the challenge. Once supplies were running low the fleet decamped to a cocktail party hosted by Chris Corrigan and Mary Best at their house with a retro campervan serving drinks and wonderful canapes made by Mary. A big thank you from the fleet to both of them for their hospitality. Before we knew it there was time for one quick last drink before walking back to the Marina to enjoy a meal at the Restaurant there. We were certainly not disappointed, the food was delicious and portions absolutely huge, just what we needed after our epic sail and survivors’ celebratory drinks. We were pleased to be joined for dinner by representatives of the Tollesbury Sailing Club and Commodore Will presented VC Neil Crockett with an RBYC burgee which was well received with suggestions of a return visit to Burnham which we look forward to hosting. Whilst many saw the end of the meal as an opportunity to head towards bed for much needed rest, the more hard core of the fleet went on to Tollesbury Sailing Club where (after an initial mix-up over who had the keys to unlock the clubhouse) the Vice Commodore ensured our drinks were replenished at the bar and we enjoyed the entertainment with music and disco lights.
On the Sunday morning the fleet seemed reasonably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they met at the boats waiting for the tide to get high enough so that we would make it over the sill and out of the creek. Conscious that we were dependent upon crossing the Ray Channel at high tide, the decision was made that there should be enough water to get out – so off we went. Whilst it was true that there would have been enough water if able to follow a course down the centre of the very narrow channel, the wind direction forced us to short tack and chaos ensued. One by one the whole fleet went aground dotted around the edges of the channel. We are indebted to TSC Commodore Bing to be on hand to tow several RBODS off the mud either side of the channel which was barely wider than the length of the boats. PHALAROPE, last one out as of course they were the first in showed us that local knowledge really pays off sailing past several stranded RBODs and getting out into the channel without ever running aground – nice work Mr Pink!
The fleet regrouped at the Nass Beacon under strict instructions from Chris over the VHF to “stop sightseeing and get to the starting area!” and we were off. Another challenging sail with big winds and big seas, a fetch on port to the Ray Channel past St Peter’s Flats, then a reach on port through the Ray Sand Channel in very gusty conditions and lumpier seas. Evidently the fleet had been rather keen to get back to Burnham so were optimistically thinking the Ray Buoy was rather closer to the shore and were on course to cut the corner to get into the Crouch while searching for the buoy. To get the fleet out of their difficulty, our Race Officer, Peter Howard, positioned his boat FOO just behind the Ray Buoy so that we knew where we should be aiming for. As the front of the pack spotted this, disaster was averted as the fleet altered course to stay in the Channel. The reach to Ray was a like an extreme fairground ride with a lively beam sea soaking the crew on a regular basis and the wind reaching the upper 20s. It was a relief to see that all the 90 year old boats held up well in a severe test of their strength. As the fleet rounded Ray, RED JACKET, PHALAROPE, MANDARIN and RAE were fairly closely bunched with AQUAMARINE and WHITE ROSE holding on not far behind. This time the fleet did not hold back on hoisting and spinnakers popped on all the boats as Ray was rounded to starboard. RED JACKET gybed off the north shore first, followed by PHALAROPE. These two boats enjoyed a tussle all the way to the finish line, with just a second between them and RED JACKET taking line honours. Quite incredible given the distance sailed and the conditions. The decision to go along the south shore caused no hardship to MANDARIN who came in a strong third and RAE and AQUAMARINE tussling for fourth and fifth, again almost a photo finish, but AQUAMARINE took fourth by a few seconds, a valiant effort from the crew onboard RAE who having broken their spinnaker pole had to hold the spinnaker out manually. WHITE ROSE also successfully completed the course not far behind AQUAMARINE and RAE. The fleet then enjoyed celebratory drinks in the Club as our Trophy Keeper, Sidney Livingstone, assisted by Barty Dallimore presented the Golf Cup to Chris Corrigan on PHALAROPE for the long-distance race first day and the Oliver Cup to Stephen Herring on RED JACKET for the return journey. The fleet would like to thank all those involved in the organisation, particularly Chris Corrigan and Mary Best for their fabulous hospitality but also Peter and Paula Howard for their support as Race Officer and Safety Boat and to the other crews and cruising fleet members who joined as Support Boats.