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Spring Long Distance Open - 2011

posted 19 May 2011, 22:19 by Graham Morley   [ updated 19 May 2011, 22:23 by Graham Morley ]
Minima’s Spring Long Distance Open is generally sailed either in a gale which upends half the fleet, or light airs which leave us battling for hours (the race has a generous time limit) to pass the narrows round Thames Ditton Island.

This year we actually enjoyed a reasonable breeze, although a gusty build up to the start was enough to deter some of the more cautious souls, so only 8 moderately intrepid crews, including two from upstream neighbours Thames SC, set out on the five-mile voyage to Hampton Court and back.

The westerly meant it was hard work going upstream, changing from a reach to a beat as we went round the great bend through Surbiton and Thames Ditton and up the long narrow straight reach alongside the filter bed wall. Of course, the trees on the riverside to windward threw in a few curves and holes, but where the banks opened out a bit there was a chance to stretch the toe straps. Things did pretty much stop at Thames Ditton Island, where one Merlin took the opportunity to get stuck in a tree, but there was just enough wind filtering through the bushes to move the fleet through.

Not that it was actually a fleet, being a pretty scattered procession by the time we got that far up. The wind and the stream seem to conspire to separate the competitors, with a small advantage growing on the beat, maybe because the better helms find their way up in fewer tacks.

Only two classes took part. The Merlins led the way, with Thames’s Martin Hunter and Sel Shah finding the wind steady enough to fly their spinnaker for a good chunk of the way home, which put them an outrageous 20-plus minutes ahead of second-place Ben Marshall, closely followed by two of his classmates. There was then a quarter of an hour wait before the Enterprises turned up, wide apart for most of the race but all catching up with each other on the long run and reach downstream to finish within a couple of minutes, not close enough to do any damage to the Merlins on handicap. No need to go into details about the other finishers, although the observant might have spotted a fair sized oak branch resting in the bilges of the last man home, to be presented later as a bouquet to intrepid crewperson Debbie Cass who went overboard to shove Phil Chase out of the undergrowth. Bosun Ron Sexton was also involved in this rescue, with Rob Cowan standing by in the other safety boat, let’s face it, it was a quiet day.

It was Martin Hunter’s second trip up river of the day, he had sailed practically the same course earlier with his own club, which reconnaissance must have helped the second time round, although there can be little doubt that his bold use of the kite made the difference. In his gracious speech of thanks on behalf of the visitors, he said: ‘it was an amazing day’. Well, it certainly was for him.

But this always-entertaining race must now be reckoned under threat, alongside the Raters at Thames, because a proposed development includes moorings along the long straight wall of Victorian brickwork beside the filter beds. It seems likely that these would narrow the river to the point where it would be impossible to beat up it against the prevailing south westerly, thus effectively closing this stretch to sailing boats. Hydro Properties say they are listening to objectors, and ‘want to accommodate their concerns’. It would be pity if the launch of an imaginative technology for safely building on flood plains were to destroy a century-old tradition of sailing on the Thames.

Overall Handicap
  1. Martin Hunter, Sel Shah (Merlin)
  2. Ben Marshall, Matt Allan (Merlin)
  3. Paul and Eileen Seaman (Merlin)
Merlin and May Merrie trophies
  • Ben Marshall, Matt Allan
  • Richard Shillito, Eric Warner
John Forbes
Minima SC.