Sep 12

Downriver, 11th September – Graham’s race report

A Tale of Two Safety Boats

 On a lovely day in early September, the sun was out, people were enjoying the weather and a number of sailors were hoping there would be enough wind to avoid a drift-a-thon downriver and back.

12 people were busy rigging boats and doing their best to look interested as the Race Officer droned on about buoys, traffic, start times and so on and on…..

In the fine SBSC tradition of ignoring any scheduled time for launching and being ready the RO started proceedings with a warning signal with two boats still on the ramp.

With only a safety boat on the water, everybody stayed on the beach until after the preparatory signal, which had the RO reaching for the rulebook on forms of permitted propulsion after the preparatory signal had been sounded. In the spirit of a sunny day it was deemed that nobody had gained any material advantage from a good shove off from the beach. But the thought of a general recall amused the one person who considered it.

The line was clear and off they went. Or to put it another way, imperceptibly after the race started there was a general alignment of boats in a vaguely downstream direction. Fast it was not, but time and tide wait for nobody and the fleet headed off to London. All except Ray in a GP14 with wet feet asking for a tow ashore as a stern bailer was flooding the boat with surprising effectiveness.

The RO hopped on to the waiting safety boat to find the engine would not start. Excellent. It was a low battery and the engine fired with a couple of pulls on the cord. Ray was unceremoniously left on the shore at the bottom of the ramp to figure how to get a GP14 up the ramp on his own and we headed off after the fleet, who by now had disappeared under Putney Bridge.

We stopped to have a chat with the second safety boat with Massimo, Amy, Massimo’s son and a small dog on board looking forward to light duties on a light day. Unfortunately something had triggered the engine-lift ram and the switch to lower it again was not working.

So with one rescue boat rescuing the other rescue boat the sailors were left to fend for themselves for a while. Having towed the stricken boat to the shore outside Chas Newens we left the safety boat crew crestfallen at the thought of having to pass up a chance for a sneaky beer at the Dukes Head because they had all left their wallets back at the club.

Down to one safety boat and a fleet of 7 boats out of sight around the corner George and the RO set of to establish some sort of order back to the proceedings.

The fleet was well spread out. Anton helming an Enterprise was bringing up the rear and somewhere round the next bend we finally caught up with the race leader Allan and Stephanie. Topped and tailed by Enterprises the fleet now included four lasers and John in the remaining Enterprise. Confusingly with an identical sail number to the lead boat. Now where was that rulebook again?

With the wind so light and the fleet so spread out it was important to set a finish line that was achievable for everybody and the line was set just downstream of Albert Bridge on the Battersea side. Allan and Stephanie had to crab across the ebb to get to the finish line and chose to beach close to the safety boat. Jamie followed and then 32 seconds short of an hour’s sailing John’s Enterprise and Andy on a Laser crossed at exactly the same. Drama at last! Oli and Anna also finished leg1 and we waited for the tide to allow the restart for leg 2.

The return leg was a lesson in knowing the river’s peculiarities and reading the wind on the water. There were patches of no wind and noticeable areas with a decent breeze. This soon spread the fleet after they passed under the first bridge. As the fleet passed Battersea Heliport Anna was unlucky to be swept by the downdraft of a helicopter coming into land and promptly capsized. With the boat righted to cheers and applause from a nearby houseboat Anna received the dubious benefit of instruction from the safety boat as to the finer points of upwind trim. With the threat of a protest for outside assistance the RO realised he needed to be at the finish of leg2 to take down times. So off we sped through the fleet to drop the RO off, swapping Amy into the safety boat to cover the fleet’s progress.

The finish order was the same as leg 1 meaning the final results were no surprise. A time spread of over 24 minutes on corrected time was down to the fickle and light winds. Allan and Stephanie beating Jamie and John/Bob into 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Andy and Ollie were the remaining finishers after Anna had relinquished the helm of her Laser to Amy, favouring a ride in the safety boat. Anton and crew had unfortunately not completed leg 1 and therefore could not start leg 2 and did not score a result, but apparently had a fine time on the water.

Allan fixed the broken relay in the switch electrics for the stricken safety boat almost without breaking stride and all boats were hauled up the steep ramp.

Another fine downriver day at South Bank Sailing Club.