Aug 02

The Ruby Bell Race – Graham’s report

Sunday 1st August.

The Ruby Bell.

So called because it is a race that was first sailed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the club in 1992 and a trophy that is a campanologist’s delight.

What are we going to do for the 70th next year? A Platinum pagoda perhaps.

This is a tricky race at the best of times. No levelling of the playing field with a start time. Straight down the river and back balancing the wind and avoiding pushing a foul tide. May the best calculator win. Armed only with an imperfect prediction of when the tide would turn at Chelsea Bridge sailors can choose when to start to maximise their chances. Would the recent rain from Storm Evert change the calculus, Nine people showed a keeness that the breeze was not sharing. Time and tide, as we all know, will wait for no-one.

With very little wind disturbing the water’s surface and as the possible start window opened at 13:30 there were only the two boats floating. Both of them were orange with engines. By 14:00 Jane, the Race Officer, was getting nervous that the crews had not heard her prediction that the tide would turn at 14:45. “How will they get there in less than 45 mins without any wind”, she mused.

Both the safety boats pushed off with the biggest hint possible that it was time to get going. But our South Bank sailors are a canny bunch. Eyeballing each other on the gravel beach to see who would blink first they stretched things out for a further ten minutes, before Elaine broke with a flurry of activity.

In the next two minutes all but Jakob had lost their nerve to peer pressure and the whole fleet was off and running. Well, drifting might be more accurate, but they were moving over the ground. Which was more than can be said for the Race Officer and her incapable assistant, whose engine had expired due to lack of fuel in the hose.

Coolest cat Jakob set off four long minutes after Elaine and the whole fleet were in sight of each other as they passed under Putney Bridge. Three Solos, Four lasers and a Merlin Rocket making perceptible progress through the water.

Jakob was showing his class by heeling the boat to windward and pointing the boom to the sky maximising the sail’s ability to catch any breeze. Henry, in an unfamiliar Solo, made a beeline for the shore near the Heliport as he saw two incoming wind machines. Must have cost him a lot of money, that little display of creative thinking.

Meanwhile Elaine was turning her early start into something of a success. No one had managed to drift faster and as the race management teams were monitoring the water flow at every bridge it was becoming clear it was going to be touch and go. Being in front was looking likely to pay dividends.

But wait a second, was that wind? And those dark clouds look a bit ugly. Suddenly the sailors were contending with running, reaching and beating all within moments. One gust caught Elaine unawares and over she went. The rest of the fleet took advantage of her misfortune and all moved up a place. Elaine’s Laser was pinned down with the mainsheet cleated. After a brave duck and dive around the transom up she came, phew! It was quite a relief on the safety boats too as when the heavy shower came they could both hide under their nearest bridge as the sailors made slow damp progress to the turn mark, as the swirling wind had moved on.

The final waft of the ebb carried the first four boats around the turning mark. Chris, Jan and grandson Ellery had beached the safety boat and were litter picking on the beach on the North shore under Chelsea Bridge to ensure a clear view of proceedings. So Jakob, Sara, Andrew and Peter and James were home and dry. The incoming tide would take them home and the rich would get richer.

But would the others make it? There is something like a 2 minute window before the tide makes up its mind. Would it be enough? The wind had dropped again, it was anyone’s guess. Allan, Henry, David and Elaine all bent to the task in hand. And they all made it. Just!

The race looked set. Sara’s Solo was sitting just on the back of Jakob’s Laser and after a small gap the Merlin Rocket was holding off the Laser of James. A bigger gap before the rest of the fleet looked to have sealed everyone’s fate.

But it was not to be. The fickle wind Gods allowed the Merlin Rocket to show her paces and suddenly they had overhauled Sara and were knocking on Jakob’s stern. As the wind increased the pace increased. The gap between boats lengthened and the Race Officer was keen to get back to base to get the times at the finish.

And after a little tech help over the phone and a little cloud computing the complicated number crunching could begin. It turns out Sara was the Ruby Belle of the ball, closely followed by Jakob and Andrew and Peter in the Merlin Rocket. A great day on the water.

Graham Douglas