Isle of Sheppey Race 2006
One of the reasons I got the Blaze was to be able to sail offshore in a boat that could fly over the waves rather than get bogged down in them! The Isle of Sheppey race which took place on Saturday 9th September gave me a chance to see how the Blaze performed in these conditions.
Leaving home near Burghfield at 6:40 am, I arrived in Sheerness before 9am. A welcome bit of excellent organisation was to have a Marshall jump out onto the road in front of me and direct me off the main road and along the top of the breakwater, to drop our boats off at the beach before parking.
There were four starts at half hour intervals and the Blazes were in the second, starting at 11am. Of the 120 starters, there were 8 Blazes - four from Burghfield, two from Blackpool and Fleetwood and one each from Whitstable and Bough Beech. Winds were a vigorous Force 4 gusting 5 from an Easterly direction with a high tide at 14:30.
With the start at Sheerness, the first part of the race was a six mile beat up the north east coast against the tide. Waves were challenging but fun and, providing one freed off a bit to power through them when necessary, manageble. However be careful you don't catch your rucksack on the boom as you go about - Pete Barlow demonstrated that this can result in a capsize though he was quickly up again! Mike Lyons gradually pulled ahead up the beat, followed by myself, Pete and Rien Zilvold.
As we approached the end of the island we were able to free of a bit and the close reach gradually turned into a broad reach. Speeds gradually increased and my GPS showed that I reached 21 km hr rounding the end of the island. Waves of any size disappeared and there was an enjoyable run, still with the tide, up The Swale. It was sometimes difficult to know what point on the horizon to aim for, not knowing the lie of the land and the shallows, but with so much open water around, what the heck! Next time I may be able to cut a finer line but this didn't feel like the day to push the limits too much.
My newly acquired GPS (GPSMAP C60 - currently £150 from blokestuff.com) plotted 1320 points around the course and these are displayed in the attached map (thanks to www.gpsvisualizer.com/map; ). Speeds are indicated in colour - see the legend. The GPS recorded a maximum speed of 24.5 km/hr (15.2 m/hr or 13.2 knots). The distance covered from start to finish was 48.9 km (30.4 miles, 26.4 nm) over, in my case, 4 hours 20.5 minutes, making the average speed 11.3 km/hr (7.0 m/h or 6.1 k).
An interesting feature of the race is the capsize required to get your dinghy under the railway bridge to the south west of the island. Avoid the cats here if possible.
The sail up past the port of Sheerness to the west of the island was challenging due to the gustiness of the wind around the container ships and buildings, though the water was relatively smooth.
As I was sailing northwards to the west of Sheppey, I saw a container ship gather way. Mike Lyons, our national champion and three times winner of the Isle of Sheppey race in a Blaze, was held up along with two other boats for a at least three minutes while the ship crossed the course. By the time I got to that position the ship was well gone. The waves built up by the wind against the now outgoing tide provided a final challenge to the dinghy sailors sailing the last leg to the finish line.
Final results were not the best for the Blazes - the wind direction and strong tides meant we had to tack frequently, staying close to the shore on the first leg. The first two places in the race went to catamarans and the first dinghy was an International Canoe, followed by more cats. Out of 120 starters, the Blazes came in 20th (Mike Lyons), 27th (Stuart Brown), 29th (Rien Zilvold), 32nd (Pete Barlow), 42nd (Paul Taylor), 58th (Robert Johnston), 62nd (Paul Reid) and Ron Gibbs retired. Full results can be seen at http://www.iossc.org.uk/islandrace/index.php?n=6
Well - how did the Blaze do? On the beats it got stuck in well, pushing through waves when they were too steep to get over without coming to a standstill, though there was a bit of pounding at times. The reaches were brilliant fun, lovely to skim down the waves when the angles were right. On the runs - well, on this day the kneeling was a welcome change from the hanging out!
Overall I found that in this race it was really enjoyable to settle down into the sailing without worrying where the next buoy is. However with the conditions we had, one difficulty is getting time to have a drink and a bite to eat! You should be well prepared for this race. However I can say without doubt that this race was the best day's sailing I have ever had in the Blaze.
See you all there next year!
S.C.Brown at reading.ac.uk