Leigh Trophy Race 2019

A warm (for October) but damp day with a forecast for increasing southerly winds greeted us on the morning of 13th October. Three starts, one each for the Slow, Medium and Fast fleets at half-hour intervals so that, by and large, all boats sailed the course in the same conditions and it was a long course to Otterham Fairway Buoy via Gillingham Reach and South Yantlet Creek and then back around the back or Nor Marsh, then north up Pinup Reach to the north passage around Hoo Island. Just what the race should be. Maybe in good conditions, it could have been a bit longer but that is immaterial considering what happened.

Fourteen boats signed up to do the race which is not many but in fact, many didn’t even leave the beach. Two only Fast Fleet boats about four 2000s and five Blazes with an RS100 took the start.

Amongst the Blazes it was all pretty close as we battled with a very gusty close reach to the Hoo West Cardinal mark and then on to 30 Chris who had gone back thinking erroneously that he was over the line had got into the lead at 30 but almost collided with a forty foot racer coming around 30 in the opposite direction. His mast caught their slack leeward runner but it slipped off without taking the mast out of his boat or any damage - but it looked dramatic.

We blasted down Gillingham Reach in wind that has risen again to close to survival conditions. It wasn’t just the strength but also the shiftyness with big holes that would drop you backwards into the water. I didn’t see anybody actually capsise but by 24 both Martin Jones and Colin turned back. I nearly did but thought Chris needed somebody to give chase. We sailed to SY4 which was easier being further away from the disturbances of Gillingham and a bit broader. At SY4 we tightened back up to a reach and it was wild again. I sailed conservatively thinking I’m not going to catch Chris but that he might capsise. Chris was fully out on the rack and must have been hammering along. I was sitting in a bit with the main eased and still doing some awful speed. We missed SY2 which was very easy as we were blasting with spray everywhere. We were looking for Otterham Fairway Buoy. We missed that too as we were too far north and we sailed across the mudflats on to almost to Stangate Creek but at high tide that area was unrecognisable and just a huge expanse of water. We couldn’t find the Otterham buoy and after a quarter of an hour of milling around and searching by the powerboat with John Goudie capsised, I decided to return home. So too did John. During this time Chris broke his tiller. On the way back I rounded a peninsular and there was the buoy. Crossing this huge expanse of water there was quite a large chop making beating difficult and being miles from anywhere I was inclined to sit in a bit and take it easy. The wind came up to screaming in the rigging. When I gingerly sailed back up South Yantlet Creek it was tough but when I emerged into the main channel and sailed towards Gillingham Reach it went up another step. Pinup Reach and that end of Gillingham Reach became white water. The chop was breaking over the boat, every wave was a breaking white one and the boat was buried every time. I looked out the back and water was rushing over the floor and out off the transom. My concern was to lay Hoo Ness because I think a tack would have been out of the question. You know what Gillingham Reach is like these days - full of big shifts and holes, well it was all of that plus the chop. It was hairy and I had been just gilling along to be cautious, but I had to put the board well down, sit out and drive the boat or I was going to be washed up on Hoo Island. I managed to lay Hoo Ness and carefully bore away towards the club.

I sailed back to the club with the sail flapping and was glad to be ashore having not capsised at all or having broken anything. John Goudie had just arrived. Quite sometime later Chris was towed in by a safety boat. Much, much later an Alto was towed in. Meanwhile, the 2000s (three of them anyway) had been having a good race and were only just pipped by the RS800 sailed by Richard Smith and Nick Letts. They had only taken a touch over an hour to complete the whole course and that included 3 capsises.