Solent Gaffers


Solent OGA Annual Race 2018

Off Cowes
©M Manning

The Solent Area hosted the 60th Annual Race and the OGA55 Celebrations at Cowes this year and Richard Jacobs, who came overall first in the race, gives his account. You can now see the full results at this LINK on the Island Sailing Club website. You can download all the results and prizes awarded below. There are photos of the prize winners on our Galleries page, and also a Gallery page of the race boats.

This year’s Solent Annual race was run as part of the hugely successful OGA55 celebration at Cowes. We arrived at the Folly Inn on Thursday afternoon to find gaffers of all shapes and sizes gathering, from far and wide. We were immediately ferried back down the Medina to the Classic Boat Museum. After a warm welcome, drinks and exploration of the museum, we were ferried back again, for supper afloat.

Friday was spent with small boat fun and games at the Folly. We’d brought ‘Ivy Green’s’ 15ft sweep with us for sculling practice. It got a little use in one of the ‘smacks’ boats from the East coast, but we switched back to a more sensible size oar to work on our technique. Then there was dinghy racing in the same boats, followed by an auction and the serious business of the day… the ‘log race’.

On Saturday morning almost 50 boats untangle themselves from the various rafts and head out to the Solent to race. It’s a pretty steady force 4, from the West, so the question for us is about the topsail. ‘Nomad’ is flying hers, so up ours goes. It’s easy to drop if the wind builds further. With a fleet of nearly 50 gaffers, ranging from 19ft to 69ft, all going for a single start, there’s potential for excitement.

We get away surprisingly cleanly, coming in on starboard and tacking across the line to head out to ‘Quinnell’. We’ve got the big smack ‘My Alice’ a little below us, with ‘Aeolus’ below her. ‘Hester’ and ‘Cynthia’ have both got away well at the front, with mighty ‘Jolie Brise’ powering along well to windward. Our main competition ‘Nomad’ and ‘Lyra’ are further back. We’re almost laying the mark, with the flood tide just starting to pull us North.

‘My Alice’ is climbing at us from below, but we’re just able to match her for line and speed. Helming from the leeward side, with the staysail in bar tight I can see the tell tales for once. Eventually ‘My Alice’ slides beneath us as we both have to avoid the red ‘NE Gurnard’ buoy, but she’s dropping away downwind. ‘Jolie Brise’ is first to the mark, It’s now clear that it’s the next mark ‘The Elephant Boatyard’ that matters. We carry straight on and tack close in shore. ‘My Alice’ is behind us now. As we come back out we can see the tide pulling us 30 degrees off course. We tack back in. Our speed instantly jumps from 4kts to 6.5kts. We go as close to the beach as we dare (it’s low tide), then tack out along Lepe Spit and head across. We’ve gained hugely on the boats that tried to go straight across. As we close on the island shore we’re ahead of ‘Jolie Brise’ and leading the fleet. We pass just East of ‘Gurnard Ledge’ buoy. There’s nowhere to hide from the tide here, but we short tack as close to the rocks we dare. It’s slow progress and the big boats (along with little ‘Dirty Girty’!) are closing on us, although we can see that they’re all going sideways. Everyone’s working well and a series of smart tacks keep us moving. After 20 minutes we inch around the rocks into Thorness Bay. From there it’s a couple more tacks in shallow water to get to the mark.

We’re first around and open up the gap as we reach up to the next mark. Then it’s a gybe and we’re up to 9kts back across the Solent. We’re almost 2 legs ahead of the next boat. A couple more careful gybes and we’re heading back into Cowes for the final beat. The wind is up and the topsail isn’t helping any more. ‘Jolie Brise’ is storming across the gap at speed, but there’s nobody else in sight.

It’s back to short tacking to keep out of the tide at Cowes. We’re well practiced now and are delighted to cross the line first. Looking back we see that ’Jolie Brise’ has been too keen to catch us and needs to use her engine after going too far inshore. Twenty minutes later we watch ‘Nomad’ and ‘Cynthia’ chasing 2nd across the line. ’Nomad’ holds on to give Ed Burnett boats first and second over the line. ‘My Alice’ follows them in, then flags us down to unload a couple of their crew, before heading East at speed. We head into Shepards Marina for lunch and a well earned beer!

We’ve had a great race in perfect conditions for ‘Ivy Green’, but it’s been a tough day for the smaller boats. At the prize giving we learn that only 20 boats completed the course, with stories of it taking well over an hour to get into Thorness Bay from those that followed. We were lucky to be there early. The race time limit was extended to 5 1/2hrs, with a group persevering to the end. ‘Lone Wolf’ picked up a particularly hard earned ‘Laggards’s Ladle’, just 5 minutes before the limit. Somehow we’ve won 4 trophies for one race - First boat home, first in class 1B (Over 28ft, under 50 years), first square keel and first Solent boat overall. The last of these is the ‘Commodore’s Pennant’, which looks smart at the top of the mast. There’s also a piece of the broken dinghy tiller from Friday’s games!

28 Aug 2018