41st Swale Barge Match, 3rd August 2013

Following a dire effort a few weeks before at the Thames Match, Edith May headed to the Swale hoping for a much improved performance.

Also sailing around to the Swale on Friday was Cambria and Niagara, with Ian Ruffles, skipper of the former, accepting Edith May’s challenge of a race round to Harty Ferry.

Unfortunately, the wind was variable and almost non-existent. Edith May had a 2 mile head start, but this counted for little as she drifted out of the Garrison. The other barges carried a light draught down river until reaching Edith May, where they were all becalmed. Niagara was the only one able to get some momentum, setting a large running sail that looked like it was made from cling film. If it was light airs on race day, Edith May would have no chance.

A fresh breeze then cropped up from the north, giving the barges lovely sailing conditions around the outside of the island. Edith May and Niagara romped away from Cambria, at one point cheekily offering to come back and give her a tow.

Niagara was able to slowly draw ahead and the barges stood on to the Columbine before heading up river. Cambria, who had by now begun to find her stride, cut the corner straight to the Columbine Spit and was now ahead. Niagara stowed up and motored, satisfied with her sail.

VIC 96 arrives at the Swale

VIC 96 arrives at the Swale
The wind returned to its light and fickle nature but provided a following breeze heading up river. On approaching the Sand End buoy, the wind backed to SW and freshened. Up ahead, Cambria began to harden her sheets in. With the water smooth and the breeze fresh, Edith May was in her element, charging up river. With each tack she took a chunk out of Cambria’s lead until upon reaching the finish line (Receptive Buoy) she was a few feet behind. If tomorrows conditions were like this, Edith May would have a good chance.

Star winchman R ‘Crab’ B

Star winchman R ‘Crab’ B
The Swale is slightly different to the other matches as it welcomes all kinds of historic boats. There was a reasonable turn out of barges but there was a dire entry in the smacks – only three entered.

The barges were split into three classes, as follows:

Fast Staysail: Edith May, Niagara, Repertor
Staysail B: Cabby, Lady Daphne, Lady of the Lea, Orinoco
Bowsprit: Cambria, Edme, Marjorie

Preparing for the start, Lady of the Lea and Niagara

Preparing for the start, Lady of the Lea and Niagara
The light breeze predicted for the start was way off, with a fresh 5-6 south westerly blowing all morning – good conditions for Edith May. Geoff Ingle, skipper/owner of Orinoco, decided not to start, and transferred his mainsheetman, Greg Diddams, to Edith May. Having been aboard for the sail around the day before, he knew it was going to be a good day for the barge and his competitive nature was already on display for the newly arrived charterers to see. Skipper Geoff Gransden knew his ears would be taking a pounding today with Greg’s usual cries of ‘Concentrate Geoff!’.

Clare Curling counts down…

Clare Curling counts down…
With both staysail classes starting together, it was quite congested but Edith May found herself at the front of the pack charging to the line at the Sand End buoy. With official stop watch operator Clare Curling counting down the seconds to the start gun and the barge doing about 8kts, it was difficult to judge if the barge was going to be a few seconds early or late and mainsheetman and mate encouraged skipper Geoff to check the barge a little to be sure.

Just as she was seconds from crossing the line, the smoke from the starters gun billowed out from the Committee boat – a perfect start! Skipper Geoff, seeking
Edith May heads the pack on the run

Edith May heads the pack on the run
absolute perfection, grumbled that he could have been a few seconds earlier if he had not been asked to slow her down.

Running downwind is usually where Edith May makes the most ground and she was able to pull away from the pack, with one exception – the lofty Niagara was catching!

The course was KSA mark (formerly Spaniard) (S), Herne Bay mark (S), Sewer Mark (S), Whitstable Street (P), Receptive Buoy (S). The final mark was also the finish line.

On the run

On the run
About halfway to the first mark, Niagara had got alongside and she began pulling away into the lead. Although still early doors, the speed she seemed to possess meant it was easy to assume that would be the last time Edith May held the lead and attention switched to her other great rival, Repertor, who was still quite far back amongst the chasing pack. Edith May has held large leads over her before, but by the finish, you can usually reckon that any early leads will count for nothing.

Niagara rounds the first mark with a good lead

Niagara rounds the first mark with a good lead
There was one hope for Edith May, which was that she could replicate her form of the day before when tacking up the river, if only she could keep in touching distance of Niagara.

Having rounded the Herne Bay mark, the two leading barges went tacking into the shallows to keep out of the tide. Taking slightly different tactics to each other, ground gained on one tack was lost on the next and by the time they had rounded the sewer buoy, Niagara had a fair lead on Edith May and the upwind advantage, although neither barge was going to sail straight to the Whitstable Street buoy.

Edith May regains the lead!

Edith May regains the lead!
Whilst Niagara stood on toward the buoy and the deeper water, Edith May put one last tack in to the shallows, keeping out of the tide. Niagara had the lead, but Edith May now had the upwind advantage and could lay almost straight to the buoy.

On arriving at the Whitstable Street, the barges were once again almost neck and neck and it was going to be a long turn up to the finish. Sure enough, Edith May reproduced her form from the previous day, making small gains each tack until she was decisively in the lead.

The supreme Edme approaching the finish

The supreme Edme approaching the finish
The leading bowsprit barge, Edme, had by now caught up and was also in the mix, fortunately for Edith May, forcing Niagara to tack once or twice when she would have preferred not to.

Turning up the river, the barge was going at her peak performance – not seen since her return to racing in 2011, when she won the Medway Match turning upriver in similar conditions.

The barge had not touched one leeboard all the way up the narrow river until the final tack. Not being able to lay the Receptive buoy, she had one last board across to the Committee Boat, which was anchored on the other end of the line. Both boards went quite well on but the winch men were quickly on to it and the barge sailed off easily enough. The winch men had enjoyed plenty of practice – 50 tacks were counted between Herne Bay and the finish – and they averted what could have been an awful end to a great day.

Sailing fast near the finish

Sailing fast near the finish (D. Metcalfe)
Edme had finished just ahead to claim the Bowsprit Cup, with Niagara 13 minutes further behind. Surprisingly, Repertor had not been able to make any gains and finished over 45 minutes after Edith May.

Tragically for Lady Daphne, who had sailed a great race in the Staysail B Class, she also had to stand across to the Committee Boat for one last tack except she went a little further than Edith May and became lodged on the putty, a few feet from the finish line. This enabled Cabby to steal the win from under their noses. Terrible bad luck for those aboard the barge. The plucky Lady of the Lea came home 2nd.

William and Emily had an unfortunate day

William and Emily had an unfortunate day (C. Curling)
Marjorie was 2nd in the Bowsprit Class, comfortably beating Cambria who had apparently decided not to race too hard, preferring a more leisurely approach to ensure they enjoyed the day.

The prizegiving was held at Hollowshore, although with the late tide, it was pretty well dark before the prizes were dished out. Disappointingly, it was discovered no times are recorded at the start and so it is not known how good Edith May’s actually was.

Whilst this result was a great one, the Niagara is still well in front leading the Championship and only another great result at the Southend can leave Edith May in with a shout of retaining her title at the season decider.

She’ll be hoping for a good breeze and a flat sea…

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