Friday’s sail over proved to be one of the most miserable of the year – pouring rain and no wind made it a long slog, with the rain not stopping until the start of the match on Saturday.
A fair turnout made it to the Colne, with Melissa, Repertor, Reminder, Edme, Decima, Cygnet and Niagara, joining Edith May.
Following some issues with the trusty Seagull outboard, Paul Jeffries, skippering the massive Hydrogen, very kindly dropped of the rest of the crew on match day morning. With only around 45 minutes to the start, it became a bit of a rush to get the barge ready to go.
The weather was miserable with the wind NW 4, resulting in a running start for the barges. Edith May was a little slow getting her running sail up and lost out to Edme and Decima (racing staysail following her troubles at Southend) on the line, passing the latter for 2nd shortly after.
Behind, Niagara started mid fleet, earning herself a point for crossing the line and securing herself a maiden Championship – a great achievement.
Edme began establishing a lead, although for once, it was not an imperious one and she was kept vaguely in check. On rounding the Colne Bar and reaching toward Clacton, Niagara became embroiled in a luffing match with Decima. This was ideal for Edith May as it held the new Champion up and allowed Edith May to secure her position.
However, having passed the Decima, Niagara began her charge and at the Clacton mark she was not too far behind. Back on the run toward the Wallet Spitway Buoy, Edith May’s running sails were re set and leeboards picked up – it was felt with a bit of luck she may be able to hold off Niagara.
All of a sudden, the running sail came crashing down and straight over the side – the halyard had slipped the cleat! All hands rushed forward to try to haul the huge sail out of the water – if it had gone underneath the barge, it would be impossible to retrieve whilst sailing fast. Fortunately, the swift response ensured the worst did not happen and the sail was retrieved intact. However, valuable time was lost and Niagara was breathing down Edith May’s neck.
Edme still had not disappeared into the distance and the fleet astern, led by Repertor, were being left behind. Edith May was undoubtedly flying, but Niagara was going just that little bit faster!
First round the Wallet was Edme, who luffed right up into the wind in order to get her leeboard fully down. Edith May approached the mark going like a train but on rounding, the leeboard would only drop halfway (a common problem when the barge is moving through the water). With the Niagara breathing down her neck, it was decided there was no chance to luff up like the Edme had and so she pressed on.
Niagara’s wily skipper, Rob Deards, had foreseen this and sacrificed a little speed on the run by leaving his board right down. On rounding the buoy, it became clear he had made the correct decision, pointing higher than Edith May, who was still in front, but drifting down wind all the while, giving Niagara the upwind advantage.
The final mark was the Colne Bar (S) and a very long beat up the river was in store for the barges. This has the effect of bunching the barges up and with the tide near low water and still ebbing, one mistake could put the barge on the mud and allow your rival through.
The crew of Edith May tried everything to regain the lost ground, but ultimately, the crews of Edme and Niagara sailed equally as well and the order was maintained to the finish.
Repertor finished in 4th but there was a great tussle between Melissa and Decima turning up past Mersea Stone. It was not clear who would come out on top, but Decima prevailed – probably her best result all season and she seems to go better without the bowsprit – food for thought for skipper/owner Tim Goldsack.
By finishing 3rd (2nd staysail) Edith May secured 2nd in the Championship, an excellent result given her bad form in the first half of the season. The 2014 season seems an eternity away but there is no doubt that Edith May’s crew is getting sharper with each passing year and it will be interesting to see if she can get anywhere near the polished hull of the Niagara next year. Congratulations to her owner Peter Sands and the boys from Hoo for their excellent performance this year.
The Medway Match is on June 7th, only 8 long months away…