|MUSTO Skiffs at the East Coast Piers Race
Report by David Annan;
Two MUSTO Skiffs took part in the East Coast Piers Race over the weekend of the 7th and 8th of July (yes, they were naughty and didn't go to the circuit event at Lymington!). For those who haven't heard of it, the East Coast Piers Race (ECPR) is traditionally catamaran event involving a 48 mile long distance race from Marconi Sailing Club in the River Blackwater and racing through a series of gates to Walton-on-the-Naze and back. In recent years they have opened up the 28 mile Colne Point Race to fast dinghies and skiffs. This year was the fourth time I've done the race. I keep going back because it is something a bit different to most events, it has a really good atmosphere around it plus it's all in aid of charity!
Deciding to make a weekend of it, I arrived on Friday evening to also take advantage of the plentiful free onsite camping. We pitched our tent then headed for the club bar. A local brewery had donated over 500 pints of beer, the proceeds from which all went to the event charities – The Cirdan Trust and the Essex Air Ambulance. Drinking beer in aid of charity - I like it!
Saturday morning was a very chilled out affair - rigging boats in the sunshine and speculating about when the sea breeze would arrive for the afternoon's round the cans races in the river. At the briefing the inevitable question of sailing v some football match was asked, with sailing overwhelmingly voted the winner - YAY!!
Now, I mentioned "round the cans" racing. Reality is that due to the shape of the river there are only two cans and no matter what the wind direction or tidal state we race 2 or 3 laps around those marks, aiming for two ninety minute races with a break ashore in between. In previous years this has been a beam reach both ways (hardwork in a MUSTO!), but this year it was a long windward/leeward with a long beat against a strong incoming tide in 5 to 8 knots of breeze.
Racing in a single fleet in a narrow river at low tide with boats ranging from Flying Phantoms and Nacra F20s down to a Laser 4000 is entertaining. The key strategy for the dinghies and skiffs was to stay in the shallow water on the upwind legs, weaving through the moored cruisers, then pick the right moment to cross the channel to the mark. In the first race Andy Stickland in the other MUSTO and I had a good tussle whilst also hanging on to the RS800s. It was a long race - nearly 2 hours for us! Strangely, Andy's pace seemed to drop off as the race went on allowing me to come out on top.
After a short break the second race got underway. On the first leg Andy realised that his boat was filling with water and retired - a cracked dagger board case the culprit. I managed to find the best route through the tide and beat all the RS800s over the water.
Saturday night was classic ECPR. First, give the boat a very thorough check over in preparation for Sunday's long race. Then the briefing for the race followed by a BBQ (included in the entry fee), drinking good beer for charity (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), a live band in the bar and good banter with old and new friends. Plus the welcome news part way through the evening that I'd managed to win both of Saturday's races.
Sunday morning dawned with glorious sunshine, but not a breath of wind. Nonetheless, the fleets were encouraged to get ready to race and were called through scrutineering to ensure everyone had the required safety gear and GPS tracker onboard. A postponement came, but with news of breeze filling in from the north east.
After a 45 minute delay we watched the fast cats start in one or two knots of breeze. A few minutes later the dinghy and slow cat fleet was on the water, trying desperately not to get pushed over the start early by the strong outgoing tide. A temporary suspension to Rule 42 was announced allowing all means necessary to stay behind the start. I was rocking vigourously. Some got help from ribs. One RS800 crew was seen to get out and push. The gun went for perhaps the most undramatic start of my sailing career with the fleet drifting slowly over the line in the tide.
After a few minutes a patchy 5 knots filled in allowing the fleet to make progress on the 13 mile beat. I didn't do the best job of picking my way around the light patches and staying in the tide. By the time we reached the Bradwell gate a couple of the RS800s and Andy in the other MUSTO had got a bit of a jump on me. At Bradwell the wind became a bit more consistent but passing lanes were hard to find in the long fetch across the Colne estuary to Colne Point. There were also some areas of tricky chop where the water flowing out the Blackwater and the Colne rivers met.
At the Colne Point gate Andy was one and a half minutes ahead of me with two of the RS800s ahead of him. As I hoisted the kite for the 13 mile run I was thinking to myself that I had a bit on to make up that distance. The slower boats didn't seem to be far behind either.
By this stage the wind had increased slightly to that really awkward strength right on the boundary between soaking low and going high and wireing. I took a slightly lower line than the boats ahead of me and worked hard in the waves to keep the speed up. It worked for me and by the time we got back to Bradwell I had passed Andy (maybe his boat was still leaking?), one of the RS800s and was right with the other.
As the wind entered the river it increased a bit more and shifted making it a struggle to stay high enough to miss Thirslett Spit which is known for destroying dagger boards. Not wanting to loose time by dropping the kite and reaching up I stuck with it and (just) snuck past the channel marker. The finish was then insight and I could see the two 49ers not far ahead. The last couple of miles was gybing down the river in nice flat water - conditions the MUSTO loves!
Once ashore I was pretty confident that I was close enough to the boats ahead of me to beat them on handicap. But with the wind filling in from behind the slower boats may be able to close the gap.
As the results were announced at the prize giving Andy Stickland was awarded second place in the Colne Point race (not bad considering his leaky boat) and I was first giving a MUSTO 1, 2. Then, much to our surprise, they announced that I'd also won the event overall on time corrected for both handicap and distance sailed.
Overall it was a great event both on and off the water and I'd recommend it to anyone.
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