A fantastic (record??) entry and a great days sailing.
Dittisham Sailing Club Solo Open Meeting 2022
An incredible 39 Solo sailors entered the Dittisham S.C. Open Meeting which took place on upper reaches of the River Dart on a very windy Saturday 23rd July. Competitors from the east coast at Leigh on Sea had made the journey with their vintage Solos strapped to a VW camper bought for just one hundred quid, there is a story right there. Torpoint Mosquito, a current hotbed of Solo interest and some talent was represented as was Salcombe Yacht Club who had sent three very capable sailors who were just pleased to be able to park close to the club. As for the home team, well, Dittisham’s Solo fleet has grown exponentially over the last five years and fortunately, the beam of a Solo is 1512mm max at station 3, so even allowing a bit extra for the projection of the gunwales, and you can still pack them quite close together in the dinghy park. We also have a strong female demographic at Dittisham and Jane Morris, Anne Marie Coyle, Sam Westcott and Ann Biglin were out on the water and showing they are as brave as the boys.
The forecast, always taken with a large portion of salt where Dittisham is concerned, promised a fresh breeze and this proved an understatement of biblical proportions. They did get the direction right though, a south westerly blowing from over the Ferry Boat Inn.
PRO for the day would be James Dodd who briefed the competitors on the course, tidal impact and wind bend, though tips on swimming technique would have also been of some value.
The fleet launched with the breeze building and the water beginning to actually resemble a proper sea, and that was with the tide still coming in.
The triangle, sausage course was simple in its composition but with local topographical factors and a crap load of moored boats to avoid, the sailors needed to be on their toes as well as out on them.
A pretty short line but away cleanly, the left side of the course already looking much nicer than the committee end, and that was after 15 seconds. The gusts were already causing problems for the fleet, the over-canvassed fully battened mainsail needs some pretty violent manipulation via kicker, outhaul and most importantly, Cunningham control and mine was not co-operating. Every time I wrenched on the excel 4mm luminous control line the sail just pulled down a few inches from the mast top. The result, a sail with the fullness of Raquel Welsh. On further investigation the halyard, a rope of some non exotic ethnicity was found wanting. I crabbed up the first beat, legs already two inches longer than when I stepped out of bed and set off down the reach. The leaders were already well ahead, Stuart Hyden (Dittisham) 5504, was in the mix with Ian Bartlett 5902 and Malcolm Davies (TCYC) in his vintage Solo 4654. Jon Clarke (Dittisham) of Edge Sails was fourth which was amazing since he had recently undergone some serious surgery which has left him even lighter than he normally is, not ideal in these conditions. By the bottom mark of the second lap, Hydon, ex Inland Champion circa 2005 had powered into the lead, hard left upwind was the only way to go and he led for the remainder of the race with South Cerney’s Bartlett and Salcombe’s Roger Guess completing the top three. Davies was a valiant fourth with a fast finishing Paul Jacobs (Starcross) 6003 fifth. There were some excellent capsizes during race 1, Shaun Welsh particularly stood out for a dismount still to be named by the World Gymnastics governing body.
The fleet disengaged and headed in to shore where they enjoyed a lunch which would not have looked out of place at a Hogwart’s function. The pasties were very popular and the egg sandwiches, my particular favourite, mainly because they were lighter and my arms were knackered.
The wind had not abated and indeed, as the seconds ticked down to the start, it was clear this would be a brutal race on bodies and equipment. The cat was out of the bag and the fleet set off towards the left, the race arena got bumpy and the smell of beer from the FBI confirmed it was indeed a sea breeze. Jacobs and Hydon led into the top mark with Davies third and they set off down the reach to the gybe mark which was positioned just in the lee of the land. There was place changing through the fleet, mainly due to capsizes, errant tacking and a few penalty turns. The race was reduced to three laps and the finishing order was Jacobs, Hydon and Loy who benefitted from some bad luck for Davies who tacked just as a huge lift hit us both, leaving him in irons and me smelling of roses. Such is the Wind God of Dart.
Back to back and the fleet barely had time to remember how hard the previous race had been, clever PRO tactic. Still, only 19 competitors made the start line and with the left still favoured, the fleet set off to see who would be first to the corner. Jacobs judged the lay line perfectly and took a handy lead over Bartlett, Hydon, Chris Meredith (Chew Valley) and Giles Bradford (Dittisham) who was looking very athletic compared with the usual Solo sailor. He normally races an Aero so that makes sense. Behind there was much whooping, Sam Westcott was showing blistering downwind pace, alas, she would later go for a swim but great enthusiasm none the less.
By the end of lap 2 Jacobs had asserted his position and had one hand on the title but Hydon was keeping him honest and Bartlett was also still in the mix.
Gusts continued to wreak havoc on the fleet and with plenty of safety boat experience being gained by the very keen rescue teams, this event would be remembered for a long time.
Quotes from some of the competitors:
Anne Marie Coyle 5304
“It was with the greatest of trepidation that I looked at the F4-6 forecast on XC Weather.
I started planning how I could add a strop to the halyard and hoist my B-plan sail.
We drove to DSC and it didn't seem quite as howling as I'd feared.
Delighted and slightly overwhelmed by the amazing turnout with visitors having driven as much as 7 hours from Leigh-on-Sea for the delights of the Red Lion PO / pub / village shop and the stunning waters of Dittisham.
I've never been on a start line with so many super confident and bargey Solos so it was a happy surprise that I ended up with a middling start and hoiked my way uphill to the yellow pillar buoy with a pink sock. After 20 mins of the triangle and sausage ...I thought "that's only 20 minutes... James said an hour!!".
I think the race was about 3 laps (I can't really remember) and I saw a range of capsizes, near capsizes, scary gybes, flotilla gentle collisions, some very excellent self policing of mark skimmings in the strong tides and many people rightfully doing their turns due to infringements.
I'm not sure if it's my lack of experience, fitness or stamina but as the forecast was predicting more wind later in the day, I cravenly bowed out and manned an extra safety boat (which entailed retrieving two mud stuck masts and jumping in to right a turtled Solo!) but I can honestly say I was pleased that I got round without a major drama and I can only aspire to look as slick in my tacks as the lead chaps I watched from the safety boat!
Thanks to Nicky and Val for a fabulous lunch and post race homemade cakes - a proper traditional day's racing with some lovely visitors.”
Giles Bradford 5157(1)
“The usual Dittisham welcome! I maintain it is the friendliest club around, the cheering at the race briefing said it all. A treat of a course with a steadily building south westerly, our bit of the Dart at it’s best and with some great competition to boot from locals and visitors alike. Legendary hosting, a superb spread and conditions to bring a smile to the face. I was definitely holding on in some of the gusts!”
Sam Westcott 5157
“My Solo Open experience - what a bloody marvellous training experience, if anything is going to give me confidence it’s competing and surviving in those sorts of conditions.
Fantastic to raise against so many class boats.
Best bits, a cracking start in race 3, being right behind you (Will) and planing the boat as fast as I have ever been. Gybing fully and no capsizes, on other parts of the course - a serious amount of capsize practice. I am dreading going through the airport tomorrow as I look like a battered wife! “
At the finish, Jacobs held for the bullet and overall win with Guess showing his stamina to finish second and third overall from Bartlett and Bradford with Hydon demoted to fifth but still second overall.
The leading lady was Jane Morris in 20th and Malcolm Davies was first Vintage Solo in 5th.
Special mention to our 16 visitors who made the journey to this beautiful corner of Devon and to our fleet captain, Trevor Kirkin, who managed to get nearly every Solo member on the water.
The race team were exemplary, James Dodd was concise and did not dilly dally, keeping the races moving and ensuring safety at all times.
The food on shore was superb and hopefully we will have another great event in 2023 so please do come and join us at ‘Ditsom’ next year or even sooner if you want to become part of the next hotbed of Solo Sailing.