The 59th Round Isle of Sheppey Race

On Saturday 9th September two Weir Wood boats hit the road to take part in the 59th Round Isle of Sheppey Race hosted by the Isle of Sheppey Sailing Club. Martin Cragg & Peter Deeming in their Laser 2000 and Richard William and myself, Tony Carter in a Laser Stratos Keel.

The forecast at the beginning of the week was predicting quite lively conditions, however by Saturday morning things had calmed down to a respectable 10 knots westerly breeze. On arrival at the IOSSC you are directed up onto the sea wall, you join a precision of competitors along the top of the wall rigging their dinghies as you go. You rig a bit the move the cars forward rig a bit more, its much like a production line and so on it goes. By the time you reach the sailing club, you have your boat rigged. You’re then helped by the club marshals to unhitch your boat from the trailer and down onto the beach ready to launch. You then move your road trailer into the car park along the promenade. It’s all very efficient and works well after all they’ve had 59 years to workout the most efficient system.

Richard and myself were one of the first to arrive, at 08:00 and had the Startos on the beach ready by 08:20. Martin & Pete were not long after us. After a competitors briefing at 09:15 we changed and were ready to launch. Both Weir Wood dinghies had a start time of 10:30 so by 10:00 Richard and I were on the water checking everything was working OK, unfortunately by the time we noticed that we had a spinnaker downhaul issue it was to late to do anything about it, we could manage as it was. The committee boat start line was about a half a nautical mile offshore. The Medway estuary off the beach at Sheppey is quite shallow at low tide and you have to be at least two hundred metres offshore before you can get the rudder and centerboard, (keel in our case) down to avoid damage. Martin and Pete found this out at their cost as they lowered the rudder to soon and had to return to the shore to repair a broken rudder downhaul. This meant they missed their start by some 10 minutes. We however had a brilliant start, a port hand flyer, pin end spinnaker up fantastic. You’re required to sail the course around the Isle of Sheppey clockwise, so this meant a downwind start. This presents it own set of challenges with judging your arrival at the start line, at the right time, at speed to avoid being over the line at the gun.

The first leg of the race is a downwind leg along the north shore of the island. Not as easy as it may sound as there are numerous obstacles to avoid, such as shoals, submersed barriers and sand banks. The judgments you have to make is how far offshore to be. Play safe and keep out by about a mile or creep along closer in. Local knowledge is ideal. We saw quite a few locals creeping along the coast only a few hundred metres offshore, little did we know at the time one of them was Martin & Pete. Being six times veterans their local knowledge was far superior to us novices. But we have a keel, so played it safe and kept from harms way at about a mile offshore. Besides we had more wind out here.

The first leg is an 11.5nm spinnaker run lasting just under two hours. Being somewhat wiser this year by the time we had converged at the east of the island we keep closer to the shore along with several other local contenders making full use of their knowledge with Martin and Pete close on our heels now. As you enter the Swale you have two choices. Play it safe and take the main channel or keep inshore through the shallows. The later is a much shorter distance, but you risk going aground. We were in two minds here, but elected to take the main channel, more tide (with you at this stage) but a further distance. We elected for the main channel, Martin & Pete chose the inshore route, but this meant a great deal of tacking in the shallows. This cost them time and distance. Despite our more cautious approach we still hit the putty and had to conduct a quick keel lift to get off. It must have been the basking seals on the nearby mud flat that distracted us! We now had a 10nm beat up the swale until we reached the two bridges you’re required to go under. The first a rail bridge, the racing rules require you to go ashore, join the queue in an orderly fashion, capsize your dinghy and float it under the bridge, (the IOSSC provide marshals here to assist you) the second is the road bridge and you can sail under this. The downside of this is although you duck the bridge in the same position you arrived; it only takes a couple of minutes. Any time/distance advantage you had has gone due to the queuing.

Once under the bridge it was another reach, kite up to maximize boat speed as by now the tide is against you. Your almost there now with just over 5nm to go to the finish line and only Queensborough docks to navigate. With Martin and Pete taking the initiative they chose to go close to the shallows again cutting the corner and getting ahead of us by the shortest of margins. Once in the docks we had two large ship movements to avoid. With an IOSSC rib acting as a pilot vessel instructing the competitors which way to pass the shipping it was not long before we rounded the top north west of the island with a 2nm spinnaker reach to the finish line. Martin & Pete crossed first in 5 hours 6 minutes 20 seconds and Richard and I 8 seconds later. Our final position was a respectable 17th out of 59 finishers with Martin & Pete achieving a fantastic 13th. Full results from the day can be found here

After over five hours racing you’re pretty knackered, but IOSSC again are so well organized with marshals chest deep in water and your launching trolley at the ready taking your boat ashore and up the slip for you. All that’s left is for you to get you boat packed away, yourself showered and changed. Then with a beer in hand conduct a forensic analysis of the days racing with your fellow competitors.

The Isle of Sheppey Race is a great days sailing and with next year being their 60th year, lets make sure Weir Wood SC are well presented with say a target of six teams!

Our race stats:

Distance sailed 28.5nm
Time 5hrs 6mins 28sec
Max boat speed 12.2kts

Until then, happy sailing

Tony