A cruising yacht goes racing: taking part in the Suffolk Yacht Harbour Classic Regatta

This post originally appeared on Classic Boat

Peter Smith’s Bardu Photo: Emily Harris

Arriving in Suffolk Yacht Harbour on the floodtide from the River Blackwater on a calm Friday evening, my crew and I aboard our 1951 8-ton Gauntlet, Bardu, felt instantly welcome. We were moored up at the lovely marina at Levington on the north side of the River Orwell, where the 2016 Suffolk Yacht Harbour Classic Regatta was getting underway.

The event, now in its 15th year, is run by Suffolk Yacht Harbour, in association with Haven Ports YC, and we were surrounded by 47 boats well representing the past 100 years of yachting. It was fantastic just walking round the pontoons. The good ship Bardu is more used to the cruising life than anything involving a start line, but we were looking forward to two days of racing with this fleet, and a few refreshments in between. We were welcomed by the marina’s MD Jonathan Dyke, who not only hosts the weekend, he races as well, sailing his 1938, 40ft, 10-ton Robert Clarke design Cereste.

A race briefing the following morning, led by race officer Peter Martin in the Harbour Room, one of the marina’s many recent developments, paved the way for the fleet to leave and to make its way to the start line in Penny Hole Bay, a stretch of water well outside and to the south of the commercial port of Felixstowe Harbour. Very light winds meant many engineless boats, like the Tumare Zest needed to be towed.

The racing was divided into three race starts. Over the line first were the Stella class and from where we were placed, getting ready for our start, it looked very competitive. Stellas are popular on this coast.

Bardu was in the mix for the start of the ‘slow’ classics, but we fell behind in the light winds. However one of the joys of this event is that the ‘fast’ classics start after everyone else. The result was that as they caught us up, we could enjoy the beauty of these boats in full race trim and admire the skill of their crews. Like the international Bjarne Aas-designed 8-M If, built in 1930 and raced by Peter Wilson. Or the different designs of International One Designs and West Solent One Designs. Stunning.

The real racing would go on ahead as spinnakers were set, but for us the wind fell flat. The first race was brought to a close by the committee boat, but not before all had crossed the impromptu finishing line and times noted. As the fleet regrouped, a new start line was set and starting line manoeuvres began. While heavy rains could be seen inland over Colchester and Ipswich, conditions remained dry though cloudy. Any high performance race wind was in short supply, but there was enough to get the fleet around a well-set course of race marks and navigation buoys, requiring spinnakers to be set and gybed.

The largest boat racing was the gaff ketch Betty Alan which had skipper Ed Maggs busy marshalling a big crew and meeting the trials of setting a spinnaker. Others included modern classics like Golden Fleece, an S7S 41 built in 1974 and restored by Michael Wheeler. Welcome too are the Spirit of Tradition boats, among them Flight of Ufford, a Spirit 52 launched in 2007 and owned by Sean McMillian of Spirit Yachts.

There was more wind for the second day of racing, and for me a wonderful surprise. Taking part today was another Gauntlet called Grey Seal, a larger 12 ton-version of this offshore cruiser racer from the 1930s. Grey Seal was sailed by Paul Nye and crew who, like us, are more cruisers than racers, but for a few exciting moments the race was our own as we went head to head. It is rare for a Gauntlet owner to observe their boat design under sail at such close quarters. Sadly, tidal and time constraints meant Bardu had to depart the regatta early and we left our new friends to finish alone. We pointed Bardu’s bows into the southerly wind and tacked down ‘the wallet’ to return on the flood tide to the Blackwater.

The ‘fast class’ and overall winner of the regatta was West Solent One Design Arrow, sailed by Phil Plumtree. It’s a design, incidentally, created at Berthon in Lymington, which is also the birthplace of the Gauntlet. In second place overall was Mark Wincer in his International One Design Whisper. A Tumlare, Zest, had perhaps the most admirable result. Sailed by Jonathan Thompson, she was the winner in the ‘slow class’ but also third placed overall. She beat an 8-M; the next overall position in the ‘slow class’ was 15th. As for the seven Stellas, this hard-fought class was claimed by Phillip Warings and Jeffrey Bowles in Stardust.

Of course all the boats could have won the Concours d’Elegance, but the prize went to the centenarian gaff-rigged cutter Lora. Now maintained by Robert Townsend, she was built to a Pain Clarke design
and launched in 1911.

This is a competitive event and many crews arrive looking to take home some silverware. Of course, not all can win, but despite the cliché we found it really was the taking part that had its own rewards. It was the visual feast on the pontoons and on the water, it was the sense of achievement and it was the enjoyment in discussing the day’s racing at the bar or over a meal in the marina’s striking red light ship LV87, which Suffolk Yacht Harbour acquired in 1975.

So I’m planning to take part again next year, when it’s scheduled for a weekend in mid-June. Next time I hope to arrive in the company of two fellow boats from Marconi Sailing Club on the Blackwater, the 1937 McGruer design Eriska and Dolly, a fine example of a Vertue. And while I’ll be brushing up on setting the spinnaker and getting my crew up to race speed, I’ll look forward to the event’s relaxed atmosphere too.

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Source: This story first appeared on Classic Boat

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