The longest day of the year saw Maria leave her Pyefleet mooring at 6.30am to head for foreign parts – well Osea Island in the River Blackwater for the Blackwater Match.
As always seems to be the case with the Blackwater Match, the wind was on the nose and the tide was running strongly against us, so the engine on the smack’s boat worked overtime to push her at a max 4 knots towards the start. We made it with just minutes to go, starting with the boat still tied on and managing to be over the line into the bargain.
We dropped the boat off just after the start, and with a five-minute penalty for our line transgression, set off on the run down the river with running sail and jib top set. Picking our way around the barges that had started before us, we managed to put some distance between us and the rest of the fleet but not enough to wipe out the penalty.
However, the wind gods (and Tom Bridle’s navigational skills) were on our side as we left the Blackwater to head for the Wallet buoy. The rest of the fleet (and the barges) seemed to think the buoy was 20˚ off our course and headed low. Tom put us on the right course – and when the wind headed, we had a major advantage as the other boats were now downwind and down-tide of the mark.
As we headed back up the Blackwater, the next boat to round was My Alice, around 11 minutes behind. But where we seemed to get on the wrong side of the shifts, My Alice got them right and made up a lot of ground on the very long beat back. Closer to Osea the wind was fickle, gusty and shifty, but we finally crossed the line more than six hours after the start.
We then had to sit watching My Alice close the line, anxiously consulting the stopwatch. In the end, she crossed six minutes and 10 seconds (by our watch) after Maria, so despite the penalty we were still first over. Not our finest hour at the start, but we were well pleased with Maria’s performance on what was a tricky day at times.
Back on shore well after 8pm, it had been a long day – but with the temperature in the mid 20sC and sparkling sunshine, a pretty good way to spend midsummer’s day!
Crew for the day: Paul Winter, Crispin Thomas, Andy Mortlock, David Bridle, Tom Bridle and Tom Simpson.
Next race is the Old Gaffers at Brightlingsea on July 5.