July 12 saw Maria in foreign waters – the Orwell – for the annual Pin Mill match. Paul, Andy and Pete sailed the boat round from Brightlingsea the day before, and spent the night on a convenient mooring in sight of Pin Mill hard. Crispin, David and Drew joined the boat on race day.
At the race briefing in Pin Mill Sailing Club on Friday night, the race officer warned the winds would probably be light, and that he was considering using one of the shorter courses on his list. A bit of a change from 2013 when there was 40 knots in the Stour!
Come the start on Saturday, there was enough wind – just –to blow us downriver, against the last of the flood. John Brett – deserting Maria for his own smack, Iris & Mary – made the most of it and had a healthy lead when the race officer came on the radio to announce a shortened course. At this point the wind picked up a bit, and there was much muttering (on board Maria, at least) about the fact that the race would now be a short one.
At the windward mark off Felixstowe docks, Maria rounded in third behind Iris & Mary and Alberta – when little Polly came from behind to make a dinghy-style rounding and sneaked in ahead of us. Now though, the wisdom of the race officer’s decision became apparent as the fleet punched the ebb in increasingly fickle winds.
Gradually, the fleet bunched and Iris & Mary was reeled in. Polly made the most of her shallower draught to get further inshore , avoiding the worst of the current and taking the lead. The giant topsail of Helen & Violet caught the odd catspaw and helped her glide through the fleet. There then followed much changing of places, with probably every boat in the fleet taking first – and last position – at one point. Our running pole was in, out and shaken all about as the wind came first from behind, then ahead. Kedges were out on several occasions when the tide took over, and there was a little bit of pushing and shoving as smacks and bawleys drifted in to one another.
With the race shortened again to the downriver start line, rather than the upriver line off the sailing club, it became a battle to find the wind that always looked to be just 50 yards behind, but never quite made it to the sails – and to avoid the mud. The crew of My Alice made a hasty trip to the end of the bowsprit to swing her off the mud; Alberta wasn’t so lucky, resorting to the iron topsail to prevent a night in the soft stuff, and promptly retired.
Finally, there was enough breeze to get the fleet over the line – some five hours and just six miles or so after we started! Polly took the win on handicap with Helen & Violet second, and Iris & Mary picking up a prize for making it to the windward mark first. Maria finished seventh on handicap – hardly surprising given that the fleet was in a bunch until around 20 minutes before the end of the race.
A pleasant evening in the bar made it all go away. Thanks to Pin Mill SC for their hospitality – can you arrange for a bit more breeze next year, please?