The Colne was looking less than tranquil as Maria turned out for The East Coast Old Gaffers’ race on July 7.
A stiff breeze, combined with wind over tide, created a nasty short chop in the estuary – enough to make sure that many of the gaff-rigged yachts – including Duet, skippered by occasional Maria crewman Tom Bridle – stayed in the harbour. But the smacks are made of sterner stuff and, with two reefs, the number two jib and smaller foresail, Maria headed for the Bateman’s Tower line at Brightlingsea.
Rounding Mersea Stone onto a beat just after the start saw us in third place, with Alberta in first and to windward and My Alice in second, but to leeward. Maria was slow to get through the chop off the No. 10 mark, but in smoother water we clawed out of Alberta’s dirty air and gradually worked to windward and ahead.
By the first tack to take us up the River Blackwater, we were a couple of hundred yards or so ahead of Alberta, and as we progressed to windward up the river our lead extended. A slight drop in the wind strength saw us set the new big foresail which gave a little extra speed – though a rain squall that reduced visibility and increased the breeze for ten minutes or so made us wonder if we’d made the right decision.
Sailing back down the Blackwater with the wind behind us we set the mainmast running sail on the big pole and stormed off – clocking close on nine knots at times. A couple of gybes kept life interesting on the foredeck, and the reach back up the Colne to the finish was exhilarating.
By the finish, Maria was nearly 15 minutes in front of Alberta, which finished in front of My Alice after a close scrap in the Blackwater. We’d done enough to turn in the fastest elapsed time (OGA races are on handicap), winning the Britannia Trophy and taking the prize for first smack or bawley home. Fittingly, the latter trophy is the Tom Bolton Cup, presented by friends of Tom Bolton, a former owner of Maria, who was lost off North Foreland in 1963. Tom had taken place in the first OGA race at the helm of Maria earlier that year.
Along with skipper Paul, crew for the race were Crispin, Pete, Andy, Drew, John, Mark, Sally and David.
Click here for more pictures of the race