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Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW LEADERBOARD

A Letter from Salcombe

by Graham Cranford Smith 4 Apr 09:53 PDT
Salcombe YC Sailing Club Series Race 3 © Graham Cranford-Smith

Even certain punishments meted out at school leave one ill-equipped to conjure a report on the activities of Salcombe Yacht Club in this unique period. For the current life status is an object lesson in doing better when composing five hundred words on the inside of a ping-pong ball. This was a staple subject of penalty when your correspondent last sat in a class-room and failed to pay attention.

However, we can only hope that esteemed institutions such as YachtsandYachting.com remain intact when we emerge blinking into the sunny uplands that surely await us when we emerge. This piece is in large part in support of Y&Y, on whom we rely heavily in happier times for our daily fix of sailing news. To them, we say: thank you. Should it prove that apologies are in due course required as a result of this piece, the caveat is, the views expressed are not those of Salcombe Yacht Club, but this correspondent's own. For this is the risk when one has to rely on unfettered access to one's imagination.

To extemporise. Like the entire world, Salcombe Yacht Club is holding its breath while the sobering Covid-19 disaster plays out. It is a cruel twist of fate that ideal sailing conditions have arrived, after an absence of fully six months, to coincide very exactly with enactment of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions)(England) Regulations 2020. However, given the escalating suffering of families around the world, it is of course churlish to complain at one's lack of good fortune.

But, from your correspondent's vantage point while writing, overlooking the Bar, one's eye is greeted with a cloudless sky, and champagne 15 knot breeze. It is also a Saturday when ordinarily the Batson slipway, now rightly blocked, would see an aggregation of dinghies, especially Solos, being launched to enjoin the racing.

In some respects, dinghy racing at Salcombe does prepare one mentally for the current reverse. At first sight this might appear to be a gross, if not appalling, overstatement. To the casual observer indeed this might well be an indefensible and trite remark. In defence, this is ultimately a sailing related piece composed without any racing upon which to report. So one seeks forgiveness of those who do not humour this parallel.

However, to anyone who takes their racing at all seriously, (many who race in Salcombe seem to, perhaps unduly) little compares to the exquisite pain of an abject failure to gain the attention of Mother Nature in the middle of a sailing race in the Ria. Adverse events at the hands of the Almighty have the capacity to mentally and physically break a person. Even if not on a global scale, the crushing defeat can lead to a comparison.

This probably merits an explanation.

The great advantage of Salcombe is that the topography provides a spectacular amphitheatre such that the tribulations of a race can be observed by many. One such memorable occasion was a race during a glorious Salcombe Yacht Club Regatta, perhaps circa August 2013 witnessed by many including me. The race in question was characterised by a very fitful light Northerly breeze and a briskly ebbing tide and in all other respects, a gorgeous sunny summer's day.

After a fully ninety minutes' racing those on the race box balcony scanned upwind for the appearance of the first of the Yawl fleet from behind Snapes Point running back from the upper reaches. The first goose-winged team to emerge, was "Olive Branch" a beautiful green Rowsell built boat crewed by Graham and Tessa Pike. They preceded the balance of the hotshot fleet by a very handy margin indeed.

The course board numbers hanging from the race box rail, dictated a port rounding of Mark 2 which is located just off Small's Bay. This was to be followed by a short beat against the tide, to finish. Such a routing is, to those familiar with Salcombe, freighted with massive implications. It is also inexplicably, a race officer favourite. In many locations, such was the margin of lead, Graham and Tessa, would surely have the race in the bag.

Indeed, Y154 was well past the Portlemouth Ferry steps before the second-placed Yawl hove into view; a lead of perhaps 0.5nm. Well ahead, Graham and Tessa coaxed "Olive Branch" downwind, expertly placing their stead in front of all puffs within reach. The leach of their un-kickered main flopped in unison with the slight swell. The concentration and effort of the pair was palpable. All the while this scene was played out to the cacophony of myriad families holidaying on the beach oblivious of the challenges posed to those called to race.

On approach to the yellow special mark no.2, the buoy carried a menacing bow wave. And in the meantime, the Northerly breeze stuttered. And of course, died.

Lifelessly with limited steerage, the bow of 'Olive Branch' nearly kissed the turning mark as she rounded in perfect execution by the crew, born of decades' sailing together; the sails were impeccably trimmed. And, as if hanging by fingertips she clawed for the Portlemouth shore 20 lengths distant, to escape the adverse tide.

But to no avail; within seconds, Mark 2 receded upwind as Olive Branch was swept remorselessly downstream. Past she went, the crowded Millbay with beach cricket in full sway, down towards Blackstone. Where waited a chirpy conflicting Southerly sea breeze.

Of course, such being the way of things, the entire remaining fleet of twenty rounded mark no. 2 in the very last breaths of a mocking Northerly. Everyone finished in quick succession. It was to be some time before the crew of Olive Branch were to eventually hear the ironic finishing bell as finally, their bowsprit crossed the finish line. DFL.

This type of cruel character-building punishment is replicated weekly; it will be familiar to many who race and especially at Salcombe. It seems reasonable to advance that racing does require a philosophy and a determination to continue, free of recrimination over what might have been, and despite what may seem to be at the time, appalling reverses. It is a life lesson in retrieving one's sense of humour and to laugh at oneself, if necessary after a period of recovery.

Is your correspondent's take anyway.

Anyhow, to distance oneself from further controversy by suggesting a World pandemic has any relation to a bad day on the water, HMG has informed us of the key symptoms of Covid-19. These include loss of taste. Many of the SYC dinghy racing WhatsApp group participants appear to have caught the Corona virus if the poor taste memes in circulation by this medium, are to go by.

Finally, may we, and here I do speak for Salcombe Yacht Club, in all seriousness advance: Salcombe, ever sublime, sends its love to you all. We wish everyone who comes to the Ria to race, or simply enjoy this beautiful place, Godspeed, health and the strength to recover.

And to race again.

Graham Cranford Smith, Merlin Rocket and Solo classes, Salcombe

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