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Mixing it up

by Mark Jardine 21 Sep 13:00 PDT
Wacky Races © Hanna-Barbera

As we head towards the end of September, I've been thinking about which events, and days out sailing, have been the most fun this year. There are a few to choose from, and overall it's been a good year for time on the water.

As regular readers of my newsletters will know, my home club is Keyhaven, nestled behind Hurst Castle in the Western Solent. It's a very tidal club with all racing times based around high water, with salt marshes, and small creeks spreading out from the Keyhaven River out to the Solent itself.

We're lucky to be able to start from a line just off the club for evening racing, meaning the time between launching and starting can be remarkably short (with some literally leaving it to the last minute), and we can also have traditional course racing out in the Solent relatively unaffected by the tide.

On the early August Bank Holiday weekend, Jon Harvey, one of my fellow Scow sailors at the club, came up with the idea of a navigation race, which he named the Four Lakes Race. The idea was simple: two laid marks at either end of the far navigable creeks, one rounding to port and one to starboard, and you're allowed to choose which mark to round first. Additional to that, you were allowed to use any means of propulsion, apart from an outboard engine or similar.

Considering this race was thought up the day beforehand, it proved very popular with 25 boats taking to the start line. It was clear that the race instigator Jon had put a lot of thought into how to tackle the course when we noticed that he had his sails down and a set of good oars in rowlocks on either side of his Scow... this was going to be quite a challenge.

To add to the drama, exactly on the five-minute hooter a clap of thunder rolled and the heavens opened with a massive downpour. The tension was palpable as everyone lined up, wondering which way others were going to go.

Sailing with my youngest son, at the start gun he helmed while I paddled furiously to try and get an advantage. Our strategy was to sail downwind to the eastern mark, then sail upwind in the Solent, through the main entrance of Hurst, then tack up to the crabbing bridge western mark and take the north passage downwind, with a bit of paddling assistance, back towards the club.

It was clear early on that Jon, and our club Commodore Andy, had decided on the opposite approach, rowing up the north passage, sailing downwind to the Eastern mark through a combination of creeks only accessible at high water with the centreboard up, then a combination of sailing and rowing back to the club.

The race was brilliant with Jon's rowing setup leading to a comfortable victory, while we took second place using the opposite course. We cut corners, running the boat along one shingle spit, we got the paddle out whenever we could, and sailed hard at other times. In the Open fleet one of our youth sailors won in an RS Tera. We all agreed we had to do more races like it... well, apart from the Finn sailors with fixed rudders who steered well clear of the whole thing.

In many ways, it reminded me of a scaled-down version of the Three Rivers Race that Horning Sailing Club hold annually on the Norfolk Broads. This is a 50-mile overnight race on the Bure, Ant and Thurne rivers, with two buoys set in the Ant and the Bure which you can round in any order. Added to this is the obstacle of three bridges at Potter Heigham and Acle where competitors must drop their masts. A combination of river cruisers and dinghies take part, and it has become a 'must-do' event.

It made me think of how an event like this could be scaled up. How about an offshore race where you could choose the order of buoys to be rounded? Another Keyhaven event made me think races could go even further...

The youth section at Keyhaven then in early September held a 'Treasure Hunt' orienteering race, with checkpoints in various locations, each given a value ranging from 10 points for the simplest and 40 points for the ones perceived to be the hardest. There was a checkcard that needed to be punched at each checkpoint to gain the points. There was a time-limit of 1.5 hours, after which you lost a point for every minute you arrived after that time, increasing to 5 points for every minute if you were over 5 minutes late. The winner was simply the one with the most points.

The kids came back buzzing from this and, just like the adults in our Four Lakes Race and those who've done the Three Rivers Race, I'm sure this would appeal to grown-ups as well. It's a great bit of fun which gives us new and interesting challenges which aren't the normal windward-leeward races. They do take a bit of setting up, but if it gets more people out on the water then it's surely worth it.

There's no reason paddleboarders and kayakers couldn't get involved in these kinds of races, which will bring more of a club's community out and may well draw them into the regular racing, which they may have been reluctant to do before.

I know the events I've discussed here aren't the only ones, and we'd love to hear about the ways that you're 'mixing it up' at your club. Tell us what's worked and what hasn't, whether it's drawn more people on to the water, and if those who've taken part have ended up doing more activities at the club as a result.

If you're looking for ways to diversify sailing at your club, then why not give what you've read above a go?

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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