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5 minutes reading time (954 words)

Attack of the killer chain ferry or trials and tribulations of a back marker

It occurs to me, that all race reports are written by the winners, or at the very worst someone not far behind. Whilst there’s nothing inherently wrong with this (after all, history is always written by the winning side), it doesn’t always tell the full story.

So with this in mind, here’s our story from the recent RS Southern championships.

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Tony Cliff & I sail with my best friend Shawn Woodcock an RS400 at Bartley SC. We’re usually somewhere towards the back of the fleet – although not always, we do every now and again, get the occasional nose bleed !

Our planning for the Southern Champs started some time ago, probably around the time of the RS Sprint Champs at Rutland, when, buoyed by our promotion to the gold fleet (if only for one brief moment – we still have the picture to prove it) & the large turnout of Bartley 400’s – some 7 boats made the trip to Rutland, we all decided that it be great to try to repeat the experience at another event.

Ever since we started planning, tales of the killer chain ferry, along with links to youtube videos of said ferry destroying a dinghy have done the rounds, much to the amusement of some, but I have to say, real worry for me !

So, at 6am on Saturday 20th June, Shawn arrived to pick me up. We travelled down to the south coast through the drizzle, eventually emerging in Poole harbour to a gloriously sunny day. Some 100 boats of the various RS classes joined us – quite some spectacle.

After the briefing, which included instructions on getting past the chain ferry – don’t hit it, as it’s an offence, we started off with some trepidation. I should probably explain, as puddle sailors from Birmingham, our experience of sailing together on the sea is limited to a flat calm weekend at Pwllheli. lord knows how many years ago.

The sail out to Bournemouth bay was pretty uneventful really – 100 dinghys managed to negotiate the chain ferry with no real drama. In fact, once we cleared Poole harbour, it was a pretty good reach down to the start line. Our three races on the Saturday were pretty good too, enough breeze to get the boat planning / catch a few waves, but not too much to cause many problems. We also had our own little tussles with a few of the other back markers. In the first race, we were in about 23rd position for much of the race, until the last leg to the finish line – we didn’t know where it was & the chasing pack did ! Hence our position of 27 out of 27…

Things improved in the 2nd race, we had some exciting battles and ultimately managed to hold on to 20th (with the other 7 boats breathing down our necks at the finish line). In the final race of the day, tiredness along with a broken wing wang meant that we retired, only to face a trudge back to the club against the tide. We clocked it at 1 ½ hours from the sailing area.

The real entertainment, as always, is reserved for Saturday night, to give you a flavour we had, an RAC callout due to an over active fridge…, BBQ’s till midnight, midges galore, an inflatable sofa and spiced rum & coke. Of course none of this would be any good unless you had a great bunch of friends to share it with!

Sunday morning dawned with one or two sore heads & more breeze than Saturday. Feeling once again nervous about the days sailing we started off in circa 15-20 knots with waves for the chain ferry… Once again no issues.  So for us, we come screaming out of the harbour going about as fast as we can ever remember going only for a mighty bang, followed by Shawn calmly (!) telling me he had no steering, we realised quickly that whatever we’d hit (below the surface) had broken the down haul on the rudder. We promptly capsized, to re-emerge facing Poole harbour… the remnants of the oncoming RS fleet (100’s, 200s, 300’s, 400’s, 500’s, 800’s) all flying there kites approaching at speed…along with various other craft coming in and out of the harbour !

Unfortunately, our weekend was over – we crawled back to the club to pack away. Nevertheless, we had a great time once again. I have learnt a few lessons, and if you’ll indulge me a little while longer, these are they :

  1. Make sure your boat is prepared – over the course of the weekend breakages cost us 4 races. Whether we’d have been able to do all 4 is questionable though!
  2. There will always be someone to race against, whatever your ability – don’t deprive yourself of the chance to have a go
  3. Don’t listen to scary stories about chain ferries and the like – it wasn’t that bad in the end. Four successful crossings and not a near miss in sight (it really wasn’t a killer chain ferry !)
  4. Even if you’re a puddle sailor with limited experience (like me), at least once in your life, have a go on the sea. It’s hard work, but with all that expanse of water, the wind & the waves, even if you’re in last place I guarantee you’ll enjoy the reaches
  5. Value your friends – we had a great bunch with us at the Sprints in Rutland & again at the Southern Champs – this what really makes the weekend.

I hope I haven’t bored you too much !

Happy sailing!

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Monday, 01 March 2021

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