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East Coast Race, 2021: report

These are strange times but we have learnt to adapt and the 2021 East Coast Race was no exception. The turnout was low, which was to be expected after all the ups and downs of the Covid pandemic, but a wide variety of boats attended, 18 in total, covering the whole spectrum from old working boats to new performance gaffers, with classic gaffers and Bermudans in between. Newcomers included Essex smack ‘Puritan’, newly launched after a lengthy restoration, and Martin Goodrich’s ‘Onward of Ito’ making her first visit to an East Coast Gaffers event – and winning the passage race in doing so.

The East Coast Race results illustrate, if you didn’t already know, that little modern gaffers can outrun many an elegant and well-canvassed Colne Smack or classic gaffer. Cape Cutter ‘Stormy Cape’ was the overall winner, over ‘Kate the Kite’ by a small margin. First classic gaffer in the fast class was ‘Cygnet of London’ and the slow class was won by ‘My Quest’ ‘Maria’ triumphed in the fast working boats class as well as taking line honours, and ‘Puritan’ won the slow working boats class. ‘Rhumba’ was first Bermudan.

What the results don’t tell is the tale of a race that went much as might have been expected downwind out of the Blackwater to the Colne Bar with a nice breeze and some ballooning downwind sails, but then got more interesting with a short but telling beat from Colne Bar to NW Knoll. The long return from Bench Head to Stone was again to windward, characterized by variations of wind across the course. You really had to be on right side of the river (the Bradwell side as it turned out) to get the best of it. The rain mostly held off, although photographers did not have the best light for their craft until very late in the race, around 3pm, when the sun peeped through to illuminate sails against a dark sky.

Stone Sailing Club pulled out the stops with a nanny boat service to and from their moorings and a mobile tractor-driven landing ramp which kept feet dry and dignity intact (mostly). Campervans were accommodated, meals were provided to the accompaniment of a Shanty Crew, there was a plentiful supply of Dengie beer from the splendidly named Wibblers Brewery in Southminster, and all in all we were very well taken care of. Despite Covid restrictions the event ran smoothly barring some slight hiccups of communication which interfered with the published timetable and lead to a rather rushed processing of the results. The usual vast array of trophies was distributed to skippers. And for those for whom the real match of the day was England vs Ukraine in the quarter finals of Euro 2021, that was made available at SSC too. England prevailed and some very happy old gaffers “wibbled” their way back to boats and campervans.

Report and cover photo: Sue Lewis