The weather gods were unkind to the Old Gaffers’ Association 60th anniversary celebrations, with epic downpours and very strong winds making things as difficult as possible throughout the four-day event. It seemed that the big race, planned to be the highlight on the final day, Sunday 6, August, might not happen at all. But the weather forecasters promised a slight moderation and it was agreed that the race would start later, in the hope that things might settle a little, and that it should be a river course, rather than heading out to sea as originally intended.
Host club Haven Ports YC is fortunate that starting from the club line at Levington on the River Orwell a course can be set downriver to Harwich Harbour and then up the River Stour to Erwarton and return, which tests all points of sail, in relatively sheltered water, no matter what the wind direction. So this was the obvious choice, in the gusty north westerly. The race team, better sheltered in their hut on the line than they would have been on a committee boat, were impressed that despite the still challenging conditions, 25 boats turned out for the start. They sympathised with those who chose to stay in the marina, but admired the determination of those gaffers of all ages, shapes and sizes wanting to race.
The fleet was split into six classes, workboat, modern and racers, classics (slow and fast) and spirit of tradition (slow and fast). Altogether they made an impressive sight. Originally it had been intended to start the large and fast workboats last, but with safety in mind, they were sent away first. They looked magnificent, but unfortunately ‘Letty’, biggest and most impressive of all, ran aground just before the start (fortunately there was a rising tide throughout the race) and again shortly afterwards, eventually finishing in last place on corrected time. She was awarded the Old Gaffers Trophy for sticking it out. The rest of the boats all started together. In the choppy waters most treated the start line with understandable caution. Surprisingly only five boats retired from the race, in what remained extremely challenging conditions, particularly on the upwind legs, with wind against tide. It was by all accounts a very wet race, even though the rain just about held off.
The eventual winner was the aptly-named ‘Charm’, one of the most photogenic entries, from the slow classics class. Only a fraction of a second behind her on corrected time came the very different ‘Dirty Girty’ from the modern and racers fleet; a low-freeboard speed machine that required agile crewing. Invited to join ‘DG’ as crew was OGA sponsor, Lance Whitehead, CEO of Dartmouth Gin. ‘My Quest’, another slow classic was third, followed by ‘Lahloo’ (spirit of tradition fast) and ‘Fable’ (classics fast). In sixth place on handicap was the first of the workboats, the stunning ‘Fanny of Cowes’. Line honours were taken by ‘Hardy’, from the classics fast fleet, which finished the course in three hours and 22 minutes, a whole hour ahead of ‘Letty’, with the rest of the fleet spread out between them.
It had been decided that the conditions were too severe for the smaller open boats to race but five of them were determined to join in the ‘fun’ and a later start was arranged for them. Three of them changed their minds once they had been out to test the water, and sensibly returned to the marina without troubling the start line, but two commendably completed the course. The deserving winner was smacks boat ‘Joy’.
Words: Haven Ports Yacht Club Race Team, Suffolk Yacht Harbour, Levington