2023 was destined to be a year of sailing uncertainty for me. Early February brought about a surprise procedure in the form of a quadruple coronary artery bypass. My target all through rehab. and recovery has been the OGA 60th anniversary party on the East Coast. Mobility has not been an issue but upper body movement and strength could have been problematic. A good forecast of light winds and bright sunshine would be the answer and confirmation I was ready to sail my smacks boat ‘Joy’. It turned out that the arrival of a polar opposite forecast confirmed I was more than ready, maybe.
The trail of my boat with my campervan to the East Coast from Salisbury brought about its usual hanging around on the M25. Arrival at Levington was welcomed with rain. Booking in, it was good to see some familiar faces. A fantastic goodie bag and plenty mentions of smacks boats in the programme made me feel at home and glad to be back in the thick of the Gaffers. A lovely cruise in company to Pin Mill on the Thursday proved a great little shakedown sail for ‘Joy’ who has been sat idle on my drive for nigh on a year. A convivial evening was held in St Clements Church, Ipswich. Friday’s adventure in the Parade of Sail was most memorable. Rainbows, reefs, rain, rain, rain and wonderful downwind sailing while it lasted will not be forgotten. Then becalmed, steaming oilskins and sunshine. Then to top if off, holed up in Levington Creek out of the tide waiting for the bigger boats to moor before I could row into the harbour, you’ve guessed it, in the rain. Saturday, it rained. I had duly booked one of Claudia Myatt’s sketching and etching sessions, having looked at the forecast some days earlier. I have since stocked up on pencils and a sketch book for my next holiday. Something I probably won’t be sharing. The rest of the day was spent revisiting ‘Joy’ to bail her out.
Sunday, it was windy, for ‘Joy’, very windy. I was hoping that the small boat race delay would enable it to go ahead. The morning was spent bailing again, this time removing my submerged outboard from the bilge. Incidentally this started first time once we got home. The small boat race was to go ahead for those interested. I asked if I could sail out of the harbour as I didn’t fancy hoisting my reefed lugsail in the choppy, caramel looking Orwell. First mistake, I left with about 30 minutes to spare before the start. I was knackered before I even reached the line, taking a few scoops of water over the side which I managed to bail out before the start. Second mistake, accidentally throwing my bailer over the side. I positioned myself at the top of the line ready for the start, by this time my handheld radio was floating around in the bilge so I couldn’t hear the start. I couldn’t see any other boats on the start either, so wasn’t sure the race had begun. I gave it a couple of minutes and then headed for the first mark. I saw a Deben Lugger heading for the mark too. The so-called slack water and flat sea didn’t materialise. ‘Joy’ battled on the beat and at times was stopped dead by the short chop, some tacks worked, some didn’t. Putting her through her paces and a couple of successful gybes down wind she filled me with confidence. In return I filled her with water and had to quickly dump the anchor, chain and warp out of it’s bucket into the bottom of the boat to facilitate some form of getting the Orwell back into the Orwell. Rounding the downwind mark I was quite relieved to hear shortening of the course. To be fair I think I would have retired rather than go round again. That feeling when you bear away from a particularly hard beat across the line as first boat is unforgettable. Okay, I wasn’t sure I’d started correctly, there were only two boats and it was a pretty close finish. Nontheless. Great. It’s good to be sailing again.
‘Joy’ safely recovered and ready for her trail back to Salisbury. An evening of prizegiving and partying in true Gaffer style followed. Thank you East Coast for your hospitality. Here’s looking forward to Ullswater!
Report: Steve Mitchell, skipper smacks boat ‘Joy’ and open boat winner of the Jubilee East Coast Race