When the cat is away the mice can play! Rory Bowman had won the last three Aldeburgh Weeks and would undoubtedly have been the favourite to win again. However, after some changes of plan, he instead borrowed a Loch Long to sail with his daughters in Aldeburgh. Much to their fury he had great difficulty in judging the draught of a Loch Long which hampered his efforts considerably. This left the way clear for the ten competitors who did contest the Dragon class events which consisted of a first past the post series, a personal handicap series and the BDA’s Classic Dragon Championship. The latter, sadly, was only contested by two boats, Harkaway and Galax II. The weather for the whole week was excellent, with decent winds from various directions, lots of sun and WARMTH(T-shirts and shorts).
The main event was dominated by Patrick Gifford, sailing Nereid with Andrew James and Jonathan Penn. In the end they won five of the six races. In order to do this they displayed a variety of starting techniques ranging from way over the line in the first race to an impeccable leeward bank start on a broad reach. They were generally, however, beaten to the start, especially on the days when the start was to windward, by Basilisk, helmed by Will Fennell with Amber Bielecka and Nick Hayles in support. Will mastered the art of getting away on port tack from the biased fixed line. The difficulty is that the port end of the line is on shore so that a failure to clear starboard tackers from higher up the line is very costly. He succeeded twice and was only finally just caught by Patrick on the last day and forced to tack back. Once away, Patrick was more consistent, especially to windward than any of the other boats.
The week began with easterlies which are a difficult wind for the Race Officer. The result was some intriguing racing with short-lived opportunities to pass and a real need to avoid mistakes. These were easy to make especially on the visits to the upper and shallower parts of the river which enabled any beats to take place. In the second half of the week the wind settled in from the south to give a beat down the river against the flood tide. The highlight of this racing came on Thursday when the traditional Orford Day course gave a 7 mile beat to Dove Point consisting of an estimated 50 tacks in Force 4 to 5. I’m so glad I’m allowed to be in the back of the boat! For the whole of the Home Reach which is just under 2 miles, there were five boats in contention, Basilisk, who led off the start, Panther, going very well under the control of the Hunt sons, Nereid, Navaho and Naiad. Finally Panther dropped away and Nereid mastered Basilisk at the third time of asking who promptly ran aground on an ambitious clearing tack. Thereafter Nereid wasn’t challenged though places were swapped behind her.
The Classic Championship was contested by Harkaway and Galax II. Both have been recently refurbished. Harkaway now has an epoxy sheath and no longer leaks while Galax II is a very pretty late Pedersen and Thuesen boat in Peter Thomas’s care. The results were very consistent with Galax II always finishing one place behind Harkaway. Tim Hannon in Harkaway was aided by the boat’s new found strength and by the presence of Balloo Pritchard-Barrett as a guesting crew for some of the week. Local knowledge may also have helped against the visiting, though relatively local Josh Major and Peter Thomas. Harkaway also won the Personal Handicap series by one point from Nereid which suggests that those two handicaps are about right though others possibly need a little adjustment.
The week provided a different kind of Dragon event. It was highly competitive. However,fixed line starts, often on a run, and estuary sailing might give some of the professionals on the circuit a moment’s thought. Five different builders in a fleet of ten boats is also unusual these days. Most encouraging of all, however, was the arrival of new, younger names in the fleet. Will Fennell, Ed and James Hunt, Josh Major and Will Gibbon are all relatively new arrivals and often young enough to be the children of long-established Dragon owners. Will Fennell was going quite fast enough to trouble Patrick and finished second overall having won one race.
It was excellent that the first visitor for several years arrived. We do always hope for more new faces. We really can offer something attractive. The races normally start on time, it is a very short distance to the start and we are always back for lunch. During the race there are normally master classes in short tacking and guessing the depth of the water. None of these things are available at a major championship so do come and join us.
Thanks to Fleur Hayles for the photos used in this report.
Official Photo Gallery from the event photographer