Catapult TT at Stone Week, Blackwater, Essex
4-6 August 2014

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Three Catapults entered  the CCA TT held as part of the Stone Sailing Club Regatta week, sailing in the mixed Fast fleet. The racing was held mainly in sunshine and light winds through some challenging tides.


Monday Race 1

Run in a very light wind, the course comprised a square followed by a triangle leaving all marks to stbd except for the starting mark ‘A’. Syd Gage, being unsure of the starting sequence set off well behind Paul Ellis in a westerly breeze that was light and patchy. John Coster (new to Catapult sailing) followed close behind.


With the last of an ebb tide flowing Syd followed Paul up the inshore water route to windward mark 1 and then kept in close contact around marks 4 & 5 across the river. A slow reach back across the river and a port gybe around ‘A’ started the triangle part of the course.


Syd held on close to Paul up to this point but gradually fell behind after crossing the river. Trying to cut out the number of tacks required, Syd made long tacks back to the finish. But Syd and John both got pushed back by the ebb tide as the long beats took them into the deep water channel, which dragged them back. So Paul got first blood with Syd a poor second and John third.


Race 2

With only a slightly altered course, and an improved wind, Race 2 had been altered to make a longer beat and the triangle made into a sausage by ‘removing’ the furthest downwind mark. The tidal knowledge gained in race 1 was lost as the tide had now changed direction.


John and Syd followed close on Paul’s heels at the start. The flooding tide now helped up wind if we sailed in the deep water. The reach back into the clubs starting mark ‘A’ formed the only port rounding again, and Paul headed back across into slack water at the other side of the river on the first leg of the sausage. Syd, having fallen behind, decided to go a direct downwind route across the deep channel, but again found it didn’t pay as Paul went on to finish 1st again.

John made a better job of staying close this time, but not realising the course had been shortened he disappeared into the distance on a solo second lap. 

(Below: Rigging on the hard at Stone (a D-Day legacy) with event winner Paul Ellis on the right.) 



Tuesday Race 3

Having got the hang of starting between ‘A’ buoy and the clubhouse, todays race was being started from the Committee Boat. And to add interest it was to be an upwind downwind course between gates at each end. (Port rounding of both upwind buoys with a choice of route back up wind after passing through the downwind ‘gate’. )


Launching into a second day of bright sunshine, in a gentle breeze the starting sequence was a confusing mixture of Air burst explosions and/or whistles (so more attention to pre sailing instructions was clearly required).


At the start Syd got pushed over the line early by the tide and had to do a late gybe which gave a head start to Paul and John. For a short time chaos reigned as cats and dinghies took each others breeze away and couldn’t seem to decide whether the inshore or offshore route was the right way to go.

In the light and fluky wind, it took quite some time for Syd to catch up. Eventually he passed John and caught up to Paul, just in time to see Paul catch the breeze and sail away again.


After a couple of tortuously slow rounds of stop/start catch up sailing, Paul, who was well ahead now, crossed the line in first place, but Syd, being well behind didn’t see Paul finish between the CB and a small black buoy. Then, as Syd approached the downwind gate, two air burst explosions signalled a shortened course, but Syd,(who hadn’t studied the pre-race instructions) didn’t know about the black buoy finishing line or the shortened course signal, and went through the gate to continue on another lap. This left Paul the winner, Syd as DNF and John second after having followed the other boats through the ‘correct’ finishing line.


Tues. Race 4

This was the same upwind downwind course as before, but now there was some strong wind. The slight flood tide of the previous race was now much stronger making it difficult to avoid drifting over the start line early.

Syd got a storming start on Stbd at the port end, while Paul, halfway down the line, got held up in the bad air from several other boats and couldn’t get going.


At the windward mark Syd was well ahead of Paul but had to round it outside a clutch of spinnaker boats who immediately started bearing away to keep boat speed. This made it difficult for him to cut across them to get to the ‘natural’ Catapult straight downwind course. However, his unintended course diversion was made up by the sheer speed of his boat which matched the spinnaker dinghies.


Syd was finally freed from the ‘wall of dinghies’ as they all gybed for the leeward gate. After three exciting rounds of catch up Paul eventually overtook Syd and went off through the finishing buoy first only to be hailed from the CB that he still had another lap to sail.  Syd, not far behind heard the hailed message, and managed to keep going.  Paul valiantly tried to catch Syd again on the ‘extra’ lap, but just couldn’t make it and the first position was given to Syd, with Paul a close second.


John, (new to Catapults) and improving all the time up to now was struggling in the heavier conditions so understandably fell behind.


Wednesday Race 5. Long distance race around Radio Caroline (anchored well down river.)

It was forecast to be an awful day, but apparently Stone SC has it’s own weather, so they postponed the first race for a couple of hours and sure enough the rain stopped, the weather brightened and the wind came up.

The tide was on the last of the ebb now and the westerly wind was a comfortable F3.


Just having got to grips with Stone CB starts, this race was to be started from the club house again. This time it would be a downwind start on an ebbing tide. The course was to cross the river and leave buoy 7 to stbd. From there it became the start of a triangle - back across the river to leave buoy10 to port, then down river to round Radio Caroline (the leeward mark) to port, then a beat back up river back to round buoy 7 on port. And finally a long beats back across the river up to the start/finish line.


The run down to the start line saw Syd and John looking at Paul’s transoms again, but with short interruptions to the view caused by the boats on moorings that they were weaving through. Syd kept in touch with Paul, and John was close to Syd as they raced downwind to 7 and the start of the triangle around Radio Caroline. As he approached Radio Caroline (which seemed devoid of any signs of life on board to wave at) John started falling behind.

After rounding this rather large mark, Syd got tangled up with the slower boats that had set of 5 mins ahead of us. He consistently crossed tacks with them as they all hugged the north shore shallows. He decided to break out of this dirty wind route by crossing to the south (home) side of the river early in order to tack up the shallow water on the other side in clear air. This paid off to some extent as Paul was only just on the beach when Syd crossed the finish line. John was still well offshore as Paul and Syd headed off for a late lunch.


Wednesday Race 6 (Pursuit with downwind start)

The wind was now blowing a good F3-4 and the sun was shining. The pursuit starting sequence had the Catapults start time at 2.18pm which was conveniently two minutes after the K6 class start. The course was a square, with port rounding of buoys 11, 6, 2 and 1. Paul and Syd crossed the start line together with John close behind. Syd took the lead to the mark 11 with Paul only yards behind.


The reach across to 6 was not as fast as expected and Paul reached it seconds ahead of Syd. The rounding of 6 left Syd a little to leeward of Paul on the beat, but Syd’s lack of knowledge of the sailing area made him take a nervous early tack to avoid a spit of land with shallows that threatened a grounding. Paul managed by good judgement (or luck!) to get past the spit without tacking off.

A tacking duel between Syd and Paul followed as they missed each other on opposite tacks by a few feet only on several passes. Finally a dinghy to windward of Syd forced him onto an extra long tack which ended the duel. Having been forced past the layline for the mark, Syd screamed freely down to the gybe mark with an air-born hull most of the way. Paul got onto the run just ahead of Syd, but they exchanged places several times as they both threaded their way through the moored boats at an alarming rate of knots.


The second lap produced more of the same as they headed back up wind together and the duelling repeated. But this was brought to a sudden end when the rescue boat crew, realising it would be a close call between us, positioned themselves close at hand ready for the pursuit finishing time.

 After calling “time up” they declared Paul the winner by a short head. Unfortunately this final race conditions proved too testing for John to keep in touch. However hats off to John for a creditable performance during the event. Well done!

    (Report: Syd Gage) 

                        1st        Paul Ellis                1         1         1        (2)         1           1            5

                        2nd        Syd Gage              2         2         (4)       1           2           2           9

     3rd        John Coster          3         3          2        (4)         3           3          14

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