SWSYC Academy Cup – 2010

The South West Shingles Yacht Club, for those who haven’t heard of this distinguished club can be found in most of Peter Bruce’s ‘Solent Hazards’ hot spots, as this is a club for anyone who has achieved a nautical accident of note. The ethos of the club is friendship, laughter, camaraderie for all those who have got it ever so slightly wrong whilst at sea. The Sunday Express was more accurate than it could have known when all those years ago it described Commodore Latchford’s fraternity as “the most exclusive yacht club in the world.”

As with all great sailing events it started with a drink…….One spring evening Daniel Howe and Tom Montgomery were sipping a rather cheap bottle afterwork, whilst making sailing plans for that summer; and as the first bottle was sunk memories of our childhood of dinghy racing, and all the fun and friends we’d made was discussed. Due to the probable poor quality of wine and impending inebriation, neither of us can remember who struck upon the idea to get our merry throng together for a summers’ dinghy race, however a plan was made and due the levels of stupidity, jollity and disaster we were hoping to get out of the event, only one yacht club could be approached. Remembering what our Commodore had said at the Annual Dinner that March, “We need our Young to start screwing up more!” we immediately called Commodore Latchford who answered our call with his usual unstoppable amounts of enthusiasm and the SWSYC Academy Cup was started racing Laser Picos in Poole Harbour, which has successfully amounted to numerous disasters and more full members of the club.

The Academy has now reached the mighty age of 5 and with that we decided that it was high time we grew up a little bit. For a normal 5 year old, this landmark birthday is celebrated with a pair of Velcro trainers that have flashing lights mounted in the heel but it was clear from the seamanship exam results at the 2009 Winter Lecture that your average Academician wouldn’t know a quick flash from a full moon and so we had to think of something else.

The Picos have served us well – and that is not to say that we won’t use them in the future – but this year the Academicians were treated to racing J80s. Kindly chartered to us by the Royal Thames Yacht Club, these 5 man keelboats are bigger, faster and heavier than what the Academy are accustomed to when engaging in SWSYC combat.

The J80s however, came with a damage deposit – not something that tends to last very long at SWSYC events. Having originally been told that the deposit was £500 per boat, this increased to £700 by the time the paperwork was drawn – perhaps the powers that be concluded that the members of the SWSYC have precedent, and so the academy are surely set to follow in their nautically colourful footsteps!

A fine breakfast briefing was held in the Octopus’ Garden in Cowes at 10:00 sharp. Normal rules applied – don’t be late / no water pistols / no heckling etc. Race Officer Howe (jnr) was not surprised as he tried to start the briefing, to receive a message from helmsman Nick Phillips saying that he was still in bed in London, claiming to have overslept. Then the inevitable water-pistol-in-crotch hilarity occurred as Race Office Howe (jnr) tried to make himself heard above the heckling.

The course and programme for the day, for those that were listening, was triangle-sausage-triangle courses with a hook finish, a 5 minute start sequence and we would be attempting three races in Osbourne Bay.

Once Nick Phillips’ now-skipperless crew had been re-billeted on to the other boats, the crews headed down to smart new RYS marina to rig their J80s. Perhaps it is RYS protocol in situations where charterers have their damage deposit increased, but we were delighted to have the supervision of not one but two RYS bosuns on the dock to make sure we got away without incident. Our reputation must have preceded us as they were wearing lifejackets and brandishing fenders!

Race Officer Howe (jnr) was accompanied by Commodore Latchford and a beautiful collection of female assistants on the Committee Boat. The Commodore had a horn but no flags but this was quickly resolved with a Jolly Roger and a crabbing net being taped together to make a suitable flag and staff.

The first race got away with remarkable smoothness. The subtle starboard bias on the line discouraged the port hand fliers but as the Academicians approached the leeward mark of the first round they all, without exception, dropped their spinnakers in the water. Nick Hornby and his team were the first to disentangle their spinnaker from the keel and got a march on the rest of the fleet. The most colourful expletives were unsurprisingly heard from the Pollock boat as they finally solved their spinnaker / keel puzzle only to find it now tangled with their jib sheets and unable to tack. Team Pollock continued demonstrating their spinnaker trawling expertise at every subsequent leeward mark that race – leading to them being awarded the Tactical Trophy.

Race 2 saw the excitement and confidence growing. With 5 seconds to go, the whole fleet were OCS by between 2 and 5 boat-lengths leading to an inevitable general recall. Race Officer Howe (jnr) was not well equipped to signal a general recall to the fleet – the Commodore with a horn and a Jolly Roger – so he had no option but to wave his handkerchief in the air, a perfectly clear signal to those within earshot but not so to the others.

The race was successfully re-started and Team Hornby crewed by Richard Jackson, Harry Brewer, Isabel Hagan and Helena Turley showed their prowess with another victory. Paul Weeden and his team meanwhile were struggling to judge the length of a J80. Perhaps they mistook the boats for being 80 foot long or that their “water” entitlement began at 10 boat-lengths. Either way, their ridiculous call fell on unsympathetic ears and so he wrapped his spinnaker around the backstay of Charlie Lowe’s team. Thankfully no damage was done and the Nuts and Bolts trophy was earned.

Nick Phillips arrived on the race course in time for the third and final race of the 2010 SWSYC Academy Cup. A quick crew re-distribution-re-distribution saw Cara Hardy at the helm of Nick’s boat with Pippa Batchelor and Kate Hallam also suiting up for the aptly named “Team Chaotic”. Cara Hardy, who on this occasion refrained from flashing at passing ferry captains, brought the Team Chaotic name to life when the race was just three seconds old. Under the masterful guidance of Nick, she was OCS and on returning back to the start-line, created a domino effect of emergency tacks to avoid contact. A worthy recipient of the Throne of Endeavour.

The final leg of the final race was a slow motion nail-biter. With the wind dying and the tide building it was a big-angle downwind push for the finish line. In the final 5 boat-lengths to the finish line, all boats held the lead at some point with numerous so-near-so-far moments.

With the likely finishing order changing by the second, Commodore Latchford had his work cut out giving each of the beautiful ladies on the Committee boat the horn as it had been decided that each wife / fiancée / girlfriend would toot the hooter when their respective partner’s team crossed the line. Finally Team Pollock had a squirt of acceleration to take them over the line for a bullet.

Charlie Lowe’s team didn’t fare quite so well having hit the finish mark and then relied on Howie Gale’s knowledge of the racing rules to exonerate themselves. Needless to say he was wrong and they scored DNF – descending them from a possible 2nd overall to sweeping up with the SWSYC’s coveted golden broom.

Team Hornby, sporting a brace of long-legged beautiful girls who had now stripped off their oily trousers to reveal hot-pants, ghosted over the line to take 2nd place in the race three and an overall victory.

Paul Weeden was third and Cara Hardy finished last having completed her various penalty turns for start line misdemeanours.

The Academy were kindly invited to hold their prize giving at The Prospect by Laura Levy who also awarded the prizes. Beer was plentiful and the sun shone as the crews debriefed the day and prepared themselves alcoholically for Johnny Calcutt’s Towers Party in Yarmouth that evening.

The racing was a huge success – the format of fleet racing the J80s using asymmetric spinnakers was very well received. There is a sixth J80 available for charter so we hope next year that we will expand to the 30 sailor maximum capacity for the sixth SWSYC Academy Cup.

We would like to thank the Royal Thames Yacht Club for chartering the J80s, the Royal Yacht Squadron’s bosuns for being on hand at docking, to Nick Bonham and Harold Cudmore for lending us their RIB and of course to Martin & Laura Levy for allowing us to use The Prospect for our prize giving.

SWSYC Academy Cup – Nick Hornby
Ladies Trophy – Isabel Hagan & Helena Turley
Throne of Endeavour – Cara Hardy
Tactical Trophy – Barney Pollock
Nuts & Bolts award – Paul Weeden
Golden Broom – Charlie Lowe

By Dan Howe and Tom Montgomery