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Blazes turn out for the 2023 Round the Isle of Sheppey Race

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Day 1 - The warm up

It was a poor weather forecast for the weekend’s racing at Isle of Sheppey - a flaccid 6kts was all the Met office could offer. But the locals were quietly confident that north Kent’s answer to the Fastnet would be blessed with a race-worthy breeze.

The warm-up race on Saturday attracted less than 10 boats, stubbornly rigging early in defiance of a wind lacking the muscle to rouse the IOS club standard. But, by the time the postponement flag was dropped at around 11am, there was a very raceable 10knots, and building. A triangular course was set, and racing was on. The field couldn’t have been more eclectic with some PY-Eleven-hundred-and-somethings looking to put the two competitive cats in their place. And somewhere in the middle were the two Blazes of Lee Marriott and Andy Wilson – in a Mk4 and a Mk1 respectively.

Race 1 cast the mixed fleet together onto the beat against the tide. In the Blaze race, Lee stole an impressive lead over Andy, looking comfortable on his flat-ish home water. Lee remained dominant, taking the line ahead of the lapping Musto which had dropped Andy a leg before.

Race 2 started on a nicely building wind, sent off cleanly into a slackening tide. A competitive beat for the Blazes brought Lee around windward fractionally ahead. But, finding and holding the plane on the reach, Andy came swiftly over the top, while Lee's hull remained stubbornly sticky. The lead for the Mk1 held static through the reach and run, and despite a gallant effort to capitalise on the 20-ish knots up the next beat, had little to offer against a neater helm. Lee came through to win once again, but with much less water between them.

Kicker failure on the Mk1 before Race 3 signalled the end of the competitive Blaze racing for the day, but Lee held his place amongst the other boats for the final flurry, enjoying a Blaze-suited brightening breeze.

A generous discard policy allowed both Lee’s eye-rolling OCS in Race 1, and Andy’s DNC in Race 3 to be removed from the scores. However, it was to remain 2-0 honours for Lee, with only a point between them on the handicap race card. Scores aside, the biggest encouragement of the day was the unexpectedly decent conditions gifted, hinting at the same again for the main event the following day.

A fish-and-chip supper was well washed-down with local ale in a typically jolly Sheppey evening, swept along by a pleasantly talented live local singer in the busy bar.

Round the Island Race day

Sore heads were soothed with remedial bacon baps from the early-rising Sheppey SC team, but there was no rush to rig. By 9am it was calm. Not a dead calm - possibly a breath you might have speculatively rigged for in a contested club Sunday series, but certainly not something you’d choose to spend six hours lolling in.

However, 32 entries were on the board including three windsurfers, a Topper, a couple of Darts and the Nacra 20 and F18 cats from the day before, with almost as many boat types as entries. The biggest fleet, though, were the Blazes – 4 locals and 1 traveller. Lee Marriott (860), a committed Blaze contender, and last year’s Isle of Sheppey single-hander winner knew he had his hands full with new-to-class, ex-Laser sailor, Chris Brunger (799). Rapid-improver, Alex Perriman, has a year under his belt in his Mk1 (584), hoping to hold position against local newcomer, Richard Proctor (535). Andy Wilson (77) travelling from London as an experienced rear-of-fleet campaigner, striving to push up his average on some familiar water from his youth.

Had it not been for the previous day’s teaser, we might not have hung around for the eventual fall of the postponement flag, but the nod was given at around 10am with almost all burgees agreeing that there was a wind.

The slow fleet were off at 11am, followed by the medium fleet at 11:30 (including Blazes) and then all other boats below 1030 PY at midday.

It was not a breathtaking start – an eastward fetch against the tide. Lee and Chris chose to hug the shore, gambling that the lesser tide was worth the extra tacks required. The three Mk1s all took the higher line squeezing up aiming to hit the headland in a single tack. The Mk4s took the early lead which extended through the first 2 hours on the same sedate leg. Richard continued to pull away from Andy on the highish line making good closing progress on Chris who was struggling to free himself from a hole he’d glided in to. Lee took full advantage too, pressing-on at the front, while behind Alex had decided to cut his losses and head down to the shallower water.

The wind remained modest until the slight bear-away on the north-eastern point of the island, and while the sun eased through the cloud, the wind was picking up noticeably. The cats and Musto had found their wires, able finally to close-in on the middle fleet and raise kites on the kinder point to pull through and away. Meanwhile, Chris had also given way to Richard, who’d found superior speed with the increasing wind pressure.

The reach slackened to a run into the Swale and, as visibility improved, the relative position of boats was revealed. Lee was pulling away from Chris, who in turn had reasserted second spot ahead of Richard. And although still in 5th place, Alex had held distance from Andy, and both were chipping away at Richard.

A shifty 12kts kept us moving through the wider sections of the Swale on a run/reach, and as the channel snaked northwards tightening the reach, the racks were finally finding employment. The confused winds spilling over the Island persisted, but the gradual build continued, sweeping us toward the bridge, where a well-rehearsed support team deftly flipped us over and waded us through the iconic obstacle.

While both Richard and Andy enjoyed a clean getaway from the bridge, Alex had been frustrated by a Comet crew ahead of him, lacklustre in their capsize manoeuvre, all but obliterating the solid work he’d done on his day-long assault to stay in contact.

Lee had pulled well clear of Chris, while the Mk1 battle wore-on in their long-dissipated wake. By the time Richard had reached the marina chicane, Andy had closed the gap to a few boat lengths, approaching fast in the stiffening breeze. A couple of neat tacks through the moored boats sealed the inevitable and the Swale spat both out into the Medway Channel with Andy ahead.

A comfortably tight reach northwards along the docks freed the Blaze to show off its best side, finally allowed to stretch its legs in the 20-something steady blow. Rounding Garrison Point, we headed up eastwards into a lumpy sea for the final beat home, and with the breeze now running clear down the Thames Estuary, was touching upper-twenties. It was physical and challenging, losing the bows occasionally under the chop, but smiles were broad, undampened by the occasional spray.

The hooter sounded from the club, and it was done. A day well spent (on aggregate) and an event to be enjoyed on its own inimitable terms.

Massive thanks to the Isle of Sheppey SC crew – safety boats, race officers, catering and support teams - who we watched generously put heart and soul into the weekend. A small club with a big heart. Thank you!

Final Blaze Results:

1st Lee Marriot (860) – 5:06hrs

2nd Chris Brunger (799) – 5:17hrs

3rd Andy Wilson (77) – 5:27hrs

4th Richard Proctor (535) – 5:30hrs

5th Alex Perriman (584) – 5:41hrs

Full handicap results and official IOSSC race report here

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