This summer I said I would crew for Richard Cannon in his SigneT at the Hampton Regatta.
I had rather neglected sailing during my exams but now it was the holidays, and I
was excited about a weekend doing nothing else.
Not many people turned out to go to the Regatta since many sailors were on holiday,
only Bryan Clements, Richard and I set out from Aquarius on the morning of the event.
The wind was coming down river at about force three to four and Richard let me helm
the boat at a run down to Hampton Sailing Club. It was steady, even going past Platt's
Eyot where it is often fluky.
We signed on to the handicap class and we started ten minutes after the Enterprises
(or 'Ents' as Richard calls them, which always makes me think of 'The Lord of the
Rings'!). Bryan was sailing his Graduate with only the main sail and it wasn't doing
too well in the strong wind so he had to retire. The SigneT, however, seemed to thrive
in strong winds under Richard's handling and we were going well.
There were also two good Comet sailors in our race, yet considering our boat handicap
we seemed to be beating them. But there was one other boat in the race, the mysterious
X-1: spanking new, with a huge, high square-topped sail, transparent for extra convenience
and yet seemingly very stable. It was sixteen foot long. It absolutely shot along,
faster even than the Merlins, lapping every boat in its course several times.
We got a second place for that race, but Richard later said he counted it as a win,
because no other boat in the handicap class had a chance against the 'X-1'. It seemed
to be very improperly handicapped.
The next race we also did well in, though now quite so well: we got a third. Bryan
stood out for the race because the wind was still very strong. The 'X-1' won that
race easily too, in fact, to avoid disappointment, before I go on I had better tell
you it won all five handicap races in the regatta, even the ones for which it was
helmed by a young topper sailor, who, though very good, of course had none of Richard's
experience or skill.
I learnt quite a few of Richard's tricks for sailing that day. Pull the jib or
genoa in as hard as it will go when tacking. Sail as far up-wind as you can and only
tack when there is a favourable wind shift if you can help it.
The X-1 sailors came to talk to us after tea. They explained that the boat was a
prototype of a new X-1 Riverboat class. There would be two others and this one was
the first to be produced to the final design. One of the crew had come up with its
concept and part of its design. He told us that he had realized none of the fast
modern boats were designed for the river and no one had designed a boat for the river
in sixty years. Richard looked them up on their web-site (www.x1riverboat.co.uk/)
and found that they had been very busy promoting the X-1, taking it to an event every
weekend. And if you're thinking of buying one, he also found out that they cost twelve
Richard said I could helm the Signet back up to the club, saying half jokingly, '’But
I would prefer it if you didn't get me wet!'. Unfortunately that's just what I did
do! When tacking up the river a gust came. Since Richard's SigneT has a jammer for
the main sheet, I couldn't let it loose in time and, although I tried to head up
into the wind, the boat capsized. I righted it as quick as I could, but not before
Richard had got wet. Thankfully the sun was very bright and the water wasn't as cold
as it might have been.
The next day the wind was light and fluky. Where Richard and I had had to work hard
physically before, we had to work hard mentally now, especially Richard. But the
Signet seemed unsuited to such winds and, despite Richard's best efforts, we went
(in his own words) 'lousy'.
Bryan however, did very well in his Grad, racing along when the wind picked up. Unfortunately
he had to retire when he bashed into some girls in a Topper who were on starboard
tack. He asked them if they were competing and they said 'Yes', so he did a two turn
penalty. After which the wind dropped and he discovered he was far behind everyone
else. Later Bryan found that the girls weren't actually in the race at all and his
chances were ruined for nothing.
As for the X-1, it still went impossibly fast despite the low winds, not even slowing
down much in the doldrums which were deadly for Richard and me.
At the prize giving the X-1 carried off the top prize with their five firsts. Richard
and I came only fifth, although it was all very close. We could have finished second
by getting just one less point.
We went home tired, but pleased to have completed the event. It is certainly something
I would like to do again next year.