Festival Series 2012

A Wry View from the Committee Boat (Royal Forth-{RF})

Report from Graham Mitchell

Wednesday 22 August [27 boats competing]

The evening being breezy from the West allowed a course to be set in Wardie Bay.  The first mistake was to run the race with only 3 aboard RF including the driver Rear Commodore Spencely.  A great turnout of 14 keelboats and 13 dinghies with 2 class starts and a short windward-leeward course was a recipe for high blood pressure on RF trying to manage the race and record boat times.  However with RF anchored (bow and stern) and engine off we three managed to start races on time and skippers cooled their ardour sufficiently to avoid premature starts.  Luckily the course was just long enough to allow the second (dinghy) start to get underway before the first keelboats returned on their lap.

The second mistake was to anchor RF only 30 metres or so from the start line and the turning mark favoured by most boats.  Most yachts skimmed by RF on the beat upwind avoiding the anchor rope too.  Eriskay however, with demon racer Boyd in charge, decided to shake RF’s complacency and gave her a clip and a shake on the third leg probably hoping to benefit from uprooted anchors and an extended race before equilibrium was restored.  An irate Wilson and Spencely (he of Hawkcraig Point rock fame) were not amused and expressed deep irritation to Boyd and blameless lookout Bilge Boy.

The RF three were highly exercised by: boats inconsiderately insisting on crossing the finish line in clumps;  and, due to 90% of competitors applying to compete at the last minute, timing sheets listing boats in random order making recording of lap times for boats a somewhat frantic affair in consequence.  However with spotter Wilson shouting names of boats, Mitchell and Spencely clock watching and recording the race was successfully concluded. Cadets in Toppers and the slow yachts all managed finishes despite some apparently close calls.

Thursday 23 August [30 boats]

Race organisers like continuity of conditions.  So a different wind direction of WSW and a handful of extra last minute entrants increased anxiety.  RF out on the water 1 hour before the start explored the possibility of starting in clearer air W of Granton.  But rocks in the bay meant 20 minutes wasted!  Back to Wardie Bay setting the windward marks as we went and cool new RO Morton in charge, Wilson and Mitchell giving possibly differing advice and Carnie – Friday’s RO designate – assisting, with driver Spencely calm as usual.  At least we had 5 aboard RF when the fun started?  Anchoring had to be done quickly otherwise a start postponement looms!

Phew!  We managed it and keelboats started on time.  The dinghies however are highly competitive and premature starters were spotted including cadet Emma in a Laser Radial who sneakily hid at the other end of the line.  All away eventually while Wilson bemoaned the lost opportunity for using a ‘Black Flag’ start – not a signal for a drowned skipper but a warning sign to competitors that the RO has lost his rag or alternatively relishes cracking the behaviour whip, and will disqualify anyone (or possibly the whole fleet) daring to cross the start line prematurely.

The race involved some dinghy capsizes to keep the rescue boats amused and nearby keelboats on their toes but concluded successfully.  Spotting and recording of boat finishes was a much more relaxed affair given alphabetic timing lists of yachts and extra hands to spot.  Eriskay behaved herself impeccably throughout under single-hander Boyd and was still placed second.  Skimmer and Curlew went hammer and tongs at the back of the slow class yachts.  Cunning dinghy sailor Gibb abandoned his ‘familiar’ Solo and cuckooed his way onto a Finn where his extra weight could tell – he placed fourth!  The race officials scratched their heads but hoped no one would protest a youth replaced by a man!
30 boats competed – a fine show in the bay with Hunter 707s a particularly impressive sight under spinnaker as they fought round the course in a close knit group.

Getting serious between the 707’s

Tallulah and Blue Funk go head to head on the downwind leg

Friday 24 August [28 boats]

The final evening race with Spencely, Mitchell, Wilson and Ben Morton out aboard RF and stowaway Liz Tulloch, photographer.  But with a fading NE breeze and smoke rising vertically from Fife chimneys, RO Carnie was stuck in traffic. He was only spirited aboard by a rib at the last minute and the race course was laid towards Inchkeith.  But the breeze was fading fast as the 5 minute start sequence commenced.  RO dilemma?  One minute to go and no wind with 17 yachts stuck on the start line and 15 dinghies in attendance for the next start.

Wilson had spotted wind on the surface of the sea between Inchkeith and Leith, harbinger of a breeze from the East as per weather forecasts but importantly laying waste to the course – making it a reach rather than a beat to windward.  Echoes of future mass skipper complaints came to mind!  RO Carnie bit his nails looked to the heavens and eventually succumbed to Wilsonian advice – “if I were in your shoes I would postpone but it’s your responsibility” and your brickbats if any come our way mate!  The race was postponed with 20 seconds to go to the start and the E breeze approaching.

Of course with a limp signal flag the postponement was announced over the VHF, for those yachts with them switched on.  Later a VHF querulous query from Wizz Too as to whether the RO has committed a cardinal sin and postponed the race after it was started (possibly because she had a superior starting position, albeit stationary, over arch rival for third place in the series Hopscotch – you cynical old assistant RO) was dismissed imperiously by Wilson with great emphasis on the 20 seconds.

The breeze arrived after 15 minutes or so while waiting competitors lurked asking questions calling for supernatural powers or superhuman patience from the RO.   Heads were scratched on RF – what to do.  The wind settled to the direction of Newhaven from the old start line.  Rescue boats rescued the course marks and deposited them upwind per instruction from RF.  RF pirouetted around the competitors who annoyingly persisted in hanging around her as she seeks to relay both the start line and her anchors without fouling her prop.  All is accomplished in not much more than 10 minutes.

The first class was started but not without excitement.  Firstly Plover the wayfarer dinghy loitered on the course side of the start line with one minute to go to the start and 17 keelboats bearing down on her.  Foghorn shouts from Wilson/Mitchell awakened her dozing skipper and she tacked onto port out of the way.  Skimmer and Varrich were premature starters amidst starboard shouts of irate skippers on the crowded start line. The RO in his excitement displayed the ‘general recall’ flag which he hastily hid hoping no one had noticed.  Skimmer saw the individual recall flag and recrossed the line but Varrich who was blatantly “offside” kept going and hoped the RO did not notice – fat chance!

The race concluded successfully despite: the wind; the anxiety of choosing when to stop the boats without irritating skippers (too few laps!!); delaying the prize giving; or the complication of 3 extra dinghies.  Hey all in a committee boat’s day – what a really good turnout of 28 boats for the last race despite the majority fighting for minor placings.  This makes the ROs feel wanted and provides an interesting sight for the clientele of the Starbank Inn on an Edinburgh Festival evening!

Again photos from Tom Wilson despite the poor light.

Well done to all the organisers and competitors!
Graham Mitchell

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