According to Wikipedia “…the river Dee rises in the Cairngorms and flows through South Aberdeenshire to reach the North Sea at Aberdeen”. However anyone who was hoping to do a spot of salmon fishing between races would have been surprised when their sat-nav brought them to an estuary just south of Liverpool, where another river Dee meets the Irish Sea. Dee Sailing Club sits on the edge of the Wirrall Country Park atop a short cliff, commanding stunning views across four miles of water to the north coast of Wales. At high water the scene must look amazing – however the competitors only saw it when the tide was out, leaving exposed the four miles of sandy mud that lie beneath the waters we raced on beween 24-27th August 2017.
Being the first event after the worlds, 16 boats were delivered by Neil & Brown on Tuesday direct from Germany. They were unloaded and some rigged early, most competitors arrived Wednesday and rigged their boats before checking they had the extra 10m tow line and knife, upon registering everyone got a fantastic goodie bag containing caps, t-shirts, mugs, rash vests and the all important sailing instructions.
None of this would have been possible with out the sponsors, Spire Healthcare, Wirral Chamber of Commerce, Exis Technologies, dinghyinsurance.com, Deva Sail Racing, Indigoart, Windsport, The Strange &Co Group, GJW direct and the army of volunteers from Dee Sailing Club.
Each day, as soon as the tide came anywhere near the club, we pulled our Darts (or rather our Darts pulled us) down the steep slipway that has been cut into the face of the cliff, and onto the generous expanse of sands below. The first fifty yards or so is relatively firm; however beyond that the mud to sand ratio suddenly increases, and those who wanted to be closest to the incoming tide, and thus be first afloat, would find themselves ankle-deep in it.
The first day of racing, Thursday, brought a light north-westerly blowing up the estuary from the sea, and with a 12:00 start billed the competitors duly hit the beach and began hoisting sails. Those who had taken their boats down before getting changed into sailing gear soon realised it was a good way to get a nice pair of trainers dirty very quickly. Once all boats were rigged, and competitors changed, it was just a question of waiting for the water to reach us – which did not take long. At this state of the tide (about 2 hours before high water) the sea came towards us across the sands at a slow walking pace, and having reached a boat it took only a couple of minutes before it was deep enough to float it off.
That was our first hint of how strong the current would be. Luckily in the first race it was holding us back from the line, however that did not prevent a significant number of boats being Black Flagged – including some of the top names. A delay in getting that race under way meant that by the start of the second race it was beginning to flow the other way, ‘helping’ us across the line, and again the Black Flag took its toll.
Arriving back at the beach, the fleet got to grips with forming up into ‘trains’ of four boats on the sand, before being towed by a tractor or 4×4 back up the slipway to the club. This was something we got better at as the days progressed – and by day 2 most of us were remembering to tie our wheels on!
There were a large number of protests to be heard the first evening – several by people contesting the opinion of the Race Officer that they had been over the line when the gun went. There was a long, tense wait for the provisional results, which eventually showed Nicolette van Gorp/Ruud van Gisbergen leading with a 4th and a 6th, Tom Kelley/Kate Winter lying in 2nd, and Will Thompson/Eloise Knott in 3rd. However, this was later amended when Des Barnes/Fi Barnes’ 1st place in race number 1 was reinstated, catapulting them into 2nd place overall with 12 points.
The day concluded with live music by Eden in the clubhouse, and an excellent session from Lucy Mayhew for those who chose the outdoor Hilltop Bar.
Day 2 saw a light wind blowing from the south-west, across the estuary, which made it rather more fluky than the previous day. The tide was still very strong, which turned the short reach to the spreader mark into a run, and calls of ‘no water’ quickly proved pointless as many boats drifted off to the right, well clear of it! After two races our tidal window was rapidly closing, however with the wind swinging to the north-west and freshening the Race Officer decided to set a short course and squeeze in a third. This proved to be either a stroke of genius or a very bad idea, depending on your result. However, by the end of the day Dan Norman/Alyshia Monkman were in the lead, with Rob Garcka/Fi Goegebeur lying 2nd and Des/Fi now down to 3rd.
The highlight of Friday evening was undoubtedly the ‘UKIDA games night’, which included a strawberries and cream game, hit the penny and knock the nail in the wood. The seemingly favourite game as the forfeit was a shot of drink when the nail was missed. The games night was aided and abetted by copious amounts of drink from the bar, and rounded off by a gripping final game of heads or tails where one lucky sailor won a brand new jib.
Saturday brought a return to a more stable north-westerly wind and, with the tide now slightly less strong than it had been on day 1, three good races were held. These left Dan/Alyshia in 1st place, Rob/Fi in 2nd, and Tom/Kate in 3rd. The forecast for Sunday was very light, and as they gathered in the Hilltop Bar listening to yet more excellent music from our very own Tilly Chester, Lucy Mayhew and others, danced to the sounds of Xebra until the small hours, the question in people’s minds that evening was: will we sail tomorrow?
That question was still in our minds as we assembled for a briefing at mid-day on Sunday. The club burgee had been fluttering fitfully all morning, but from the wrong direction. What wind there was was south-easterly, blowing down the estuary from the Tata steel plant, however the forecast was for it to go round through 180 degrees some time soon. Our race officer seemed to have no doubts however, and confidently instructed us to prepare to launch as soon as the tide allowed.
His confidence was well-founded. Despite some oscillation in the wind direction before the start, the first race of the day got under way in a gentle south-easterly that pretty much held its direction throughout. What it didn’t do however was maintain its strength. The leaders finished without too much difficulty, however the majority of the fleet found themselves running down to the finish against the last of the flood tide, with a failing wind. The worst of the hole appeared to be close to the finish, so boats were bunching up and crossing the line in a pack three or four boats across. Nevertheless the race did just finish before we found ourselves totally becalmed. Luckily this more or less coincided with high water, so we sat there – moving very little one way or the other.
Meanwhile, far out at sea the wind turbines had begun to move and, very slowly, a dark line on the horizon appeared to be getting wider.
So it was that the final race was started in a light north-westerly which steadily built. Congratulations to Dan and Alyesha who led throughout, cementing their victory over Rob/Fi (2nd overall) and James/Alison Douglas (3rd overall).
All in all this was an excellent championships. The sailing was good, the galley staff were amazingly efficient at getting top-quality breakfasts through the hatch promptly, and the evening entertainment was superb. Thank you Dee SC and the sponsors.
Written by Andy Kelley.