The 80 mile an hour winds that took out the main railway line at Dawlish also caused a great deal of damage at Starcross Yacht Club. The boat park was flooded, boats that we thought were securely tied down were tossed around like corks and the entry road to the club was under more than four feet of water.
However, we don't let a small problem like that delay the Steamer. A small band of dedicated helpers sorted out the initial problems, pumps were hired to get rid of the water and on the Sunday following the storm over 80 members turned up to a memorable working party. Boats were retrieved from where they landed and put back in their rightful places, the tons of gravel that littered the site were moved and by the end of the day the club was ready to go sailing again and ready for the Steamer in two weeks time.
As it happened we were thwarted again and for the first time in its 22 year history the Starcross Exe Sails Steamer had to be postponed from its original date on February 23rd until April 6th due to the forecast of more severe gale force winds. It was a difficult call to make at the time but the forecast was spot on; it would not have been possible to sail on the day.
Even on the new day it was windy, although perfectly sailable, but strong enough to test the skills of the competitors and any weakness in gear that had not been maintained over the winter. Some helms decided not to risk the challenging conditions, so the expected entry of 72 was reduced by 20 on the water but still quite enough for the safety boats to deal with. We are always grateful of the help and support that we get from the other clubs on the Exe estuary, without the extra safety cover we would not been able to hold the event.
The first boat away at 10 o'clock was a lone Mirror helmed by Eric Taylor and crewed by 14 year old Jodie Stephens, who had driven all the way from Penzance in Cornwall that morning, a journey of at least 3 hours. There was then a gap of 19 minutes before Lewis and Gregory Brown from Calshot set off in their RS Feva, followed at 10:25 by the first home club member Dave Bartlett sailing his Streaker.
From then on classes were starting regularly every few minutes including the largest fleets of 8 Lasers Radials, 5 standard Lasers and 7 Merlins keen to put into practice what they had learnt from their training the day before at the club. The final boat away was a sole RS800 helmed by Simon Pryor and crewed by Jamie Dawson.
The gusty wind slowly built during the early part of the race, it was also unfortunately shifting between South West and South regularly catching out anyone not concentrating. To the many watching spectators the RS800 made a spectacular capsize just off the club house, nose-diving in a cloud of spray, but the most embarrassing capsize was by home club member Franco Marenco and Andrew Gladstone. Getting ready to start they capsized just short of the line, in righting their RS400 they forgot to release the jib which cause a second capsize over a mooring buoy. The mooring buoy then became lodged between the mast and shroud so they were affectively anchored. At some stage Franco must have thought that they were going to slip away from the buoy so he lassoed it with his main halyard, making sure that his 400 was not going to leave the mooring under any circumstances. They decided to retire.
Another casualty was Peter Ballantine from Salcombe, sailing a Laser Radial who managed to break the bottom mast section, apparently he broke the top section only a couple of weeks ago.
At the end of the first round, a little less than 48 minutes after the start the Mirror still had a slender advantage over the chasing Streaker and the rest of the pack. The strongest wind was in the middle of the race; towards the end it dropped considerably but the Safety boats were still kept busy as crews became over confident and tired. It was not until the end of the second round that the Streaker managed to pass the Mirror, but the eventual winning Contender of Ian Horlock was ominously only 4 boats back and gaining fast.
At the end of the race after two and a half hours of hard racing the leading boat was the Contender of Ian Horlock who just managed to complete 4 rounds. He was well clear of Mike and Jane Calvert (winners last year) in second. Third and first home club boat was Nigel Skudder and Keith Mills in a Laser 2, fourth another from the home club: A Hornet helmed by Dick Garry and crewed by Sam Woolner. The handicap system worked well, eight different classes were represented in the first ten finishers and of these six were single handers.
First Lady Helm was Hannah Showell (Fireball), and First Junior was Benjamin-Timothy Flower (Laser).
It takes a huge effort to put on the Steamer every year, so my thanks go the galley for producing vast quantities of hot food and drink, the rescue boat crews from the home club, plus ribs from David Attenburrow, Steve Best and Lympstone Sailing club and not forgetting the multihull fleet from Starcross who organize and man the event.
In total about 60 volunteers are required on the day both on and off the water and we look forward to doing it all again next year. Thank you also to the competitors who travel to Starcross every year to make the Steamer so memorable.
Some cracking shots have been taken by Fotoboat based on Steve Best's rib this year. See them atwww.fotoboat.com
Next year's Steamer will be on Sunday 15th March 2015, with the first start at 12:00. Planning has already started and we look forward to welcoming both old and new faces to the event.
Finishing positions (not including RTD boats):
|Lyme Regis SC
|Royal Western YC
|Plymouth University SC