Classic Boat Article

Classic Boat magazine have an article on the Osprey. Alan Henderson & Oscar Chess helped them with the article.

This report appeared in Osprey Class Magazine December 1998 but the article is from Yachting World Annual 1954.
It was researched by Mike Smith of Hornsea SC and was kindly typed by Elaine Cleminshaw.

It is thought that this report is a personal account by Ian Proctor of the race.
This race has been described as an event unparalleled in the history of yachting. It was, indeed, certainly the first time that dinghies had been raced round the Isle of Wight and there is no doubt that it will live long in the memories of those who sailed in 196-boat fleet on this 64-mile marathon.

The event had some strong critics of great experience and things might well have developed exceedingly unpleasantly if adverse conditions had beat the fleet after they had got round to the back of the Wight. But as it was, good fortune favoured the enterprise, and conditions were well nigh perfect.

All those who took part must feel very grateful to the Cowes Corinthian YC and especially Mr FG Mitchell, it’s Commodore, for having the temerity to put the race on and keep it on the face of some very telling criticism. As an annual event it might justifiably be called foolhardy – as an event for special occasions, such as Coronations, it is superb, but even then must cause much anxiety to the organisers, even after the most careful preparations. It must be remembered that however good the rescue facilities, they could scarcely be anything but inadequate if such a vast fleet, spread out over so many miles, got into difficulties outside the Island – there were 30 miles between first and last boat when the finishing gun went.

The largest fleet of dinghies ever seen in Britain came to the starting line at Cowes at 0530 on Saturday June 6. Imagine all the competitors in all the classes during the most popular day of Cowes Week all starting together, and some impression of the magnitude of this fleet will be obtained. About 450 dinghy sailors took part.

This fleet was divided into six classes. The most coveted award was the cup for the first boat home, but the handicap, Hornet, International 14, Merlin Rocket, National 12ft and Firefly, and RNSA 14 classes each had their own trophies as well.

The handicap class was a varied assortment of dinghies. There were several National 18-footers, 14ft Sprogs, GP14’s Swordfish, WEC Redwings, Solent Seagulls, as well as a Wildcat with a sliding seat, a Hamble Star and an East Cowes OD. Then there was quite an impressive array of potential performers for the International two-man trials at La Baule, including Uffa Fox in Jollity, Max Johnson’s Coronet, Claude Nethercoat’s Marianne and Osprey.

As a competitor, it was impossible to get an overall picture of the race, but nearly everyone seemed to have similar excitements to ourselves in Osprey, so our own experiences will give a fair picture of the kind of race that it was.

We held a council or war the night before and decided to sail as hard as we could for the first five miles to try and get a lead. The rest of the race we thought would probably be in the nature of a fast cruise – perhaps with special effort towards the end. It seemed unlikely that his marathon could be sailed like an ordinary flat-out dinghy race. How wrong we were!

We were reaching along the line looking for a wide gap where we should get clear wind on the run away from the start when the starting gun went. We went on reaching till we found our gap and this paid, for we soon had the spinnaker drawing with nothing astern to disturb it and we went into the lead about five minutes later.

Most of the fleet at the start kept close in to the island shore, seeking a favourable eddy that had been predicted there, but the 10-knot north easterly breeze caused an early change  of tidal stream further out and they did not fare so well. Osprey was well out, but not so far as the National 18-footer Chaos, which was holding us, but we reckoned that Chaos was probably not quite so fast as Osprey and therefore that she must be sailing in better conditions; we went out a little more and started to draw away from her.

Marianne, with her large and effective spinnaker and longer waterline length, was going exceedingly well and we came together off Yarmouth and kept close company to the Needles, chatting on the way. The next boat was about three minutes astern. We rounded the Needles with Marianne, but much closer in, only a few feet off the rocks and inside the wreck. This paid, because Marianne was pushed down to leeward by the current.

The few minutes after rounding the Needles were the most difficult. Heavy whirligig 25-knot gusts, interspersed with complete calms, pounced down at us from over and around the pinnacles of the Needles. One moment we were sitting out hard to keep Osprey on her feet and the next we had to fling ourselves back into her to prevent capsizing on top of us.

We then made several mistakes. Firstly, we should have luffed, or even tacked, into Freshwater Bay to avoid the ebb running strongly against us, but we were tempted to sail straight for St. Catherine’s, visible 11 miles away. Secondly, as we had worked out a lead of about ten minutes and the wind was freshening slightly, we changed to a smaller jib to help conserve our strength for the harder sailing anticipated after St. Catherine’s. After about half an hour with the small jib it became obvious that one boat was coming up on us fairly fast. It was Cornet using her trapeze. We watched anxiously for a few minutes then changed back to our big jib, but had difficulty in getting the luff really taut and when we settled down to sailing properly again we had lost about seven minutes of our ten minute lead. With our own trapeze in action, we started to draw away from Coronet again. It was then that we realised it was to be a flat-out race all the way.

Meanwhile Jollity had been coming along inshore – where we should have been. We wee just dithering whether to tacking to cover her or to cover Coronet, when Coronet made our decision easy by tacking herself. At St. Catherine’s black gusts came sweeping down off the heights and we kept about two cable offshore, expecting there to be an area of clams close in, but we sailed into a flat patch nevertheless and were out in the current, while Jollity and Coronet came romping up close in out of the current and with better wind than we had further out. Jollity was only a minute astern of us round St Catherine’s with Coronet thirty seconds after her.

Then came seven miles of very short tacking close inshore to avoid the adverse current. We did over 120 tacks, Cliff Norbury using our trapeze all the time with great skill. We went inside many of the rocks, sometimes having to go into the breakers forming off the beach to dodge rocks further out, but Uffa went further in than most of us most of the time, knowing the place better. The sea was most kind and we took no water onboard from the long waves, but the trapeze proved to be easier than sliding seats in those conditions, for however much the boat is bouncing one cannot fall off a trapeze.

We kept ahead till Dunnose, where we sailed to close in, found a flat patch and also caught a great bunch of weed on the centreboard. We lost the lead after haing it for 37 miles. Coronet went away fast while we pinched to clear Culver and she was 4.5 minutes ahead by Bembridge Point. We should have tacked out into the stronger current, then in our favour. We luffed ahead of Jollity again and planed away from her when we eased sheets slightly.

Starting the run home we were fairly confident of catching Coronet and more concerned about Marianne, six minutes astern, as the wind was lightening. We rapidly left Jollity and by Seaview had reduced Coronet’s lead considerably; off Ryde it was only one minute and we passed her off Wooton  - she had lead for 19 miles. We had virtually the same sail plan, with slightly smaller spinnaker, but with two to trim it continuously to the shifting wind, were able to keep it drawing properly more of the time than Coronet, which sailed with only two aboard.

Nevertheless Coronet was lighter and forced us out into the adverse current before we could shake her off, while Marianne crept along inshore, untroubled. We joined Marianne about one mile from Cowes and battled with her all the rest of the way. We knew she would pass us in that very light wind if we let her get clear, so we clung to her for dear life, purposely keeping astern of her so that we could gybe across her transom and sit on her weather whenever the wind shifted, which frequently did.

We kept her great spinnaker looking under-nourished most of the time. We were neck and neck twenty yards from the line – and only then did we leave Marianne. We luffed a little, our small spinnaker pulled us well on the reach and we squeezed over the line just three feet ahead. The guns went almost simultaneously, only one second between them. It was wonderful finish to a splendid race.

Coronet crossed the line four minutes later to take third place, Jollity was fourth and F Brown in his National 18-footer, Silhouette II, fifth.
Eighty boats finished in the Handicap class; the winner on corrected time was the Halcyon class Yam Su Su (K Crawley). The next largest class was the National 12ft and Fireflies. A National, Flip McGilda (K Pearce) was first and a Firefly, Lucciola (D Fleming) second.