Rum Race sailors battle weather

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A crowded start was not helped by the odd capsize

“Brutal” was the oft repeated phrase heard at the end of the annual Rum Race, sponsored by Skipper Rum, held at Rye Harbour Sailing Club on Sunday, January 21. Much of the preceding week had been spent closely watching the weather forecasts and with a cold front coming through from the Atlantic it was touch and go as to whether or not the event would take place.
Our very own World Sailing Champion in the Topper class, Scott Wilkinson, 16, won the race, sailing a Laser Radial Dinghy with Hugh Ashford from Hastings and St Leonard’s, also in a Laser Radial Dinghy coming second and Simon Marsh sailing a Laser standard sail coming third.

The dinghies head out towards Rye Bay

With temperatures of around 3 degrees centigrade, competitors were lulled by the lightish breeze and dry conditions as they arrived to rig their boats. However, by the time the dinghies were launched the wind had got up to about 15 knots (and probably gusting in excess of 20 knots during the race) and a persistent rain meant that everyone was wet before the race started.
As an “open” race four boats entered from Hastings and St Leonard’s Sailing Club, giving a total of 14 dinghies taking part. Weather conditions meant that the race was held on the river with the start line between the club and the Harbour Master’s office. This is a narrower start line than would normally be associated with 14 vessels and manoeuvering for a good start position made for a chaotic scene, not helped by the odd capsize – testing sailing skills and alertness.

Rum Race winner Scott Wilkinson is presented with his prize
Runner up was Hugh Ashford from Hastings and St Leonards S.C.

The start saw the dinghies shoot off towards Rye Bay where they would turn before sailing back to Rock Channel and coming back down the river before finishing at the clubhouse. The course would take about an hour to complete and was made yet more difficult by contending with a southerly wind which meant that dinghies had to tack (zig-zag) back downriver. The cold meant that it became difficult to feel tillers and sheets (ropes that control the sails) and mistakes were made, the worst of which would end up in a capsize (with one competitor capsizing as he crossed the finish line).
Of the 14 who started, 10 finished and thanks must go to the two crews who manned rescue boats, David and Byron Tomkinson, Carey Marsh and Jim Cooke. For those whose rigging succumbed to the wind a tow was a very welcome option.
Overseeing the event was Jim Wood who had sensibly parked his camper van by the slipway so that he could organise the paperwork in the dry. There are many others who helped out with the organisation of the event; too many to mention here but special thanks must go to Jen Tomkinson who cooked the chilli con carne meal that was enjoyed after the race.
Good use was made of the new showers by the competitors before joining the others at the bar, where everyone was treated to a tot of Skipper Rum. It was nearly standing room only in the club; such was the popularity of the event.
The Rum Race also forms a part of the club winter sailing series. There are two more races left to go, the next one is on February 4.

Photos: Caroline Wylson and Paul Whiteman

Image Credits: Rye News library .

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