Owers Race 2016

30 July 2016

With light westerly winds in the forecast and fine weather I decided, after 2 previous years going on other people's boats, this was the day to take Elsa down to the Owers Buoy. Formerly known as the Owers Light, when it used to be a lightship, the buoy is in the English Channel 10 miles southwest of Littlehampton.

Susi and Dominik were with me and we assembled at the club around 0900. Nick was the race officer and he'd prepared some written sailing instructions showing the course for the day - from a start line set up outside the harbour, to our own Omar race mark, then 6 miles to East Borough Head (another buoy) then to Owers, and back the same way.

There's no set start time for this race, the idea is to try and go around Owers just as the tide turns so you get the current helping you both ways. Looking at the light winds, and my plan to be there by 1400, we decided to go as early as we could so we put to sea just before 1000. Six boats were taking part. Elsa's team were in good spirits and enjoying the fair weather.




We got the sails into good shape and crossed the line, starting two stopwatches and noting the actual time as 10:11, we were off. The first hour or so of the race was a bit of a drift as the wind was effectively zero, most of our progress came from the tide, it was 35 minutes before we'd covered the first mile and got to the Omar mark. On the way South there were a couple of moments when the wind picked up and gave our speed a bit of a kick. This was most welcome apart from the fact that the wind came with a shower. We were still in good spirits but somewhat more bedraggled by the rain!


After a couple of hours of very slow progress it became obvious that in these conditions nobody was going to get anywhere near Owers before the tide turned. The skippers had a chat over the radio and knowing the forecast was for a bit more wind later, we agreed to continue the race but shorten the course. The target was now the East Borough Head buoy, we thought we could make that by 1400.

Elsa had been the first boat to start so we led the fleet as we all drifted onward with the occasional burst of wind to keep us going. Some of the boats were out of visual range from us but we saw Cabre and Sea Lady behind us. After a while we had East Borough Head right on our nose at about 1330, half a mile away. Here the wind dropped to a complete zero and we were sat looking at the thing trying to will the boat forward. The tide was almost slack now so we just looked at the GPS distance, hardly changing, as an hour went by. A few boats motored past us on their way up and down the coast probably heading for the Looe Channel off Selsey. Some of our fleet called on the radio to retire and motor home but we knew that even if we did that, we'd be sitting outside Littlehampton at low water unable to enter the harbour. So we agreed we might as well wait here and hope for a puff. Susi had brought a bag of sandwiches, Dominik gave me a packet of crisps, we ate an expired pack of ginger biscuits, and Elsa's flushing toilet got used for the first time since I've had the boat!

Patience was eventually rewarded and a breeze appeared enabling us to round the buoy at 15:29, we'd been racing for over five hours and now we were halfway. Cabre went around a few minutes in front of us, she'd picked up the breeze before we did and got past us.



East Borough Head is an east cardinal mark, nearly as big as us. There's a bell inside and metal arms, clangers, on hinges in the yellow part of the structure so as it rocks on the waves it clangs in a slightly eerie way. As we sailed away and the buoy receded we could hear it chiming, it was like we were being pursued by a church.


The wind picked up now, no more rain, Dancer passed us having started much later and still on her way to the mark. We had a lovely broad reach back towards Littlehampton and by 17:15 we were gybing around the Omar mark and on course for the finish line. Cabre was in front, Dancer with her spinnaker was only a few minutes behind us, we crossed at the line at 17:30. Our race elapsed time on the stopwatch was 7:14:48. In great spirits and knowing we'd be at least third in the race, Dominik started the engine, Susi dropped the main, I wound the keel up (still quite shallow outside the harbour only 2.5 hours after low tide) and we motored up the river. Too shallow to get back onto my berth so we tied up alongside the club RIB dock and relaxed. Very tired after about 8 hours at sea, time for a drink. Susi did most of the work packing the boat up then my crew had to leave while I waited in the clubhouse until 7pm when it was deep enough to drive Elsa back into her berth.

Very pleased and proud to have completed my first Owers Race even over the shortened course, we gave a good account of ourselves and we're happy with our third place!

Owers - 30/7/16 at 1000

Race officer - Nick Clare
Course shortened at East Borough Head due to conditions
Start: Start 1, Finishes: Elapsed time, Course: Owers, Wind dir: W, Ave wind: F2
RankBoatClassSailNoHelmNameAMSElapsedCorrectedPoints
1DancerHunter Delta8625YDick Holden0.8466;12;415;15;171.0
2CabreHunter 23130Ron Priest0.7696;52;415;17;212.0
3ElsaSeal 22122Alistair Tyrrell0.7977;18;485;49;433.0
4Dedicated DancerLimbo 69943YDavid Robinson0.793RET7.0
4Sea LadySeal 85076David Bamber0.790RET7.0
4HerragMoody 31GBR9026TDavid Gates0.850RET7.0


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