A highlight of the Merlin Rocket and general river racing calendar, the RSC Downriver Race doesn’t disappoint.
Tamesis Club was represented by Peter and Alison Cooper in MR1939 ‘Warhorse’ and Tim and Ed Medcalf in MR596 ‘Samanda’, the latter boat making a return to her birthplace of 67 years ago on the Putney Embankment.
As ever, RSC extended an incredibly warm welcome to the 20 crews with outstanding bacon rolls, tea and coffee providing a very welcome mid-morning energy boost before the anticipated 12.15 departure.
The fleet was diverse, as you would expect from a development class, with sail numbers ranging from 1 to 3815. There were also a number of long-established crews who had come to test their mettle on the Tideway.
The midday race briefing confirmed a 10 minute gun would be sounded at 12.35 with the club employing its own 10-4-1 sequence. Guidance was also given about when spinnakers could be set and the rules of the road regarding the bridges.
The tide still ebbing, crews were conscious of the need to do some work to stay above the line. At the gun, the fleet turned downstream with the majority opting to head to the right hand bank to take advantage of the strongest stream.
After a decidedly mid-fleet start, and finding themselves boxed in, Team Samanda gybed clear to windward and found enough breeze to take the lead shortly after the sweep under the Putney railway bridge. Helm advised crew to enjoy the experience while it lasted!
These turned out to be wise words as the fleet gathered itself and a lead group broke free. The wind then picked up to a meaningful level and there was some spirited beating around the bend which then opened back to a reach and more beating on the approach to the turn mark at Battersea Park.
Despite there being only one mark, many boats were caught out by the fact that the buoy had been laid in approx a fathom and half of water but on a 30ft rope. Many, your correspondent and also the crew of Warhorse having to make multiple attempts at a clean rounding. Which was frustrating.
Spinnakers were set by those who had them on the way back. Warhorse using the kite to great effect to start picking off boats and working back up through the fleet.
Spinnakerless, Samanda relied on the insight of her junior crew who called the gybes which saw her remain in contention at the rear of the front group.
The final act was a beat back up to the finish line in a fresher breeze. After nearly an hour and 45 minutes of racing, the line was tantalisingly close but wasn’t making it easy for crews to finish. Fittingly, three vintage Holt Martines slugged it out at this point, right in front of the building where they were built in the mid-50s.
Klaxon blasts from the shore signalled the end of what had been a superb outing. Samanda’s crew came in seventh and Warhorse 14th, both having had their moments to savour.
RSC surpassed themselves with a fantastic lunch which all competitors enjoyed together sitting along tables in the clubhouse – a very convivial end to the day.
Congratulations to Rob and Hatty Cage who won the event, again schooling the rest of the fleet about how to sail on the river. Peter Impey was awarded the 2021 DeMay prize for Most Original Boat and took the opportunity to promote the Tamesis Club Merlin Rocket weekend on 21 and 22 May.
Ed Medcalf was quietly rather satisfied to win First Junior having suddenly re-focused his full crewing powers when he saw his opposition bearing down in the last quarter of the race.
RSC will be running their Upriver Race/Merlin Open on 23 October and hope for another strong turnout. At a time when the Tideway, the spiritual home of the Merlin Rocket, is under threat as a sporting venue it would be excellent to have another strong attendance from Tamesis Club to help create a bumper fleet. Put the date in your diary!
Thanks to the RSC team for a fantastic day and providing the photographs, and also to Craftinsure for sponsoring the generous prize fund.