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The Exe Sails Starcross Steamer 2014

I (Iain Horlock) was the sole contender to attend the usually windy annual pursuit race around the middle of the river exe estuary.

I was the only entrant to choose to sail up, and as I left my home club earlier than necessary to reach Starcross on time it was already a good force 5. With an increasing forecast I was a bit apprehensive that the organisers would still hold the race. Luckily the wind up the river was less than at the mouth so the organisers were more than happy to hold the race.

Leaving early left me enough time to tie up to the slipway and head ashore for a bacon roll and a cup of tea before I had to launch again for my start…45 minutes after the first boat (a mirror from Penzance) started.

The course for this race always seems very complicated when you’re trying to understand it on shore so I was pleased to have lots of boats in front of me for the first lap or two.

I started at the same time as the hornet, and a minute or two behind some Merlin rockets and RS100’s. The breeze at this stage was about a F4 with some nasty gusts, but also some big holes close to the banks of the river….it started to remind me of the Exmoor Beastie at Wimbleball S.C from a few weeks before!

There was a decent sized beat up to the top mark which allowed me to make some big gains on the Merlins and the 100’s, and at the mark I had already taken a few of the slower boats. At this point my eyes were already set on last years winners in the Merlin Rocket. I could see they were going to take a while to catch!

As the race progressed we slowly caught various other slower boats, until there were about 5 left in front, and we still had about 45min left to race. I had just overtaken the leading Merlin and was closing down on the phantom when the wind started to ease slightly….this meant it was only marginal planning conditions for me on the long broad reach across the river, so it was tough to hold on to the spinnaker boats. With about half an hour to go the wind started picking up again and I was on the long beat back through the start line back to the top mark again. This really suited me and I had caught right up to the leaders at the top mark. There was a zigzag section just after the top mark with some nice tight reaches which suited me nicely and with about 20min to go I was into the lead!!

Now I just had to hold them off on the down wind sections as I knew I wouldn’t be caught upwind. I was half expecting to see some of the fast asymmetric boats come flying past at this stage but I was later told there was a lot of spinnaker trouble!

The wind stayed until the 2:30 hour race was up and despite messing up my last tack in front of about 30 people watching from the shore I had won!

Last years winners were second in their Merlin, a Laser 2 was third and the sponsors were 4th in their Hornet. 29 boats finished the race out of the 52 that started.

A huge selection of prizes was on show which included some great sailing bags supplied by Exe Sails.

After waiting around in my wetsuit for an hour I was getting a bit cold at this stage, but it was time to brave the elements again and sail back to my home club at the mouth of the river. Without rescue cover and through a nasty squall I was clinging onto the mainsheet with what little energy I had left, but after 45 min I was back at Exe Sailing Club.

A great event and I’m very pleased to have done better than I was expecting. Thanks to Starcross Yacht Club and Exe Sails and all of the volunteers who made it happen. Bring on the rest of the season!

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