THE HENLEY WHALERS - Rye Rum Race 11th January 2009

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I’D ROTHER BE SAILING… Or how seven went mad in Sussex and came back with a Rye smile.
WITH the scent of rum in their nostrils, seven hardy boys took Molly to Sussex for the annual Rye Rum Race.
This year the race was held in the River Rother, down from the ancient Cinque Port of Rye. With fresh breezes promised we were hoping it wouldn’t become a Sink Port. The narrow river would certainly be a challenge to Molly's tacking abilities.
Molly was towed down the night before, and rigged in plenty of time by the early risers who drove down on Sunday morning. Geoff was able to join us after all, so the crew was the owner plus Bob, Dick, John, Paul, Robin and Steve.
Molly was launched by 9.30 in bright sunshine, and at the briefing a simple course was revealed… start by the clubhouse, beat to buoy A, leave it to starboard, run a mile or so north, leave buoy B to port then do it twice more. Three laps, with a possible reduction to two should the wind increase a lot.
Cutting through the fleet
After the briefing Geoff was somewhat startled to be asked in a gentlemanly fashion what handicap he would like. He knowledgeably agreed one with the official.
The opposition consisted of dinghies such as Enterprises, Wayfarers and Wanderers, and one Miracle (a larger Mirror).
As we beat toward the start we could just lay the course to the first buoy, but, with a smidgen of tide still against us Molly had a close encounter with some scaffolding on the far bank. It was avoided by the skin of her hull. Had the wind been 5 degrees further south we would have been in trouble.

At the hooter we were well behind the rest of the fleet. Then someone capsized dead ahead, but we slalomed round the floating hazard and rounded the buoy.

Here was the greatest danger: a tricky tack in a very narrow space, then we had to bear away on a broad reach. The crew also had to shift sharpish to give us steerage with the helmsman's cry of 'Weight aft'. If a strong gust hit the unreefed main we could go over.
We stayed upright, Molly picked up her skirts and flew upriver, passing several of the opposition before the next mark. We spotted a head in the water … was it a dog chasing a stick? No, a seal popping up to take a look at us.
Now there were only three boats ahead but the mark was nowhere in sight. The three rounded a green channel marker and shouted to us to use that instead. There was mysteriously no buoy.
So we turned back hard on the wind. Molly was flying and overtook the three leaders on the beat back up to the windward mark.
After that it was just scrumptious sailing in flat water and a fine breeze, with the odd moment of excitement provided by the swirling breeze round the factory sheds ashore. We were able to swap helms and positions and enjoy ourselves.

The wind was getting up and we had the lee rail under once but didn’t want to get too cocky. The club officials' warning 'Don't fall in' concentrated our minds wonderfully.

Running Free RRR3
Crossing the line
Molly crossed the line well ahead to the sound of the customary hooter and we gave three cheers. As we turned for home the centreboard just touched the bottom at the side of the river, proving how narrow the channel really was.
River Rother at ebb tide showing the wall submerged at high tide

Text by Robin and Steve.

Back on shore Molly was much admired and we were told how beautiful she had looked under full sail.
At the prizegiving it turned out we had won overall, so the handicap negotiations had clearly worked. A bottle of rum was handed over and Captain Geoff clasped Captain Morgan firmly by the neck.
The bottle was put on the table and left to its own devices. For a merry jape Paul shoved it under his shirt against his stomach and Geoff, returning, became slightly disconcerted as to its whereabouts.
On reproducing it, Paul declared it to be an old navel joke.

The final result was:

  • Molly 54:29mins
  • Sunflower 55:17
  • Cowslip 55:56
  • Wagtail 57:34
  • Kittywake 58:33
  • Moody Blue 59:49
  • Twice Shy 1:08:02

Pictures from various sources. High resolution versions available on request
Further pictures on Flickr here

SM sample
Thanks go again to Eric Zon and the Rye Harbour Sailing Club for inviting us (no doubt the handicapping will make us work harder next time) and to Robin for towing Molly when Geoff's double booking for the weekend arose.
In the end Geoff's loss on the real tennis court was our gain on  the water.
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