The Forts Race was a fitting final to the inaugural UKCRA Long Distance cat racing circuit. High winds and big seas tested men and materials to the limit over the 75-kilometre race around the Swale Estuary hosted by Whitstable Yacht Club on Sunday 23 September.
Adopting the model set for the race round Isle of Wight earlier in the year, the Forts Race was also planned for Saturday, with the option of postponement to Sunday based on the weather. This proved essential as windless conditions out to sea on Saturday meant that a light afternoon sea breeze was the best that could be expected.
Race Officer Jack Edwards took the opportunity to give competitors a geography lesson by means of a practice race up the Swale. Those with kites rapidly drew ahead led by Daffyd Smith and Tom Quail in a Hobie Tiger. However, using the tide to best advantage, it was local lass, Abby Ledger, crewed by Murray Brett in a Dart 18, who won on handicap, followed by another local sailor, Tim Bolton sailing a Dart 16.
Drawing lessons from hosting the event in five previous years, this year the format was revised. The new course replaced the traditional star shape with a series of out-and-back legs in open sea north to the Forts, in coastal waters east to Herne Bay Pier and finally west up the Swale Estuary to provide further variety in river conditions. Returning through a gate by the club provided the race officer with new options for changing or shortening, as he saw fit. Patience was rewarded as Sunday dawned with a northerly Force 5 to gladden the cat sailors’ hearts, so the full Forts course was on. However, as the postponement meant racing at low water, intermediate marks were incorporated to take racers clear of the shallows.
The new Olympic Tornados quickly drew ahead. The battle for line honours was a close duel between Worrell survivors, Will Sunnucks and Mark Self, and past Olympic contenders, local sailors Dave Williams and Ian Rhodes, as both recorded average speeds in excess of 25 km per hour. Sunnucks took an early lead of 3.57 minutes on the return leg from the Forts. Trouble lowering the spinnaker just through the gate the first time cost Williams more time so Sunnuck’s lead grew to 5.14 minutes through the gate the second time after the reaches to and from Herne Bay Pier. Undaunted, Williams managed to reduce this on the final leg west up the Swale and back, such that Sunnucks won by only 2.48 minutes in three hours of racing.
Behind them there was a following pack out to the Forts. Hurricanes had the advantage of a longer waterline as the fleet beat into ever-bigger seas. However, this was matched by the superior pointing ability of newer Formula 18, Stealth and Spitfire designs.
The most demanding conditions were encountered out by the Forts. Among the Spitfires, Hudson took early retirement after being swept repeatedly off the trapeze, while Reynolds and Dixon incurred severe damage when capsizing, despite their previous expertise as asymmetric swimmers. Among the Hurricanes the pounding proved too much for the shrouds on Owen and Guy’s boat, as their mast came down, and too much for Dewhirst’s trapeze, as he went for a deep-sea swim. Others pitchpoled upon raising the kite at the beginning of the return journey to Whitstable. This fate proved particularly upsetting to third-placed Skinner and Harvey, as the kite kit exploded on their Olympic Tornado.
While the cats with kites extended their lead on this leg downwind, the reaches east to Herne Bay and West up the Swale enabled those racing with just main and jib to perform best. Grant and Adam Piggott sailed a standard Hurricane into fourth place followed by Mylchrist and Evans in a classic Tornado.
Living up to Formula One performance, attrition continued among the competitors. Of the 50 entrants, 35 made it to the start line, only 22 completed the Forts leg, two more dropped out on the Herne Bay leg. This was the end of the short course for small