Medway Sonatas – Series 1: Race 2: Thistle do very nicely thank you…..

Early in the day we had little to no wind and little promise of it building – well Wind-Guru, you can’t always be right. Turns out by kick-off we had a steady breeze – but cold, very cold.

Course 45 was chosen due to said predominantly easterly – come – Sou’ easterly – feeling immoderately a northerly breeze. That said, we were able to start into wind, a rarity these days with Spinney starts almost becoming the norm.

4 boats started; ‘Skipper’ anointed in her all new and heavily mortgaged Genoa, ‘Screwloose’ bereft of Steve the Pension, feigning death with a dose of man flu, then Chris, now desperately wishing for death whilst suffering certain ‘bowel’ irregularities limiting distance from bowl to bum of no more than half a dozen paces…..and short paces at that given his legs were now permanently crossed. But who is this I see, crikey Rob! Yes valiant Red Dwarf Rob coming to the rescue to make up the Screwloose shortfall.

…To complete the modest foursome, ‘Musical Express’ graced us with her presence, with of course the best-looking member of any crew aboard the fleet; yes, Ian was on board. Then Thistle – God where do I go here! With a supporting crew and cast of ‘Dick the Skiff’ and Foredick (late and very cold of Watersong), Riccardo and Mario (the Mafioso) could make up a full crew at last. Just turned out to be a bit of a shock to them that was all.

5-minute gun sounded, watches and timers checked. The four boats teased the line, checked the wind, tested the tide strength, timed runs to the line, anticipation built. 4-minute gun sounded and went, time and guns ticked and sounded down to the one minute and now all plans were being executed, each one a winner.

Starting gun sounded with all crews knowing they had the winning strategy, though surprise-surprise, with most of the tiny fleet at/on/over the line. The gun went off for a second time – defo someone was over. All crews looked at all others– what do we do? Listen to the radio? Don’t be stupid, no right-minded Snotty driver would ever do such a thing, unless it was Radio 2 of course.

Magnanimously Musical came back, and the fleet, just as one, muttered ‘what a sucker’!! Except for Thistle, who I believe shouted it out. No, correction they did shout it out, ‘fess up, it was me…..(whispering a tad too loudly methinks).

Once under way Screwloose had clearly got the hump. She decided to bugger off on her own and leave us all behind. Then Skipper got miffed and went off in close pursuit. ‘Charming’ we thought, how damn anti-social. So, it was a race of front and back end, if you don’t mind me saying. Thistle kept the edge on Musical much to the surprise of all aboard Thistle for the first beat down to 24.

Screwloose kept ahead of Skipper who was showing her return to excellent speed with her long awaited new Genoa. Both made distance on ‘the back end’.

Rounding 24, on the Spinney run back to 29, there was a strong favourable tidal gate upriver. Screwloose and Skipper were becoming dots. A distanced Thistle followed closely by Musical rounded 24.

‘Spinney UP!’ – I said ‘Spinney UP!’……OK I will speak Italian……’Piggin Prego, Spaghetti, Ravioli, Fiat, Alitalia, Andrea Pocelli – get the F*#…q Spinney UPPP!’. And so it was, that like a graceful Seagull cowpat splattering to the ground, the Spinney went up, out, around, across. What a Mistaka to Maka; this was one serious twist. But let’s keep our heads chaps, we can do this……..and so team Thistle did, with poor Dick the Skiff wondering what he had got himself into whilst the Mafia amazed at Foredick dancing around on the bow like Rudolf Nureyev with one size ‘too small’ tights.

The golden locks of Ian were now in sight, right next to us. Thistle and Musical sailed Bow to Bow, Pushpit to Pushpit, internal toilet outflow to internal toilet outflow all the way back to 29. Somehow Thistle beat the overlap to make 29 first and clear of any Sonata bow.

Foredick went up front to take in the Spinney for the rounding. ‘EASE’… ‘EASE’ ….. are we ‘EASING’?. Needless to say the Spinney was neither half way up nor half way down when the race officer considered Thistle may be making her way home whilst all others had turned around to stay on the race course. We eventually got it down, but Musical was gone.

In front of Thistle were now two pinpricks we believed to be racing boats and Musical now so far ahead we couldn’t even see Ian’s black roots. Would we give in and capitulate waving the white flag? Well, we discussed it and decided the traditional Italian army method was not the way forward. We would carry on with the old Dunkirk spirit.

Amazeballs, we made ground on all the fleet. Thistle was on fire, Mario’s determination to hold on to the tiller and point the beast with the best possible speed was textbook; when added to Dick the Skiff’s inspired calls on strategy, we could beat the fleet! And genuinely with white sails past the land-fill stage, I was super impressed.

Up front we could see Screwloose was still ahead of Skipper on her way across to 24. It was all about the timing on the call to cross from Folly and play the tide. Screwloose – good: Skipper – good: Flash Gordon – good: Thistle – outstanding (Yep, I’m biased).

Somehow nature cursed Thistle and all we can say is that freak currents worked against us and for no one else. That said we had a grandstand view. Screwloose had shaken off Skipper who was now in a squabble with Musical. Myriad tacks from 24 to MYA1 put Skipper, then Musical, then Skipper then Musical ahead. It was fascinating and will have made for exciting racing.

Can’t be sure who made MYA1 first out of the two, quite frankly by this time I was confident we were never going to make second and need to write up a report: that simply could never happen 😳………could it?

Thistle’s turn at MYA1 was a tad smoother with now a more refined and knowledgeable lifting of the Spinnaker – though I must admit to some concern when I looked back to see the sheet being put on the winch the wrong way and so no effect on playing the pole – another ‘what the hell am I doing here’ moment from poor Dick the Skiff.

But wait! What is going on? Does Flash Gordon know something all others in the entire yacht club/on the river/ since the Ice age, don’t know? 🤔
Whilst in front of Skipper and on the way back to 27, Musical has gone off to port and the long way around the river. Was it more picturesque, tranquil, was there good fishing over there or simply a cunning plan to make everyone go the long way round? MMmmmmmm……. Maybe it was one of those ‘freak currents’ that Thistle suffered.

‘We’ll take that’ could be heard from the crew of Skipper – and fair dooos. By the time Skipper rounded 27 she had overtaken Musical and gained a comfy lead with Screwloose now just that little bit closer to her. Could she catch Captain Kipling and his exceedingly good mates?

Meanwhile back on the good ship Thistle a Spinney run was in full swing. And before I go on any further, those of us who have to carry the crew and boat when being on foredeck will know two things; firstly, you are totally disengaged from any conversation held by all others at the back of the boat until you hear ‘JIBE!’ 😱; secondly, you can’t see through a bloody great Spinney when full of wind and in front of you.

My point? Well, why should a foredeck be asked ‘are we safe here?’ After all, you are floating, moving forward and focussing on this damn sail; what’s the problem?

So when asked when in sight of Folly ‘are we OK here Richard?’ I said what any thoughtful and responsible foredeck person would say; ‘Yep!’

It was some seven or possibly eight seconds later when we all stopped. Mario flew forward and nose butted Dick the Skiff in the back. Dick the Skiff was thrown up against the cabin pinned in by Mario’s nose with Riccardo following in short order. I courageously admonished myself from any responsibility whilst flying headfirst toward the pulpit. As they say in the nautical trade, ‘we were ‘..king grounded’.

Lots of weight over the side and we gradually ground back the other side of the keel, putting a well hewn gully in best Kentish rock. The hand of God arrived from nowhere and we were back from dry dock and in the water.

‘Aye up, back the bus up’……….Screwloose has missed a mark and is going straight home! Did I get hit on the head and lose my senses? Crew Thistle were dazed, confused and bemused, strangely just as we started the race…….

A few more rounds were to be had but places remained the same all the way to the Club line when Thistle was third to get there, Musical second and Skipper first. But hold up, that is entirely unnecessary! Very ungentlemanly behaviour from the leading lady member of Musical’s crew. The big ‘V’ sign thrust at us. Well that really isn’t cricket, how unsportsmanlike; should be black balled…….

….I’m sorry what? Really? Are you sure? We’ll take it!

Transpires both Musical and Skipper were over the line at the start; also transpires Captain Kipling can’t copy a course down ( 🤫never buy a Ford).

What did we learn from this mini adventure? Well, there’s a lot to be said for buying Fiat, eating spaghetti, listening to Andrea Pocelli and flying Alitalia.

Second eh?……….Thistle do nicely.