The event takes place in the challenging waters of the Solent around Cowes, aboard a fleet of First 40 racing yachts crewed by 10-12 people.
The week leading up to any sailing event is when you start to look at the weather in detail; this Arrow race was no different. What was different was that the forecast looked thoroughly miserable, at one point indicating a Force 10 storm in the Solent (quite different to previous years where the weather has generally been good). This forecast became Storm Callum which veered off to the North and caused so much damage in Wales. From the Salopian perspective it did lead to some calls enquiring about rough weather policy and the Arrow organisers postponed the start by a few hours.
We arrived on the Friday afternoon to collect the boat around 4pm and the pontoons were swaying up and down with waves breaking over them and making it extremely difficult to cart trolley loads of stores to the boat. The pontoons were doing a very good impression of a cartoon Loch Ness monster as they tried to break free.
Despite all of this, on the Friday afternoon the weather was not as horrific as forecast, and five members of the Salopian crew met at Port Solent to collect the Sunsail First 40 and deliver her over to Cowes. This was the start of the Arrow trophy weekend. The rest of the Salopian crew were rather more sensible (forceful) and had opted for the more leisurely and comfortable trip on the Red Funnel ferry. Relatively good time was made and we tied up in time to join the rest for a Friday night curry and a few beers in West Cowes.
Saturday dawned, the sun appeared, the wind abated and we all wondered what all the fuss had been about. By the time we got to the delayed briefing we were desperate to get out there sailing. The committee opted for prudence, 2 reefs and no spinnakers. We all laughed at their caution in our sunglasses and shorts. The wind was only just making double digits. However, the committee had done their homework and correctly assessed that the frequency and strength of the gusts would make for carnage on the race course if we all got caught in close proximity with boats too powered up. The wind regularly jumped up to around 30 knots from under 10, so that half a leg was a bit underpowered and the rest of the leg was full on bow waves and spray, exhilarating stuff.
27 boats started on the Saturday and after a significant mishap where one boat tried to remove the bow of another we were soon down to 25. First race in, the Salopian crew was a little rusty, we discussed some new techniques to get speed on the downwind leg, and on the second lap played with the spinnaker pole to optimise the head sail and finished an acceptable 12th. Second race, same windward/leeward format, slight tweak to the course and this time we went for the poled out head sail from the beginning and lifted ourselves a few places to 7th. That was it, confidence was rising, adrenalin was pumping, we were going to nail this 3rd race and show them just what Salopian sailing was all about. We threw a blinder at the start, confused all the other boats, got ourselves in clean air and went for it. Unfortunately about 5 seconds too early. We were deemed to be OCS – i.e. we started before everyone else (as did a few other boats). With a little less adrenalin, we turned round, went back to the start line and re-started five minutes after everyone else. Given that, our 21st place was quite creditable, but we had scuppered our chances of making it into the match racing.
For those not familiar with the Arrow Trophy format, Saturday normally consists of 4-5 short races. The best 4 boats then go and do match racing on the Sunday to fight for 4 trophies. The rest of the fleet go and do some more short races on the Sunday to try and win the best of the rest trophy, called the Charterhouse Bowl. Shrewsbury have won this bowl a couple of times in the past, and we had a glimmer of a chance. We would be going into Sunday lying in 7th place, and who knows, two great results and a bit of luck could see us spring a surprise.
But first we had to survive the Arrow trophy dinner. This event takes place at Cowes Yacht Haven and acts both as the prize giving for the previous year and as a chance for the crew to let off a little steam after a hard day on the water. With good food and a convivial atmosphere this year’s was an enjoyable event, (even allowing for an impromptu cabaret act that received the reception it deserved). This year was the 25th Anniversary of the Arrow Trophy, and to celebrate the event the committee provided each table with a bottle of port. The night went well.
Sunday came, and when the curtains went back we wished it hadn’t. It was tipping it down, and that is understated (if only because I can’t use the accurate word in this tome). The sky was grey, and there was a stiff wind from the North. Whereas Saturday had been warm, with a gusty southerly, we now had a grey, cold, extremely wet and breezy day. We got ourselves together and fought our way out against the wind and tide and prepared to do battle. Again no spinnakers, but due to the steady wind we only had the 1 reef in the main.
Regular readers of our Arrow reports might remember that in years past one of the Shrewsbury boats had an incident with the committee boat. Despite those memories, we went for the dream start, sneak up behind the committee boat, let everyone else fight it out and at the last minute round the committee boat and straight onto the course on a Starboard (right of way) tack. We nailed it. We had the lead by the first mark and held it throughout the race to take first. The excitement mounted, could we possibly win the Charterhouse bowl?
Sunday, Race 2, we had a good start, but not quite so cheeky as the previous race. We made good time and rounded the first mark in 4th. All 4 boats were quite close and there was a decent gap to the rest. We held that position for the first lap, and by the time we arrived to the last windward mark we had sneaked 3rd and were closing in on 2nd. By the final downwind marks we were neck and neck for 2nd. A slight racing mishap at the final mark caused us some issues, so ultimately we had to settle for 6th in that race and a very creditable 5th place overall in the event. Far better to fail when aiming high than settle for safety and mediocrity.
After all that it was time to pop back to Cowes, disembark those who preferred their luxury crossing and then return the boat to Cowes.
Many thanks to the Shrewsbury crew of Will Matthews (Rt 2003-08) James Pitt (S 1979-84) Simon Jenkins (M 1975-79) Peter Schutzer-Weissman(PH 2005-10) David Richards (Rt 1966-70) George Hall (SH 2005-10) Will Collins (SH 1980-85) Tim Becker (R 1977-82) Todd Langford Archer (G 2004-09) and our three ringers, Dom Breen-Turner, Freddie Jenkins and Freddie Becker (both sons of OS’s).
Despite the best attempts of the weather we had an extremely enjoyable weekend and are very grateful to the Old Salopian Sports Club for their continued support of the OSYC. If there are any Old Salopians out there who would like to join the OSYC, participate in the next Arrow (by the way Shrewsbury are organising the event for the next 3 years), share sailing stories or looking for crew/crewing opportunities, then please contact Will Collins by email – firstname.lastname@example.org