The annual race from Scarborough to Ijmuiden, pronounced Ijjee- moodenn, well it is if you’re Lee Scaife! is one of the highlights of our racing calendar, with Skippers and crews looking forward to it all year? For the life of me I can’t think why. I have long held the opinion, (since my first crossing in 84), that the North Sea race should take part on the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam, and the ‘race’ bit should involve a scalextric, (Google it) and copious amounts of ale! How anyone can derive pleasure from spending anything up to 60 hrs, (it’s been known to be more), on such an inhospitable, bleak, lumpy, grey cold and monotonous stretch of water, is beyond me.
This year 16 boats entered, 13 from Scarborough, and 3 visitors, from Bridlington, Whitby and Hartlepool. Over the years, several ‘traditions’ have evolved. One is the pre race skippers briefing and buffet in the yacht club, about 90 minutes prior to the start. Or it used to be a buffet, the intention being to give the crews a plate of decent food, before they set off, as for many, they would not eat again before they reach Holland.
Why would they not eat again?, several reasons. Seasickness would effect some, (more than actually own up to it), the cooker wont work when the boats heeled beyond 90 degrees, the sausages wont stay in the pan when the boats dropping off 15 foot waves, (only if you sail on the fastest Vega on the planet), to name but a few. In recent years the buffet tended to be hi jacked by people, who the nearest they would ever come to crossing the North Sea is walking over the bridge to the clubhouse!
This year Mel cooked a fantastic shepherd’s pie, and competitors got tickets. Brilliant idea, brilliant food, and much easier on the gullet when it comes back up than prawn shells, and sausages on sticks.(what, were not meant to eat the stick?).
Another tradition is that Skippers provide the crews with team t shirts, (take note Lee Scaife) usually worn on the Monday night in Amsterdam, it helps with crew bonding, and it also helps you know whose side your on if you get into a fight! I noticed Alan Partridge, Skipper of the Scarborough yacht Windshear had dressed his crew of waifs and wandering minstrels, (you would need to be at the dinner in Hoorn to understand that one, Google won’t help you) in some very ‘Howards Way’ inspired polos. Peppermint blue with dark blue hoops, I don’t think Gok would be impressed. We won’t mention team Takazas turquoise creations seen later in Holland.
Most Skippers spend a great deal of time in the weeks, months leading up the race, preparing there boats. I’ve never understood this, if you prepared it last year, what have you undone that you need to need redo? This year I was crewing with Captain Lee Bean, (that’s right as in Mr Bean, hapless halfwit), aka Billy Casper, on Whistledown ‘oh dear I’ve forgot the diesel’, whose idea of preparation is to turn up too late for the Skippers briefing, jump aboard half hour before the start, change into a ballet dancers training support track suit, (not a pleasant sight), drink a can of Fosters, while uttering the inspiring words, “Rait, worrit is rait, will get spinny up and will be off like billyo!”. Not exactly Henry V before Agincourt, but inspiring in its own way.
After the briefing, the shepherd’s pie, and a short speech from our sponsor, Andrew Boyes, (for good value) crews made ready for sea. This year’s fleet were split into 3 classes. IRC, with the Scarborough boats Revenge, Troika and Windshear, and the regular visitor, (so regular in fact the race wouldn’t be the same without him) from Hartlepool, Tarka of Tees. Charismatic Skipper Larry Wilkinson always preferring to do the race 2 handed. The reasons why he prefers 2 handed sailing, could be a) he’s as mad as a hatter, b) less people to fall out with, c) the rounds in Holland will be cheaper, d) all of the above.
In Portsmouth A, the fleet comprised; Zephyr, the catamaran, owned by that firm of solicitors ‘Atkins, Duggleby and Fry’. Mr Fry’s previous outings with the catamaran have been none too successful, capsized one, crashed one. This year he was taking no chances and had signed on Sam Baker as crew. (The less glamorous half of the fabulous baker twins). That boat was never going to capsize with Buzz Lightyear on the windward float.
3 identical boats, Grautvornix, owned by vice commodore Steve Parker, Vado, owned by past Commodore Steve Russell, and Chansa, owned by Andrew Boyes, (for good value) but loaned to present commodore and Boris Johnson kissogram, Nick Taylor. This would be a fiercely contested race within a race. The rest of the fleet comprised Kassy, the heaviest Hydro ever built, Samakai, another regular entry from Whitby, (only racing because Starchick isn’t) and the boat I was crewing on, Whistledown ‘you can buy your own t shirts or wear last years if you want to look like a fork lift driver’, Skippered by Lee Bean, and crewed by me, Cap’n Bucko, the man, the myth, the legend, Paul ‘Chuckle brother’ Lester and Andy Volans, ships surgeon. (That’s not a joke; he’s a better doctor than Finlay, Kildare, Lectar, Who and Dolittle put together). But he is very very bad at DIY.
In Portsmouth 2 , race veteran Robin Scholes, with his (very) favourably handicapped ‘Wispy Lace’ was in competition with Lee ‘carnage’ Marton on the refurbished Aprilis, Kevin Chat’s ‘Takaza’, Craig Burnett’s very expensive 95 ‘Maximus’ and another regular visitor from Bridlington ‘Skools Out’.
As with Portsmouth 1, Portsmouth 2 had a race within a race. This was between the crews of Aprilis and Maximus to see who could grow the best moustache by the time of the dinner in Hoorn. Slightly unfair on Jack, the female crew on Aprilis, but she did her best, which as it turned out was better than Sam, crew on Maximus. These 2 boats are crewed by direct descendants from Sparta (google it). There is so much testosterone (google it) emitting when they’re moored alongside that anyone passing, male or female, would find themselves with child.
The race start was 20.00 hrs. All the boats were out by 19.30. As we ate the shepherd’s pie, there seemed to be very little wind in the bay and around the starting buoys, it could be a long night. We needn’t have worried. Another ‘tradition’ is that Scarborough lifeboat comes out to start the race, tonight was no exception, prior to the ten minute gun the lifeboat powered in among the racing fleet, the Wolfman calling the race station to synchronise watches from the start. The SSW breeze was filling in nicely, a reach across the start, and then close hauled on the turning mark, just about laying the course for Ijjee- Mooden. Our start was a typical Billy Casper carry on, somewhere near the back. I’m sure when they were giving out brains, our skipper thought they said trains and got a second class!
Within an hour the wind had freshened sufficient to cause the fleet to start reefing, apart from Whistledown ‘me snorkel pipe’, as we were repeatedly getting laid flat, I suggested reefing down. My suggestion was met with “if we do well go slower”, “if we don’t we’ll capsize” I replied. We reefed, the boat came upright and the speed increased. That was a revelation to Skipper, bless the little quarterwit. So we entered the first night and the watch system started, 2 hours off, 1 hour on watch, 1 hour on the helm. I went off at 2200, up at 0000. As I came on deck I was overwhelmed by a feeling of nausea, and rushed to the leeward side deck. (Last time I headed downhill this fast on a yacht I ended up bobbing about in the ‘oggin for longer than is good for anyone who’s not an amphibian).
I chucked, fully expecting to see the shepherds pie again, but there was nothing but wind and liquid, (not quite water). And that was it. I think I had overdosed on our sponsors freebags of mixed sweets. Within ten minutes I felt fine, (very loose description), and the tedium that was to be the next 30 odd hours began. Off watch, on watch, off watch, on watch. You get the idea. I never cease to be amazed by the excitement of the first timers to the race. I’m not sure what they expect, but it sure isn’t a 2 day advert for old spice. (Google it). And I hate sailing in the dark. People say it’s wonderful, sailing under a canopy of stars, at one with the universe. Poppycock. It’s spooky. End of. Eeby Jeebies come out in the dark and cause havoc.
The motion of the boat this trip was very uncomfortable. The waves weren’t particularly big and we were broad reaching, so we weren’t crashing into them. But it was like being on a fairground ride, with a very jarring motion. It was too uncomfortable to think about using the cooker, not that anyone felt like using it. Andy’s wife Pip had baked a good stash of ginger biscuits, (gingers a good calmer of stomach upsets), so that was what kept us alive for the entire crossing. There were a couple of events that broke the monotony, and made me smile, like the waves that crashed over the boat occasionally, rolled over the coachroof, and straight down the hatch into the Skippers berth. Serves him right for bringing us out here. And watching him chuck every time he came on watch, priceless. As first night passed, and dawn broke, we still had several yachts in sight around us.
Usually, the boats are around you as darkness falls, but then as the next day dawns theres not a soul to be seen. Have the Eeby Jeebies got them? The wind strength and direction were ideal for this race, and we were making good speed. It was going to be a fast passage. Every one of us on board said at some time that this would be our last trip. I say it every trip. As day broke on Sunday we could see the chimneys of Ijjee-Mooden, always a welcome site and a sign that the purgatory endured was nearly over. We crossed the finish line at 04.04.05 BST. As we headed for the marina, for a quick was and tidy before heading to the fleshpots of olde Amsterdam, (I’ve just remembered why I do this race), we saw several yachts had already finished.
It would transpire that the whole fleet made very fast times, with very close results, in fact the catamaran Zephyr, had not only managed to stay upright, not crash into an oil rig or wind farm, but had also set a record for this crossing under sail, 25hrs, 43 mins and 20 secs. That’s an excellent achievent. Having said that, you would have to have the sailing ability of Jimmy spud u like, if you couldn’t take advantage of those conditions. But that’s not to take anything away from Zephyr, well done lads. (Incidentally, the winds for the return leg were bang on the nose; Zephyr has been out there 14 days trying to beat past the wind farm!)
Of the race within a race, between the Commodores, past, present and future, Grautvonix and Vado, headed for the finishing line from opposite ends of the compass, Steve parkers Grautvonix, crewed by his regular team, sorry lads for not naming you, Steve hasn’t told me your names, always refers to you as those extras from one flew over the cuckoos nest, charged at the line from the North, And Steve Russell’s Vado, crewed by son Chris, nephew Stephen and Mark Burgess, (brother of Guy, Google him but don’t tell him any secrets) headed up from the South. It was a photo finish, but no one had a camera.
A quick phone call to the ISAF, who on hearing that the only eye witness to the finish had all the integrity of Frank Gallagher, (Google him) decided, rightly so, the result was a draw. That prevented a few bottom lips coming out and tripping up the tram to Haarlem. Whistledown ‘get me a baggorice’ finished pretty much as we started, last. But we had completed the race. Whoopy do!
We heard stories later that Wispy lace had a close, very close, encounter with a Dutch mine sweeper. So close in fact that crew Callum had his morning shave from the minesweepers rudder tip. And Maximus, suffered rudder failure early on in the race, but Craig and his band of Spartans set up a jury rig and safely completed the race, only half hour behind the boat in front. Ingenious.
And what of the Commodore in Chansa, and his crew, the ‘ringer’ Paul Andrews, Skipper of the racing yacht Apollo, and author of ‘The Loner’ (if you read it you’ll understand why), Kate, and an Adam Faith tribute act whose name I don’t know. Surprisingly they were only 30 mins behind the first 2. Not bad considering they were last seen on the Saturday heading for Bremerhaven.
And finally, the moustache competition. The winner was chosen by the past Commodore at the prize giving dinner, the winner was Lee Carnage Marton, from Aprilis, sporting a grand affair that would not have looked out of place in a line up of the Village People, (Google ‘em).
So that was my North Sea Race. And if anyone reading this is inspired to make the journey next year, consider a bus trip to the Spalding flower festival instead.