X1 - A new dinghy starts life 2010

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Class A Dinghy: X1 (2010)

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Posted by Chris Ingram, 14thFebruary, 2011

Technical Info.
Class:Class A Dinghy
Author:Chris Ingram

X1 - A New Dinghy starts life

”So you mean to say we have to take the mast down and put it back up DURING the race?! - Well, there's a really low bridge at Potter Heigham and one at Acle too, each of which you have to go under twice. So we need to work out how to do this four times, and preferably without coming ashore. Then, once the mast is down, we have to paddle the boat under the bridges. So we need to take paddles too. And how far is the race altogether? - Between 45 and 50 miles. 50 miles in a 16ft dinghy!!.... How long is that going to take then??? - It could take all night. That's why we need navigation lights as well”

Indeed, if there was any proof required that they do things differently in Norfolk, then the Navigators & General Three Rivers Race on the Norfolk Broads - reputedly the longest inland sailing race in Europe - must surely be it. But, with a great tradition of sailing in the county and not a few home grown legendary nautical heroes to speak of including a certain Horatio Nelson, you wouldn't expect them to let a few low bridges get in the way of a decent sailboat race.

And what a wonderful race it is - sailing through some of the most beautiful inland waterways of Britain, so close to such abundant wildlife, and with a whole range of nautical challenges, not only relating to that mast lowering technique, but in the variety of water sailed and the tactical decisions required.

X1 sailing.jpg

The race starts at the village of Horning on the River Bure, and requires visits (in any order) to four checkpoints, up the River Ant (very narrow in places, perhaps just 30ft wide) to Ludham Bridge, to South Walsham Broad, to the village of Stokesby via the wide dykes of the lower Bure past Acle, and then to the open expanses of Hickling Broad via Potter Heigham and the River Thurne, finally returning to the start at Horning.

Our particular interest in entering this years 50th Anniversary Race was to see how the Phil Morrison designed Mk 2 Prototype Riverboat, that has been the subject of a personal project over the last three years, would shape up against the boats we know do well on the Broads - the Norfolk Punts and the giant Thames A Raters that travel up from Thames SC at Kingston, as well as Wayfarers, Enterprises, other assorted dinghies and a whole host of traditional dayboats and cruisers that normally enter.

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With an experienced helm (that's Martin D) and myself as crew, with a deal of preparation and practise during the weeks before on that mast lowering technique, and some mulling over of tactics on which route to follow to minimise tidal effects (yes, there's definitely a tidal current on the Norfolk Broads!) 11.30am Saturday 5th June found us at Horning on a beautiful hot sunny day with a gentle but very variable 5 knot S'Easterly blowing straight up the river, lining up for the 7th starting gun (.....with 174 competitors involved, there were over 15 starts!).

The first minute of the race saw us too enthusiastic and over the line, but then, after returning to restart, pick up some invisible gusts of wind and pull ahead of the Punts on the inside of the bend tacking all the way... which being quite a narrow river, meant maybe every 10 seconds or so. A friend following us for the morning in a motorboat was heard to remark "....you mean to say they are going to do that for the next 12 hours!!??"

Gradually the fleet spread out, however. The river got a bit wider, and we began to overtake the boats that had started ahead of us - other dinghies and an assorted range of beautiful wooden Broads dayboats. After an hour or so we made our first tactical decision and headed off down a tributary to the first checkpoint at South Walsham, suddenly all on our own in the beautiful countryside.

X1 in Fleet Dyke.jpg

We raced as hard as we could, reaching, tacking, running, beating, spinnakering, gybing, in everything from the full 15 knot breeze now blowing over the open fields and marshes of Norfolk, to the breathless, swirling, gentle gusts in the lee of clumps of trees or lines of houses that were from time to time sprinkled along the river's edge.

And our mast technique turned out good too - not quite matching those race veterans who lowered mast and sails in one movement just as their bows entered under the bridges, but not taking us more than a couple of minutes from dropping sails before the bridges to lowering the mast and paddling through.

With so many boats racing in such confined spaces, manoeuvrability was critical. Compared to most other competitors, not least the big 40ft Broads cruisers, we had this in spades. Even so the "traffic" in places was very heavy indeed, and the decision 'when to tack' was critical in escaping the worst wind shadows cast by other boats. The high pointing of our dinghy, though, and its light weight and ability to pick up the briefest swirls of wind, made it a real joy to sail, seemingly able to climb higher than anything else on the river and allow us many options.

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By 2pm we had made it past Acle to the mark at Stokesby. Then back on our tracks and on to Potter Heigham, and by around 5pm in the afternoon we had reached the very furthest mark on Hickling Broad and started homewards. By approx 6pm we had done the final bridge - Potter Heigham again (and received a round of applause for our energetic paddling from the crowds of spectators gathered by it!) - then by 7.30pm we had completed our final mark on the River Ant in the now dying evening wind, to head back to the Bure, rejoining it just yards behind a Norfolk punt ghosting its way back west for the last few miles to Horning.

As dusk fell and the sky turned orange and then to brown, the wind died to just a whisper, and we started to think things would get frustrating. But instead it turned into the most wonderful part of the whole race, slowly cheating the slight adverse current with our spinnaker barely filling on a dead run, in near silence......listening to and still just being able to see the incredible life of the river around us. Moorhens on nests overflowing with young chicks passing by a few feet away, great crested grebes disappearing here and then resurfacing there quite unpredictably, tufted ducks winging in from the east, curlews calling in the distance, coots still foraging haphazardly for food, and swans gently moving by at the waters edge. It was magical.

But we couldn't be distracted too much. Having a competitor close by in these situations is always good - it makes both of you try harder of course. Sometimes we fell behind and sometimes we pulled ahead as the river twisted and turned the last mile or so. Just after 9pm, at sunset, we attached our nav lights, and began to get used now to the darkness, looking for any ripples on the water against the reflection of a slightly paler sky that showed us where the wind was.

We crossed the finish line just like this at 9.59pm, with a hooter and a round of applause from the group gathered at the clubhouse breaking the near total silence, after nearly 10.5 hours of intensive sailing; quite exhausted by it all and happily just a minute ahead of the punt.

To our surprise and delight we found we were the seventh boat home out of 174, and we celebrated not with a pint of the local brew, but with a full english breakfast served up by the galley that was operating non-stop throughout the night for returning competitors.

It was only the next morning when we returned to the club and all other boats had finished, that we had our result on handicap confirmed - 5th overall - a most unexpected surprise after a wonderful day's sail.

Thanks to Martin D for marathon levels of concentration on the helm during the day, thanks to Jon Turner for building such a beautifully light hull (75kg!) and to Phil Morrison, of course, for drawing the magical lines for a truly modern riverboat , but above all thanks to Horning Sailing Club and it's huge team of over a hundred helpers for an impeccably organised, brilliantly designed sailboat race.

Chris Ingram www.x1riverboat.co.uk - link below


(See video of our start at [2])


The sail number allocated to us by the 3RR Committee was X1, and it certainly seemed to fit the sail nicely. So that's what we're calling this brand new design now - the 'X1 Riverboat'. This 3RR was very helpful as a test of the boat - proving, we hope, that it really is a high performing lighter wind boat, suitable for inland rivers and lakes. Since doing the race we have sailed Salcombe Week and visited many other venues. We are now going into production with this design - to the highest quality standards of construction. The first boat will be at the RYA Dinghy Show 2011 at Alexandra Palace 5th/6th March. Please get in touch with us, via searching our name, if you are interested, or come and see us at the Dinghy Show.

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