The Methersgate Race

One definition of  Mether is a drinking-vessel of Celtic origin used in Ireland to drink mead, an alcoholic beverage made of honey, water and yeast. An excuse for some Irish Rover! Early examples found in bogs are four sided wooden cups with three or four handles elongated at the end, so they end parallel to the base. They are still made today, mainly as gifts or trophies and Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club has one as a trophy – usually called the friendship cup.

The other use of Mether comes from the old mostly northern english counting system Yan Tan Tethera  – used to count sheep, Mether is four in Northern sheep counting and was used in various places – Swaledale, Teeside, Derbyshire. But move a little way and mether became Peddera / Fethera  and down in dorset they used Forthery confused? i am.

Interestingly this counting system used a base-20 numbering system and throws up various schoolboy humourisms such as mether-a-bumfit and mether-a-dick (first count is 19 and the second count is 14).

The Viking word for street is ‘gate’ and street names ending in ‘gate’ are evidence of Viking settlement. Add these two together and you get Methers Gate. Now i’m not sure if this means Methersgate (as we call it) was a place that the Irish used to come over and hang about and drink mead (more Rover!), to be fair the celtic connection is more likely from Scotland, or if it comes from the fact that lots of sheep farmers moved here from Oop North (there is evidence of this) either way there have been plenty of Mether Cups found in East Anglia  so maybe we just had an influx of shepherds drinking mead – imagine the confusion. When these shepherds got together for a ‘tealcian’ (that’s olde english for chat)  and they all had different names for the same number, depending on where they lived or farmed, and they were drinking from methers and wanted to order 4 meads for their four friends, you’d get something like “can i have mether of mead in a mether for those mether shepherds over there?”

So it was that on Sunday Tether-a-bum  Ærra-Liða  (thats the 18th of June in old english and no i don’t know how to pronounce that).  Hovera / Akker / Overa*  boats turned up for the annual Methersgate Cup race.

*Hovera / Akker / Overa = 8, getting the hang of this?

This race is as simple as it gets, start at the Ferry club line sail to number 12 channel marker just of Methersgate Quay round to port and finish back at the club line. Race officer Richard had planned for the Start to be with the last of the flood and for the sun to shine and for the wind to be southerly and to be 10 – 14knots. Well his sacrifice must have been good because once a short raincloud passed the weather looked good. For the record the distance to Methersgate is approximately a distance of around 6 nautical miles.

Team firefly had decided (actually I decided) that taking the firefly for the long distance race might test everyone’s patience, so as the forecast was light(ish) we had borrowed an RS400 so Henry could have a go at using a spinnaker, there’s a first time for everything and why not jump right in with a big’n? What could go wrong? a 10 year old crewing one of the most powerful hiking dinghies in production. Well the first issue became clear in the dinghy park park as Alexi Sayle would say “how the 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♂️🤷‍♀️🤷‍♂️ do you put these together!” it has been a few years since I have sailed an asymmetric, i warned Henry that we might not use the spinnaker as it might be too much for us to handle; the truth was, i knew that it was highly probable that i would rig it badly! Henry had a quick run through the differences between a firefly and a RS400: Large spinnaker (check), hull twice as wide (check), jib twice as big and with battens (check), average crew weight 140kg (ish) (check and gulp!). That last bit meant that we were going to be at least one whole Henry light, more like one and a half Henrys too light. Compared to the recommended weight. Oh well it’ll be fun, right? right? Simon where where you going? Are you alright? Madness! If you race anything, bikes, boats, cars, planes you know that weight is critical it makes a huge difference. In boats the lightweight crews reap the rewards downwind where the righting moment isn’t as large as going upwind when the heavyweights gain by being able to keep the boat flat (flat = fast in non foilers). Most sailors / boats if you are racing for two and a half – three hours would take the upwind gain. There is also just the strength needed to sheet the sails, hoist the kite.

Methers Gate, remember that bit? right, strong flood tide, a solid 12 knots of wind, a downwind start, 8 boats well only 4 on the start line at the warning signal, time and tide wait for no man. the tide was strong enough that the two RS400’s of Roger & Jo (Bon vacance Jo?) and Simon & Henry (team firefly traitors?!) could hold the tide Hove to, Chris Coe was hanging around as well. Chris Jones was hanging, dipping, up, down…the low rider not enjoying the dead downwind start. With 30 seconds to go Simon & Henry tacked for the line, oh boy! there is a lot of tide! Roger & jo also mistimed the start actually everyone did (i think). When i looked around as we tacked back to get on the right side of the line everyone seemed to be facing away from the line as the gun sounded. Roger & Jo extricated themselves quickest and hoisted, Simon & Henry followed but no hoist…further back Chris Coe was hoisting his kite on the RS100 and Chris jones was dipping each wing trying to find a sweet spot. The concern for Simon launching the kite was that it was a little windier than forecast and as the boats get out from the wind shadows, we might be in trouble (and i have probably rigged it badly!), but, but…There is an unspoken rule i have: If the boat has a kite and you can fly the kite, then fly the kite!! So Simon decided that the best to hoist was in the windshadow and if the wind held the angle then they might be able to sail a very long way without gybing.

By the time Simon had untangled himself, and told Henry that he has to pull the pole out (doh! how do you sail these things?), wanged the pole (the RS400 has a gybing spinnaker pole that can be winged & wanged to windward / leeward) Roger & Jo had built a comfortable lead of maybe 100-150m. Chris Coe was now going and the Dart’s had started and were beginning to gain a little. After a couple of gybes it became clear that i had indeed rigged the spinnaker badly, I’d got the spinnaker sheets wrapped through the shrouds! Poor  Henry was trying to trim the spinnaker with the extra friction, I knew that we had to re-rig the spinnaker but with the kite flying or should i drop it and try to do it in the boat. As the wind was fairly steady I decided that kite up was the answer “Henry, you helm whilst I re rig the spinnaker sheets” “ok” comes the reply, no hesitation, no “I can’t helm with a spinnaker”. Henry has never helmed a boat with a spinnaker (let alone a large asymmetric on an apparent wind dinghy). As I re-rigged the kite sheets on the starboard side I was guiding Henry how to steer when gusts hit. A gybe and the same process on the other side. A big gust, oh crikey (or similar expression of surprise) this is a swim, the boat heels widly and starts to round up into the wind as the rudder stalls out. No, no, no i say to myself move man! weight! weight! I rush to the windward side letting go of the kite with a half tied bowline in the clew, we get the boat flat. Henry seems unfazed by this near swim and starts to steer the boat upriver again, I now have the spinnaker clew flapping around with a half tied bowline and i’m praying that there is enough friction in the knot to get the clew back to complete the job. There is and with the spinnaker now rigged properly (am i sure about this?) we start to try to get the boat going. After a while it becomes apparent that the downhaul line on the spinnaker is not right, collapsing the middle of the spinnaker, i can see that it as maybe under the pole (doh! you dummer). I send Henry forward to take a look, hanging over the bow of the boat, before i know it he has freed it, result!

Roger & Jo were sailing a very deep course ahead, they had stretched out their lead as they came to Greeenpoint, we didn’t seem to be able to sail as deep as they could, Chris Coe was romping along behind us as where Simon Rowell (Dart 15) and Sam Rowell & Lu Mustil (Dart 16). A big gust hit us and we took off, this caused a bit of distraction for Henry as he started to watch the numbers climb on the speed puck 10 knots, 11 knots, “trim! Trim!” I realise that Henry is being pulled into the boat trying to hold onto the kite! I help him out sheeting on and we are tearing up the lead. By the time we had got to Greenpoint we were maybe only 20 metres behind Roger & Jo, who began to look behind to see the yellow peril of Simon & Henry bearing down on them at full chat. Do they head up to try to build up apparent wind? the next gust Simon & Henry catch gets them past Roger & Jo just before the moorings at Ramsholt. Henry is getting the hang of trimming the kite, now if we could only get the rather large sunseeker chappie to look over his port side then we might just avoid putting a small bowsprit sized hole in the side of his gin palace…just before we take avoiding action he notices and guns full reverse, “i say chaps, where did all these small boats come from?”

The focus now was to try to build a big lead so that when we rounded the mark we could try to hold off what I expected would be the much quicker boats upwind. The wind shadow at the rocks allowed Roger & Jo to come back right onto the stern of Simon & Henry, a little luffing battle to ensure that we kept our clear wind (and lead). First to pick the breeze up after the rocks Simon & Henry extended the lead past Waldringfield Sailing Club through the cut.

The next issue for those that don’t venture upriver very often past Waldringfield (err, once every twenty years??) is where exactly is Methersgate buoy, i mean i know it’s by the quay but which one? i spy a nice big round buoy with Methersgate on it, “found it” i shout to Henry.

“right Henry, dropping the spinnaker. you need to make sure that those two lines, pole and halyard are released” i say

“which ones are they?” he asks “these two?” pointing at the lines.

“yep those, two. release them now” Henry releases the lines and i pull the kite down as far as i can, then Henry takes over pulling the kite all the way in. We round the mark and as we sail back downriver we pass Roger & Jo who are shouting at us…”wrong mark!! it’s number 12!!”. Bugger! i think to myself, we tack back for the mark. “are we going to put the spinnaker up again?” Henry it seems is a convert to spinnaker sailing and any opportunity to fly it is taken (your Aussie uncle would be proud dude!). However we are not that far from the mark so decide to ‘white sail’ back to round the mark. The white sail gybe is a little rushed to say the least, losing control the boat spins out and we have another go at capsizing (more weight, more weight!!), saving ourselves again we settle the boat down for the long (really long) beat back to the finish at the Ferry. Roger & Jo already with a healthy lead as Chris Coe rounds the mark a short distance back with Simon (dart15) and Sam & Lu also close. A quick check of the compass to see what our heading is, the tide is still flooding here so there is maybe an advantage to get to the edge of the river. We tack onto a lift and see Roger & jo coming back across, it’s close. Close enough for Roger to question where we came from! We start to pay a little more attention to the compass hoping to pick the lifts, i explain this to Henry as snakes and ladders. Lifts are ladders helping you up to windward and snakes are headers sliding you back down the track. The compass helps tell us if we are on a snake or a ladder. We start to pick them and the next time we meet Roger & Jo we are ahead! I can’t believe it (and i’m not sure Roger & jo could either) if we can keep on the right side of the lifts then maybe we can match their better speed?

We split tacks with Roger & Jo making for the river bank before the Waldringfield cut, Simon & Henry continue to play the shifts closer to the channel, Roger & Jo seem to be gaining. Simon Rowell in the Dart 15 is beginning to catch up as well as Sam & Lu. Approaching the cut Simon & Henry extend their lead with Roger & Jo still in touching distance, Simon Rowell passes them through the moorings at Waldringfield. Going through the moorings Simon & Henry work the Waldringfield shore side (a tactic remembered from the WSC Easter Egg a few years ago). This pays off for Simon And Henry and they gain a few more metres, the catamarans lead them past the rocks. Roger & Jo take an extra tack to get past the point giving Simon & Henry a bit of breathing space. Through Ramsholt the superior upwind angle of the RS400 and the slow tacking on the catamarans means that there is plenty of crosses, Henry has got his hands full trying to keep tabs on the two fast moving cats. The tide is just beginning to turn as we approach the Ramsholt Arms so we take a long port tack just off the quay to give a better line for the final bend at green point and the homeward stretch.

“Starboard!” what! wait, what!


“DAD!!” shouts Henry wait, WHAT! i start to look under the boom only to see the banana coloured hull appear of Sam & Lu appear just of our bow! a crash tack right by the quay back into towards the reed beds, i’m gald that George is retired and doesn’t add this to his memoires!

With the tide now sucking the fleet home the positions don’t change, apart from Sam & Lu passing Simon R. The two Rs400’s as if on a bit of bungee close and separate as the lifts and headers played their game. Sam & Lu took line honours from Simon in the Dart 15, with Simon & Henry in third.

An absolute cracker of a race, the wind direction and great weather couldn’t have been better. One of the best races i’ve had at FFSC although my body might disagree after two and half hours racing! What a great way to enjoy fathers day, a perfect day for a sail, great company (and great post race beer). Well done to Chris ‘cowboy’ Coe third on handicap – all that hiking paid off, i bet your beer tasted good!

‘Twas a wonderful craftShe was rigged fore and aftAnd oh, how the wild wind drove herShe stood several blastsShe had twenty-seven mastsAnd they called her The Irish Rover….hmm i think maybe a guiness is in order 😉