I’ve been sailing at Felixstowe ferry for more than a decade or two now. Nothing changes, the same boats, the same faces, a little older, a little wiser.

On the Felixstowe side, the clubhouse, Boatyard and other buildings; and on the Bawdsey side, the houses, trees of Bawdsey Manor create a unique start area, matched only (maybe) by the Royal yacht Squadron in Cowes. Lots of tide – around 4knots max flow and two great big wind shadows (depending on wind direction). Many times i have sat in the clubhouse with older members watching dinghies (and yachts) struggle with the tide as the river banks pinch at the clubhouse. The wise ex. 5oh and firefly sailors will sit and give advice (judgement really) like all armchair sports fans, on the best place to be on the start line and will chuckle when boats are in the wrong place, the tide gently sailing them backwards to have another go. The question often heard in the club after a race is “why did you start there?”

Many times i have seen boats catch the eddy and drift faster than the boats with wind in max tide, i have been that boat, on both sides of the river many times. Still wondering why the other side paid. Pay your toll….it’s a sailing version of rock scissors paper, tide beats wind (or does it?), water density is ten times heavier than air – is it that simple?

Below Left: Wind in Blue. Tide in red (see back eddy under Bawdsey). Orange shade is the windshadow from Bawdsey

Below right: flood tide in blue. Back eddy shown in red

The breeze was looking good a solid 10knots ENE (still cold!)

tide low water 16:33hrs (so flooding – fast!)


Knoll Spit – port

Mid Knoll – port

Deben- Starboard

With the river entrance moving closer to the club, sea racing is back on! The Principal Race Officer always looking to get the fleet out sea, it was looking like a Ferry classic; river & sea on the water chess.

All the sailors knew that the tide was going to be fierce, a few of the early launchers sailed up the Felixstowe side, dodging the groynes to see if the wind was clear enough to give them the edge. Simon & Henry spied Guy Pearse test sailing the Bawdsey side and did the same. when you are in the boat and the sails are not filling you can panic that you are giving it all away to the boats on the Felixstowe side that are in breeze (but fighting nearly 4 knots of tide), you need to keep looking out to realise that the back eddy is propelling you at 1+ knot in the right direction, so any little bit of wind that you can get in the sails is a positive win.
Simon & Henry decided that the Bawdsey side was for them in the Firefly; we don’t really have the horse power to get across the channel to the first mark and if everyone else is in the same patch then dirty air will kill our race before we’ve started.

Chris jones in his first outing this season in the Low Rider Moth, took the view that arguing with lasers et al would encourage the inaugural swim of the season. So he chose the splinter start; neither in / in or out /out. relying on the Low rider to punch the tide easily. (All my friends know the low rider, The low rider is a little higher, The low rider drives a little slower, Low rider is a real goer. Sorry Chris, that song just keeps popping into my head whenever the Low rider Moth is in view).

Roger & Jo also stood off the Ferry side a little hoping that the asymmetric kite would give them the horses to power through the tide, Most of the lasers deciding that the lack of wind under Bawdsey meant a Felixstowe side start under the clubhouse. Apart from Guy Pearse who took that ancient Ferry rule ‘water better than wind at Club Line’ and joined Simon & Henry over on the Bawdsey side.

At the gun the boats under the clubhouse seemed to rush away as Simon & Henry struggled to even get to the line, Guy mistimed it, and found himself sitting in the tiny bit of dirty wind from Simon & Henry. After 30 seconds it seemed that the boats on Bawdsey would die a horrible windless death, Simon & Henry adopting the lightwind shove your weight as far forward as possible and pray for a zephyr to get through the trees. Guy dropped away as the dirty air slowed him more,

“Pound for pound costs more than gold The longer you stay, the more you pay”…it looks bad for the Bawdsey side of the river, Simon & Henry have no wind, the sails hang limp, the stern shows no wake, no forward movement through the water. Dammit!

A puff of wind and Simon & Henry started to gain. Henry started practising the next bit of crew training, a running commentary on the other boats, “max is leading, Tim is 2nd, they are moving quicker than us, Roger is behind” he likes to know where his ‘on the water gang is’ those boats or sailors that are on his ‘hit list’ good sailors or friends he wants to race. Hang on! Did he just say Max (Grandmaster) Evans?!?!

Max Evans, racing a laser in mid May? the ambient temperature barely above the minimum requirement to warm the bones of a ten year old let alone a Grandmaster? What an earth was he doing under the clubhouse? Had we made an error choosing the classic ferry back eddy under Bawdsey? There are not too many people at FFSC that know (and have sailed) the river longer and better than Max and he had chosen the opposite side to us…Dammit x 2!

As Simon & Henry made their way from under the wind shadow of Bawdsey the wind filled and the team started to look (and feel) good, really good. The right choice! The right side of the river. The first to the wind. The shortest distance to the first mark (Knoll Spit). Could the Firefly lead the fleet round the first mark? Max looked good on the other side, tailed closely by Tim O’Leary – maybe a little in front of Simon & Henry but, they still had to cross the main channel to get to Knoll Spit. Chris (The low rider is a little higher) had changed gears and was making fast progress as well, gaining quickly (very quickly) now the wind had got to him. Even Guy on the Bawdsey side was gaining fast now as he left the wind shadow behind.

At Knoll Spit Simon & Henry rounded a few lengths in front of Chris, then Max, Tim O’leary, Guy had caught up and rounded just behind them. A quick high five betwen Simon & Henry (you have to take the little wins when you can) and then Henry’s attention turned to Chris, to see a low rider bearing down on you (just about in full control) is pretty impressive.

The view from the stern

(look at that grin!)
On the way to Mid Knoll Simon & Henry sailed as high into the flood tide as they dared, to keep Chris lower and in the channel (Chris with a fixed carbon rudder would take no chances skimming the shingle), Max , Tim and Guy were also closing fast as were Roger & Jo. Chris in the channel didn’t quite have the grunt to get underneath Simon & Henry and turned the Mid Knoll mark just behind them, the lasers all on his tail. Roger & Jo had caught the fleet and set their kite for the leg back into the river.

On the leg into the river (aiming for Deben Buoy), Chris soon took off followed by Roger & Jo overhauling the firefly of Simon & Henry; who were trying to keep Guy and Max in their dirty wind. With not enough breeze to get on the plane the lasers struggled to get past the Firefly. Excellent trimming from Henry keeping the team ahead.

At the last mark (Deben) Chris led Roger & Jo. Simon & Henry with a small gap (still!) to Guy with Max breathing down his neck, it was now just a drag race / fetch to the finish, Roger & Jo getting past Chris right at the finish to take line honours, third over the line Simon & Henry who held off Guy who held off Max. Third line honours for the team (1st handicap), a very happy little man Scammell. The first time we have beaten the Grandmaster…

What’s the moral of this tale? Maybe it’s the song remains the same, me, Max, John, Tim, Guy, Roger, with knowledge to give, where’s the next generation learning the river, making new legends?

Maybe it’s there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. that’s sailing a bunch of knowns, unknowns, things we think we know or don’t know. Maybe we don’t know how to get juniors racing.

Or, maybe it’s all just luck… and we all know that there is no such thing as luck… Luck? Get it?! Sounds like….

FFSC need a club chef / caterer, if you are one or know one please get in touch with secretary@ffsc.co.uk – it’s a great place to be!