The UK’s biggest weekend of sport included Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix and the Norfolk Punt Club Open on the beautiful Barton Broad. The weather was overcast but a good breeze was onsite to provide some great racing. Like any good British sporting weekend the rain arrived on time, but without a sliding roof to protect the competitors, the wind decided to take cover from the rain.
The first race started in light, marginal trapezing conditions (for the boats that had them). The start was keenly contested with places changing all the way up the Broad on the first beat. Matthew and Freddie Scott led the race from start to finish in Woodpecker, always pressed by Simon Lomas-Clarke and Rob Daniels in Swallow II. The fascinating aspect of punt sailing is the variation in boat configurations across the fleet, with an individual PY handicap given to each boat. So despite the more modern design (twin trapeze, asymmetric spinnaker) configuration of the newer, hard chine boats it is always the traditional classes that are the ones to look out for. This meant that Swallow II took honours on corrected time, Woodpecker came second followed by Hugh Marston and Caroline Dixey sailing Rushlight, in third.
Following the tea and cake based break between races (served up on the pontoon based club) race two commenced with torrential rain and the breeze dying even further. Despite the conditions, racing got underway as scheduled. The conditions, as always on the Broads, were reliably shifty and gusty and the front of the fleet on the water was fought over by Grebe sailed by Chris and Cliff Haslam, Swallow II and Woodpecker. Racing was close in the following fleet but Swallow II took the honours, with Rushlight second and Woodpecker third.
The third race started in dry conditions with Swallow II being consumed by the eager pack on the start line and fighting to get back toward the front throughout the first lap to make up the time that would be lost when the handicaps came into play. With the holiday season in full swing, Rushlight sailed a perfect race around the course and the novice houseboat helms, to take the win, followed by Swallow II and Grebe.
The evening was spent with other club members enjoying a barbeque in the beautiful setting of Barton Broad.
The second day dawned overcast with a fresh South Westerly wind. Swallow II just about recovered from an early morning pre-start swim to make the start-line. The windier conditions proved to be quite a handful in these beautiful boats with tall masts and powerful rigs. A couple of boats required the assistance of rescue crews as a combination of some big gusts at the end of the race and the final mark being close to the bank saw a capsize and a trip to the reeds. Swallow II took the win from White Eagle sailed by Punt veteran and long-time club member David Adler with sons Simon and Patrick in a great second and Rhode Island Red (Bart Edmunds and Tim Edwards) in third.
The wind picked up further for the final race. Swallow II were eager on the start-line and went for the duck back only to hear a silence when they were expecting a second signal from the race officer. Rhode Island Red took an early swim, just off the start line to add to the confusion. With the Broad becoming busier with holiday traffic, a group of canoeists were a little surprised to be split by a charging Punt or two. Swallow II were foolish enough to hoist their spinnaker but managed to take another win from Woodpecker and Rushlight.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Norfolk Punt Club, a number of past punt sailors came from as far as Cornwall to take the trip out to the club and witness a spectacular sail past of all the competing boats, paraded in age order from the 1930 Rushlight to the more modern 2004 Woodpecker.
The trophy, commissioned by Swallow II’s builder in the 1930’s, was again awarded to the overall event winners Simon Lomas-Clarke and Rob Daniels sailing the same Swallow II, by the club commodore Matthew Scott. Hugh Marston and Caroline Dixey took second in Rushlight and third went to Grebe sailed by Chris and Cliff Haslam. A big thanks has to go to all those who helped on the day and in the pre-event preparation. The setting is spectacular and this traditional class and its members have to be commended for managing the complexities of racing pre-war clinker built boats with carbon rigs and twin trapezes on a small shifty and gusty pond, not to mention their welcoming hospitality.