A perfect F2-3 and warm sunshine greeted the 17 Norfolk Punts who took to the beautiful Barton Broad at the start of their Championships on 22 August. 4 were from Hickling Broad Sailing Club, the rest from the host club, the Norfolk Punt Club. There was a good mixture of the different Punts; the slower and older Traditional, Hard Chine and the newest and fastest Morrisons. The event was run by an experienced team under the veteran Championships race officer, Mark Luckhurst, aided by an army of volunteers who were kept on their toes, initially marshalling holiday traffic but as the wind increased over the weekend, standing by the capsized boats, and eventually rescuing and towing in the casualties. The wind on Saturday was from the south east, diagonally across the Broad, and a course was set to include two beats.
Race 1 was led from start to finish by the scratch team of Simon Clayton and Jack Drew-Leventon in a borrowed Morrison, Whooper. Although father and son team Tom and Will Scott in their Hard Chine Avocet reached the 1st mark close behind, they lost out by not flying a spinnaker and were overhauled by Tom’s brother Matthew, also crewed by his son, Freddie, in another Hard Chine Woodpecker. After a great beat and closing up on Whooper, a broken kicker saw Woodpecker heading towards the reeds. However after a swift jury rig they were soon back in business. The team of Bart Sawyer and Tim Edmunds in the Morrison Rhode Island Red demonstrated some excellent spinnaker work but was eventually overhauled by Hard Chine Rainbow Trout sailed by Terry Vincent and Nick Hunter. The venerable Neville Khambatta demonstrated excellent sailing in his Traditional Punt Gamecock with James Owen, coming second on handicap, with Woodpecker third.
By the beginning of Race 2 the wind had increased and swung further to the east, which would make the reaches tighter and more exciting. Bill and Alison Glover in the Traditional Prawn opted for a port start but couldn’t make it, hooking their mainsheet round the bow of Whooper and capsizing on the start line. Drew and daughter Lenska Wilton in their Morrison Merlin took an initial lead, followed by Avocet and Woodpecker. Three boats capsized during the first beat, including Merlin, leaving the spinnaker-less Avocet to take the lead. Gamecock’s rudder was pulled up by the bridle, resulting in a full inspection of the reeds, but being a double-ended boat she was able to make a return to the Broad fairly easily. By the 2nd round Avocet had taken a substantial lead. Woodpecker finished second and Rushlight, the Traditional Punt sailed by Hugh Marston and Caroline Dixey, finished third on handicap, also without the use of a spinnaker.
Race 3 saw precautions being taken against the fresher F3 which had now steadied. Prawn was now reefed and White Eagle, a Morrison with huge masthead spinnaker, helmed by Will Adler who had never even sailed a Punt until the day before, was now being sailed three-up. Although Woodpecker took an early lead, by the second windward mark she had been overtaken by Whooper. The Morrisons Merlin and White Eagle couldn’t catch Woodpecker, who won on handicap followed by Whooper, and Merlin finished third.
Sunday was blowing F4 with very strong gusts and erratic wind shifts. The general direction was more from the east, so a committee boat start was set at the south western end of the Broad. Whooper had the only false start of the series so had some catching up to do or her overall 2nd position might be in jeopardy. Some seconds after the start Neville Khambatta was heard to wisecrack to the committee boat “oh, is this the start line” as he finally crossed it. There were a few casualties with Prawn retiring due to the wind strength, White Eagle due to a broken gooseneck and Jackdaw due to a capsize resulting in brothers Max and Felix Dixey pulling the sailtrack off the mast after they jumped into the sail. Drew and Elske Wilton in Merlin had tied her spinnaker sheets up so as not to be tempted to use the sail on such short downwind legs; a wise decision mirrored by all the other crews. Merlin took an early lead but by the second round had been overhauled by Woodpecker. By taking the right hand side of a beat Merlin regained the lead which was held until the end. Woodpecker was close enough to win on handicap, with Whooper third. There was a big gap between these three boats and the rest of the pack, largely due to capsizes.
By the 5th and final race it was all to play for. Why do the strongest gusts always come through just before or at the start gun? This one was of huge proportions with all sorts of consequences and missed opportunities. The boat in the overall lead, Matthew Scott in Woodpecker was so caught by the gust that he couldn’t avoid brother Tom in Avocet who, once holed, promptly capsized with Woodpecker’s tiller through her shrouds. As Matthew tried to wriggle the tiller out to try and save his tiller and rudder from snapping, the only snap he heard, and felt, was his own rib. With Avocet sinking due to the huge hole in her buoyancy tank and Woodpecker limping back home with Matthew’s inability to hold onto the mainsheet, the path should have been clear for Simon and Jack in Whooper to take the trophy from Woodpecker if she won the race. However, a capsize 30 seconds before the start put paid to the opportunity handed her on a plate as she had a lot of catching up to do with a half full boat. The Wiltons in Merlin flew off the start line. Rhode Island Red had a go at lead for a while, closely followed by Rainbow Trout, but Merlin regained the lead for the rest of the race. Some savvy tacking by Rushlight, with Hugh Marston now crewed by Felix Dixey, gave her third place behind Merlin and Rhode Island Red. With the damage resulting from this and the previous race there were 5 non-starters and 4 non-finishers.
The spectators were enthralled by the exciting sailing over the whole weekend and each boat received rapturous applause as she crossed the line, none more so than 10 year old Elske Wilton in Merlin who demonstrated how fearless she was in such hairy conditions; thankfully her father’s build out on the trapeze counteracting her sleight frame. It was unanimously agreed that it had been a wonderful Punt Championships under slick and safe race management, in exhilarating, if at times nail-biting, Punt conditions.
1 Woodpecker (Hard Chine) Matthew & Freddie Scott
2 Whooper (Morrison) Simon Clayton & Jack Drew-Leventon
3 Merlin (Morrison) Drew & Elske Wilton
Punt Championship Trophy: Woodpecker – Matthew & Freddie Scott
Progress Cup (1st boat over the water) Whooper – Simon Clayton & Jack Drew-Leventon
Hard Chine Trophy (1st Hard Chine) Woodpecker – Matthew & Freddie Scott
Cuckoo Cup (Highest placed 18year old or under) Freddie Scott
First Lady Helm or Crew Elske Wilton
First Traditional Punt Rushlight – Hugh Marston