A Brief History of HOEOCA Racing

Posted by Mary Coles on 14 June 2020

Sunsail Race

It all started with a guy called Richard Horswill back in 2007. The first racing, a Sunsail weekend Regatta took place late that year. In those early days the Club shared boats with Neil Pritchard-Meaker to make up the numbers. My first race weekend was in October 2008 when Richard put me on Neil’s boat because I didn’t know any HOEOCA members anyway! This was somewhat of a baptism of fire. For those who don’t know Neil, he’s quite a shouty skipper when racing!!! By the end of the first days racing I was wondering what the hell I was doing there!! However both boats met up on the evening and a great time was had by all.

We then had a full season of Sunsail race weekends during 2009 with five weekends in all. I then sailed on the HOEOCA boats. We were extremely inexperienced at racing at that point and didn’t dare fly the spinnaker so unfortunately we weren't able to be too competitive. I was hooked nevertheless. Over the winter of 2008-09 all those interested in racing bought books on racing strategy and sail trim, did lots of swatting up and turned up at the first regatta of 2009 with new-found knowledge. We then attempted to use the coloured sails, with some difficulties at the beginning and not daring to jibe the spinnaker. However during that season we worked on using the spinnaker and became more efficient which helped us to be more competitive. We found we were better in light winds and actually won a couple of races. We continued to work with Neil to enable both parties to fill boats.

In the 2010 season a new member joined the Club and Racing Section. He came on the March Sunsail Regatta and although he clearly knew his stuff he didn't say much the first day, preferring to watch and see what we were doing. During our usual Saturday evening meal and drinks he told he was the owner and principal of his own Sailing School!!! So the following day he took control of our racing tactics, sail trim and working with the spinnaker. Needless to say we did better than we'd ever done before!! As most of you will have guessed this was Keith Harding of Reach 4 the Wind.

Sunsail announced that they had purchased a fleet of new Beneteau 40.7s for the 2011 season. These were a much more powerful and complicated than the old Sunfast 37s. We took up Sunsail’s offer of a pre-season shakedown weekend in March and chartered four of the new yachts and Keith found us a training skipper for each boat. Initially we found them much harder to sail given the bigger sails and a much larger spinnaker and pole.

Over the next couple years we became more confident. With more racing experience under our belts we decided to try more racing including the Round the Island Race, which we have now entered every year from 2011 as a Club. We also took part in a week long Sunsail Regatta in Lanzarote in January 2012, entering two boats, and Keith put together some classroom sessions on sail trim and race tactics in advance of the trip. We and had a fabulous time on and off the water, especially off the water, and we came 3rd and 4th overall. Result!!!

In late 2012 some members became interested in competing in the 2013 Fastnet Race.There was sufficient interest to fill a boat with Club members so we went about finding a yacht and, with a great deal of help from Keith Harding, chartered Ballistic, a Beneteau 40.7. The team, skippered by Keith, then went about training and preparation for the three qualifying RORC races as well as the race itself.

During 2014 Keith put together a series of race training weekends so members could get up to speed with the finer points of sail trim and hoisting the coloured sails. After two training weekends in March and June the crew entered an October Sunsail Regatta to put their new found knowledge to the test and beat the other HOEOCA entry,,,. HOEOCA even invested in a baby Spinnaker for the training sessions!

That was just the start. We've competed in all the subsequent Fastnet Races in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Keith skippered Ballistic again in 2015 and in 2017 Chris Blackburn headed up the crew of All or Nothing, a SunFast 3200 and the boat he had bought with Simon Dipple to attempt the Fastnet double handed in 2019. Chris and Simon completed the race successfully last year - a remarkable achievement having come from novice ocean racers in 2013 - and the Club entered a second boat, an F40 called Dusty P,  with a professional skipper from Britannia. There'll be more on the Fastnet Years another time.

From the start of racing in 2007 we've come a very long way. We've gained experience as a Club not only in small Sunsail Regattas but in some of the most iconic yacht races in the world. The Racing Section has brought in new members, who have cruised as well as raced, and the racing bug has filtered through the whole Club with members who never thought they would ever have an interest in racing competing on Club boats, even in the Fastnet Race, that we could never ever envisaged back in 2007.

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