by Anton Saxton
The Ship-in-a-Bottle Regatta, sponsored by our local London Inn (in sunny Shaldon), is supposed to be the first warm(ish) weather regatta of the year for our club. Our last regatta, ‘Breaking-the-Ice’, in the depth of darkest January literally saw sailors breaking the ice off their dinghy covers. So it came as a complete surprise to all that the weather, for a Bank Holiday weekend, was actually what it is supposed to be…warm.
Yet while the rest of the population of Devon dashed for the beach under a cloudless blue sky, our three day regatta started on Saturday morning with a bunch of glum-looking sailors milling around the slipway and glancing enviously at the rowers and swans as they glided over a glassy Teign estuary. There was no wind, and for sailing this can sometimes pose something of a conundrum. Rather like a ship in a bottle, which by the way is the name of this regatta because the winner’s trophy is literally a, mmmm, ship-in-a-bottle and has been used every year at the club since something like 1952.
Under a cloud of pessimism, even the galley volunteers (who are generally the most cheerful) were wondering if the BBQ booty from our Sainsbury’s donated voucher was going to go to waste. So it was no surprise when one boat crew packed up and left – probably for the beach. But for the rest of these hardy all-year, all-weather sailors (the advantage of our location on the estuary), they stuck it out and waited… and prayed (or were they swearing quietly? I couldn’t be sure).
Eventually, their patience and (possible) prayers paid off. Race officer and ex RAF man, Don Harrison gave the command that the race was on, as the sea breeze he had predicted would come, came. All that was missing was the vigorous ringing of a big brass bell, with the inscribed words ‘when you hear the bell, launch like hell’. I have never seen so many boats slip from the slipway so quickly. The Ship-in-a bottle Regatta was underway.