Simon Northrop takes the win at the Forts Race

Friday, September 09, 2016

Report by Robert Govier

Photo Credits to Stuart France and Andy Clarke

The Forts Race at Whitstable Yacht Club

The 21st Forts Race was held on Saturday 3rd September at Whitstable Yacht Club in a shifty south westerly F2-F5 breeze, which, combined with a strong tide across the course led to some challenging tactics in the close racing.

18 boats took part this year, from the extreme end of the catamaran racing scene of Will Sunnocks’ Vampire Project foiling custom build, to the 40-year-old class Dart 18 catamarans! The race started with the traditional 14 nautical mile leg out to the Red Sand Forts in the middle of the Thames Estuary and back. This leg claimed the only casualty of the race, when the Tornado sailed by Paul Mines and Stuart Smith suffered what they described as a ‘graceful dismasting’ out close to the Forts, resulting in a slow tow back to Whitstable!

The fleet was spread on the leg out to the Forts. Will Sunnocks on the Vampire Project shot out towards the horizon on the foils, creating a lead he maintained for the entire race. The rest of the larger catamarans were split between those going deeper and flying their spinnakers, and those boats opting to take the tighter line on sails only. Out towards the Forts, the strong tide coupled with a change in wind direction favoured those boats flying kites, allowing them to round the Forts with a significant lead on the following boats. It was difficult not to get distracted by the towering metal World War Two towers looking majestically out over the open sea (and causing a significant wind shadow)! But the fleet soon left them behind, heading back to Whitstable for the first timing gate.

Will Sunnucks and Mark Self from Brightlingsea Sailing Club on the Vampire Project took the Dewhirst Trophy for the first leg, completing the 14 N Mi leg in 47 minutes, almost 10 minutes ahead of the Nacra 20 FCS sailed by Grant Piggott and Simon Farren from Weston Sailing Club, and 3 minutes ahead of the first F18 on corrected time!

The next leg for the fast boats was out to the Wind Farm, with a good fast 4 N Mi downwind leg out, and tough beat back to the club to pass through the gate for the second time. Meanwhile, the Dart 18s were sent the 8 N mi along to Herne Bay Pier and back as the shorter course option, giving them a good blast along the shore and back, ahead of the fast boats, who were sent along the coast to Herne Bay for their third leg.

The leg to Herne Bay Pier turned out to be the downfall of the Vampire Project, which up until then had maintained a significant lead over the next fastest boat, but suffered gear failure when the wing on the port foil snapped under the load. This left them limping on the final leg on a standard foil for their starboard tack, dropping their overall lead to just 5 minutes over the Nacra 20 FCS, but still netting them the prize for Line Honours after the three legs. On corrected time, Simon Northrop and Aaron Reynolds from Minnis Bay Sailing Club won first place on their F18, with Kevin Dutch and David Oakley from Seasalter Sailing Club in second place on their Tornado. Tim and Chris Neal from Parkstone Yacht Club got Third on their F18, and Nick Barnes and Neil Baldry from Brightlingsea Sailing Club came in 4th. The Nacra FCS took 5th, just ahead of the Vampire Project in 6th.

On the Short Course, Mark Holweger and Max Sellar from Whitstable Yacht Club, sailing together for the first time on Mark’s Dart 18, came in first place after the gruelling 2 ½ hour race, followed by Ian Mills and Jane Bainbridge in second, and John Bainbridge and Paul Shields in third, both on Dart 18s from Seasalter Sailing Club.

Thanks to our Race Officer John Boorman for putting on another great event, and all of the volunteers from Whitstable Yacht Club and the 2nd Whitstable Sea Scouts for organisation, support and safety cover on and off the water. Thanks also to sponsor Apollo Tyres. For more information and full results, see

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