Cloudless skies, a fair breeze and a balcony full of enthusiastic supporters, the scene was set for this year's Packard Ladies' race in fine style. This event celebrates the success of Celia and Nina Packard, winning the cup in Burnham Week 1899 in their Orwell One Design June, and this year RC Sailing Phil Aspinall had encouraged an entry from every class in the Club. Judging from the smiles and the balcony chat, the Packard Ladies Race was once again a successful event.
There was an additional flavour of "keeping it in the family" as the ladies called on support:sisters with brothers (Lizzie & Thomas Rands), wives with husbands (Sally & Paul Gray), daughters with dads (Katie & Nigel Cole, Martha & Justin Waples, Lizzie and Steve Rands). Alex Porteous was sailing with her brother-in-law Andy Ramsey and seeking to retain the Cup from last year's winner, her sister Gina.
In a South Easterly breeze the Rear Commodore cast caution to the wind and set a course that had the Paint Raft as the leeward mark...an added challenge for helms in borrowed boats. No 5 was the windward mark so the whole course could be viewed from the club, aided by Pimms and chilled white wine.
At the five minute gun another challenge arrived as the wind backed to the East, meaning a foul tide beat to No 5 from the club line. At the gun, Katie was stalled on the line allowing Martha to slide through to leeward. In the shallows, Alex used momentum to prevent Sally from a perfect start. Trudi Churchward adopted the usual conservative approach of the RCOD class captain and reached in on port 30 seconds after the gun.
It was the shallows that paid off (or was it a Cowes Week winning crew?) that saw Alex clear ahead of Martha and heading for the buoy. They rounded in that order followed by Katie, Trudi and Sally.
The next four laps saw Alex pull out a commanding lead and the focus soon turned to the second place battle. Every beat saw Katie and her crew of over 50s hiking hard whilst Martha and her Otter crews didn't... and at every windward mark Katie was a little closer.
The battle for 4th and 5th ended at the first leeward mark when Sally hardened up with the mainsheet behind the transom. She made an expert decision to retire rather than T-bone a Squib!
Focus switched back to Martha and Katie as they approached the final windward mark. Was Martha still clear ahead? Could she tack without hindering Katie? Would Katie tack too soon and clip the mark? Could Justin roll tack an RCOD on his own? The answers were yes, no, no and definitely yes.
Meanwhile, Alex finally called for the spinnaker as she rounded the final mark. A short slalom through the moored RIBs and she was there for the finishing gun. Katie secured second with a very smart kite hoist as Martha hardened up and went for line bias. The biggest finishing cheer was reserved for Trudi as she completed her first competitive outing as a helm.
Gina was there to award the Trophy and to thank the Race Box, the competitors and most importantly the RCOD fleet for the loan of their boats.
The tradition and the competition that is the heritage of the Packard sisters will continue next year...
Phil Aspinall, RC Sailing