We've already set sail at Itchenor - while 96-year-old fleet has a new addition

Optimists add to the offering at Itchenor SC
Optimists add to the offering at Itchenor SC

At Itchenor Sailing Club, our season is well under way.

We were blessed with glorious weather over Easter and coupled with its relative lateness this led to larger fleets of day boats and dinghies than normal enjoying the best that Chichester Harbour has to offer.

The launch of the new Sunbeam

The launch of the new Sunbeam

We are in a state of anticipation expecting our fleet of six new Optimists to arrive any day now. These will offer absolute beginners opportunities to learn to sail.

The club is offering a dedicated progamme of training for these boats. The first of theses courses will run at the end of May and details can be obtained from our office on 01243 512400.

We chose the Optimist as it has proven the ideal boat for young people to learn to sail from scratch. It is very simple, extremely easy to rig, tows well and creates a sense of security as the young sailor sits in the boat rather than on it.

We are fortunate at Itchenor in having our pontoons, which the young sailors can board the boats from. From there they will be towed to the most appropriate area of the Harbour to continue their training.

Our training does not end with the learn to sail offering in Optimists. Ryan Breach, our sailing manager, has designed a complete programme for sailors in all stages of their development up to those who aspire to competing at a national and international level, as many of our members are currently doing and have done in the past.

With two bank holidays in May, our day boat fleets have been gearing up for a series of races dedicated to each weekend. The XODs raced for the Felix Bowl over the early May holiday and will race for the Hutcheson Cups over the later.

The Swallows have the RYC de Belgique and the Norman Moore focus weekends as do the Sunbeams for the Henry Chisholm and Chittagong trophies.

Large fleets are expected for all these competitions with upwards of 50 classic keelboats taking part.

Mike Wigmore
Rear commodore sailing, Itchenor Sailing Club

Read Mike's Setting Sail column in the Observer throughout the summer

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* The 96-year-old Solent Sunbeam class has welcomed a brand new yacht to its fleet with the launch of V70 Mint at Itchenor, the base for thisehistoric and much-admired classic keel-boat fleet.

Minty’s hull was built on the Isle of Wight by Mark Downer’s AM Structures and fitted out by wooden boat specialists Haines Boatyard based at Itchenor.
Harriet and Simon Patterson are the proud new owners of Minty, which sports a glacial-green hull. They are keen sailors with children who are very active junior members of Itchenor Sailing Club. Now their children are sailing so much they wanted to get back on the water themselves.

They are planning to sail as a couple, often with their children joining them as crew.

Harriet said: “The Sunbeams are fabulous boats, combining beautiful classic lines with exhilarating sailing and competitive racing. The class is very welcoming and gracious with help for sailors new to the boat!”

The fleet now numbers 27, with the new GRP hulled yachts and the original wooden versions, dating back 96 years to 1923, racing side by side on an equal basis.

The origins of the GRP addition to this classic fleet arose ten years ago when some of the class members realised that the fleet number at Itchenor was in danger of declining below the critical mass needed. Enthusiastic local Sunbeam owners Alan Stannah and Roger Wickens wondered if a GRP version of the boat would attract new entrants to the fleet with lower costs.

Although a number of new wooden Sunbeams had been commissioned since the 1970s, their very high build costs meant there was a limited market of buyers for them. In 2009 the class gave permission for a trial GRP Sunbeam to be built, and Mark Downer was commissioned to build the necessary moulds and build the trial hull.

Considerable time and effort was spent by Roger designing and sourcing all the deck and rigging fittings and working with the late acclaimed Naval Architect Theo Rye to build the first GRP Sunbeam.

Much time and effort was spent to ensure the GRP Sunbeams would sail exactly the same as the original wooden boats.

The first GRP trial boat V61 Betty was built from scratch in 21 weeks and raced extensively throughout its first season. Everyone agreed she raced equally against the wooden fleet, and she was accepted as a Solent Sunbeam and a green light was given to building new GRP boats.

The new GRP Sunbeams have attracted a number of lady owners, reassured by the fact their new yacht will float in an emergency situation. The introduction of the GRP boats to the historic Sunbeam fleet has encouraged many new entrants into the fleet.