What can be more sublime than slipping the mooring for an evening of sociable yacht racing in a stunningly attractive classic keelboat on the beautiful waters of Chichester Harbour!

This is what the Solent Sunbeam fleet does every week from May to September, with the boat owners themselves organising the hour-long race and the prize – a bottle of wine – handed out during the post-race sociable supper at Itchenor Sailing Club!

The origin of these races is particularly enchanting. It was a chance encounter one June evening in the late 1980s between V2 Joy, sailed by Jerome and Elizabeth O’Hea and V1 Dainty, sailed by Peter and Sally Nicholson. One boat offered the other boat a glass of wine which was duly passed between the yachts as they sailed past East Head! They decided to encourage others in the class to sail on a Thursday evening and the now well-established and hugely enjoyed tradition of evening racing began!

From the outset the races were organised by the class members in turn, with the organiser presenting a bottle of wine to the winner over a lively and friendly supper at the sailing club. Guests are regularly invited to take part in this hugely sociable and very enjoyable weekly event which often attracts the best of the summer weather!

The racing takes place in Solent Sunbeams, a class which was designed in 1922 by Alfred Westmacott who was based on the Isle of Wight. Over 30 of this classic fleet are still actively sailing today including several of the original 96-year-old yachts including V1 Dainty who remains an active Thursday Evening competitor at Itchenor Sailing Club, with Peter Nicholson still at the helm.

Owners, or ‘keepers’ of Solent Sunbeams, as they often feel they are, attest to the perfect balance of the boat and her supreme sea kindliness. One enthusiastic owner describes how the yacht ‘ghosts in a zephyr, sparkles in a breeze and exhilarates in a near-gale!’ The deep, solid keel and acclaimed design of the yacht means that she is so perfectly balanced that she can be helmed to within an inch of her destination.

The class is extremely welcoming and sociable with very supportive owners who are encouraged to race and join in with post-race suppers and who also have a common passion for the design, heritage and sportsmanship of the fleet.

Image (c) Sue Kent

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