All about Mersea Week sailing event
PUBLISHED: 11:39 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:39 08 August 2016
Mersea Island's famous Mersea Week takes place this month and Chrissie Westgate explains why it is so important to the people of Mersea - as well as being so much fun!
Mersea Week is recognised as one of the finest sailing events still taking place along the East Coast of England. This remarkable event is now in its 43rd year and takes place from Britain’s most easterly inhabited island – Mersea Island.
Organised and hosted jointly by the Dabchicks Sailing Club and West Mersea Yacht Club, Mersea Week is a full week of sailing for yacht and dinghy owners, which this year runs from August 22 to 27. Sailing races are held each day for a range of classes, with prize giving, good food and live entertainment all available when the day’s sailing is done. The sheltered waters of the River Blackwater provide ideal conditions for the many different classes of vessel, which range from Cruisers, Smacks, Winkle Brigs, Bawley’s, Fishermen’s Open Boats, Lasers, Dinghies, Classic Yachts and Old Gaffers. This year will also see the introduction of a Squib class following the recent exciting formation of a local fleet.
Within these classes there is an enormous age range and historical interest too. Competing this year will be the wooden fishing smack Boadicea, built in 1808 and reputed to be the oldest sailing vessel in Europe. It is also hoped that the 48’ Fife Kismet will be present again this year. Kismet had lain in the Essex mud for more than 50 years when Mersea’s Richard Matthews came to her rescue. She was then lovingly restored for Richard by boat builder Adrian Wombwell. In contrast there will be many much smaller fibreglass vessels that may not be so evocative to the eye (although that of course is arguable) such as the RS Feva, a world-leading double-handed sailing dinghy and a benchmark in small sailboats with a recreational following across the world. As an international bestseller that can be sailed by just two people, it makes competing in an event such as this far less costly.
Mersea Week includes many traditions, not least the Round the Island Race for the coveted Coconut Trophy. This year the race, which is for smaller boats only, takes place on Monday, August 22. In this unique event, competitors choose the time of their departure and which direction they circumnavigate Mersea Island. Mostly their choice is influenced by the necessity to reach The Strood at high tide. The Strood is the ancient Roman causeway that links Mersea to the mainland and at high tide Mersea becomes a true Island. The boats are then either sailed, floated, carried or trailered across the road. This makes for a tremendous spectacle for all, in particular families and friends of the competitors, even if they do get very wet helping with the crossing! Why not come along and watch this amazing event, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world? High tide will be around 3.45pm.
Mersea Week follows the West Mersea Town Regatta, which this year takes place on Saturday, August 20. Regatta day starts with a variety of different classes of boats competing in the morning, with the far less serious water sport events in the afternoon. The highlight of the water sports is the ever-popular greasy pole. This consists of a telegraph pole covered in thick grease and rigged over the side of the Thames sailing barge, Kitty. Competitors have to try to lift the flag at the end of the pole and everyone ends up in the water. In addition, there is usually some great musical entertainment and a variety of food and craft stalls, most with a nautical feel. The prize-giving takes place in the early evening with a fantastic, free firework display for all at dusk.
Both Mersea Week and the Town Regatta are organised and run by a large number of local volunteers who now have many years of experience, making it possible to run really professional events but at a minimal cost for all. This year both organisations say they are looking forward to welcoming many competitors, spectators and friends both old and new, to celebrate life by the sea.
Julian Lord, the Mersea Week chairman, adds: ‘Mersea Week continues to grow in strength but it could not take place without our loyal and very generous sponsors: Adnams, Hempel, Quest Motor Group, West Mersea Marine, Fenn Wright Estate Agents, the West Mersea Oyster Bar and Micro Scooters. I’d like to say an enormous thank you to these incredibly generous companies who recognise and value the importance of this very unique event and are proud to support us year upon year.’
Join in the Fun
Why not visit Mersea Island during Mersea Week? As a spectator you will be able to sit on the beach by the sparkling water and see the colourful spinnakers and topsails of classic boats from a bygone age passing by. They really do provide a spectacular sight as they sail along the Mersea shore. To complete your day on Mersea Island, known locally as Sunshine Island or the Paradise Isle, there are plenty of excellent restaurants, pubs and cafes close to the shore so you won’t miss any of the action. There are also many social and family activities held through the week with specific events organised by the Dabchicks Sailing Club and West Mersea Yacht Club. Visit www.dabchicks.org and www.wmyc.org.uk for more details.