A History of the Starcross Steamer


In the eighties the popularity of the Pompey Perisher and Bloody Mary annual pursuit races to attract large entries of small boat racers wishing to sail in the depth of winter emphasised the vacuum of a similar event in the South West. This was most obvious to helms and crews of Starcross Yacht Club racing every week throughout the year at a club that stays open for the whole 12 months and joined by temporary winter members racing while their home clubs were closed. In this way SYC seemed a natural venue for an event of this nature and the first Starcross Steamer was created for the early months of 1991 by the club’s Flag Captain, Nigel Bath. It has now been repeated in the early months of the New Year since that time. The 2018 event will therefore be the 28th.

Obviously sailing conditions can vary at any time of the year and in the 27 years of the Steamer competitors have experienced excellent sailing conditions as well as the extremes of light airs to a Force 6. The latter occurred in 1994 when 27 boat crews still braved the accompanying snow showers with local Exe SC helm Frank Rowsell winning in a Lark. With all the uncertainty of winter conditions it is surprising that the Steamer has only ever been postponed once in all that time. This occurred 2014, when on the night of February 5th, just 18 days before the planned Steamer date, 100 mph SE gales ravaged the area causing extensive damage, and demolishing the main railway line at nearby Dawlish. Unfortunately the club itself was also severely flooded and the damaged, which required mammoth efforts by 80 plus club members to successfully reinstate the site fit to run the Steamer on the planned date of February 23rd. However, we were thwarted again as more gales were forecast for the 23rd and due to the tides we had no choice but to put the date back to 6th April.

The winner of the first race in 1991 was SYC member Russell Gibbs but history shows that since that time winners have come from clubs far and wide as well as local. Competitors often have travelled long distances to the event not only from all over the South West but from further afield such as Southampton, the Midlands and Wales. The mix of craft has also been very wide from older designs to the more recent with handicaps stretching from a Cadet at 1428 to a foiling Moth at 500. Overall winners have gained success in a Wayfarer, 420, Lark, Seafly, Fireball, RS400, and RS800. Helms of single-handers have succeeded in top spot with a Phantom, Contender and RS Aero. In fact the overall winner for the last two years has been Peter Barton from Lymington Town SC winning with a RS Aero in 2016 and helming to victory a RS800 in 2017. Merlin Rockets in recent times have always had some of the largest fleets and have taken first place on five occasions with crews from Lyme Regis SC, Starcross YC, and Axe SC. Numerous Lasers have always appeared but whilst gaining minor prizes have not in recent years gained the top spot.

From its beginning the Starcross Steamer has always had the support for healthy numbers from the home club, including winter members, plus a small number from other Exe River clubs. However, its popularity has now grown to such an extent that logistics and safety dictate that the attendance has to be limited to 100 boats. This number is regularly reached within 10 days of the entries being open.

As can be imagined the organisation and running of such a prestigious major event of this nature is immense and involves a great number of people which has thankfully been taken on by the Starcross YC multihull fleet sailors. Realising that monohulls and multihulls do not mix for safety reasons especially in such numbers as this event, multihull crews graciously give up their time and opportunity to sail for the benefit of the event.

This year Starcross YC again invite old and new faces to sail the Starcross Steamer on Sunday 25th February, confident that the legendary friendship and the quality of the catering will make the day unforgettable.

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