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Cadet Week Looking Back

By Sir Richard Matthews

Then as now back in the early 1960’s, Mersea Cadet Week was one of the highlights of our sailing season.

Back in the day, I won the 1st overall Viking Trophy in 1962 and again in ’64 and my best mate at the time Nigel Banks won in ’63. Interestingly, our last WMYC Commodore Michael Wheeler won in 1961.

Andy Green, who now sails with us aboard Oystercatcher XXX111, won in 1989.  Andy went on to become a world ranked match racer and America’s Cup trial helmsman, and is now a sports commentator. You may have heard him during the Olympics, America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean races.

In the early 60’s most boats were of the local handicap type and my boat Swallow was a very old 14-foot lugsail dinghy formerly owned by the local sailmaker Ken Gowen.  Despite my dad’s best efforts at stiffening her up she twisted when sailed hard and always leaked like a sieve. I remember she had a heavy iron centerboard and her boom and gaff were made of bamboo.  There were a few class dinghies around such as the Fleetwind, but most boats were a bit like the brig/fishermen’s open boats are today. The 12ft clinker built Sea Ranger was a popular choice for parents who could afford to buy new.

The races started and finished off the WMYC line which in those days was the flagpole and a line on the clubhouse roof, which I think can still be seen. There were a pair of very fine canons on wheels that fired 12 bore blank cartridges with a big bang and lots of smoke.

At low water races started on the far side of the middle ouze mud and on windy days it was great fun seeing some of the less experienced cadets getting into a muddle and mounting the mud before capsizing or even trying to sail over it.

Having had a run of success in 1964, whilst still just cadets, Nigel Banks and I took on the job of actually running the event. We were a little like poachers turned game keepers but everyone had fun which was the number one objective. In those days, the YC ladies met for bridge on Thursday afternoon and with the wind onshore complained through the steward that the starting guns were disturbing their bridge.  Nigel and I thought “hang on we are running a regatta here and this is a yacht club”. We reckoned we would be fireproof as far as complaints were concerned and mischievously decided that on that day every single boat would get a canon when finishing. The bridge players abandoned their game, left in disgust and we never heard another word. Everyone enjoyed that day and all the tail enders were especially happy getting a canon from the lawn on finishing.

A few years back I had the opportunity to speak at the end of week prize giving and started by asking for a show of hands amongst the large number of parents present if they had taken part in Cadet Week themselves. About fifty percent put their hands up proving that our Cadet Week really has become an institution.

In truth, Cadet Week today has become much more competitive with class dinghies providing an accurate benchmark of individual performance. Tall oaks from little acorns grow, and we all know that some Cadet Week sailors have gone on to do great things in sailing, Mersea’s own golden girl Saskia Clark also sails with us on Oystercatcher. No doubt some of this seasons Cadet Week sailors may well go on to become championship contenders but for most of you I hope sailing will simply be about having fun on the water with your friends.

After a lifetime of sailing having fun is still my number one priority and I hope you will join me in this philosophy. I heard it said that sailing is a disease for life for which there is no antidote. Racing, cruising, or just messing around in boats, sailing can be whatever you want it to be –above all stay safe, have fun and enjoy Cadet Week 2019.

Very best wishes to you all,

Sir Richard Matthews

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