PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 July 2015
Brancaster hosts a very special sailing event this month with an abundance of history and charm - the European Sharpie Championship.
Chuckles the boat was discovered in a barn near Dereham, memories of her most triumphant race long forgotten.
In 1956, the little boat – known as a Sharpie – competed in the controversial Melbourne Olympics in Australia, winning a bronze medal and a place in history. It was the first and last time it was ever sailed as an Olympic class. This month, Chuckles will line up alongside dozens of other much-loved Sharpies at Brancaster for the 52nd European Sharpie Championship when 50 competitors from the UK, Holland, Germany and Portugal will gather for a week of racing and social events.
The boat was built and designed in 1931 in Germany by the Kroger brothers, and it quickly became popular as a fast and affordable racing dinghy. It has strong links to Norfolk, both now - where there is a strong fleet sailing off the coast - and in the past, where the first eight boats were brought into Britain at King’s Lynn docks in the 1930s.
“Like any ‘classic’ there is an intense pleasure in sailing a boat that gets admiring looks and comments from passing strangers, while proving a challenge to sail well,” says Michael Farrell, secretary of the British Sharpie Owners Association which organises the event. “The pleasure gained from this and sailing these beautiful boats brings our international community together in a way no modern class can.”
Michael’s son Edward will be competing in Chuckles. The boat was originally owned by Brancaster resident and dedicated Sharpie enthusiast Janet Sanderson, who collected broken Sharpies from all over the world, including Chuckles, to restore. Sadly Janet died before any restoration work could begin but following her death, enthusiast Michael sought permission to work on it, and a year-long labour of love saw it returned to its former glory. When the family took Chuckles to Portugal for its first big sailing adventure, their restoration journey was completed thanks to a special reunion. Jasper Blackall, the man who had competed in it in the 1956 Olympics was living in Portugal, and he finally got a chance to see the boat which had brought him the bronze medal six decades before.
Although the event is a fantastic way for classic boat enthusiasts to meet, it is very competitive. Norfolk sailor and British champion Chris Gibbs will be attempting to win back his European title alongside brother Tim.
“I’ve owned a Sharpie since 1986 and have sailed lots of other classes but there’s nothing that comes close to sailing the Sharpie. They are beautifully balanced boats to sail and unique in appearance. Windward they are exceptional, the fine shape allows it to point very close to the wind and carry good speed with the minimum of fuss, and downwind, planning and surfing in a heavy hull is a very powerful experience,” says Chris.
“I love the friendship it brings. It’s amazing how many people know the class and have sailed one in the past. They just have this amazing history and everyone has stories to tell, often which have been passed down generations.”
The European Sharpie Championship is from July 26 to July 31. Races can be viewed from Brancaster beach at high tide each day. ♦