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Last weekend saw Sail Training vessels take to the water for ASTO’s annual ‘round the cans’ race in the Solent.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, competitor numbers were down from previous years and social distancing guidelines meant that only the on-the-water part of the event could take place.

The Small Ships Race has run for almost 20 years but for the first time, there could be no pre-race briefing ashore, and the post-race awards ceremony was instead held via video call.

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The race began at 11:00 to the sound of a cannon firing from the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes. There was hardly a breath of wind as the vessels left the start line, despite the severe storms on the Friday. There was, however, plenty of rain in the morning; though this did not seem to dampen the spirits of the competitors, who were all beaming smiles and waving.

The rain soon cleared, and the wind began to pick up later in the afternoon – there were even some glimpses of sunlight teasing the competitors as they headed towards the home straight of the race.

In place of the usual post-race awards ceremony ashore, an all-new virtual prize-giving was held via WhatsApp video call. Hosted by ASTO’s chairman, James Stevens, the contactless awards ceremony ensured that strict COVID-secure “bubbles” were not broken during the event.

Ballard School’s High Spirit won the line honours, as the first vessel to cross the finish line despite a 15-minute delay. The Contessa 33, which was crewed by pupils and staff from Ballard School in New Milton also took home the prize for the youngest competitor (Joe, aged 14).

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Jolie Brise, of Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire came out as the Overall Winner despite not being the first across the line. This was due to the Time Correction Factor (TCF), a calculation that takes into account a vessel’s length, weight, and other dynamics. Jolie Brise has had previous success at ASTO’s Small Ships Race, also taking home the same award last year.

Shortly behind Jolie Brise in third place was Scaramouche, the Sail Training vessel owned by Greig City Academy in Haringey. This year, for the first time, Scaramouche competed with an all-girls crew (including the Skipper), in a bid to promote women in sailing.

In last place was Tall Ships Youth Trust’s Tenacity of Bolton, which was crewed by pupils from HTP Apprenticeship College on the Isle of Wight.

This year also saw the launch of ASTO’s first Virtual Small Ships Race in partnership with Sailonline. The Virtual Race saw 126 competitors from 19 different countries taking part in an almost exact replica of the on-the-water racecourse. The Virtual SSR meant that those who were unable to attend ASTO’s annual race this year were still able to take part from the comfort of their homes.

This year’s Small Ships Race was a great opportunity for UK Sail Training to test out the waters in the so-called ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ASTO are looking forward to seeing more Sail Training vessels out on the water again soon.

ASTO are currently looking for a volunteer on the Isle of Wight to help find fundraising and sponsorship for the Small Ships Race next year. For more information on this role contact [email protected].

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