Guide: The spectacular sight of 33 classic boats with their distinctive red sails is set to delight the crowds this bank holiday weekend as part of BrixFest. Here, we find out more about Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta

After spending weeks out at sea battling treacherous conditions, it’s little wonder that Brixham’s fishermen used to like to have a bit of fun once in a while. Back in the 1800s, they would race their increasingly powerful sailing vessels against each other on a bank holiday. Things became slightly more serious when King George V introduced the Perpetual Challenge Cup in 1914 for the fastest Brixham registered sailing trawler.

This weekend, the spirit of those early events will be captured as 33 classic boats head out into the Bay to celebrate this key part of Brixham’s maritime heritage. Traditional fishing boats (luggers), Chinese junk boats, racing yachts and more will take to the open water to demonstrate their speed and sailing ability. Each will have a set of red sails, a throwback to a time when fishermen coated the cotton cloth with a mixture of local red earth and cow dung to prevent deterioration.

A trophy lost and won

Ibex, a famous Brixham trawler designed and built by the local Upham family was so successful in the late 1800s regattas that she was awarded a permanent silver trophy. The cup disappeared for 60 years until it was returned around 18 months ago to Brixham Yacht Club by an elderly couple, who told staff they had inherited the trophy from a family friend.Now safe and sound, the Ibex Trophy will be awarded to this year’s best looking boat.

Torbay Culture, The Shorely, Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta, Andrew Upham with his trophies inc the long lost Ibex cup on far left. (1).JP

The stunning spectacle of these beautifully cared for vintage vessels, cutting through the water is guaranteed to float everyone’s boat. Regatta organiser Chris Coote agrees. “What I like to see is the whole of Torbay covered in classic sail – it’s quite a sight,” he says. “It’s not often that the Bay is full but we fill it completely. There are junk sails, racing yachts, all sorts. It’s a real celebration of Brixham’s heritage.”

Trawler racing has taken place in the Bay since the 1800s. Regular events took place until 1939 when the outbreak of the Second World War meant that many trawlers were destroyed. With the onset of the powerboat, the race never really got going again until a group of enthusiasts met in 1997 and decided to launch the Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta.

Today, the event is less of a competition and more of a celebration of our local fishing industry and history. “Well….it’s not intended to be a race but it does tend to go that way,” says Chris Coote, laughing. “The King’s Cup is still seen as quite an honour to be awarded. Also, the boats are quite evenly matched so it all comes down to how well they will be sailed.”

The 33 vessels range in size from 18ft to 100ft and come from all over the country and beyond. One of the entrants is a huge fishing lugger from Brittany, which will be up against a Brixham-built version with three masts.

The classic boats will be out in the Bay on Sunday for up to four hours, weather permitting, of course. “People should come along and make the most of this chance to see our maritime heritage,” says Chris, a sailor and Brixham resident who has been in charge of the regatta for the past 10 years.

Torbay Culture, The Shorely, Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta

“Brixham fisherman in days of yore were very entrepreneurial and travelled great distances, right out into the North Sea and even to Newfoundland.” Brixham fisherman invented a technique, known as beam trawling, which sees a huge telegraph-type pole dragged along the sea bed to disturb the fish, which then swim into the nets behind.

Pulling this huge weight of this equipment through the water required a powerful boat and Brixham trawlers were thought to be among the best in the world. In their heyday, there were over 200 classic-style Sailing Trawlers at Brixham. Six fine specimens still remain and most join in the regatta, which is open to other traditional craft.

“Brixham fisherman are still very entrepreneurial and we have the most successful English fishing port,” says Chris. “The regatta is a great way of celebrating what we have here.”

Go see the spectacle of Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th May: Whilst you're in Brixham, check out BrixFest from the 26th to 30th May with cooking demonstrations sponsored by England's Seafood Coast, live music, the annual BrixFest Dragonboat Challenge, Children's Day on Breakwater Beach, Crabbing Competition and Vintage Car Rally. Download the full Brixfest 2018 programme here.

Images copyright and credit: Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta

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