100 years of The Houghton Cup
by Louay Habib
The Crouch Estuary is one of the most picturesque sailing locations within the British Isles and yacht racing has been a part of the river's history for well over a century. Located on the East Coast of England, it is easily accessible by sea from Belgium, France and Holland, with good rail and road connections from London.
2011 marks the centenary year of Houghton Cup, originally an 82-mile night race, starting and finishing from the Crouch, via the Sunk and Cork Light Vessels. Sidney Houghton originally presented the trophy in 1911, predating the Fastnet Race by some fourteen years. The race now always takes place on the first day of Burnham Week, which for 2011, runs from 27th August to 3rd September.
The origins of Burnham Week can be traced back to 1893, making it arguably the longest running regatta, bar Cowes Week, in the United Kingdom. Organised by the Joint Clubs' Committee, the event provides racing for dinghies, multi-hulls, one-design classes and a wide variety of keelboats, using IRC as the rating rule.
Richard Matthews has been competing at Burnham Week since his youth, winning the Houghton Cup on four separate occasions and the equally prestigious Town Cup, three times. Matthews has also been the East Coast offshore champion on six separate occasions.
"My earliest days at Burnham Week were spent racing my father's Stella, but he wouldn't have gone racing with us to save his life! We removed the clock, the barometer, the teaspoons and all the cruising accessories then burnished the bottom. After the week, my father would then put it all back, cursing the racing.
Back then, the Houghton Cup was a night race, setting out from Burnham and returning the following day. GPS wasn't available and it was great test of navigation. I can also remember in 1974, the race clashed with tennis at Wimbledon, we were watching the men's final on a black and white TV, whilst spinnaker running out of the Crouch."
Besides Burnham Week, there is an active offshore racing scene on the East Coast. The East Anglian Offshore Racing Association (EORA), has been promoting offshore sailing on the east coast for over 50 years. 23 member clubs support EORA and their annual events incorporate 13 different races and regattas running from April through to September, including The Houghton Cup. EORA uses the IRC rating rule, dividing the competitors into 3 classes. Fleets range from small family cruisers through to dedicated racing boats; over 30 boats were racing last year.
Burnham Yacht Harbour has been a major feature of the town since its construction in 1989. It has 350 marina berths, 75 swinging moorings and hard standing for 250 vessels. Facilities include a 35-ton travel hoist, crane lifts and a 100-ton slip.
Burnham Week provides eight days of racing and nightly social events in a fabulous location; the Crouch River and the mouth of the estuary are home to over 25000 water birds and the river can be navigated some 17 miles inland, through stunning English countryside, with a wealth of pubs and inns along the way.
East Anglian Offshore Racing Association