Seasalter Sailing Club was the setting for the 2014 Southern Area Championship of the Sprint 15 Association held over the weekend of 9th/10th August. During the week prior to the event a close eye was kept on forecasts as the tail winds of hurricane Bertha made their way across to the UK together with heavy showers.
With Seasalter located on the north Kent coast in relatively sheltered waters there was hope that the worst of the gales would bypass the area and a fleet of 18 boats assembled over Friday night and early Saturday morning for an 11:00am start. Severe squalls through the Friday night, causing collapse of at least one tent in the field, dissipated leaving winds from the S/SW at F4-5 gusting F6.
The start line was set from the club tower with a trapezoid course within Whitstable Bay avoiding to deeper offshore channels and the fleet had a clean start to the first race with boats spread along the line.
Whilst most of the fleet was sailing in standard mode Paul Grattage (458) and Kevin Dutch (1938) opted for Sport mode and from the start these two rapidly pulled out a lead with Dutch initially leading on the reaches but then being overhauled by Grattage on the downwind offshore leg. Stuart Snell (2016) led Chris Tillyer (1953), Erling Holmberg (2007), Mark Hollis (1980) and Rob Finch (1838) away from the following fleet.
The windward leg back to the club was to prove critical for gains and losses. The choice of a quick tack around the leeward mark to head back up the Swale or a long beat to the shore split the fleet, with those opting to tack making substantial gains in reaching the inshore offset mark before coming to the finish line. At the end of the first lap Grattage, Dutch and Snell were clear ahead in clean wind with Tillyer, Holmberg, Hollis and Finch within metres of each other.
With close sailing round the second lap it again fell to the windward leg to introduce some place changes and Stephen Roberts (1910) and Paul Shields (1644) made the mistake of missing out the offset mark leading to the finish line. With Grattage, Dutch and Snell pulling further ahead, Tillyer pulled out a lead over the close followers until on the third lap Snell came inshore towards the line and suddenly realised that he was missing the offset mark, and had to about turn to get back to round the mark. This allowed the following boats to pass ahead. Tillyer and Holmberg got clean air and pulled ahead but Snell recovered quickly on the close reach past the club to regain a lead over Finch and Hollis.
With the race shortened to 4 laps Grattage led Dutch home by 50 seconds Tillyer was first standard mode boat with Snell just beating Rob Finch at the line.
After a short break ashore and with the wind veering more westerly the second start saw most boats opting to come very close inshore towards the sea wall for a port start. Although the ebb tide should have held boats back from the line there was little room to keep clear near the beach groynes and Grattage, Dutch and Snell were over the line at the gun by near a half boat length. After the individual recall signal Snell cleared the fleet and completed his start, Holmberg also restarted, under the impression that it was a general recall.
Grattage and Dutch not realising that they were over the line reached the second mark boat before being told that they were OCS. Both made a fast reach back across the course to complete a start with the fleet already past the second, gybe, mark.
Tillyer and Rob and Jon Finch led the fleet, with Roberts, Holmberg and Tony Alexander (1406) in pursuit. Again the choice of course in the windward leg was to prove critical and with the tide in full ebb flow the offshore beat was preferable. Choosing a port tack Tillyer and Rob Finch pulled out a good lead whilst the main fleet went to starboard. Then, recognising how the wind angles had changed, a number of boats chose to tack midway back to the shore and the fleet spread right across the course.
Coming to the end of the first lap Jon Finch stayed offshore towards the club pole but Snell came right inshore before tacking and could bear off onto a better reach passing Finch. Roberts and Holmberg were being chased by Alexander, Hollis and Mark Bunyan (1343).
The winds dropped to F3 and rose to F5/6 several times rather than gusting and there were some significant shifts from S to WSW. Rob Finch managed to pass Tillyer on the second lap but came too close ashore in the seawall wind shadow at the end of the lap; allowing Snell back into the lead by overtaking both. Meanwhile Grattage and Dutch were making gains through the fleet and on the third lap took the lead on the water. Jon and Rob Finch continued to battle with Holmberg with Tillyer and Hollis also in close contention.
Despite the long start problem Grattage overtook the whole fleet and finished first on the water with Snell, Jon Finch and Tillyer following. On handicap Snell beat Grattage by 9 seconds. A good day’s sailing in strong winds and nothing for the patrol boats to do although several helms did manage to get to near 900 without capsizing.
An excellent buffet dinner was provided by Lesley Stafford of SSC and the competitors enjoyed a relaxing evening in the clubhouse before retiring to the wet and windy camping area. On Sunday morning reports from southern areas indicated that torrential thundery rain and strong gusts were being experienced. By 10:00am at SSC the steady wind to gust ratio was 25/48mph and thunder clouds were seen to the east, consequently it was decided to abandon racing for the Sunday and allow everyone to pack everything away – just in time before the thundery rain squalls arrived.
The event was well supported ashore with Brian Phipps bringing the Windsport International spares and support trailer up from Falmouth for the weekend and over a third of SSC members involved in race management and manning the galley and bar. Our thanks to all who both competed and assisted with the event.
Steve Willis, Commodore SSC
Full Series Results available here