Forty-eight competitors and their supporters descended on a small seaside town on the East Coast for the Sprint 15 National Championships.
Many of the fleet arrived on Thursday to get the best space on the large green conveniently located next to the beach and the club house. The Stone Sailing Club contingent even got there at 8am allegedly to be first up, although its more likely that they had just got wrong day. They were soon invaded by the Marconi SC fleet – three of whom went for a practice sail across Dovercourt Bay in the afternoon. Given the very lively forecast for the first day of the nationals – they were eagerly quizzed by fellow competitors on what conditions were like – to which they confidently declared that whilst it was breezy, the water was flat and so all would be well.
Friday morning dawned sunny with a perfect wind but with a forecast of building breeze and gusts in excess of 30 knots in the afternoon. Sailors were welcomed by Event Organiser, Andy Webb and Race Officer, Didge Everett – and also the Deputy Harbour Master who reminded everyone that sailing into the shipping channel and getting run over by a ferry or a container ship was not a good idea. The Sailing Instructions allowed for the schedule of races to be flexed over the three days to maximise opportunities to get all nine races completed. In view of the forecast, the Race Officer confirmed the plan to run two races and assess the conditions with regards to the planned third race.
The fleet set off in an already very stiff and gusty breeze and headed out round the breakwater into Dovercourt Bay - which was no longer that flat after all.
Race 1 – got under way on time with the usual suspects who relish a strong breeze leading the way and chasing each other hard. The course was three laps with very physical beats and reaches and runs with a minimal number of gybes. And quite a few capsizes – all of which were duly evidenced as they resulted in a lot of mud at the top of the sail. Our youngest helm, Hector Bunclark probably had the most capsizes and nearly decapitated Jenny Ball when he pitchpoled alongside and his mast missed her head by inches. At the front end of the fleet, Kevin Dutch had a convincing win followed by Sean and Sophia McKenna, Robert Finch, David Ball and Chris Tillyer.
Race 2 – the wind and gusts had continued to build and the tide had turned creating a steep sea state – particularly relative to a fifteen foot boat. A number of competitors decided to call it a day and make the perilous journey downwind back to the club – of which more later. The second start got under way with Kevin making another clean break and giving an absolute masterclass in heavy weather sailing – see facebook for the video footage to prove it. Further back in the fleet, there were multiple capsizes, particularly on the downwind leg. Jenny got knocked off her boat by an involuntary gybe and her boat proceeded to sail an entire leg on its own amongst the rest of the fleet before being eventually slowed up enough by Hector and Nigel James for the RIB to deposit Jenny back on board. Kevin went on to take a convincing win, followed by Ed Tuite-Dalton, David, Paul Craft and Sean & Sophia.
The Race Officer wisely called it a day and the fleet were faced with a very challenging downwind sail back to the club in immense waves – whilst avoiding a large and not entirely visible breakwater which seemed to do anything but calm the water down. There were multiple capsizes and people bounced clear of their boats by the size of the waves. Several competitors stood by those trying to sort themselves out and the Harwich Town safety boats did an excellent and professional job of assisting swiftly where required. Everyone got home safely although not without some bruising, twisted joints, broken battens and one very S-shaped mast.
The fleet were duly revived by hot showers and lots of tea and cake and had recovered sufficiently to make for a well-attended and suitably brief AGM. Lots of discussion was had around encouraging new people to the fleet at club level as well as out on the circuit and all were asked to lend their support.
Following the AGM, the fleet were addressed by Betty, the President of Harwich Town SC who, as a very accomplished sailor herself, was entirely empathetic to the fleet’s experience that afternoon and very generously awarded a bottle of whisky to Kevin for his two race wins in such conditions. This was followed by a drinks reception and an excellent evening meal.
Saturday dawned with lots of the fleet anxiously consulting weather forecasts and falling into two camps - either those who wanted similar winds to the previous day or those who were anxious to actually go sailing, rather than hang on for survival. Whilst not as strong as the previous afternoon, the breeze was well up by the time the fleet set off for a planned day of up to four races and some competitors elected to stay ashore where they could heal more quickly and be first to the tea and scones.
Race 3 – the strong winds did not deter people from crowding down to the pin end of the line but Kevin managed to get into a clear lead followed by the usual suspects. Whilst the breeze was still strong and there was a decent chop, the rest of the fleet also had good racing. Kevin went on to take his third straight win followed by David, Sean and Sophia and with Jon Pearse in fourth.
Race 4 – the fleet again bundled down to the pin end of the line which ultimately resulted in a general recall although the front runners had got to the windward mark by the time they realised. The re-start went without incident and the fleet set off. This time the front runners included Jim Bowie who was in third place until he missed out mark 3 on the final lap, despite only having gone round it at least a dozen times already this weekend. Kevin sailed another text book race to take his fourth straight win, again followed by David, Sean and Sophia with Mark Aldridge in fourth.
Race 5 – the breeze and chop were still up and competitors were starting to tire in the conditions, but most of the fleet stuck with it and this time, perhaps with the aid of the black flag, there was a clear start. This race saw some changes at the front with Kevin taking a turn for brushing a mark and Jim deciding to roll tack in a force 5 – 6 and promptly capsizing as a result. And then doing the same thing a further three times. David went on to take a convincing win, followed by Sean and Sophia, Steve Sawford, Jon Pearse and Simon Farthing who had eventually remembered that he sails well in a stiff breeze.
Race 6 – in line with the plan for the day and in consultation with the Events Secretary, the Race Officer proceeded with a fourth race which would be shorter in length. The fleet gamely stuck with it – glad that they had vetoed Jenny’s proposal the day before to try and run five races. Uncharacteristically, Kevin capsized which resulted in a retirement. This time it was Sean and Sophia who went on to take the win followed by David and Simon and with Hector, our youngest and lightest helm, achieving a brilliant and well deserved fourth place. The fleet headed home still in very gusty conditions, but mercifully flatter than the day before.
The evening heralded the annual Class Association Dinner where 80 sailors, family, friends and hosts sat down to a lovely evening meal. Talk over dinner reflected on two lively days on the water, the promise of three more races in lighter conditions the following day and the frankly eye-wateringly orange team shirts sported by Thorpe Bay. Which were no match for the purple shirts of team Marconi but better than no team shirts – take note for next year, Stone and Grafham.
Ed, our Chairman, gave a short speech during which he paid tribute to the late Erling Holmberg – a good friend and stalwart of the class who we all miss very much and raised a glass in his honour. Ed also reflected on the amazing achievement of our webmaster, Liam Thom who had single handedly sailed around the UK in a Sprint 15 and this epic voyage was also toasted.
Chris and Jenny (Events Secretaries) then presented the Chairman’s spot prize awards as follows:
Chris Tillyer for trying (and failing) a port hand flyer in a Force 7 and, in a different race, pitchpoling upwind on top of the committee boat whilst everyone on board learnt some new words.
Hector Bunclark for being the first to capsize at the event – right on the start line about a minute before the first start. And for many subsequent capsizes or near misses – including the one where he nearly decapitated Jenny.
Jemma Clarke who has only sailed a Sprint 15 about five times but was brave enough to go out on both days and give it a go before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour.
Sam Rowell who undertook a man overboard recovery of Simon Hare following a capsize and successfully reunited him with his boat in exceptionally challenging conditions on the Friday. We were really pleased to welcome Sam and his father Simon back to the fleet for the Nationals.
Skip Atkins, an experienced monohull sailor but brand new to the fleet who had been holed in the first race on Saturday and sailed home, repaired it and sailed back out to join the racing. Only to be holed again by a fellow club member but managed to complete another race before having to retire due to water intake but would be back out the following day. Clearly a great addition to the fleet who will fit in well.
Jim Bowie for giving away a top three position by missing out Mark 3, having only been round it 12 times previously. And for trying out roll tacking in a force 5 to 6 which resulted in three capsizes in exactly the same point on different laps.
Robert Finch for achieving a mast shape that no-one had ever seen before following a prolonged capsize on the way home on Friday. He still managed to get back out racing on Saturday but lost a large hatch cover so sailed most of the day with a cocktail cabinet full of water.
Jenny Ball for getting knocked off her boat – only to find that it sailed better without her for an entire leg, overtaking three boats in the process, but mercifully being halted before breaking up on Dovercourt beach.
Andy Webb then drew the prize draw from the first forty entries – and the prize, a £100 Windsport Voucher, was won by Mark Aldridge.
Sunday morning finally brought sunshine and more moderate winds and everyone, bar a few who had not yet recovered sufficiently, geared up for a good day’s racing.
Race 7 – a significant bundle at the pin end resulted in a number of competitors either being parked or having to loop round the end and head off towards the windward mark on port tack. This allowed those who had started with a bit more space in the middle to get a better lane with Sam Rowell rounding the mark first, followed by Jon Finch, Paul Craft and Jenny who managed to squeeze into the lead by the end of the first lap. As the wind increased, the pack chased hard resulting in very close racing for the next two laps but Jenny just managed to hold on to take the win, followed by Paul, Jon and Sam.
By now the sun had gone and unforecasted rain came along with a strong squall hitting 30 knots which must have been fun for the Seaside Festival taking place at Dovercourt beach. It was not much fun for the Race Management Team who were obliged to move the entire course with the wind shift. It was also not much fun for the competitors who thought Friday’s conditions might be making a repeat appearance and some elected to head home before that was the case.
Race 8 – the wind and rain ended abruptly during the start sequence for Race 8 and the competitors suddenly found themselves in light wind and fluky conditions. Which left them perplexed and flustered because none of them could remember how to sail in those conditions, except for Chris who established an early lead off the line. Those who tacked onto the port layline found the wind then bent significantly causing them to reach into the windward mark and then beat to the reaching mark. Chris extended his lead, followed by David, whilst the rest of the fleet remained fairly close together for the first lap. A windshift on the second upwind leg and some inter-boat activity at the leeward mark allowed a shuffle round near the front of the pack with Chris winning followed by David, Steve Sawford, Jenny and Sean and Sophia.
Race 9 – the final start got away and was followed by a windshift, causing about a third of the fleet to tack off early onto port. Those who held their nerve on starboard to the far corner generally found the favoured line and this time it was the turn of Steve Sawford to take an early lead. Rounding mark 4, the majority of the fleet found themselves bunched together in shifty conditions and having to make multiple tacks in order to make it through the start finish line. Some of the fleet again split off early on to port up the beat and this time it seemed to pay off with places in the middle of the fleet becoming re-shuffled. Steve was out on his own, however, to take a clear win, followed by David, Ed, Sean and Sophia.
The fleet headed home reflecting on a myriad of conditions, the fact there were six different winners across the nine races and the overall positions really had all been decided in the final stages. All of which are signs of a good and competitive event.
The prizegiving was presented by Betty, President of Harwich Town SC.
We first moved through our very personal but highly coveted special category prizes – including Heavyweight (Kevin Dutch), Over 50 (Sean McKenna), Over 60 (Jim Bowie) and Over 70 (John Manning).
The Youth Champion and winner of the new Erling Holmberg Trophy was Hector Bunclark.
As a result of her boat chucking her off on Friday – the Amateur winner of the Pro-Am competition was Jenny Ball alongside her Pro, Simon Farthing. Apparently, his sage advice – “try staying attached to the boat” - had worked a treat and may even have helped her win Race 7.
Our Most Improved Trophy clearly demonstrated that 2018 had been a light wind Nationals as third place went to Jon Pearse, second to Kevin Dutch and the winner was Daren Fitchew – all of whom complain if it is anything less than the top of a force 5.
We were delighted to award Rob Wilson the Paul Smith Most Persistent Trophy - noting that to complete all nine races had been no mean feat and plenty of the fleet had not managed to do so.
We then moved into the more usual prize categories culminating in Kevin Dutch – 5th place and winner of Races 1, 2, 3 and 4, Steve Sawford – 4th place and winner of Race 9, Chris Tillyer – 3rd place and winner of Race 8, Sean and Sophia McKenna – 2nd place, winner of the Two Up Cup and winner of Race 6 – and finally winner of race 5 and 2019 National Champion – David Ball who had put in a string of consistent results in challenging conditions for a very well deserved win.
Finally, the Team Trophy was presented to Marconi SC who had flooded the event with 12 competitors, nearly as many supporters and many, many purple shirts. And who were also now very proud to have a National Champion in their fleet.
All that was left was to thank Andy Webb, Didge Everett and all the volunteers at Harwich Town SC for running a superb event in challenging conditions and to reluctantly head home after an amazing weekend.
Report by Jenny Ball. Pictures by Pauline Love.
Click for: Full Results with all Sub-Competitions