The Sprint 15 fleet likes to be different and each year, we hold not one, but two National Championships – one in Sport mode format and one in Una Rig/Two Up format.
We have been extremely fortunate to have held both National Championships in 2020 and with strong turnouts at both.
As with many fleets, our first planned Nationals in August could not take place but we always head to the Grafham Cat Open in October for our final Summer TT and Inland Championships. So we asked Grafham Water Sailing Club if we could convert that event to our National Championships – to which they very kindly agreed.
So three weeks after a very successful Sport Mode Nationals at North Devon Yacht Club with 42 competitors – we were set up for a National Championships at Grafham with 49 entries. It was fantastic to receive such strong support from the fleet for both events, particularly given the effort required by the two host clubs and the Association to make it happen. At Grafham, we welcomed six nationals first-timers and a number of people making a return to the circuit which was great to see.
The week before the Nationals was slightly nerve racking as we waited to see if the latest round of Covid regulations might prevent the event going ahead or competitors not being able to take part. Fortunately this was not the case.
So instead, the wind took a good run at trying to thwart the event. Everyone knows that the Grafham Cat Open is always cold and windy. As yet another new experience this year, the winds were very light. But we are a determined and resourceful bunch and we were not going to miss out on our Nationals.
The original format was for three back to back races each on Saturday and Sunday. However, with a forecast of around 5 – 7 knots on the Saturday and even less on the Sunday – it was decided to aim for four races on day one – the minimum required for the Championship.
The fleet set off to the middle of the lake, where Race Officers Nigel and Fiona Denchfield had set a trapezoid course in the normal manner. We had our own fleet start – but were sharing the course with the Medium Cat fleet made up primarily of Dart 18s and Catapults.
For Race One, there was the inevitable bunching at the Committee Boat end but more of the fleet spread down the line to get clearer air – a must-have in a cat in light wind. Unfortunately, the breeze on the left hand side of the lake got softer and softer – so those at the Committee Boat end fared much better, particularly if they then tacked off to head up the middle of the race track. By the first mark, Chris Tillyer had established a solid lead with a small group chasing some way behind him and the rest of the pack bunched further back. Chris held on to the lead with Liam Thom coming second, Stuart Pierce third and Jim Bowie in fourth.
For Race Two, and based on the experience of the previous race, the concentration of boats at the Committee Boat end was far greater. Many competitors found out just why it is called Coffin Corner. The situation was alleviated slightly as other competitors were further back from the line – partly being wary of the U flag and partly because the light winds did not carry them to the line as quickly as they planned. As the fleet sorted itself out, local sailor Christian Mash pulled out a solid lead but by the second lap he had others snapping at his heels. Christian held on to take the win closely followed by Chris Tillyer, Liam Thom and Stuart Snell.
For Race Three, many of the fleet took another go at the Committee Boat end. Sean and Sophia, sailing two up, went further down towards the pin end and managed to make it pay to take the lead at the windward mark. Behind them, a group of Sprint 15s and probably the odd Dart 18 had created an interesting road block with various port/starboard entanglements at the windwark mark. Even boats coming in on starboard were obliged to avoid them and either tack back off or gybe round in order get round the mark. Even for experienced sailors, swift manouevres are not a forte of the Sprint 15 in such light winds, so it was not easy to pick a way out of trouble in the middle of a pack. But its all good experience……. Sean and Sophia went on to take the race win, with Fraser Manning in second and Chris Tillyer and Liam Thom in third and fourth.
For the final Race of the day, the Committee Boat end was more crowded (if that is even possible). This was much to the bemusement of the Race Management team who had thoughtfully provided a nice long line all day but only 10% of it ever seemed to get used. Sean and Sophia picked their own personal lane again further down towards the pin end. Meanwhile, Stuart Snell emerged from the melee up at the Committee Boat end. The wind had become progressively more variable in strength across the course with the previously favoured right hand side less assured. Sean and Sophia went on to take their second win, with Stuart Snell in second, Chris Tillyer in third. Hector Bunclark took a well deserved fourth place having unfortunately been UFD in the previous race.
The fleet headed in happy to have got all four races in, even if the conditions had been challenging at times. It was definitely a day for finding strong clear starts, good technical sailing, choosing the right path through the variable wind strengths and occasionally a bit of good or bad fortune.
Of course, the usual evening arrangements of AGM, Class Association Dinner and chewing over race events and tactics in the bar could not take place. But everyone spent a very pleasant evening at various local venues in their separate groups – with much talk and speculation about the wind forecast for the next day.
On Sunday morning, forecasts were consulted over breakfast, the wind turbines were closely scrutinised for movement and the lake surface was scanned for signs of breeze. In fact, there was a light but sailable breeze so the decision was made to proceed with racing. The fleet rigged up early and headed out for a 10:30am start. Almost inevitably, the wind fell away as the fleet headed out. The Race Officer postponed the start and we settled down for a wait to see what the wind might do. Lots of radio communications with the PRO on the Fast Cat course at the other end of the lake and with the safety boats out across the course to observe changes in wind direction and wind speed.
In the meantime, the fleet did what it does best when not banging round the cans – chatted. The delay provided an opportunity for people to catch up with old friends safely outdoors and with absolute certainty of social distancing as the Sprint 15 is conveniently 2.1m wide and 5m long. At about 11:15, a light breeze appeared, the wind shifted to the east and a fifth race looked to be possible after all. But as soon as the windward mark was laid, the breeze disappeared and so we called it a day. Absolutely the right call as the lake was a mill pond by the time the fleet drifted and paddled ashore.
Once ashore, our webmaster Liam Thom made short work of calculating some of the final specially awarded trophies alongside the normal results from Grafham. The Events Assistant, Jenny Ball, then endeavoured to manage distribution of prizes from the back of a Transit van. Jenny had previously decided that if the Nationals went ahead – it would be done properly and with our usual full range of trophies and glassware to be awarded for both the Nationals and also the Grafham Cat Open Sprint 15 event. She may have regretted this as the area around her van turned into a slightly odd looking bootsale.
With the assistance of our Chair, Ed Tuite-Dalton and Vice Chair, George Love – winning competitors were individually invited across and “presented” with their trophy and glassware. Presenting this year involved picking up a bag with the trophy and glass from outside the van and standing for an oddly posed photograph two metres away from the Chair or Vice Chair.
But we got to award our very personal but highly coveted special category prizes – including Heavyweight (Jon Pearse, Marconi), Over 50 (Chris Tillyer, Thorpe Bay), Over 60 (George Love, Carsington) and Over 70 (Stuart Snell, Grafham).
The Erling Holmberg Youth Champion trophy was presented to Hector Bunclark, North Devon Yacht Club alongside the Grafham Cat Open Sprint 15 Youth Trophy.
The Most Improved Trophy went to Peter Richardson, Marconi whose boat “Bandit” truly lived up to its name.
The Paul Smith Most Persistent Trophy went to Lee Garton, Marconi – particularly deserved as Lee only started sailing four years ago and stepped on a Sprint 15 for this first time this season. It was great to see him at the Nationals in his first year.
The Team trophy was awarded to Shanklin – and it was great to see teams from Shanklin, Thorpe Bay, Grafham Water, Stone, North Devon Yacht Club plus eleven entries from Marconi.
We also presented the more usual prize categories culminating in Stuart Snell – 5th place and 70 plus cup, Christian Mash 4th Place, winner of Race 2 and winner of highest placed Grafham entry at the Cat Open. Liam Thom was presented with third place and Sean and Sophia were presented with 2nd Place, the 2 Up Cup and winner of Races 3 and 4. And finally, Chris Tillyer was presented with the National Champion, first Single Hander, Inland Championship, Grafham Cat Open Sprint 15 winner, Over 50 trophy and winner of Race 1. Fortunately, Chris also has a Transit so we knew he could get the trophies home.
Additionally, every competitor was given a Sprint 15 Nationals branded hand sanitizer – this year’s must have accessory for a Covid Nationals. A fitting memento for everyone who had turned out to support the Nationals that could so easily never have happened.
We would like to thank all the competitors who attended and made it a special event, despite the various challenges. A special thank you to Nigel and Fiona Denchfield for Race Management and everyone who supported them. And a thank you to everyone at Grafham for agreeing to host the Cat Open/our Nationals and who put together an excellent package to ensure this could be done safely.
Click for: Full Results with all Sub-Competitions