Our second TT and Southern Championships for 2021 was a long time in the planning with host club, Stokes Bay. Careful planning started last year around what Covid arrangements may or may not be in place and then, more recently, the welcome addition of shore based activities such as bar openings and an evening meal. It was almost like a normal sailing event again!
And then came THAT forecast – with 40 plus knot winds followed by mere 25 knots forecasted. Undoubtedly this affected turnout but 12 Sprint 15s turned up undeterred. It was great to catch up with sailing friends from other cat fleets too – a total turnout of 40 plus boats.
Those who arrived on Friday saw the full force of up to 50 knot gusts across the Solent (and had experienced the various travel disruptions caused by the weather on the way there). But a weather window was forecast on the Saturday and true enough, the wind had dropped significantly Saturday morning and the Solent was flat again. Three races were scheduled starting at 12 noon – with the Sprint 15s third start in the cycle and following an inverted P course. (Because the big cats like leeward gates so we had one too…..)
For Race One, Chris Tillyer took the opportunity of a port hand start at the pin end and managed to get through before the starboard fleet moved down the line. Chris continued his route inshore whilst the rest of the fleet struck out into the Solent, following “local” Paul Grattage. The tide out in the channel was still ebbing in their favour but had already turned inshore. As a result, this gave the front of the fleet a slight edge over Chris – with Paul rounding the windward mark first, followed by Liam Thom, Jenny Ball and then Chris. The fleet then headed out to the wing mark, marvelling at just how much the water can be churned up by wash from ferries and freighters – but there was enough wind to carry the boats through. At the leeward gate, Liam and Jenny rounded to the left and Paul and Chris rounded to the right but this had little effect on the overall positions as all four then headed out towards the main channel again, although the rest of the fleet took a run at an inshore route. On lap three, Chris decided to take the inshore route again which paid off this time and he reached the windward mark just ahead of Liam and Jenny. Paul went on to take the win and on the final downwind leg, Liam edged back in front of Chris to take second and third respectively.
The wind softened even further for Race Two and could not have been more different to the conditions the day before. The tide was now flooding meaning the beat was against the tide. So most of the fleet followed “local” Paul into the shore with a view to tacking up the shore in slightly slacker tide. Chris Tillyer, followed by Jim Bowie and Andrew Berisford decided to head further out into the stronger tide. Paul, Liam and Jenny at this point decided that Chris must decide his tactics by flipping a coin. However, Chris’s decision to strike out away from the pack and into the strongest foul tide paid off massively as he picked up extra pressure and came into the windward mark hugely in front of the rest of the fleet, never to be seen again. Jim and Andrew were caught in a bit of a hole and shifty breeze at the windward mark which allowed Paul, Liam, Jenny and Scott Wilcox to catch up a bit. Jim and Paul made it round first, followed by Liam and then Jenny and Andrew in his recently acquired boat, 2026. Jenny and Andrew had a good chat on the downwind leg to mark 2 before Andrew managed to pull away on leg three. The fleet then took the left mark at the leeward gate and headed inshore in ever lighter breeze. Rumour has it that Chris also took the inshore track despite his lap 1 tactic being so successful. On the final lap, it was Nigel James’ turn to strike out into the channel which again paid off and he came into the windward mark ahead of Andrew, Jenny and Liam. The downwind leg was long, slow but tense as Liam tried to sail higher and faster than Jenny trying to sail higher and fast than Nigel trying to sail higher and faster than Andrew. But all to no avail as Chris was first, Paul second, Jim third, Andrew fourth and Nigel fifth.
By the start of Race Three, an interesting breeze had appeared which quickly turned into a strong force 4 – 5 by the start. Half the fleet followed “local” Paul tacking into the shore early off the start, whilst the other half stood on for a bit longer before tacking back. Although the breeze was now pretty strong, the Solent tide was still something to be contended with, as the flood tide grew ever stronger. Paul and Jon Pearse were the first to tack across from the shoreline towards the windward mark, with the boats behind them standing on a little further. Interestingly, about ten boat lengths from the windward mark, the tide kicked in particularly strongly. Which meant boats that looked like they were clear to round suddenly found themselves in trouble – and those who thought they had overstood, had to sharpen up their act. Paul put in an extra tack to round the mark but still managed to round first, whilst Jon Pearse tried to pinch round the mark but ended up having to do a loop round, which allowed Jenny to get round in second. Paul and Jenny set off towards Mark 2, whilst those behind them had a tricky time of tacking in lumpy conditions to get round the mark, whilst also avoiding each other. A similar pattern emerged through the rest of the fleet, resulting in Pete Sherwin capsizing whilst trying to avoid Nigel and one or two others deciding, sensibly, that this was all a bit fraught and they decided to head home.
Mark 2 had drifted a bit with the tide which made for a tighter reach down to the leeward gate. It was a great blast but ran across the waves, which meant lots of broadside walls of water breaking over the sailors. Paul rounded the left leeward mark first, closely followed by Jenny with Jon and Chris next. After a feisty second beat, Paul and Jenny rounded the windward mark and went in search of mark 2. Which by now had drifted a long way downtide and was attached to the back of a RIB valiantly towing it back vaguely towards the race course. Paul and Jenny reached it whilst the RIB was still towing it – which made for an even more exhilarating reach down to the “now not so leeward” gate.
As Paul and Jenny went through the leeward gate, it looked like the F flag was flying (indicating a finish) but it was not altogether clear so they both ducked the blue finish mark and then carried on up the beat to complete a third lap – unsure whether the race had finished or not, and not willing to take any chances! As it turned out, the Race Officer had shortened the course as all the support boats were engaged with helping boats in other fleets. So half the fleet sailed an extra lap and others worked out they had finished and sailed home at the correct time.
Landing was fairly challenging with a stiff breeze and a steep shingle beach – but all the competitors came to the aid of each other and everyone was helped ashore and up the beach in a safe and efficient manner.
Stokes Bay were able to lay on a very welcome evening meal and enjoyable evening in the bar for competitors – a welcome return to what we used to do (but with face masks). Much of the evening was spent speculating on exactly how strong the winds had been in Race 3 and whether we would be able to fit in one or more races on Sunday before the 25 knot plus winds were due to come in.
On Sunday morning, the wind had shifted completely onshore and was blowing a strong Force 5 plus as competitors arrived – with a forecast for the wind to escalate further. The Race Officer briefed competitors at 9:30 to advise that he would make a final decision at 10am. At 10am, he advised that for the safety of the competitors and the race support team, he would be cancelling. The vast majority understood this was the right decision. A couple of F18 boats took the opportunity to go for a blast round the bay and when they came back (in one piece), they confirmed that the conditions were challenging and unsuitable for racing.
Across the other side of the Solent, we could see the black sails of the RORC Vice Admirals Cup who had gone racing, despite the conditions. Check out the RORC website and facebook page for some excellent photos – it looks like carnage!
A few days ago, it looked like the event would be wiped out – so everyone was very grateful to have completed three interesting races in a variety of conditions, even if we were not able to compete on Sunday.
A huge thanks to Stokes Bay for hosting the event, despite all the Covid considerations and difficult weather conditions. Next up are the Nationals at Weymouth on 26th to 28th June!
Full Series Results available here