A beautiful bright and clear day suddenly appeared from the gloomy thrashings of autumn in readiness for the opening round of the Sprint 15 Winter TT Series held at Stewartby Sailing Club on 7th November. It was clear that spears had been well sharpened as competitors negotiated the intricacies of the new hyper-space bypass construction site on the approach to the venue and local traffic scattered in advance of the ten visitors from as far afield as Yorkshire, Shropshire and the far south-eastern corner of the Isle of Wight. These were welcomed by a hefty complement of eight, woad-free local sailors who had cleared the water ready for battle to commence.
As the last of those changing into their protective clothing finally appeared at the initial briefing, the tricky nature of the contest became apparent. It was to be a square (-ish) course which pleased the majority of the protagonists, some of whom cannot count past four and argue that really the races should just all be steered in a straight line. There was to be a catch, however, and much confusion was seen on at least one competitor’s face when it was clarified that the fleet should pass through the starting gate on every lap. That’s funny – which is the first mark, then? That’s an odd beat… etc. Well, if you CAN count Robert, LOOK! One, two, three, four – it’s easy… Oooh! I see, we’re going round BACKWARDS? Yes, old chap, you can if you like but we’re going to leave all the marks to STARBOARD. It’s a bit of a new idea but you’ll get used to it.
As boats sailed out to the start line one of the Stewartby crowd, who shall remain nameless, decided that a team-mate wasn’t really paying sufficient attention and taking the competition seriously enough, so he promptly rode his bows over his friend’s deck in order to whisper some encouragement and tactical advice into his ear without the opposition listening in. Later in the day he was to be seen sketching the outline of a shark’s jaws onto his bows as a reminder of his determination.
At the start of the first race Chris Black and Stuart Snell from Grafham Water set off like rockets, taking the right course, and by the second mark had a lead of a couple hundred yards. After the third mark, Pete Slater from Draycote surged past Robert England from Carsington and chased after the leaders. The rest of the fleet occupied their time playing snakes & ladders and discussing impromptu rule changes. On the third beat Steve Sawford from Rutland made use of a very useful wind shift and went from the middle of the fleet to second place as Chris Black dropped into the main fleet to take issue with Robert England and Ed Tuite Dalton from Draycote. At the front Steve Sawford managed to get in front of Stuart Snell till the last tack of the race when Snell just finished first from Sawford with Erling Holmberg coming third after squeezing past Simon Giles who came fourth, whilst Pete Slater steamed up in fifth.
The second race was called back as too many boats had been over the line. This was fortunate for Sawford as he was well back at the time of the recall. This also allowed time for a second chance for some to realise that they should go for a port tack start if they wanted any chance at all but one or two couldn’t be bothered and just wanted to play on their own around the course. After the second start Sawford and Snell were first round windward mark followed by Holmberg and Slater. These positions stayed the same to the second to last leg when Slater sailed past Holmberg for third place behind Sawford in second with Snell coming first.
At the end of the day there were happy faces as everyone who entered received a prize of liquid refreshment with Stuart Snell being offered the opportunity to thank the hosts for providing an excellent day’s racing, including near perfect weather. The final order was 1st Stuart Snell (Grafham); 2nd Steve Sawford (Rutland); 3rd Erling Holmberg (Shanklin); 4th Pete Slater (Draycote) and 5th Simon Giles (Shanklin). John Finch from Stewartby came ninth whilst Michael Robertshaw from Beaver was thirteenth. The next event at Carsington Water on 5th December is eagerly awaited after Draycote disposed of themselves very well in their warm up for this needle match; Stuart Snell has threatened to come, Beaver has shown a leg whilst Shanklin clearly are a force to be reckoned with.