The Windsport Catparts Sprint 15 National Championships returned to Pwllheli after a 6 year break, with a strong turnout of 58 boats. With a 17-20 knot NW breeze, and some lumpy seas, the one lap practice race gave competitors a good taste of what hazards the trapezoidal course had to offer. Race 1 saw the top helms quickly power themselves into a commanding lead, as they relished in the boisterous conditions. The leading bunch of Mark Aldridge, Kevin Dutch, Paul Grattage and Erling Holmberg established a 400-yard lead over the rest of the chasing bunch, and Aldridge took the gun after 3 laps with Dutch chasing hard some 100 yards astern. Former heavyweight, Erling Holmberg clearly liked the going, and came in 3rd to recorded his best result of the event. The testing conditions in the chop caused some boats to head back for shore after Race 1.
After a delay to re-lay a wandering pin end buoy, (which had decided to give up the ghost with about 2 ½ minutes to go to the gun), Race 2 started in slightly less windy conditions, and Dutch got the bit between his teeth and took the lead from the gun. The 1 mile slog up the beat was testing for all, as was the wild ride to marks 2 & 3, which sorted out the pond sailors from their sea based counterparts. Once again the leading bunch, joined this time by Stuart Snell, built up a commanding lead over the rest of the pack. Dutch had the race well sewn up and crossed the line ahead of Aldridge, Grattage and Snell. Races 1& 2 gave the two –up boats their best chance to compete and father and daughter combo of Simon and Lily Giles notched up two 8th places. There were a lot of aching limbs being nursed back to life in the bar afterwards.
The Pro Am competition kicked off on Day 2, with pairings based on Saturday’s results for Races 1&2. Quiet hints and advice could be detected, as pairings tried to work out what and how to improve their race positions . Grey skies, and a 9-10 knot westerly breeze greeted competitors at the start of Day 2. The much less agitated sea state was appreciated by most of the competitors. With 3 races and a lunch break to fit in, time was at a premium. The wind picked up to 11 knots for Race 3, but the fleet had failed to notice the impact of the tide, which swept most of them well over the line for the first of two general recalls, before the Race Officer hoisted the black flag (for the first time ever in a Sprint 15 Nationals). This restored order and the fleet got away cleanly. (note these delays greatly helped our chairman, who had made his usual late start from the beach, and arrived just in time for the re-start). The wind swung around several times, and the mid fleeters found their positions changing depending on which tack they had taken on the beat. Aldridge had worked his way past Dutch, and lead him home after 3 laps to win Race 3.
After a clean start for Race 4, the wind dropped back to 6-7 knots, and progress for all slowed dramatically. With the first lap taking over 30 minutes for the leading boats, the race was shortened to 1 ½ laps and was finished at mark 2. The lighter wind saw a change in the leading boat, with David Ball recording his first win of the event. Both Dutch (17th) and Aldridge (12th) lost out to lighter helms on the long, long downwind leg.
After a well-earned break for lunch, the fleet came out to a freshening 17 knot westerly breeze. This again favoured the heavier helms, who had to work very hard on the 1.1mile beat up to the windward mark. The mid fleet boats were taking 25-30 minutes per lap, so the race was shortened to 2 laps. Keith Newnham took good advantage of an excellent start – just how did he hang so close to the line? to squeeze into 3rd place, behind Dutch and the winner Aldridge.
Day 3 started with sunshine and an 11knot westerly wind. For Race 6, almost all of the fleet again misjudged the tide and after 1 general recall, the black flag was displayed for a 2nd time in the Championships. However, in the melee at the favoured pin end of the line, event leader Aldridge had become trapped on port and was holed in a port starboard incident. Grafham Water teammate Frank Sandells generously offered Aldridge his boat. On the re-start, Dutch made a perfectly timed run on port at the pin end of the line and crossed in front of the whole fleet. However he was made to work very hard by Paul Grattage, who had consistently faster downwind speed. In the closest finish of the Championships, Dutch beat Grattage by two boat lengths, with Snell some yards behind.
Sadly, Aldridge hadn’t found the same boat speed in his swapped boat for Race 6, and for the start of Race 7, he had switched back to his original mount, which was by now completely waterlogged in the starboard hull, so Aldridge sensibly decided to retire, and with it went his chance of winning the Championship. The wind had dropped and shifted towards the west and mark 2 was now the windward mark, for Race 7, the final and Championship deciding race. After the first lap, three boats were in very close contention, with Snell holding a few boat lengths lead over Dutch and the lighter weight Robin Newbold. The wind continued to slowly drop, and after the 2nd, very slow lap, the race was shortened with Snell taking his first win of the week, over Dutch 2nd and Newbold 3rd.
With his 2 firsts and 4 2nd places, Kevin Dutch from Seasalter became the new 2011 Sprint 15 National Champion from last year’s winner, Stuart Snell.
The Sprint 15 fleet would like to thank all at Pwllheli Sailing Club for running such a great event, coupled with their Welsh hospitality and humour.
Click for: Full Results with all Sub-Competitions