Words by: Simon Farthing and Pictures by: Alan Howie-Wood
If UK Cat Sailing had a spiritual home it might possibly be Brightlingsea Sailing Club in Essex. Home to the late Olympic Gold Medallist Reg White MBE, the walls of the club house are adorned with the list of his achievement and of other notable champions. Brightlingsea will also be the origin of future Sprint 15 with White Formula taking over construction again. So it was to Brightlingsea that 83 Sprint 15s made pilgrimage for the 2012 National Championship.
Whilst the forecast promised copious amounts of sunshine and searing heat, wind looked less of a guarantee. Quite reliably though a stable F1 to F2 came in ready for the practice race which saw Simon Farthing leading Paul Grattage and Howard Hawkes around the windward mark before the race committee brought everyone back to the start line in what was becoming a dying breeze.
The weekend would be in part noted by an eager fleet straining at the leash to get off the start line. The black flag became a familiar friend as Race 1 finally got away. Paul Grattage demonstrated the same speed he showed in the practice race by taking an early advantage out to the left side of the course with Thomas Sandal in close attendance. By the downwind leg Marconiís David Ball was moving in to contention alongside the flying Christine Roman. At the finish it was Grattage who would take well deserved line honours from Sandal, Sverdloff and Hawkes. Further down the fleet rules were being tested at the gybe mark with 20 boats mid order all coming in looking for the best rounding with centimetres between them. Reigning Champion Kevin Dutch swiftly returned to the Committee Boat to apologise for trying to board it.
Race 2 and the wind was swinging and dying. The heat was increasing and a number of competitors took advantage of the shallow waters to stand next to their boats whilst the race officer prepared for race two. With tide taking competitors up to the line a number of general recalls eventually saw the fleet break free up the first beat. This time it was the masters in the fleet who showed everyone how it was done with former champion Stuart Snell and light airs specialist Robert England fighting for the top spot. Thomas Sandal again stamped his credentials on a title challenge with a great first beat to get in to the top five at mark one. Further down the fleet a good start for Steve Roberts saw him soar up the fleet chasing down son Paul whom it turned out along with 8 others had been too quick out of the blocks and was handed an OCS. There was a fantastic entry of 16 boats from Thorpe Bay and in the second race a third of the top twenty finishers originated from either Thorpe Bay, Brightlingsea or Marconi, showing that perhaps the only way is Essex! At the gun masterful England held Snell at bay from Neil Parkhurst, Sandal and once again Christine Roman from Shanklin.
A beautiful day of sunny sailing was finished with complimentary Pimms and nibbles from class manufacturer (and late night repairer of boats) Brian Phipps and a tasty club BBQ with time for Chairman Nick Dewhirst to regale the fleet with tales from 15 history.
Day 2 and a postponement to allow the wind to arrive. When it did it came in as a promising 3. The first start split opinion with a few boats tacking off early on the committee boat with the wind apparently clocking around, whilst others continued on starboard hoping to catch them on the way back. Once again it was Grattage who took the early running from the right with Kevin Dutch chasing him hard. Marconi sailors were having a ball with David Ball and Jenny Ball making places on the run and ultimately claiming 3rd and 4th behind the leading pair. Grattage now had two bullets and a potential grip on the championship whilst Snell added in a fifth keeping his low points tally ticking over. Race 4 and a cracking second result for Beaverís Neil Parkhurst saw him claim victory from Jenny and David Ball followed by Sandal with Grattage finding himself OCS after having lead the fleet around.
So the day ended with a trip around the factory to see the new boats, an AGM and a fine meal from the ladies of Brightlingsea.
With a number of protests hanging over in to day three no-one was entirely sure what they had to do to claim the title. Kevin Dutch knew his chances of retaining the crown would depend on him finding his best form and others failing to do so. Thomas Sandal and Stuart Snell both need to find the top spot whilst Grattage needed to keep his form going. The breeze was creeping up to a force 4 and with the tide holding the fleet back the Sprint 15's exploded out of the line. Dutch flew up the left hand side after a perfect start chased by Snell. Behind Frank Sandells was closely chasing the pair of them with Martyn Ellis and Kevin Kirby and Keith Ball in hot pursuit. Dutch took the bullet by a comfortable margin from Sandal and then Snell. It was anyoneís to play for as Grattage had recovered from the teens to come in 6th, just ahead of Kirby.
With slightly less breeze but enough to keep a hull flying the leaders again chose the pin and headed for the lay line. Snell and Dutch continued their fight whilst in close attendance was Paul Roberts who bravely pushed the line without fear of the black flag that had dented Balls title chances. Behind Thomas Sandal was holding off Grafhamís Jacob Aldridge. Simon Farthing and Samuel Rowell were centimetres behind fighting out for a top six spot.
On the last lap the middle of the course started to favour and the front eight boats closed on each other but built the gap to the pack behind. Snell was covering Dutch well to protect his first. Sandal sneeked past Roberts. Aldridge held on for fifth, from Rowell, from Farthing, further back Peter Richardson came home fast from nowhere as the airs became lighter claiming an excellent 8th.
Ashore and some quick calculations suggested it could be Sandal, Grattage or Snell that had claimed the prize, but who? Ultimately it proved to be Snell by two points from Sandal getting his name on the Brightlingsea wall of fame. Grattage claimed bronze after a great championship ahead of Simon Farthing and then Paul Roberts, Mark Aldridge taking 6th.
Team Glory went to Grafham, the Ladies Championship to Jenny Ball. The youth prize to Jacob Aldridge, the Heavyweight Championship to Farthing from Chairman Dewhirst, the Masters categories to Snell and Kirby, two up to Simon and Henry Giles and most improved to Christine Roman.
All in all stunning weather, patient management from the Brighlingsea team, great venue and top racing.
Click for: Full Results with all Sub-Competitions