The week leading up to the second event of the Sprint 15 summer series saw large swings in the forecast – with some indications of a repeat of the last two years’ Force 8 winds. On Saturday morning the fleet gathered under overcast skies with F4-5 SW winds and gusts to F6 with flat seas inshore and a short heavy chop offshore.
Fifteen travellers joined five SSC boats for two back to back races on the first day. A port rounding rhomboid course was set with an initial dog leg beat from the extended club line to the windward mark (to avoid a committee boat start). Paul Grattage (2018) led Mark Hollis (1980), Kevin Dutch (1938) and Rob Finch (1838) to the windward mark with the whole fleet in very close order. With boats bearing above the mark finally bearing away to it there was a great deal of manoeuvring to get clear winds and a quick tack onto the broad reach back past the club.
Grattage pulled out a lead onto the leeward leg whilst Liam Thom (1957) gained ground and joined Dutch and Finch, leaving Hollis leading the rest of the fleet. On the offshore reach Thom pulled past the other two and Stuart Snell (2016) was gaining ground. At the end of the first lap Grattage was a whole leg ahead with Dutch following and Thom, Finch and Snell in close contention with each other next and on the following laps there was place swopping between the three, with Chris Tillyer (1953) trying to close up to them.
Whilst there was much middle fleet place changing over the remaining laps Grattage finished first with a lead of over four minutes over Dutch. In the 4th lap Finch managed to pull ahead of Thom and Snell to take 3rd place - and on the final legs Snell managed to pass Thom to settle 4th and 5th, Tillyer 6th. David Oakley (923), sailing a Sprint 15 for the first time, suffered a broken shroud on the choppy offshore reach and was towed ashore – and thanks to the Windsport International trailer, manned by Brian Phipps, was back afloat for Race 2.
With the remainder of the fleet completing the first race in close order Race 2 was started promptly at high water time with winds now F6 gusting F7 S/SW. From the start Dutch led Grattage to the windward mark with Finch being chased by Snell and the rest of the fleet in close pursuit for most of the first lap. However the windward leg back towards the club was to prove the most challenging with first slack water and then an ebb flow to the east for later laps catching out a number of helms who had fetched the windmark with ease in the first race with the assistance of the incoming flow (approx. 3 knots). Grattage overtook Dutch with Finch and Snell continuing close to each other. Hollis led a tight group with Jon Finch (1890), Thom, Tillyer and Erling Holmberg (2007) close behind.
Lap 2 saw several strong gusts and gave the PB crews action, with Gordon Goldstone (2004) losing a shroud and both Steve Roberts (1861) and John Bainbridge (1742) retiring after capsizes. Meanwhile choices of beating to shore enabled Grattage to extend his lead over Dutch to 300m and for Rob Finch to pull well clear of Snell. As the race progressed Jon Finch and Thom managed to edge past Hollis and Holmberg who swopped positions several times. With no more change at the front Grattage led across the line with a 2 minute lead over Dutch with Rob Finch and Snell following in 20 second intervals. A close reach to the line saw Jon Finch just ahead of Thom and Hollis finally pulling seconds ahead of Holmberg.
The fleet was joined by most of the SSC race team for an excellent evening meal, prepared by Jane Mills and Dave Lincoln, and a relaxed evening in the clubroom whilst a massive lightning storm passing up the channel off Dover, lit up the sky. Overnight rain and the passing of the storm heralded the Sunday morning and the expected complete change in wind conditions.
The early morning saw very variable winds of 2-4mph gradually settle to a light NE breeze of 4-9mph and thankfully enough steady direction and light airs to hold the remaining races. A similar course was set but with a long, first lap only, close reach/beat towards Whitstable and thence out to the true windward mark. The 20 boats from Saturday were joined by 4 more SSC boats for a midday start from the club line.
From the start the winds were relatively steady but as the fleet sailed eastwards there were some windless patches that led to the fleet spreading out. Grattage, Hollis and Thom led the way with Ian Mills (1634) and Eric Sales (1868) close behind. However at the windward mark Thom got clear with the others holding off tacking, Sales tacked early and was followed around by Hollis, Goldstone and Holmberg. Onto the run Thom led Sales with the others following and Oakley close behind them but along the leg Goldstone and Holmberg sailed ahead and Grattage made up ground to join them, overtaking the others.
In the variable winds boats were losing and gaining ground and whilst the leaders managed to keep clear ahead 12 of the fleet arrived at the leeward mark as a single group rounding onto the close reach back to the club line. The winds were becoming twitchy inshore and tacking choices became crucial on the second lap. Thom maintained a lead over Grattage with both rounding the windward mark clear ahead, Snell had tacked offshore just before Goldstone but failed to fetch the windward mark, and had to double tack letting Goldstone through as well as Tillyer and Oakley. Snell just managed to squeeze round the mark with Jim Bowie (1981) and Sales.
The winds eased to 2-4mph making the long run and shoreward reach slow and an advantage to those with clean air. With nearly 50 minutes gone the race was shortened at the end of the second lap. Grattage managed to edge past Thom on the final leg to win by 7 seconds. Holmberg sailed clear of Goldstone to take 3rd whilst 4th and 5th were decided as Goldstone beat Tillyer by about 1 metre at the line. Along the back of the course Snell had managed to recover some places and led Oakley and Bowie home.
As Race 4 was started there was a wind shift from NE to E (3-4mph) and the start line to the eastern mark became a true beat, but with the shoreline and sea wall close on the starboard side. This gave the first true beating start for the weekend and there was an early split of boats onto starboard tack offshore led by Grattage and Snell with Keith Chidwick (1840) and Jenny Ball (1917) following. Thom led Donald Sloan (1240) and Jon Pearse (1988) on port. Sales and Joan Willis(842) were left in a windhole at the line and had an initial struggle to get clear. Several boats, trying to bear away on port, ended up in a windless area near the shore losing ground.
The trailing boats from the line had the advantage of seeing the impact of the lead boats on each tack and managed to pull back water to close the fleet up again. Snell and Sloan were the first to make the offshore windward mark with Holmberg, Grattage and Chidwick next to arrive. Snell managed to pull clear on the run whilst Sloan was windward of Grattage side by side. Chidwick and Thom managed to ease past them leaving Goldstone behind with Tillyer in pursuit. However as they approached the gybe mark, with Snell leading, Thom and Grattage pulled ahead leaving the fleet to close up on the mark behind them with very light airs and a shift back to NE. The mark rounding led to a number of place changes onto the shoreward leg.
With falling winds and the ebb tide the race was shortened to the single lap with Snell a clear winner. Grattage managed to edge past Thom on shoreward reach with Tillyer following ahead of Goldstone, Holmberg and Ball.
Paul Grattage 1st overall, and retains the Southern Area Championship trophy, with Stuart Snell 2nd and Liam Thom 3rd. Ian Mills, Vice Commodore SSC and Mark Hollis, Rear Commodore SSC made the glassware presentations before the fleet departed to travel home in changeable weather.
By all accounts, from the helms, an enjoyable weekend although the high wind lovers bemoaned the light winds on Sunday – something for everyone. My thanks as Race Officer, to everyone who came to the event, whether to sail or watch, and to the more than 30 members of SSC who made it possible by working at the club over the last couple of weeks as well as at the weekend. In addition thanks to Brian Phipps for bringing the Windsport International support trailer – which enabled several boats to continue sailing.
Full Series Results available here