Report by Steve Willis and Pictures by: Mark Dalton
The second Sprint 15 summer TT series event was held at Seasalter Sailing Club on the North Kent coast over the weekend of 17-18 May. Despite earlier good forecasts the weather steadily worsened until by Friday NE F5-6 with F7 gusts and rain were predicted for both race days. This, understandably, led to a significant reduction in the number of entrants for the event.
With an early warning signal at 10:25 on the Saturday the long distance travellers (Steve and Ben Tunnacliffe (Halifax) and Erling Holmberg (Shanklin) arrived on the Friday night to pitch tents as the skies clouded and darkened. Thence repairing to the club bar for meditation and sustenance along with some of the local SSC members. Saturday morning saw 4 more travellers and 5 SSC boats join the 12 boat strong throng whilst CRO Frank Avery and RO Steve Sobey assessed the conditions.
With winds now a steady cross-onshore F5-6 and a following 3 foot swell a port rounding trapezoid course was set for both races of the day. All 12 boats set sail for the start line (only 200 metres away from the launch area) but an early casualty was 1937, Keith Ball, who found the conditions too extreme and he returned ashore – at speed!
The start was delayed whilst boats made their way afloat from the heavy shore break but 1938, SSCs Kevin Dutch, timed the start perfectly and took an immediate lead followed by 2007, Erling Holmberg and then the only two up boat 1868, Eric Sales with his novice crew Alex Grindley. Several boats were caught out late to the line and set off in pursuit. The fleet split into two groups on the first beat with half the boats bearing off for speed and the rest pinching in the cross swell. With the advantage of a starboard reaching approach to the mark those who had opted for speed and a shoreline tack generally came off best and 1918, Stewart Pegum, and 2004, Gordon Goldstone, managed to pass Sales and fall in behind Dutch and Holmberg.
The second leg, was a close reach with little chance to make gains but onto the downwind leg at the next mark and the seas were building to 4 feet high with strengthening gusts. Expertise and conviction began to tell with the leading boats on full song through the roller coaster swell, one second surfing and the next with bows well down in the troughs. The leaders gained good boat speed and punched through the seas with the slower boats falling behind with crews sitting astride the rear beam to prevent pitchpoling in the troughs.
The gybe mark was difficult to see in the heavy seas but once found the timing of making the gybe was critical for making a broad reach to the onshore mark at the start of the beat up through the finish line. Here the combination of wind, swell and tide made an early gybe favourite, heading above the next mark and allowing use of leeway to make the mark. Dutch maintained and increased his lead over Holmberg to over 2 minutes at the end of the first lap. Meanwhile 2006, Nick Dewhirst, and 1343, Ben Tunnacliffe, who had been well shy of the start (as in at the beach !) had begun their charge through the fleet.
The second lap saw Pegum and Sales steadily overhauled and whilst Dutch passed through the line 3 minutes ahead Holmberg was now being hotly pursued by Goldstone and Dewhirst. Meanwhile young Tunnacliffe was maintaining his lead over his father 1959, Steve Tunnacliffe and was making his way through the middle of the fleet comprising 1978, John Holmes, 1331, Martin Searle (only Sport mode entry) and 756, Steve Willis.
During the final lap Dutch increased his lead to over 4 minutes at the line with Holmberg steadfastly hanging onto second place. However Dewhirst maintained momentum in his home waters to beat Goldstone to third place by 7 seconds. Pegum held off Ben Tunnacliffe. The remaining 5 boats maintained station but had steadily been bunching up over the latter two laps. In the end they all crossed the line with intervals near 10 seconds apart. With no capsizes in the fleet and only two broken battens on 1978 a credible performance by everyone.
Although the races were to be back to back a tea break ashore was order of the day and a review the conditions. Steve Willis demonstrated the quick way ashore and nearly ran Gordon Goldstone over on the beach – bows stopping some 7 metres from the water line (saves broken rudders).
With gusts now of 30-32mph and 5 foot seas with breaking waves well offshore 4 more boats joined Ball to become spectators ashore and only 8 starter approached the line for the second race.
Holmberg led Dutch away from the line with both bearing off for speed. Whilst Willis made a good start pinching high for the mark he was quickly overhauled by Goldstone and Dewhirst who took the middle line. By the second mark the four had made their way to a clear lead and Pegum had overtaken Willis as well.
Ben Tunnacliffe had left father Steve ashore determined to improve on his 6th in the first race. Disaster struck as he was running downwind to the start line and fiddling with his downhaul – oops pitchpole into the water! To add insult to imminent injury he chose to jump onto his mast instead of the sail – ouch! But, by dint of a quick recovery in the heavy seas, he set off in pursuit of the fleet.
By the end of the first lap Holmberg maintained a 9 second lead over Dutch with an equal gap between Goldstone chased by Dewhirst with Pegum only 4 seconds adrift. Sales was chasing Willis with only 10 seconds between them.
The downwind leg of the second lap saw the ‘Flying Dutchman’, live up to his name and, despite burying the bows and near pitchpoling several times Dutch overtook Holmberg whilst Dewhirst forged his way past Goldstone. On the final lap Holmberg would not give up and held Dutch to an 8 second win (no change to the gap after two laps). Dewhirst pulled ahead of Goldstone but could not break the 2 minute gap to the leaders. Pegum maintained his 5th place throughout the race but Sales made a last lap effort and passed Willis on the reach and pulled out a sound 30 second gap by the end.
Unfortunately Ben Tunnacliffe could not recover his start line delay and had to sail alone the whole race but his lap times showed that throughout the race he had maintained station with the middle fleet and had matched Sales and Willis all the way for lap times – if only ?!
After changing the sailors scattered to watch the cup final and then eat and relax in the SSC bar for the evening (night).
Sunday morning revealed not only the same high winds but now surf and flume from the wavetops well offshore. With everyone feeling aches from the previous day the race team postponed the decision to race for an hour and Nick Dewhirst entertained the assembled sailors and SSC race teams by running his ‘Knives and Forks’ floor sail training game – with Frank Avery acting as god of the winds. However after an hour it was clear that the seas were building further and the decision was taken to abandon the day’s sailing and the general concensus was that this was the correct decision.
Luckily the rain held off for everyone to pack up boats and tents and the early prizegiving enabled the travellers to make their way home in reasonable conditions.
Frank Avery, Vice commodore SSC, and Steve Willis, Rear Commodore SSC, presented glass trophies to:
1st Sport mode Martin Searle, 1331 (1 point – one race)
In the backroom things were happening whilst the event was going on. On Friday evening Chris Stafford, 1335 and SSC Commodore, was helping Martin Searle get the mast for the SSC club Sprint 15 out to prepare the boat in case anyone wanted to use it for the event. Chris stumbled twisting one foot under a wheel of a patrol boat trolley and fell hard to the ground – only to have the mast fall across the back of his hand and cause a massive bruise (no sailing for Chris the next day).
SSC is a member of the local Water Safety Committee and the TT was previously notified to the Committee. During the second race the Coastguard Shore Patrol visited the Race Tower to see how things were going but left us to catch sight of the boats as they swooped up and down the swell.
Thanks must go to the SSC patrol boat crews who braved the seas in cold and very lumpy conditions getting very cold in the rain. As with any good team the competitors do not see the hiccups. At one point during the second race one of the RIBS was bodily lifted clear of the water by a wave ‘throwing’ it. Landing bow down the crew went over the bow and the boat and helm were totally swamped. In all credit they calmly radioed in to say they were unavailable for a few minutes and, crew recovered, they baled the boat out and went back on station within a few minutes. Reports since say they really enjoyed themselves………( Dart 18 Sailors for you ).
Me, I thoroughly enjoyed the sail on Saturday but I had to lift each leg in and out of the car to go home due to muscle strain. I was prepared to sail Sunday but on Monday I was glad we didn’t as the aches from the Saturday really took hold.
On behalf of the SSC committee I would like to thank everyone who took part in the event both and and off the water. A shame about the weather in terms of numbers attending but what an experience for those who did. Thanks to all.
(Pictures too follow)
Full Series Results available here