What an awesome event held by Pevensey Bay Sailing Club!
Sea breezes or south westerly breezes every day at Pevensey made for some great racing, although with the current in maximum flow on springs, it was just as well that we had wind.
The Radial fleet was the largest fleet at the event, with no less than 8 past World Champions in Ladies, Apprentice, Master and Great Grand Master categories. The event this year had managed to make it onto the European Circuit and the foreign flavour made for some super competitive starts and challenging racing.
Photos © Adrian Peckham
The clear favourite for the overall trophy was Jon Emmett. He has been sailing really well recently - I have only seen his transom on most occasions which is pretty much the same as that experienced by the national Radial circuit fleet. Jon is a top coach and sparring partner for the Israeli Ladies Olympic Challenger. He can normally be seen in a RIB for international events, however his time on the water has kept him at the top of his game.
It was unusual for me when asked, "are you hoping to win this weekend?" I heard myself saying, "no, I am happy to try and win the Masters category from two past World Champions in Ian Jones and Wilmar Groendijk!" Depending on the conditions, these two racing snakes are hard enough to beat. In the last Masters Radial Qualifier, Terry Scutcher - a legend from Laser days of old - had pressed me hard. Terry is campaigning for the Grand Masters title in Canada in a few weeks time and was also looking super sharp. So with 74 entries and a general lack of recent Laser Radial racing due to lots of fun in the 4000
, I was perhaps in a nice low key position to put together a good series and see where it took me.
With a north westerly air stream on the South Coast, we were always going to get a sea breeze - the question was when? The water temperature was perhaps 12 degrees while the land temperature inland was closer to 20 in the late afternoon. So with more than the normal 5 degrees temperature difference, we were expecting the sea breeze to come in from the south west. We were also faced with an increasing ebb tide going upwind that caused ever more challenges for the race team. Black flag starts became the norm and despite some of the best sailing conditions I have ever experienced, we waited long periods for sailors to get to grips with the current. The best sail number displayed on the white board was 'T' 'I' 'D' 'E,' which was perhaps the perfect reminder to overeager sailors.
The first race was held in the balancing wind between the land gradient and the possibility of the sea breeze. Ian Jones got the better of the left shifting breeze to hold a commanding lead at the first mark. The sea breeze had come earlier than I had expected. The first reach turned into a beat and the next reach was a nice run. Ian turned back to race a new port tack beat whilst at sometime the RO had hoisted a shorten course - spotted by Sarah Cockerill who took line honours from me. We were both in the teens and turned for the finish, perhaps we saw the flag as the boat had swung? It is always hard to see a flag when you are running towards the boat. Maybe we should consider changing flags to cubes for better visibility? In the confusion that followed, the Race Team could not read the numbers of the running boats mixed in with Standards, so the RO decided to put up the abandonment flag. Sad but on the whole fair.
I guess Ian Jones was rather annoyed at this stage - had this race counted he would have made great gains on his rivals but at the same time, it just was not fair to be upset losing a second from the resultant mess up. However there were others with black flags who were now rather relieved.
It was fascinating to see many sailors get caught out by the wind and subsequent cold conditions once the sea breeze kicked in. I gave away my trusty ProAquafleece Beanie®
to someone who had clearly thought the wind would stay light and warm dressed only in a pair of Pro Hikers
, a Rash Vest
and a skimpy spray top. Water is 27 times more effective at taking heat from your body! Add 20 knots of wind and a water temperature of 12 degrees and you'll find yourself getting very cold, very quickly. You really do have to be prepared for anything. I had dressed in SuperTherm Long Johns
, ThermaFlex® Top
, ProLite Aquafleece®
and Race Armour Lite Shorts
. I could have done with the Pro Aquafleece® Beanie
- but the other sailors need was greater than mine.
We finally got two races in where the current always shortened the lay lines, so tacking short was much quicker than over standing in 2 knots of ebb tide.
Photos © Adrian Peckham
Jon Emmett stamped his authority taking two firsts while I followed obediently behind. Steven Smith from Chew Valley showed many that even a lake sailor can compete in the waves, coming 3rd in race 1. Ian Jones and Keith Wilkins, like many, suffered in the first race with the super short lay line, but they were quick to learn to tack short in the second race. I found myself following Keith upwind on the second beat of the second race, only to finally pass him on the closer second reach; perhaps because I was flattening off my sail from the outhaul. Bag is drag I say on close reaches. Keith is still a legend even at eighty something Kgs and a Great Grand Master.
With a longer wait for the wind to steady on Saturday, I found myself late to the start line for race 3 after stopping to serve a customer a much needed 50mm Clew Strap
. We had been delayed for quite a while waiting for the breeze to settle. As I raced to the start line I could see those sailors who were already committed to a pin start. It was obvious from the start of the Standards that the pin, although in more current, would win out. I attempted to emulate Anne Keates, another Laser legend, who started at the very favoured pin as the wind was swinging left. Despite my efforts I could only get half way down the line before the gun. It looked like Ian Jones had his first win in the bag until Jon slipped by him on the last few boat lengths to the leeward mark for a shortened finish. I was a distant 3rd having held off Terry upwind - he was so fast and high, perhaps he was using slightly less vang than me? Anne had a commanding top three position until the long slog upwind in 10 knots which always costs the lighter sailors. Those of us who had no need to de power were able to hold our lanes better than Ann.
With some re-positioning of the course due to many black flag starts we finally got away. The pin was heavily favoured to help keep the sailors behind the line, but this tended to make the line a little like Russian Roulette. Jon Emmett once again showed the Radials the way home from another excellent start. This time Roberta Hartely found her form and took an excellent pin end start to hold onto 3rd at the finish from Ian Jones. I was again a runner up.
Now I call that pin bias! I guess they were left with little option in order to get us off and it was a beat that required holding on the line on starboard. This meant it was pretty hard to be OCS. I was positioning myself within the last 20 seconds when my watch said 59 second to go. Whoops! Should have had a second watch on the mast! When the start signal sounded I was gybing away after losing my bottle, but it was relatively easy to find a clear lane as everyone had already tacked onto port. More wind and more waves meant another great day to be in a Laser, what fun! Jon rounded first ahead of Enrique from Spain. Ian took Enrique to windward and I passed him to leeward on the first reach. He added later that a Laser is very different downwind to an Admirals Cup boat and he still had lots to learn. The usual suspects finished the race in order - Jon, me then Ian. It wasn't until we had returned to shore for more fantastic food and entertainment, that we noticed the results showed Jon and Enrique had been black flagged.
Suddenly, from being a patient second, the door was now ajar and the possibility of taking the Championship was within reach despite my general poorer performance all round. Now Jon had to count all his races yet to be sailed.
I was asked a number of times whether I would play any games. There were a number of reasons why I doubted it. Generally it came down to my lack of boat handling in tight situations - racing the 4000 does not really harden up the single handed skill set. But if the opportunity presented itself then maybe I would engage, as long as it did not cost Jon his First Apprentice.
So with two races scheduled we started again in a strong flood tide. The weaker current was towards the beach on our starboard side and the possibility of the wind swinging left with a sea breeze was on our port side. The Standards had led from a committee boat start, taking the lee bow from the boat. Funny how 5 minutes can change things. I camped on the boat from the 4 minute gun. The current and wind held me safe from any luffing as the boat was a continuous obstruction on my right hand side. Jon started slightly down the line. Remember the 5 mins? Well the leaders came from the pin, crossing us with a reasonably large shift leaving Jon and I fighting for 17th and 20th at the top mark. I think we were perhaps 3 minutes behind at mark 1. By the leeward mark Jon had worked through a few more than me but we were still minutes behind the top 8. Perhaps this was a promising position for me as I still had a 3rd to count.
Second beat I finally drew level with my wife, Sarah. I had noticed a reasonable header on the port reach approach to the leeward mark, so I tacked at the mark to lee bow the flow. Many had gone straight for the shore to get out of the foul tide, but this was in the headed breeze. Perhaps a costly move. I held on for both a shift and pressure to take the hard port tack across the current. It paid big time, I crossed Jon by a few boat lengths. Is now a time to play games? A moments hesitation... no there was another race yet to come. This race was unlikely to be a counter - or was it? The leaders had sailed headlong to the shore and had not taken the best port tacks in pressure. I found myself extending on Jon and rounding the top mark in 3rd. A race win was still a possibility and that felt easier than holding back Jon. How many places could Jon make up? Last beat I passed Ian and Wilmer. The top reach was very, very tight and I could see that Jon had made up some significant ground with his great technique. But he was still perhaps 6th at this stage. My race win was secure. Ian and Terry held off Jon, but Jeff Loosemore of Australia could not hold him off downwind so Jon scored a 4th - tying us on points. All to play for in a possible race 7.
Photos © Adrian Peckham
The wind increased some more and now it was an epic day with perhaps 25 knots. Whist the RC tried to lay marks that were not holding and anchor boats with three anchors that were dragging, we tried to get a start off. Transits on the start line were now hard to believe as marks and boats were dragging and swinging in the current and wind. The race was started and Jon was more than up to the physical challenge. I was light headed with effort but focused after starting at the committee boat with Jon close by. Jon rounded first a couple of lengths from me. Ian had crossed everyone from the pin with the exception of Jon and myself. I expected Jon to make no mistakes at the gybe mark, I had nothing to lose. As we approached the leeward mark it was obvious that the Race Team had called it a day, with more marks and boats making leeway in the strong current. It had been a huge physical challenge. Perhaps that's why racing Lasers and Laser Radials is such fun. The recipe had been perfect; wind, current, waves and a fleet of rather talented and experienced sailors. Jon Emmet won overall and the Apprentice division, and I was more than happy to be second and first Master but on equal points. Ian Jones should be excited about Canada - less wind and no salt - just up his street. Watch out Grand Masters, Terry is coming to Canada. Keith Wilkins was first Great Grand. Now that sounds like 4 nearly World Champions to come from UK in Canada. Good luck guys - I am off to the 4000 Euros.
This report is obviously one sided and of course written from my experience. But there are more stories that should not be forgotten. The ladies prize had been fought out between Anne Keates, Roberta Hartely and Sarah Cockerill. Ann's first let off for a Black Flag had not stopped her pushing the line hard as every experienced campaigner knows they need to do. Sarah Cockerill had her cheeky race 1 victory wiped clean but continued to put in solid safe performances. Roberta had her fair share of mishaps and the odd glory moment. At the end of the day Ann came out on top, but its nice to see three talented girls racing in the top 20 with just 6 boats between them. It will make for more exciting regattas to come.
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