Oxford Sailing Club welcomed 63 National Solos to Farmoor Reservoir on Saturday 29th April to contest the Spring Championship. The newest Solo on show was 5745 and, given the entry number, slightly ironically, represented 63 new builds since last July, returning to something like normal service then.
There had been a stall in this competitive market while members awaited the outcome of the decision whether to make some radical changes to the 57 year old design to bring it more up to date. That notion was laid to rest last September and since then the National Solo builders have seen interest once again surge.
Not to be outdone, I greeted some new faces to the fleet at this event and the injection of youth, and by that I mean anyone under 50, was warming to the heart. There were also some converts from other singlehanded classes and while it may be bad form to brag about that, it shows that the NSCA committee are doing something right!
Onto the event itself. I had planned to race myself but alas, the Rover 75 Tourer had other ideas and elected to take the weekend off, on reflection I need to give it a little pat on the bonnet. The wind was from the south, sometimes just east of that and sometimes just west but with no discernible pattern which made decision making a game of chance.
Principal race officer Chris Rashley set the classic Olympic course of triangle -sausage and the fleet were away first time with just one individual recalled. The line had some port bias and those at the pin end had a huge advantage as the entire fleet tacked onto port in the 8knots of breeze. Mike Sims (P+B, Winder) nursing a slightly sore knee, the result of some practice in a Musto Skiff (Solos bruise shins but other classes are available for alternative injuries) nailed the pin end and one-tacked the beat to round first, ahead of Will Rainey (HD, Winder) and Tom Lonsdale (Winder, North P2). Stephen Graham, Steve Denison and Richard Pye, who incidentally is sailing a 13 year old Winder completed the top six with Nigel Davies and Andy Davies in close pursuit. The reaches were processional but the drama was mostly upwind as lady luck teased the sailors, rewarding few and penalising many as the wind flicked through the compass bearings. Sims held his nerve and took a well deserved bullet, thankful maybe that the light winds, while taxing on the mind, were gentle on the body. Lonsdale and Graham broke through Rainey up the last beat to the finish line for second and third with Davis fourth.
With the wind shifting right there was a significant starboard bias with only the blind and the scared electing to start near the pin end. Three recalls and one black flag casualty later and the fleet set off in the 6-8 knots and very calm sea state. Mike Dray grabbed his moment in the spotlight and, having worked the right of the course rounded first from the consistent Will Rainey and John Ball. Emotions were frayed as the fleet approached, and with the top mark set close to the shoreline, keeping pressure in the sail was vital. Race 1 winner Sims sneaked round fourth from Nigel Davies and Ewan Birkin Walls, all narrowly avoiding a mass pile up behind them. There were some loud bangs and louder shouts of derision (that is being flattering) as a couple of likely lads steamed into the notorious mark on port. Davies was the worst effected and lost all forward momentum during one of the collisions and Birkin-Walls, sailing a brand new P+B/JP, possibly lost his voice, so vocal was his distain for the miscreants. There were further incidents at the wing mark and some fruity conversations as the competitors made their way down to the bottom mark. Dray lost the lead up the second lap with Ball taking the lead and Sims up to third. Chris Brown, Birkin-Walls and Denison also improved and this leading bunch compressed down the run. Dray was back up to first after lap three, showing great character in the testing conditions. Birkin-Walls rounded second but behind was a scrum as the wind wreaked havoc, allowing the top two some respite. Walls closed on Dray as they rounded the bottom mark for the last time and, tacking off to clear his wind, found some more pressure before tacking back onto a left hand shift which saw him take the win. Dray found himself pinned out to the right and was fortunate to finish fifth as those around him, blessed by the Gods, drifted past. Ian Maclean came from sixth to finish second from Stephen Graham who was one of the port offenders on lap 1, sporting the sort of backbone synominous with the Northern fleet with Denison fourth. Sims was probably the biggest loser, finally finishing twelfth, another victim of the wind Gods wrath. So, all to play for in race 3, Sims and Birkin Walls with a bullet each, Lonsdale and Maclean with a second a piece. Graham sitting strong with two thirds and Davis as dangerous as an underdog at an FA cup final.
I decided to film the race start with my Sony Cyber Shot but made the schoolboy error of not pushing the record button, amateur. Fortunately, pro photographer Tim Olin was there and will have prove that it did take place. Note to Sony…record button needs improvement. Sims commanded the committee end while Vince Horey took a more conservative approach and hooked into the right shifts early to lead into the top mark. Olli Wells somehow managed to scrape around the mark second, he obviously had some grievances with it, as he was heard cussing by the on-water Jury, Steve Watson. Davis will hope that the same mark is not transported to Medemblik next week, as he seemed to have problems passing it all day, going from third to eighth as it blocked his path to the next leg. Steve Ede and significantly, Lonsdale slid through to chase down the leaders. Wells moved into the lead and extended in the painfully difficult race with Horey and Lonsdale in holding pattern. Sims and Birkin-Walls rounded twenty-second and twenty-seventh respectively but light wind sailing is a game of patience and they showed plenty of that. At the gun in the thankfully shortened race was Wells who will be relieved to have a bullet under his belt in the new P+B /JP Solo. Horey’s second reflects his teams efforts this season, Tottenham Hotspur, just not good enough mate. Third over the line and winner overall though went to North Sails Tom Lonsdale, quiet of nature but cold blooded on the race course. He will be heading for Medemblik with that windward mark in his kitbag. Sims managed thirteenth but the plaudits go to Birkin Walls who pulled unto fifth in another P+B / JP Solo with North P2 which was enough to give him second overall. Stephen Graham, in another new Solo (Winder, Impact Marine) showed some good speed and light weather skills honed at Burwain to take third.
Andy Davis (Winder, HD )sets off to Medemblik with a fourth overall but must be favourite to defend his title in the stronger, hopefully more stable winds of Holland but Mike Sims is clearly going to be there on business as long as his knee injury heals.
63 entries is a very healthy turnout in what is a very popular sector of the dinghy market and with 68 pre-entries for the Magic Marine Nation’s Cup next week, reflects the interest in the class home and abroad. Tom thanked the club, race team and galley for their excellent hospitality and with wine distributed by Bob Ashby, the fleet disbanded with focuses firmly set on Medemblik.
Full results to follow.
Tim Olin photographed the event and took some excellent shots. Please visit his site and order a pic or two, one for you and one for your wife. She will love that. firstname.lastname@example.org The NSCA is sponsored by Noble Marine, our class insurer who keep us on the water 24/7, 365 days a year. NSCA members receive discount on their insurance so let’s support them as they support us.
The National Solo is part of the Magic Marine Hidden Class Connection, more on this at the Nation's Cup next week.
Thanks to Steve Watson for his on water judging, kept very quiet by some good fair sailing by nearly all competitors.
The Spring Championship is the second event in the NORTH SAILS SUPER SERIES, take part, qualify and be in with a chance of winning a new NORTH sail. Your sailing will also improve!
Will Loy President NSCA