Solo Inland Championship 2021

Monday, September 20, 2021

National Solo Inland Championship 2021

Grafham Water Sailing Club is a long way from Brixham, Devon. With this in mind I set off one day early, fed the destination details into my phone and set off at 1.30pm promptly. I knew the PRO, google maps in this case, would set a long and tricky course so settled in to a comfortable hike mode, starting strongly and soon finding my lane. I had made the decision to avoid Stonehenge and the M25 in rush hour but had not factored in the two hour delay on the M5, Google maps though, was calling the tactics and cleverly diverted me towards the Severn Bridge and a heavily congested M4. After some strong words and hugs we made up and by the time I hit the M25 the rush hour traffic had made it home and were watching the 9 o’clock news.

 

The 8.5 hour journey did provide me with plenty of time to contemplate the Inland Championship, this year a one-day winner takes all format with a limited entry of 75 competitors. With an array of forecasts, none of which by the way would fill the heavier sailor with enthusiasm, it could be a very open event.

 

Saturday September 18 dawned and fog surrounded most of Bedfordshire. I checked out the Grafham webcam from the warm comfort of my bed, the sun had already burnt a hole through the murky cloud of grey so there was some hope. I excitedly packed my equipment and headed off, before quickly returning for my trousers.

 

The generous boat park was already filling up, akin to a Solo start line, the hotshots had the best positions, others parking up next to them while a few, seeing an imaginary gap, tried to squeeze in where there really was no room. Some had been too early and there were a few who rocked up late.

 

Competitors greeted each other in various forms, elbow touching was still in vogue while the majority went for the full handshake. The Solo fleet, well some of them, do not have that long left so cross infection is a worthwhile risk to acknowledge old friends. 

 

There was some delay from the 12pm start time, the canteen was open and very welcome as were the bacon and sausage butties. The sun was at its highest and club boats, initially becalmed, began to slip through the water giving us all an air of optimism. By 1pm the puffs had become worthwhile, sustained gusts so the fleet of 72 (3 no shows) launched.

 

PRO Chris Clarke was calling the shots from his committee boat stationed to the left of the lake and with the wind at around 140-150 set the windward mark at 120. Now, from my position on the Jury/media rib this looked a little biased and the fleet seemed to agree, bunching at the committee boat and forcing the general recall. The second attempt was successful, the black flag incentivising the sailors to stay back.

Race 1

The breeze was holding at 8 knots with some 10 knot gusts to keep the sailors on their toes, the sun was shining and all was right with the world. I unholstered the new NSCA Nikon Coolpix P950  and began shooting, keeping a careful grip on the state of art DSLR while I steadied myself on my good leg. 

Local sailor Lawrence Cavill Grant nailed the committee end with Oliver Turner in the NSCA Demo Solo just under him and Olli Davenport for P+B just ahead. Jury man Steve Watson skilfully positioned the rib through the fleet as they headed up to mark 1, his eyes, trained like ninjas, darting from boat to boat with the target, anything naughty. His face dropped, accompanied by a reduction in outboard speed, “nothing to see here” so we headed off around the fleet to the top. This did give me a 360 degree experience of seeing the course, if only the competitors could utilise this visual representation of the state of play, no wonder mobile phones are not allowed.

 

At the top it was David Reekie, King George S.C. from Steve Ede and Nigel Davies, Oliver ‘Merlin’ Turner in the Demo Solo and Chris Jennings completing the top 5. The fleet negotiated the first leg with different levels of competence, some port tack approaches resulting in surprise, distain and derision from those of starboard.

The downwind leg of the 3 lap sausage course was tricky, staying in a vain of pressure imperative and at the bottom Jennings, Ede and Turner rounded the left gate mark with Davenport hot on their transoms. Reekie had gone for the right gate mark which seemed a gutsy move while Chris Brown moved up to 5th, his weight loss improving his light airs performance while fast food chain Macdonald’s profits tumbled. Andy Davis, previous Inland winner was in 7th with another previous champion Neil Wilkinson 8th.

 

The breeze was now touching 12 knots and the fleet were planing as they powered down to the spreader mark, shame it was only 25 metres long. Reekie was holding with Ede, Brown and Davenport within boat lengths. Cavill Grant and Davis were next but Nigel Davies hit the mark then impeded another competitor so did spins which I was fortunate enough to catch on video. 

The third lap was decisive, the fleet rounding the leeward mark and hooking into a progressively more and more right shift. This catapulted Davonport into first with Brown and Jennings completing the top three. Davis broke through Cavill Grant at the death to secure him a four while further down Ede finished an unlucky ninth. Other notables for race 1 were Brenda Hoult who was 22nd with fellow female newcomer Rachael Rhodes 34th, both looking very formidable. Of those who had nightmares, Rich Pepperdine had a 32nd and big Dave Lucas had a heavy 41st. I will try and get their excuses in my next report. The wind was picking up and caught out a few back markers, Vernon Perkins and Rob Trend taking a little swim but both soon recovering.

 

Race 2

Wind at 150, the fresh 12-14 knots reflected by the raise in decibels of ODL fibres as mainsails cracked as competitors held their Solos on station awaiting the gun.

Davenport was right on the committee boat with Pepperdine, Brown, Turner and Jonny Wells all favouring the right.

The wind was also keen on the right and at the top it was Martin Honnor, Cavill Grant, James Goodfellow and Brown while Davenport and Davis were deep. Once again there were some polite exchanges of views regarding port and starboard, just to confirm, starboard is a strong position, if you are on port..ABORT.

The wind dropped as the fleet fed down to the leeward gate and there was a good split between the marks, Honnor and Robin Dawson going for the right of the course while Brown, Ewan Birkin Walls and Goodfellow chose the left. The wind was proving difficult to read but it was Brown who took a comfortable lead by the top mark with Dawson, Honnor, Goodfellow and Birkin Walls next. Dave Winder, who must be chuffed to see so many of his builds on the water did some turns allowing him time to see more of the bloody things as they went past him.

 

The last beat seemed pretty stagnant in terms of place changing but I was not actually racing so I am sure there were some who got lucky while others got mullered. At the gun, Chris Brown took a well deserved win from Dawson and Goodfelow. Brown now held a commanding 1-2 while his nearest rivals, Davenport 1- 25 and Dawson 10-2 would need the race 3 bullet.

 

Race 3

Wind holding at 12-13 and the fleet are away, Brown sitting just above Davenport. No idea where Dawson is but my eyes are focused on the Ainslie/Scheidt match race which could decide this shoot out. Davenport is clearly a handy sailor, 4th at the recent National Championship and proven specialist at the race win. Brown is having none of it and tacks on the P+B jockey at every opportunity. At the top mark it is none other than Oliver Turner, racing the NSCA Demo boat who leads, confounding those who said it really needs a new sail. Mark Maskell rounds second with Brenda Hoult storming up the beat in third, Pepperdine once again on the money in fourth, the long chat he had to himself after race 1 clearly stirring his inner thunder.

Davenport has managed to extricate himself from the Brown death hold but is surely too far back with Turner squirting out the front of the fleet. 

The run is light, 71 mainsails behind you does do that and Davenport has soaked down but the breeze freshens above him bringing Brown back into his fast diminishing world. Up the second beat and Turner is extending, playing the right and looking quite at home in a Solo. Maskell, Pepperdine and Hoult eke out some breathing space from the pack, Mark Lee the only one close enough to keep them honest.

Brown has done a ‘Couch’ on Davenport (done a job on him, stitched him up, messed up his race), no way back for the P+B sailor today but he is clearly talented. 

 

The race concludes after the final downwind leg, that was three laps and everyone can now count that far for which I am proud of.

 

Turner holds for the bullet, possibly the first of many for this competitor who will this evening collect a new Solo, thanks for the demonstration of great sailing in the Demo boat.

Rich Pepperdine breaks through to second with Maskell third, Hoult a fabulous fourth, She and Rachael Rhodes once again prove that the Solo is not just for grumpy old blokes. Returning to form to complete the top five is Nigel Thomas and Dave Lucas closed out with a sixth. 

 

So Chris Brown has finally won an Inland Championship after so many years of trying. He was almost tearful at the prize giving though I understand he had just heard that another Macdonalds is about to close. Chris sailed an impeccable regatta in testing conditions, proving that the Solo is competitive for a wide range of shapes and sizes, getting the very best out of the Solo is the dark art that some possess. 

Rich Pepperdine in second showed that you can dig deep after a bad race and still pull together a great result while new comer Oliver Turner, who we knew was pretty useful in the Merlin Rocket is also pretty handy in a Solo. I do expect an influx of Merlin sailors now. Other classes can apply.

 

Chris Brown is also our first Veteran (over 50) and was presented, post ceremony with the trophy from NSCA President Patrick Burns.

 

I understand Iain Carpenter is our first GM (over 60) and apologies to him for not officially presenting him with the trophy, well done, we did however furnish him with a bottle of wine which seemed to soften the blow.

 

Our first junior is Harry Lucas who had a 33rd in race 3 which will spur him on to emulate his father Dave how finished 8th.

 

Graham Wilson is our first Septimus (over 70) and apologies for the lack of Trophy, we will rectify this and other trophies that are currently adorning mantle pieces in houses they should not be.

 

Brenda Hoult is our first lady in 16th, the 4th in race 3 could easily have been a bullet and I do not doubt she will be even more determined the next time she races.

 

Dave Goodie was our first wooden Solo winner in 4040, apologies again for not having the trophy for presentation.

 

The NSCA handed out a load of prizes to winners, P+B rucksacks and T Shirts, Rooster Apparel and HD Sails Caps while the club provided wine and Chocolates. The NSCA thank you for your generosity and the competitors very much appreciate you. 

 

Lastly thank you to the teams at Grafham Water Sailing Club for hosting our Championship, we had a fantastic time.

 

 

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