Photos © Gordon Goldstone
On Saturday February 18th the Sprint 15 fleet visited Queen Mary for the fourth event of their Winter Series.
With a weather forecast for the day of strong winds, this was always likely to be challenging test, and it certainly was. With winds of over 20 knots and gusting over 30 this threatened to be something more like from the series of "Total Wipeout" than a pure sailing event!
Never mind, once again over 20 Sprint 15 sailors turned up for the event ready to give it a go. But with launching proving very difficult in the extreme conditions, only 17 managed to get on the water, and not everyone made it to the start line without a swim. Quite an achievement in the daunting conditions.
For the event, race officers Charles and Jackie Wand-Tetley set the fleet a large square course on the western side of Queen Mary reservoir.
At the start of the first race, Grafham's Mark Aldridge charged away from the line and immediately started to open up a big lead. Behind him, Rutland's Steve Sawford and Howard Hawkes (Thorpe Bay) were in hot pursuit. Queen Mary sailor Gordon Goldstone was also there, but his racing came to an abrupt end on the 2nd lap when his rigging gave way.
Robert England was doing well in the tough conditions, but he was gradually overhauled by Liam Thom (Shanklin) and Paul Craft.
Further back, the Draycote pair of Jan Elfring and Peter Slater were battling with Queen Mary's Stewart Pegum and George Love (Carsington), who in turn were closely followed by Simon Hare and Darren Fichen.
At the finish line, Aldridge was well ahead of Sawford, Liam Thom made a great effort to take 3rd ahead of Howard Hawkes, Paul Craft was 5th and Robert England 6th.
With the wind gusts hammering across the water it was inevitable it would take a toll and there would be a number of capsizes and non-finishers. Derek James, Gary Burrows and Ian Hope all succumbed to the weather and didn't make it to the finish.
By the time of the 2nd race, the wind had ratcheted up yet another notch, and it was a slightly depleted number of starters who lined up to go.
At the start, it was again Mark Aldridge who was fastest off the line, with Steve Sawford and Howard Hawkes in hot pursuit. As the race progressed it was becoming a battle of who could handle the weather the best, even big Simon Hare was finding this a struggle.
This was a tough race in the toughest of conditions. Aldridge led every lap, with Sawford repeatedly tacking off to try a different route, but never really managing to close the gap. Howard Hawkes again did very well and Robert England produced his best sailing of the day to this time get ahead of Paul Craft and Liam Thom.
At the gun, it was again Aldridge from Sawford, Howard Hawkes was 3rd ahead of Robert England, the consistent Paul Craft 5th and Jan Elfring with his best result in 6th.
Particular credit to Derek James, who didn't finish the 1st race, but stayed out for the 2nd race and managed to grab a 9th place in even worse conditions.
In the final analysis, Mark Aldridge with 2 two firsts in the most difficult conditions showed that he's the man to beat when the wind is really blowing.
The final event in this hotly contested Sprint 15 Winter Series wraps up at Grafham on March 25th. It promises to be quite competitive.
1st Mark Aldridge (Grafham)
2nd Steve Sawford Rutland)
3rd Howard Hawkes (Thorpe Bay)
4th Robert England
5th Liam Thom (Shanklin)
6th Paul Craft (Open Dinghy Club)
7th Jan Elfring (Draycote)
8th Stewart Pegum (Queen Mary)
9th Peter Slater (Draycote)
10th Simon Hare (Oxford)
11th George Love (Carsington)
12th Derek James (Draycote)
13th Darren Fitchen (Thorpe Bay)