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Suntouched Sailboats Finn UK Masters and Northern Championship

by Sam McDougall on 7 Sep 2016 3-4 September 2016
Suntouched Sailboats Finn UK Masters and Northern Championship at West Kirby © Gill Potter

The weekend of 3rd & 4th September saw 18 Finn Sailors from across the country converge on West Kirby Sailing Club for the 2016 Suntouched Sailboats UK Masters Championship combined with the Northern Area Championship. With an ambitious 12 races planned, the weekend promised to be gruelling but well worth the journey with a combination of sea and lake sailing on the programme.

With a changing forecast in the run up to the championship and big winds anticipated, Saturday morning brought a strong southerly breeze and showers at first as the competitors hauled their Finns across the West Kirby Mud towards the advancing tide.

Principal Race Officer Adam Whittle took the fleet out to deep water in the main channel and faced a challenge setting the course with a gusty force 5 from the south against a strong flood tide. Whittle stamped his authority early indicating at the briefing that any General Recalls would be followed immediately with the Black Flag - therefore maximising race time.

Despite the current ripping across the line, the 15 sailors who braved the conditions started cleanly at the first attempt in race 1 with Flag 'Oscar' firmly displayed. The short, sharp chop made for some difficult sailing conditions, but it was Warsash's Martin Hughes who mastered them early to take the first bullet closely followed by Alan Burrell and John Greenwood.

With the wind now showing signs of moderating and starting to veer towards WSW the increasingly shifty conditions made for some tactical upwind sailing. U23 Squad Member Cameron Tweedle established a commanding lead early, demonstrating great skill downwind in negotiating the confused sea state. John Greenwood continued his good form from the previous race but had to settle for 2nd to the youngest sailor in the fleet (and by some margin), with Mengenham's Michael De Courcy rounding off the top three.

Race 3 saw the wind moderate further to a shifty 15 knots and it was Alan Burrell who went the right way to win in the now rapidly ebbing tide hotly pursued by Tweedle (2nd)with the left side of the course paying off despite some big shifts. Julian Smith, who took the 2014 West Kirby Nationals, proved that he was intent on staying in touch with the leaders finishing in 3rd.

Competitors now returned ashore for lunch, before the race area became land once again. With showers now becoming heavier and the wind seeming to die away (in opposition to the forecast), many began preparing for an afternoon of lighter winds.

In the afternoon, two 'sprint' races were planned and the fleet launched into West Kirby's amphitheatre of sailing, aka the 'Marine Lake'; widely known as the venue for Team Racing's premier event - the Wilson Trophy. The locals strolling the walls of the lake are no strangers to colourful fleets of Fireflies but the spectacle of 18 Finns planing downwind provided an altogether different and more impressive sight for the public. The wind had now veered all the way to W and gusting 30-35kts at times, providing no respite for the already tiring fleet.

With the wind not being straight up and down the lake, the race committee could not quite manage a 'proper' beat. Races 4 and 5, therefore, became a test of starting technique, reaching and unfortunately (for some) gybing! This allowed some sailors lower down the standings to either post improved results or delight the growing huddle of spectators at the windward spreader mark with some dramatic capsizes. However, the top of the leaderboard was now looking set, Tweedle powering away for a further two bullets and Burrell, Greenwood and Smith sharing the 2nd, 3rd and 4th spots in both races to keep in touch.

After a fine evening of great food and plenty of liquid refreshments in the clubhouse, Sunday morning brought another grey start and yet more wind. This time from the NNW, on arrival a gusty force 5 prevailed. The scheduled start of 0930 was postponed to 1130, and lake sailing abandoned in favour of three, one hour tidal races making up an 8 race series with two discards. At the top of the fleet, all was to play for with Burrell leading the Masters but second to Tweedle overall for the Northerns who was only 3 points ahead. Greenwood was not far behind in 3rd overall and in a position to challenge Burrell, and Smith was also in the mix.

After a two hour wait for the sea to arrive, the fleet launched on the Dee again to round off proceedings with only 13 sailors deciding to venture out. A steady force 4 had settled in from the north making for great sea conditions, especially for some downwind surfing in some much welcomed sunshine. Many struggled to find the starboard lay-line in the ripping flood tide leading to some place changes and chaotic scenes at the windward mark in races 6 and 7. Race 6 saw local boy John Mackie post his best result of the championship coming through the fleet from a good start to finish 3rd.

Despite Burrell's best efforts, Tweedle continued his dominance in securing the Northern Championship by posting a further three Bullets. Returning behind the line in race 8, and believing himself to be OCS, Tweedle still rounded the windward mark in 4th and then schooled the rest of the fleet in downwind Finn sailing to power through to win showing an almost unstoppable pace.

Burrell, however was not slowing and had a consistent three races posting 2nd to Tweedle in each ensuring he would be taking home the Master's Championship Trophy. Greenwood managed to work his way through the fleet in a couple of races holding onto 3rd overall / Masters runner-up spot. Julian Smith let Greenwood slip away after a capsize downwind in race 6 and then struggling to find the pace in the final two races finishing in 5th.

Once ashore, the concluding prize giving was very generously sponsored by Suntouched Sailboats who donated some fantastic prizes to the event, gratefully received by the following prize winners and all race winners:

1st Overall & Northern Area Champion, Cameron Teeedle
2nd Overall & UK Masters Champion, Allen Burrell
3rd Overall, John Greenwood

1st Master, John Mackie
1st Grand Master, Allen Burrell
1st Great Grand Master, Richard Philips

Thanks are due to the army of West Kirby members who volunteered their time and resources to the event in running the beach party, galley and safety boats. P.R.O. Adam Whittle and his team did a fine job in maximising the racing time available and setting some quality courses in challenging conditions. Ashore, Catherine Hartley headed up the organising team bringing all the elements together to ensure a warm welcome was extended to the visiting sailors, closely assisted by Rear-Commodore and Finn Grand Master Jean-Louis Simmons.

Overall, a fine weekend of sailing was had by all. The growing fleet of West Kirby Finns were delighted that so many made the effort to travel from the extremities of the country to attend the championship, the Finn's second foray to the Wirral. The home fleet look forward to welcoming the class next year for more quality racing showcasing the Finn class to more prospective local Finnsters!

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