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Optimum Time Phantom Southern Travellers at Wimbleball Sailing Club

by Simon Hawkes on 19 Mar 18 March 2017
Fierce winds for the Wimbleball Phantom Open © Emma Stevenson

The 'Paunch was Launched'

The forecast had been looking fierce all week but on the day looking from the Clubhouse across the course it looked a bit gusty but nothing outstanding.

A gusty force 5 blowing from the west did not deter 9 fine specimens eager to start their 2017 Phantom Southern Series. With visitors from as far as Shoreham, Plymouth and Lee on Solent some had put in a great deal of effort to be there.

A strange correlation became apparent in that the further the competitor had travelled the less the "Paunch" label could be applied, although most that attended as you expect sailing were of some stature.

A guest appearance from a previous National Champion Mr Tyler Harmsworth caused a buzz in the dinghy park but he decided to save himself for the Beasty in a Phantom the following day.

Dave Stockton the Race Officer set up a straight forward triangle sausage course and the fleet set off down the lake to the start area.

Some did not make it ! The Beast was flexing its muscles and a selection of fruity gusts were sent down the lake causing numerous capsizes and a couple of beachings. And this was the pattern set for the day as whenever you thought this was becoming a pleasant and tactical race the gust bombs would arrive to keep the adrenalin pumping and the delightful tinge of fear for your rig.

Race one got away with Simon Hawkes straight on the pace and in sync with the shifts gaining a reasonable lead at the windward mark. This enabled him to hitch on to a sleigh ride of a downwind gust which turned the lead straight away into a leg and a half which would prove to be the race winning piece of luck.

Gordon Kingston sailed a fine beat for a " Salty" powering towards the windward mark closely followed by Rich Cummerbatch affectionately known as "Cabbage" just slightly behind. Local wannabe Paul Birbeck was slightly off his usual pace having recently giving Hawkes a good run for his money the red mist descended causing all his control lines to be pulled in at least 50% more than they would normally be.

Sadly three boats were lost to the conditions, their helms deciding to end their day as the conditions became more entertaining as the day went on. Race one was Hawkes,Cabbage, Gordon, Birbeck and Neil Boughton who started to become acclimatised to this inland nightmare. Ivan Walsh from Shoreham put in a sixth having rested on the bank for a while and so the pattern of Paunches against malnourishment began its assertion. Three races back to back were decided upon at the committee boat as hot dinner and rugby were on the agenda. As the countdown for race two began a whole new selection of gust bombs arrived sending some boats to the shore like lemmings looking for a cliff to jump from. Gordon damaged his rudder which sadly put him out for the day and other boats were littering the lee shore which was thankfully soft moss and grass.

Race two got away in the end with Cabbage mastering the beat and first round the windward mark followed by Hawkes. Cabbage failed to make the most of the reach and Hawkes nipped through to secure the race. Birbeck now having calmed down a bit started showing his true form and challenged right to the finish line to secure second,with Cabbage third and Ivan fourth followed by Neil.

The final race started in quite wild conditions Birbeck getting the start all wrong,but the shifts all right having a substantial lead at the windward mark. Hawkes was second but still trying hard. Birbeck held on to the lead up through the last beat but the fat lady still had not sung.

And then it happened... Hawkes leant out! The sudden surge in wind speed although a huge personal effort and sacrifice to the following days three hour pursuit, did the trick passing Birbeck within yards of the line. The fat lady still had not uttered a peep and a cheer went up in the clubhouse as Hawkes rolled in to the water as the wind disappeared from force 5 to zero and sat in his straps bobbing about hoping for the returning gust to lift him out of the water. Birbeck seized the opportunity aiming for the line. This was it, his smile appeared as he approached the line on the opposing tack for a clear victory.

Then the fat lady took an interest,started doing her scales just as Hawkes was gracefully lifted out of the water on a 40 degree lift as Birbeck got dropped in to windward dousing his smile under a foot of water. Hawkes crossed the line and the lady's voice was heard. Birbeck was a very good second and the three remaining boats struggled up the remainder of the beat in what had become arduous conditions.

So the meeting ended with Hawkes first, Birbeck second, Cabbage third, Neil Boughton fourth, Ivan Walsh fifth, and Gordon sixth and John Clear, Dave Patrick and Graham Birch equal 7th.

Creative accounting meant every one went home with a prize. A draw for a litre of whisky was held, kindly donated by ex Phantom sailor Gordon Keyworth. The fat lady obviously felt guilty as Birbecks name was pulled out of the hat and his cheesy grin returned.

Thanks to those who travelled when the forecasting was not promising and made it an adventurous days sailing. Southerners are looking to take on the east "Launching the Paunch" at Island Barn next Saturday.

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