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Laser Masters National Championships at Hayling Island Sailing Club

by Dave Freeman 12 Jul 2017 15:48 BST
LaserPerformance Wildwind Laser Masters National Championships 2017 © David Freeman

Laser Performance and Wildwind Sailing Holidays
Laser Masters National Championships 2017

Firstly, some huge thanks must be extended to our two fantastic sponsors for this event. Joel Chadwick from Laser Performance has provided the fleet with and the events with great visibility, spares, discounts, prizes and a genuine interest and presence throughout the Super Series this year. As if that wasn't enough, we came ashore on Saturday of this event to find him on the beach having set up a bar with cold beers and soft drinks! Joel, we salute you.

Again, Simon and the team from Wildwind provided us with the free holiday prize draw. We have had some great reports from previous winners, who have experienced the racing and performance pedigree but also the comfort and service of the setup at Vassiliki! Many thanks Simon and the team.

Radial Rig Report by Andrew Byrne

The Radial Masters completed their Nationals with a host of boats in great form. The fleet has now become the global dominant force with World & European Champions across all of the age categories however a new force has been threatening to emerge from the Kiddie (33-35) shadows!

Racing on the Friday started after lunch and in plenty of sunshine but the thermal and sea breeze had an ongoing fight! The breeze eventually settled and racing commence into a shifty breeze coming off the land. Combining good upwind speed with finding the next patch of pressure was recent European Champion – Ian Jones. Jon Emmett sailed a blinder to move from mid-fleet at the windward mark to second by the finish. Ben Elvin would make up the final medal slot. Race 2 was similar but the gusts were even more sporadic. Ben & Ian Gregory sailed a very tight race with Ben holding on for the win. Jeff Loosemore sailed a great race pulling through the fleet to take third.

The evening panel focused on technical tactics with everyone mentioning pressure and guests but unsurprising nobody mentioned that banging corners worked too!.

Saturday dawned to a Lions win! Naturally most of the fleet went ashore believing today could be the day! For Bob Cudmore this indeed proved the case. Spotting breeze far off in the Solent, Bob sailed toward, tacked and led the fleet by a country margin! Bob took the lead and with that man Ben proving consistency was key in second. Frenchman Daniel Devos took third. Race four was postponed as the breeze started to steady and increase. With around 15 knots the fleet was now fully hiking upwind. The tide was an issue and those on the right-hand side made strong gains. Once again Ben took the gun, followed home by Jeff and Jon in third. Race 5 and the fleet split left and right up the beat. The leaders would emerge from the left but once again that chap Ben would pull into the lead. Jon took second and Terry Scutcher in third.

The evening panel was a riot with standard Neil Peters translating Italian sailor Sergio Messiha. As with most of the evening discussion it was mostly hot air but seemed to make sense with the more beer consumed.

Sunday dawned and the fleet were eager to make up the lost race from Friday. Unfortunately, the wind was not so willing and the fleet was force to wait for the pressure to settled. Eventually filling in with around 12 knots the fleet got away with a clean start. The tide was pushing the fleet back upwind which meant the beats seemed longer than usual. Jon Emmett got back to service as usual with a victory. Richard Smith sailed a purple patch to take second followed home by Ian Jones. With the clock ticking toward 2pm, it became clear that we would only get one of the two remaining races. With the tide pushing us back and the wind to the left, the fleet did a relative split with those on the right emerging victorious on the first beat. True to form Ben managed to win again, with Jon second and Ian Jones. This final race standing was ironically the overall standing as well.

First overall and first Kiddie (Age 33-35): Ben Elvin
First Apprentice (2nd): Jon Emmett
First Master (3rd): Ian Jones
First GrandMaster (6th): Sergio Messiha
First GreatGrandMaster (12th): Keith Wilkins
First Legend (31st): Roger Williams

Standard Rig Report by Michael Hicks

47 Standards competed in the variable patchy winds in the 8 to 14 knot range, which tended to back from the North to the West as the sea breeze built and challenged the N/NW gradient wind. Tide with the wind kept the wave height down. Upwind the trick was to navigate the shifts and lulls and get through the chop. Downwind, catching and staying on the waves was difficult and important. Missing just one wave would cost several boat lengths. Superb work by the race team with square start lines and good mark placement resulted in good tight racing right the way though the fleet.

While held ashore on Friday for the sea breeze to build, the talk in the boat park turned to the question of who would win from the talented entry in the predicted light conditions. Would it be the multi Laser Masters world and national champion Alan Davis? Or last year's winner Nick Harrison? Other contenders were Tim Law (2017 World Masters games champion), Thomas Mueller from Germany (2nd last year), Stuart Hudson (back in the Lasers again after many years in Fireflys), or Nick Walsh, the current Irish Laser Masters champion. Roger O'Gorman would be quick in these conditions, but would he avoid being OCS?

And what about Mark Lyttle, who was making a return to competitive Laser sailing after a long absence? He won race 3 in the 1996 Olympics and finished 11th overall. How would his form be some 21 years later? Or James Grey, now a top Laser coach, who was making his first Masters appearance at the scarily young age of 34.

Grey answered some of the questions by opening proceedings with two bullets. By Friday night the fleet were now asking: How is he so quick upwind? And when can we book him for some training? Dave Freeman from QMSC was in a comfortable second with two third places. Most of the other fancied entries were in the hunt with top 10 placings.

Grey decided to give the others a chance with an OCS in race 3 on Saturday morning. Meanwhile Davis and Lyttle had hit form with a first and a second.

Race 4 saw Law in the lead followed by Grey, Davis, Lyttle and Hudson. In a Grand Masters moment, Law decided to increase his lead by missing the last mark and heading directly for the finish. This allowed Grey to come through for another win, with Law sailing back to finish fourth. Race 5 saw another win for Grey, followed by Law, Lyttle, Harrison and Freeman.

By the end of day 2, everyone except Davis, Lyttle and Hudson had at least one placing outside the top 10. In these conditions, there were plenty of fast sailors. A missed shift or a poor start could put even the favourites into the pack with little chance of recovery.

With two races scheduled for the Sunday, the series was wide open. The day was likely to see some big shifts with the gradient NNW wind battling a predicted sea breeze. Grey was the clear favourite, but he could not afford another OCS or BFD or to be buried in the pack.

Race 6 resulted in another win for Grey, followed by O'Gorman who had been sailing fast all weekend. Grey would win with just a reasonable race 7, but the other places were up for grabs. A big right shift on the first beat of race 7 put Muller into a clear lead which he held to the finish. Grey signed off with 2nd to win the series overall. Davis finished 3rd putting him in second overall (and 1st GM) just ahead of Lyttle and Law on equal points, with Lyttle (1st Master) winning on the tie break. The top ten was completed by Hudson, O'Gorman, Mueller, Walsh, Lutz Girsch (from Germany) and Harrison. Peter Sherwen was 1st GGM.

This was another excellent and hard-fought Laser Masters Nationals. The next major events are the Masters Autumn championships and qualifier at Pevensey and the Masters Worlds in Split in September.