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UK Marblehead Class Nationals at Fleetwood

by UK M Class on 12 Jul 7-9 July 2017

The 2017 UK Marblehead Championship was held over for the first time in many years over 3 days on the famous to the class Fleetwood marine lake from July 7th to 9th.

This years event boasted a stellar entry of 48 boats from 7 countries, containing 3 World Champions and 8 of last years World Championship top 10.

Early arrivals on Thursday afternoon were greeted by a measurement team where sail and rig sizes were checked against certificates. Hulls were checked for overall length and maximum depth with a small number of alterations made by affected any non compliance skippers with a minimum of fuss.

From there some chose to get in some last minute informal practice in the light air sunshine before most met at the Mount Hotel to relax before the racing ahead.

Friday Day 1

Skippers arrived to see the marine lake at its best with a 9-12 knot Westerly wind blowing straight down the length of the lake with B rigs being the popular choice for the 4 seeding races.

After a briefing by PRO Derek Priestley and a short word from our Jury head Roberts Owens, racing got underway just on 10am. Seeding race wins went to Yves Girod of France, Chris Harris, James Edwards and defending champion Brad Gibson.

With the fleets now seeded, racing proper got underway with some incredibly tight heats being raced over three full windward/leeward laps of the 250 metre long lake, with a short Americas Cup style reach to the finish. Skippers were at times hard pressed to keep up with their machines on the long downwind runs in the harder gusts, with many on the limit of control with their high aspect B rigs averaging 1.8 metres in height above the deck. As the day wore on with the wind further strengthening, many dropped down to their lower aspect C rigs and found them better suited to the conditions.

On the score sheet the day belonged to Gibson who revelled in the fresh conditions to go on and record a straight set of six wins. Hot on his heels were both 2006 World Champion at this venue in Martin Roberts and multiple World Champion Graham Bantock who were determined not to let Gibson have things all his own way.

Others to shine through the day in the leading group were last years Worlds runner up Matteo Longhi from Italy, Yannick Rossignol from France, Darin Ballington, Tony Edwards Colin Goodman and Bill Culshaw.

Further into the fleet Mike Cooke enjoyed some good races with his new design to see him sat nicely in the top half of the fleet. Newcomers to the class Shaun Priestly and Simon Clark had solid races in borrowed boats and Victoria Gibson showed more than a few experienced hands the way around the course with an upgraded 21 year old design to be in the top 20 and holding its own comfortably in A fleet on numerous occasions.

After the close of a tiring day, many sought refuge from the evening drizzle in The Mount to mull over the days happenings.

Saturday Day 2

Arrival lakeside had skippers greeted to glorious sunshine and a light variable Westerly but as if on cue, the wind veered right to the North East as the 9.30 start time closed. It was here that our PRO shone with a 'Z' style course quickly put in place to offer a diagonal first beat, reach, then another diagonal beat followed by a run down the lakes full length. Skippers found the beats tricky with light air pockets close to the windward marks. Racing got underway at a slower pace with the tallest A rigs of 2.16 metres being sported by all competitors.

At the sharp end Gibson took up where he left off to continue his winning run through to heat 9 with Bantock, Roberts and Tony Edwards in pursuit. By midday the wind had swung due North and with it near impossible to set anything other than a reaching course it was decided to postpone racing for an extended lunch break and wait for the predicted Westerly wind to arrive.

When racing continued, it was James Edwards who halted Gibson's run with an all the way win from John Tushingham in race 10. Frenchman Arnaud Toureau scored a solid win in race 11 followed straight after by an emphatic win to Martin Roberts in race 12 which was to be the last race of the day.

On the scorecard and despite a few wobbles late in the day soaking up discards, Gibson had extended his lead over the challenging pack. Both Martin Roberts and multiple National Champion, Peter Stollery reminded all that class is permanent with some outstanding races with the latter moving strongly up the leader board after a less than memorable day 1 by his own standards.

Others to perform consistently in the tricky conditions were Frenchman Gilles de Crescenzo and Darin Ballington with a number of skippers climbing out of the lower fleets having strong individual heat results but finding consistency hard to come by, often resulting in a return to a lower heat within the Heat Management System being used.

At days end our excellent hosts laid on some one design team racing for those wishing to take part followed by a traditional Lancashire fish and chip supper with quiz and drink taken under the evening sunshine and within the clubhouse to top off another fine days racing.

Sunday Day 3

The final day and skippers again were greeted to a light to moderate Westerly wind allowing racing to commence on time with a windward/ leeward course of two laps to be sailed. There was a mixture of opinion on rig choice with many split between a fully powered A rig and a more comfortable B rig. It was here that the A rigs benefited over the long downwind legs to overcome any advantage of the more efficient B rigs upwind in the early races. As the day wore on and the sun broke through the wind lightened for steady A rig conditions.

Out in front, Gibson found his early form to take hold of the event, sharing wins with Bantock, Di Crescenzo and an unlucky Roberts who had a hard fought win stripped from him with a re-sail held following an upheld protest decision over many lower-placed skippers sailing the incorrect course.

Other skippers to do well over the final day in the lighter conditions were Chris Harris, Yannick Rossignol of France, Rob Vice, Roger Stollery and notably Mike Cooke at his first Marblehead Nationals improving to score a strong fourth in race 17.

In the final washup when racing came to a close at approximately 4pm, it was Brad Gibson who retained his title for the sixth time with an eye watering 17 points from 18 races sailed after 3 discards. In second place was the driven Martin Roberts who through a mixture of excellent fleet management and race craft pushed Gibson hard over the three days where races were often decided in short boat lengths.

Third place was up for grabs right up until the last race and was here that Darin Ballington held his nerve with a solid last result to keep his nearest opponents in Tony Edwards fourth and Matteo Longhi ITA in fifth.

Over the course of the weekend many had there moments in the differing conditions where consistency again proved the difference between the top ten and those lower down the fleet.

Worth special mention was that there six different designs in the top ten and a number of new designs being raced for the first time with many showing plenty of promise. If you finished in the top ten at the Marblehead nationals then enter your Gear Guide information here

Competitors moved inside the Fleetwood clubhouse for the prize giving where all roundly congratulated the race team and an army of helpers that made this event one to remember.

Congratulations Fleetwood MY&PBC, you delivered on all accounts!

The UK Marblehead class now looks forward to the remainder season of our open event season with Ranking races coming up in West Kirby, Chelmsford and a number of district races all in the lead up to next years 2018 World Championship in Biblis, Germany.

For more information go to the UK Marblehead class website here or follow the UK M class twitter feed here.

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