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CoastWaterSports 2014

22nd Forts Race Weekend at Whitstable Yacht Club

by Robert Govier on 12 Sep 9-10 September 2017

The 22nd Forts Race Weekend was held on 9th and 10th September at Whitstable Yacht Club. The long-distance catamaran race, sponsored this year by NeilPryde Sailing and Whitstable Marine, was a weekend of two weather extremes!

Despite the poor forecast, 20 catamarans entered, including William Sunnock's foiling M20 based Vampire Project, two new Windrush Edge F18s (including Simon Northrop with his blood red sails), and Ghislain Melaine getting his new Cirrus R2 wet for the first time!

Friday saw some of the boats turning up early, and Will Sunnocks didn't miss the opportunity to take the Vampire Project out for a foil in the perfect weather conditions, getting some practice in before the rest of the fleet even got their boats off the trailers! With a change to the format this year, the Saturday was planned as a shakedown race, with the full race taking place on the Sunday. This gave sailors plenty of time to get their boats together after travelling Whitstable. The predicted light airs dropped off even more than expected, making the race a fairly slow one, but the 20-mile course gave the sailors plenty of water to get their boats settled. The race took in the Pollard Spit buoy, then out to Columbine buoy. Navigation offshore being tricky on a lightweight racing cat, the leading sailors made the error of aiming for the wrong buoy, giving the local boats a chance to make some gains, but once the top boats were heading to the correct buoy, nothing could catch them, especially with the Vampire foiling much of the way. After Columbine, the boats headed back to a gate off Whitstable, where Grant Piggott and Simon Farren came through the gate in second, only just over a minute behind the Vampire, and Nick Barnes and Neil Baldry in third.

The next leg took the fleet to Herne Bay pier, with William Sunnocks and Kyle Stoneham on the Vampire leading the whole way. William made it round Herne Bay, and got a good head start back to Whitstable, making good gains as the tide turned and the wind dropped off even further, carrying the apparent wind and getting 15-18knots in only 8-12 knots of wind. They got back to the gate at Whitstable Yacht Club to finish in just under 1 hour 50 mins, beating the leading F18 by almost 25 minutes. Second placed was Simon Northrop and Oli Egan on their F18 Windrush Edge, having pulled back from sixth place, and gaining a lead of almost 5 minutes on Grant Piggott and Simon Farren in third place. William Sunnocks and Kyle Stoneham on the Vampire Project won the race on corrected time, their first race win on handicap since starting their foiling boat project! The only capsize of the race was by Ghislaine and Hugo on the Cirrus R2, who used the excuse of a slippery tramp on their new boat acting as a slide and dumping the helm in to leeward when they caught a gust!

Saturday evening saw the sailors and their families enjoy the Whitstable Yacht Club hospitality, with a free barbeque, drinks promotions, the Freeloaders band playing, and a classic Whitstable sunset. For their win in the Saturday race, Will and Kyle earned won £100 worth of drinks from the Whitstable Yacht Club bar, which they managed to consume (with a little help from the other sailors) in less than 45 minutes, despite the cheap drinks on offer!

Sunday saw the predicted strong winds, making the sea a very different picture from Saturday. With a force 4-5 on the Committee Boat, and a prediction of gusts up to 35 knots, the Race Officer decided that a leg out to the Red Sands Forts, 13km offshore, was too dangerous, so the first leg was shortened to Columbine Buoy, half way out. The boats flew out to sea on a wet and wild kite leg, which straight away spread out the fleet, with many boats just please not to pitchpole. After passing Colombine to port, the fleet headed back to the gate mark at Whitstable Yacht Club. William and Kyle on the Vampire made it back first, 2.5 mins ahead of the leading F18 of Grant Piggott and Simon Farren, despite the trailing warp from a whelk pot buoy at speed and damaged one of their rudders, and forcing them to retire after that leg. One leg was also enough for the Nacra 17 sailed by Abby Zambinsky and Alex Harwood, and the Hurricane 5.9 SX sailed by Ben Peter and Dan Thurston, who called it a day and headed for shore.

Next leg was out to Pollard Spit, and the lead was then taken up by Kevin Dutch and David Oakly on their Tornado, beating Grant Piggott and Simon Farren back to the gate at Whitstable on the close reach/broad reach leg by only 30 seconds. The next boat, sailed by Simon Northrop and Oli Egain was almost a minute further back. Ghislaine and Hugo on the Cirrus R2 lost a couple of minutes when they capsized on the tack round Pollard Spit buoy, coming back to Whitstable in second to last place. The two Dart 18s racing were stopped after the second leg to complete the 'short course', with Barry Peters and Deb Waters getting a well-deserved win over Luke Swain and Rob Kennedy after leading the whole race.

The fleet then steamed down to Herne Bay Pier head on a sometimes-hairy single tack leg under spinnaker, rounding the old pier to port, then heading back close hauled to the finish. Kevin and David took line honours in their Tornado, having built up a good lead of almost 5 minutes over the next boat. Second place looked guaranteed for Grant and Simon in the Nacra F18 until they capsized within spitting distance of the finish line, letting Simon Northrop and Oli Egan, Nick Barnes and Neil Baldry, and Ghislain Melaine and Hugo Sunnocks slip through before they were able to recover. The back of the fleet saw a big squall come through, delivering the predicted 35 knot gusts, and making crossing the line and getting to shore a challenge in itself. Final results saw the Tornado win on handicap by only 23 seconds in the 1 hour 17 minute race!

Although the race didn't visit its namesake Red Sands Forts this year, everyone agreed it was the right call to make, with just being one of the nine boats to finish the shorter than usual course being an achievement in itself! Despite the weather, over the two days the event once again delivered close racing across the fleet in the picturesque waters off Whitstable for top races and club sailors alike.

Trophies Winners:

1st Overall: Kevin Dutch and David Oakley (Tornado)
2nd Overall: Simon Northrop and Oli Egan (Windrush Edge F18)
3rd Overall: Nick Barnes and Neil Baldry (Windrush Edge F18)
1st Leg Dewhist Trophy: Grant Piggott and Simon Farren (Nacra F18)
1st Whitstable Yacht Club boat: Ghislain Melaine (Cirrus R2 F18)
1st Short Course: Barry Peters and Deb Waters (Dart 18)
1st Saturday Shake Down Race: William Sunnocks and Kyle Stoneham (Vampire Project)
Spirit of the Forts Race Weekend: Ben Peter and Dan Thurston (Hurricane 5.9 SX)

Full results can be found at wyc.org.uk/on-the-water/forts-race

Thank you to our generous sponsors, NeilPryde Sailing and Whitstable Marine for prizes and support. Thank you also to all of the volunteers at Whitstable Yacht Club who made the event possible.

Next year's Forts Race Weekend will be run on 8th and 9th September 2018.

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