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18 Shades of Gray at a sunny and snowy Datchet Flyer

by Andy Rice 11 Dec 2017 18:55 GMT 9-10 December 2017

Peter Gray, Rich Pepperdine and Simon Forbes raced their National 18 to victory in wintry weather at the Datchet Flyer, round two of the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series which took place on 9 & 10 December.

It was a complex and challenging weather forecast for the weekend as the remnants of Storm Caroline cleared out of the UK, but 72 boats still came to do battle at Datchet Water Sailing Club, near London Heathrow Airport. With the wind blowing a 10 knot westerly from Windsor Castle, the leeward mark was situated close to the clubhouse, making for excellent spectating as the handicap fleet fought for buoy room.

The Toppers were the biggest entry with seven boats and a strong youth entry encouraged by the GJW Direct grants offering reduced entries for those entering multiple events in the Series. Several competitors were trying out new classes by taking the opportunity to race demo boats as part of the "Try a Boat Scheme".

The fleet was divided so that the hiking singlehanders all started off one line for some great boat-on-boat racing in Start 2, while the rest, mostly the faster boats, were sent away on Start 1. With the breeze blowing 10 knots for Race 1, Matty and James Lyons blitzed up the course in their 49er, with the SailRacer GPS trackers recording a sustained 11.23 kts of boatspeed around the track. On Great Lakes handicap scores, local Wayfarer experts Andrew and Tom Wilson took the win from Ben McGrane and Christian Humphries (Merlin), with Ian and Gemma Dobson (GP14) in third.

The breeze dropped slightly for Race 2, and Andrew Snell made the most of his K1 keelboat's momentum to carry him through the lulls and take the win, with Alistair Goodwin's Laser in second and Gray's National 18 in third.

As the sun sunk lower in the darkening sky, it was already getting colder by the start of the third race, so the race committee ran a shorter course. Again, Snell won the race, with the National 18 getting the better of Goodwin's Laser on this occasion. That two such different boats - the three-person National 18 and the singlehanded Laser - can trade places in two races suggests the handicapping is working well for a range of boats.

The forecasts for Sunday predicted very strong winds building very quickly from 13 knots in the morning to almost 45 knots so principal race officer Barry Peters made the wise decision to announce an earlier start for the non-discardable final race. However, Sunday morning dawned much snowier than forecast for West London, with many competitors (and helpers) struggling even to make it through the treacherously icy roads to Datchet. With snow settling on the ground, the Datchet Team battled to clear the slipways in order to allow the ribs and fleet to launch. But it was a struggle to maintain safe launching conditions and with the wind building the race committee were forced to cancel racing.

This meant the overnight positions stood and the National 18 (Gray, Pepperdine and Forbes) declared winners of the 2017 Datchet Flyer. Gray is a former winner of the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series which he won in 2011/12 sailing a Scorpion with Rachael Rhodes. The Dobsons' GP14 was second, one point in front of the Wilsons' Wayfarer. There were 10 different classes filling the top 10, with six singlehanders, three doublehanders and the winning triplehander, the National 18.

Other category winners included:

  • First Lady - Emma Stevenson (Osprey)
  • First Youth - Curtis McKay (Radial)
  • First Junior - Leo Wilkinson (Topper)
  • SpeedSix Fastest - Matty and James Lyons (49er)
For full results go to

You can find a gallery of the Datchet Flyer here, with more photos to follow from the Series photographer Tim Olin:

With a lack of water and very difficult launching conditions forcing the Bloody Mary to be cancelled, the Series has been speaking to other clubs about a possible replacement event. The aim is for the event to take place on 6 January 2018, the same date that had been scheduled for the Bloody Mary, and also to be close to London. Further updates to follow in the next week.

You can find out more about the Series here:

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