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Blaze Nationals at Felpham Sailing Club

by Jon Saunders 29 Jun 2011 18:03 BST 24-26 June 2011
Blaze nationals at Felpham © David Rowe /

As initial forecasts for the weekend of 25th June came out, the Blaze fleet had much to be optimistic about. 10-13mph South Westerly (coming straight across the English Channel) and neap tides; ideal conditions for some gentlemanly racing around Chichester Bay. Second forecasts were a little more alarming, the met office did a fine job of scaremongering by threatening 25mph gusts, but the ambient wind, everyone maintained, would be fine. By the time Friday morning rolled around the 10-13 had become 20 gusting 30, with plenty of chop.

Still, 43 willing (if a little underprepared) Blazers gathered for the briefing at Felpham Sailing Club. 8 races, 2 discards, triangle sausage courses, and (in a comedy german accent) if zere iz any fanny biziness zere vill be black flags, jawohl?

As the final forecast appeared accurate, a sizeable contingent decided that discretion was the better part of valour. With 2 discards to play with they could afford to miss the horrid first days racing and arrive on the start line fresh for day two. SO out came the usual mix of binoculars and arm-chair strategy that one expects from these types.

In the starting area, a heavily port biased line greeted the 23 braves. On the gun Rob Jones (678) and Jon Saunders (611) led the fleet off the pin end. Sailing fast and free, they sailed straight for the lay and arrived at the windward mark together, followed by Nick Miller (757) who had followed, but over stood. Jones got the better of Saunders on the first reach and found himself without pursuers after the latter overcooked his first gybe. Jones carried the race, unchallenged, while Miller, not be outdone by Saunders, managed a grand total of six capsizes, and unlike his youthful counterpart, somehow held on to his 2nd place. Christian Smart (745) came through with an unusual lack of drama and took Saunders on the penultimate run for a 3rd followed by local sailor Matt Burnett in 5th. To be fair to Miller, going for a swim downwind was very very easy. A confused, rapid chop led many over the top of what they thought was a big and stable wave, only to plow nose first into its hidden neighbour before they could think to find another way through. After an awful lot of swimming across the fleet the start line was evened up a touch and race two got underway.

Now well acclimatised, the fleet surged off the centre with local Peter Jones (782) leading off toward the pin end. He tacked early and found himself quite alone at the windward mark. Unperturbed, he proceeded round absolutely without incident. A close group of Smart, Kieran Holt (699), Saunders, Burnett, Jones and Miller all did battle for 2nd. Everything seemed to be going Miller’s way, until, on the sausage leg, he plowed in to a wave and deathrolled, followed by (as far as I can tell) all of the above. It was as if Lady luck had reached out and gracefully flattened the entire chasing pack, with one exception, Rob Jones. Lady luck though is a fickle wench and begrudging his escape, fixed her eyes on the standard-load block holding together his adjustable forestay (and coming from 700s he really should know better!). One shattered block later and the defending champion could be seen at the bow of his capsized boat, engaged in a valiant struggle to jury rig it and carry on. Lady luck was having none of it and reached under his wing to right his boat, unaided, and put a stop to that. In the meantime Burnett, Saunders and light and spritely Eden Hylan (581) followed Peter to claim the runner up positions.

Forty three had arrived, twenty seven had attempted to race, twenty finished. If the trend continued there’d be nobody left on Sunday. “Don’t worry” was the line towed in the bar “it’s set to drop.” No, it isn’t. Whoever cooked that up was full of lies and beer. Doombar, to be specific, brought in specially. Lovely.

After an evening of home-made curry, a concoction called “Dark and Stormy” (curse you Brian!) and sleep broken by rain and snorting hedgehogs, I rocked up at the beach to an English Channel that looked dark, stormy and foaming.

I wasn’t alone in feeling a bit worse for wear, the fleet as a whole was a bit fuzzy on exactly where that start line was and caused the first and only general recall of the event. Needless to say ze black flag was raised and spotter boats deployed. This struck the fear of god in to everyone except Nick. With thirty seconds to go he cruised along the line (a good six boat-lengths over it!) and ducked under to find a comfy spot in the middle. He led an otherwise cautious fleet to the windward mark, to find himself waved down by a rib and stamped with a big BFD sticker. Rob, close behind, scrunched up his eyes and whispered sweet nothings to the Lady, anticipating his own stamp. He was already counting a DNF. Mercifully he was spared and followed Peter Jones around the windward mark. Rob took him unawares on the reach and proceeded to sail away unchallenged, leaving the rest of us, that’s right, keeping up with the Jones’s! Not for long. Alistair Barbrook (750), who had just claimed 3rd around the mark, shot off toward the wing only to suddenly plow headfirst into the briny deep. He had hit what appeared to be lobster pot lines, strung out across the second leg. He was followed by a good portion of the fleet, luffing each other high on the reach and suddenly finding themselves with nowhere to turn. Various attempts were made to make the race authorities aware, including a particularly vocal display from Saunders, earning him the prize for “best luvvie impression” (the prize was a mug). Those who simply capsized got the lighter of punishments, one boat’s rudder downhaul tore straight through the blade. In the struggle for 2nd, Burnett made gains on Peter Jones upwind and eventually nipped him on the last beat to the finish. In the chasers Andy Conway (720) was eventually bested by Smart for 4th.

After a few adjustments to the course race four got underway. Rob Jones and Saunders led off of the port end and once more looked set to lead. Had they paid attention to the course changes they would have known that the beat was now half as long, but they hadn’t and they didn’t and they overstood, really quite badly. Miller had tacked early, rounded first and settled in for an easy ride, only to suddenly find himself confronted by Peter Jones on his way to the leeward mark. He won out though, and Rob Jones managed to clamber through from the midfleet and take peter upwind for 2nd.

The final race of the day saw Miller take an early lead upwind, and the Jones’s face off at the windward mark. Rob forced Peter to duck him on the starboard layline, but had fatally misjudged the angle and had to tack again, giving Peter a lead that would never be reeled in. Burnett, now a reliable presence in the fleet leaders thanks to truly stunning upwind performance, claimed a steady 4th.

Elsewhere in the fleet the racing conditions (remarkably consistent, unusually) were taking their toll. One broken mast, one heavily bent. Two boats turned over for repairs and another out of action with a damaged foredeck. The familiar sights of drills and rivet guns were ever present as the fleet made ready for a final day. Forecasts promised fog early, due to burn off quickly and reveal a mercifully lighter breeze.

No event would be complete though, without some live entertainment. Local band Kelly’s Heroes performed fine sets of classics, giving the usual suspect his chance to pull some moves. At the end of a particularly rigorous session, the singer said simply “I’m surprised I’m not pregnant after that.” Fan mail may be directed to ‘Andy the farmer, from Burghfield.’ Sunday looked set to be an interesting day; Rob Jones led on 7points, followed by Peter on 9. The latter though, had a very healthy first discard of a 3rd, whilst Rob was scratching his DNF. In the final three races the introduction of only one extra discard put Rob at much greater risk, one duff race could end it all. Miller, kept out of contention in 5th due to a 15th place counting, could pull it all back with a discard and some reliable sailing, and he is nothing if not reliable.

As it happened it was all pretty pointless talk. Sunday morning came and with it the predicted fog. It was a curious scenario; a fresh sea breeze quickly built, shovelling mile after mile of fog on to the shore, where it immediately evaporated. The committee boat launched with a postponement flag raised, to scout out the racing area. Sailors eagerly readied boats, raised sails and then sat on the beach as the fog rolled in…for two hours. Eventually a satellite image of the channel was summoned up, revealing the full extent of the problem. Thick fog, all the way to Calais, breeze and all.

In his typically modest speech, Rob Jones thanked Felpham sailing club’s organizers, racing team, ever-important caterers and above all the rescue crews which had spent so much of the weekend lifting exhausted sailors out of the water. A Stirling job in trying conditions. The event was sponsored by Cirrus Raceboats and Overboard Bags. Prizes ranged from coffee mugs to hiking shorts and dry bags and wallets. Some of the more interesting awards included:

  • Paul Helmsley: Shortest distance sailed
  • Eden Hylan: Best Youth
  • Meghann Marcano-Olivier: Endeavour trophy
  • Peter Jones: Best home sailor (in a formidable 2nd place)
The overriding lesson of the whole event (if there can be such a thing) is that while safety should always be the top priority when racing, it is usually better, when conditions are marginal, to sail, rather than wait for them to change, as that fabled lighter day may not always come. Easily said, I know, but worth remembering.

Overall Results:

PosHelmSail NoClubR1R2R3R4R5Pts
1stRob Jones678Warsash SC1(DNF)1237
2ndPeter Jones782Felpham SC-313329
3rdMatt Burnett763Felpham SC-6224412
4thJonathon Saunders611Felpham SC53-65518
5thNick Miller757Morecambe & Heysham YC215(BFD)1119
6thChristian Smart578Pembrokeshire YC4546-819
7thEden Hylan581Chase SC741111-1333
8thMartin Saveker774Shustoke SCDNF(DNC)77641
9thJames Crew668Warsash SC11612(DNF)1241
10thStefan Smart670Pembrokeshire YC1079(DNF)1541
11thIan Clark695Warsash SC-131110101142
12thJoshua Hyland546Chase SC(DNF)9815DNF52
13thPeter Barlow758Burghfield SC8161513-1852
14thRoss Fisher773Felpham SC9-1713161452
15thRoger Cerrato731Warsash SC1212-18121652
16thAndrew Williams691Mudeford SC18(DNC)1414DNF66
17thBob Yates717Burghfield SC191819-201773
18thChris Spicer748Morecambe & Heysham YC1719-2119DNF75
19thKieran Holt699Warsash SCDNF8DNF(DNC)DNF76
20thTim Heaton749Bala SCDNF(DNC)1718DNF76
21stAlistair Barbrook750Burghfield SC(DNS)DNC169979
22ndBob Cowan772Warsash SC162020DNF(DNC)80
23rdGareth Hyland680Chase SC20DNF-23211981
24thNick Creak729Hamble River SCDNF(DNC)DNC81084
25thMeghann Marcano-Olivier592Chase SCDNFDNF(DNF)23DNF85
26thNick Ripley545Paignton SC(DNS)10DNFDNC789
27thSteve Jobling648Pevensey Bay SCDNF(DNC)25DNFDNF90
28thAlex Williams723Blackwater SC14DNF(DNC)17DNC97
29thJulian Owens704Pembrokeshire YC1514DNF(DNC)DNC101
30thAndy Conway720Chichester SC(DNS)135DNCDNC108
31stJohn Abbott766Oxford SC(DNS)DNC2222DNC134
32ndBrian Buggy768Portishead Yacht & Sailing ClubDNF(DNS)26DNCDNC137
33rdChris Clarke785Pevensey Bay SCDNF(DNS)DNFDNCDNC138
33rdSimon Beddows767Burghfield SCDNF(DNC)DNFDNCDNC138
35thLuke Mapley713Felpham SC(DNC)DNC24DNFDNC138
36thDavid Entwhistle682Burghfield SC(DNS)DNCBFDDNCDNF155
37thMark Phillips783Felpham SCDNF(DNC)DNCDNCDNC156
37thRhys Bromhall500Pembrokeshire YCDNF(DNC)DNCDNCDNC156
39thLaurence Marshall622Oxford SC(DNS)DNCDNFDNCDNC162
40thPaul Hemsley761Burghfield SC(DNS)DNCDNCDNCDNC180
40thPaul Taylor751Burghfield SC(DNS)DNCDNCDNCDNC180
40thBen Fullalove764Blackwater SC(DNS)DNCDNCDNCDNC180
40thMike Lyons781Burghfield SC(DNS)DNCDNCDNCDNC180
40thDavid Brown676Felpham SC(DNS)DNCDNCDNCDNC180

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