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Contender 'Have you got the Class' weekend at Hayling Island Sailing Club

by DavidHenshallMedia 19 Mar 2013 06:35 GMT 16-17 March 2013
A cold, blustery wind greets the finalist at Hayling Island SC for the International Contender 'Have you got the Class' © DavidHenshallMedia

There was no shortage of proof this past weekend at Hayling Island SC that one of the key reasons for the enduring success of the Contender as the best supported performance single hander was not just the fact that the boat offers amazing, high speed, close quarters tactical racing, but there is another factor at work. The Contender fleet has always been rich in great characters, from the likes of Freddie Gale, who helped establish the class back in the late 1960s, through a succession of great champions, right up to today's stalwarts who continue to keep that 'Contender spirit' burning brightly.

However, one of the great 'unsung' stars of the Class was sadly lost at Christmas after a long battle with illness, but that 'Contender Spirit' that had been such a part of the life of Dee Mackonochie has been preserved and will live on in a Contender bearing Dee's name. Dee started the long association with the fleet back in the very early 1970s, as the wife of newbie Contender sailor Jim Mackonochie. It has to be remembered that these were very much the early days of sailing singlehanded from the trapeze so injuries were fairly commonplace, but as Dee, who was a practicing GP, was always on hand; repairs could sometimes be more easily made to the helm than to the boat. 'Dee's diagnostics' were very simple; if you could walk to her consulting room, which was normally the clubhouse bar, then she'd have you ready to sail the next race or if the injury was more serious, by the next day at the latest! Examinations and any work needed would be carried out in front of the assembled fleet and would be paid for in pints of beer! A simple Elastoplast job would cost a pint, anything more and the rate went up sharply, but as Dee was quick to point out, if you drank with her you'd soon not feel a thing!

Help for others having been Dee's motto, Jim Mackonochie decided that Dee would have wanted to carry on this tradition so, after a quick name change, he donated his latest Contender to the British Contender Association so that it could be used to help bring a new sailor into the fleet. This lead to the 'Have you got the Class' initiative, which reached its climax at the weekend when the short list of 5 young sailors battled it out to see who'd get the boat, an offer than came complete with subsidised entry to the UK National Travellers Series and the World Championships taking place this July in Italy, along with some assistance with the travel costs. As the weekend approached there were real concerns that the weather would make it impossible to hold the final trials, all the more so as a number of other sailors had also donated boats that could be used over the weekend. Many thanks must go to Chris, Ginge and 'Crazy' John McLean, who would have indeed thought himself crazy if he'd seen the young sailors, all of whom had never set foot in a Contender, launch into a brisk breeze that continued to build.

John need not have worried, for all of the 5 short listed sailors were more than up to the tasks they were being set. On the Saturday in particular, when they did over 2 hours afloat, a short break and then another hour in a cold, stiff breeze that contained some very heavy gusts, the standard of sailing shown was incredible. Any one of these sailors would have made a worthy winner, though by the end of the day it was already becoming clear that there were a couple of stronger contenders emerging.

The wind moderated for Sunday which allowed a full series of races to be held, a process that confirmed the views of the 'selectors' from the night before. After packing the boats away, a short ceremony was held in the HISC Clubhouse that saw B.C.A. Chairman Ed Presley present the winner, Michael Barnes, with the 'keys' to the Contender for a year. The other four shortlisted sailors, Adam Walker, Marcus Collings, Mitchell Webb and Tom Sully, who had all pushed the winner so hard, were not forgotten. The BCA, through the efforts of Chris Boshier (onto whose shoulders much of the work for the weekend had fallen) will endeavour to make a boat available for some of the key events, for it was clear that all of these finalists would bring a great deal of competitiveness to Contender events for the season. The Ceremony ended with Ed Presley giving Jim Mackonochie lifetime membership of the British Contender Association, a move that it is hoped will encourage Jim to continue to play an active role in the fleet. Indeed, the last word must go to Jim, who when asked for his own feelings about the weekend could only sing the praises of all involved, saying that it was "just what he had wanted it to be" and that now he had lifetime membership he should probably get a new boat.

The B.C.A would like to thank HISC for their hospitality, along with all those who spent the weekend working to ensure that the Trials were successful, such as Jim, Dan and Giles who spent the bulk of the time sat in the cold out on the RIBS. Thanks again to those who loaded their boats for the event and to the generosity of the Sponsors: Wavelength Sails, Kingfisher Ropes, CraftInsure, RB Sports Travel and Selden Masts. Chris Boshier and Ed Presley deserve particular mention, as it was their efforts that turned the initial idea into the successful weekend of Trials. Well done to ALL the shortlisted sailors, all of whom showed great dinghy sailing skills in the challenging conditions.

However, all of the above would wish to add their voice in thanking Jim Mackonochie and celebrating with him the unique way in which he has ensured that Dee's 'Contender Spirit' lines on.

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