Please select your home edition
CoastWaterSports 2014

Blaze Inland Championship at Bala Sailing Club

by Jonathon Saunders 14 Oct 2015 13:14 BST 10-11 October 2015

I'd like to begin by saying that we were led to Bala under false pretences. A certain organizer bombarded the fleet with emails categorically promising a south westerly breeze, which, given lake Bala's orientation jammed between steep welsh hillsides, would've done just fine. As the fleet began to arrive on Saturday morning, not only was there no south westerly, there was no wind at all. Lots of fog though.

Fog cleared, a doughty fleet of 28 Blazes and 3 Halos wobbled their way across the lake. If we had been carrying GPS trackers what followed would resemble a drunkard's attempt at Spirograph. We tacked, gybed, gybed again (sometimes without even changing course) in an increasingly desperate wind dance. The Gods, begrudgingly, gave in and provided a rather sickly force 2 which would come and go throughout the day.

It's a long established fact that sailors are a superstitious bunch and, for the first time, I really began to understand why. It felt as if the fitful breeze were controlled not by meteorology or the steady hand of nature, but the twitching fingers of a sugar loving Sky-Toddler, flinging its toys around and us with them.

Having finally established a wind direction, the Race Officer (a Blaze sailor himself) set a simple left handed trapezoid that would take us the full breadth of the lake. He even managed an even start line, quite the feat given the conditions. Off of the line Simon Beddows, ever the light wind enthusiast, led a group to the left side of the beat and found a shift to tack on. Having tacked, the love of the Sky Toddler shone down upon him and fellow Burghfieldian Mike Bell and lifted them all the way to the mark. Having sailed over Bell downwind, Beddows sailed much of the race unmolested until his luck ran out halfway up the second beat. By this point Mike Lyons (who won the Draycot Dash last year, in a Halo, in no wind...) had caught up and deftly sailed around the beleaguered Beddows. Dave Anguin got by behind Lyons to take second and Beddows a frustrating third.

Having established the principal of "go left or die," Beddows was beaten to it in race two by Andy Maw, who squeezed inside Lyons on the windward mark. Lyons sailed over him downwind, along with Beddows and the pair of them engaged in a battle for first that, inevitably, let Maw back through. With a lead established he sailed the rest of the race without looking back.

Having enjoyed very even starts up to now, the Blazes lined up for the final race of the day, I suspect, without really checking the bias. With two minutes to go a noticeable shift to port made the impossible possible and Bala sailor Tim Heaton snapped up the chance to pull a spectacular port-end flyer. With an upwind lead established, Heaton deployed superior local knowledge (specifically, knowledge of the location of mark C) to solidify it. He would sail the rest of the race unhindered. Behind him fortunes were being won and lost in what Lyons dubbed "snakes and ladders sailing." Compressed by waves of breeze on the downwind legs, the fleet bunched around the marks. With good positioning and a bit of luck, tremendous gains could be made. Tremendous losses too.

Post-racing, the most often heard word at the bar was "frustrating." Even the Burghfield boys who led the fleet (and are well used to sailing on a shifty pond) were struggling to comprehend some of the bizarre wind patterns. There was lots of talk of the conditions being a lottery, but, looking at the results, the reality was that the top of the fleet had shown remarkable consistency, regardless of their positions at the end of the first leg. All three races had different winners, but the top of the leaderboard was populated by those who had been "there or thereabouts," by the end of every race. Consistency, in the face of everything, was the key to victory and as well as Beddows and Lyons, Eden Hyland of Chase SC sat comfortable on a 5th and two 3rds. Unspectacular, but the other race winners, Heaton and Maw, shared two things in common; they had both won a race and they had both come 20th.

Fun could also be had with a round of "pick a forecast," as predictions varied wildly for the following day. As light dawned on a fog-less morning, things initially looked promising, with a gentle breeze from the North East (straight down the lake) promising good things to come. They didn't and frustration was followed with frustration.

It's worth mentioning here that Bala SC, despite its remoteness, represents some serious value when it comes to freebies. Contenders came away with; a whisky glass, a full evening meal and breakfast on the Sunday, not bad for £35 entry!

A figure eight course was set, with an initial beat straight up the lake but as the timer ticked down a shift to the right settled in and the beat became a fetch. With the entire fleet set to make the mark without tacking one verbose individual loudly complained "a beat would've been nice." What a foolish thing to say. No sooner were the words out of his mouth then a violent swing left hit, forcing instant reaction across the fleet. Most tacked, but Eden Hyland held on and led a group left. Time proved him wise and he and Richard Hill met at the windward mark. Hill took the lead in what would become a truly bizarre race. The breeze came and went in fitful starts and, rather than filling in from the North East appeared to come from anywhere and, more often, nowhere. I recall at one stage a reach across the lake becoming a square beat, then nothing at all, then a breezy force two reach again. This was a race that rewarded an ability to roll with the punches. Hyland overcame Hill and the lead boats stretched out in to a procession. Dave Anguin, who had been there or thereabouts after an excellent first beat, took an uncontested third.

With two races to go everything was still up for grabs. Lyons led on points, just, and a first had put Hyland in contention. Simon Beddows, who had shown flashes of brilliance but was counting an 8th, could still win it too if the other contenders had a bad race. Given the conditions that was eminently possible. With victory in mind, Hyland led race 5 with a tremendous mid-line start but was caught at the mark by Beddows and an equally determined Anguin. The trio separated a little and cruised around together, before sailing in to a hole on the penultimate mark. For a good two minutes the number of boats at the mark increased, from three to seven, all with the possibility of taking a bullet if they played the rounding right. When breeze finally reached them, Hyland was in the right spot for the mark and rounded first. Behind him Lawrence Fernley bucked the trend and went left up the final beat to the gate. It paid off and with a little more pressure, he nipped second. Behind them Hill took 3rd and Beddows 4th. Lyons was down in 10th.

For the first time, Hyland was ahead of Lyons by one point, he needed another win to seal the deal though. He started in great fashion with a port-end flyer that got him across the bows of the fleet. Lyons, never one for an aggressive start, found his fabled light-wind form and glided forward to the front on the left side of the beat. I'd love to tell you how he does it but I really don't know! He met Hyland on the beat and ducked him rather than match race. When they came to the mark a gap had opened up. Beddows (out of contention but looking to finish on a high) filled it. Hyland, Fernley and Jon Saunders made up a chasing trio who, concerned with their own placements, couldn't make any ground on the leaders. Lyons glided away, Beddows after him. Fernley got the best of the chasers to take third, and that was all she wrote.

In a characteristically concise speech (he has done a few at this stage) Mike Lyons paid tribute to the Race Officer for getting respectable starts out of very trying conditions. Also high in the list of thanks was Tim Heaton, the event organizer behind much of the perks that we've come to associate with a visit to Bala. I don't know how it was all put together, but every competitor going home with a Dartington Whisky glass in their bag can be no bad thing.

Had anyone asked me who I thought was likely to win at Bala I would've said Lyons. Historically his light wind performance has been frighteningly consistent. So while I can happily say "I told you so", it's worth noting that from six races we had four race winners, from a youth to a grand master. For some it was their first time at the head of the fleet at a championship and that can only be a good thing. When I caught up with Lyons he, humbly, referred to the conditions as "Snakes and Ladders sailing." He was right, and luck did have a lot to do with moment-by-moment events on the water. Looking at the results though, it's clear that the mark of a top light-wind sailor is that they make their own luck.

Overall Results:

PosSail NoHelmClubR1R2R3R4R5R6Pts
Blaze Class
1st818Mike LYONSBurghfield SC1225‑10111
2nd581Eden HYLANDChase SC‑53311513
3rd800Simon BEDDOWSBurghfield SC384‑94221
4th789Jonathon SAUNDERSFelpham SC44‑847423
5th815David ANGWINBurghfield SC25‑935924
6th769Richard HILLWarsash SC156‑1823733
7th774M BLACKHAMChase SC6‑175861136
8th751Paul TAYLORBurghfield SC77147‑17843
9th809Andy MAWBurghfield SC‑201614131044
10th804Tim HEATONBala SC12‑2011114644
11th698Laurence FERNLEYKing George SC1314‑21172349
12th811Pete BARLOWBurghfield SC14137109‑2453
13th812Pip WARNERHornsea SC812‑131281353
14th552Ben BURLEYCovenham SC‑1711106121554
15th781David ENTWISTLEBurghfield SC11‑251113111258
16th757Mike BELLBurghfield SC915121515‑1966
17th766John ABBOTTOxford SC2110161620(DNC)83
18th772Bob COWANWarsash SC19181518‑211484
19th779Andy WHITCHERPembrokeshire YC‑22191719161687
20th82Rob FROUDHornsea SC10212022‑242194
21st682Martin HATTERSLEYChase SC162319(DNC)191794
22nd704Julian OWENSPembrokeshire YC18162420(DNC)DNC107
23rd795Laurence MARSHALLOxford SC‑252223241820107
24th796Bob YATESBurghfield SC‑262622232318112
25th771Dave WALLBala SC23926(DNC)DNCDNC116
26th662Martin CLIFTBala SC24‑2725212523118
27th530Dave COLEBala SC‑272427252222120
28th646Pete ROBINSONSouth Windermere(DNF)DNCDNC26DNCDNC142
Halo Class
1st710Nick RIPLEYPaignton SC1‑211115
2nd799Richard BOTTINGDraycote Water SC21‑323210
3rd797Mike HOLMESPaignton SC‑33232313

Related Articles

Sea Sure and Hartley Boats Fire Nationals
A two day event of extremes at Warsash This year's competition, hosted at Warsash Sailing Club, was a two day event of extremes. Race Officer Peter Knight recorded a first day with a steady 15 knots rising to a 22 knots by the final race. Posted on 5 Jun
Blaze Eastern Championship
Costa-del-Sheppey shines It wasn't easy, but the nimble Blaze Class Chairman Charlie Matthrews pulled off some superb sailing, chased by local, Russell Wheeler and London-based Douglas Clow, who seemed to be swapping places left, right and centre. Posted on 6 May
Sea Sure and Hartley Boats Fire Nationals Preview
The fleet is set for Warsash SC on the first weekend of June For those of you not in-the-know about the Fire Class, it's useful, firstly, to note that the Fire is sister to the popular 1996 designed Blaze. Posted on 3 May
Blaze Training and Open at Carsington
What the Blazes...? 14 intrepid sailors travelled to Carsington Sailing Club (well, 11 technically, if you exclude the home clubbers), nestling just south of the Peak District, for a duo-weekend of 1 day of training and 1 day of racing. Posted on 19 Apr
Fire Inlands at Burghfield
A forecast for the adventurous Like the four previous years, the forecast for the historical Blaze Class season opener looked like one for the adventurous - 16, gusting 28 kts. Posted on 25 Mar
The RCYC Snow Globe races 7 & 8
James Hutton-Penman goes to the top after winning both races James Hutton-Penman goes top after winning both races on the 4th day of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club' SnowGlobe series, on 2nd of December 2023. Posted on 5 Dec 2023
The RCYC Snow Globe races 5 & 6
16 boats lined up, including 4 Otters and 2 visitors The third day of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club' SnowGlobe series, on 25th of November, saw Charlie Matthews move to the top of the table, after a second and a first place. Posted on 28 Nov 2023
The RCYC Snow Globe races 3 & 4
The Blazes win the second day The Burnham Blaze fleet took two wins on the second day of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club SnowGlobe series, on 18th of November, as Charlie Matthews and Malcolm Hutchings won a race each. Posted on 21 Nov 2023
Blaze Inlands at Yorkshire Dales
Great forecast attracts visitors from Pembrokeshire to Aberdeen, Essex and beyond Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club hosted the 2023 finale of the Blaze sailing calendar, hosting the Inland Championship and respectively concluded the Travellers' Series. Posted on 22 Oct 2023
Sea Sure Blaze Nationals 2023 at Warsash
A class-record 71 boats entered for the event The Sea Sure Blaze Nationals took place across the long-weekend of 9th-11th June at Warsash Sailing Club, with a class-record 71 boats entering for the event. Posted on 19 Jun 2023