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Topper GJW Direct National Series 6 at Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club

by Chris Woodard 20 Jul 2018 14:56 BST 14-15 July 2018
Topper GJW Direct National Series 6 at Derwent Reservoir © Angela Donnelly

For the sixth, and final, round of the 2017/18 GJW Direct Topper National Series the class headed north – a long way north in fact, to Derwent Reservoir in Cumbria! Whilst the regular competitors from Scotland and northern England breathed a sigh of relief, some of the regulars from the West Country and South Coast saw the prospect of the long trek north as just too daunting, and consequently the turnout was the lowest seen at an NS event for several years, with "only" 142 boats racing! What a great indication of the strength and popularity of the Topper racing circuit that this might be seen as a disappointing turnout!

For those who made the journey, there was almost universal praise for the venue, seemingly a world away from civilisation, set amidst glorious rolling countryside, and bathed in sunshine throughout the weekend. The club's vast "camping field" enabled a large proportion of families to set up camp in motor-homes and tents from Friday afternoon onwards, and settle in for a long weekend together, further fostering the friendship and camaraderie for which the class is renowned.

On Saturday the PRO Charlie Stowe took the 123-boat 5.3 fleet off towards the dam at the eastern end of the reservoir, where they completed the full scheduled 4-race programme (8 flight starts) neatly within the allotted 6-hour slot, although not without some tricky moments. The wind strength was quite variable within a range of 6 to 12 knots, and briefly as high as 17 knots, with the direction generally westerly funnelling down the valley at around 270/280 degrees, albeit that the hills and trees on the south shore gave rise to some big shifts when the gradient wind moved more southerly, occasionally to 210/220 degrees.

The first race of the day proved to be the most challenging for the race management team, with a general recall at the first attempt, and the fleet continuing to push the line at the restart resulting in 6 UFDs, and then at the race finish a large left shift, coupled with new pressure, closed much of the fleet up for a mass finish, with 10+ boats crossing the line simultaneously at times! Even with video and audio recordings used to review the finish it was still difficult to unravel the chaos, but after much effort only 5 boats remained unidentified and were given redress. After that stressful moment everything else ran remarkably smoothly, the fleet were generally very well behaved, and the black flag wasn't used.

With the fleet, as usual, racing in flights, there were 8 races – and 8 different race winners! Maintaining the tradition of giving every race winner a name-check, those to take the winner's gun this time were Emily Proctor, Aaron Evans, Tom Thwaites (in only his second ever 5.3 NS race!) Finlay Tulett, Daniel Keenan, George Vincent, Thomas Williamson, and William Hudson. Aaron Evans took the overnight lead.

Meanwhile the 19-boat 4.2 fleet stayed closer to the club where they too completed their full scheduled race programme and were safely ashore, showered, and packed away before the 5.3s returned. The conditions were clearly to the liking of James Crossley who was on devastating form, counting 4 first places and discarding a second, to establish a commanding overnight lead, with Bjorn Handley generally following him across the line in second, and Charlie Gran taking the one remaining race victory.

Sunday continued where Saturday left off, everyone continued to marvel at the beauty and tranquillity of the venue, the sun continued to beat down, and the wind continued to keep the sailors on their toes! The mean direction was more southerly at around 240 degrees, but there were lots of short lived thermal shifts ranging from 160 to 270 degrees (110 degrees!) leading to a few APs during the start sequences. The strength was also more variable, as low as 3 knots (for about 10 seconds!) and as high as 22 knots – something for everyone!

Again the sailors must be complimented for their good behaviour on the start line, and up until the final race the black flag was used only once. As with the preceding NS at Draycote just a few weeks ago, we ran nail-bitingly close to the cut off for starting the final race, with the second flight of race 8 getting away with just 8 minutes to spare, with fully justified use of the black flag to achieve this!

In these tactically challenging conditions, and with so many very able young sailors competing in the class, it was perhaps not surprising that there were again 8 different race winners. This time those deserving a mention were Lily Barrett, Finlay Tulett, Charlie Turnbull, Leo Wilkinson (fresh from winning the Irish Nationals), Toby Pearce, Timothy Evans, Suzanna Homer, and Josie Meredith. The PRO told me afterwards that loads of the sailors said "thank you" at the finish – just a little thing but so good to hear, well done kids!

Overall it was a comfortable victory for Aaron Evans, showing fantastic consistency and discarding a seventh, with Leo Wilkinson and George Vincent completing the podium, followed by William Hudson and first girl Josie Meredith - none of these top-5 sailors counted worse than a tenth. The Optimum Time Endeavour prize went to Seren Collier.

Meanwhile on the 4.2 course there was a change at the front of the fleet, with Bjorn Handley taking three race victories, and Charlie Gran and Charlie Hopkinson taking one each. However James Crossley's four seconds were sufficient to maintain his overall lead and secure overall victory, with Bjorn Handley just three points behind, and Charlie Gran completing the podium. Chloe Mills was fourth overall and first girl.

As this was the final event of the 2017/18 GJW Direct National Series the prize-giving was a particularly big affair, with overall Series prizes to add to the already generous array for this individual event, for which thanks go, as usual, to our sponsors Rooster, Harken and Optimum Time for their continued support. Consequently there were many smiling young sailors laden with goodies heading off for the long journey, with plenty of tales of arrival back home in the early hours of Monday morning – ah well, school didn't start until 09.00!

The Topper circuit now moves on to the National Championships at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy starting on 28 July, and with 281 boats pre-entered this promises to be a fantastic event, and then for many it is off to Shenzen, China, for the World Championships, where racing starts on the 16th August, with 264 boats pre-entered. Both these events are showing a significant increase in entry numbers over the corresponding events last year, and they have both reached full capacity with entry now closed.

However, if you like the sound of the vibrant big-fleet racing that is on offer in the Topper class, but don't currently take part, check out the details on – the 2018/19 National series gets underway at Marconi SC in Essex on 8th September, and you'll be made very welcome! If you need to buy a good race Topper there will be plenty available straight after the Nationals when many of the current sailors transition through to their Youth classes.

Overall Results:

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