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Topper Open at Crawley Mariners

by Jeff Smith 29 Apr 16:28 BST 21 April 2019
Topper Travellers at Crawley Mariners © Jeff Smith

Arriving at Hedgecourt lake at 8:20 I was surprised but pleased to find several volunteers busy preparing power boats and readying the galley. Not so pleasing was to see the mirror surface to the lake.

There was little point in considering delaying racing as the forecast was for an uninspiring 6mph all day, better than the 4mph predicted the day before. As the morning progressed some ripples appeared and spirits lifted.

All sixteen Toppers were on the water and ready for a prompt 11:00 start, no stragglers arriving at the last minute, and most sailors having time to test the wind up the first beat. This was really encouraging; parents who gave up their Easter Sunday could feel proud.

The start of race 1 was also impressive everyone was close to the line and looking good, one boat being a little premature and being recalled. Johnny Woolgar established an early lead which he maintained for all four laps for a convincing victory with Jack Hardy coming second. Joseph Mole and Luka Franklin had a tight battle for the line with Joseph clinching third place by the smallest of margins.

The wind strengthened for race 2 with lap times decreasing significantly, the fleet staying closer together. Luka Franklin established an early lead, chased by Andy Peng and Johnny Woolgar, he held on for the win.

An extra beat was added to the course for race 3. The fleet got away to a clean start. Encouragingly all boats were on the same short fourth leg at the same time. Lap 2 saw the wind die completely, only to recover enough for a third lap, accompanied by some major shifts.

For race 4 a general recall was necessary, during the minutes to the restart the wind was probably at its best.

Johnny Woolgar repeated his race 1 performance to take races 3 and 4.

It was really encouraging that all the boats finished all the races, in sometimes frustrating conditions.

One of the parents who were assisting asked where her son could improve, so here are some of my general observations from the day.

Further down the fleet it was noticeable that time was being lost through poorly executed tacks. In light winds it is critical to maintain boat speed through tacks and to seek clear wind. Also tacks were being performed without adequate planning, resulting in having to tack again quickly to keep clear or tacking into the wind shadow of another boat.

It was interesting to note the differences in sail settings on the run passed the race platform even amongst boats in the leading group, two side by side one with full kicker the other with a lot of downhaul. Also upwind there were differences. So there is room for improvement even near the front of the fleet.

When the wind dropped to undetectable there was noticeable frustration in some boats, the helms moving around a lot trying to get their sails to set. In those conditions movement just stops the boat, sometimes you just have to keep still and be patient.

I saw a couple of incidents where better knowledge of the rules could have helped, the first case was between a boat on a downwind leg an one upwind, both were on starboard but failed to appreciate the other was, in this case windward boat should have kept clear. There was no contact but rhythm and concentration in both boats was disturbed. In the second case an inside boat at a mark was not given the room he was entitled to, but he took penalty turns having clipped the other boat. It is worth practising taking turns as sailing the boat hard through the turns minimises the time lost. Conversely it was great to see Henry spotting a gap when two boats rounded wide gaining himself two places, more experienced sailors would have shut the gap and maintained their position.

Keeping clear air and spotting where the wind is are key in these conditions.

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