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Blaze Open at Wilsonian Sailing Club

by Alastair Smith 7 May 15:20 BST 4-5 May 2019

Eleven boats turned out for the Blaze Open Meeting at Wilsonian Sailing Club on the morning of 4th May 2019, an event included in the Travellers' Series and East Coast Championships. Six were local boats and visitors came from Burghfield, King George, Stone, Burnham and Blackwater.

We were hoping for more, but with the tail end of Storm Hannah still lurking it may have put a few off.

The event was shared with the Musto Skiff fleet who produced a strong turnout. Sharing the same windward / leeward race course this promised for exciting mark roundings especially at the leeward end of the course!

Saturday morning started with a forecast of a bright day but cold, with a biting North Westerly of 20 knots. The galley was in full swing producing plenty of breakfast sandwiches to fill up on ready for the planned four races back-to-back.

RO Tom Lambert conducted a briefing showing an enthusiasm for getting people on the water and not having any unnecessary hold ups in order to fit all four races in.

Both fleets launched in deceptively calm conditions (see later) as we were in the lee of the hill where the club is situated. A long broad reach down "Gillingham Reach" followed which so far indicated the forecast was good and some spirited racing would be had. The race area was set in an area called "Pin Up Reach", which allowed for a perfect windward / leeward course to be set in clear air.

Once the fleet entered Pin Up Reach it became apparent that the forecast had underestimated the conditions, and as the first clouds came over the deception of the launch became fully apparent as wind speeds reached the high 20's quickly.

Unfortunately, one of the safety boats which was carrying the pin end buoy broke down, and the remaining large rib was having a busy time between attending boats in difficulties and laying the course. A standby boat was launched from the club and brought the pin end buoy from the stricken safety boat, but by this time racing had already been postponed by about 15 minutes.

Just as the course was ready, a very ominous looking black sky appeared and wind speeds built to an indicated 44 knots (force 9), together with horizontal hailstones. Both fleets were decimated in the maelstrom, with many capsize victims choosing to sit on top of their upturned hulls waiting for the storm to blow through. Damage to both boat and body was widespread, with both fleets suffering damaged rigs and walking wounded fortunately nobody ended in serious distress.

With all safety boats over-run with demand the RO wisely called it a day, so those still capable of sailing made a bid for the safety of the club and the safety boats collected those who no longer had masts.

Several of the sharp end of the Blaze fleet were now unable to continue. Chris Saunders damaged his mast and Andy McIvor's carbon mast and sail track had parted company and Ben Harden opted for attending a friend's birthday bash rather than face further punishment.

Once again the excellent Galley volunteers stepped up and did some wonderful hot food to help get everyone restored.

Sunday's forecast was for a far more manageable 11 knots in the same direction. The race scheduled was one long distance race, but the RO opted to re-run the 4 windward/leeward races back-to-back to which everyone agreed as it would be preferable to just the one race.

The same sailing area was used, and as the fleets arrived we were greeted with a wind that was changing up and down between about 10 and 20 knots, and with some big shifts.

Race one started promptly and the fleet got away cleanly. Alastair Smith found a clear lane upwind and rounded the windward mark first, closely followed by Colin Treadwell and Peter McFarlane.

This order remained unchanged for the rest of the race, with the gap between them increasing. Bob Ladell was ahead in the chasing boats, with Dave Thornelow soldiering on with a patched up kicker and John Goudie sailing with an old Sobstad sail which looked like it came new with his boat (unfortunately his one good North sail had been ripped the previous day).

Race two again was started as soon as the fleets were finished. Alastair again got away cleanly and into the lead, with the same following order.

The final lap saw Alastair get on the wrong side of a large shift which could have allowed both Colin and Peter through, but he managed to correct himself and cover the chasing pair and hold until the finish.

The end of race two must have brought some chuckles as between the races Alastair attempted to drop something off on the committee boat, which coincided with another breezy patch and a large shift which saw the RO holding his mast to avoid him capsizing onto the committee boat.

Race three followed the now familiar pattern, again with Alastair getting to the windward mark first followed by Colin and Peter.

The unexpected arrival of an unscheduled ship across the race course on the 2nd lap brought a challenge. Alastair managed to cross clear ahead of the guard boat which left him committed to the left hand side of the beat. Peter had to go behind which committed him to the right hand side where he found a good shift and was in a good place for the tide, and came from a rather distant 3rd place to right on Alastair's transom at the windward mark.

Alastair managed to pull away though and Colin found the right gear once again and came through to second.

Race four finally saw a change in the running order as Alastair incorrectly timed his run to the start and arrived late, and then had to dive low underneath John Goudie who was suffering with a near capsize and ended up very late.

Peter immediately capitalised on this and make good headway up the beat. Colin was up to windward of him but didn't quite carry the speed, so as Peter made his final tack for the mark he managed to cross ahead of Colin. Alastair recovered up to 3rd, having clawed his way up the fleet but was somewhat distant of the leaders.

This set the form for the remainder of the race, with Peter staying out in the lead and Colin staying close on him, but unable to close the gap. Alastair was up to speed and closing on the pair fast but there wasn't enough time left to make a difference.

Throughout the day the sharing of the course with the Musto Skiffs worked well. The windward mark didn't pose too many problems as if the fleets converged here the difference in speed was limited.

The leeward marks provided some thrills and spills, especially on the final lap when the run extended through the gate to the finish line. Where we were steadily running almost dead downwind, the Skiffs were coming from both sides sailing a much higher course and going a lot faster! Happily, the ability in their fleet is brilliant and we all managed to remain incident free.

Overall Results: (top six)

1st Alastair Smith (Wilsonian Sailing Club)
2nd Colin Treadwell (Wilsonian Sailing Club)
3rd Peter McFarlane (Burghfield Sailing Club)
4th Bob Ladell (King George Sailing Club)
5th John Goudie (Wilsonian Sailing Club)
6th Dave Thornelow (Wilsonian Sailing Club)

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