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Laser open meeting at Royal Harwich Yacht Club

by George Finch 1 Oct 17:07 BST 28 September 2019
Laser open meeting at Royal Harwich © Carly Jones

A fleet of 20 Lasers arrived at Royal Harwich Yacht Club for the annual Laser & Solo Open Meeting on 28th September. With high tide at 12:10, it was an early start for most as the first race was scheduled to start at 10:00, if this didn't put competitors off then the ever-increasing wind forecast in the run up to Saturday could have. With the forecast in mind, six sailors opted to use their 4.7 rigs, with four sailors opting to use their Radial rigs.

The PRO for the day, Dr Chris Brown, was keen to get the fleet started on time and run short races to enable the full schedule of four races to go ahead. After the briefing, the fleet promptly launched and headed to the race area which was situated slightly downriver and on the opposite side to the clubhouse.

Race 1

The south westerly wind direction created large shifts and huge gusts across the river and with this in mind, the first race was a simple windward / leeward course, with no requirement to go through or to avoid the line downwind - to ensure competitors could bare away or head up as required as and when the gusts hit. The wind speed increased just as the five minute gun sounded and started to set the tone for the rest of the day.

The fleet got away with a clean start, with a few lasers struggling to get over on time. A few boats were showing great upwind speed and gust response on the first beat, including Harry Wallhead, Reason, Dave Sheppard and George Finch, who rounded the windward mark in that order. Up the first beat, Harry, Ben Reason and George went left initially, into more tide and waves before 'going up the middle', whilst Dave went right. With the shifts and gusts, both tactics paid off equally. Harry, Ben and George displayed equally good speed and boat handling on the first run whilst a few of the fleet behind looked a bit wobbly and inevitably ended up going for a swim.

On the approach to the leeward mark, George went for an early gybe and then chose to run by the lee on port for the rounding, but Harry and Ben who held off gybing until the last minute rounded first. The angle George took ensured he promptly capsized whilst rounding the mark as a huge gust hit. Ben, just in front met the same fate, which George then copied again. However, as the fleet were rounding the mark the 'harpin angle' of the approach ensured an almost domino effect with plenty of the fleet finding themselves on their sides. Dave Reason and Dave Sheppard showed how it was done and sailed into second and third, whilst George managed to get upright and continue in fourth place. Dave and Dave went right, with George going up the middle, following Harry who by now had a significant lead.

Once again at the top mark, George and Dave rounded together, although this time a gust hit and Dave was unable to bare away, causing them both to reach straight down the river at speed. This enabled Graham Ireland to have a clear rounding and bare away onto a dead run, heading for the mark. George eventually got past Dave and both headed back towards the mark at considerable speed, catching up with Dave Reason who was in second. George decided to gybe early again, although unfortunately his mainsheet looped around the end of this boom, meaning he was reaching to the mark unable to sheet in or out and let Dave Sheppard pass. Graham Ireland wore round at the leeward mark, allowing Matt House to overtake him. Matt's approach to the gybe was: "if I swim, I swim, and if I don't, I overtake Graham."

Harry won the first race, with Dave Reason in second and Dave Sheppard in third.

Race 2

The same course was set for the second race. George Finch got a good start and took the fleet left towards the tide, however the wind shifted and going right was the better tactic. Once again Harry rounded first, with James Deaton showing incredible speed in his Laser 4.7 to round in second place.

The wind was slightly lighter during the downwind leg, which against the tide meant about 8 boats were bunched up on the approach to the leeward mark and everyone was waiting nervously for the first boat to gybe. Harry Wallhead went first and lead round the mark. With the breeze in a lull, there were places to be made or lost up the beat, going left into more tide paid off for Graham Ireland who gained a huge amount and caught up with the leading pack, only to be knocked flat by a gust at the top of the beat.

Once again, Harry rounded first and led the fleet downwind and won, with James Deaton (4.7) finishing second on the water, followed by Dave Reason in 3rd. Racing was close down the fleet, with Graham Ireland and George Finch finishing almost neck and neck - George was sixth and Graham seventh, with Will Finch very close behind in eighth.

Race 3

The wind speed increased substantially before Race 3 and a number of the fleet enjoyed a 'crazy, crazy fast' reach down the river, or fell over as an enormous gust hit. For a few of the fleet, this was enough and they decided to call it a day and head in.

In Race 3, the course was changed to a figure of eight, thankfully removing the need to gybe. The windward mark had changed to 'ODM' (Starboard), [the end of RHYC's normal club line], before reaching to Middle (Port) [the end of RHYC's 'Line B'] and then upwind to the initial first mark from Races 1 & 2 (Port) [although now in a different place] and finally down to the leeward mark, but rounding it to Starboard.

Once again the fleet got away with a clean start and Will Finch went for a port flyer and cleared the whole fleet - a repeat of 2018 where he executed the same move. Others opted to go left into more tide. The gusts were increasingly ferocious with a number of boats being knocked over upwind. As the fleet approached the windward mark, Dave Reason who was well ahead continued past 'ODM', with a number of 4.7s following him.

However, for this race there was a support boat acting as a lead boat - which had stopped at 'ODM'. Harry and George called to Dave and the others, who promptly tacked back and reached to the windward mark. Dave's error meant that George rounded first, followed by Harry. Both of them sped off on the reach, at times unable to see due to the amount of spray. Behind the leading two, a trio of Will Finch, Dave Sheppard and Dom Knights were all heading for the mark side by side, which was only going to end one way - badly. There was a slight collision where Dom came off worse and capsized, eventually also losing his rudder meaning he had to retire for the day.

On the third leg, a short beat, there were no place changes at the top and George continued to lead, despite Harry edging ever closer. They sped off downwind on the final leg until Harry began to engage in some luffing, however George ducked out underneath and sailed low to the mark, just rounding the leeward mark inches before Harry. They went their separate ways upwind and Harry managed to pop out in the lead at the windward mark. He held the lead for the rest of lap two until shortly after rounding the leeward mark, where the combination of a very strong gust and a knotted mainsheet saw him get knocked flat. Now the chase was really on, with George opting to sail above Harry who managed to get going again very quickly.

George was laying the committee boat end of the line but was on port. Harry was ahead but would need to tack onto starboard to make the line. Harry went for it, just crossing in front of George who should have tacked but instead bore away and ducked him. Harry immediately tacked on top of George who was still managing to lay the line just. There was about 5 metres to go.

Then the wind shifted and both Harry and George immediately tacked onto starboard, only to tack into an almighty header, causing both Lasers to fall on top of their helms. Both Harry and George managed to save a swim but unfortunately George's mast just touched the committee boat, before they both received a finishing hoot. Neither knew who had won, but PRO Chris Brown suggested George should do a 360, which he promptly did. James Deaton, followed by Graham Ireland then crossed the line in third and fourth.

Upon re-checking the rules and realising what you're meant to do if you touch either end of the finish line, [a 360 and then sail back round behind the committee boat / mark to re-cross the line] Chris Brown made the calculated - and fair - decision that James should be awarded second and George third as this probably would have been the end result.

Race 4

With three wins under his belt, Harry had already won the open meeting, but second downwards was still wide open. From the fleet of twenty, ten had retired or gone home for the day. This showed the extent of the battering wind and deadly gusts. The same course as Race 3 was set and for the fourth and final time, the fleet got a clean start. By this time the tide had begun to slacken and sailing up the middle seemed to pay off for George Finch who approached the mark on starboard and just rounded before Finlay Webb (sailing a 4.7). Harry Wallhead went further left initially and rounded in 3rd.

George inevitably sped away from the 4.7 on the first reach to increase his lead, until Harry Wallhead picked up speed and overtook Finlay. George continued to increase his lead on the beat to the third mark, before sailing a more controlled and conservative downwind leg to the leeward mark. Harry took advantage of this and went 'all guns blazing' down the run to make some significant ground. George rounded first, but the gap was much smaller.

Much like Race 3, George and Harry opted to sail their own courses up the beat, never crossing until the final approach to the windward mark where Harry had just managed to squeeze in front. James Deaton was showing incredible speed behind them in his 4.7. For the beat from the second to the third mark, James opted to tack off early from Harry and George to try and gain an advantage and clear air, which he did but it was not enough as Harry and George rounded the windward mark for the final time, speeding off downwind and leaving James in the 4.7 behind.

Harry kept on going faster downwind and managed to create a comfortable lead, which he held until rounding the leeward mark and onto the finish. George finished second, with James Deaton in third and Dave Reason in fourth. Only four other boats finished the final race.

The competitors then retired to the clubhouse and for some well earnt lunch and beer (in most cases), before the prize giving. Thanks to Chris Brown for running four excellent races in very testing conditions and for the support boat crews who laid the marks and ensured everyone was safe on the water.

As per usual for the RHYC Laser Open, the Lasers were not sailing on their PY handicaps, so glassware was given for first Radial and first 4.7.

George Finch finished third overall, with James Deaton in second and Harry Wallhead in first, and he took home the RHYC Flag Trophy for 2019.

The first Radial was Ben Reason and the first 4.7 was James Deaton.

Overall Results:

PosClassSail NoHelmPYR1R2R3R4Pts
1stLaser215205Harry Walllhead1099‑11113
2ndLaser 4.7215271James Deaton1207(RET)2237
3rdLaser193562George Finch10994‑6329
4thLaser135820Dave Reason109924‑7410
5thLaser168091David Sheppard10993‑55513
6thLaser183200Graham Ireland10996‑74616
7thLaser Radial201478Ben Reason113573‑9818
8thLaser 4.7188220William Thorogood120799‑10725
9thLaser 4.7206330Finlay Webb120710‑116RET27
10thLaser70Matt House1099510RET(DNC)29
11thLaser160690Will Finch1099118RET(DNC)33
12thLaser 4.7196667Toby Hunt1207(RET)RET8RET37
13thLaser188248Dominic Knights1099812(DNC)DNC41
14thLaser Radial141023Jeremy Halfhide113512DSQDSQ(DNC)44
15thLaser 4.7208672Kathryn Deaton120713RET(DNC)DNC52
16thLaser Radial151234Guy Brooks113516RET(DNC)DNC55
17thLaser Radial146653Richard Maidstone113514(DNC)DNCDNC56
18thLaser13Simon Hewitt109915(DNC)DNCDNC57
19thLaser553.Mr. Jones1099RETRET(DNC)DNC59
20thLaser 4.7131252Sarah Gordon1207(DNC)DNCDNCDNC63

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