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Marblehead Ranking Event at Fleetwood Model Yacht Club

by Peter Stollery 10 Oct 2019 11:06 BST 28-29 September 2019
Marbleheads at Fleetwood © Mike Parkington

Fleetwood is known around the world as one of the best radio sailing venues and it didn't disappoint for the concluding two ranking events of 2019 which have now established the qualifying order for those wanting to attend the 2020 World Championship.

With West Kirby in mind, the 2019 ranking series had been deliberately planned to take the Marblehead fleet to open water venues to give the best preparation possible and Fleetwood concluded that preparation by throwing (almost literally) everything at the fleet. We started the year with a frozen lake at Poole in February and ended with torrential driving rain in a C2 thrash up Fleetwood lake.


Over the weekend, most used at least four rigs with some using five. B2 rigs were the only ones which everyone kept in their bags although most of them had been out during final preparations on Friday night as forecasts showed 39mph gusts straight down the rectangular concrete edged lake. However, the really strong winds blew through quicker than expected to leave a sunny Saturday morning with a solid C2 wind blowing straight down the lake from the west.

Race Officer, Derek Priestley, gave a comprehensive briefing before starting the first race at just after 10am. A simple but long windward leeward course was set using the full length of the 250m long lake. Two laps for the first few races was extended to three as the pacey Marbleheads were completing the two laps in just over nine minutes, a testament to the speed with which these boats can cover such a distance. Peter Stollery read the first start better than most and was able to tack off the near bank, cross the entire fleet and sail off to a convincing win. The start was reset after that making the leeward end more competitive and led to many realising that there was an art to sailing at Fleetwood, ensuring that your tactical positioning either allowed you to command the process of asking for room to tack off the near bank or allowed you to tack away from the melee without getting caught up in the inevitable clashes between port tack boats coming away from the bank and the starboard tack ones who wanted to send them back to the bank. Looking ahead and planning your port tack route across the lake was key. A ducked stern here and a forced tack there meant several boats lengths were lost against those who judged it correctly.

The wind moderated a little after the first race with much of the fleet sailing with C1 up until the lunch break. Racing was really competitive and great fun in the sunshine and strong wind conditions with a number of different race winners showing that the different designs could all have their moment in the gusty and choppy conditions at the bottom end of the lake. Andrea Roberts, Darin Ballington, James Edwards and Roger Stollery were amongst the other race winners during the morning with the latter literally jumping with delight at having won a race in the stronger wind conditions after some technical issues earlier on. Colin Walton would have won the prize for the fastest windward boat in these conditions with many commenting on the speed of his Grunge and this period saw his best results of the day.

After lunch the course had already been reduced back to two laps as the wind started to moderate with many changing to B rig after a couple more races. David Potter was enjoying the conditions and he and Rob Walsh joined in the list of race winners but it was James Edwards and Peter Stollery who were putting in the consistent results needed to fight it out for top spot. The final four races were sailed in A rigs as the wind dropped off further, although it never became a light breeze with plenty of weight remaining in its westerly track down the lake. Those in the know continued to sail daringly close to the far bank to take advantage of the big port tack lift which is caused by the high sand bank on the far side, gaining valuable extra metres up the lake before tacking which often meant the difference between laying or not laying the windward mark. Peter Stollery made the most of the A rig conditions winning two of the last four races and pulling out a 10 point lead over James to finish the day in first place. Rob Walsh finished in third having had a couple more dodgy races than he would have liked in order to have challenged the top two. David Potter gained a well earned fourth and Martin Roberts rounded out the top five with a solid performance and, although without a race win, it was notable that the gremlins that have dogged his qualifying events until recently had been well and truly banished. The last two races were sailed in the rain which swept in quickly from the west giving the skippers a chance to test their waterproofs for what was to come on day 2.


After a great meal and social gathering with the majority of the fleet in The Mount on Saturday evening, many had gone to bed hoping that, as with Friday's forecast for Saturday, the forecast for Sunday would also be slightly less accurate in terms of the severity of the conditions. Alas, we all awoke to the forecast heavy rain and a wind which had swung 180 degrees to blow under the iconic bridge at the end of Fleetwood lake that has featured in so many famous photographs. Waterproofs donned, Derek Priestley briefed the fleet and advised that due to the forecast for the wind to die off and swing to the north, he would take a view on the bringing the finish time forward as the northerly direction, blowing across the lake, would make it hard to set a decent course. All agreed to this proposal and set off to get their boats ready for race one but no sooner had Derek stepped out of the clubhouse he called all the skippers back in for a second briefing. The conditions were awful; the wind had increased to a solid C1 and the rain was torrential. Derek quite rightly asked whether skippers wanted to sail but all agreed that we should give it a go, at least while the wind direction was favourable. The course was another windward leeward set up but this time with a longer beat to the finish up near the clubhouse.

The fleet was slightly smaller with the Ballingtons and Andrea Roberts only able to attend Saturday's event but Damian Ackroyd was able to join in the fun and make a 19 boat fleet. There were also some boat changes with Martin Roberts sailing his wife's pink Starkers with which he won the Worlds 13 years ago and Chris Harris letting his Nioutram have a rest after it got a little battered during Saturday's racing. Chris took the helm of the older Starkers which Martin had sailed on day one.

As with Saturday, it was Peter Stollery who was quickest out of the blocks taking a first in race 1. Many returned briefly to the clubhouse but were then caught out by the 5 minute metronomic time keeping of the race officer as now the countdown couldn't be heard from the club with the increasing wind strength and the drumming rain. After a disappointing DNF in race 1, Martin Roberts was back in familiar territory (a pink boat in a blow at Fleetwood) and followed up with two wins back to back. With the wind increasing many changed down to C2 to cope with the strengthening gusts and also the gathering chop at the far end of the lake which was causing many to fall over at the end of the long run. Where Colin had been the 'fast boat' during Saturday it was Bill Culshaw's turn to show a good turn of speed netting three top four finishes during the day. But for races four to eight building up to the lunch break it was Peter Stollery who dominated the windiest (and wettest if it could get any wetter!) period of racing with four first places. During this time the wind was very gradually backing towards the north meaning that it was now key to tack a good distance away from the far bank before you were affected by the slight wind shadow that was starting to be created by the high sandbank on the far side.

Despite the rain, the racing was still exhilarating in the hard-pressed beating and fast running conditions and to the credit of the skippers there was only one incident of note which almost went to protest before the protest was withdrawn. That said, the conditions were taking their toll. John Taylor and Rob Wilson took no further part after race 6, Colin Walton got water in his transmitter and stopped at the same time, Graham Elliott's Paradox developed a 3 inch split down the side following a collision and Roger Stollery's rudder delaminated into two halves shortly before his C2 rig main boom fitting came adrift. In fact everyone except Peter, Bill and David Potter failed to finish at least one race, such were the conditions.

At lunch, Derek, aware that the conditions were taking their toll on the skippers as well as the boats, offered a number of options including calling it a day. But the majority of the fleet was keen to sail on whilst the wind was still good and so it was agreed to sail four more races. With the wind clocking further round towards the north the windward and spreader marks were reversed with a starboard rounding now required. The first two races after lunch were split between Martin and Peter, both now in C1 rigs and at the conclusion of race 10 the last of the force evaporated from the wind as it swung further north and lightened quickly meaning that those who were quick enough put A-rigs on for the last race. Races 11 and 12 were completed as agreed but the beat had become a one legger by the end of race 12 and so it was definitely the right time to stop.

At the conclusion, and with everyone stripped out of soggy waterproofs (of course the rain died off as soon as we had finished!), it was Peter Stollery who had dominated the day with seven wins from the 12 races. Martin Roberts was 11 points back in second with James Edwards, Graham Bantock and Tony Edwards completing the top 5. A huge thank you must go to Derek Priestley and his Fleetwood team who did a great job on both days, especially in the trying conditions on Sunday, as well as keeping everyone fed and watered with the excellent canteen service. Next stop will be the start of the 2020 ranking series where many skippers will be making final preparations for the Worlds at West Kirby.

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