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Blind Sailing National Championships at South Cerney Sailing Club

by Georgia Jaggs 4 Dec 2019 19:18 GMT 22 November 2019
Blind Sailing Keelboat League National Champions: Ben Hazeldine, Kate Healy and Charlie Griffiths © RYA

The Blind Sailing Nationals (22-24 Nov) were hosted by South Cerney Sailing Club - a new club to Blind Sailing, but home to two of our volunteers, Jonny Stevenson and Malcolm James.

Friday kicked off with a familiarisation day for the sailors as the boats they would be using for the regatta were Flying Fifteen's - all donated to the charity by their owners for the weekend - a boat that many of the visually impaired competitors and volunteers had not sailed before.

The format for the event was a 3-person combination with a blind helm, jib trimmer and sighted main trimmer who was also in charge of tactical decisions and boat speed. Initial thoughts were that it was going to be a bit of a squeeze! However, the teams soon got into a good routine, falling into a groove which was reflected by the positive feedback of the Flying Fifteen owners watching from shore.

Beside the new boats, the biggest challenge for the sailors would be the unpredictable conditions, which became obvious during the familiarisation day. The wind was light, but also very shifty making smooth steering input and quick reactions crucial for good boat speed. All of the years training was to come into play.

Day one and the fleet woke up to a more alive looking South Cerney; the breeze - now coming from due East - was 8-12knts meaning racing could kick off straight away. The first warning signal sounded at just gone 11am, and the fleet of 6 Flying Fifteen's shortly set off for their first race. The setup for the racing was short and sharp; with a scheduled 34 windward leeward races lasting around 12-15mins. The short nature of the races put emphasis on a strong start - both in terms of time and distance - but also line bias, which promoted a clear pattern to develop from race 1.

With a 10-15-degree port bias the boats that were able to execute a good pin start gained an early advantage that continued to play in their favour as they moved up the track. The nature of the wind meant it was important to prioritise pressure towards the edges of the track, both left and right, with a spot of less wind in the middle. Due to this a strong pin start allowed boats to enter the left pressure early, which headed towards the shore allowing boats to the tack across the middle of the track on a lift, to then link the pressure on the top right of the track, this both maximised time sailing in more pressure, but also minimised costly tacks.

Unfortunately for the leaders, downwind was much more challenging as the breeze at the top of the track was light and unstable. Throughout the day, two main strategies emerged; one was the shortest distance and patience approach, which consisted of an early goose wing set headed for the next mark. Second, involved staying high and in the pressure; these boats looked to hook into the breeze they followed up the left of the beat, and use it to the right down-wind. The battle between distance and speed was an ongoing affair - seeing local sailors gaining an advantage making the right decision more often than not.

Day one closed with a clear leader (Charley Griffiths), a lead mainly built through strong first beat execution and consistent sailing out of trouble. Further back in the fleet a close battle was starting to develop for 2nd place, between current World Champion Lucy Hodges and Andrew Cattermole.

Saturday evening then saw South Cerney host an amazing meal. Thanks were given to Flying Fifteen Captain, John Harvey, for ensuring the support of the fleet, whose smiles and enthusiasm encouraged everyone on the water.

Unfortunately, the forecast for Sunday was not so promising. A lack of wind and visibility forced race management to postpone racing around 10am in the hopes that the wind would pick up at noon, as forecasted.

Fortunately, after two very unpromising hours the fog started to lift, revealing dark streaks painting the surface of the pond. The wind direction had swung to South, which was great for the crowd watching from the shore, who now had the start line directly in front of the club house. The switch in direction, drastically changed the course for day two; the fleet now had to contend with a land feature on the left and very unpredictable streaky breeze. One element of the course that remained the same was the length and in turn the importance of a strong good start.

After a small wait to drop the final Flying Fifteen into the water, the racing kicked off just before 1pm. From the first beat of race one it was clear that the change in conditions brought with it a more unpredictable, snakes and ladders form of racing. Despite this, the same boats found their groove, using a strong start to get into a small patch of pressure developing under the headland on the left. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet took part in a series of tacking battles up the middle of the course in search of more pressure.

The closer racing made for some more tactical downwind sailing and busy leeward mark roundings, which emphasised the importance of forward thinking and the maintenance of boat speed towards the bottom of the course. As the final day came to a close, Charley Griffiths was able to maintain her substantial lead built from day one. The fight for second place was won by local knowledge, allowing Andrew Cattermole's team to pip Lucy Hodge's to the post - with a 57.0 vs 60.6-point total respectively.

The Blind Sailing Nationals 2019 was a great success; providing a showcase for the visually impaired sailors, who had the ability to sail the boats at speed in all conditions.

Collectively we'd like to say a big thank you to South Cerney Sailing Club, with special mention to Commodore Vernon Perkins, for opening the doors so warmly.

Blind Sailing Commodore Lucy Hodges would like to say thank you to all involved - especially Rooster, the volunteers and all of South Cerney Sailing Club, the event has been described as magical, inclusive and open to all.

For more info see:

Blind National Keelboat League Winners:

1st Ben Hazeldine, Charlie Griffiths, Kate Healy
2nd Malcolm James, Andrew Cattermole and Dennis Manning
3rd Gary Butler, Lucy Hodges and Tim Greaves

Category Winners:

B1 - Sharon Grennan, Sally Rodrigues and Jonny Stevenson
B2 - Lucy Hodges, Tim Greaves and Gary Buttler
B3 - Andrew Cattermole, Dennis Manning and Malcolm James

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