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Illusion National Championship at Bembridge Sailing Club

by Mike Samuelson 2 Nov 2020 06:30 GMT 31 October - 1 November 2020

The lockdown last March put paid to last season's Illusion Nationals, however, by some careful programming it was reschedule to this year's Halloween weekend. With the potential to break the record number of entries for a Nationals, it was sadly not to be, as the forecast of wet and very windy weather kept quite a few people ashore. Mind you, 29 entries is still certainly pretty impressive!

Saturday's forecast was for a SSW'erly F6-F7 with heavy rain at times! Enough to put most the fair weather sailors off, but certainly not the Bembridge Illusion fleet!

Although the harbour is mostly now clear of boats, the wind direction restricted the length of course that could be set. Fortunately the Gosling family boat, Salamander, was available as the finishing Committee boat at the windward mark after two and a half rounds which meant Sea Breeze could remain on the start line ready for the next race.

Despite gusts of 25 knots, 26 boats made a clean start for the first race. Unfortunately John Birchenough's mast collapsed on him just before the start so he had to be towed back in.

Start of Race 1 Saturday

Mark Downer, who always excels in strong winds was first round the windward mark by a good margin and although in second, Bruce Huber was never able to get close enough to put him under pressure. Bill Daniels was a steady third and Ed Peel fourth. A few brave souls flew spinnakers but most sensibly played it safe and goose winged their genoas. As the race developed, a number of boats retired with gear failure of one sort or another.

Although the wind strength remained pretty constant at 25 knots, it was raining quite hard for the start of the second race. All the more credit therefore to the fleet that it was another clean start.

Start of Race 2 Saturday

Start of Race 2 Saturday taken by Crispin Kenyon

Bruce Huber quickly established a good lead and although not quite as far ahead as Mark had been in the first race, he was able to leave the close quarter racing to father and son Downer, with Alex out sailing his father to take a very well deserved second. Jack Grogan was fourth. Mike Toogood had been going well and had been not far behind the leaders until he started submarining as he passed Sea Breeze and filled up! Unhappily for Nigel Grogan his steering broke and scarily he piled into the moored dredger on the right hand side of the course; fortunately his hull was not badly damaged but his mast was another story and he had to be towed back to the Illusion Quay.

The breeze had dropped to a mere 19 knots for the start of the third race! Although a clean start, Alex Downer and Jack Grogan had to double back after they missed the pin and crossed the line on port.

Start of Race 3 Saturday

For Bruce and Mark, it was shades of a Match Racing final as they vied to finish first. On the second run, Bruce took a penalty after Mark established an overlap and Bruce failed to keep clear. However, Bruce got the break on the final beat and came in a boat length in front. Ed was third and Rosie Gosling was fourth. Rolly Wilson emulated Mike Toogood's 'submarining' in the previous race and had to take time out to pump all the water out! Three excellent races in very testing conditions. Slightly annoyingly the breeze dropped and the sun came out as the afternoon wore on, however with the tide dropping quickly, that's sailing!

Sunday's forecast had initially looked a bit more promising, however by mid-morning the strong SW'erly breeze showed little sign of abating. In the expectation that it would begin to drop by midday and the wind over tide chop at Bembridge end of the harbour would reduce, a half hour postponement was announced.

Ignoring Olly Laughton-Scott's completely mis-timed start, the first race of the day, starting again in 25 knots, was another clean start. Mark Downer was inch perfect at the pin end with the overnight overall leader Bruce Huber mid line.

Start of Race 4 Sunday

Mark was first round the windward marks well ahead of Alastair Speare-Cole, Bruce, Jack Grogan and Raymond Simonds. As the race progressed, Bruce moved up to second and finished just ahead of Alastair; Jack was fourth.

Another excellent start for the second race of the day; made even more impressive as just before the one minute signal, it was gusting 31 knots!

Start of Race 5 Sunday

Bruce and Mark were again neck and neck; on the first time through the leeward gate, Bruce went round the right hand buoy and Mark the left; on the second round, it was the other way round! On the final beat, the left side of the course paid off and Mark finished a boat length ahead. Raymond Simonds and Bill Daniels were also close as were Ed Peel and Jack Grogan.

The breeze was a more manageable 16 knots for the start of the sixth and final race.

Start of Race 6 on Sunday

Jack Grogan was the early leader just ahead of Mark with Philip Russell, Ed Peel and David Russell-Jones all close behind. As they began the second round, Ed caught his rig on a moored boat and nearly turned over, however the resilience of the hardy Illusion saved the day and it ended with Ed doing a lot of pumping before he headed home. Mark meanwhile moved ahead of Jack and Alex Downer worked his way into third, ahead of Philip and Bruce who crossed the line with inches between them.

Although not mentioned, there had been some very close racing in every race lower down the order; conditions were pretty extreme at times and its difficult to think of any other one-design class that would have been out racing over the weekend.

Congratulations to Mark Downer who retains the Trophy; and to Bruce Huber who was second and Alex Downer third ahead on a tie break of Jack Grogan who was the highest placed visitor; Rosie Gosling was the first placed lady, Raymond Simonds, the first over 65 and Robin Ebsworth the first over 80!

Finally a big thank you to the Race Officers (including team Gosling) and Safety Boat drivers - Saturday for the latter in particular was well beyond the call of duty! Also to Nigel & Jack Grogan and Hyde Sails for supporting the Championships with some donated new sails and equipment.

More photos at

Overall Results:
If you finished in the top ten at the Illusion nationals then enter your Gear Guide information here

PosHelmSail NoR1R2R3R4R5R6PtsNotes
1Mark Downer16413211161st
2Bruce Huber10121122582nd & most improved
3Alex Downer166725773243rd
4Jack Grogan86848462241st visitor
5Ed Peel16146395R27 
6Raymond Simonds1656775310281st over 65
7Bill Daniels68381084629 
8Alastair Speare‑Cole1351359313838 
9Rosie Gosling13010R41299441st Lady
10Philip Russell1531912131412455 
11Robin Ebsworth12111312101711571st over 80
12Rory Morrison12R15616101461 
13Nigel Grogan49RS6141271 
14David Russell‑Jones1551422R1315771 
15Caroline Simonds13816191617181582 
16Phil Aspenal6721211518191891 
17David Peerless140SSS1181392 
18Justin Biddle125/144129RRS19100 
18Colin Simonds138R10SRSS100 
20Monty Irwin147SSS151116102 
21John Raymond151171611SSS104 
22Simon Childs163511SRSS106 
23Olly Laughton‑Scott80201417RSS111 
24Andy Christie149182014RSS112 
25Mike Issaias1521517SRSR122 
26Rolly Wilson146R18SR16R124 
27John Birchenough37RSSSR17137 
28Mike Toogood142RRSSSS150 
28Jonathan Nainby‑L158RSSSSS150 

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