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Phantoms at Abersoch Dinghy Week

by Mike Webster 3 Aug 2022 07:00 BST 23-29 July 2022
Phantoms at Abersoch Dinghy Week © Oli Hopkins

South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club celebrated its 50th Anniversary of Dinghy Week this year, I suspect a very different looking regatta to the 70's, where sailing saw an explosion of dinghy designs. It's still great to see so many of the classic fleets at the regatta of which the Phantom is one.

The Phantom Class also had its 50th Anniversary last year which has seen the class grow from strength to strength, modernizing with the usual carbon appendages, epoxy moldings etc. but still keeping its roots and great to see some of the original 'Woodies' and tin rigs still hitting the water on the open circuit.

Abersoch is located on the northern edge of Cardigan Bay jutting out on the end of the Llyn peninsula, which attracts its very own Mediterranean style micro climate. The club is positioned at the end of a mile-long golden sandy beach, adorned by colourful beach huts, overlooking the two islands with the Snowdonia mountains as a back drop across the bay... a sailors' paradise.

The Phantoms arrived in the 'Soch' on Saturday in preparation for the six-day-long regatta commencing the following day. The fleet providing a cross section of the class with a number of the more senior long standing sailors, up and coming stars, a smattering of newbies and a multiple national champion, all supported by their experienced and very helpful shore teams.

A big shout out to the newbies John Harrison from Rudyard Lake SC, John Evans Derwent Water SC and Tom Baker Millington from Ballyhome YC near Belfast Northern Ireland. Great to see so many new faces all keen to learn the ropes from some of the more experienced in the class.

This year saw SCYC mix up the format with two, back-to-back races for each fleet, with the Phantoms taking the midday slot. Plenty of time for the younger end of the fleet's advanced party to set up the beach base camp and empty the boats full of windbreaks, rugs, buckets, spades body boards, kites, deckchairs, frisbies..... did I miss anything? The first task of the day once the main party arrived was of course to build sand castles and dig holes. Despite many request none of the Phantom sailors put themselves forward to be buried alive by the kids... funny that!

The morning allowed lots of time for 'Phantom Group Huddles' with lots of banter and an opportunity to gather go fast sailing techniques and rig tuning settings. Never turn down a tip from Andy Couch in my humble opinion, every day's a school day even for the more experience end of the fleet.

The early part of the week's forecast looked decidedly fruity with 25mph and predicted larger gusts, there was some thought that day one might get binned. But the fleet gathered on the sheltered beach on Sunday morning eagerly looking up to the club for signs of flags. Oh no... was murmured as the fleet were cleared for launch! Once outside the shelter of the sand dunes the full force of the 25 mph run to the starting area wasn't for the faint hearted. The whole fleet were keen to get the regatta underway but some were already doubting their decision to launch.

The Race Officer set a perfect line and windward leg followed by a outer loop trapezoid. Not that anyone cared... looking upwind was a sight to behold, a sea of white horses speckled with distant craft. After a clean start the Phantoms battled the waves and super strong gusts arriving at the windward mark with aching limbs. The top reach was spectacular with Andy Couch - Blithfiled SC leading the pack with Mike Webster - Northampton SC close behind, conferring through the spray where the wing mark might be. With no-one particularly looking forward to the run, some deciding the tighter/safer angle flying off to Barmouth. However the brave soul digging deep saw gains, but others and in Mike's case big losses with spectacular capsizes. Not all made it to the finish, but the six that did deserved a well-earned result, Andy clear ahead in 1st, Oli Hopkins - Bowmoor SC in 2nd and Phil Worth - Delph SC in 3rd.

With the forecast for building breeze to 40mph later in the afternoon the second race didn't go ahead, much to the relief of the competitors.

Day two looked more sailable from the shore, but looks can be deceiving. Again a hairy run to the race course and some sailors decided safety over valour as conditions were as extreme as the first day.

A repeat of the trapezoid course saw Andy showing the fleet some impressive strong wind technique, Mike trying his best to keep upright finishing in 2nd and John H thoroughly enjoying his new Phantom in an impressive 3rd.

The second back-to-back race quickly followed with, yes you've guest it, Andy stretching his legs to a commanding lead, but only after a tussle with Oli now getting his sea-legs, with Mike pushing him all the way, eventually showing that experience outguns youth sometimes.

The tired fleet returned to shore to compare notes and assess damage. Matt Neild - Royal Windermere YC coming off worst with a broken spreader bracket, skilfully making it back to shore spreader-less and a mast in one piece. Mike also had carbon issues resultin in cutting 30mm of the top of the mast!

After the athletic start to the week, day three provided a welcomed moderate breeze, treating the fleet to some classic Abersoch champagne sailing and testing the fleet in more shifty conditions. A general recall showed the intention of the helms, helped by an out-flowing tide pushing boats upwind. Oli showing great pace upwind again leading at the windward mark closely followed by Andy, Phil and Tom 'Hotdog' Gissane - Bowmoor SC now getting into his stride. The downwind legs providing new challenges for some in finding pressure and surfing those waves as the fleet spread out wide. Andy proved his National Championship titles by posting yet another bullet, with Oli taking a well deserved 2nd with Phil and Tom G close behind. But it's not over till the fat lady sings as Mike nipped past on the final reach to the finish to take 3rd.

The second race of the day had some new faces at the front, Phil hitting the corner up the beat pushed him close to Andy at the top mark with Tom G sailing conservatively up the middle shifts saw him in 3rd. Richard Sims - Carsington SC, John E and John H, Oli, Mike battling it out with a close race and Tom BM hanging on to the pack, learning lots on the way. Phil held 2nd behind you know who, Tom G slowed down the last run allowing Mike to pass with a clear reach to the finishing 3rd and Richard wining the middle order over the two Johns.

Clearly the weather front had passed through as day four provided an extended 'Phantom Huddle' on the beach waiting for the wind. It didn't arrive so a welcome relaxing beach day was much appreciated, sampling the many delicious flavours of the local Two Islands ice-cream. Well it would be rude not to!

Finally after an express delivery by Ovington Boats and on beach repair, a much relieved Matt was back on the water, clearly with a point to prove. Both races of the day had the same top three positions Andy 2x bullets, Mike 2 x 2nd and Phil 2x 3rd with Matt punching a 5th and 4th as did Oli and John E pushing into the top five for the first time.

The week had started with extreme conditions but ended with a drifter. The Race Officer decided on an inshore, windward-leeward course through the moorings with a shore based start line. A few decided to take an early shower as the rest of the fleet drifted down to the starting area. The first race being abandoned due to a big left shift, the second race started with Andy and Richard leading at the top mark very closely followed by the drifting pack. As one sailor once said, "There's only two big decisions in life - Mint Choc Chip vs. Raspberry Ripple and which side of the run you take." The fleet spread and Andy and Richard relishing the light airs lead at the bottom mark. One more lap completed showed an impressive clean sweep on bullets by Andy, Mike managing to squeeze past Richard who posted 3rd finishing on a high.

A great week's sailing, learning lots, meeting new and catching up with old friends.... what could be better.

Overall Results:

PosSail NoHelmClubR1R2R3R4R5R6RZR8Pts
1st1456Andy CouchBlithfield‑111111117
2nd1440Mike WebsterNothampton SC(RET)223322216
3rd1406Olly HopkinsBowmoor243254‑7424
4th1382Philip WorthDelph SC3(RET)DNC4233531
5th1447Richard SimsCarsington4(DNF)46666335
6th1380John HarrisonRudyard Lake SC5358899(DNC)47
7th77*John EvansDerwent Reservoir SC6(RET)DNC7775649
8th1362Tom GissaneBowmoor(DNC)DNCDNC5488DNC58
9th1455Matt NieldRoyal Windermere YC(DNC)DNCDNCDNCDNC54DNC64
10th97*Tom Baker MillingtonBallyholme Yacht Club(DNC)RETDNC9RET1010769

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