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Solo class at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta 2022 - Pilot Financial Dinghy Series

by Will Loy 9 Sep 11:53 BST
Will power! © Caroline Loy

Day 1 - Saturday

My day started early, the 3 am alarm a welcome escape from the drudgery of one of my recurring dreams of baking and I set off for work.. .at the bakery. 500 pasties and a few hundred cheese straws later I was relieved from my position and, after squeezing my body into a pair of hikers two sizes too small, headed off to Dittisham Sailing Club to compete in my first 'major' event for eight years.

The club was already buzzing with anticipation, the sailors here are as keen as mustard and their boats lined the beach, sails already hoisted, pointing in a south westerly direction, the luffs lifting slightly as the breeze awakened. I was pleased to see that there is obviously a world wide problem with the longevity of neoprene elasticity, many of the larger sailors looking as uncomfortable as I felt, and that was before we had even jumped into our Solos.

Dittisham has an incredibly vibrant vibe, the heady mix of boundless enthusiasm and inexperience/experience produces some very interesting moments on the water. Fortunately, all is forgiven afterwards.

Chew Valley sent some ninja assassins, Toby Peacock 5976 and John Ellis 6025 and these guys meant business. John's Solo was so new you could still smell the epoxy as it cured.

I took one last hit from the buoyancy chamber and surreptitiously tightened the hatch cover of my stash before floating over to the race briefing, the chime of the club bell bringing me back to earth.

The home fleet was impressive in number and sprinkled with some serious talent, Stuart Hydon clearly head and shoulders above us all which is ironic considering his height. He is an ex Inland Champion as well as a major winner at Winters and Springs so a man for all seasons then.

Jon Clarke is a master of light winds and as graceful and balletic with his movement around a Solo as a gazelle evading a lion, however he is recovering from a serious illness which has robbed him of some much-needed kilograms and with a forecast of a building breeze over the four-day event, his normally cheeky grin was absent. We are lucky to have four female competitors, Ann Biglin, Sam Westcott, Anne Marie Coyle (DSC Commodore) and Jane Morris and they are all fearless and as enthusiastic a Solo sailor you can meet.

PRO Mike Foster is clearly a man with plenty of regattas under his belt and provided a forthright, concise and mildly amusing briefing, many competitors hanging on every word like the disciples did back in the day. We all stumbled back to our boats while trying to memorise the highly complicated windward/leeward course. Some had even marked the course on their flesh despite club official Suzie Stockbridge telling them that it was a permanent marker.

I had recently purchased an old, battered Speed FRP hull, pimping it up with some carefully positioned non slip tape which made it look a whole lot cooler and launched into a slowly rising River Dart.

Race 1

Mike had set the windward mark quite a long way up the finger of water towards Stoke Gabriel and with the start/gate marks close to Galmpton and the breeze strengthening by the second, the thought of a long first beat increased my pulse rate to nearly 65 bpm. It was pretty easy to ascertain which end of the start line was favoured, you could barely cross it on starboard and I pondered for a moment the PRO's comment that he would be setting a fair line, I guess he meant "as long as you all start on the pin".

I concentrated my mind back on the start sequence, factoring in some tidal flow and worked my Solo up the line as competitors zig-zagged around me in an effort to defend their trigger zone. Local legend, multiple Midland Area champion circa 1980s-90's and Edge Sails CEO Jon Clarke nailed the pin with Toby Peacock on his transom but these two held for a vital few seconds, allowing Stuart Hydon and myself to tack off immediately and clear the rest of the fleet.

My Solo was performing well, the weather helm I had experienced on my only other previous sail in this Solo was gone thanks to a last-minute change to the rake setting. Unfortunately, that didn't eradicate the odd kiss from the boom during tacking but it did wake me up. The wind was funnelling down towards us, more strength on the right but a wind bend on the left, and there is the rub. I could not live with Hydon up the beat, his Edge/Kappa rig providing huge pointing ability, albeit accentuated by my natural urge to foot off for speed.

Therefore, you do not have to be a genius to figure out that he hooked into the left lift and got richer while I sunk low and took the long route around the outer rim of the planet which was, in this case, a yellow inflatable sausage. We rounded in close order with a reassuring distance between us and the chasing pack and set off down the long run to the gate marks. Now Stu is no slouch downwind and overtaking him would be equal to Robin Hood crossing a bridge with Friar Tuck standing there and thus was so. Despite some pretty athletic, dynamic, needless roll gybes, he would not yield.

Jon and Toby were having their own personal battle, Toby, the slightly heavier sailor showing some good speed upwind while Jon would utilise his waive-like torso down the run.

Now you may be thinking that given it has taken me multiple paragraphs just to complete one lap, this might be the longest report you have ever read so before you look away let me summarise the second lap. Hydon consolidated, I hung on with Clarke re-taking third on the finish line from Peacock and Ann Biglin who was setting a high bench mark for the other ladies.

Race 2

The wind strength which had reached 12 knots during race 1 had faded and the fleet floated around as the PRO looked on, unmoved and resolute. Like a well-seasoned poker player he held his nerve and was finally rewarded as a dark patch of breeze meandered towards us, the direction was from slightly left of the first race but no need to move the line! And so it was, a heavily biased pin end, some shouting and banging and Hydon and myself able to squirt out of the pack with Clarke, Peacock and Ellis on our tails.

The breeze was holding at around 10 knots, enough to work even my abdominals and we powered up the 0.6 mile beat towards the top mark which appeared to be nodding at us or if you visualise it as a finger, something more offensive. Hydon was first to the mark and gained a few extra yards as I had misjudged the lay line in with a tide now determined to leave us all high and dry. Clarke was next around with Peacock dropping back slightly, maybe the tide caught the Chew Valley land locked sailor out too.

I made no gains on the leader but could hear Jon's bow wave advancing, I would not be looking back though.

(Tip 1) Never show your enemy the fear in your eyes.

Hydon chose the right-hand gate mark and Clarke went that way too but In a moment of clarity and God given genius I noticed that the left mark was closer and we rounded simultaneously, albeit with me positioned to leeward. I might add that it is feasible that I just dropped my tiller at that same critical moment and crash gybed around it but I will stick with my story.

I powered off to the right of the course, hooking into some nice pressure and after being hit by a shift and crash tack which once again nearly left me 10 inches shorter, took the lead, an experience I have not felt for a long time.

Unsurprisingly, I soon relinquished this position to Hydon, the pecking order was resumed and I inwardly bemoaned my parents' inability to instil some determination into me from an early age. The final run was uneventful, Hydon taking a well-deserved bullet with myself and Clarke completing a day one 123 and also a clean sweep for Edge Sails. Peacock and Ellis kept the Chew Valley dream alive and Johnny Moulsdale took a well-deserved sixth.

The sailors returned to shore, always a tricky task with the wind blowing from the south west and a plethora of moored yachts impeding the route in. Fortunately, the smoke wafting from the BBQ provided incentive and a clear visual sign of where the food would be and though exhausted, I summoned some undiscovered reserves of energy, possibly sourced from my love handles and made it home.

Day 2 - Sunday

A good night's sleep had done nothing to ease the aches and pains of the previous days exertions and frustratingly, I had been rendered unconscious the moment my head smashed into the pillow so had not had time to even bathe in the two second places I had miraculously achieved. Brushing my teeth I again reflected on my weak ambition and promised my inner self I would do better, closing the mirrored bathroom cabinet with some force.

The short trip to the club took me across the lower ferry at Kingswear and with the sun poking it's head out from somewhere near Brixham, the reflection off the hillside of Dartmouth was a blur of pastille shades, only spoilt by a solitary Seagull who was totally oblivious to the majesty of it.

My heart dropped, no wind. The rest of the 4 mile journey was spent scanning tree tops, flag poles and dead leaves in the vain hope of finding a sign of the forecast south westerly. Being the centre of positivity, I ventured that hopefully there would be absolutely nothing and we could go home early but my first glimpse of the race area and the gentle breeze upon it soon put that notion to bed.

I stumbled out of the car, wondering whether my inability to walk properly would validate me for a blue badge and dragged myself and my feeble determination to the dinghy park which, infuriatingly, was full of those keen as mustard sailors, all seemingly Olympiad ready.

PRO Mike had provided another corker of a briefing, informing all the fleets, and at this point I should insert that there were Laser and PY fleets racing with us, anyway, Informing us that it would be a long distance race and the course would involve two and a half windward/leewards and then a circumnavigation of the outer marks before venturing to the yellow inflatable' finger' positioned somewhere near Stoke Gabriel. The assembled crowd looked at the course board incredulously and then the glass like H2O, this would indeed be a long race if it stayed like this!

The PRO was unmoved by our sad faces and promised it would get better...well it couldn't be much worse.

I heaved my weary torso into my Solo, not unlike one of the local sea lions mounting a dory and fixed my rudder in the down position. This just about drained me of the last dregs of energy and I mulled over my life/food/wine choices as I floated down with the tide to the committee boat.

Miraculously, the wind filled in from just to the left of the Ferry Boat Inn which, while surprising the 60 competitors, must have just re-affirmed the PRO's confidence in his ability to talk to the Lord Almighty.

To the race then.

Race 3 (and 4)

Wind around 7 knots from the south and a heavily port biased line which is obviously Mike's trademark. I guess it keeps the fleet away from his end! Into the last few seconds of the start sequence, the beeping of 29 optimum timepieces only ramping up the adrenaline levels and we all rafted towards the poor defenceless little outer distance mark like a forest of freshly slain lumber heading down a Canadian river. Clarke and Sam Westcott are just ahead of me but early, surely they will both shoot the line and re-round.

Jon Clarke though has been here a thousand times and guessing his sail number will be hidden, tacks just before the gun, forcing a domino effect through those closest to the unfolding drama. Screams of derision fill the quiet parish air and after the decibels have subsided, he does his penalty turns. Unfortunately, Sam also does turns in the assumption that she may have impeded me and that messes up her race.

Away from the melee and it is Stuart Hydon who has powered off into the lead with a number of sailors on his transom. Your author is once again there or there about with Clarke making a good recovery to round sixth or seventh. Apologies to those who have total recall and were there at the first mark but I had my focus on keeping the boat going in the lightish breeze!

After the 2.5 laps Hydon was already stretching out a comfortable lead but the long reaching, fetching, running leg brought John Ellis, Peter Sturgess and Jon Clarke into the mix, much to my disappointment.

Hydon had disappeared and I waved as he passed by on the long beat back to the finish while I continued to try and hang on to the other sailors wake.

At the gun it was Hydon again with the sort of metronomic regularity which made snooker champion Steve Davis boring. Peter Sturgess used all his guile and wisdom to claim second from John Ellis and I finished just behind Jon to end a long and mentally draining race.

Toby Peacock finished strongly in sixth with Ann Biglin again performing impressively in seventh.

The post-race buffet was a pleasure on the culinary senses, sandwiches filled with delicious things, quiches already pre-sliced for instant consumption and the piece de resistance, pasties, delivered hot from the Red Lion, steaming and looking delicious. I mulled over the platter, identifying one with a perfect left handed side crimp and limped off to find a comfy chair to further investigate the filling.

Just as I thought I could eat no more, the announcement that there were puddings rippled through the crowd and, though the journey back to the serving table was not without much suffering, the sticky toffee pudding was worth it.

Day 3 - Monday

I usually have Mondays off work so this regatta format should have fitted right into my work schedule but with my body aching like it was in the early stages of rigor mortis, work may have been a reprieve.

The forecast for the day, and believe me, I had scanned all available weather prediction stations for one that would give me a reason to keep on living, was not particularly favourable for fatsos so I ate another biscuit and crawled to the club, mentally preparing for the positive vibe that awaited me.

Sure enough, Solos were preparing to launch, sailors wearing happy smiles, bounced around like marathon runners preparing for the start gun, great... At this juncture I should formally congratulate the Dittisham Sailing Club's Commodore, Ann Marie Coyle whose enthusiasm for promoting both sailing and joviality is indomitable and, going by the cheerfulness of the club members, highly infectious.

I bumped into Sam Westcott on the way to my boat, hugely competitive and getting better every week and we discussed the incident on day 2 when she was impeded by Jon on the start line. After summoning some data from the back of my grey matter we parted ways, my experience of starting technique legendary in my head and now passed on to another generation.

We floated out to the race arena, no wind and a slight mist doing nothing to inject interest into my consciousness. Fortunately, after plenty of waiting, the breeze arrived and with my interest aroused, l switched into race mode. The PRO was once again rewarded for his patience, nobody wants to start a race in Mickey Mouse conditions, that said, we do have plenty of practice at Dittisham!

Race 5

Seconds to go and with the transom cam fitted to my Solo, I would be able to share with the world, via Facebook, Youtube and Instagram, my prowess of the start. Port bias, no surprise there and a nice 10 knots for the windward/leeward course as the countdown continued. I zig-zagged down towards the heavily favoured line, heading up to make a little pocket of space to bare off into, textbook stuff. Jon was right on my transom and nudged me forward with perfect timing, setting me proud of the line with no where to decelerate.

The gun fired, well hooted, and I frantically searched for a gap to bail out, finding one behind the transom of Hydon. Utilising all my inflexibility I crash gybed and headed up around the pin, miraculously finding a clear lane through a raft of starboard tackers.

At the top mark Hydon led from Clarke with Peacock and myself in contention and the breeze building to almost planing mode.

Tip 2 Better to get a bad start at the right end than a good start at the wrong end.

Ann Biglin and Robin Simpson were also in the mix and trading blows down the run. The beats were one sided and there were no major changes so at the gun it was a top three of Hydon, Clarke, Peacock. Biglin scored another fifth and Simpson sixth, his best result so far in this regatta.

Race 6

The breeze was holding, nee increasing as various cloud formations passed over this beautiful Devonian hamlet. Another Hydon masterclass, insane pointing ability and a cool head on his shoulders left a trail of disappointed sailors behind him save for his partner Ann who must have been quietly chuffed with his on-the water performances, even if he was beating her as well.

Jon recorded his second 2nd of the day, a tidy score and, given that he is still a mile from being match fit, a miracle in my book. I managed to hold off Toby for a satisfactory third, having to adopt some close cover tactics as we headed to the finish line, which the PRO had teasingly set among the moored yachts. John Milson managed a creditable fifth with Ann Biglin, sixth and setting a high bar for the other female competitors.

We returned to shore just as the sun made a welcome appearance and dragged our Solos up the slip with varying degrees of difficulty though I am confident that I would have been last, if it had been a race.

The Belles laid on an amazing spread of delicious snacks and cakes/puddings which were devoured with much enthusiasm. It was only hours later that I began to regret the extra cream I had applied to the pudding and can now add lactose intolerance to my growing list of ailments.

Day 4 - Tuesday

This was the crucial finale to an awesome regatta, the last 2 races and with a forecast of potentially strong winds, preparation would surely start with a good sleep to repair the torn muscle fibres before a hearty breakfast to replenish the energy stocks...

At 2.59 a.m. I awoke, 30 seconds before my alarm and, sneaking up on it from the dark, gave it a good whack. Now it knows how It feels.

I did my stretches, an act I have done religiously for years with limited benefit. Initially bending to pull my trousers up before leaning backwards with the extended shoe horn to work my heels into the toe techs.

To be honest, work was probably the best tonic for my weary body and I was pretty keyed up for racing by the time I had completed my final Steak and Stilton pasty.

I was sitting a couple of points behind Jon but neither were in touching distance of Stuart who had an unblemished scorecard. Toby Peacock, John Ellis, Peter Sturgess and Ann Biglin were in a battle of their own but could anyone halt the bullet train that was Stu.

We launched into a gentle breeze but with dark clouds rolling towards us from over the church, which is ominous, it looked like we were in for some drama. The wind soon increased to full hiking mode which made a few of the well-proportioned sailors quite happy. The yellow sausage had been positioned well up towards the moored yachts and with the tide flooding in, the dilemma is, do you try and stay out of the tide or get into more breeze?

The fleet blasted out of the blocks, generally towards the port end and heading left towards the tidal shelter. Hydon and Clarke were furthest left and tacked on the first big header which took them to the top mark with myself gaining after holding on towards the cliffs 'Garda' style.

There followed a rather exciting and dramatic race which was fought in increasing breeze as the cloud compressed the wind down onto the course. Clarke held the lead for a lap or two but your author found a huge lift on the right of the course which took me right back into contention. The pivotal moment came at the leeward mark when the Phantom of James Dodd forced Clarke and Hydon to the right gate, allowing me to go left and hook into another big righty.

While all this was happening Ellis was creeping up with John Milson and these two were clearly enjoying the windiest conditions of the regatta. My recollection of this race may be slightly skewed, there was a lot happening but in one incident, I tacked with Ellis bearing down on me, lost my balance narrowly avoiding Denise Winks upturned Laser and then death rolled towards a safety boat which was on station. It was honestly more exciting than it reads.

Anyway, I held to take the bullet, the adrenaline subsiding immediately and rendering me physically pathetic. I took a moment to wish I was 20 again and then reminded myself that the boat is called Will Power so I better suck it up. Hydon sneaked past Clarke up the last leg, nearly going the wrong side of the finish line which would have cheered everyone up. Ellis was fourth and could now justify the purchase of a new Solo to his wife, Milson fifth and Sturgess a valiant sixth.

So, to the last race of the regatta. There was a long delay as the wind swung and oscillated in strength but PRO Mike made the call to God and it settled back down ready for a fitting conclusion. The fleet powered off left, the tide and a big left-hand lift were there to be exploited and team Chew, along with most of the fleet followed the impressive figures as they powered upwind in the gusty conditions. Clarke, Hydon and myself tacked in almost perfect synchronisation, the header was that obvious!

The Solo is a handful when it's this windy and Jon was doing a great job of feathering up in the gusts while Hydon and I got our sizeable gluteus muscles over the side. I looked ahead and to the left of the course, acknowledging that the large part of the fleet were well above us and we would have to take a hit when we tacked. It was then a surprise when we looked up and saw the yellow finger of derision, gesturing us towards it. The PRO had moved the mark miles right from the previous race and no one had noticed!

We rounded with a nice lead over the fleet as they reached in from some very deep angles, the sounds of disappointment, dismay and frustration filled the air and we looked at each other knowingly, we have all been there.

Clarke and Hydon exchanged positions on multiple occasions and I could not really see a way past but fortune favours the brave and after taking one more dip into the right hand pool of luck, I found myself second which I managed to hold until the gun with Clarke, Biglin and Milson just behind.

The combined fleets returned to the warm embrace of the clubhouse and its splendid view of the Dart, a quintessential British, grass roots sailing club with no airs or graces or snobbery, just somewhere beautiful to enjoy a sail and a common interest. Pilot Financials' Ian Thomas was on hand with our own amazing Steve Black to congratulate the winners, a massive thank you for your support to make this event possible. The final catering feast was provided by Amazing May's Tacos and they were.

So, in summary...

Stuart Hydon demonstrated his huge natural talent while the rest of us did our best to make him look good. As a lesson to some of our more inexperienced sailors, Stu kept his head out of the boat, anticipated potential chaos and avoided it...apart from that Phantom, and a Laser.

Jon Clarke showed he is still one of the most talented sailors in a Solo, despite using a technique no one should try and copy without safety cover. His antics in race 3 had 'Clarkey' written all over them and he has been called many things in his long and illustrious career, rogue, chancer, optimist some of the nicer ones but I would say he is a hero for even competing at this high-octane level of competition.

Toby Peacock and John Ellis were very welcome visitors and their presence raised the whole tempo of the regatta. Team Chew Valley showed some good speed and maybe the local knowledge was their downfall. I have fond memories of the venue and hope we can muster up some of our own fleet to visit in 2023.

Peter Sturgess split the two Chew sailors, this very unassuming sailor has more experience than most and his 2nd in the long-distance race, beating Jon for the first time I understand, was a feat of excellence in tenacity and patience.

Ann Biglin was the first lady in seventh, only three points off fourth and she is certainly a force to be reckoned with in any condition. All the ladies were involved in battles throughout the regatta and their boat handling, at times, testified to the friendly nature of the Solo and this was also a reflection on the warmth of the club, it's officials and all who played a part in making the Pilot Financial Regatta a success.

Finally, I managed to pip Jon and also deny Stuart a clean sweep of bullets but the physical exertions required have still rendered me totally useless for three weeks. Whilst will power played a part in my limited success I am seriously considering changing the name to 'Some Will Power' thus reducing people's expectations.

Event website: dartmouthsailingweek.com

Overall Results:

PosSail NoBoat NameHelmClubR1R2R4R4R5R6R7R8Pts
15504No nameStuart HydonDSC‑111111‑216
28Will PowerWill LoyDSC22‑5‑5431214
34550SnapperJon ClarkeDSC33‑4‑4223316
45976Elysium BlueToby PeacockCVLSC446634‑7‑1027
54612SwansongPeter SturgessDSC6‑922‑876629
66025Catspaw IIJohn EllisCVLSC‑115337‑84830
75635No nameAnn BiglinDSC5‑87756‑9434
85228MuppetryJohn MilsomDSC812(DNS)(DNC)1655551
94968Powder BlueRobin SimpsonDSC7‑21996‑14111153
10879Pink FizzJayne MorrisDSC‑107101091010‑1256
115157LagerthaSam WestcottDSC911‑16‑1612981362
125435OchoRichard AllenDSC(DNS)(DNS)88151820776
135333No NameJohnny MoulsdaleDSC186‑20‑201119131683
144643Snowy OwlBen MorrisDSC201012121415(DNC)(DNC)83
154992Last ChanceAlison BanfordDSC1713(DNS)(DNC)171117984
165427Jolly RogerRoger PopeDSC‑23‑1615151313151485
174543BonusAlan WalkerDSC13‑181717101712‑2086
185304ButterflyAnne‑marie CoyleDSC16151414(RET)16‑19RDG92.3
1951571Red SnapperMartin FodderDSC14‑201818‑2412RDGRDG97.4
204769No namePeter EdwardsDSC19‑2513131921‑2322107
214941Wolf Rock ItPaul YeadonDSC1217‑232322‑241818110
225424The Boat from BeerMike BennettDSC‑241421211822‑2517113
234830HungweSimon BrightDSC22192424‑25‑251615120
245301OlaTrevor KirkinDSCDNS(DNC)11112120(DNC)DNC122
254720SubitoTerry PhillipsDSC21‑23222220‑272219126
263835No nameJoddy ChapmanDSC152419192626(DNC)(DNC)129
274704No nameNigel Ridley 25222525(DNC)(DNC)2421142
284748JongleurMartin GregoryDSCDNSDNSDNS(DNC)232321(DNC)153
295301OlaMike WebsterDSC(DNC)(DNC)DNCDNCDNCDNC14RET157

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