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Firefly Open at West Oxfordshire Sailing Club

by Alexander Baxter 27 Oct 2022 19:10 BST 22 October 2022

Seven home boats and three visitors were welcomed to WOSC on Saturday 22nd October by a friendly greeting of bacon sandwiches and a light SSW breeze. After a briefing by race officer Roger Postbeschild, the fleet set off in anticipation for five short races across the day, two before lunch and three afterwards.

Race 1 was a course that could best be described as a squiggle, with the racecourse attempting to make the best of the wind direction the on offer. The start line was short, with a firm port bias. Tony Thresher and crew Jenna Saunders, sailing one of WOSC club owned, Rondar Firefly's, despite not having a watch on board, had the best start. Starting at the pin end, he carried on for half of the first beat on starboard before tacking onto port and leading for the entire race. Rounding in second were Ted and Ella Ashworth sailing Firefly 3556, rounded behind Tony, had an excellent race in second. Back in the fleet was where the real racing commenced. Snakes and ladders occurred with what was an exceptionally changeable wind direction. Having had a shocking start, Alex Baxter, crewed by Hugh Tompkins, managed to pull back through the fleet on the first lap, gybing off at the leeward mark and heading to the far bank to get the most wind, managing to finish in third.

Race 2 was the windiest race of the day. Having learned his lesson from the previous race, Alex Baxter started at the port end. There were cries of illegal assistance as the race officer pointed out to Baxter where the start line was this race. As Thresher did the previous race, Baxter tacked off halfway up the beat and led the entire way round, extending his lead considerably in what had become marginal planing conditions. Rounding in 2nd second were Lucy Boreham and Rachel Crebbin sailing firefly 3739, who, like Baxter, was enjoying the higher wind conditions. It looked like the wind gods had removed any beat for the race's first half, but thankfully, it returned to what became an increasingly tactical race. More snakes and ladders to be played up every beat, with the twitchy wind proving infuriating at times. The primary winner was Jason Aldous, sailing firefly 3288 with his daughter Imi, who had a great race finishing 2nd in what was a tight fight with team Ashworth in third.

Race 3 commenced after an excellent and hearty lunch provided by Tamsin Bradley. The course had been simplified to a figure of eight around the lake, hoping to allow us to sail further away from the increasingly fluky bank. Yet again, this race was decided at the start line. Thresher again won the pin. However, this time it was young WOSC sailor Kieran Bowsher, who was sailing single-handed after lunch as his crew had to dash off, who led. Unfortunately for Bowsher, both Thresher and Baxter managed to overtake him on the long- tactical run, with both heading to the opposite shore whilst goose winging, whilst he, without two more hands, went closer to the bank on a broad reach and got stuck in a lull. Thresher maintained his lead to the finish, with Baxter closing in. Unfortunately (dependent upon perspective), the races were short, allowing Thresher just to stay ahead. Uncoincidentally it was he who had chosen such a format...

Race 4 then began with Thresher counting a 1,1,5 and Baxter on 1, 2, 3. It was very much all to play for, with two races to go. Baxter was determined not to let Thresher win the pin again, and this time very much started amongst it. Bowsher, Thresher, Aldous and Baxter were lined up in that order. Unfortunately for Bowsher, he was too early and had to rotate around. Thresher and Aldous were intertwined and slow off the line. Baxter immediately tacked on the gun and looked good for the first half of the beat. However, a massive leftie came in, allowing Thresher, in Lazarus-like fashion, to squeeze in front of Baxter at the windward mark. A knip-and-tuck race then began between Thresher and Baxter. Thresher managed to stay ahead for the first lap, but Baxter overtook him on the second down-wind, utilising his jib stick to good effect to sail over him and never looked back. The wind picked up for 10 minutes of this race, with torrential rain in what proved an exciting fetch. With the lack of crew and only his own, frankly massive frame - about the same size as the average firefly pair together - Bowsher had another excellent race to finish third.

Race 5 should have decided the day of sailing. However, Thresher chose to call it a day and went ashore, citing several decades as a boat builder as the justification for sore limbs. This left Baxter alone to win the pin end, tack across the entire fleet, and lead the whole way. In second was Aldous, who had a great race and almost caught a somewhat complacent Baxter on the last beat. The wind died off for this race, with the rest of the fleet being heavily compressed. Bowsher again finished third, with Boreham rounding off the top four.

This ensured that Baxter won the open meeting, with Thresher second and Aldous and Boreham tied in third, with the former winning on countback. Indicative of the shifty and challenging conditions, 5th place was also tied between Ashworth and Bowsher (1st singlehanded). The first under-18 was James Ball sailing 2201. First, under 16, Imi Aldous bravely volunteering to crew for her dad like many a firefly crew now do, conveying the class's family-friendly nature.

This was an excellent day's sailing, with WOSC ensuring you are never out of a race. This club has always ensured, with its six club boats, that youngsters have a chance to access race-winning boats, with them always coming in force to the nationals. Many thanks must be given to Tony Thresher for organising the open meeting and his overall effect on the firefly fleet. Baxter learnt to sail with Tony in the front of the firefly, which he now sails, and the firefly class has much to thank him for regarding fixing up old boats and his stewardship as Sails Rep which he has recently stood down from.

Next weekend the fireflies will be off to South Staffs Sailing club for the Island championships and the chance for someone to get their hands on the silver firefly. Many WOSC boats will be heading there, too, in what will hopefully be a bumper fleet, with SSSC having a solid home fleet.

Overall Results:

1st Alex Baxter/Hugh Tomkins (WOSC) 5pts
2nd Tony Thresher/Jenna Saunders (WOSC) 9pts
3rd Jason and Imogen Aldous (Papercourt S.C.) 15pts
4th Lucy Boreham/Rachel Crebbin (Chichester Y.C.) 15pts
5th Ted and Ella Ashworth (Netley S.C.) 18pts
6th Kieran Bowsher (singlehanded) (WOSC) 18 pts
7th Ben Burrows/Veronica (WOSC) 24pts
8th Andrew Robson/MarkPeters (WOSC) 28 pts
9th James Ball/Eve (WOSC) 30pts
10th Emily Batterton/Vanessa Paschte 31pts

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