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Cyclops 2023 August LEADERBOARD

Solo class Welsh Championship at Tata Steel Sailing Club - Preview

by Will Loy 12 Apr 20:30 BST 15-16 April 2023
Solo Western Area Championship at Tata Steel Sailing Club © Jacob Dear / John Lockett

Tata Steel Sailing Club, Port Talbot is nestled deep in the borough of Glamorgan, Swansea Bay is a stone's throw from the generously large reservoir which was allegedly built on the grounds of a pre-Norman Church and the town itself is bustling with Welsh people.

Sailing originally took place in the holding tanks for the Steel works (circa 1953) but they re-located to the docks before moving, in 1963 to where they are now, so this must be their 60th anniversary year!

It would be remiss if I did not mention the steelworks, you will not miss them and the chimneys, of which there are many, provide sailors with excellent wind direction and velocity readings though the odd flash of flame can be a little startling.

I have always enjoyed the pilgrimage to South Wales, passing over the Severn Bridge and paying to enter feels much more adventurous than the Dartford experience though the language barriers are equally baffling.

This event has been going since 1996 and has a long and illustrious list of winners including Harvey Hillary in 96, Pete Cumming (of TV sailing punditry fame) and multiple Major winner Andy Davis who has won it...multiple times.

Harvey Hillary 1996
38 entries reflected the interest on the event and with competitors from Devon, Essex and even Stockport, the industrial element of the venue feeling like home for that individual. Kevin Gosling was sailing one of his beautifully built Goslings and won the first race, showing the Threshers, Boons, Crawshaws and Don Marines that beauty and speed can be a thing. obviously with that point made he could relax and did not post a top ten for any of the further 4 races.

Hillary won the event posting a consistent set of top three results in his Gosling 4004, while Jon Clarke, Thresher 4056, and Ewan Walls (now Birkin Walls) Severn Sailboats 4030 completed the podium.

Simon Childs 1997
The fleet of 27 included Jamie Lea, already a bit of a superstar, Andy Bond who, with his brother Graham, redefined the technique of hiking to Ninja level 5 and Simon Childs, a competitor with a smooth sailing style and the demeanour of Derek Nimmo.

Day 1 and light winds presented a mental challenge to the sailors, the fumes from the foundries adding an interesting aroma to the fickle sea breeze. Simon Potts took the race win in his Gosling 4102 (or was it a Miles) Hillary, defending Champion winning race 2 by a clear margin. Day 2 and the wind arrived with the strength of a 70's Welsh pack and Childs, who had two 2nds in the bag, took the title with a 5-2-1 in his Thresher 4101, Hillary and Lea sharing the top tier.

Jon Clarke 1998
My ineptitude at closing out a major and more importantly, my inability to correctly process alcohol came back to haunt me. Interestingly I can find no reference to the event in my NSCA records, I will assume I wiped all recordings of it from the face of the earth following the event. It was windy, I had the title in my grasp until I went to the wrong mark in the final race, gifting Jon Clarke the overall win.

I can still picture his crooked grin as he sailed through the finish line. To be fair, he is the better sailor and a professional drinker.

Robert Holmes 1999
Possibly a shock winner but he would argue it was always on the cards. Diminutive in size, lethal downwind and handy on a puddle. 29 entries included Mark Needler, a sailor with a tenacious, almost spectrum level eye to detail, who would finish second, Andy Bond, who would later win the Nationals and Barry Green. That last name sends alarm bells to any heavy weather sailor because if it is light he WILL beat you. Holmes took the title with a bullet to finish and his father took the Whiskey since Robert was under age.

Jim Hunt 2000
The very first FRP Solo appeared at Tata, raced by Jim Hunt who had helped develop the Winder Solo with Dave Winder and sporting Cumulus mast and Purple Sail. To be honest, the stalwarts of the Class thought Jim was barking, plastic would NEVER be as competitive as wood construction and we were all looking forward to beating the chump. Did they prove us wrong. Jim went on to win every race at the Nationals at Tenby and collected the Nation's Cup too. It would take a few more years though until the penny dropped for the woody royalists.

Pete Cumming 2001
Again, unfortunately no record of Pete's win but I seem to recollect it was windy, nay, survival and only a few races were sailed though I may be doing the boy a disservice and since he has been on Sky Sports, he clearly knows his stuff. Pete raced a Winder 4279, we still thought wood was quicker and it looked prettier.

Barry Green 2002
Barry won in a woody 4222, it must have been blowing down the valleys that weekend, one minute that valley, next minute another! Local legend Bob Taylor was second which shows you how light it was and Tom Davis was third. Andy Davis joined the fleet, his results of 27-9-8-4-4 backing up the long held Solo theory that getting plastered on a Saturday night improves your racing performance if you can handle it.

Ken Falcon 2003
Solo legend Ken Falcon continued the woody tradition, winning possibly his last major in 2003 in 4273, it would also be the last time a wooden Solo would feature at the top. The 34 competitors were tested in the strong winds of Sunday, Saturday's force 2-3 had given Bob Taylor and Simon Jones wins that they will always cherish, beating Falcon was indeed an honour. Falcon and Andy Davis shared wins on day 2, Davis's alcohol induced performance a stark contrast to Falcon's wine sipping but different strokes for different folks.

Chris Brown 2004
Chris got on the winners list in 2004 and repeated it in 2006 and 2012, reminding us of how old he is and how good he is, despite everything. Brown also won the Western Championship here in 2022 so is the guy to beat if horses are for courses. it was a light wind regatta and consistency won the day despite Andy Davis's 2 bullets on day 2. Another sublime light wind technician, Jon Clarke was third, still favouring the Boon wooden hull with his 'works' Edge sail.

Chris Goldhawk 2005
Chris is a talented sailor who still cleans up at Chew Valley when he chooses too, took the title back to his own valley, his scoreline of 2-2-2-1 good enough to beat Clarke who had upgraded to a Winder composite and Chris Brown who had two wins but nothing else to count. The winds were generally force 3, it does that when it blows from the Bay. My 3-7 scoreline from day 1 was not repeated on day 2, 15-18 summing up my continued pattern of drink, puke, sleep, repeat which would make a great T shirt logo for lightweights.

Andy Davis 2007-2008-2009-2010-2016
Andy stamped his authority on the event, his smooth sailing style hiding the technical skill and physical prowess of this (now) legendary sailor. Andy has an unassuming nature but this conceals a burning passion and desire to win, something winners have and the rest of us just experience on the rare occasion when the moon is in a certain consternation and the beer is light.

I could go on but my wife and a glass of wine are both without attention so to summarise Sims, Gillard and Ian Maclean complete our list of winners, let's face it, if Gillard turns up it will be a big ask for anyone else but Davenport would give him some trouble. I will be there to video the action and provide an accurate or entertaining report of how the Welsh Championship was won.

Tata always provide a warm welcome and there is usually a great Saturday evening experience at the local, the fabled Twelve Knights Hotel.

I do hope you can join me in this beautiful location, yes, if the sky is menacing it can resemble a Terminator film set but if the sun is shining it is as green as my Valley.

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