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2023 Phantom National Championship - Runners and Riders

by Mark Spruce 13 Sep 2023 16:05 BST 16-18 September 2023
Why we do it: Prizes, glory and adulation (adulation and glory not shown) © Mike Webster

I've just had a meeting with my bookie's assistants and my snouts and I'm now sat here, slurping my pint of Black and Tan in the public bar of the Muzzle & Leash pub next to the Adult Shop, just over the road from Walthamstow Dog Stadium.

I should have been sipping champagne at the Cheltenham Race Course but ever since the unfortunate incident with the strawberry, the Chihuahua, the duck and the ladies pantyhose, I am not allowed closer than 15 miles to the course. The injunction runs out at the end of January 2024 so hopefully, next year will be more civilised?

Anyway, I digress. I'm sure you're not interested in my tips for the 7.45 Petigrease Chum sponsored "Last Chance Saloon or its Pet Food" stakes at Walthamstow this evening.

Ah yes - The 2023 Phantom Class National Championships Runners & Riders Review - that's why I sent my scouts Nationwide and was suffering a brown ale and stout in this dodgy establishment!

Once again, we have a quality fleet due in Abersoch later this week.

One sure tip I can give is that last year's Champion will not win! He won't be there.

Andy "Taxi" Davies has been caught up in a cult and passed over to the "Dark Side". Like Andy Couch, he's decided to learn how to sail properly and get some lessons from our European cousins. Last seen with a glazed expression muttering something about "trying to beat that bloody Nick Craig and those damn Danes & Swedes" as he walked into his sewing (sail-making?) occupational therapy class. I'm sure he'll be OK (see what I did there?) next year and may even return to a real man's dinghy?

So, this leads the field wide open with most of last year's Top Ten returning to challenge for the silverware. All are capable of standing on the podium.

Second last year and with plenty of practice under his belt is the silver haired, smiling assassin Mike Webster. He's secretly trained at the venue every year for the last 18, just for this one event. That's dedication! Whatever his result, he'll still smile as he reaches through your lee on the last reach.

Third was Simon Hawkes. He's "Back" again for another try but often complains about his problem dorsum. Seems to disappear after a few beers though? His preparation has included the K1 Nationals and winning the South West's premier event, the Torpoint Mosquito Regatta. As long as he can keep his Floater floating and in one piece, he's surely a serious contender?

Fourth last year was Nick Orman. Family life seems to suit him - he's not at risk of wearing out his sail through overuse. Has won some good training events but is he up to the big one? He starts well, has good speed and is very fast downwind. His only weakness is not drinking enough beer with Simon Hawkes - if he had last year, he would have listened to anything Hawksey said just before the final race!

In fifth was this year's Inland National Champion Rob Cook from Northampton. Single-handedly keeping P&B afloat with all his sail purchases, he is fast in all areas and always in the frame, particularly in the light to medium stuff. A corporate software sales specialist, will Ver.13.33 of Robsailsslowsail2023 pass it's beta testing?

What more can we say about man-mountain Martin Watts? Sixth last year, some say he trains at Netley SC fuelled by raw meat and a good Burgundy. He normally manages a race win and if the wind blows, after winning the very windy Lee on Solent Open, he might take the overall. Maybe he should have painted his new boat the same colour as his boss's boat - Pinot Noir red? Not so good on the start line but take it from me, it hides the wine stains well!

Carl Gibbons was seventh and is my dark horse contender this year. A great result in an older boat for his first Phantom event. He's been knocking in some great International results crewing in the 505. A quiet Gentleman, always smiling while he's picking your pocket of your best regatta result unseen behind your back. He lets' his sailing do the talking but he's not getting any more sail trimming tips from me!

Another top ten contender is Josh Hyland. This ever smiling NW mid-lander is a young man sailing an Old man's boat (JJ Drop Floor) and is getting faster in every event. He sails fast and his training involves beer and nearly winning the Blaze Nationals before he broke his brother's mast! (Best ask him!). Watch this space!

So there are 7 who are likely to make the top ten. It's going to take someone special to displace them. But who?

First to watch is the emerging Duncan Adams from Burton SC. Since losing weight, he's won a couple of key events in the midlands. Clever, consistent and fast on all points on flat water. Musically, I believe he likes a bit of Rock and Roll - he's certainly got the rhythm - let's see if he can make that work in the waves too?

Another to watch, particularly if its windy is Paul Birbeck. A partner in crime with Hawksey, they sail a VX1 together and have just bought a Sonata yacht. Sail hard and play hard - never let yourself get caught drinking with the two of them before an important race day. If it blows he'll be up there.

My final wild card for a Top Ten is Richard Nurse. Sailing the newest boat in the Fleet (#1500), if he started well and sailed good first beats he'd be dangerous! Ridiculously fast downwind, he spends most of his race playing catch up. He's been practising hard, is very fit and I think his day is not far off.

The New Boy in the fleet and a fierce fighter is Adam Froggatt from Chase SC. Really fast in the light, inland events this year, he's done a lot of crewing in 2-man boats with his Dad. I understand he's never sailed a Phantom on the sea so I'm praying for big wind and waves. That way I might not lose another argument with him on different tacks at the leeward mark!

The Joker in the pack has to be previous multiple National Champion Harry Briddon. I've not personally met him but my snout says he's back after a 2 year break. Young, fit and beefy (he clearly has an admirer?) he should be fast if there's enough wind to hike all the way round.

Best of the rest? If it's lighter then there are two "Racing Split Pins" to watch out for. Jim Hopton and Tom Whittingham. They are fully hiked in a Force 0 - most of us will be studying their transoms all weekend!

The Black Sheep(s) of the family have to be the returnees from the Dark Side - we will kill the fatted-calf to celebrate their return from the OK class (as long as they buy us all a beer in the bar!).

Nigel King - I think he'll do well if he just turns up for fun and doesn't try too hard. He's borrowed Gordon Kingston-Minnis's #1265 and has plenty of high quality, big fleet experience under his belt this year.

Same for John "Titch" Wayling. This class Leg End (sorry - Legend) is sailing a very new loaner boat. He too will be relaxed, having recently retired and invested in some sailing lessons from the Europeans. If you want to know which way to go on the run, look for #1498. - he'll be sailing low and fast, taking 20 places in clear air all the way!

I'm not sure if they have entered or not but included in the Black Sheep would be Tim Denby and Jeremy Deacon - you're forgiven boys (almost).

Just like the weather forecast, we have some Regional Variation.

From the Land of Our Fathers and Dragon slayers, we have 5 entries from somewhere in Wales, whose name I can't pronounce! Will Willet and Johnny Everett are 2 of the names I know but I'm sure the whole fleet could spring a few surprises!

Tom Baker-Millington is bringing some Irish craich but his results will depend on having a good local supply of Guinness.

Jimmy Sanderson and John Shaw are making the long journey to Sassenach land from North of the border - I hope they're bringing the scotch? And, after last night's footie they may have something to prove?

From the South West there are 3 strong entries. If it blows, Jon Rickard is a real contender. He's B-Fast upwind and won the Starcross SC Open this year. Matt Blakeston has just upgraded to a newer boat and Ship's Captain, Alex Carr is a very wily competitor. Another youngster who can make hundreds of metres with fantastic downwind speed.

Don't forget the Eastern Massif - made up of the hard men from the River Thames, Kent coast littoral area and the Essex Rivers. Phil Longley, Clive Morley and the Denby boys have been around for years, know the territory and are not easily beaten. This year Big Bill Taylor from Creeksea is making an appearance. Now a full-time sailor he navigates his Phantom like his red London Routemaster bus - get in his way at your peril! I'm delighted he's here - if the wind blows Bill will go and should make the top ten.

Another Essex boy made good is Andrew Hunt. Now a tax-free Guernsey Island resident, he can afford a quiver of boats - Guernsey, the UK and who knows where else - Monaco? I'm hoping he will give me some tips on how to make my boat a tax deductible item.

And, finally, we have the Woodies. Mike Blunt, Dean Saxton and Yossi - I hope they can all make it and prove that organic, non-petroleum based boats can still be fun.

So, there are my top tips. I'm sure there are more but nothing in life is free - I have an expensive sailing habit to fund. The injunction means that I have been banned from giving odds publicly so please join my STD Clinic (Sprucey's Tipster Directorate). Available for all sailors who want a sure-fire, guaranteed return on their wager investment. Simply email your bank details and the name of your favourite pet & the sail number of your first Phantom to my lawyers:-rippemhoffandscarpa@cell33lagoshilton.nigeria.con I offer a full satisfaction, huge earnings and eternal happiness.

Just ask the Solo fleet - many now have extra boat-speed since losing weight from their wallets.

As always, none of us would be sailing this event without the support of our class sponsors who have stepped up to support us this year and help keep my wine merchant's tab down.

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