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Harken Solo class End of Season Championship at Draycote Water Sailing Club

by Will Loy 14 Nov 2023 11:59 GMT 11 November 2023
Harken Solo class End of Season Championship at Draycote Water © Will Loy

Draycote Water Sailing Club hosted the Solo EOS on Sat Nov 11, and 35 sailors enjoyed/endured two races in light and unstable winds, the only constant being the direction which tracked right on the compass throughout the day.

Harken were generously sponsoring this event, the class are indebted to them for their support throughout the year and our control lines and mainsheets are grateful for the precision engineering that goes into Harken ratchets and cleats. Obviously, other hardware suppliers are available!

I had made the journey up from Brixham in the early hours, enjoying the morning sunrise and a spectacular view of the Moon and Venus, as rare an occurrence as a Vince Horey round. The four hour trip gave me plenty of time to reflect on some highlights of the North Sails Super Series so I settled into my deep leather, ergonomically perfect seat, lowered the volume and opened a packet of Murray Mints.

North Sails Super Series Summary

The NSCA have enjoyed a number of years of North Sails Super Series support and up for grabs this year was a huge discount voucher on a new North sail, the P3 being the weapon of choice for many of the fleet. Thanks again from the competitors to North Sails, we had 16 qualifiers who did 5 events and a further 16 who fell just one event short of being included in the EOS Super Draw.

March Q1

Oliver Davenport had set the benchmark high early in the season with a convincing win at a very blustery re-arranged Noble Marine Winter Championship with Jamie Morgan and Fergus Barnham keeping him honest. Charlie Nunn and Rich Pepperdine completed the top five.

April Q2

Oliver Davenport was on form again at Brightlingsea, contesting the Superspars Spring Championship at the venue for next year's Nationals/Nation's Cup with Alex Butler and Jonny Coate completing the podium. Jasper Barnham and Jonathan Swain finished 4 and 5 but neither would qualify in the series, falling one event short.

May Q3

Davenport completed a hat trick of wins and arguably his best of the year at the Nation's Cup in Medemblik though he was pushed all the way by Paul Dijkstra (NED) and Tom Gillard with Morgan and Menno Huisman (NED) completing the top five. The Dutch venue provided a stern and exhausting test for sailor and equipment and full marks to the Nederlandsie Solo Class who continue to grow the Solo fleet in Europe.

June Q4

The Harken Nigel Pusinelli Trophy is always hotly contested and although the fickle conditions tempered the pulse, racing was still fierce. Mark Lee, very much a journeyman in the Solo fleet had his moment in the spotlight and took home the title of 'major winner' with Nigel Davies, Alex Butler, Chris Brown and Nigel Thomas completing the top five. Lymington Town is a fabulous sea venue, we just needed 7 knots of breeze to fight the 6 knots of tide. Event Series leader Davenport collected a 7 which he would later discard.

July Q5

The Selden National Championship was hosted by Hayling Island Sailing Club and the fleet of 97 Solos were blessed with some classic Hayling Bay conditions. Ben Flower took the title by the slimmest of margins from Charlie Cumbley and Davenport with Richard Lovering and Martin Frary completing the top five. Of the nearest North Sails Super Series contenders, Brown was 7th and Morgan 13th so the leader had extended to an almost unbeatable position.

The series is made up of eight major events and competitors can also include one Area Championship result so with this in mind, below are our Area Event Champions:

  • Welsh Championship: Jamie Morgan
  • Scottish Championship: Kev Gibb
  • Allen Midland Championship: Jasper Barnham
  • Triggernaut/Magic Marine Western Championship: Oliver Davenport
  • Superspars Eastern Championship: Jonny Coate
  • Harken Southern Championship: Chris Brown
  • Winder Boats/Impact Marine Northern Championship: Martin Honnor

September Q6

Pim van Vugt won the Dutch Championship in a fleet of 55 Solos with Paul Dijkstra and Menno Huisman completing the podium. Jelmer Kuipers and Ted Bakker completed the top five and next year's Nationals/Nation's Cup should be hotly contested with a strong contingent from the Netherlands expected.

November Q7

Tom Gillard won the Superspars Inland Championship but would be unable to qualify for the Super Series, his talent is spread across a number of classes and even a win at the final event would leave him one qually short. Morgan in second strengthened his grip on second overall while Davenport in third cemented his overall position. Honnor and Ewan Birkin-Walls completed the top five but Brown's eleventh would eventually be a discard.

Back to the Action

So, with just the EOS remaining as qualifier 8, Davenport holds a 1-1-1-3, also counting a 1 from winning the Western Area Championship, so an unbeatable hand. The real excitement is for second with Jamie Morgan, Chris Brown, Ewan Birkin-Walls, Jasper Barnham and Alex Butler all in with a shout.

I arrived at Draycote just before 9 a.m and headed up towards the reservoir, the trees surrounding the carpark, cloaked in their amazing technicolour dream coats stood almost motionless which would have disappointed Joseph, only the gentle rustle of some auburn tinted leaves on the highest sections giving me some hope.

I was then, totally surprised to see the reservoir covered in dark stripes of grey, flags flicking like Lizard tongues and indicating a good 10mph from 270 degrees. I gave my Nikon P950 a gentle reassuring rub, the journey would not be fruitless after all. I adjusted its position away from my groin and made my way to the clubhouse canteen, three back to back races require a high level of carb intake and Draycote has always delivered a good breakfast bap, after such a long drive I was wasting away.

Unfortunately, the club staff were slightly under-manned and their priority would be the launching of safety ribs, hence the galley was as empty as my stomach. I took a moment to reflect on my life choices for the day and my dismissal of the seven service stations I had passed on my way up the M5, making a mental note to never make that mistake again. Fortunately, after what seemed like five minutes, an official manned the kitchen and a sausage bap was delivered and absorbed.

Our PRO for the day would be Dave Rowe and he provided a short and concise briefing to the 35 competitors, a good effort given we had our Inlands just last weekend. The forecast was for the wind to track right throughout the day and drop to 3mph by 3pm so it was time to get on the water.

Race 1

The start line was in front of the clubhouse with a good beat up to the left hand side of the reservoir so surely the Committee boat end would be busier than Oxford Street at Christmas? I directed my rib driver to position our media platform at the favoured end despite pointing directly into the Sun and prepared to be blinded, preying that the auto-focus software in my Nikon would know what to do.

Surprisingly, the fleet lined up along its full length, the breeze dropping off a click or two and with the burning ball of fire still low in the November sky, gold and silver laminate sails provided a natural filter.

Ewan Birkin-Walls nailed the Committee end with Jasper Barnham, Alex Butler, Chris Brown, Oliver Davenport and Nigel Thomas all below him, tacking off immediately towards the right with Barnham and John Steels peeling off behind him with the timing of an aerial display team.

Phil Sturmer and Tom Gillard saw the beat from another perspective, possibly spotting more breeze up the left of the course, they hit the pin end before tacking back towards the middle but which side would pay?

Solo rigs were fully powered up and with hulls on a perfect plane with the horizon to maximise lift, holding a lane would not be easy. Roll tacking a Solo in these conditions is both a joy and a necessity, Jack Holt's chined hull design was both simplistic and ingenious, no wonder it is still so popular but the trick today would be staying in the lines of pressure and at the top mark it was Sturmer with Gillard right on his transom. Class President Guy Mayger had managed to extricate himself away from salt water and rounded third, 20 seconds behind the leading pair with Birkin- Walls, Davenport and Andy Carter the top six.

The run saw the fleet spread across the reservoir searching for the next vein of breeze, some rolling the dice headed left, hoping the wind would follow the instructions as outlined on all the weather prediction sites while others relied on their instincts and the eyes in their heads.

Gillard and Sturmer rounded the gate marks simultaneously with Birkin-Walls and Carter gaining to within 10 seconds. Mayger was demoted to fifth from Michael Gifford and former Inland Champion Neil Wilkinson as the wind held at a punchy 5mph.

Carter had a blinder on the second beat, hitting all the right shifts to move into a slim lead over Gillard with Birkin-Walls and Wilkinson within 5 seconds at the top mark. The clock was ticking and given the forecast, the position of the Sun in the sky and the spread of the fleet, I suggested to my driver that we motor to the finish area.

Carter headed left and lost a bunch of yards to his closest rivals who had both hooked into a gentle streak of pressure towards the middle of the course, Birkin-Walls from Gillard but with nothing but a layer of gelcoat between them. The two to them headed to the left gate mark, Birkin-Walls, motionless in his Winder Solo, ghosting over the top of his rival and grabbing the inside lane but with the Committee boat as silent as a chapel and no flags or finishing mark dropped, the two hardened up and headed for a third pulsating lap, Gillard possibly secretly smiling.

To be fair, I would have been going bananas had I been in Ewan's boots but he is calmness personified, a great example of how to stay in the moment. Back on the rib and a slap from my rib driver brought me back to reality and I turned my attention and energy towards the race. Birkin-Walls continues right as Gillard tacks immediately, Sail GP style to provide some 'separation'.

At the top mark on lap three and Gillard is back in the lead, Birkin-Walls is hunting him down, looking to put to bed that Abersoch 2022 final reach debacle where he was pick-pocketed on the line. Carter is still third and with the fleet still rounding the gate marks, poor blighters. I reached into my memory banks to try and locate a longer race and there were a few but they were in the 1980's when a 90 minute race was standard practice, a lifetime away from the fast paced world we live in now.

The leaders filtered down the run towards the bottom turning gate, both trading gybes like punches but with grace and an agility of professional ballroom dancers and it would be Birkin-Walls taking the bullet with Gillard, Carter, Davenport and Wilkinson. The PRO compassionately put the remainder of the fleet out of their misery with flag Zulu and with the breeze, which had obediently tracked right by 90 degrees beginning to fade to below 4 mph, I signalled to my driver to take me ashore.

While I could have stayed aboard for race 2, the spectacle of filming Solos racing in these marginal conditions is an absolute waste of time and was beginning to make my eyes bleed. I was also hankering after a nice hot cup of tea, the outside temperature was no higher than 8 degrees and while the competitors can jump around to keep warm, any movement like that on a small rib is prohibited, given my displacement.

The fleet looked quite keen to head to shore and with the SI's stating that 1 race could count as a series, I began to see the logic in the PRO's decision to hold the three lap marathon race. It was then a nice surprise to see the breeze return from the west of the reservoir, and with some strength.

Unfortunately, by the time I had consumed my tea the wind had dropped again and rotated 90 degrees, now coming from directly opposite the clubhouse. We should not have been surprised, the meteorologists had definitely had their shredded wheat today and were accurate to the hour with predicting the weather pattern. Fortunately, they predicted that we would have something until 3pm so the fleet held on the water as the race team reconfigured the course axis and with 4-5 mph across the course, the race sequence started.

Race 2

The first attempt was abandoned as the wind teased from the left quadrant but after a few minutes it returned to as true an angle as you can hope for from the north and we were back in sequence.

Pin biased and the fleet are lining up early with Gifford, who was carrying too much speed having to bail while Morgan and Birkin-Walls back-wind their mains in an effort to put the brakes on, squeezing around with Barnham, Gillard and Denison. The loser is Vernon Perkins who was stuck below the line and has to gybe back, at least he didn't do a 'Wells' (state of mind which results in continual OCS).

The fleet are almost all on port and Brown, who has owned more Solos than I have had cake takes a chance crossing, impeding a starboard tacker before doing turns.

The wind strength was weak, and that was in the patches of pressure so keeping your head out of the boat would be pivotal. I positioned the Nikon on the clubs railing and super zoomed in on the action as the fleet approached the top mark. Depth perception though at 500 yards is a bit tricky and it was five minutes later before Gillard rounded with Barnham, Walters, Davenport, Stuart Gibson and Gifford in pursuit. The fleet glided around the mark which was positioned close to land, locals sat on benches, not on the edge but still, mildly interested.

The run allowed the sailors to explore the width of the reservoir in an effort to hook into something resembling pressure and up front, Birkin-Walls was sending it, moving into the lead with Denison, Gillard, Carter getting smothered by those on the right of the course, Kev Hall and Ian Walters the big movers.

Birkin-Walls headed back upwind with Simon Law up to second from Denison, Hall and Gillard, those taking the right hand gate included Gibson, Brown and Davenport.

The second beat was as pulsating as the first, my Nikon P950 pushed to it's absolute limit of patience, the zoom extension in no way reflecting its level of excitement and at the top it is

Birkin-Walls and Gillard, rounding in close company but splitting left and right with some bit part players in pursuit. Brown and Davenport had found some breeze on the left of the beat and were ahead of Law and Hall but the final leg would be as tricky as all the others so concentration was paramount.

The autumn colours and blue sky provided a beautiful backdrop to the action but that would not stop me mono chroming some of the photos before publication in a last ditch attempt to make them look more dramatic.

The real drama was in the final 100 metres to the bottom gate where Birkin-Walls, leading by less than a boat length was pushed to the limit by Gillard in a gybing duel which could have gone either way.

Birkin-Walls held the inside line and took his second bullet of the day to win the EOS Championship from Gillard, second overall with a brace of twos.

These sailors both displayed high degrees of patience and skill, their finesse, smooth movement and 'in the moment' head space was a lesson for anyone wanting to improve their light wind technique. Brown, Law and Davenport completed the EOS podium. HARKEN had provided an array of prizes and these were handed out by Class President Guy Mayger and Vice President/Sponsorship Co-ordinator Paul Davis. Huge thanks to HARKEN and to Paul for his work in 2023.

Davenport stamped his authority on the North Sails Super Series with Jamie Morgan second, Chris Brown third, Ewan Birkin-Walls fourth and Jasper Barnham fifth.

Richard Instone was the lucky winner of the North Sails £500 voucher and although not present, will receive it by post shortly. Massive thanks to North Sails for their continued support of the Solo fleet.

Big thanks to Dave Rowe and the team at Draycote Water who provided some great on-course management, square lines and a nicely long race 1 which many will remember for years to come.

The fleet now put their collective boots up for a few months, re-convening in late January to contest the Noble Marine Winter Championship 2024.

Photo album:

End of Season Championship Results:

PosSail NoHelmClubR1R2Pts
1st5827Ewan Birkin‑WallsGrafham Water SC112
2nd6021Thomas GillardSheffield Viking SC224
3rd6061Oliver DavenportNorthampton459
4th6074chris browndraycote 5610313
5th5742Simon LawFrensham Pond SC9413
6th5210Neil WilkinsonShustoke5914
7th5615Andy CarterLeigh and Lowton S C31316
8th5524Kev HallNorthampton SC11718
9th5704Jamie CuxsonShustoke SC17623
10th6073Steve DenisonRya15823
11th5911Nigel DaviesDraycote Water SC141024
12th5887Jasper BarnhamSnettisham Beach71825
13th5586Ian WaltersGrafham Water121426
14th5691Guy MaygerHayling Island SC82129
15th5858Ian Ingram 62430
16th5780Nigel ThomasHill Head SC201232
17th5948Stuart GibsonCCC Bardowie132033
18th5926John SteelsStarcross YC181735
19th5652Michael GiffordStaunton Harold SC221537
20th5259Roger WilsonRollesby Broad Sailing Club291140
21st5781Alex ButlerHayling Island SC192342
22nd5904Pat OversGrafham Water SC271643
23rd5700Adrian LawFpsc261945
24th5901Charlie NunnTorpoint Mosquito SC252247
25th5740Mike CosseyShustoke S.C.232548
26th6064Jamie MorganRutland sailing club242650
27th5819Phil SturmerBrightlingsea SC213051
28th6066Tim WadeLymington16UFD59
29th5731Vernon PerkinsSouth Cerney SC322759
30th5671Simon DippleShustoke SC312859
31st5914Paul DavisLymington Town Sailing Club303161
32nd5675Maria Elvira FrancoNorthampton SC342963
33rd4508Robin WarrenDWSC28RET71
34th4754Richard ConnollyDraycote Water Sailing Club33DNC76
35th6049rob allenSalcombe YCDNCDNC86
35th5979John ColegraveYorkshire Dales SCDNCDNC86
35th5497Olly SaundersShustoke SCDNCDNC86
35th6076Richard InstoneChase Sailing ClubDNCDNC86
35th5857Nigel PybusDWSCRETDNC86
35th5831Ben McGrane DNCDNC86
35th5627Richard BundockGrafham Water sailing clubDNCDNC86
35th5797Oliver WellsNorthamptonDNCDNC86

Super Series Overall Results:

PosSail NoHelmClubWinterSpringNationsPusinelliNatsInlandONKEOSPts
1st6061Oliver DavenportNorthampton SC111‑7‑3‑3 37
2nd6064Jamie MorganRutland SC2‑154‑13132 ‑2622
3rd6074Chris BrownDraycote Water SC7 ‑1047‑11 423
4th5827Ewan Birkin‑WallsGrafham Water SC‑149 9 5 126
5th5887Jasper BarnhamSnettisham Beach SC64   6 1229
6th5781Alexander ButlerHayling Island SC 2 31512 ‑2135
7th5911Nigel DaviesDraycote Water SC914‑172‑25‑17 1141
8th5901Charlie NunnTorpoint Mosquito SC516 16‑2115 ‑2459
9th5914Paul DavisLymington Town SC  8617  3166
10th6045Steve EdeArdleigh SC20818‑3118   67
11th6076Richard InstoneChase SC 7 113419  82
12th5393Simon DerhamLittleton SC813 1530   85
13th5524Kevin HallNorthampton SC29 29  18 891
14th5746Harry LucasGrafham Water SC10 1442 10  99
15th5259Roger WilsonRollesby Broad SC16‑30 26 25 20113
16th5780Nigel ThomasHill Head SC22  559  16122
17th5675Maria E FrancoNorthampton SC2338  ‑8432 32148
18th6066Tim WadeLymington Town SC   206733 28181
19th6056Peter WarneNorthampton SC 3154 6329  198
20th5721Graham WilsonNorthampton SC 3958 9235  244

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