With another Marblehead ranking weekend was upon us, not content to wait until Saturday, some hardy folks met at the clubhouse on Friday evening to have a master class in rigging and a check of the lower rigs this was no doubt going to pay dividends for some folks later on..
Saturday dawned and 30 excited skippers arrived at Datchet radio sailing club and were welcomed by the usual fine breakfast offerings in the clubhouse coupled with the smiling face of our chairman, SailTerry Rensch and a very reasonable top suit breeze allowing a good course to be set on the north side of the reservoir.
For anyone who has yet to visit Datchet, it shares the Queen Mother reservoir with an active dinghy club which brings a number of benefits such as toilet facilities, bar, changing rooms, showers, ample car parking, security etc but importantly a very large expanse to go sailing on. I heartily recommend sailing there.
With the usual pleasantries of certificates and entry fee out the way, friends re-acquainted and new faces welcomed our Race officer for the day (Graham Bantock) reminded us all of the importance of being a willing and thereby active observer during his thorough skippers briefing and got racing underway.
The 30 boat entry was ideal for two fleets and six boat promotion/demotion and the seedings were won by Brad and Darin. Darin was airing his very familiar outfit of shorts and his fetching red Grunge while Brad opted for his 20 year old blue Paradox with Converse boots. The wind conditions stayed quite stable all morning all be it with a good serving of 5 to 10 degree shifts which were enough to keep us all focused. Boat speed was the order of the day here and the skippers settled into fine tuning their swing rig performance.
The sun was soon in full effect and if you didn’t have sun cream on and a hat you’d be the one glowing at the bar in the evening! But we’re not there yet, we had a total of 9 races (18 heats) to complete and the race team kept us all moving at a great pace.
With the prospect of qualification points for the honour of representing the UK at the upcoming 2020 World Championship, some familiar faces returned to the class. It was great to see so many current and past World, European or National champions of several different classes competing with IMHO the most glamorous class.
Race 2 saw Peter Stollery get his Up to the front of the fleet by finding the benefit of going furthest offshore and picking good pressure and direction on both beats to good effect, Brad had favoured the inshore route which gave a good lift on starboard, a shorter distance sailed to the mark but with less pressure hence less speed. A great downwind battle commenced with Darin’s cheeky red number not far behind.
Rob Walsh was in the mix too with a borrowed Starkers and Andrea Roberts rounded out the top 5 in race 2 with her very familiar pink Starkers once again proving that you don’t need to have brand new boats to be a success in the Marblehead class.
Talking of borrowed boats, there are always boats available to skippers who might want to try something different or for folks who’d like to dip a toe into the swift world of Marblehead sailing, from my reckoning there were 5 borrowed boats out on Saturday and a different 5 on Sunday! If you are interested, please do reach out to any of us but certainly as class captain I am very happy to help new comers get into this class and will do what I can to assist, just ask.
Race 3 brought more close racing and a noticeable racing incident when Darin was leading the fleet home on the last beat and collided with a running boat (no names to protect the guilty) leaving Phil Holliday to pick up a race win with his red Grunge, Brad was second with Roy Stevens sailing his Grunge into 3rd . Next was one of the borrowed fleet, it was Rob Vice who had negotiated a French fancy from Phil Holliday’s fleet and steered the Nioutram to 4th. Tony Edwards was 5thwith his bright green Grunge. Darin finally limped over the line in 7th place on the water but was given redress to 1st place after a swift protest hearing.
Race 4 and Peter Stollery was back at the front, from James Edwards who’s grey Grunge pipped Brad after a great three way battle. Phil Holliday was a solid 4th and edged out his older boat by beating Rob Vice into 5th
The fleet were growing weary as the lengthy course and constant sailing involved in two fleets with 6 boat promotion, so a brief lunch break was called and we enjoyed the hospitality of the host club and applied more sun cream!
Race 5 was another great battle between Brad and Peter settled in favour of Peter, James was 3rd, Phil was 4th and Austin Guerrier our esteemed webmaster had his best result of the day in 5th
Race 6 and this is when the breeze was getting less stable with some larger shifts but we sailed the same course, a new race winner was Duncan Ellis with his Grunge, picked all the right shifts and ended up comfortably winning from Brad and Chris Harris who had been uncharacteristically struggling during the morning with his new Nioutram, After only 1 practice event at Manor Park Chris had installed a new fin, bulb and rig in the last 2 weeks. 4th was Pete Stoll and 5th was Tony Edwards.
Race 7 saw the shifts growing in variability and the strength drop a little, the first attempted start was an abandoned due to the fleet laying the first mark in one tack and there was a short delay while Hugh McAdoo was busy in the boat resetting marks. Once complete, the breeze switched back again and the course had to be reset back.
Peter mastered these conditions with a win and John Tushingham scored his best result of the day sailing his well presented and reliable Vision design into 2nd place, Brad was third after being left out to dry on the wrong side of a big shift while well placed. Dave Potter was 4th with his Starkers and Phil Holliday was 5th.
Race 8 I can recall without my notes, while still shifty the breeze picked up a little, a big right hand shift pre-start encouraged all the skippers to head to the near end of the line and an inevitable general recall resulted.
Immediately prior to the second start the breeze shifted to the left and two boats were at the far end of the line to benefit, John Tushingham was on starboard while the other boat, Rob Vice’s Nioutram was on port, ducked John and cleared the rest of the fleet with a port tack flyer. I won’t bore you with every detail but suffice to say that same skipper went on to win race 8. 2nd was Dave Potter, 3rd was Andrea Roberts, 4th Peter Stollery just beating Brad into 5th place.
The last A fleet of the day, race 9 saw another world champion win his first race of the day, Rob Walsh beat the Grunge duo of James Edwards and Darin Ballington. 4th was Andrea Roberts and 5th was Brad Gibson, the only skipper to post top 5 results in every race, quite something when you consider how competitive the fleet is in top rig and with the variability of the shifts later in the day.
With the promise of more breeze on Sunday, we retired to the long-awaited club house bar for overdue refreshments, more sun cream and prize giving!
The score sheet shows how close it was at the top with countback separating the top two boats after discards left both on 15 points. Peter won that countback on race wins offsetting the heats where he was outside the top 5.
I should note my apology to the many great races that occurred in B fleet, whilst I observed many I didn’t note any so the above review doesn’t comment on what is regularly considered the hardest fleet to gain promotion from and the competitive level of the class means it can be all to easy to drop down and find yourself unable to get back out.
The fleet departed to their hotels, or homes to recharge their batteries and many met up at the local carvery to discuss the day’s events and recharge their fuel levels with suitable hydration taking up much of the evening, the class has been encouraging the social side of the sport for several years now and this is certainly made the two-day weekend events more popular.
Report by Rob Vice (UK M Class Captain)