52 Solos from around the UK converged at Draycote Water to contest the Goat Marine End of Season Championship, ironically, one day before the final event of the season, the Gill Inland Championship. Sailors, who have spent their lifetimes honing their skills on gravel pits, rivers, lochs, estuaries and the sea are here to do battle, it is just a shame that all that honing has worn out joints, however the ambition is still there and that is what keeps any class strong. The front runners though are prize fighters, bodies in peak condition, zero body fat and the ability to jump around a Solo with punitive ease, and yet the reigning Inland Champion butts that trend and will be looking to defend his title on Sunday. And so we congratulate Jack Holt for the quality in design which allows those with body fat to spare, failing body parts and shallow pockets to be able to come together in a big fleet and compete on a comparatively even playing field.
That Segway's perfectly onto the conditions which, despite forecasts of 14-30 mph was benign and the water, as flat as my enthusiasm. PRO Dave Rowe conducted a matter of fact briefing to the assembled athletes, my ears pricking up when he mentioned sausage but it was in relation to the triangle-sausage-triangle course so I went back to work on my bacon butty.
We launched into the fading breeze, the direction, from the south would mean that the windward mark would be close into shore so more fun for the sailors, these race officers know how to make us happy. The wind, unlike the latest popularity polls, seemed to be tracking right so of course the heavily starboard end was as congested as someone with an acute sinus infection. After banging into the Chief Measurer, Jonathan Woodward in the first recall I decided to steer clear of him, better to pick someone who doesn’t read the rules of sailing for night time relaxation. Incidentally, I had placed an NSCA transom cam on his Solo but it failed to record, shame as he would finish 2nd in race 1. A pdf of the camera operating instructions have been emailed to Jonathan for his enjoyment.
After a few recalls and the implementation of the black flag the fleet were away, finding a clear lane is easier said than done when 50+ Solos are trying to do the same and so of course, the ones who squirted off the line first take the optimum route while the rest have to tack off onto the unflavoured tack to get clear air, the rest is history.
Since I was on the water racing, I have no blow by blow account of the racing but with the breeze holding at 6-8mph, 4mph if you were near the back, probably 10 at the front, it was Tom Gillard who took the first bullet from Jonathan Woodward and Innes Armstrong who was racing the Winder 2 Northern Demo Solo and clearly loving it. I believe Innes led the fleet into mark 1, finding a lovely lift and pressure on the left lay line into the mark while the majority struggled into it on starboard. Jonathan Swain and Jack Lewis completed a youthful looking top five while the reigning Inland Champion, Chris Brown could only manage 17th. One of the favourites, Oliver Davenport was recorded as NSC 57pts, which means World Sailing deemed that he didn’t sail the proper course, pictures of triangles and sausages will be sent to P+B HQ forthwith.
The breeze was holding at 6-8 mph and the overcast sky would provide some pretty poor photogenic material so I was pleased to be racing instead. I had decided to start towards the middle of the line, my tactical reasoning being that I could observe which side was favoured once underway and this would dictate my strategy. Unfortunately my trigger mechanism is a bit rusty and so I started 5 seconds later than the fleet, Willie Todd the first of many to power over me as we headed up the beat. Tack after tack to find a clear lane was in vain, the mothers were everywhere, such is the experience of racing in a big fleet. Up front Gillard led into mark 1 and would hold for the bullet, despite a strong challenge from Chris Brown (reigning Inland Champion). Jack Lewis worked through to 3rd by the gun with Andy Tunnicliffe 4th and Simon Derham a strong 5th.
The cloud above was breaking up, the Sun providing a strong argument that I should have stuck with the camera job, the wind increased too!
After the folly of my debacle in the previous race I chose the committee end for race 3, plenty of room, which is always a worry but at least I could easily judge the start lines proximity. I headed off right with Andy Tunnicliffe and Mark Lee ahead and lifting while I footed off into their exhaust fumes. I was actually formulating this report and these actual words as it happened which while possibly entertaining to read, is not conducive to my sailing performance. I was then as surprised as you when I tacked onto a right hand lift which took me into the top mark inside the top ten. I think Hopwood and Gillard and were in the mix as we headed off towards the wing mark, I sunk low, allowing plenty of room for a load of Solos to power over me and giving me something else to lament about. Ahead of me some fellow had tipped it in just after the gybe mark, strange as it wasn’t that windy but then I saw it was Rob Gardener. The last time I saw him he was dipping his feet into the sea at Abersoch a few months earlier. Now, what he does in his spare time is his business but going for a swim in the race area is just not on.
I continued down the second reach, chuckling to myself as the chop built to full-on concentration mode. One cheeky blighter decided to blast to windward as I missed another wave so I quickly manufactured a Voodoo Doll in my head and stuck a pin in. His scream was of frustration as the mast hit the water, I didn’t look back but understand it was Olly Wells who had rolled it in to windward.
The breeze freshened to 12-15 mph and Davenport was finally able to unfurl his legs to full-on trapeze mode, powering up the beat with the hull as flat as my hairstyle in the early nineties. Ian Hopwood was able to put to bed his feeble race 1 effort with a second which would propel him up the scoreboard. Gillard finished third which, while seemingly meaningless in this event, he had already secured the GOAT EOS with two bullets, provided him with the strong hand in the overall picture of the Gill Inlands. Home boy Nigel Davies was 4th and Swain 5th which completed the top five.
So Overall, North Sails Tom Gillard adds the Solo EOS, generously sponsored by Goat Marine to his trophy cabinet. He has had an incredible season across many classes and his 1-1-3 is a strong hand going into Sunday and the Gill Inland Championship.
P+Bs Oliver Davenport was 2nd overall and if the wind blows as predicted, will take the fight to the North Sails jockey while Jack Lewis in 3rd is first junior and has the exuberance of youth on his side. Ian Hopwood in 4th is a specialist strong wind sailor/swimmer while Jonathan Swain in 5th is on the comeback trail and one to watch for 2023.
Goat Marine’s Steve Badham was on hand with Class President Patrick Burns to present the winners with some fabulous vouchers towards the new Goat Marine carbon extensions, now available in a number of sexy colours while remaining incredibly strong and light.
A big thank you to Goat for the prizes and GOAT decals which now finish our Solos.
Chris Brown made a special presentation of Wally of the Day to Jack Lewis for parking the North Sails works van on double yellow lines.
Two ladies were competing and Sal Erskine Furniss enjoyed a 22nd in race 1 while overall, Brenda Hoult pipped her by four places to finish 36th.
Septimus was won by Roger Lumby in 32nd who had made the long journey up from Devon and, on his return, would look forward to being hoisted on his compatriots shoulders and paraded down Salcombe’s high street.
Grand Master was awarded to Vincent Horey in 10th, his looks are that of a man much younger so we can only conclude he is a compulsive pot hunter.
First Veteran would be Simon Derham in 6th who has put much time and effort in his Solo sailing and the results are reflecting it.
So with the EOS done and dusted, some competitors who had chosen not to compete in the Inlands departed and the EOS results were magically converted to form part of the Gill Inland Championship.
Overnight Gillard would lead while a number of sailors already held a high tariff score in their result, Davenport NSC, Swain 16, Brown 12 and Morgan 17.
The forecast is for 14-30 mph from the south but they promised that today and it did not materialise, I remain hopeful, in a darkly masochistic way that it does.