The NSCA do pride themselves as a pretty slick team and have organised many successful Solo events over the years, planning venues and dates based on a slide rule of competitor feedback, position of the moon, tabloid star sign information and Love Island’s tv schedule. It was then a bit of a disappointment that Her Majesty chose June 4-5 to celebrate 70 years of service. No one from Buckingham had contacted the class and we did pick it before them but, ultimately, a National Holiday reduced our attendance. Fair play to the Europe fleet who held there National Championship alongside us at WPNSA, 49 entries reflected the continued interest in this diminutive but powerful boat with equally proportioned sailors.
Among the 23 Solo competitors, Chris Brown, 2021 Inland Champion and Mike Sims, a major winner returning to the class. This looked like a pretty open contest with a number of helms who could pop up for a win or two.
Wind at 16-18 knots, direction at 065 approx.
The Europes would be away first and would utilise an outer course and though PRO Paul Kimmens set a slightly short line (feedback from some sailors), the fleet were away first time, bang on 12pm and with the horns of the nearby ships echoing across the harbour. I took a moment to salute Her Highness, ‘Benny Hill style’ before resuming my photography.
Paul allowed a lag of 5 minutes before getting into the Solo sequence and though the majority of the fleet started at the committee end you could have got a royal procession through it with ease. The race team cheered, another cleanly executed mission, I wonder what moral is like when it all goes Pete Tong.
The fleet seemed to hang back in the lee of the considerably proportioned committee launch before pulling the trigger, Mark Lee powering off at the pin end while Alexander Alcock nailed the committee end. Big Dave Lucas, in a borrowed Solo was on Alcock’s shoulder and though Tim Lewis was above him, living there was going to be harder than Portland cement. Lawrence Cavill Grant was last through the start line, it makes sense now why he seemed a bit sad at the bar later.
The 0.7 mile beat gave him plenty of time to catch his opponents but at the top mark it was Paul Davis who led from Morgan and Alcock.
The run was exciting, a number of sailors opting for the ‘swim with Dolphins experience’, Morgan one of those who had bought a ticket. At the bottom gate Davis still led from Alcock with Lucas and son Harry in the mix. Davis and Brown chose the left gate while the majority went right, the chop and wind strength sapping the fleets energy levels and testing the tensile strength of carbon tiller extensions. Unfortunately I was trapped aboard the committee vessel so had no visuals on the state of play but I had the temerity to place 2 transom cams on Solo’s so the footage from Davis’s and Brownie’s cameras was helpful.
Davis led up the last beat but dropped the tiller after one vicious tack and lost vital ground on Alcock. I was unable to decipher the audio from that moment but assume it was more colourful than the Union Jack. The resulting video footage did provide us with proof that carbon tillers are very strong, even under the duress that Paul exacted on his.
So Alcock took the bullet from Davis and Dave Lucas, Brown was fourth with Lee fifth. The fleet looked pretty tired but fortunately the breeze was dropping to a much more manageable 16-18 knots and once the Europes were started we were into the Solo race 2 sequence.
Another flawless display of line angle setting and time-keeping saw the fleet powering up the first beat. More whoops of celebration followed, I kept my viewfinder trained on the action but imagined high fives and body slams were not uncommon aboard when things go good. Unfortunately I had failed to push record on my Coolpix P950 so kept this to myself, not wanting to put a dampener on their day. I extended the camera zoom to max, catching the competitors as they punched their way through the sea state, the wind had dropped but it was still full on hiking, even for Dave Lucas.
Alcock led at the top mark with Paul Bartlett third, the radio interference distorting the communications but safe to say, it was not 6029 as that sail number was not on the entry list. Alcock impressed me with his dynamic movement as he guided his 20 year old Solo up/down/in/out of the wave patterns, sinking low but the stronger breeze was on the other side of the leg and Mike Sims and Mark Lee closed in at the leeward gate. Alcock though kept his cool and led the fleet home after the two lap race for his second win with Sims and Lee completing the podium.
Race 3 and finally the race team were rewarded with a general recall. The fleeted been just a touch too punchy as the wind dropped to 10-12 knots. Away second time under U flag with Jamie Morgan and Davis earning their discards for the weekend. Doug Latta in the Rooster Solo tacked early and led in from the right of the course with the luckless Morgan second, though he may dispute that but my information was reliably sourced from Doug himself.
Morgan and Paul Bartlett moved ahead down the run but Latta, playing the shifts up the middle re-took the lead at the top of lap 2. The pivotal moment came on the long fetch to the far side of the harbour, Sims, Morgan, Bartlett, Richard Instone and Brown went high with Latta rueing his tactic to go deep.
Sims took the bullet with Bartlett and Instone promoted to the podium, Morgan’s misdemeanour at the start had come back to haunt him.
Mention of Nigel Thomas who had gooseneck issues prior to the start of race 1. It appears his gooseneck jumped off the boom and impaled itself into the foot groove, ending his WPNSA experience prematurely. On further investigation (in the bar) it became clear that Nigel had inserted it into the wrong hole. Displaying photos of it on his phone at the evening social did nothing to support his own story but did make us all laugh.
So, going into day 2 Alex Alcock leads the regatta from Mike Sims and Paul Bartlett with 2021 Inland Champion, Chris Brown fourth and Mark Lee fifth.
I returned to my accommodation, the notorious Portland Lodge and re-booted ready for the event BBQ.
The function was a big success, only blighted by the sight of fully grown Solo sailors running to be first in the queue for food. The Europe flyweights did not have a chance.
Sunday dawned slightly overcast. I looked out from my room, scanning for signs of a breeze as the scent of 6 week old frying oil meandered up from the kitchen, penetrating the single glazed window. Two goats sat atop a Peugeot, parked and fortunately for them, an estate version so plenty of room. The local garage adjacent to the ‘Bodge’ displayed £1.79 a litre so I lay back down on the single mattress for a moment until my head had cleared. Once calm had returned to my world I de-camped, weaving my way out of the maze of carpet stained, sepia coloured walls of Casa Portland. I now fully understood why paintings of Venice adorned the building, escapism from the Portland Lodge experience is vital for a pleasant stay.
The club was a hive of activity, mainly Europe sailors while a WPNSA juniors coach skipped past, demanding star jumps from his pupils. The one’s at the back ignored this order, clearly future Solo sailors.
We were set to launch but the AP was raised at 9.55am and at 1.30pm the PRO cancelled all racing with no sign of a decent breeze and none forecast until well after the 3.25pm cut off point.
WPNSA once again delivered a great event, albeit for only one day but the race team and shore/catering teams delivered first class management and food.
It was great sharing the event with the Europe class, the sailors are friendly and they eat way less than Solo sailors so that’s a big plus.
Alexander Alcock wins the Nigel Pusinelli Trophy from Mike Sims and Paul Bartlett. Harry Lucas is first junior and one to watch in the coming years.
We look ahead now to the Nations Cup in Carnac in just over a ten days time 18-21 June, 59 current entries and still time to book a ferry there.