The Solo Welsh Championship 2023 Sponsored by Magic Marine and Triggernaut
By Will Loy,
Tata Steel Sailing Club welcomed a small but high calibre field of Solo sailors (reports always use that phrase when the numbers are down) to contest the Welsh Championship. The event was shared with the Osprey Class, there is a strong presence of both fleets at the club and with such a generously large piece of water to race on, the PRO hoped that everyone would get along just fine. This was a sentiment I had no interest in entertaining, as reporter/photographer/videographer I wanted drama. Incidentally, I understand from Linda, Tata Steel’s Commodore, that one of the first Ospreys was raced at Port Talbot docks way back in the late 1950’s so it is understandable that the Osprey remains a constant at the club.
Among the Solo entries, six hardy enthusiasts had made the journey from Torpoint Mosquito, the 150 mile trip only taking six hours on a Friday afternoon at the end of a bank holiday, fortunately they were in the latest Solo add-on, camper vans, so bladder relief was not an issue. This ‘extra’ on the Solo builder price list does bump the cost up considerably but most of the fleet appear to be on decent pensions.
Chris Brown, a multiple winner here had just picked up his brand new Winder Mk2 6074 and was in the boat park sifting through an array of forestays, his attention to detail is almost anal but you cannot argue with his results. Winder jockey Steve Denison arrived with a comparatively old Solo, 6073, a Winder 1a, the fit-out was exemplary of course and almost identical to Chris’s apart from the kicker mounting plate which was screwed in good and strong. Jamie Morgan is popping up at Solo events as often as I eat cakes and his performance is improving exponentially, the P+B/Superspars M2 rig providing him with plenty of power. Nigel Davies, sporting the Selden D+/North P3 on his Winder is Chris Brown’s co-driver and no doubt would feature this weekend, his deportment when hiking always a joy to watch and a good lesson for anyone who doesn’t want to bugger their back up.
Of the locals, well It would be remiss not to mention Bob Taylor, Solo President 1999/2002, his beautiful Gosling, whose livery is black with a white waterline is the combination favoured by the late great Alec Stone. Bob is still a wizard when the wind is tricky so the forecast of a light wind day 2 would surely see him doing hamstring stretches on Sunday morning before his breakfast of muesli. Another local hero, in the form of Cliff Crawshaw, racing his Winder\Crawshaw composite would be relishing some breeze though to be honest this sailor, who grew up racing against Geoff Carveth on the puddle that is Littleton, is not afraid of the light stuff, he just prefers a blast.
The format would be 3 races Saturday and hopefully 2 more races on Sunday and with a 12pm start time there was plenty of time to consume a bacon sandwich and admire the rich green landscape, the Sun’s rays illuminating the odd sheep atop the hills. There were some normal sheep too. I turned towards the sun, the warmth from it’s glow caressing my rugged features, the breeze, tracking left from the north west. Smoke bellowed from an array of chimneys, puking out impurities which would otherwise compromise the steel that was being forged deep in the bowels of the machine. Flames of fire, the orange glow as bright as the Eye of Sauron jutted out sporadically, I eased my ring from my finger and headed back into the canteen for a cup of tea.
The fleets launched into the building breeze, it had tracked further around and was now in ‘sea breeze’ territory, yay. Many of the Ospreys have fixed rudders so it was amusing to watch them head out, they are also very fast and pointy so any sort of collision would be terminal for the other boat. The course for race 1 was not particularly imaginative, a short beat then 3 downwind legs before returning through the start line.
Race 1 200 degrees, 10-14mph (approx) PRO John Rischmiller Jamie Morgan leads out to the left of the course, tacking on the lay line and leads into mark 1 from Dave Mitchell, Chris Brown and Cliff Crawshaw, Mark Lee ducking and crash tacking under Torpoint’s Steve Roberts with the grace of a Russian pommel horse gymnast. Nick Fisher, another Mosquito is in the mix with Charlie Nunn, team Torpoint are bringing it! The first reach is long and you needed to keep your head out of the boat to anticipate the gusts, otherwise it was processional. There followed a short run down towards the motorway where drivers, oblivious to the intensity of the racing beneath them, screamed past while competitors screamed for water. Morgan continued to lead into the bottom mark, Brown holding off Mitchell despite a failed kicking strap mounting point, I suspect he asked for one too many discounts, payback is a bitch.
Brown and Mitchell found something special up the next beat while Morgan will say he took his foot of the accelerator. A lap later and he was back in the lead, his dynamic downwind technique and undeniable weight advantage impossible to defend against, while Mitchell did his best to keep ahead of Brown who was doing well considering his leech was as uncontrollable as a kid with sugar overload. Crawshaw and Denison were in their own private war, the Winder jockey makes his Solo look like a rocket ship when he is on the plane, much to the frustration of Cliff who has to literally part the sea like Moses.
At the final gun it was Morgan from Denison who had ripped through his opponents on the off- wind legs with Brown, Mitchell and Crawshaw completing the top five. Fisher dropped to 14th but could at least hold on to the memory of his first beat heroics. The fleets returned to shore, Osprey helms diving to remove their fixed rudders while their crews knelt and preyed.
What followed was some nice warm Leek and Potato soup, idle chat and tales of what could have been. Basically same sob stories, just another week and venue.
The breeze had freshened, I estimated 14-16 mph though my anemometer, sitting quietly in my Volvo V70 would be the first to disagree. The Sun shone, the sky was blue and all was well in the Shire, towards Mordor the fires still burned.
Race 2 180 degrees 12-16mph Brown had fixed his kicker, ably assisted by the Winder works engineer and led off the line to lead into the first mark with Charlie Nunn, Jamie Morgan and a close group of ten just behind him. Nick Fisher, fed up with rubbing shoulders with the superstars had decided to give himself a challenge and was bringing up the rear. Fortunately the PRO had reconfigured the course and so we had a simple figure of eight, two beats and two broad reaches, the second beat was longer and squarer which suited the heavier sailors, the reaches favouring the lighter helms. There was also an added bonus that the fleets would cross in a macabre game of chicken, giving way to Ospreys on starboard and under three sails being both advisable and ‘sailing rules of racing’ correct. It didn’t stop my dribbling slightly as I trained my Nikon Coolpix at the chicks.
Nunn was being pressed by Denison and Taylor, the Welsh Wizard’s pre race yoga routine keeping the old man’s body as bendy as a carbon batten, shame he kept going the wrong way fast.
Brown continued to hold off Morgan despite some very close racing, the North F3 providing plenty of power now his kicker could control the leech profile. The broad reach down to mark 5 compressed the rest of the fleet, Nunn doing well to get water on Denison, Crawshaw and Davies but he would eventually succumb to Denison, Crawshaw, who had, at one stage been third and Mark Lee. Fisher did well to finish 14th and could at least hold on to the memory of his first race, first beat heroics.
Race 3 180 degrees 12-14mph The clarity of light through my Nikon P950 was quite startling, the blue sky and lush green landscape, punctuated by triangles of silver was as clear a picture as when I sit in front of my 50 inch OLED flat screen. Nunn blasted out of the pin end, Brown starting at the committee boat while Morgan consolidated out of the middle. The wind got shifty as the fleet got closer to Mordor, my theory is that the intense heat from the fires that rage there 24 hours a day produce it’s own thermal action, sucking cold air and indeed all humanity towards it’s centre of evil. That would account for the dereliction of some of Port Talbot’s once thriving community. It’s just a theory.
Morgan led into the top mark with Davies on his transom, Crawshaw, Brown and Fisher were in close company with Lee once again ruing his port lay line tactic into the mark. The breeze allowed some planing in the gusts that streaked across the water, reminding us what a great venue Tata Steel can be.
Davies tried and tried to get past Morgan, his best chance was splitting tacks but the leader was equal to the task and would lead for the entire race. The race royal was for third, Denison working the Winder 1a outside all known safety parameters to try and break through Brown’s defence. The last long off-wind leg would be his best chance and weighing close to 30 kilos less, he had good reason to attack. Higher and higher they went, both being drawn towards the Eye of Sauron, only when they were in risk of losing an insurmountable distance on their followers did they break free and go deep towards the bottom mark. Brown held the inside line and after more covering tacks than Australia 2 forty years earlier he crossed the finish line in third. Well, that is how it felt out on the water.
Day 1 Summary Morgan would take a strong 1-2-1 overnight and with an inclement forecast for Sunday and a wild night at his Aunties house unlikely, would be difficult to beat. Brown had rallied with a 3-1-3, second overnight with Denison holding 2-3-4 in third, looking fast with the D+/North P3. Fisher finished 14th but could hold on to the memory of both his first race, first beat position and his race 3 first beat position. He would post 14-14-14 and be…fourteenth overnight.
It was good to see sailors such as Kim and Sal Erskine Furniss getting in the mix along with the other Torpoint sailors, fabulous effort.
The fleet returned to shore, de-camped and showered before enjoying an evening at the nearby Twelve Knights Hotel which provided varying levels of quality in beverage and accommodation. Chris Brown managed to leverage a free breakfast, clearly the Welsh people have a different view on obesity. Charlie Nunn had spent the evening at a concert in Cardiff, oh how it is to be young.
I returned to my own accommodation for the night, the ambitiously named Hotel Blanco though I would suggest Magnolia would have been more accurate. It was actually quite sumptuous having just returned from the Twelve Knights though I think Bull Terriers are banned. The thoughtful receptionist had obviously checked out my facebook profile, the fully equipped disabled bathroom was a real plus. The band played retro 80 hits until late which ordinarily would be fine but I was tired and the gig was directly beneath my room so that was a riot.
Day 2 I awoke sometime early which, despite the wretched view in my bathroom mirror, signified that I must have slept. The sky was grey, not dark as Welsh slate, that would have been perfect for my report but I do try to be accurate. Light rain dampened the pot-holed road and the trees, devoid of leaves stood stationary, no wind then. I wondered if the shadow of Mordor had reached this far, Ravens circled the hotel so it was a possibility.
The full English breakfast was satisfying, the Welsh bacon is second to none and Welsh baked beans taste as good as the english version. The short trip to the club was punctuated by the drive past the steel works, the line of flags flicking like they were made of chiffon and all displaying a direction towards the very centre of the industrial site backing up my thermal induction theory though the Orcs must have been underground.
Unfortunately, after a 1 hour delay and one failed attempt to start race 4, racing was cancelled for the day so the fleets returned to shore.
Commodore Linda Ingram, who has been invaluable in organising the regatta oversaw the Prize Giving and with some lovely prizes from Magic Marine and Triggernaut, the room was full of contented sailors, well, the ones that did well. Steve Roberts, Sal Erskine Furniss and Nigel Davies were the lucky recipients, looking cool the second they donned the Magic Marine caps. Thanks to George Kingsnorth at Magic Marine.
Jamie Morgan collected the Welsh Championship and beautiful piece of engraved crystal, his sailing style may well be copied in the months and years to come. He does need to work on his public speaking though the content, short in words, highlighted the quality of race management, catering services and warmth for the venue. I do believe he will get plenty of practice with his speeches this year. Brown is back on form, though he is always a threat and Steve Denison looks hungry for a major. Great sailors and great to film. It was also fabulous to see the quality of friendly racing throughout the fleet, even Fisher had his moments, he just needs to be consistently first. This event forms part of the North Sails Super Series and next up are the combined Superspars Spring and Eastern Championships at Brightlingsea.
The NSCA have supplied 100 North Super Series T Shirts to the first….100 sailors who attend 3 events so with the Winters and Welsh done and dusted, the flood gates should open.