Salcombe Brewery Solo Western Area Championship 15th-16th October 2022.
Published 12:20 on 17 Oct 2022 by Graham Cranford Smith
Loads of pictures and great video by Will Loy also published on this website
Salcombe Brewery very kindly sponsored the Solo Western Area champs on the 15th - 16th October at Salcombe Yacht Club.
It emerged in due course that each generous Salcombe Brewery prize was engraved: 1st place. And though this might be unorthodox in fact it is a perspicacious take on the outcome of any dinghy sailing open meeting, especially one as brilliant as this. Indeed, as foreshadowed by Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate's Every 1's a Winner, they are onto something. The International Olympic Committee might reconsider when laying claim to the egalitarian nature of those events.
The Salcombe Ria has a well-earned reputation for light and fluky conditions coupled with a strong tidal element. But it can also dish out a brutal 20 knot + South Westerly with a wind over ebb tide, such as on Saturday. Be under no illusion: this level of breeze with a 3-knot adverse stream produces a sailing challenge probably best viewed from the Yacht Club terrace.
The fleet of twenty-eight teams, armed for combat arrived in the starting area and were greeted by Salcombe at its most forbidding. Low cloud, grey sea and a pronounced very steep chop with the wavelength coinciding almost exactly with the waterline of a Solo. It was in essence, windy with some fruity gusts heading inland. Meanwhile the water was receding apace. It was rather unpleasant. Local ferries apart, nothing else was moving on the Ria. It was not however raining.
Luckily, we were in good hands for, within the commodious double-glazed race hut we had a cracking race team of inter alia Tim Fells PRO, supported by Will and Mandy Henderson that day.
Noting the inclement weather Tim set us 1,3,1,3,2,3. Bound to be ok.
Off we went under the pressing tide with a "Gun of Ollies" aka O Davenport and O Turner arriving at Blackstone in good shape chased down by Jamie Morgan, Simon Dobson and Chris Jennings.
(Photo By Jayne Morris)
We can only speculate at the conversation in the race hut as the balance of the fleet made the bear away in sheets of spray. Initially all seemed well, but a large gust amplifying the challenging conditions, duly accounted for several simultaneous and synchronised capsizes. The scene was a mix of cartwheeling hulls, flailing limbs and akimbo masts. Tim Fells later reflected on whether the Solos would ever again invite him back as a PRO. (For the record, we definitely would; it was brilliant).
Certainly, the downwind legs and gybes commanded one's attention and several helms called it a day. Meanwhile at the head of the fleet, Messrs Davenport, Morgan and Turner were duking it out unperturbed by the escalating breeze and ever-increasing tide.
A late capsize by Morgan at the bottom of, what proved to be the final beat, presented the lead to Davenport, second to Turner with Chris "The only gray in the village" Jennings claiming third.
Further down the order, Simon 'Yotter' Yates finished a creditable seventh despite having badly bent his mast. This probably says more about Yotter than it does about the wisdom of continuing with a damaged spar. The boy is nothing if not determined.
Battle over, the fleet foregathered on Smalls beach trying to hang on to their steeds. Meanwhile Yotter turned his boat on its side and trod on his mast to straighten it. Presently, with his signature beneficent smile, he pronounced it straight. To the rest of us, it looked knackered.
Plainly and to collective alarm, our race team were actually deliberating on a second start in the escalating conditions. They even briefly posted a course. Fortunately, the PRO then decided to bin the balance of racing for the day much to the relief of most. All that is, except Ollie Davenport and James Morgan who opted for a spot of heavy air practice.
The race team's decision to can racing was then graphically vindicated by the sight of Messrs Davenport and Morgan, clinging to the distal end of their centreboards for long periods. For ordinary mortals, the downwind leg home will live long in the memory. It turns out it that is just possible to sail a Solo even when the entire hull is immersed in a wave while leaning over the transom. Jack Holt, you are a star.
Safely ashore, many teams repaired to the haven that is Salcombe Yacht Club to enjoy a Salcombe Gold, curry and tall tales of disaster and survival.
Sunday dawned in marked contrast, with a hint of steely sunshine and hardly any wind at all. Such that there was, came from the SE which for anyone who knows Salcombe, is freighted with implication. Expect shifts, holes and for the lucky few, occasional puffs. A snakes and ladders day.
Race 2. Course 1,X,1,X,1,X
Again, the likes of Davenport and initially Turner, were in the hunt, as was Jennings.
For the rest of us, the beats were a smorgasbord of shifts on which to tack, only to return on the exact reciprocal course. It was possible to go from well placed to not so well placed in the space of two tacks. This was Salcombe at its very finest, we could all agree.
A particular casualty here was Ollie Turner who produced zero from an especially lamentable run down the town side while boats passed him on each side only meters away. Also Roger Guess, who can produce some strong performances on his day, did not excel. We have all been there.
Chris Jennings aced the win followed by Commodore Simon Dobson, and Yotter Yates with mast, still kinked from the events of the day before, in third.
When setting the course for race 3 our esteemed Race Team embarked on symptoms of an apparent power struggle or dichotomy. At short intervals, they produced from within, random marks from the library of boards at the back of the race hut. It was rather like watching an episode of Countdown. "Another consonant please".
For a short while the courses on offer became ever more bewildering. Fortunately, in the end somebody consulted the course card to determine what Mark W or Y meant in real terms. Thus, we were not actually sent down tide, miles out to sea nor treated to a downwind start towards Mark 4 where declining water levels beckoned.
Instead, we had a short beat to mark X off the Harbour Hotel thence a long run to Gerston returning to Mark 3 to starboard and a loop in the bag, allowing very intelligently, for a shortened course.
The ebb tide by now being a major factor, the start produced a general recall. All were clear at the second with the Easterly wind component dictating an early tack onto port off the line. One could then almost lay the windward mark initially, but remember folks, this is Salcombe.
In the leading group at the windward mark, we find William Wall, James Greenhill, (of whom more shortly), Dobson and randomly, Cranford Smith.
Dobson made it to mark 7 Gerston, in first. He was hotly pursued by Wall and by now, McGregor.
Events conspired to cause Wall to gybe onto starboard just before the port rounding which in turn caused McGregor too, to crash gybe, for which he was plainly unprepared. Much as in character, McGregor did not take this calmly nor without pithy commentary. We could still hear him complaining volubly some hours after the race was over.
There followed a nice long beat in clean wind but by the time we got through the Bag we were greeted with sight of our race team aboard SYC 3 safety boat holding aloft code flag S at Mark 3.
Wall had made the best of all this and aced the finish. McGregor took Dobson in the last 200 metres despite telling everyone in earshot he had had a boat full of water. Meanwhile Greenhill in a very creditable fifth, capsized gifting Davenport not only that place but also on countback, the championship, race four being out of time.
1st Ollie Davenport.
2nd Simon Dobson.
3rd Chris Jennings.
Of note, overnight on Saturday, Chris Chubby Cleaves had made a strong bid for the Endeavour Trophy this being the helm to finish all the races with maximum points. In the end, he had to settle for "Most Improved". Well done him at this excellent career highlight.
Sincere thanks to Salcombe Brewery for their very generous sponsorship and to Scud Stewart for negotiating that. Also thanks to the NSCA, our local fleet cap, Adrian Griffin and especially to our very excellent race team and safety boat crews. Great work especially on Saturday. To all our visitors, many thanks for coming.
Graham Cranford Smith.
Photos by Lucy Burn.