David Franks / Graham Sunderland and Sam Bell crowned 2011 Southern Area Champions
With the Solent Etchells fleet lined up for its first 2012 Worlds qualifier over the weekend of July 16th and 17th there was a clear hope that those who do qualify for the Sydney event in February 2012 will find the worlds a windy affair, because, for the 3rd regatta in a row the Solent fleet found themselves confined to Osborne Bay trying to find shelter from strong to gale force westerly winds and, unless the British summer makes a rapid reappearance, they will be well practised in “backstay on and hike hard” conditions when they do get to Sydney! That being said the small fleet was as competitive as ever with recall flags being flown at most starts and general recalls being heard despite the small fleet and windy conditions. Saturday saw 3 boats sharing the glory at the front with Cowes fleet captain David Franks, crewed by Graham Sunderland and Kiwi Sam Bell (fresh from the World Match Racing Tour’s cup in Marstrand, Sweden) taking a small overnight lead from returning Etchells sailor James Howells with David Bedford in the middle. Franks took home a score of 1,2,1 whilst Howells put a 2,1,3 on the board. The only other boat to get onto the podium was Darling S, the fleet’s loaner boat kindly contributed to the fleet by long time class supporter Ted Fort and sailed on this occasion by the youngest crew in the fleet skippered by Rob Gullen and flying Ted’s lucky new Etchells burgee (motto: lost time is never found again).Sunday dawned very wet at dock time but the fleet headed out to Osborne Bay where Andrew Millband and his team from CCYC had laid the course. The first decision was whether the starboard tack leg off the start line would be long enough to be able to grind forward if you were the leeward boat such that you could tack and lead. The pin bias was there but tight, and with an adverse tide up the first beat the pin was popular. Laurence Mead, out racing after missing Saturday, took the pin as Howells got there early and had to gybe round. Mead had loads of speed on the gun and edged forward of Gullens team to squeeze them out, but the wind had gone right a bit in the puffs and Rob Goddard had lifted off the two pin end leaders as had David Franks. Mead was just able to tack and cross Goddard but a right hand shift saw Ian Law steaming in from the right hand corner to lead. Howells was back in it too having gybed out at the start and gone left up the first bear but Franks was 2nd round having been the left hand boat able to tack first as the port layline approached. Down the first run not much changed, everyone had kites flying as the gybes were put in but Ian Law on Pale Tide had a bit of drama and dropped back and then a big gust at the bottom made the leeward mark rounding a lot more exciting with Howells and his team getting back into third with a nice drop. Up the next beat Mead got closer to Franks but not past, the key moment came on the 2nd run when he was able to sail onto Franks’ air and force him to gybe away. At the same time another big bullet of breeze cascaded over the course and Franks lost his chute during the gybe to allow Mead into a safe lead which he never lost. Franks took 2nd place but the closeness of the racing and the competitive nature was shown by Rob Gullens 5th place, never able to get back into it after being squeezed off early in the race and tacking and taking transoms. With 3 races planned however the fleet were soon back at the start line and ready for race 5 and this time Gullen and his team made no mistakes. After a general recall first time of asking, Gullen started at the boat end and immediately tacked onto port to get out into the now neutral or slightly fair tide. Mead was next down the line and also tacked early and these two were in good shape as the tide slowly but surely swept them round the bows of the boats further to windward. Gullen just had the space to tack and Mead tacked under him, hoping to get enough tidal swept to lay the top mark. He didn’t and Gullen led. Franks was well back in the pack having reversed positions with Mead from the previous race and being the left hand boat off the start line. He was never able to get a tack in and was pushed too far left before he could get over. The sky was by now darkening quickly as the British summer brewed up a mighty squall that was recorded in the mid 30 knots by the nearby RORC fleet doing the IRC Nationals. This also sucked the south westerly breeze right and made the first run a broad reach which the fleet shot down. First time Etchells racer Tim Springett sailing with Laurence Mead had a big grin on his face as he felt an Etchells plane for the first time, which was only wiped off his face when he went to drop the pole at the same time as Mead got the tiller extension stuck in the back of the boat and for a moment looked like he was going to spear the committee boat which was acting as one of the leeward gate marks ! Up the next beat Mead ground into Gullens lead and got pretty close by the top mark which had been moved right by the RO, but closer still was James Howells making a move in the regatta as well as the race. Franks could find no way back into the top group and the yellow jersey was looking like it would have a new home. Down the last run Gullens crew sailed calmly to lock up the win despite some obstacles not of their making being thrown in their path and Mead gybed for the finish in front of Howells to lock up 2nd while Rob Goddard, James Downer and Robbie Bond in Ragtime took 4th. A great show of consistency as that was their fifth 4th in a row ! It was Robbie Bond’s first time racing an Etchells, and as he is normally a foredeck on a 40.7 was amazed that as a foredeck he suddenly became also a trimmer and a halyard man, and by the end of day 2 felt he at last understood what he needed to do.The last race was delayed briefly while the PRO moved the course ever further right but this move was thwarted by another shift in the wind, this time back left a bit, such that the course became a bit one sided. The top two overall were looking at each other closely, Franks had a good lock on the regatta as long as he didn’t do anything silly as other than his discard he had only firsts and seconds to count. Howells hadn’t been out of the top 3 at all however so it was close. Franks and Howells came together prestart, and despite much shouting and a minor collision, did not end up in the Protest Room aftrewards. The start was key, and Mead took it a third of the way down the line to tack and head upwind towards the right biased top mark. Half way up however he slipped off the edge of a puff line while Howells to windward stayed in the left hand pressure to lift up and over Mead. Howells / Bedford / ....led by a whisker from Mead and Gullen. Howells stayed a fraction too low however as he set his chute and Mead was able to sail over him to regain the lead. Gullen set low and in a lull while the boats behind came round on a puff and the whole bunch rolled him so the leader and 3rd place boats both lost a lot of ground as they came onto the run, which was now a starboard pole broad reach thanks to the shift. These changes threw the regatta very firmly towards Franks. Mead led all the way round and there wasn’t a lot of overtaking action other than for Gullen who ground his way back towards the front. Franks made some moves and was struggling with his guy being too short and a lost spinnaker halyard (eventually recovered), but didn’t get too far up the fleet and his regatta win was other people’s hands. He still had the yellow jersey but only just. However, at the last windward mark, in a complete copy manoeuvre from the first, Mead set his chute but stayed too low as it filled and he found Howells overlapped to windward and about to take this air. They planned off down the run with Mead able to hold Howells out on starboard but a big gust was shooting down the inside. Mead chose to gybe for it but made a mess of his manoeuvre while Ian Law and his team in Pale Tide were having another great race to be sliding down the middle on the puff towards the front of the fleet. Mead’s gybe was meant to get him into that gust but he ended up dropping off from wind on both sides and while Howells blasted in to win from the right Mead was only just able to see off Gullen and Franks while Law’s final charge down the middle saw him overlapped for 5th at the finish. The first 6 boats all finished within 20 seconds of each other in a mighty close race that saw Howells and Franks locked together on 10 points each at the end of 6 hard fought races. After the count back was worked out David Franks / Graham Sunderland and Sam Bell were crowned 2011 Southern Area Champions while Howells took 2nd and Rob Gullen and his young crew were 3rd. Each day’s racing as usual ended up with food and drinks waiting at the CCYC whose helpful members and staff have worked hard to make this season’s social on land as successful as the racing on the water. Still to come for 2011 are Cowes Week, UK Nationals, Italian Nationals and Europeans. The 2012 Worlds are set for Sydney.