Chew Valley Lake Sailing Club hosted the first round of the RS800 Grand Prix circuit event on the weekend of 12/13 March. 19 boats turned out to on a grey Saturday to be greeted by a force 2-3 from the South East but with significant shifts up and down the course.
Race officer Keith Harris set a windward/leeward course across the width of the lake – with the windward mark causing some difficulties as the wind become more variable nearer the hills and trees. The first race got away cleanly and Ben Schooling with George Kingsnorth from Helensburgh led from Oxford’s Derek and Elaine Buchanan at the end of the first round. The rest of the race was about reading the shifts, and Laurie Fitzjohn-Sykes and Daniel Allen from Queen Mary made the most of them to come through to take the gun followed by Schooling with Datchet’s Nick Charles and Chris Martin taking third.
In the second race the fleet was too keen and saw a general recall. Nick Charles made the most of the restart to lead the first round and at the end of the second lap was duelling neck and neck with Burghfield’s Justin Deal and Ollie Page for the lead. As the breeze built during the last lap, Deal made the most of the wind to storm through and take the win with Charles second and Andy Jeffries and Allyson Ody from Eastbourne third. Special mention must be made of the perfect dive from the back of the boat by Simon Pryer from Starcross who made a rapid exit as he lost control at the gybe going through the leeward gate for the last time
For the third race, the wind swung south and built to a respectable force 4-5. Dan Kilsby and Bart Bridgen from Stokes Bay made the most of the conditions and built a solid lead for the first two laps only to be hauled in by Deal and Charles who were again having a close duel. By the end of the race, Charles slipped in front to take the win from Deal with Russ Gibbs and Paul Smalley from Starcross just beating Kilsby to third.
So at the end of day one, there were three different winners to the event with all to play for in day two.
The Sunday dawned bright and sunny and the wind performed a quick 180 to blow a shifty force 2-3 from the West. Deal got off to a port end flyer leaving the entire fleet behind him for the first lap, but the shifting wind and on/ off gusts allowed Russ Gibbs to sneak through as the wind swung through 40 degrees. The race officer made the wise decision to shorten course and Gibbs held on to take the win from Deal with Fitzjohn-Sykes third. Four races and four different winners so far!
After some quick course re-laying, Race 5 got away in with the wind filling slightly and some stronger gusts for those lucky enough to find them. The Buchanan’s led for the first lap with a bunch of 10 boats hard on their heels. For the second lap, Deal read the shifts as did the local team of Ralph and Ollie Singleton who closed to second behind Deal, and they held these positions to just before the end when Schooling slipped through to take second with Singleton third.
Their good form on day two meant that Deal and Page won the event with a race to spare, but with a touch more wind for the last race there was still good competition to be had. Charles led the first lap, and as the fleet bunched in the approach to the leeward gate for the first time, Chew’s Hugh Stone made the most of a decent gust to sail over the rest into second place. For the rest of the race, the Singletons put their local knowledge to use and chased Charles hard through the shifts and gusts, but then found a nailbiting calm in the last few yards to the finish. The final order was Charles from Singleton with Russ Gibbs taking third.
The overall results were very close with Deal taking the event by one point from Charles. Schooling was third and Fitzjohn-Sykes just beat the Singletons on countback for fourth.
Overall this was an excellent curtain-raiser for the season and the Chew race and shore teams are to be congratulated on their excellent handling of the difficult conditions.