The annual sailing festival finally got underway having had to miss to the 2020 edition. With most of fleets seeing smaller entries than normal, the Etchells fleet saw a similar reduction, but that did not stop the enthusiasm of the competitors or their individual determination to race and party hard.
The Etchells fleet was scheduled with 7 days of racing, but the weather only delivered six days of racing, giving seven races, of which five were in “round the cans” setting a totally different challenge than the normal Etchells experience.
It was the youth team of Pulse skippered by Jake Hardman who rose to the challenge on day one. With the fleet starting on the squadron line before beating against the tide along the island shore in a very light south-westerly breeze, before striking out to the central Solent for two laps round the bramble bank. And with a difficult layline call at the first tidal gate, Nick Stagg’s China White sailed to commanding lead. Once the fleet was on the Bramble Bank, the direction turned to the north-west with an extra 5kts of breeze, but a black cloud gave even better pressure with a large left hand shift, and while China Wight was well ahead in what had looked unassailable, they were on the right, just hoping for the shift back, but it never came and China Wight fell back into high numbers, as the fleet was shuffled. The last leg was a beat from the Royal
London Bouy near Norris to the harbour entrance, where Pulse, nicely placed on the right was lifted into the lead to take a great victory on day one from Shaun Frohlic’s Exabyte, despite Exabyte having parked on the shore at the start of the race trying to cheat the tide along with Anthony Park’s Sumo who had the added insult of a boat sail inside and around him without touching, such is the vagaries of the shore just off of Cowes Green.
Sunday was back to more conventional Etchells racing with two windward leeward races from a committee boat start, located near Hillhead shore, and with a steady breeze starting and boat speed became the days priorities. The scores from both races were averaged giving Nick Stagg 2 points followed by Rob Goddard‘s Rocketman on 3 1/2 points for the day, and Sumo in 3rd, the individual race winners of the day were Shaun Frohlic’s Exabyte and Jon Warwick’s Audrey.
Monday’s racing was back to around the cans, and as Etchells are raced without electronics or GPS, it can cause navigators the scream with frustration, and with a long run down to Durn’s point , it was China Wight who finally found the mark, and boat speed is a wonderful thing, especially when Nick Stagg’s crew on China White spot extra pressure in the middle of the foul tide, and ignoring the tidal protection closer inshore strike out for the extra breeze, and lead from Rocketman to the last mark rounding, where Anthony Parkes’ Sumo under-tacked Rocketman to move into second place, before Sumo successfully match raced Rocketman to the finish, by which time the crew of China Wight were almost at the beer tent.
Tuesdays “Women’s Day” Racing was delayed due to lack of wind, and when the various fleets were at last called to the start line, it looked like a downwind starts would be the order of the day, however, sea breeze and the Solent does throw curved balls, and just before the Etchells start, racing was postponed again, and rather than a run, the fleet had a beat to the first mark “Royal London”, where Rocketman lead from China Wight, but on the mark rounding and down wind leg China Wight’s well practised crew showed that sometimes its not just about speed but boat handling that counts, as they took the lead, before Pulse slipped through into second place, helmed by Sophie Taylor and taking the prize for the best female helm in the fleet. A fierce battle for 3rd place placed Shamal, helmed by Ellen Morley, in 2nd place for the female helm award, narrowly missing out on Pusle in the last leg.
So, at the intended midway day, China Wight lead from Pulse, then Rocketman, but while Rocketman lost crew once more due to Covid “track and trace”, a Covid infected bowman meant the Pulse had to retire for the rest of the week as the team of 4 went into isolation, much to their disappointment, but an action by Pulse that was praised by their competitors.
Wednesdays Race saw another late start as the fleet waited for the Seabreeze to fill in, and Exabyte now back out on the water with a change of crew battled for 1st and 2nd with China Wight at the first mark. Today however the Seabreeze decided to change 100 meters from the mark and China Wight got into the lead, while the next leg was a long northerly spinnaker reach and with the fleet heading to the entrance of Southampton water, no one was sure where the racing mark William was located, so playing follow my leader, the fleet took a somewhat unusual approach to the mark, Before a close fetch to Contessa followed by a beat to the finish line at the mark RORC as the wind shifted 90 deg again, where China Wight led from Exabyte then Rocketman.
Thursdays race was started down by the East Bramble bouy, the first leg was a very long beat into the Island shore to the SE of Osborne Bay, however starting 10 minutes behind the J70’s this time meant that the Etchells Navigators task was made easier, as the J70’s had the same course, and first to arrive at Collette was Rocketman, but a miscalculation on the wind angles for the next leg allowed Exabyte to under-tack them and lay the mark Quarr in one tack. The fleet now had the added difficulty of maintaining clear air as they overtook many of the J70’s on the first 2 legs, but downwind with such differing sailing angles the two fleets soon parted. Today China Wight untypically found herself close to the back of the fleet, but in a breeze of just under 20 knots on the long spinnaker reach, China Wight somehow made up 200+ metres to get into second place for the day, and also close enough to Exabyte that a loose cover was required on the long beat to the finish, with again Rocketman third.
For Friday’s race the wind looked marginally too high, and while many crews initially complained that they felt they could race, as soon as they saw the tide turn with the increasing sea state, all crews were happy to enjoy Cowes’ hospitality, again the RC had done a great job making the right decision.
Champions for the week, and totally deserving was Nick Stagg, and his crew of Matt Reid and Simon Spraggs sailing China Wight, followed by Rocketman, and then the youth team of Sumo.