The 17 crews taking part in the Ullman Sails UK Etchells National Championships in Cowes enjoyed some exhilarating racing with the crew of Gelert - James Howells, David Bedford and Mark Lees - dominating the Etchells fleet from the outset.
Gelert took three wins and a second place in the first four races. Although they slipped to an uncharacteristic fifth place in the next race, they returned to the podium in all but one of the last four races, winning overall by a comfortable 14-point margin ahead of Bleddyn Mon’s young British Keelboat Academy crew on Darling S.
Howells’ performance was all the more impressive given the incredibly tight racing throughout the championship – no other team managed such consistency across the wide range of conditions experienced over the three days, where winds varied from 8 knots to gusts of more than 25.
The final three tight windward-leeward races were held in winds of 8-10 knots, building to 10-12 with gusts of 15, on the Knoll bank east of the Bramble. In the first race of the day – the seventh of the event – the start line was marginally biased towards the pin, with the boats at that end of the line also first to enter the faster favourable tidal stream towards the southern edge of the bank.
Rupert Holmes, helming Palaver, led at the top mark by a length and a half, but was quickly passed on the run. James Howells’ Gelert, took their fourth win of the championship, 14 seconds ahead of Darling S. After a rather more mixed run of results earlier in the regatta, Laurence Mead’s Freelance found consistency, finishing third in every race on the final day.
In Race 8 Mon’s crew in Darling S squeezed across the line eight seconds ahead of Ante Razmilovic’s Swedish Blue, which had just a three second advantage over Freelance. By Race 9, Darling S had become the pace-setting boat, leading Gelert at the finish by an impressive 32 seconds, while Freelance took third place 10 seconds later.
In the next seven seconds six boats crossed the line, led by David Franks’ Elvis and Swedish Blue, but the latter was disqualified in a protest over a start line incident with Stuart Childerly’s Loup Garou lV. Although Darling S closed the points gap at the top of the leader board on the final day, Gelert remained untouchable as overall winner.
Andrew Cooper’s Ice, second-placed boat at the end of the penultimate day, had a disappointing final day, dropping to seventh overall, while Freelance’s consistent results elevated her to third. Sam Carter’s Sumo took fourth overall, one point ahead of Chidlerly’s Loup Garou lX.
The long weekend provided an excellent series of super-close racing for a wide variety of crews. The youngest, on Romain Szjan’s Lady Susan had a combined age of just 67, while the oldest, on Dick Cowan’s Eccentric, notched up an impressive 187 years, sailing three up. Eight of the 17 boats scored at least one podium result and only two failed to make at least one top 10 position.
Numbers in the fleet have recovered following a concerted campaign by the class to ensure all aspects of the experience of racing the boats is maximised to the full. This includes sharing of knowledge, repair facilities, après sail socials, and continued off-water discussions via the class Facebook page.
There are also two fully-funded boats for youth teams, in conjunction with the British Keelboat Academy, and made possible by the generosity of class stalwart Ted Fort. In total 40 young sailors have competed in the class this season.
Next weekend (15-16 September) will see an introductory session for six potential new Etchells owners, and second-hand boats are available from less than £10,000. Find out more on the Etchells UK Class website.
Photos: credit Hamo Thornycroft / www.yacht-photos.co.uk
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