With strong winds prevailing and a forecast for more of the same over the weekend it was with a certain amount of trepidation that the race team and sixteen competitors from Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany and the UK assembled at Datchet water Sailing Club on Friday morning. While the scheduled briefing was under way the boat crew set out a windward/leeward course parallel to the elevated control area and getting more than a taste of the Datchet water as the waves sprayed over them at irregular intervals.
Racing got underway with wind speeds varying between 18 and 30 with gusts of 40+, the wave height was between 30 and 50 cm and skippers chose their no 4 or 5 rigs.
Darin Ballington sailing Diamond no 92 for the first time was hot from the start mastering the waves and taking a commanding early lead followed by Arnaud Toureau (Diamond 192) and Graham Bantock (Diamond 95). Inevitably the conditions found any weaknesses in boats and rigs and the expertise and professionalism of the rescue boat crew of Hugh MacAdoo and Alf Reynolds prevented several boats from suffering further damage by being washed ashore and, in the case of one boat, prevent a sinking.
With conditions testing but reasonably consistent the racing continued until 4 pm. Darin and Graham traded first places throughout the afternoon but with Arnaud constantly snapping at their heels and strong performances from Henning Faas (Diamond 6), Dave Potter (Defector 20) and others the pressure was intense. The sight of these fast yachts surfing on the waves and swapping places as they sped toward the leeward gate was magnificent and an absolute credit to the skill of the skippers who had very few boat-on-boat incidents and all infringements were settled on the water. End of day results after 9 races (2 discards) showed Darin on 10 points, Graham on 11 points and Arnaud on 18. Still all to play for on day 2.
Everyone adjourned to the clubhouse for refreshment and, in the case of the rescue boat crew, a hot shower and some dry clothes. With a discounted bar and many tales to tell it didn’t take long to start running low on supplies but a quick phone call and a visit to Cash & Carry ensured a plentiful supply of Corona (The beer not the virus!). Dinner, offering a choice of fish pie or cottage pie with an accompaniment of vegetables followed by a selection of wicked desserts was served in the club and skippers retired to their hotels or motorhomes at 2130.
Saturday morning dawned with conditions slightly stronger than the previous day and a subtle change in wind direction to more westerly had resulted in an increase in the wave height.
Darin was deposited at the club by the Ballington ladies who then took the car and went for a day out at Legoland, what a wise choice! After drying clothes overnight and with double layers of oilskins the intrepid rescue boat crew took to the water only for Alf to slip into the bottom of the boat and allow large quantities of water to enter via his neck and soak everything all over again but even so his infectious smile never left his face. With an adjustment to both start line and gate the first race was announced and boats went on the water. Darin struggled fitting a new (smaller) rig and didn’t make it in time for the start. It was immediately clear from the starting signal that skippers had been thinking overnight about how to tackle the conditions and a race long battle for the top positions ensued between Graham, Henning, Dave, Marco Signorelli (Diamond 80) and Richard Uttley (Spectre P8, 70). At the final gate rounding Graham led the fleet offshore before tacking onto starboard for the long leg up the course toward the finish, Henning sailed a little further before tacking onto starboard which proved to be inspirational. As they approached the finish line it was neck and neck but, with the waves constantly knocking the boats to leeward, laying the finishing line was not guaranteed. With only metres to go it looked as though both boats would not lay the line but as Graham went into his final tack Henning seemed to get a couple of degrees of lift and crossed the line a quarter of a length ahead of Graham to take the win. As they brought the boats ashore a beaming Henning was heard to say “That’s made my weekend, I’ve beaten Graham. You can stop the event now”. How prophetic that was to prove.
While adjusting the start line to match the changing wind direction it became apparent that the wave height was making the operation very difficult for the boat crew and at times even precarious and clearly rescuing a stricken 10 Rater would be even more difficult so PRO Phil Holliday called the boat crew ashore and announced a postponement. Everyone retired to the warmth of the club house to wait for a change in conditions. It was fairly obvious from all the different weather forecasting apps that no change for the better was likely and with strong Italian and French support and a large screen TV in the lounge watching 6 Nations Rugby with a beer or two and a burger and chips from the club kitchens was the best option for many.
Saturday evening get together was scheduled as an International Evening with everyone bringing along a little something to contribute to dinner. At 7 pm everyone reassembled at the club with their goodies and the food was laid out in the upstairs lounge. The visitors from Europe really know how to make these evenings work and had brought with them a basket of fresh Isle de Re oysters, magnificent cheeses, salamis, wines, gins and the finest Swiss chocolate which along with the local fayre of pork pie, Cornish pasties, speciality sausages plus chips and dips provided a feast for everyone with loads to spare. Needless to say cars were left in the car park and taxis called at 2300 to take skippers home.
Sunday mornings conditions were, if anything, worse that the previous day so the scheduled 9.30 briefing was an announcement of the inevitable cancelling of sailing for the day and the final results and prize giving. With Arnaud in a solid 3rd place on 23 points Darin and Graham were now tied for first place on 13 points. With 5 wins to 4 the top spot went to Graham.
As the UK skippers made their way home the European skippers who had already got ferries and flights booked had time to kill so Datchet Sailing Club organised a trip to Windsor with a tour of Windsor Castle to fill in the time.
A most enjoyable weekend, despite the adverse conditions, which just goes to show that it is not always just about the racing!
A very big thanks to Datchet Water and their members for their hard work in organising and running this event.