The last time the Blaze fleet went to Brightlingsea, bad things happened.   “7 masts in twenty minutes” was the much repeated adage and, as the days ticked down for the 2012 Blaze Nationals, a repeat performance seemed increasingly likely.   Forecasts resolved to 20-30 knots for Friday, slowly dropping off over the weekend.

A minority clearly took one look at WindGuru and rolled over to enjoy the comfort of their bed on Friday morning as 29 hardy souls gathered at the clubhouse (several with spare masts).   The bed-bound appeared justified, racing was abandoned for the day almost immediately, “so that people have time to do something useful with their day.”

SO, what do sailors do when they can’t sail?   They bowl, apparently, with varying degrees of skill.   A group retreated to the nearest TenPin and collectively pretended that they weren’t trying.   Approaches ranged from Rob Jones’s rubbish attempt at nonchalance, to the knuckle-clicking consistency of Ian Clarke.   Nick Miller complained that, had he known about the bowling, he would’ve taken time out of his three day warm up sail to play a few sets.   The less said about Jon Saunders “roundhouse” approach the better.   In any case, it served to keep people occupied and foster some extra competitive spirit.   On their return to the club, the fleet was treated to a barbecue fit for a king.   Tomorrow would be lighter and Sunday, lighter still.

Tommorow came with an eye-wateringly bright sunrise, clear sky and 20 knots blowing evenly from the south west.   Lovely.   Less than lovely was the experience of getting to the racing area.    The RO issued the usual warnings “it’s shallow near the sides, boys, DON’T GO NEAR THE SIDES,” but opinion differed greatly on what “near” meant.   Launching at low tide, the fleet would have to tack out through a narrow channel with rocks to the left and mud banks to the right.   So eager were all to avoid the rocks that many came unstuck (as it were), in the mud.    After a bit of sweary boat pushing and a couple who thought better of the whole enterprise, most made it to the race area with time to wash the shame-mud from their cockpits.   The racing area itself was the expansive water of the Colne Estuary, “just around the corner, on the left.”

As for courses, three options were available, Triangle-sausage, Trapezoid-sausage and Sausage, but nobody likes Sausage.   Suitable large black markers were laid out for race one in a big soth-west facing triangle, simples.   The tide would be rising throughout racing and, initially, appeared to be strongest near the start line, along the eastern bank and petering out toward the shore of Mersea Island near the windward mark.

Despite that, come the gun, a large gaggle of boats headed for the left side of the beat, led by Jon and Chris Saunders (789 and 679, no relation) from the pin end and Rob Jones (678) from the middle.   Nick Miller (757) thought they were all wrong and tacked off early from the starboard end to bang the right corner.   The Saunderses, with no one but themselves to race, footed off in the chop and sailed low and fast, taking chunks out of the higher pointing boats above.   Jon tacked off early but Chris held on right to the corner and lost a little ground on the approach.   Miller had a little less luck on the right and rounded behind them with Jones to form up the chasing pack.   Saunders put height and weight to work in the breeze off wind and pulled out a good gap on the following legs, never to be caught.   The other Sauders held on in second for a time but death rolled on a run and dropped to 11th.   Jones came through to take his place and Ian Clarke (695), clearly the better for his bowling warm-up, came through from the pack for 3rd.

Conditions were tricky but by no means insurmountable; the lulls rarely brought less than 16 knots and the gusts rarely more than 25.   Chop was sharp but short and the front runners had made it plain that sailing fast and free was the way to do it.   To sum up, pointing is for ponds.

Race 2 saw a change of course to Trapezoid-Sausage (nobody had sailed the wrong way yet and that just wouldn’t do!).   The median wind also began to drop off a little with each rolling swell of cloud summoning white horses as it passed over, which quickly vanished until the next one.   Saunders and Saunders (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) led off from the pin again and pulled the same trick of the previous race, despite the building tide on the left side (was there a little lee-bow effect to be had?).   Jon led in to the mark with a small margin, but, unchallenged, stretched it in to a good lead.   All seemed well until, as he approached the committee boat to finish his final lap a voice called “It’s a trapezoid.”

Yes.   So?   Oh S*!”>@

He had missed the penultimate mark and with the chasing pack bearing down on him, dashed across  from the finish to undo his mistake.   In the eyes of the chasers though, he was simply getting out of the way after finishing, and much of the fleet blithely followed to the line, only to be told themselves.

The resulting chaos caused much upset.   A mob of chasers descended on the missed mark from all points of sail.   Rob Jones, having capsized up a beat, twigged before the chasing pack ahead of him and cruised through above them to take 2nd.   Others were less impressed by the cockup, but, to quote a great man “who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”

Having witnessed the chaos caused by a course change, the RO left things as they were for the remaining races.   Saunders and Saunders formed up for a repeat performance only to watch Bob Williamson (778) cross in front of them for a port flyer.   In initially lighter breeze, perhaps 10knots off of the line, the fleet felt a little less inclined to take big risks and most opted for playing the shifts up the center.   Despite the drop in wind, Jon Saunders emerged from the gaggle on the left and enjoyed the rising breeze in to the mark.   He took out another commanding lead, pursued by Williamson, who himself pulled away from the chasers off wind.

As the breeze sagged again for the third lap Williamson closed down Saunders and tacked off away from his quarry, for the left side of the beat.   Saunders stayed on rather than tack to cover and this proved his undoing.   As they approached the mark it became obvious, Williamson had closed up almost a hundred yards in one leg to take the lead.   With just a sausage to go he beat off an attempt by Saunders to get above him and held on for the win.   Behind them, Myles Mence (7571), narrowly missing a local laser on the final run, emerged from the chasers to take 3rd.

For the fourth and final start of the day the median wind had again descended, with every passing cloud promising more and leaving less.   Throughout the day, though, the direction had remained quite stable, with much indecision over approaches to the windward mark.   Jon Saunders led off to the left but this time met Mence and Miller on their way in from the right (with the tide now reaching its height, if he had been getting lee-bowed he certainly wasn’t any more).   Mence settled in to the lead and the trio pulled away from the chasing pack to have a race of their own.   As the wind again gathered for the second beat the leaders rounded in close proximity, with Mence forcing Miller out and Saunders sailing in to the gap between them.   Miller, stuck below the pair, tacked for the left, hoping for more pressure.   Saunders again deployed superior height and weight to edge past Mence as they tacked for the mark and looked set to retake the lead.   The pair were headed in, though, and Saunders clipped the buoy.   Mence tacked again to avoid the same fate but was caught short by Miller, who had just tacked on to starboard above him and now took back the lead.   From then on their order remained to the finish.   Miller, Mence, Saunders.

Thoroughly exhausted, the fleet now turned home.   The beginnings of an overnight storm ushered them to a lee shore with increasing speed.   Local residents could be seen standing on their Marina balconies to watch the inevitable chaos.   Some dropped sails and drifted in under limited control, others opted for the “swoop” strategy and came screaming in to the beach with considerably less.   One sailor even opted for the “capsize, get out and push” strategy, which I hear has recently been sanctioned by the RYA.   A great display of seamanship, truly.  

As overnight leader, Saunders was duty bound to hide from his pursuers, whose intention to buy him many drinks may not have been entirely selfless.   In any case, Sunday was going to be lighter and there were still two discards to be applied.   An eight point lead might look lovely, but it could all still be taken away.   His pursuers were enjoying a very close contest. with each following boat separated only by a single point.   Curry, the solution and cause to most of life’s problems, was consumed prodigiously.   And my, such curry!

The Sun on Sunday did not so much rise as wearily drag itself over the rooftops of Brightlingsea as if it too were hungover.   All through the night the wind had sung through the boatpark with ever increasing shrillness and a miserable, fitful rain welcomed campers from their tents.   Even so, the RO took to the sea alone to scout the racing area and, at the appointed time, radioed back “tell them to get their kit on.”   Sailors slipped in to the cold embrace of yesterday’s wetsuit and waited for the postponement to be dropped.

The sun belatedly emerged but seemed only to bring yet more wind.   Gusts ranged up well in to the thirties and the median wind lay not far below.   It built and built and began to push boats along on their trollies.   So, with no let up in sight and fifty odd sailors with homes to go to (RS300 and Laser Opens were scheduled for the same day), the RO took the decision to abandon further racing.

In a brief speech, Jon Saunders apologised to the RS300s and Lasers (this always happens when we come here, sorry) and thanked the team at Brightlingsea for delivering a championship with all the comforts that could be wished for (especially curry) in spite of the conditions ranged against them.   Then he pulled a stupid face in the photo.

Other prizes:

Nick Miller, 1st Master

Myles Menace, 1st Grand Master

Ben Pickering, 1st Youth

Bob Williamson, the Bob Williamson trophy for furthest travelled

Andrew Williams, the Endeavour Trophy, for completing all races

Full results below:

Blaze National Championships 2012

Brightlingsea Sailing Club

Overall

Sailed: 4, Discards: 0, To count: 4, Entries: 29, Scoring system: Appendix A
RankBoatClassSailNoClubHelmNameCategoryR1R2R3R4TotalNett
1st   Blaze 789 Felpham S.C Jonathon Saunders   1.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 7.0 7.0
2nd Wingdings Blaze 678 Warsash S.C Rob Jones   2.0 2.0 5.0 6.0 15.0 15.0
3rd Nellie Blaze 757 Morcombe and Heysham Nick Millar Master 7.0 4.0 4.0 1.0 16.0 16.0
4th   Blaze 7571 Royal Solent YC Myles Mence Grand Master 5.0 7.0 3.0 2.0 17.0 17.0
5th   Blaze 778 Aberdeen & Stonehaven Bob Williamson   6.0 6.0 1.0 5.0 18.0 18.0
6th   Blaze 788 Aberdeen & Stonehaven Francis Neill Master 4.0 3.0 9.0 15.0 31.0 31.0
7th   Blaze 775 Aberdeen & Stonehaven John Deacon Grand Master 13.0 9.0 7.0 4.0 33.0 33.0
8th   Blaze 760 Morcombe and Heysham Mark Fearnley Grand Master 12.0 14.0 6.0 7.0 39.0 39.0
9th Modesty Blaze 545 Paignton S.C Nick Ripley Master 10.0 13.0 10.0 9.0 42.0 42.0
10th Winging It Blaze 695 Warsash S.C Ian Clark   3.0 5.0 8.0 30.0 DNF 46.0 46.0
11th   Blaze 679 She[[ey Chris Saunders Grand Master 11.0 8.0 14.0 19.0 52.0 52.0
12th   Blaze 691 Mudeford S.C Andrew Williams Master 14.0 12.0 13.0 13.0 52.0 52.0
13th Too Much Too Young Blaze 723 Blackwater SC Alex Williams Master 8.0 10.0 15.0 30.0 DNC 63.0 63.0
14th   Blaze 595 Chase SC Ben Pickering Youth 30.0 DNC 11.0 12.0 10.0 63.0 63.0
15th   Blaze 758 Burghfield S.C Pete Barlow Grand Master 9.0 30.0 DNS 18.0 11.0 68.0 68.0
16th Splash Blaze 682 Burghfield S.C David Entwistle Grand Master 30.0 DNF 15.0 17.0 16.0 78.0 78.0
17th   Blaze 745 Pembrokeshire Yacht Club Ross Prytherch   30.0 DNC 16.0 19.0 14.0 79.0 79.0
18th   Blaze 706 BSC H Kingdon Master 15.0 30.0 DNF 30.0 DNC 8.0 83.0 83.0
19th Insomnia Blaze 767 Burghfield S.C Simon Beddows Grand Master 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 11.0 12.0 83.0 83.0
20th Que Sara Sara Blaze 654 Porthpean S.C Steve wingrove Grand Master 30.0 DNC 18.0 22.0 20.0 90.0 90.0
21st A'Blaze Blaze 791 Exe Rob Jones   30.0 DNF 17.0 16.0 30.0 DNF 93.0 93.0
22nd Planesailing Blaze 717 Burghfield S.C Bob Yates Grand Master 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 20.0 17.0 97.0 97.0
23rd   Blaze 619 Pembrokeshire Yacht Club Andy whitcher   30.0 DNC 30.0 DNS 21.0 18.0 99.0 99.0
24th Ze Blaze Blaze 6821 Chew Valley Lake SC Tony Peacock   30.0 DNC 19.0 30.0 DNF 30.0 DNC 109.0 109.0
25th   Blaze 751 Burghfield S.C Paul Taylor Grand Grand Master 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 120.0 120.0
25th   Blaze 622 Oxford S.C Laurence Marshall Master 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 120.0 120.0
25th   Blaze 704 Pembrokeshire Yacht Club Julian Owens   30.0 DNF 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 120.0 120.0
25th Zig Zag Blaze 761 Felpham S.C Paul Hemsley Grand Master 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 120.0 120.0
25th Twist & Shout Blaze 781 Burghfield S.C Mike Lyons Grand Master 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 30.0 DNC 120.0 120.0