First things first.   I have been advised of the following:

 "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”    

Moving on.   Warsash SC has a  strong and long standing relationship with the Blaze fleet,
hosting an always well attended open each year as well as, on occasion, the Nationals itself.   Twice Blaze National Champion, Rob Jones, is a Warsash member and the home fleet always does well.   Generally the Solent, too, has been a kind and forgiving mistress, only rarely subjecting her suitors to a white knuckle ride through 30knots of breeze whilst repeatedly slapping them in the face with walls of foaming hell water.   All good things though…

In the runnup to this year’s open forecasts were not encouraging, 21-27 knots SSW with lashings
of rain on Saturday and just the rain on Sunday.   Yuck.

Still a 22 strong fleet turned out and after summarily vetoeing the sausage section of the proposed trap-sausage course (let's keep it simple eh boys?) were instructed on the basics by Dermot, the strong stomached Race Officer.   After going through the usual (square course, through the line each lap and don't go under an oil tanker) he reassured everyone that it was only blowing 18 knots and that everything would be fine.   Hmmm.
The tide would be rising throughout the day, though more subtly than is often the case.   With the right angle, it might be possible to lee-bow the current on starboard tack.  As for the sea state, thick, tall chop whipped up by a force 4-5, complete with vicious little gusts waiting on the top reach.

A starboard biased line set the fleet for an aggressive first start and with his usual enthusiasm Rob
Jones (678) led off the starboard end, sailing low and fast (the only upwind strategy worth considering given the conditions) and deploying fourteen stone of...stuff with
great efficiency.   In his exuberance though, he hung on too long and fetched in to the mark, to be pipped by Kieran Holt (699), who had tacked off earlier and took advantage of the tide, approaching on starboard and crossing in front of Jones.   Jon Saunders (789) and Ian Sanderson (763) followed them round with Myles Mences (7571) in close pursuit.   Jones, ever the offwind expert (work harder, that’s the secret!), overtook Holt on the way to the wing mark and after surviving the
bear-away from hell pulled out a respectable lead.
Holt did not fair so well and death rolled after the bear-away.   Jones,  plainly jealous, screwed up the footwork of his National-Champion-Gold-Standard gybe and pitched in by the
leeward mark.   He found his way on to the centreboard just in time to shout "flip it!" (or words to that effect) at Saunders and Ian Clark (695) as they creamed past.   Saunders had no sooner finished smirking when he too was punished for his hubris with a broken kicker, putting him firmly out of the running     Clark now led to the finish and later admitted two important points: firstly that he had sailed round without altering a single control line and secondly that probably his neatest manoeuvre of the race, a beautifully executed balletic gybe, was entirely accidental and was supposed to be a wear round that went awry.

Behind him much of the chasing fleet was struggling to simply sail the course, never mind have a meaningful race.   Much fun was being had on the top reach where, after a relatively steady beat, many rounded the windward mark thoroughly unprepared for the problem they were about to encounter.   The quandary goes as follows:
To make a Blaze go fast one must keep it flat, which requires one to throw most of one’s body over one wing or the other, one.   To make a Blaze go at all though, one must remain physically attached to it, and the mixture of swamping waves and fierce gusts along the top reach left many
struggling to find the middle ground.

If reach and bear-away could be survived, though, big gains could be had through bravery downwind.  By-the-lee was definately the fastest point of sail, if one dared and Jones may credit his 2nd place to some ballsy downwind sailing.   For most of the fleet though, it was divided in to two broad reaches.

22 went out, 10 finished; a long list of damages (broken mast/wing/transom/kicker) prompted
several retirees and, with rescue crews so outnumbered by struggling boats that the Racing Team began to fear for the safety of the fleet, further racing was abandoned.   The fleet cruised back on a beam reach to the safety of the Hamble river and, on return to its benign shore, wondered if it had all been some mad dream.   It wasn’t, I have evidence, Eddie Mays was out taking snaps!   Many thanks, Mr Mays!

After a conciliatory buffet provided by the club and a few repairs the fleet retired to a local curry house (sadly without Michael Buble tribute act, only in Essex!), for what my father rather perfectly describes as a “beer balm.”

Light dawned on Warsash the following morning  without the promised rain and accompanied by a good deal more than the promised breeze.    Easterly, 10-15 knots.   Dermot laid out the plan for the day.   3 Races, 4 if they could squeeze them in (to bring in a single discard, most useful to the dozen boats with a DNF on their sheet), this time with obligatory sausages.   Ahem.

As before, the tide would be flooding all through racing and due to the Easterly wind direction, working directly against the fleet upwind.   With a windward mark close to the northern bank, most of the fleet had the same thought, get to shallow water, go left!   The point of contention would be how far…

A port biased line spread the fleet nicely and Jones started race 2 by pulling out an immediate lead from the port end.   As his competitors peeled off though, he held on, further and further until it was only him left.   It was too far, Saunders had been the last to tack off before him and quickly pulled out a commanding lead, footing off toward the mark.   A chasing pack followed him round, gaining quickly on the bottom reach.      Myles “the menace” Mences reeled Saunders to within striking distance but couldn’t get past on the reach and lost touch upwind.   Saunders again pulled out and happily sailed off toward the wing mark again, only to hear his name called by Clark, who, now heading the chasers, rounded the spreader mark and bore away on to the sausage section of the course.   It was a kind gesture and speaks, doubtless, to the gentility of the Warsash fleet,   Clark had called just in time for Saunders to cruise back in to line on a reach and hold on to his position.   Mences made a challenge for Clark on the final leeward mark but was stuck on the outside and settled for third.  Further down the fleet, lighter airs did not prevent the curious phenomenon of “sympathetic capsizes,” and at one point a trio of boats could be seen upturned around the wing mark.   Dear me.

Race three got off neatly with a very even start.   Once again Jones and Saunders took a group out to the left and this time arrived at the mark within spitting distance of each other and a gaggle of boats, led by Sanderson, cruising in on starboard not far behind.   With a lead in place, though, Saunders pulled out a little downwind and further cemented his position as the race went on, this time being careful to sail the actual course.   Jones, too, carved out a sizeable bit of a water between him and the chasers and finished second unmolested.   Mences headed the chasing pack in third.

After a small relay the countdown for race 4 got underway.   With a touch of starboard bias on the line and a fleet that knew how limited tactical opportunities would be upwind, a great bulge of boats lurched over too early and the start was recalled.   Up went the black flag (inspiring a new mood of caution for those carrying a DNF) and saw the fleet off in good order.   Saunders again pulled out an early lead, overstanding a little on the left and then sailing free and fast on the long port tack to the mark.   Upon reaching it, he was most surprised to find Nick Ripley (545) who had tacked straight off the line and banged the right corner, finding fresher breeze out in the middle of the channel.   He crossed in front of the chasing pack and followed Saunders round.   Tidal concerns, plainly, are not everything.

The chasers recovered though and attempts to repeat the gambit failed to yield the same results, come the end of the race Jones had recovered to second and Mences to third.   At that pointThe results after them were a little confused by the sudden arrival of a large racing yacht, cruising downwind, spinnaker flying, straight toward the leeward mark at the same time as the main body of chasers were making their final rounding.   A brief scene of chaos followed as, suddenly realising their predicament, the yacht threw in a last minute gybe and broached just above the mark, very nearly flattening Warsash’s own Bob Cowan in the process.   No harm done, just.

Coming in to the final start there was the possibility for some start-line shenanigans.   Saunders, with three bullets, could afford not to win the race, but with a DNF to discard he couldn’t afford a duff result.   Jones lay in a similar situation with three seconds and could gain a lot by sailing Saunders off of the final start.   If he did though and did not recover at least sixth, Mences would likely take the honours, with four thirds.   In the event there was no match racing on the final start line.   There was a black flag though, keeping many cautious.   Holt took advantage and led an early surge off the middle of the line, overhauling Saunders and taking an immediate lead upwind.   He was never caught,   Saunders followed him up the left of the beat and settled for a second, followed by Jones and then Mences.   And that was all she wrote.

Saunders thanked Warsash SC for putting on a characteristically good event in ,at times, very trying conditions.   The club’s customary hospitality has made it a regular stop for the Blazes and it will doubtless remain so in the future.   He also needs to eat more pies if he’s going to stop Holt doing that again.

The next event in the Blaze Calendar is the 2012 Nationals, held at Brightlingsea, June 22-24.   It will doubtless be THE event of the season and if the lady of the waters is kind I will see you all there!

Final results as follows:

1st: Jonathon Saunders (5pts)

2nd: Rob Jones (9pts)

3rd: Myles "Menace" Mences (12pts)

4th: Keiron Holt (15pts)

5th: Ian Clark (17pts)