The eagerly anticipated first event of the 2017 RS200 SW Ugly Tour, sponsored by www.2ndhanddinghies.com, kicked of with quite a bang on Super Saturday. Forecasts leading up to the event ranged from 16-25mph, with some agreement of some 30 something gusts thrown in for good measure. On arrival the former seemed like it may have some merit, but the ever increasing dark patches on the water seemed to have other ideas. A healthy turnout of 24 boats eagerly headed out for the first race, and were greeted with a breeze that was guaranteed to thrill, and with thrills, comes some spills! It seemed that the fleet had either hibernated over winter, and were dipping their toes in the water for the first time, or had been keenly attending the SW coaching series, with much talk of improved roll tacking and light wind speed. Either way, very few boats were quite ready for what the day had in store.
The first race started, with a monstrous wind now blowing, making upwind hard going, however not for the Parkstone team of Peter Eyre/Ian Mairs who stormed upwind to lead at the windward mark, hoisted and blasted off downwind, only to realise they had missed the spreader mark, oops! In this wind, which was ever increasing, a 200 can really put some distance on in very little time, unfortunate for the Parkstone team, but to the advantage of the chasing fleet. Gybe corner was well and truly christened by several boats, and then several more as the white horses chased the fleet downwind, this was a baptism of fire for the season! The lead was taken by Matt Mee/Emma Norris, chased hard by Edd Whitehead/Karen Oldale and Chris Catt/Roz McGrane, with Alistair Norris/Helen Summersgill hot on the heels of the top 3.
More of the same wind for the second race, with a few casualties from the first race rejoining the fleet for a second bash at the conditions. Again the fleet got away, with the trio of Mee/Norris, Whitehead/Oldale and Catt/McGrane dominating at the top. The wind now well off the scale and then some more for good measure, with some downwind rides that several boats reckoned was the fastest they had ever been in a 200, and crews after sailing compared how they could barely hold the kite as it was being ripped out of their hands in the wind. Personally I think we hit terminal velocity on one run at one point, and then an even bigger gust hit and we just flew/bounced our way at what felt like mach2! It turns out that the committee boat had recorded gusts of 33kts, and firmly believed their gauge under read normally. Thats a force7-8, blimey! Anyway back to the race, in which Whitehead/Oldale took the bullet from Catt/McGrane with Mee/Norris in third with Eyre/Mairs in fourth. A short pause after the race gave the fleet some time to ponder quite how two boats had somehow ended up performing some sort of mating ritual at the final leeward gate, having mounted each other in full view of the finish. Series sponsor, namesake, and boat repairer, Pete ‘Ugly’ Vincent was seen making several passes of the scene, eager to hand out business cards for the inevitable repairs. Thankfully all parties were safe, and the racing was soon resumed!
The third race had calmed down a bit, although all things are relative, it was still booming! With the fleet now versed in the conditions, the racing was as intense as ever, with the top three yet again showcasing a masterclass in big (and I mean properly big) wind racing, with Catt/McGrane gybing early into a mahoosive gust on the first run to leapfrog the fleet and lead, chased down and pipped at the post by Mee/Norris with Whitehead/Oldale in third and John Teague/Naomi Pound in fourth. Gybe corner was still very much active, and any remaining burgees were sent to a watery grave, and in these winds there is always something to play for. A capsize on the first lap would leave you well behind the fleet, but when a gust to rival the Perfect Storm hits the boats in front on the third lap, well there’s your time to pounce and many places were traded!
To close out the day, race four was more thrills and spills, and a few crew and helm swaps to keep things interesting. To finish things off the top two boats of Mee/Norris and Whitehead/Oldale were equal on points, so a winner takes all race was on! Mee/Norris took the lead, and were pushed hard by Whitehead/Oldale, and Catt/McGrane, but revelled in the conditions to take the win, and the event. Norris/Summersgill had their second fourth of the day to finish consistently in fourth overall.
The prizegiving was delayed and delayed as the French looked to score against Wales, resulting in a somewhat concise prize giving in the 2 minutes before the England game, needless to say the sailing was the best part of the day! Worthy winners of Silver fleet were Parkstone team of Peter Eyre/Ian Mairs, with Bronze fleet being won by SW Ugly Tour newcomers Alistair Hodgson/Joanna Worral.
A big thanks has to go to the race officer Arky and his team on the water, they were certainly kept busy and hopefully entertained by the fleet! In such extreme conditions it was great to see just how many boats launched, and just how well the fleet coped in the conditions. Many classes would have been resigned to the clubhouse, its testament to the boat and sailors that we were still going without any gear failure and still racing hard. Its fair to say that the fleet were buzzing after the day, and it will surely go down in SW Ugly tour history as one of the most memorable.
Next up in the SW calendar is Exe SC, for a 2 day open combined with the national circuit, we are already looking forwards to this! Exe is a superb venue, for sailing and socialising, so why not make a weekend of it and come join the best racing you’ll find in the south west!