Photos: Dave Harding/

Straight bullets for Pica

Mears reign supreme at round three UK 18ft skiff Grand Prix

Wednesday September 5th 2012, Author: Ben Clothier, Location: United Kingdom

With the light wind forecast there was no chance of any 4g negative dives for the seven skiffs who arrived in Sandbanks, Poole on the weekend of the 1-2 September for the third round of UK 18 Foot Skiff Grand Prix. But the action was close and personal during the same weekend that Bournemouth hosted the annual air show. With a relatively long break following the European championship in June on Lake Garda and 3rd European Grand Prix event in Travemunde, teams have had plenty of time for training and boat optimisation promising a highly competitive 3rd Round of the UK 18ft Skiff circuit supported by Poole's Watersports Academy and French Connection Watersports.

Day one began under a slightly overcast sky and a light westerly breeze, which soon gave way to sunshine and freshening wind. Courses for the weekend were standard windward-leeward with the start finish line doubling as a downwind gate in the middle. With the windward mark close to the beach and the leeward near hundreds of boats watching the air show, spectators had more than the acrobatic planes and helicopters to keep them entertained. Yachts and powerboats coming out for the air show stopped by to catch some close up 18ft skiff racing while those on land could easily see the racing being run up and down the beach.

Race 1 got underway with a committee boat favoured start line. All teams had their number one rigs. There was a clear indication that there was a substantial advantage going close to shore upwind. By the windward mark Pica were in first place with Carsington snapping at their heels. The two boats increased their lead throughout the three lap race. It was clear that with these big square top rigs there is a quick transition from two on the wire at 6-7 knots to all three on the wire at 8 knots. The race finished with Pica, which had drafted Mason Woodworth as stand in helm with the otherwise usual crew Stewart Mears and Tristan Hutt well ahead of the fleet. In second place was Richard Allen, Peter Shaw and Richard Bland's Team Carsington, proving their new Ullmans main was delivering the horse power. Leading the rest of the pack were Sam Caslin, Mike Banks and Jack Grogan on Hyde Sails.

Race 2 had a slightly stronger breeze of 9 knots and the wind was in a left phase. The fleet were bunched at the pin end of the start line. Wind increased to three stringing conditions with the pace and excitement of the racing going up in equal measure. The boats were planning faster than the true wind speed achieving 9 to 10kts upwind and 13 to 15 knots downwind while the kite surfers in Poole Harbour hadn't yet ventured out. Again Pica won, Hyde Sails moving into second spot and Steve McLean's LED (Light efficient Design), with stand in helm Ian Turnbull, crew Nick Murray and Nick Pratt, taking 3rd.

Race 3 Following the relatively short race 2 and with the best breeze of the day the race committee set a five lapper. In these conditions, where the team are extracting the maximum power from the sails, the middleman who controls the main gets a real workout both generating leach tension upwind and running the sheets through the gybes downwind. Clearly this starts to effect concentration levels and a number of teams were caught out on the downwind leg by a shift and had to work hard to make the lay lines for the gate. Any unspoken hopes by bow and sheet hands for a shortened course evaporated as the fleet went round for the fifth and final lap. Again Pica dominated with LED beating Hyde Sails to take second place. Returning to the beach, and by the look of the crews, it would seem to the uninitiated that these teams had been out in 20 knots. Racing was proving extremely close and teams were having to work hard for their places.

After a hearty meal in good company at the Parkstone YC, teams were treated to a slideshow of pictures from the day with perfect opportunity to discuss the boats, the racing and the event with competitors and club members.

Day two dawned and saw the fleet rigging up in misty conditions. Breeze was again light WSW with plenty of puffs and shifts to create opportunity on the race course. No 1 rigs were again the only option as no more than 12kts had been forecast.

Race 4 With a committee boat biased start and everyone on the line, Hydesails found themselves locked out and relegated to the second row. Despite this early set back they quickly responded to take 2nd place with another clear win by Team Pica and Carsington taking third place.

Race 5 It was clear the event was close run on points as teams were pushing harder for early advantage resulting in two boats over the start line early. At the first windward mark Hyde pinned Pica resulting in a collision during the mark rounding. After a penalty turn Pica found themselves back in fourth place. Pica had a race on and chased hard taking two boats at the next leeward mark after forcing some spinnaker drop issues. Pica continued their charge and picked up two huge shifts in the middle of the course finally crossing in front of Hyde Sails to win. LED, with Steve McLean returning to the helm, found form again to take third place closing the gap between themselves and other podium contenders Carsington and Tom Hill, Miguel Andrew and Mark Kudlinski on Young & Reckless.

Race 6, the final race of the event, served up the most exciting to decide the final positions. The race started as the breeze built and shifted into the south, making the pin end heavily favoured. All teams spotted the line bias and crowded toward the pin end of the line. A perfectly timed start by Marc Watts and his team from Cardiff on Aftica gave them the opportunity port tack the fleet. It was close and they squeezed through to gain the dream start. Team LED was the right most boat and was force to tack off back towards the right side of the course. Bow forward, but below LED by a few lengths, the rest of the fleet continued to head off left led by Team-O? and Pica.

LED made the most of the conditions and led into the right corner along the shore. As the left and right groups came together at the windward mark, there was a clear advantage for the boats on the right. LED rounded in first place followed closely by Hyde Sails and Aftica.

The excitement continued down the run as teams crossed gybes looking to make the most of the puffy and shifty conditions. LED held on to the lead around the leeward mark followed by Hyde Sails with Team Carsington up to third and Pica in fourth. At the next windward mark it was Hyde and Pica that played the shift conditions best to gain the greatest advantage. The two duelled hard and at second leeward mark it was Hyde Sails that succumbed to the pressure doing the proverbial shrimp trawling with their kite, letting Pica round in first place. Hyde finally upright but now deep in the pack joined Aftica, Team Rutland, Team Carsington and LED to set up a great battle on the final two legs of the event for the third Podium place. At the finish line 20 seconds separated the group with Young & Reckless just moving into second and Aftica taking a hard won third place.

Despite the perfect score line Pica was pushed hard through the event to defend the North Challenge Plate in their usual style. The competition throughout the event was tight with Hyde Sails continuing to show form this season coming in a clear second and collecting £150 of kite, wake boarding or windsurfing lessons from the Watersports Academy. Third and fourth places were decided on the finish line of the final race with only seconds separating the finishers. The final podium place went to Team Carsington from Derbyshire who picked up £100 in kit and clothing from the French Connection Watersports.

After another great event on the beach front in Sandbanks. The fleet owe huge thanks to the Parkstone Yacht Club for all their hospitality, the Watersports Academy for hosting the fleet at Sandbanks as well as providing prizes, and the Sandbanks Beach office for their help and facilitation with beach access. Special thanks to Peter Loretto and his race management team who did a fantastic job running great racing close to the beach.

The final event of the UK and European Grand Prix series, as well as being the UK National Championships will be Plymouth. The Grand finale is to be hosted by the Royal Western Yacht Club and the Mount Batten Centre on 28-30 September. With 10 teams already confirmed and some autumn breeze, it could well be a cracker and the largest 18ft skiff event seen in the UK for over five years.


Pos Boat Helm Crew R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 Tot Net
1 Pica Jamie Mears Stewart Mears / Tristan Hutt 1 1 1 1 1 -1 6 5
2 Hyde Sails Jack Grogan Mike Banks / Sam Caslin 3 2 3 2 2 -4 16 12
3 Carsington Richard Allen Richard Bland / Peter Shaw 2 4 -6 3 4 5 24 18
4 Young & Reckless  Tom Hill Miguel Andrew / Mark Kudlinski 4 5 5 4 -5 2 45 20
4 LED Steve McLean Nick Pratt / Nick Murray 6 3 2 6 3 -6 45 20
6 Gill Tom Kiddle Matt Kiddle / Oscar Mead 5 6 4 5 6 -7 33 26
7 Aftica Marc Watts Dan Brown /  Mark Asquith 7 7 7 7 (DNF) 3 38 31

Photos by Dave Harding and Eddie Aldridge




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