Tied at the top

Tense conclusion awaited for the Etchell's Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy

Sunday May 3rd 2009, Author: Laurence Mead, Location: United Kingdom
The Solent Etchells fleet enjoyed another fabulous day of high quality one-design racing on Sunday 3 May, with two of the UK’s top one-design keelboat sailors now tied for first place after five races in the Royal Yacht Squadrons, Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy. The fleet headed out early for three races in a 16 to 18 knot northwesterly breeze, with a forecast for a right hand shift as the day wore on. The start line was very square, but as with all northerly breezes in the Solent it was pretty shifty.

Within the last minute of the countdown for race 3 of the series there was a left hand shift and two boats towards the pin-end saw their chance to make a jump on the fleet, Graham Bailey pulling off his “early sheet-in and tack on the gun” manoeuvre superbly to cross everybody. Laurence Mead was a few seconds later than Bailey sheeting on and when he tacked a few seconds later he was 10ft short of crossing the pack of starboard tackers. He was forced back onto starboard, from where he had a tough race in front of him. James Howells, who had missed Saturdays racing, started cleanly further up the line and was top 2, with Ante Razmilovic and Robert Elliot rounding out the leading pack, but they all trailed Bailey who used his excellent start to lead for the first 3 legs. However, on the second beat Bailey got a little too far to the left at the top of the beat, and although he was sailing the lifted tack he found himself pushed back into second by Razmilovic who got a nice righty at the very top of the beat to sneak into the lead, from where he led down the last run and into the series lead. Mead got back to 5th and on the last run ground down Elliott with about 15 gybes onto Elliots breeze, and although it looked like he had just failed to snatch 4th on the finish line, the scorecard later showed that he had taken Elliot right on the line but by what must have been a very short head indeed!

Race 4 started with a good square line and with the fleet all away cleanly it became a classic one-design race with the top 4 all tacking in unison as the breeze shifted first one way and then the other. Howells had started on the pin, Mead one up from him with Razmilovic and Bailey the next up from them. As all four put in their first tacks Razmilovic was a few feet behind and after 4 minutes on port he was squeezed in a pincer movement, with Mead sailing lower and faster to windward and with Bailey slowly coming up under his lee bow. Howells lead at the top from his cleaner lane on the left and held that lead all the way down the run. With middle man David Bedford calling tactics he showed the same faith in the left hand side on the 2nd beat and this proved to be his undoing as he lost 3 places as a right shift went against him. Bailey won it from Mead, with Razmilovic in 3rd. That was the way it ended with Bailey and Razmilovic close to locking up the overall leadership and almost taking it out of Mead’s grasp.

Race 5 started in what looked to be a slightly lighter breeze, with every indication it was going to get even lighter still. The heat of the afternoon seemed to be taking the edge off the northerly, which was also likely to make it shiftier and more gusty. The fleet started under a Z flag with a familiar 4 boats stepping out up the first beat. Throughout the regatta the leaders were all able to consistently get off the start line slightly better than the rest of the fleet and again Razmilovic and Bailey squabbled over first, with Howells and Mead very close behind. Down the first run the first four became extended on the fleet and the breeze did lighten and shift left. All four boats chose the right hand gate and were very close together, with Howells slowly grinding down Bailey on the left to take 2nd whilst Razmilovic led. At the last top mark however, the right hand side paid, and Mead, who had tacked off a small lift trying to get to the right before the shift came in properly, caught Bailey port and starboard at the mark. Bailey just tacked inside Mead whilst almost overlapped with Howells to his left….extremely close boat-to-boat racing!.

In the now lighter wind Mead gybed very quickly after the top mark and with better pressure sailed into second with Bailey once again getting past Howells for 3rd. The racing was incredibly close with only Razmilovic able to take a mini breather. That didn’t last however as, getting to the bottom gate for the last time, he chose the slightly upwind right hand mark and headed out to the left hand side of the beat. Mead chose the other gate and as this was a slightly shorter distance down the run, and was in more pressure, he came out bow forward on Razmilovic and was looking for a small header to tack and get to the leader. Although this almost came through, Razmilovic was able to lock in a three or four boatlength lead, while his three pursuers were all within two boatslengths of each other. This was only resolved after the 3 boats crossed tacks half a dozen times with Mead throwing his final tack for the line on top of Bailey to cover for second. With Howells tacking under these two in a small shift, Bailey found his race going from bad to worse and finished fourth as Howells got up to the line ahead of him. After a great set of results up to then this became his discard, and leaves him tied on the same points with Ante Razmilovic for the leaders yellow jersey, with just one race left on Bank Holiday Monday. Mead has third overall locked up but no-one can catch either Graham Bailey or Ante Razmilovic, who will sail off for the Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy on Monday with a winner takes all duel.

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