Friday's opening day brought strong southwesterly winds of 20-25 knots with gusts up towards 30 knots. Race Officer Robert Lamb wisely elected to set up his race-course in the relative lee of Osborne Bay and the teams got the event off to a lively start with a windward leeward race featuring plenty of tricky gusts and shifts to limber them up. The race was to be a good indicator of things to come as Len Jones of the Medway Fleet, sailing GBR708 Rumours with Jamie Lea and Philip Catmur went at it hammer and tongs against Solent Fleet regulars Julia Bailey, sailing GBR720 Aimee with Pedro Andrade, Steve Richardson and 10 year old Joe Bailey; Owen Pay, sailing GBR653 Njord with wife Josy Roberts Pay and Dave Ross; and Eric Williams, sailing GBR682 Ecstatic with Duncan Grindley and Joanna Richardson.
After two laps, where the beats seemed to last forever for those doing the hiking and the runs took only a matter of moments in comparison, the leading boats crossed the line within seconds of each other. Ultimate victor was Len Jones with Eric Williams second, Julia Bailey third and Owen Pay fourth. Sadly the windy conditions also caused a number of broaches and other thrills and spills with several boats pulling out of the race as a result. Fortunately there was no serious damage, the electric bilge pumps did sterling work, and all the boats were able to make it home under their own steam.
Speaking after racing BDA Chairman Owen Pay commented: "We were actually pretty happy with our fourth in this race as we had started four minutes and 50 seconds late! When we were rigging the boat I'd been so busy chatting that I'd failed to notice I'd rigged the spinnaker inside the forestay and it took our crew Dave Ross several minutes to sort it out just before the start. Dave has taken great delight in pointing out to me that the moral of this story is - Never let the skipper go on the foredeck!"
By the finish of race one the wind was regularly gusting up towards 30 knots and so the decision was made to send the teams home before conditions worsened. After racing the teams enjoyed a welcome cocktail reception and dinner on the Royal Yacht Squadron platform.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny and with a much more manageable, although still quite shifty, south-westerly wind of 10-15 knots. The programme for Saturday called for only one South Coast Championship race as the crews were also scheduled to take part in the traditional pre-Cowes Week Household Division Regatta, run from the Royal Yacht Squadron, in the afternoon. The morning's championship race proved to be a delight and this time Richard Davies, sailing his brand new GBR742 Flotation with John Nangle and Susan Breare, joined the leading pack in what was to prove another incredibly close race. Len Jones took his second victory of the regatta by a winning margin of 43 seconds - the biggest of the regatta by some way - as Owen Pay and Eric Williams fought it out for second with Owen just pipping Eric on the line by three seconds. Richard Davies finished fourth just seven seconds ahead of Julia Bailey.
Although not part of the South Coast Championship, the fleet then all took part in the Household Division Regatta. Racing was again extremely close but the finish proved to a controversial one with confusion over the direction in which the line should be crossed. Officially Solent Class Captain Richard Cullen, sailing GBR669 with John Mellows and Matthew Hill, took victory from Owen Pay and Eric Williams with Colonel Tony Singer, organiser of the South Coast Championship, sailing the beautiful varnished GBR718 Cavalier with Jenny Stuttley and Mark Daly, fourth. After sailing Richard Cullen was keen to point out that their win was more luck than judgment as they had initially sailed across the line the wrong way behind Eric, but then crossed it again in the right direction accidentally. They realised what had happened and hailed Eric but the deed was done. Richard was keen to pay tribute to Eric who he felt was the moral victor. The crews then repaired to the Squadron Lawn for afternoon tea before moving on to the Royal Corinthian for the Championship Dinner, joined by guests of their sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management.
Sunday's final day saw the winds back up into the high teens with gusts into the 20s, again from the southwest and again with plenty of shifts and velocity variations. With a 3pm final start cut off time the race committee got proceedings underway promptly with a start-line off the Hill Head shore giving a beat up the Bramble Bank. From the start of race three Richard Cullen took the lead from Julia Bailey and going into the final beat it looked like Richard had the race in the bag. Sadly on the final beat he was torn between keeping a loose cover on the chasing pack and facing down Julia and he made the wrong call allowing Julia to slip through for victory. Richard finished second with Len Jones third, Eric Williams fourth and Owen Pay fifth.
Richard Cullen was also looking pretty good in race four until he bore away round the first mark onto the run and there was a nasty bang as the runner gave way. Unfortunately it had broken at the upper terminal and with no hope of affecting a running repair he was forced to pull out of racing for the day to save the rig. With Richard out of the running Falmouth's Chris Hunt, sailing GBR741 Flawless with Mike Relling and Julian Cook, had a clear lead on the pack and faultlessly defended his position for the remainder of the race despite frequent challenges from Len Jones and Eric Williams. On the line Chris Hunt took the laurels with Len Jones second, Eric Williams third, Owen Pay fourth and Julia Bailey fifth.
As the fifth and final race got underway the skies darkened and the first of a series of small squally showers came through. For Len Jones it was now a matter of putting the icing on the cake and from the start he and his team put in a bravura performance to win the race by 24 seconds from Eric Williams, with Julia Bailey third and Burnham's Michael Hayles, sailing GBR717 Nereid with his all family crew of wife Monique and son Nicholas, fourth.
In the overall standings Len Jones took victory by five points from Eric Williams with Julia Bailey third, Owen Pay fourth and Mike Hayles fifth. At the prize giving a delighted Len Jones stepped forward to collect the Brigadier Henson Trophy for the South Coast Championship for the second time, having previously won it in 2006.
Speaking at the prize giving Len Jones said, "We've had a very nice weekend, it's been well organised and the courses were very good and fair. Eric is extremely fast downwind and he knows the Solent like the back of his hand so you can never write him off. Obviously Julia Bailey is a fantastic sailor who also knows the waters very well and Owen Pay was getting better and better as the weekend went on. What surprised me was how relaxed the weekend was - it's all been very gentlemanly and I don't think there's been one protest all weekend although the racing was very close indeed.
"The shore-side was very good, the do that we had at the Squadron Lawn was very very good and being invited for tea on Saturday too was a wonderful situation. I wasn't planning on doing this event, but my wife Amanda persuaded me because the family like it here so much and I'm really glad we came."
For Eric Williams collecting his prize for second overall must have been a moment for mixed feelings as having won the South Coast Championship on a record three previous occasions he had no doubt been hoping to extend that record to four wins. However, Eric is renowned as one of the most sporting competitors in the fleet and he was clearly delighted to have enjoyed such a close competition against worth adversaries.
Alongside the main prizes there was also a special presentation for the top performance by a Classic Dragon, which went to Matthew Lingley sailing GBR207 Kestrel with Jack Gifford and Gemma Knill. Matt restored the boat himself and then sailed it all the way from Aldeburgh to Cowes to compete in the Round The Island Race, the Dragon South Coasts and Cowes Week. Their weekend was not uneventful with Jack Gifford acquiring a nasty shiner after a whack with the boom whilst sailing through the traffic after the Household Division Regatta. Fortunately his war wound didn't seem to be affecting his sailing or social performances!
The British Dragon Association would like to thank the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club for their excellent organisation and sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management for its most generous support of this event. Aberdeen Asset Management PLC is an international investment management group, managing assets for both institutions and private individuals from offices around the world.
Dragon South Coast Championship Top Five Overall
1 GBR 708 Rumours Len Jones 1, 1, -3, 2, 1 - 5
2 GBR 682 Ecstatic Eric Williams 2, 3, -4, 3, 2 - 10
3 GBR 720 Aimee Julia Bailey 3, -5, 1, 5, 3 - 12
4 GBR 653 Njord Owen Pay 4, 2, 5, 4, -6 - 15
5 GBR 717 Nereid Michael Hayles (12/DNF), 7, 6, 6, 4 - 23
Full results here