Last Nationals of 2009
On the race course Saturday was light to moderate air, north-westerly with a hint of westerly in it. This is always a shifty direction in the UK as a northwesterly is a gusty and unstable airstream and can also be easily influenced in the Solent by thermal effects, even at this time of the year. Race 1 was a classic one-design battle.
Pre-regatta favourite Ante Razmilovic had a good start at speed mid-line and held a tenuous lead half way up the first beat. He protected it with some close tacking on top of his main challengers and by the top mark was clearly ahead. David Franks (with Hamble big boat sailor Mike Richards calling tactics in the absence of Frank's regular man Graham Sunderland) was a strong second and never let that slip, while RYA squad Star sailor, John Gimson, having managed just one days practise in an Etchells on the Friday scored a good third to make a mark on the class in a hurry! The right had been pretty good on the first beat, even if the leader had come from the middle of the course, both second and third place getters were right hand gainers in Race 1. This was to become a theme on the entire weekend, and possibly on the championships, for varying reasons!
The first of the Irish visitors, Richard Grey in White Pointer, was 4th with another newcomer to the class, Stefano Sabbadni in 5th and Chris Torrens, a stalwart in the Etchells, and winner of this years, Red Funnel Championship 6th.
Race 2 started in a lighter northwesterly which was being dragged left by a light thermal effect. However, the course was close to the mainland shore so there was a possibility of tidal relief if you went right up the beat, which, if it was combined with a nice NW phase of the wind, might make the right pay again. Standard Solent theory is to go middle left at this stage of the tide so after a clean start for all but Mead and Robert Elliot (the former heading back thinking he was over but hearing on the radio he wasn’t, and the latter not thinking he was and not having a radio to hear that he was!!!) the fleet split with Mead trailing the pack off the middle of the line heading left, and John Gimson taking the boat end and tacking to head hard (hard!) right. The early starboard tackers all tacked over one by one and looked good as they sailed towards the centre of the course on port. It looked like the leaders would come from this side. Razmilovic had started 2nd row and tacked early to clear his air and was also right hand side.
Half way up the beat the left hand side started to cave in and in a nice right hand phase John Gimsom crossed from the right and had an unassailable lead. He was barely in sight so big was his lead. The pack, including Andrew Cooper, with ex-Laser National Champion Mark Powell calling shots, and Laurence Mead were grouped closely together. Razmilovic had got back to the pack as well and the race was a close tactical battle until the last leeward mark where Mead had a comfortable, if not totally secure 2nd, with Irishman Richard and David Burrows and David Franks in Elvis fighting it out with Razmilovic for 3rd.
Razmilovic was the only boat to take the left hand gate buoy and he headed right looking for a northwest shift. Mead had tacked straight round the right hand buoy and was upwind of him in the middle of the course and both Franks and Burrows had gone further left. Mead was covering Razmilovic but it slowly became clear that the right wasn’t this time going to work out as the 3rd and 4th place boats lifted off Mead. Halfway up the beat he changed strategy and tacked to try and hold onto 2nd, barely crossing Franks and having Burrows slide a tack under underneath him as they headed to the finish line. Razmilovic had held onto port longer than the rest and had been distracted by the RC boat, which was heading up the course to set the finish line in front of him, and in between sticking to the right hand side and the wash from the RC boat he wasn’t able to contend for 3rd and finished 5th. He was later to appeal for redress and was given equal 3rd place by the protest committee.
Sunday dawned windier and with a forecast for breeze in the mid-teens, early 20 knot range and still from the north west. The line was very square for the 1st race of the day and resulted in a general recall. The restart was more pin biased and the fleet was a little late lining up. Mead saw it first and sheeted on to win the start from the middle of the line with Cooper taking the boat end and overnight overall leader John Gimson also wanting the right hand corner again. Razmilovic was again second row on the start and tacked to clear. At the top mark there fleet was tightly packed, from the right Gimson led from Irishman Richard Grey with Andrew Cooper and Geof Gibbons right up as well. Mead tacked under Razmilovic to try and lead him round but as he was being rolled and couldn’t lay the mark he luffed and in the end neither he nor Razmilovic could make the mark and they both had to gybe out and come round again. Down the run both Mead and Razmilovic came back, Mead to lead round the left hand buoy, just ahead of Gimson. The wind was now a solid 16 to 19 knots and Razmilovic switched on his heavy air speed burners to slowly but surely grind his way to the head of the fleet, while the right hand side paid its joker on Gimson who went hard right (again!) and was never to be seen at the front of the fleet thereafter to eventually finish 12th. Mead was second at the finish with Andrew Cooper 3rd and Richard Burrows 4th. Sabbadni and Richard Grey dead heated for 5th.
The last race of the weekend was all about 3 elements. The start, the advantage that is boat speed and the right hand side (again!) The thermal effect had bought he wind to about 22 to 23 knots and shifted it left. A solid westerly and an adverse tide in the Solent and it almost always pays to tack up the left hand side of the Bramble Bank so the pin end was popular. With everybody except Gimson, who, despite his disaster on the right in the latter part of race 3 decided he was going to give the right one more chance....The pin end was very messy with half a dozen boats all struggling to lay the pin, Mead was the furthest towards the pin and tacked in a vain attempt to cross the fleet without breaking the starters gun. He failed and headed back.
The rest of the fleet streamed away with Stefano Sabbadni, sailing with long time Solent tactical whiz David Bedford, and with Peter Tindall on bow, taking the pin and leading the fleet left. There was no holding back Razmilovic in the breeze though, and the man twice top 3 in the Etchells Worlds showed he still has great heavy air speed to win going away, scoring his third bullet. Gimsons overall challenge faltered badly when he followed up his right hand disaster in race 3 with another double figure finish (10th) having been hard right on the first beat. Mead did all the hard work (well his crew did by hiking out hard!) to get back to level with Sabbadni for 2nd at the top mark second time round, but then undershot the layline and hit the top mark.
He finished 3rd in that race to record a 7, 2, 2, 3 for the weekend and is 2nd overall with Stefano Sabbadni in an excellent 3rd overall going into the second weekend of racing on the 17th and 18th. Mead is seeking to reopen the "yacht materially prejudiced" case of Razmilovic which will keep the regatta a little more open, but otherwise Razmilovic has his fingers on the trophy already and his pursuers have a lot to do. The top 3 qualify for next years Worlds in Dublin, alongside Stephen Bailey's Arbitrator, which has already qualified (and is absent from the Nationals) by dint of winning the overall Cowes fleet, season long championship trophy, the newly established Skip Etchells Trophy.
Full results here