Mead family claim Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy
At about 1300 on Saturday 29 May, US sailor Argyle Campbell must have been wondering why he was closer to Newport on the Isle of Wight, than at home in Newport Beach, California. The wind on the Solent was in the mid 20s, gusting to early 30s and the rain, while not lashing down was at least making the whole day a lot less summery than he might have hoped for while he was winging his way to the UK. He was however, like 15 other boats, having some great racing as the Etchells class raced for the Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron.
Race 1 was sailed in a building breeze, which was forecast to be very windy by the end but was 15 to 18 at the start. The fleet were unusually line shy for the Etchells class and with 30 seconds to go Laurence Mead sheeted on early, sailed down to the pin and port tacked the fleet for a big lead.
Once he got round the top mark, Mead was on the front edge of a big puff and by the time he had sailed it down the run he was out of sight ahead. The rest of the fleet struggled down the run but in true Etchells fashion Argyle Campbell and Robert Elliott got to the last leeward mark more or less overlapped and battled it out for 2nd and 3rd, finishing in that order ahead of David Franks in 4th and Julia Bailey- sailing with her husband Graham in the middle - in fifth.
Race 2 started in what were by now the aforementioned Newport Isle of Wight Bank holiday conditions. Windy and wet but thankfully not cold. In addition the tide was in full flood mode so the course became a bit one sided with a south westerly breeze making the obvious call a long starboard off the line to get into the best tide. Offsetting that was a bit of boat end bias, craftily added by RO Jonathan Peel to tempt the fleet away from the pin. At the windward end of the line Julia Bailey (1329), Andrew Cooper (992) and Steve Tucker (1267 - with Solent legend David Bedford and perennial top bowman Brian Hammersley on board) were away fast to lead up the first beat along with Rob Goddard.
Elliot and Mead set up on the start line too early, and, with the former sailing fast under Mead’s leeward quarter he had no option but to protect by sheeting on as well and both these two ended up too far down the line. Campbell was again in the mix but with a big right hand shift at the top of the beat the leaders all came from that side. With the fleet pretty much nose to tail at this stage the winning move was however a very early gybe to get onto the headed port tack. Although Mead only got round in 5th he was first onto port gybe. Once he had ridden the first decent gust down he was line abreast with the Julia Bailey who was leading but he had the inside for the leeward mark rounding ahead. Down the run 4 boats were all overlapped with Steve Tucker riding a good puff down the outside to be in the mix as well.
Some of the puffs now had some real venom to them, but Mead and his crew held their line and sheeted on to lead up the second beat. Julia Bailey was in 2nd, Steve Tucker got to 3rd and Andrew Cooper took 4th as the fleet headed down the last run. The RO recorded a gust of 32 knots as the fleet surfed, surged and broached their way down the final run. Mead kept his keel under his mast for his 2nd win of the day and after a trail of spins and wipe-outs further down the fleet 5 boats scored DNF’s but thankfully with no broken masts or boats. Newcomer to the fleet Steve Tucker scored a brilliant 3rd in what was a hard and windy race. The PRO wisely decided that was enough for one day and the 3rd race was held over to Sunday.
Sunday dawned a much nicer day, the forecast was still windy (but this time from the North West) but not quite as wild and Argyle Campbell could at least see the sun that he would have expected to have enjoyed had he stayed home in California! The fleet headed out for an on-time start. Flat water, sunshine, 15 hard raced Etchells and a pin biased line that was short enough to make it interesting. The leaders from day 1 got themselves in a mess and with 10 seconds to go it was clear they wouldn’t lay the pin. The Mead / Lawrence / Mead team bailed out early, went low and at the gun they were on port ducking the entire fleet. Not a good start to their day. Out of the traps smartly were Robert Elliot and Julia Bailey, with J/80 sailor Allan Higgs making his way into the Etchells class also showing good speed from the leeward end.
Further up the line Argyle Campbell was away well. By the top mark Elliot had a tiny advantage from the left hand side but Mead, having made up a lot of ground up the beat was clawing his way up the starboard layline, and, when Elliot took the conservative option and crossed him, rather than risk a leebow tack, Mead sneaked round the top mark into an unlikely lead. At this stage it looked good for 1339 but this is Etchell racing and the fat lady only sings after the dust has well and truly settled. Campbell came round overlapped with Elliott and chose the high road down the run. Elliot dived in to leeward of Mead and these three set off down the run with Julia Bailey in close attendance.
All the way down Campbell ducked and dived, some of the time in Mead’s wake, at other times darting to windward. After a nice series of fakes Campbell pulled off a passing move to windward of Mead who suddenly found himself with Elliott trying for an inside overlap as well. Round the bottom mark and Campbell was off and away on the lifted port tack, Mead had to tack to clear his air and after 45 seconds on the wrong tack he had lost Elliot and Bailey as well. Although they circulated in close company from then on, Campbell was always in control and he won. Elliot 2nd, Bailey 3rd and Mead 4th. Despite slipping down the fleet a bit Allan Higgs also showed that he was getting to grips with his new class to score an 8th.
Race 4 and it was all a bit more open. Pin bias, wind up a bit, probably gusting into the very low 20 knot region. The fleet were all pushing down the line but Mead had the pin comfortably. 20 seconds later he tacked to cross the fleet when his race fell apart. The mainsheet traveller block exploded as it loaded up on port and from being a clean cross he was now in danger of being mown down by the starboard tackers. He got in a hurried tack as the fleet streamed past, but his race was over. Up a longer beat in a shifty north westerly the fleet had a great battle with Julia Bailey just leading round the top and down the first run.
Mead having fixed his boat watched on and saw his nearest competitor’s battle for the top 3 slots. The regatta was wide open as the leaders got the leeward mark first time round. Bailey held her lead comfortably but up the second beat Campbell got all out of sorts on the shifts and when they came round the windward market the next time he had slipped back to 8th. Going the other way were the team from Royal Mersey Yacht Club led by Dick Cowan who had come to the Solent for the regatta and they were in 5th , sailing with great speed upwind. The Baileys won, David Franks was back in the leading pack in 2nd and Elliot was 3rd to move himself into contention for the regatta. Andrew Cooper was 4th slowly rediscovering his previous race winning speed in his Bashford hull.
The regatta was now wide open and with the possibility of the 6th race not taking place if time ran out, Mead still had a lot to do. He led off the start and in the building NW breeze he had a 3 boat length lead at the top first time round in race 5. Campbell had put his slide down the fleet in the previous race behind him and was challenging for top slot, with David Franks and Rob Goddard rounding out the top 5. Mead again showed a downwind speed frailty as he saw Campbell sail outside him and almost round the front on port. The two boats sailed side by side, each reminding the other about proper course obligations (several times!) but with Mead on the inside he should have had the edge. Right at the end of the run however a big lifting shift sent the wind right round so that both boats were running by the lee as they came into the mark. With suddenly clearer air Campbell nailed home his opportunity to round in front and lead again.
The regatta was now truly opened up; Campbell would hold the edge if he could put the race away but after his DNF in race 4 Mead needed a recovery plan. These two battled up the next beat clear of 3rd and 4th place but Campbell wasn’t to be dislodged, he led at the last windward mark. By now the breeze was really starting to kick in though and with solid gusts in the high 20 knot region the fleet were on the edge of planning down the runs. Campbell came round, set and sailed on. Mead came round, set and gybed immediately into what should have been less tide to the left. That became a moot point however as it soon became clear Mead had more wind and was closing down the leader fast.
As he was about to gybe and take the fight to the leader however, Mead’s bowman called for a hold as a BIG gust was about to hit them. Moments later and riding the front edge of the gust in the 30 knot range Mead shot past and into a 50 metre lead that gave him the edge in the regatta. He closed it out for the win with Campbell 2nd, Franks 3rd, and Cooper 4th while the Bailey challenge faltered with an 8th.
So race 6 of the regatta with Mead ahead after a discard but having a DNF on his scorecard. Mead very nearly messed up the start at the pin end but luckily for him there was enough ebb tide pushing the fleet over that he was able to go head to wind and shoot the pin and stay alive in the left hand corner. Elliot was just to windward but Campbell was further up the line and had given up a lot of bias. The fleet were very close and by the top mark Mark Downer and his family team had sailed themselves into the lead, nailing a little shift to the left at the top of the beat.
Again however the trick was a smart gybe and coming round in second Mead and his crew pulled it off best, loaded up in a big puff, and before the pack had got themselves sorted the regatta leaders had blasted off to a big lead - all they had to do from there was keep the truck on the road to the end. David Franks was flying downwind and got himself into 2nd, overtaking Downer and Cooper who had been forced right (looking down the run) into more adverse tide and less wind. Both Bailey and Campbell were buried, in 8th and 6th so Mead was secure for the trophy while Franks and Elliot (both now coached by double world champion Stuart Childerly) were close to evicting Campbell from the top 3.
It finished that way, Laurence Mead, Phil Lawrence and Oscar Mead took the RYS Sir Kenneth Preston Trophy for the second time in 3 years with Newport Beach sailor Argyle Campbell 2nd overall, Robert Elliot in 3rd and David Franks in 4th - these three each separated by a single point.
Great racing, sunny and warm on day 2 and the fleet is now more ready for the 2010 Etchells Worlds to be sailed in Howth, Ireland in mid-August. The fleet is back out for the Red Funnel weekend on 5-6 June and then the Southern Area’s on 26-27 June.