The considerable absence of breeze in recent weeks around the UK came to an abrupt halt in Torbay over the weekend as a low pressure system over Northern France drove a variable though predominantly strong easterly gradient into Southern Devon. While temperatures weren’t quite Garda-esque for many this was the first time since departing Torbole a big breeze opportunity had been presented.
The opportunity to prep for the upcoming Worlds on-site was grasped by 27 boats making use of the long weekend to get over a royal wedding hangover, blow out the cobwebs and brush off some big breeze rust. While the Brits were moving on from Will’s and Kate’s big day, an international flavour was added by part time residents Rodian Luka’s Team Russia and Roger Hudson’s Race Ahead squad.
Day one – three races scheduled and some early force 4-5 conditions tested out by Dave Cummins Rumbleflurg faded to around 12 knots by the time racing kicked off (and red-eyed Jerry joined us ‘fresh’ from Antigua).
The breeze surprising faded altogether after two races and by 5pm the fleet was sent ashore. Prior to that the internationals won both races with Luka leading the way in race one from two of the Gill boats in Geoff Carveth and Craig Burlton. Race two saw Jerry Hill and his Team Zhik crew leading comfortably early until a persistent left hander saw him touch the weather mark under pressure from all quarters and The Race Ahead team take full advantage.
Day two – the forecast delivered, as 12 knots from the northeast gave way to more easterly influence gusting to around 30 knots at times and waves building to more than 1.5 metres.
More international dominance over the British fleet? Luka and Team Russia split two first place from the Race Ahead squad who showed great appreciation for the conditions, minimising tacks and leaving the fleet in their wake upwind, then escaping at pace once set free downhill.
Downhill, took on a new meaning at times – I can’t recall ever freefalling from the crest of a wave with a vertical face before in a SB3 and despite doubts that we’d make it beyond the trough, somehow we popped up and continued rig intact.
After three races we were sent to shore, the race committee’s decision made easy by the site of more than half the fleet on its side at times and equally just by the demise of a local cruising boat wrecked on the lee shore shortly thereafter.
Having started the day with a log jam of boats at the top of the results sheet a pecking order was established with the Race Ahead team 3 points clear of Gill Race Team (Craig) with Racing Team Gill (Geoff) another three points back in third.
A debrief and coaching session had been arranged by the class with RYA youth squad coach Niall Myant taking the reins and benefiting all with insights into trim, balance, setup and technique with some notable class frontrunners also contributing. One of the local Italian restaurants then hosted 25 hungry yachters and must be looking forwarded to some ample trade in two week's time.
By Monday morning, memories of the royal wedding were vanishing into the past as a forecast for the northeast gradient to reach 40 knots in the early afternoon dominated thoughts of a quiet and expectant fleet.
Our race committee led a reduced fleet out the harbour in some initially benign conditions for what turned out to be two fabulous races in the building breeze. Race 6 saw a very tight bunch at the weather mark continue as such downhill with waves slight smoother, but no less in stature than the previous day pushing the top 6 into the leeward gate inside as many boatlengths.
By the top of the second beat three lengths contained the first three boats and what goes down as one of the most fantastic racing legs of my memory followed.....
Having been led round by Geoff with Roger’s Race Head then just astern we (Gill Race Team) took Geoff to weather as Roger’s team got through with superior depth on the mountainous waves. A gybe across Geoff with Roger’s team then going on our port bow set us up for a close quarters high speed battle. After some initial surges which saw us on the edge of an overlap we were able to pass to weather and gybe clear across only to realise we’d spotted the wrong leeward mark and let our foes take the inside, not quite over we steamed through the gate right on their hammer only to be defeated by a length. The 0.9 mile run having taken what seemed like no more than 5 minutes.
I saw none of what developed astern but somehow Rodion and Jerry both passed Geoff, leaving the final race a battle for 1st between ourselves four points off the lead held unsurprisingly by Race Ahead.
An early exchange off the start and up the 1st beat saw us pass Race Ahead, but back from the lead held by Andy Oddie, no let up in the breeze which probably built further down the run enough so that Geoff spun out of second place with a broken rudder. The second beat was more of the same and we were forced to follow Andy all the way to the left corner after being pinned to the flank by Rodion with Race Ahead now up to 4th.
Rounding close enough to Andy to be in with a chance and having dropped Rodion we set about chasing down the lead and despite some enormous surfs from Andy at the bottom of the course took the gun while Rodion broached out at the leeward mark losing 3rd to Roger’s fast finishing team.
The top three places remained as they’d been the previous evening and all enjoyed the opportunity to get away earlier than expected thanks to two very rapid races now looking forward to returning in two weeks for more of the same!
The Royal Torbay Yacht Club deserve praise and thanks having made us all very welcome throughout the weekend, getting racing away in short order through some very trying conditions while Adrian Peach pulled the organisational strings.