Craig Burton takes his lead to the finishing tape

Craig Burlton has won the UK Laser SB3 National Championships in Falmouth, beating some of the country’s best small-boat sailors across a range of wind and wave conditions. Burlton’s Gill Race Team, crewed by Steve White and Adam Heeley, sealed victory in the 68-boat fleet despite their closest rival – Team Zimmer skippered by Mike Budd – winning the penultimate race.

The two protagonists for the title match raced each other at the front of the leading pack, and while Budd’s crew won that race, Burlton’s 2nd place delivered him championship victory with a race to spare. The day after his 40th birthday Burlton had finally won the National title ahead of two of the most eminent sailors in the fleet – Budd and Geoff Carveth’s Team Cre8tivity, the reigning World Champions.

Beautifully managed and organised by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, the four day event produced perfect West Country weather for the regatta, starting with some high-wind, tall-wave action on day one. Many boats broached spectacularly on the way out to the start of the first race as they struggled to get used to the thrilling conditions but by the start of the first race the fleet was ready and raring for some action.

Mike Budd, a former Laser National Champion who has won national titles in different dinghy and keelboat classes in all of the past four decades, looked like he was back in his Laser as he rolled back the years and rolled effortlessly down the waves, with Team Zimmer planing to victory in race one. Carveth was second and Burlton seventh, a solid but unspectacular start to the Gill Race Team’s championship campaign.

But that would be the last time Burlton would do anything other than excel in Falmouth Bay, whether in the big wave action of the first two days or the lighter, flatter waters of the final two days. The Gill crew would go on to notch up a series that never saw them lower than 4th in any of their remaining races. Budd, the acknowledged ‘Kind of the Pin’, was struggling to find his usual excellent starting form and was relying on great speed and tactics to haul him through the fleet on the hour-long windward-leeward courses.

With seven different winners in the first seven heats of this 12-race series, this was one of the most hotly contested Laser SB3 championships. Budd was the first to win two heats, and he would go on to win a third during the week. But he came unstuck on the third day in the lighter breezes. After winning the first race, his championship hopes took a serious dent with scores of 26,11. At least there were two discards on offer if the series went the full distance – which it did – but Burlton’s consistency made him all but untouchable.

One of the toughest challenges – for competitors and organisers alike – was getting the fleet started. It was rare that principal race officer Jeff Martin managed to get the fleet away on a Blue Peter start. Invariably his crack race team had to resort to the dreaded Black Flag to keep the over-eager fleet in check, and even then there were many casualties who discovered their sail numbers chalked up on the committee boat board. Among the higher profile transgressors were the World Champion Geoff Carveth and the South African team that ran him close for last year’s world title, City of Cape Town, with the father/son team of Dave and Roger Hudson twice falling foul of the black flag. In fact the Hudsons had a lacklustre series to finish 9th overall, although their sistership Spirit of Cape Town skippered by Taariq Jacobs showed some great promise for such a young team, including a race win in one of the windy heats.

Aussie Dan Geoghegan was another double-black-flagger who ruined his chances of a top 10 finish, but the queen of black flags was Libby Greenhalgh’s Team Green with a hat trick of naughtiness in three successive race heats.

Other notable sailors such as reigning National Champion Jerry Hill kept their noses clean but still didn’t manage to threaten for the series. Hill excelled in the windier stuff, including a heat win in race 7, but in his usually favourite lighter conditions he just couldn’t find championship-winning form. “Sometimes you’d get a better start than someone, make them tack away to what you thought was the unfavoured side and then you’d seem them pass way ahead at the next cross,” said Hill, still sounding perplexed. “We just didn’t seem to work it out.”

But if he was disappointed at his own championship result of 7th overall, Hill in his role as class chairman was delighted with the turnout and the influx of new talent into the fleet. Newcomers Andy Oddie and Guy Jackson finished 5th and 6th overall respectively, and there were some other new faces that would be well known to other fleets such as Melges 24 sailor Jamie Lea who chartered a Laser SB3 to come 10th overall. “We’ve also got other sailors like Martin Jones [former International 14 World Champion] coming into the SB3s because they want good tactical racing against the best sailors in the country and this fleet is where you’re guaranteed to get that level of competition,” said Hill.

With a crew weight limit of 270kg, the Laser SB3 appeals either to three large blokes or a crew of four smaller people. Both combinations seem competitive, with the top two in this year’s Nationals being threesomes (Gill Race Team and Team Zimmer), while Geoff Carveth prefers to sail four-up as do the 4th placed owned by Mark and Liz Rushall.

Now that Burlton has won his national title in the class, the next major target is the Laser SB3 World Championships in Cascais, Portugal at the end of August. It’s got a reputation for being a high-wind, big sea venue, and it promises to provide a great test for the fleet.

Whatever the outcome in Portugal, Burlton will look back with fond memories on the week that he turned 40. Royal Cornwall Yacht Club ran a perfect regatta out of what could just be the most beautiful sailing location in the country, and Burlton, White and Heeley put together a near-perfect series to beat some of the biggest names in British sailing.