A total of 178 boats turned out for Weston Sailing Club annual Grand Slam event on Southampton Water over the Easter weekend of 13-16 April. The event continues to be a major attraction in the sailing calendar, drawing entries from as far away as Newcastle and the Netherlands.
The entrants were divided into seven start flights: catamarans (14 boats); fast asymmetric (PN below 900 – 29 boats); B14 (17 boats); Laser 4000 (25 boats); slow asymmetric (20 boats); fast handicap (conventional dinghies PN 1053 and below – 31 boats) and slow handicap (42 boats). The event is a feature of several class association calendars, and this was reflected in the strong showing from the B14 and Laser 4000 fleets, with the fast asymmetric fleet being roughly split between RS800s and a resurgent Laser 5000 fleet. The slow asymmetric fleet saw strong contingents of Cherubs and RS400s. The fast handicap fleet was largely made up of International Moths, RS600s and Contenders, with the slow handicap fleet having a strong Laser and Laser Radial presence, and a handful of National 12s.
The format for the event was changed slightly from previous years, with the six-race series being run over three days. This was due in the most part to an unfortunate astronomical-theological conjunction, the net result of which was that the event had to be run on afternoon neap tides, rather than the more usual midday spring tides.
Racing started on Good Friday with not-so-much as a bang, rather more of a whimper. With a high pressure situated right over the south coast, the forecast was for fine weather with the wind light and variable. What little wind there was died just before the catamaran fleet was due to start. The effective wall presented to any remaining wind by so many sails meant that the catamarans were marooned, unable to move in the middle of the start line. A slight zephyr arrived about three minutes later, just enough to get some of the catamarans away from the start line. However, this coincided with the start signal for the fast asymmetric fleet, and seemed to cause some confusion as many competitors were reckoning their start time from the fleet in front, and their mental clocks were now three minutes behind where they should have been. The more alert were able to capitalise on this and sneak a head start.
The starting sequence lasted 18 minutes from catamarans to slow handicap, who, when they started, had the vast majority of the fleets parked in front of them still trying to reach the first mark not 200 yards from the start line! In fact Ian Stow, in his Europe, managed to find some wind, and was able to arrive at the first mark ahead of many of the catamarans, but then he got swallowed up in the raft of boats that was building up there. Some asymmetrics had managed to make a break from the pack, and were making steady, if slow, progress to the leeward mark.
However, what wind there was at the leeward mark was in the opposite direction to that at the windward mark. This presented the rather bizarre spectacle of boats at the windward end of the course sailing down under spinnaker, with other boats at the leeward end of the course tacking to the leeward mark and then sailing back up the course to meet the boats coming down also under spinnaker and on the same point of sailing. Racing was shortened to one lap for those that managed to make it around the course, with much of the fleets falling foul of the time limit.
Phil Goddard and Simon Dean somehow managed to keep moving to claim first in the catamaran fleet. Mark Emmett and Tony Esse in a Laser 5000 opened their account in the fast asymmetric fleet with a win, as did Matt Snedker and Dave Dobrejevic in the B14s. The other race winners were Rob Hooker in the Laser 4000s, Matthew Frary and Guy Fryer in the slow asymmetric (RS400), Ian Forsdike in the fast handicap (International Moth) and Steven Lee in the slow handicap (Laser). Needless to say, there wasn’t a second star