18ft Skiff sailors enjoy hot weekend at UK Grand Prix Round 4 event at Calshot 17/7/06

A fleet of ten 18ft Skiffs hit the Solent this weekend for round four of their UK Grand Prix series. Launching from the Calshot Activities Centre on Calshot Spit, racing was held under the capable direction of Warsash Sailing Club in a race area set off the Hillhead shore to keep the fleet out of the worst of the tide.

Saturday’s racing started in some of the most demanding conditions the Solent can offer. A strong north-east gradient breeze, rolling off the Hillhead shore made for very unsteady wind with sharp changes in direction and strength. Dealing with wind that goes from Force 4-1 and back again in a matter of seconds without any recognisable pattern and shifts at the same time by 20 degrees or so is hard enough in any boat, but when three of you are trapezeing on racks 3ft off the side of your craft, the acrobatics required would qualify for the Cirque de Soleil! Added to this was the downdraft of a photographers helicopter, out to cover the event, which got too close to the fleet on a number of occasions. However, it was a gloriously sunny day on one of the hottest weekends of the year and we were there to race.

In the first race Rob Dulson, Paul Constable and Alec Mckinlay on Base 1 port tacked the fleet and made the most of the tricky conditions on the first beat to come in to the windward mark narrowly ahead, only to be hit by the downdraft of the photographer’s helicopter, barely saving the boat from a capsize but loosing several places in the process. Others were not so lucky, including current series leaders Radii, with stand-in helm Australian Grant Rollerson, who capsized just before the windward mark. Local sailors Peter Barton, Martin Borrett and Ian Turnbull on Barron and Smithers made the best of the very tricky conditions to take the first bullet of the day followed by SELS helmed by Ed Brown and Tim Penfold’s Fat Face.

Radii made up for their misfortune by taking the bullet in race two, which was also marked by a high number of capsizes as the teams struggled to master the shifty conditions. Barron and Smithers, after a very poor (for them) 6th in the second race came back to take the third and final race of the day as the sea breeze finally made itself felt with the wind veering to south of east and steadying a little.

Sunday dawned with very little wind and the Race Office kept the fleet ashore for an hour waiting for the sea breeze, which duly made itself felt, if a little reluctantly, never reaching more than Force 2. Enough however, to race, if not enough for flat out three wire skiff sailing, so the fleet were sent out.

Mason Woodworth, David Brown and Simon Hamilton on White Stuff found these lighter conditions very much suited their powerful Ullman square top rig and took the bullet in the first race of the day from light wind specialists Fat Face, with Barron and Smithers in third and starting to look in a good position for the title. This was possibly the closest race of the event with the top three boats treating spectators to a remarkable site as they came in to the finish almost parallel on port gybe with the backdrop of the cliffs on the Hampshire shore.

White Stuff almost made if it a double in the next race but chose to gybe off to the wrong side of the course while leading on the final run. Barron and Smithers made the most of White Stuff’s mistake and took their third bullet of the event to solidify their position. As a result they only had to finish in the top six of the last race to secure the Holt Challenge Plate for round four of the UK 18ft Skiff Grand Prix, a feat they accomplished in style with yet another bullet. White Stuff’s third in that race secured them second overall, one point clear of Radii who built up a consistent set of results to take third.

Overall Results

1 Barron and Smithers 1, (6), 1, 3, 1, 1 – 7pts
2 White Stuff (7), 5, 3, 1, 2, 3 – 14pts
3 Radii (5), 1, 2, 5, 3, 4 – 15 pts
4 Fat Face 3, 2, (6), 2, 4, 5 – 16pts
5 SELS 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, (dnf) – 18pts