The first event of the Gerber Laser Vortex Grand Prix 2002 calendar kicked off with a bang at Weston S. C. on the South Coast. Despite the forecast for gales and rain, 21 Competitors arrived on Saturday morning to pleasant sunshine and a brisk breeze blowing. Sharing the course with half a dozen RS600’s and a few Laser 2’s, a standard Olympic triangle course was set rather than the normally preferred square/trapezoid. The first race got away with a healthy Force 5 with some well timed gusts to keep things interesting. Grimwith sailors Keith Escritt and Jonathan Lister lead at the first mark followed by Queen Mary’s’ Patrick Steel. The first reach was long and deep and provided plenty of waves to surf. The second was tighter and provided fast trapezing thrills with spray flying from the leeward hull. By the finish, Escritt still led but Phil Whitehead passed Lister on the last beat to take second. Race 2 in slightly lighter conditions was led by Haylings’ Iain Palmer for two laps chased by Escritt, Lister and Dave Hotten from Draycote. Palmer fought hard, but Escritt took the lead and the gun on the last lap. Whitehead made another late surge for 3rd followed by Lister, Steel and Hotten. A shift at the start of race 3 made the start and first beat very one sided. Palmer read this perfectly, and led by a distance early on. As the wind shifted further, lulls and gusts made for several place changes. By the finish Escritt had come through again and Lister just pipped Palmer. By the end of three races the wind was had freshened which made for a fun time running back to the club and landing on the lee shore. The spirit and teamwork characteristic of the Vortex fleet shone through ensuring that all boats were met by a ‘shore party’ and managed to land safely. Sunday morning brought with it almost clear skies, all the moisture in the air having fallen directly on the tents of those camping during the night. The wind was stronger than the previous day with the forecast warning of Force 8 gales. When a squall gusting over 35knots came through, racing was postponed for an hour while the race committee waited to see what would happen. As the wind abated a little, the race officer made the bizarre decision to send out the local fleet, apparently to act as guinea pigs. They survived and thanks to Ralph Drews’ persistence on our behalf, racing finally got underway in a gusty force 6. Race 4 was a bit windy! Many of the competitors had little experience of sailing in the sea – especially in these extreme conditions, resulting in the course occasionally being peppered with boats either capsized or in irons. The best tactic was to not manoeuvre aggressively and rely on straight-line stability.
Escritt raised everyone’s hopes by capsizing on the start line, unfortunately taking out heavy-weather man Ed Corteen in the process. At the windward mark, Whitehead lead Richard Vie from the home club followed by Steel who later passed Vie. Behind them, Lister, Graham Flynn from Bartley, Gunfleets’ John Tappenden and Phillipe Leeb-du-Toit from Llandegfedd, were all revelling in the conditions near the front of the fleet, and finished in that order. The reaches in this race were variously described in language unprintable but best summed up as ‘Mental’.
Race 5 was even windier! Survival was the only way to go. Escritt lead early on, but was passed by Lister, the two of them taking a considerable lead when they dared to gybe at the mark in a force 6 while several others headed for the Isle Of Wight before risking it or tacking round! Disaster hit Lister when he capsized leaving Whitehead to chase Escritt. Once again the cry “I’d have got you in another lap” was heard from Whitehead as Escritt crossed the line ahead. Steel cruised through in 3rd followed by Vie and Flynn with Ian Michael from Chichester showing his best form in the toughest conditions and Leeb-du-Toit in 6th
The R.O. abandoned the last race so Keith came out ahead discar