Paul Bayliss wins RS700 nationals at Weymouth

The Gul-sponsored RS700 nationals took place at Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy from 21-24 August. There were five different race winners and a high standard of boat handling throughout the fleet.

Day one saw a shifty and gusty wind which saw Tim Dickinson extend a huge lead in the first race which would never be headed. Behind him a close tussle evolved with reigning champion Paul Bayliss eventually pulling through to second, with Jerry Wales third. One of the favourites to lift the title, Neil Robinson, opened his campaign in the worst possible way suffering gear failure on the way out to the start.

As if set to avenge this, Robinson shot out of the line in race two on port tack and extended a lead that looked unassailable. Bayliss however, ground away at the lead with some brave downwind sailing and took the lead up the last beat, leaving Robinson wondering if he should have invested in a compass. Another favourite for the title, Andy White sailed clean to take third.

With a forecast for more wind on day two, the fleet were surprised to have three races in a fickle breeze blowing alternately round either side of Portland Bill. This was to be Robinson’s day scoring 1,1,2 with fantastic boat speed and clever tactics. Bayliss was struggling with 4,3,3, however, nobody had a day as bad as Andy White, who had given a seminar on gybing earlier that day. Capsizing on both gybes to the finish in the first race, he trumped this with an OCS in the second and then had a painful X-flag call on the final race. Former Olympic sailor Jason Belben, and Jerry Wales were both starting to put series’ together with a set of consistent results which was hard to do at this stage.

Strong winds finally arrived on day three, and the fleet nervously made their way out to the race course. Series leader Robinson showed he could sail fast in all winds leading the pack round the windward mark, however, he was quickly overtaken by Bayliss and White charging downwind, and the race finished in that order despite a quick dip at the finish to cool off by Bayliss and White.

Race seven was held in winds gusting towards 30 knots, and the trio of Robinson, White and Bayliss opened up a gap at the front once again. The flat water at the top of the course was manageable, but a steep chop was setting up in the leeward half of the course. One by one, all three leaders fell victim to the wind and waves, and Belben held his nerve to take the race win, followed by a recovering White and a constantly improving Jerry Wales.

So going into the last day Robinson held a narrow lead, with Bayliss needing to pull out all the stops. However, both Wales and Belben could steal the show if these two had a repeat of the previous day’s disasters. Bayliss is no stranger to pressure sailing, and in the fresh (and freshening) breezes, confidently scored a couple of bullets, with Robinson down in 6th and 12th place in the races. White scored a couple of second places, which were little more than consolation prizes at this stage. Wales (3,4) narrowly took the day from Belben (4,3), while RS legend Alex Southon (4,7) showed some great form that he’d been promising all week.

The final scores on the doors therefore showed Paul Bayliss as three-time RS700 national champion, adding to the four RS600 titles that he won in the 1990s, a remarkable achievement in these performance singlehanders. Neil Robinson managed to hang onto second, obviously disappointed not to convert an excellent performance in the first half of the week. Jerry Wales has come of age in the RS700, and will be justifiably proud of his third place at this testing event, improving all the time. Jason Belben was fourth overall, which probably doesn’t reflect his superb speed, strategy and consistency at this event. Andy White was fifth, left wondering what might have been, and the long-standing RS sailor Andy Irons put together a good series to end up in sixth place. Newcomer Jon Heissig from Lymington was the winner of the silver fleet, finishing an impressive 10th in his first year in the boat.