|The RYA National
Hornet European Championships at Thorpe Bay Yacht Club
Sponsored by Exe sails and supported by English Braids and Sydney Heath & Son
A strong entry of 30 Hornets congregated for its biennial European championships at Thorpe Bay Yacht Club situated on the Thames estuary. Interesting conditions were forecast as was highlighted when the class was greeted on the Friday night with hailstones from hell. The wise decamped to the very welcoming club bar....
As ever, the fleet featured a wide array of different designs and configurations including boats from 9 different builders, ranging from a vintage Gibbons circa 1978, to the latest and greatest from new FRP class builder, SP Boats. An intriguing feature of the class is it its very open rules for the deck and equipment allowing very different layouts and systems that are tailored to the individual teams. Ultimately, whether the hull has a crew deck, one with cut-outs, full length tanks, gybing centreboard or fixed, single-double ended or twin flyaway poles, the performance is remarkably even. Amongst the many headturners on display, if a Concour D'elegance trophy existed, it would have surely been awarded to the wonderful "Something Else" GBR 2077, a 1980 Goodwin classic beautifully re-built by Tim Coombe with full length Sapele sidetanks and sycamore gunwhales.
Competition was expected to be particularly keen this year with at least 10 past champions jockeying for top honours as well as some new faces of known pedigree. Amongst the headliners were the evergreen Michael McNamara who is reputed to have more championship wins than any other UK sailor, crewed at short notice by youth sailor Harry Chatterton; Dick Garry and Sam Woolner, multiple Hornet championship; former world and national champion, Chris Bines and current Osprey national champion, Terry Curtis crewed by Kevin Francis.
nticipation was in the air, unfortunately movement in the air was lacking as the fleet rigged on day one. The betting was showing no clear favourites, near half the fleet were capable race winners. Who could hold it all together in conditions that were to prove more challenging for the mind than the body? The competitive start lines would be the downfall for some with OCS and black flag disqualifications. As it turned out, after a two hour wait on the water nothing was to be proved as racing was abandoned for the day.
Day two was duly scheduled for four races and the fleet set off in semi trapezing conditions. Terry Curtis and Kevin Francis played the conditions well to be first across the line but it was not to be. OCS for them and the third finishers Strangler and Pippa Rogers meant that Toby Barsley-Dale and Richard Nurse took the win. In the freshening breeze and tricky choppy sea conditions, Dick Garry and Sam Woolner excelled and would go on to dominate the day with a second, two firsts and a third with Toby close behind with a first two seconds and an eighth. There were thrills and spills in race two with plenty of capsizes and nervous mark roundings. This subsequently resulted in a third of the fleet unable to make the subsequent short races due to exhaustion or gear failures and, therefore having to carry two DNCs after the first day of racing.
Ashore, refuelled and re-energised by TBYC's crack catering crew, the class endured a marathon AGM with plenty of lively discussions concerning future championships and class funding. The membership acknowledged the positive outcome of the prototype spinnaker trials, with a formal ballot vote to be taken in November. Special note of thanks to the class sailmakers, Michael McNamara (McNamara sails) and Sam Woolner (Exe sails) for supporting the project and producing the prototypes at no cost to the class.
Day three began with rain clouds causing big shifts and changes in wind strength. The current became a big factor as the day progressed catching some out at the pin and windward marks. Some reaches became so tight that spinnakers had to be dropped. In race one, half of the fleet headed to the ugly black clouds on the right hand side of the course and gained an early advantage. Chris Bines crewed by Dave Gibbons maintained a healthy lead to take the gun for the first race of the day, followed by Tim Coombe & James Beer, with Curtis & Francis in third. After a disappointing seventh, Garry and Woolner demonstrated good speed in the lighter conditions to take a resounding win in the next race from fellow Starcross sailors, Nigel Skudder crewed by Keith Hills. For the last race, the Thames was ebbing fiercely making progress very slow in the now very light winds. Several boats took the opportunity to get over-acquainted with various marks much to their annoyance. Huge gains and losses were the order of the day with McNamara & Chatterton benefitting from the fickle conditions for their first win of the series and keeping their chances alive in the process. Strangler and Pippa Rogers took a very welcome well -deserved second place, with another good result for Skudder & Hills in third.
Later that evening, the competitors and their families relaxed at the gala dinner hosted by TBYC. As part of the evening's entertainment, the early entry draw was made with the winners adding a new Exe Genoa to their sail armoury. Then Class Commodore, Richard Barnes took up his gavel and ran the main event, the class auction. Prizes including sails and marine clothing were provided courtesy of Exe sails. All proceeds were generously presented to the class association.
Going into the final day it was really between Garry, Bines and McNamara. Garry was well ahead on points but with a second discard kicking in, so if two races were held they could not rest easy yet. It was not to get any easier after the next race which was won by McNamara with Bines second and Garry sixth. If McNamara could be in the top three in the last race and Garry was to have a bad one, fortunes would change. Bines needed a win to have any chance of overall victory. The dice rolled and it was new faces at the front in the final race. Local sailors Mark and Paul Dell had a good final day winning this race and Tim Coombe crewed by James Beer came in second. Scorpion sailor John Clementson with Steve Cooke had their best result in third. So where were the front runners? Garry was well down in fifteenth place so it depended on how the other two placed. Bines was fifth and McNamara eighth which meant Garry and Woolner were champions and Bines runners up.
A massive thank you to TBYC for their race management under very challenging conditions, as well as the superb catering and entertainment ashore. Special thanks to Team Barnes for their support, organisation and enthusiasm throughout the event. Finally thank you to our sponsors, English Braids, Sydney Heath and particularly Exe Sails for providing prizes and supporting our event.
The next Hornet event will be the Maylandsea open on 8th & 9th September. Then to round off the racing calendar, we are off to Rutland for the Final Fling 20th & 21st October. Hope to see you there!
©The RYA National Hornet Association