Ian SOUTHWORTH, Chris MCLAUGHLIN and their crew on Hedgehogg completed a winning - and welcome - return to the J 24 Class, regaining the national title in a windy and highly competitive forty boat Barratt Open UK National Championship.
Pressing Southworth and challenging for the other podium spots were this year's leading helms Al CLARKE (Serco Defence / Headcase), Gavin WATSON (Roger Rabbit) and David ELLIS (Hitch Hiker). These four boats took the top places in both races on the first day.
Confused seas and a more moderate breeze provided challenging conditions on the second day of competition. David ELLIS and his HitchHiker crew were the first to slip up with an eighth place in race three, in which Hedgehogg, Serco Defence and the Rabbit provided the one-two-three. In race four it was the turn of Watson and Southworth to miss out. A right hand shift dumped both of them in mid fleet, as they were caught on the left of the first beat. Hitchhiker escaped to the right just in time, eventually finishing second, but it was last year's National Champion, Mark JARDINE, who read the conditions best, to take first place. Southworth used Hedgehogg's impressive pace to recover to seventh.
By the start of race five, the turning tide brought with it the first startline penalties of the week. By the time racing got underway, almost a third of the fleet were either carrying a percentage penalty or heading for an early shower. Normal service was partially resumed at the front, where Hedgehogg won from Serco Defence, but the challenges of HitchHiker and Roger Rabbit were effectively over, as they each posted their second poor result of the day.
The threat of bad weather on Sunday meant another three race day on Saturday, bringing the Championship to a close 24 hours early. Although Hedgehogg's lead looked intimidating, it was Serco Defence's turn to show the way home in the windy conditions of race six, held inside Plymouth Breakwater. A pin end start placed them perfectly to lead the charge for the left hand side, where the strong south westerly was accellerating and bending favourably around the headland to the south of Jennycliff Bay. Drawing away from the fleet, they had a huge advantage at the weather mark, which they were never to lose, leading the fleet home with Hedgehogg in second and the local Nick MACDONALD in Legal Alien posting his first (though not his last) podium finish of the series.
Race seven secured Hedgehogg and Serco Defence in first and second overall. Hedgehogg won from Hitch Hiker and a timely third from Peter WOOLF'S St James meant that Roger Rabbit could only finish fourth. This left Hitch Hiker only a point behind the third placed Rabbit, going into the last and windiest race.
With the skies to the south-west looking ever more threatening, a few boats, including Hedgehogg, decided that enough was enough. The rest of us were treated to as challenging a race as the nationals have provided for several years. It also rounded off a couple of excellent last day performances and provided the story of the day. The now established stampede for the left brought Legal Alien, Jam Too and Reloaded to the front of the fleet, along with Serco Defence (who stayed out for the fun and games, but were to be judged OCS). These four rounded the weather mark and flew off downwind in the fine surfing conditions. MacDonald had no hesitiation in seeking the biggest breeze (on the right of the run) and sailed the leg perfectly to round in what looked like an uncatchable lead. Meanwhile the sky darkened as the biggest squall of the day approached and Roger Rabbit, Peggy and Jelly Baby took the left mark at the leeward gate and headed for Drake's Island in anticipation of a right hand shift. They were not disappointed. The vicious gusts (did I hear the Race Committee mention 40 knots?) came from a new direction and as the weather mark approached it was Roger Rabbit that led in from the right, securing their first race win and third place overall. Jon POWELL, sailing Peggy, and (with Southworth) another recruit from the 707 class, completed a massive day taking second place to go with two fifths. Legal Alien had to be satisfied with third.
However, the biggest cheer and the performance of the day was surely from the Jelly Baby crew. Sailing one of the oldest Westerly built boats, they stormed in from the right hand side to take 4th place, well above any of their previous finishes. In some conditions, modest crews might put a result like this down to luck, but in Saturday's conditions luck would never have been enough and no modesty was necessary - it was a great performance - far and away the best in a single race by any of the Westerlys.
For once, the J-24s had the luxury of a Saturday finish and a chance to celebrate in style at the prize-giving. Chris MCLAUGHLIN gave a gracious and (one suspects) well-practiced winners speech. His praise of the Organising Committee, the RWYC and Race Committee was applauded by all, as was his thanks to Barratt Homes, the event's lead sponsor.
A set of overall results is attached below and the latest World Qualification Rankings will follow shortly. Meanwhile, the J-24 fleet moves on to the next open event and penultimate qualifier at Parkstone in three weeks.
Full results are available on the website at the address below.