This year is the forty-fifth anniversary of the UKs best loved small cat and also heralded a welcome return to the name Dart 15. The National Championships were held at Thorpe Bay Yacht Club in Essex and saw a very healthy entry of forty-six boats, including a strong showing from the home fleet.
With a fairly early start on Saturday morning due to the tides, the majority of the fleet arrived on Friday and some took advantage of a Coaching Session provided by Tom Phipps from Windsport International on Friday morning.
Nigel and Fiona Denchfield had kindly agreed to be our guest Race Officers for the event – a welcome return having supported numerous Dart 15 events in recent years. Thorpe Bay had assembled a strong team of safety and support crew and the caterers were ready to keep everyone fed and watered.
Everything was all set for a fantastic weekend – apart, that is, from the weather forecast which was showing 35 knot onshore winds for Saturday and not a great deal less for Sunday. With a planned schedule of nine races – three on Saturday, four on Sunday and two on Monday morning, this was far from helpful.
The Race Management Team convened a meeting on Friday evening but no amount of looking at different forecasts did anything to improve them. So various scenarios were worked through and everyone went off to enjoy their evening and see what would happen in the morning.
When the Race Management team convened again on Saturday morning – it was a very quick decision to cancel racing for the day. There were strong wind warnings across all the forecasts and the extremely useful weather station at the RNLI Station at the end of Southend Pier bore out that the forecasts were actually above forecast with regular gusts up to 45knots during the day. No racing for today but potentially an opportunity to regain some of the day’s races on Monday when the forecast was significantly more hopeful.
The competitors were duly briefed and, of course, not at all surprised by the decision. Cue another round of bacon rolls and, as it was a nice sunny day, lots of boat bimbling ensued in the boat park. Competitors wisely chose to lower their masts in view of the strong winds and spent lots of time tweaking and fettling their boats. Jon Pearse from Marconi became Chief Tightener of Trampolines using a very large stick which meant everyone was very nice to him all day. He tightened well over ten trampolines. Meanwhile, Tom Phipps from Windsport, who would normally have a peaceful time whilst the sailors were out on the water, found himself run ragged helping people with their boats, with spare parts and also setting up one new boat delivered to its owner for the weekend.
During the afternoon, people either headed offsite to enjoy the sunshine elsewhere or took the opportunity to watch the Women’s Wimbledon Final up in the clubhouse. The fleet regrouped for the Class Association AGM which was brief, constructive and well attended. This may have been due to the free drink provided by Thorpe Bay Yacht Club courtesy of sponsorship from Greene King. All Committee Members had agreed to stand again for another year and were duly elected, all with the background noise of howling winds around the windows. The fleet then enjoyed a lovely evening meal and a few drinks and catch up with good friends, whilst wondering what tomorrow would bring.
By Sunday morning, the wind had abated slightly – but was still well into the high twenties and early thirties and the forecast was for it to hold all day. Aside from the strength of the wind, the onshore direction meant that launching and recovering both the RIBs and the Dart 15s would be too risky. The Race Management Team initially postponed racing for two hours to see if the situation would improve, but then reluctantly had to cancel racing for a second day. Some of the fleet took the opportunity to watch the Men’s Wimbledon Final whilst others took the opportunity to visit Southend’s famous pier and check out the conditions a mile out to sea, without having to use a boat. All the expeditionary forces to the end of the Pier concurred that, as the weather station said, it was very windy indeed. The fleet reconvened in the evening for the annual Class Association Dinner which was a very cheerful affair with the promise of better weather in the morning and a plan to fit in up to five races.
Monday’s forecast was for 13 to 20 knots of breeze and everyone anxiously checked the conditions as soon as they got up. Mercifully, everything looked good to go and the Race Management team geared themselves up to run five races in the tide window available. The competitors headed out in a decent breeze and with a mixture of sunshine and cloud to the start line which was just off the club beyond the moorings so good for those watching from the beach.
Race One got underway bang on time using the U Flag so unfortunately one competitor, Jason Clarke (Marconi) who was over the line, was obliged to withdraw from the race. This left the other front runners Len Flynn (Thorpe Bay), Mark Aldridge (Grafham Water), Hector Bunclark (North Devon YC), Liam Thom (Shanklin) and Chris Tillyer (Thorpe Bay) battling it out at the front of the fleet. On the second beat, Jenny Ball (Marconi) and Gary Sverdloff (Thorpe Bay) and a few others stayed on the right hand side of the course whilst the others tacked off to the left. This paid good dividends and by the windward mark, although Len had held on to the lead, Jenny rounded the mark in second place. Len went on to take the win, followed by Jenny, Mark, Hector, Liam and Gary.
Following a quick turnaround, Race Two was swiftly underway with some very ominous looking black clouds approaching on the horizon bringing some stronger breeze with it. Following a clean start, the bulk of the fleet set off left, which made sense since they were heading for the stronger favourable tide. However, a few competitors tacked off to the right early on, including Jenny, Skip Atkins (Stone SC) and Gary. Once again, this paid off and Jenny rounded the windward mark in the lead with a bit of clear water from the rest of the fleet. Sophia (Youth Entry) and Sean McKenna (Shanklin) sailing two-up relished the stronger breeze and blasted their way along the downwind leg moving themselves well up the pack. Unfortunately, the stronger winds also claimed the odd capsize and a man overboard, Phil Hewer (Thorpe Bay), whilst his boat cheerfully sailed off without him.
Racing continued to be tight on the second lap with Hector sailing free and fast below Jenny’s course and Mark and Sophia and Sean doing the opposite and gaining some height. In the final stage of the second beat, Jenny was somewhat startled to spot a person in the water holding on to Mark 2 and waving at her, but with no boat in sight. Fortunately, she was able to use her VHF radio to notify the rescue fleet so with a clear conscience, she tacked off to follow the layline to Mark 1. The safety boat duly came and collected Phil from Mark 2 and eventually reunited him with his boat which had pretty much sailed its way back to the club. Jenny went on to finish in first place with Sophia and Sean in second, Mark in third and Hector in fourth.
Race Three was again able to get under way without any change to the course although there was lots of weather happening around the river including a thunder storm rolling past on the Kent shore. The fleet set off again and this time spread right out across the first beat. The first group to the windward mark included Kevin Dutch, (Seasalter) who was unfortunately OCS, Hector, Steve Sawford (Rutland), David and John Ball (Marconi), Chris, Jenny, Angus Cook (North Devon YC) and Liam. The downwind leg was an interesting tactical exercise with people choosing different tracks to try and reach the mark first and with David and John in the two sail boat heading off at angles and rejoining the fleet again at the mark. By lap two, the storm on the other shore had caused the wind to soften and shift so that when the fleet reached mark 1, they found that mark 2 was now an extension to the beat, rather than a reach. This resulted in a slight shuffling of places at the front as competitors worked their way up to and round mark 2 in lighter breezes but some lumpy seas from the earlier strong winds. Hector managed to retain his front of fleet position whilst Steve took the opportunity to move up into second place. Hector went on to win the race with Steve second, Len third, Jenny fourth and Chris fifth.
As a result of the significant windshift, the Race Committee were obliged to re-lay the course for Race 4 which they did in record time and as the breeze had filled back in again, the fleet were happy. This time they were starting off towards the Kent shore which was slightly disorientating, having previously aimed at the Pier. Once again, a few competitors, including Jenny and Scott Wilcox (Stewartby) tacked off early to the right hand side of the course and once again, this paid off although some others in the fleet tacked not long after to cover them. Jenny rounded the windward mark first, with Scott, Mark, Chris, Hector and Steve in close pursuit. By the second lap, Jenny and Mark had pulled a little way ahead of the fleet, with Mark chasing hard up the second beat. By now the tide had turned and was on the ebb, making judging the windward mark a little more difficult and resulting in Jenny taking two extra tacks to lay the mark whilst other competitors behind tried going to the far left to make judging the lay line a little easier. Jenny held on to take the win with Mark second, Chris third, Steve fourth and Scott fifth.
With no change required to the course, Race Five got underway swiftly. Steve and Len threw caution to the wind and went for a port hand flyer although Steve was unfortunately OCS. A larger portion of the fleet also decided to adopt the previously successful tactic and tack off to the right fairly early on. Part way up the first beat, the wind went very soft leaving competitors rolling in the waves from the previous wind and trying to work out the best way to get to the mark against a strong tide. Len was sufficiently close to the mark to continue his original course and managed to round first. Chris and Hector tacked off to see if stronger breeze could be found further out and this paid off sufficiently vs Jenny, Liam and others who stood on. Positions held over the downwind leg but the final upwind leg saw a number of place changes as competitors tried standing on to the right, in theory in less tide or tacking out towards the channel where the breeze was likely to be a little stronger. Len rounded the windward mark first but with Chris, Hector, Mark, Liam and Ed Tuite-Dalton (Draycote) in close pursuit. On the final two legs, positions shifted again and Chris managed to sneak the race win from Len in second, Liam third, Mark fourth and Hector in fifth.
The fleet headed ashore after five hours of racing and five enjoyable races across a range of wind conditions making for a proper Nationals regatta.
In view of the later than normal end of racing, Keith Persin the lead organizer from Thorpe Bay and Liam Thom, Association Webmaster, worked very hard to get all the results calculated as soon as possible, whilst in a rare bit of foresight, the Events Secretary had laid out all the silverware and glassware before going sailing to speed things up.
So the Prizegiving was able to take place pretty promptly with Nick Elmore, Vice Commodore of Thorpe Bay presenting the prizes, ably assisted by John Ball, youngest competitor, aged 11. Jenny, the Association Events Secretary, extended heartfelt thanks to everyone who had made the event possible, especially under such trying circumstances. Nigel and Fiona, Keith Persin and Thorpe Bay Yacht Club were all presented with engraved glasses to commemorate their support for the event.
We then moved on to the Individual Prizes. Competitors with notable achievements (positive or otherwise) were awarded book vouchers supported by Fernhurst Books to add to their sailing based library. Winners of these prestigious awards included: Jon Pearse for spending Saturday walking around with a big stick, tightening over ten different trampolines. Rob Bailey for fitting a brand new mainsheet for the event, only to have it pull out of the blocks twice and ruin several races. Gary Sverdloff for having to come ashore in between every race to empty out lots of water on the beach. David Ball for tacking at Mark 4 instead of ducking another boat and wrapping himself around Mark 4, much to the indignance of his crew, John. And, of course, Phil Hewer for anchoring himself to mark 2 for ten minutes and giving Jenny the shock of her life, whilst his boat sailed a mile back to the beach by itself (see above).
Following a consistent run of winning Individual Prizes for several years – the now perpetual “Jim Bowie Award” was once again awarded without difficulty. Jim, who is not known for his use of technology, had astounded everyone by correctly registering via WhatsApp on Saturday morning. When congratulated for this by the Event Secretary, he said a fellow TBYC member had explained what he needed to do and he had duly registered. It was only later in the day that the Events Secretary was told that someone else had taken his phone and done it for him.
The important trophies were then handed out: Youth trophy to Sophia McKenna, Over 50 to Mark Aldridge, Over 60 to Len Flynn and Over 70 to Jim Bowie. The Heavyweight trophy went to Jan Elfring (Draycote Water) and the Most Persistent Trophy went to John Laliberte (Thorpe Bay) for completing all the races. The Pro Am Trophy could not be awarded this year as a single day of racing did not allow for Pro and Am sailors to be paired up. Instead, the 1st Amateur Glass was awarded to the highest place sailor competing in their first Nationals which was Nathan Sverdloff, the youth entry from Thorpe Bay. The Most Improved Trophy was somewhat awkwardly won by the overall event winner.
We then proceeded with glassware for 12th place upwards and the metal ware for race winners and the top of the fleet.
David and John Ball won the 2 up cup following another close fought regatta with Sophia and Sean McKenna. As with last year, the two boats were only one position apart in the overall results.
Hector Bunclark, one of our leading young sailors, took fourth place overall and winner trophy for Race 3.
Mark Aldridge took third place overall, putting in very consistent top four results.
Len Flynn took second place overall and winner trophy for Race 1.
Jenny Ball was race winner for Race 2 and 4 plus Single Handed Champion and Dart 15 National Champion for 2023.
The Dart 15 Association would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to everyone at Thorpe Bay YC for hosting and to Nigel and Fiona Denchfield, Dan Bard and all the volunteers for enabling such good racing. We would also like to thank other Fernhurst Books and Majestic Crystal for supporting the event.
Report by Jenny Ball
Click for: Full Results with all Sub-Competitions