Twenty two competitors travelled to the coast of North Devon to race in the Southern Championship in the Dart 15 Summer Series.
As ever, the westcountry estuary location was stunning and a home fleet which sails almost exclusively sport mode (with a trapeze and a jib) rather than Una Rig awaited travellers from a variety of locations across England. A particularly strong contingent appeared from Marconi in Essex including David Clarke bringing his daughter Jemma and son Jason on a Westcountry mini break for the first time.
The Saturday dawned with everything in place other than the wind. A very light Easterly wind F1 and F2 was forecast but there was enough to leave the beach and try and race a trapezoid course set by the Race Officer, Jonathan Miles.
Race 1 started on time and with a very even spread of the fleet off the line, several competitors had well positioned starts such as heavy weather specialists Sam Heaton and Steve Sawford. After a beat, where patience was a virtue, Jan Elfring emerged from mid line and just two tacks later lead in to the windward mark with Jes Firth going well in Sport mode.
Jason and Angus Cooke pulled up on the reach and overtook to lead at mark 2 and Jenny Ball pulled in to second on the run to second at mark 3. Liam Thom then came through and managed get clean wind and become free of the pack.
The wind becoming ever more fickle, many competitors sailed at different times into holes with no wind. Angus had his hands full covering up the beat with Jenny off to one side and Liam to the other. Angus just retained the lead to the windward mark but with Liam just a couple of boat lengths behind.
Liam managed to gain an overlap at mark 2 and nipped round inside.
Then the gaggle caught some breeze and started to reel in the leader. Steve - Jenny and Jason - with Yvonne Pike stealing a march on everyone and popping into second by mark three,
Liam retained the lead with Yvonne second and Angus third whilst Steve finished in fourth place.
The wind was so light that some were struggling with the conditions and the Race Officer had to call some 8 boats back to the start, seven of which had not made the windward mark on lap 2. Indeed, Keith Heason looked like he was trying to go to The Beaver Public House in Appledore which looked like a good shout. Jonathan Kilham and Colin Sibthorpe were tempted to join him but a rescue boat insisted on dragging Keith back to the start area for race 2.
The second race also got away at the first attempt. Jan and Angus nailed the committee boat end - Jenny was going well from mid line with Liam further down the line - early on Jenny and Angus were the early front runners - Liam pulled through to second behind Angus at mark 1. Angus then managed to pull clear while Liam fended off competition from a gaggle of boats that were being carried down the course with a line of breeze.
By the end of the first lap Angus had extended his lead to a full leg. Liam retained second Jenny third, Ed Tuite-Dalton fourth and Hector Bunclark was on the charge in fifth.
Again the wind became fickle and the leaders were all relieved to round the windward buoy after a few misjudgments of the lay lines in the now outgoing tides which were gradually getting stronger. Angus had a big lead and Hector had overtaken Ed and was still gaining but leg five was proving tricky. The weak wind was shutting down further across vast swathes of the course.
One third of the fleet were struggling to lay mark five and even some of those that had, were then being pushed back from the gate line - so the RO chose to ‘abandon’ the second lap and count the results from leg one.
With the tide now ripping out, sailing was abandoned for the rest of the day.
Their was no doubt that in the light conditions the Una rigs were the boat to sail, with Ian Mounce leading the Sport Mode boats with two top 10 finishes.
On Saturday evening there was a meal prepared by the local sailors under the direction of Chef Heason in the clubhouse where the catamaran sailors were joined by the Tideway Owners Association who were holding a rally at the club on the same weekend. A great evening was had with an inappropriate amount of food and drink consumed bearing in mind the light winds.
Sunday dawned looking as though it would be just as light as Saturday. After a short postponement a gentle westerly sea breeze gradually came in.
In race 3, after an even start against the tide heading out towards the mouth of the estuary, Angus and Liam headed out to the left hand side in more current but with clean wind and good pressure. Liam was in the lead at the windward mark with Angus following in second, Ed and Jenny following closely behind.
Liam led to the finish keeping a solid cover on Angus all race who finished second, just managing to keep a safe distance from Ed followed by Jenny. Jon Pearse led much of the pack in 7th place with Ray Gall in 8th.
Angus and Ed attempted port end flyers in race 4 - Angus crossed and found good pressure out the right of the first leg and opened up a lead once he was around the windward mark that was never challenged. Ed had to tack off to clear the fleet of starboard tackers. Liam found he was second by the first mark and defended hard against Hector who was enjoying the slightly more typical Instow building sea breeze.
Jenny and Ed tussled for fourth and fifth and finished in that order with Yvonne charging and crossing the line at exactly the same time as Ed. Jason, Steve and Derek James led the rest of the fleet back ready for the final race.
So, at the start of the last race, Liam and Angus were level on points but Liam had a strong position by virtue of his slightly stronger discard. Angus would need to finish ahead of Liam and in first or second place.
There was still a breeze at the outset and the tide was about to turn. Liam managed to get away with a solid start with Angus trying to emerge from the pack. Jez hit the right hand side and powered into an early lead, Jason was in second with dad Dave, close behind. Jenny and Ed were also in the lead bunch. Liam, Angus and Hector all arrived at the windward mark trying to chase down the leading pack.
Liam sailed the last race as a match race and covered Angus all race and just pipped Ed to fourth on the water, third overall and so secured the event win.
Jez Firth in Sport Mode was first over the line with Jason finishing second over the line in Una Rig and first on handicap. This meant Jez Firth won the Sport Mode Competition with Jason leapfrogging Yvonne Pike and Hector Bunclark to win the Classics Division Competition for the event.
Angus crossed outside the top three so had to settle for second overall. Jenny finished fourth on the water, and third on corrected time, and so secured third overall for the event with Ed in fourth.
It was another successful event for North Devon Yacht Club, although unusually for Instow, with light conditions over both days. Hopefully for some, more normal conditions will take place with too much wind rather than sunburn in 2024, when it is planned that NDYC will host the Dart 15 Sport Mode Nationals over 3 days.
Next stop for the Dart 15s is the Nationals at Thorpe Bay Yacht Club from the 15th July, 2023.
Report by Liam Bunclark
Full Series Results available here