Grafham Water Sailing Club hosted the Gill Dart 15 Inland Championship 2023 over the weekend of 14th & 15th October, with a turnout of 19 Dart 15 sailors drawn to GWSC given a sunny & sometimes breezy weather forecast leading up to the event. The ever efficient race officers & Dart 15 aficionados were Fiona & Nigel Denchfield assisted on the water by the renowned Grafham mark layers and rescue boat drivers/crews who between them put on a superb race course with swift race turnarounds and optimum racing angles. 6 races were scheduled with 3 each day, however the softening breeze made it an easy decision for race management to elect 4 races on Saturday & 2 on Sunday.
Racing was underway @ 12:00 & precisely 4 minutes following the Dart 18/Shearwater/Catapult classes who were also enjoying near champagne sailing conditions for the day was the first Dart 15 start. Wind or ‘pressure’ nowadays was a reasonably steady & Westerly 15 knots mean with the occasional gust to 20 knots, so ideal Dart 15 conditions for the ever enthusiastic fleet. A square line saw the fleet start off up the initial beat with Jason Clarke showing us all he meant business, making it to the windward mark in pole position and followed closely at this stage by George Love, Scott Wilcox, Mark Aldridge & Stuart Snell. A rapid top reach and breezy downwind legs saw some jostling of positions and at the end of lap 1 it was J.Clarke, Love, Snell, Jenny Ball, Wilcox & M.Aldridge. The second beat was spread out somewhat with some tactical tacking and searching out the favourable shifts & saw the order change a little for the 2nd windward mark rounding to J.Clarke, J.Ball, M.Aldridge, Snell, Wilcox & Love. The leading few boats stretched out a bit of a lead over the main fleet who were coming to terms with the crossing Dart 18’s/Shearwaters/Catapults and various fishing boats also enjoying a day on the water and the front order remained much the same with a race 1 finishing order of J.Clarke, J.Ball, M.Aldridge, Snell, Jon Pearse & Love.
Race 2 was underway as swiftly as it could have been with again similar conditions and a relatively unbiased line. Away up the beat with a clean getaway saw M.Aldridge first round the windward mark , followed closely by Jacob Aldridge who was pretty keen to get past his Dad, Pearse, J.Clarke & 2 Up protagonists David & John Ball. Crossing the line after lap 1 the order was M.Aldridge, Pearse, J.Clarke, J.Aldridge & D/J.Ball. Clean air helped the leaders stretch out a bit & at the end of the third lap the finishing order was M.Aldridge, D/J.Ball, J.Clarke, Pearse, J.Aldridge & J.Ball.
Race 3 again started with minimal delay as all boats were given time to finish & it was M.Aldridge who made his way up to the windward mark first, with J.Clarke close behind, J.Aldridge, J.Ball & Pearse following. Across the top reach the wind dropped a little and J.Clarke sailed over the top of M.Aldridge and into the lead for the run & J.Ball also got past J.Aldridge to make the end of lap 1 race order J.Clarke, M.Aldridge, J.Ball, J.Aldridge and quietly catching were Love & Pearse. Laps 2 & 3 saw positions remain similar despite the varying downwind tactics & upwind approach with the finishing order being J.Clarke, M.Aldridge, J.Ball, J Aldridge & Pearse.
Saturday’s final race of the day once again was away swiftly & J.Clarke was first up the initial beat with Love, M.Aldridge, D/J.Ball, J.Ball & J.Aldridge chasing him down. These leading 6 boats remained in the mix for the reduced race length of 2 laps with some close tactical racing which ended up J.Clarke staying out in front somewhat untouchable, M.Aldridge, Love, J.Aldridge, D/J.Ball & J.Ball. All fleets retired to a warm shower and an excellent evening meal courtesy of Lisa & her team in the GWSC kitchen. The top bar was open offering wonderful sunset views once the hail storm dispersed as well as World Cup Rugby to entertain or not depending on your team!
Sunday dawned and just as expected the pressure had dropped along with the temperature, so another layer or two were needed for the 10:30 start & 2 races.
Race 5 conditions were better than predicted with a more Northerly (or simply colder!) wind direction from Saturday and enough to fly a hull on occasion. This also meant that the start line demonstrated some bias and the gun went setting the fleet away off up the beat. Unbeknown to him at the time, Pearse was OCS and the post start sound signal caused some boats to dip the line again, one of which was J.Clarke who thus gave himself some extra work to do. At the windward mark M.Aldridge being on port opted to dip both Pearse & J.Ball thus rounding in 3rd position, with J.Aldridge & a resurging J.Clarke closely followed by Love. J.Ball demonstrated some demon downwind sailing and extended her lead a little, with M.Aldridge now past Pearse, Love up a position and J.Aldridge on all their transoms. Across the Start/Finish line at the end of the first lap saw J.Ball leading with M.Aldridge trying to fend off J.Clarke, Love & J.Aldridge scrapping just behind. Lap 2 saw some varying lines upwind and again on the downwind leg, all sailors were trying something to get an advantage somewhere. This made no mark on J.Ball who was dominant in taking the win, J.Clarke, M.Aldridge, Love & J.Aldridge crossed the line with Pearse out of the results this time.
During and more perhaps towards the end of race 5, saw a swinging wind as racing was postponed to allow time to have the course relayed for an even more Northerly set up Race 6. The wind was doing all sorts now and whilst racing got underway to the mean conditions, there were some big advantages & disadvantages to be had up the initial windward leg. The sole 2 up boat with D/J.Ball made some great tactical gains with an extra tack or two to see them around the windward mark some way ahead of J.Clarke & M.Aldridge who were also equally spread out with Love, J.Ball, Snell revelling in the now really tricky winds & J.Aldridge. D/J.Ball kept their lead into and around lap 2 despite the large holes and shifts that were catching some out. M.Aldridge dropped from 3rd way down courtesy of some poor decision making and called it a day advising the committee boat of his retirement. Meanwhile others were more awake and D/J.Ball were away on their own although being chased hard by J.Clarke, J.Ball, Love, Snell & J.Aldridge. The final rotation of race 6 was in challenging conditions where J.Clarke managed to outwit D/J.Ball to take the win. In 3rd was Love, then Snell, J.Ball and Wilcox.
All boats ashore the fleet packed themselves away, changed into some warm clothing and prize giving followed in the top bar.
Gill generously sponsored prizes were awarded to the top 6 finishers. The Inland Championship Bowl and GWSC Grafham Cat Open cup went to Jason Clarke, a very well deserving winner. The tankard for first placed GWSC competitor went to Mark Aldridge and the Grafham Youth Trophy was won by John Ball, crewing for his Dad.
Report by Mark Aldridge
Full Series Results available here