The Dart 15 Winter Series continued with its fourth Winter TT at Datchet Water Sailing Club. The February TT does not have a great track record – with several years lost to either Covid or storm force winds and last year’s event only just managed to take place in a mere 3 to 4 knots and freezing temperatures. So the fourteen competitors were delighted to arrive at Datchet to a decent breeze and mild temperatures.
The Race Officer gave the briefing at 10am, during which several members of the fleet demonstrated exactly how much of the SIs they had actually read – which would be none at all. The Race Officer quickly got the measure of the fleet and explained that we needed to sail to four large orange inflatable marks in sequence and turn left at each one.
The fleet set off and stood clear of the course watching an impressively large fleet of club racers do a couple of laps of the course. Then our three minute signal sounded and we were away for race one. It was a fairly genteel first beat with the breeze quite up and down and with a few shifts for good measure. Hedging their bets, most of the fleet tacked off about half way up the course but Christophe Clarke (Marconi) stood out to the left and when the fleet converged again, he was at the windward mark first, followed by Jason Clarke (Marconi but no relation), Jan Elfring (Draycote) and Jenny Ball (Marconi). The fleet then turned left, as per the Race Officer’s instructions and reached across to Mark 2 before turning left again and running down to Mark 3. By Mark 4, Jason had got in front with Jenny and Christophe chasing and Liam Thom (Shanklin) had recovered from an uncharacteristic mid fleet start to get back to the front of the fleet. The fleet turned and headed back up the beat, trying to spot which side the local racers had been picking but it was not all that clear. This time, those that stood on to the right seemed to fair slightly better and Jason led the fleet round the second lap followed by Jenny with a close battle behind between Liam, Jan, George Love (Carsington) and Christophe. On the final beat, Jenny managed to pick a slightly more favoured lane to reach the windward mark first and held on to take the win, closely followed by Jason, George, Liam, Jan and Christophe.
The club racers had already set off on their second and final race of the day so the Race Officer wasted no time in starting the Dart 15 race two sequence. In fact, they were a little too keen as the final competitor was still racing from mark three to the finish when the sequence started. However, he reached the starting area with enough time so all good. The second start got away cleanly with a return to form of Jason and Liam leading the pack from the middle of the line. Jan, Derek James (Draycote) and Jon Pearse (Marconi) also made strong starts. Jenny and Nigel James (Marconi) tacked off early onto port to get clear from the fleet. On tacking back onto starboard, it looked like this was a big mistake as the rest of the fleet started to head back across to the right of the course some distance in front. But there was a definite bend in the wind about two thirds of the way up the course which headed those on port tack as they got close to the shore and thereby extending distance to the lay line for the windward mark. So it was still a fairly tight pack that rounded the first mark with Liam and Jason followed by Derek, Jan and Jon. The reach and the downwind leg required some tactical positioning either side of some of the club boats to ensure the best rounding out of mark three for the fetch down to mark four. On the second beat, Liam and Jason chased each other up the middle of the course followed by Derek and Jan. Jenny and Jon banged the far left corner to come into the mark on port and reduce the effect of the port hand header which gained them both places up the fleet. For the final lap, the wind had strengthened to a very nice breeze indeed and everyone chased hard to try and find a better route up the beat. But the final positions remained the same with Liam taking the win, followed by Jason, Jenny, Derek, Jan and Jon.
For the final race, the Dart 15s had the whole lake to themselves as club racing had wound up for the day. Another quick turnaround by the Race team and the third start was underway. The wind had continued to freshen under some dark clouds which is what the Dart 15s like best. By the end of the race, the wind was still there and the sun had come out, which we like even better! Jason and Liam had another strong start as did George, Derek and Chris Murphy (Shanklin) who had borrowed our magazine editor’s boat for the weekend. The main fleet picked a middle route up the beat whilst some, including Jenny tacked off early onto port to find some air clear of the fleet. Christophe again stood on to the left and came into the windward mark at the same time as Jason and Liam with Jenny, Derek, George, and Jon hot on their heels. Some helpful gusts and a straight line sail to mark three moved Jenny up to third behind Jason and Liam at the end of lap one. On the second beat, Jason and Liam stood on the port tack whilst Jenny and George tacked off onto starboard and stood out to the far left corner. At the windward mark, Jason turned first with Jenny second and Liam and George close behind. All were trying not to be distracted as Chris decided to repay the magazine editor by giving her boat a thorough wash in freshwater by capsizing and going completely turtle. Chris recovered the boat well but unfortunately it cost him his strong position within the fleet that race. On the final beat, the fleet again went their different ways but Jason managed to hold on to the lead and went on to win the final race with Jenny and Liam chasing hard and George, Derek and Jon battling it out behind them.
The fleet then sailed ashore in sunshine and mild temperatures for probably the nicest February TT packdown any of us can remember!
A closely fought event with three different race winners and the top two competitors tied on points. On countback based on results of the final race, the win went to Jason with Jenny second and Liam third.
After very welcome refreshments from the galley, the prizegiving was hosted by Dave Russell, chief pit crew to the Events Secretary and Team Marconi. The competitors expressed their grateful thanks to Race Officer, Una and her team and to Gabrielle and Emma at DWSC for organising such an enjoyable event.
1st place – Jason Clarke, Marconi
This now means the whole series is to play for at the final Winter TT at Grafham on Sunday 3rd March. Watch this space!
Report by Jenny Ball
Full Series Results available here