7 of the top 12 from last year’s nationals made the annual trip to Rock over the May bank holiday weekend, this year shared with the Fireball fleet (though with a greater number of larks I may add!).
Early leader of the newly formed Helly Hansen Great 8, Stuart Hydon, was reported to have shunned the trip to blow out candles on his birthday cake – a tactic that in the past he could afford with his inland prowess, but this year with the condensed circuit will it be a move he lives to regret?
The fleet were greeted with somewhat unseasonal weather – rain and a stiffening breeze met the fleet, and with races 1 and 2 played out in the bay, a fair number were seen to “check the slot gasket” during the course of the day, as wind over tide made conditions lumpy. Pete Gray & Rachel Rhodes were the only team to avoid the perils in both races and led with a 1-2, with Chris Whitehouse & Simon Haighton, Charlie Roome & Jeremy Stephens, Steve & Ally Hall and Adam Parry & Ruth Johnson all posting top 3 placings in one race. Five different sailmakers were evident throughout the fleet, with some new designs in emergence alongside the old regulars.
Saturday night saw the Fireballs leading the way with an impromptu quiz and round of Captain Puff, which saw all comers with varying degrees of confidence (mentioning no names!) giving it a go, only for the Chairman himself to show the Lark class had the edge and polish it off.
Sunday’s forecast was windier, and the dinghy park had an air of trepidation about it, but when out on the water it was initially lighter than day 1. Settings were changed, racing started, and it promptly got windy! Whitehouse & Haighton took their second win to lead the early running, followed in race 3 by Nigel Hufton & Adam Owens, who thought they were out of the mix after a non-score on day 1, hindered by a wooden leg (I’m told it was actually a metal knee). After the race officer counted more upturned hulls than safety boats and a building breeze, the fleet was despatched shorewards, and given the breeze that built, no one could argue!
All this meant 3 races had been completed, with 3 more to come on the Monday. Two discards would be in play after 6 races so anyone with one good score was still in the mix. In fact 6 teams had a top 3 result so all was still up in the air.
Monday saw the fleet racing in different tide compared to the first two days, and the which way to go question was very much in everyone’s minds. Most consistent performers on the day were Roome & Stephens with 1-3-2, with the other two wins going to Hufton & Owens after they got their rustiness out the way in the opener. However Whitehouse & Haighton found a couple of second places in the opening two races, and thus sewed the event up despite taking the go right card to extremes in the final race and never recovering.
Final scores on the doors - Whitehouse & Haighton took the win, followed by Roome & Stephens, with Hufton & Owens winning the tie break from Gray & Rhodes for third. A great array of prizes courtesy of Helly Hansen were dished out, much to the jealousy of the watching Fireball fleet!
Exe Sails generously donated a new spinnaker as a spot prize, which was won by Mike Williams and Finlay Gray-Williams, for their efforts in coming just for the Monday’s racing.
After just two events, we’ve already seen 30 different boats stake their claim to be the first winners of the Great 8 – current leaders are Gray & Rhodes, chased hard by the Halls. Next Great 8 event is Lyme Regis on 6-7th June, with some cheeky practice for next year’s nationals available, you’d be silly to miss out.