by Phil Riley
The growing success of the Gaastra Friday Evening Racing series is widely down to the commitment of a group of regular sailors, none more so than from the ranks of the XOD fleet.
Boystrous leads Rioja home in light conditions outside the Royal Southern Yacht Club
Always a regular presence in the short-course racing events recently initiated by the Royal Southern Yacht Club, the XODs offer competitive one-design racing. The June 28th evening edition saw a five-strong class entry experience the full range of conditions in a one and a half-hour race.
'It got quite breezy after the start,' reported Simon Russell, who helmed Swallow to a narrow win over Mos Fitzgerald in Kathleen and David Oddie aboard Magic Dragon. 'It was a nice 10 knots to start with and then we saw 18 knots, I guess, at times. The downwind start was quite fruity, but it was sailable and fine even though most of us were only two up.
'The last bit of the beat the wind went down, and it was quite comfortable with some close racing. Coming up the river it was different. Though there was a fair bit of breeze out there the river is quite sheltered and quite tricky.
'Leading coming up the river wasn't the place to be really as we had to make the call which side to come up with everyone behind us having the option to see what happened to us. The race was actually shortened at the first pile, though we didn't realise, and coming up to the Club line was quite tricky and the whole fleet compressed.
'We were still happy to finish at the Club line. Good fun, a good race and a good way to blow the cobwebs away and end the week.'
Simon has been racing XODs for several years - 'though not as long as some' - and is an enthusiastic spokesman for the class.
'It's one-design racing and we get out on a regular basis, that's the key thing,' he said. 'We've got maybe 20 boats on the river, and while we need to get a few more out doing this event, we race two or three times a week. This is a new series and some people are still getting their head around it but we're still getting five or six boats and we can keep building on that.'
And the racing is as competitive as it gets. He adds. 'It's slow but it's great. I'm still learning every time I go out; it's a tough class and you've got to be on your toes the whole time. One little error and there's somebody there to show you the way.
'We're going to be around a long time. Anyone's welcome to come and have a go and see what they think. I recommend it.'
The contrasting conditions were equally testing for those racing in the National Handicap for Cruisers (NHC) class, which saw the quarter-tonner Bad Toad add to her string of series wins, albeit with a lower corrected time margin under the evolving rating system. She was 24 seconds ahead of Richard Steel's J80 Rioja who pipped their sister ship Boysterous on corrected despite finishing behind on the water.
Joe Assael, Bad Toad's boat partner with Paul Roberts, said: 'We had a downwind start and the J80s didn't get away from us too much as we were able to sail deeper, then a nice gybe mark and a beat to the finish with a couple of passing marks. It was one of the better courses with proper upwind and downwind legs.
'The finish in the river was frustrating after having so much wind out there, and we saw the seconds at the end ticking away after the J80s were finished and we were drifting up the river with no wind and against the tide. That's the nature of finishing on the Club line, but we like it even if it makes it a little bit of a lottery at the end.
'We saw the J80s go to the western shore and lose the breeze, so we stuck to the Warsash shore and made some gains. We'd always kept left to keep out of the tide before, but we saw how much the wind died and stayed out - it's the advantage of being the following boat.
'We're still really enjoying the format - it's a great way to start the weekend, taking the right length of time. Great training and a great way to get the boat out and stretching its legs before the weekend.'
Taking line honours, Boysterous was helmed by Club sailing secretary Natalie Gray. 'There was a bit more wind than we thought, but going downwind alongside Rioja on the plane was great. The finish in the river was excellent - it's a real privilege for me to be able to finish there. We did about 8.3 knots coming up the river this time, so I beat my personal best,' she added.
The Gaastra Friday Evening Series is open to everyone. There's no entry fee for members and it's only £10 for non-members. Those racing, their family and friends are all welcome in the Club Bar and can stay for supper in the River Room if they wish. It's a great way to kick-start your weekend!
The Royal Southern's Gaastra Friday Evening Series continues until July 12th.