The first day of the 2012 Etchells Nationals provided exhilarating racing for the seventeen crews taking part, with gusts consistently well above 25 knots and wind against tide conditions in the Solent challenging sailors to the full. In the first race, three laps of the tight windward-leeward course ensured plenty of action, with conditions exacting a toll of spectacular broaches, damaged sails and broken booms.
Every boat nailed the first start, with the exception of one boat that was half a length over the line. The race saw big wind shifts, including a 25-30 degree swing to the right for the second beat. James Howell’s Gelert – class winner in Cowes Week – cut through the many challenges with apparently effortless ease to win ahead of Bleddyn Mon’s Darling S and Andrew Cooper’s Ice. As ever in this class, the top contenders were in close contention throughout, with only two minutes 18 seconds separating the first 10 boats.
In the second race the fleet was more cautious at the start, with most boats at least half a length back. A strong west-going stream encouraged all but one competitor to head towards the deeper water south of the Knoll bank on the left hand side of the course.
By the leeward gate at the end of the first lap a closely-knit group of three boats – Gelert, Ice and Sam Carter’s Sumo – led the fleet by a large margin. On the next lap, Sumo lost some 200 metres on her competitors, but retained third place a comfortable 19 seconds ahead of Lawrence Mead’s Freelance. Stuart Childerly’s Loup Garou lX took fifth place, just five seconds later.
After racing crews retired to Cowes Corinthian YC, where old hands shared hard-won knowledge and tips with keen newcomers to the class. Tomorrow will see a very different set of conditions, with light winds predicted for the four scheduled races.