GP14 Inlands at Northampton SC
by Matthew Thursfield on 8 May 2012
GP14 Nationwide Travellers Circuit Grand Prix got underway with the Inland Championships over the Bank Holiday weekend, fifth-7th May, at Northampton Sailing Club. This year the circuit is sponsored by Elite Sails/SP Boats.
Busy first mark - GP14 Inlands 2012 at Northampton SC Gill Beddows
The Elite GP series takes the fleet around the UK, with a combination of weekend areas, one day local events, alongside the week long Aigua Charter Worlds at Looe. This first event held at Pitsford Reservoir attracted 40 helms and crews, many of whom are amongst the 130 boats already entered for the worlds. The competitors arrived on the Saturday to feel a force 3-4 straight down the western limb of the lake, ideal for some great triangle / sausage racing.
Bang on time, PRO Tom Curtis made an attempt to get the event underway, only for the GPs to push the line, despite the 'I' flag being flown. Predictably the black flag kept them at bay at the second time of asking, allowing the really strong fleet to commence battle. First out the blocks were the sponsors themselves, Carl Jeffs crewed by Steve Parker sailing with their Aeroweb Elite sails. They banged right up the first beat, taking a huge lead around the racetrack which they were never going to relinquish. Behind them, as you’d expect it was a game of protecting your place with a plethora of gold fleet sailors looking to take advantage of a poor decision, whilst at the same time, attacking the guys in front. Finding that compromise between attack and defence was key. Mike Senior, crewed by Chris White with their 'HD Uberline' eventually took second ahead of Tom Gillard and Tom Storey, using PandB laminates.
Race two saw a controlled fleet at the start line, primarily due to the immediate appearance of the black flag. Again the Aeroweb of Jeffs/Parker was the fastest on the water, this time sailing a P course as the OD wanted to remove the two long runs from the course, their Elite Black and White kite pulled them away from their pursuers, led by Simon Potts and Pete Grey with Fireball World Champions Matt Burge and Rich Wagstaff coming in third.
By the time the third race had begun, the wind had decreased in strength to a force 3, just into the window for the Senior/White combo to stamp their mark on the day. They pulled away from the fleet, especially on the great tactical runs that had returned to the course. Mike is the current inland champion, having dominated the event for the last three years at Derwent, Bass and last year at Blithfield. However it was Potts and Grey who held the overnight lead, as they rounded off a successful day on the water with another second. Third in the last race on Saturday was Shane McCarthy, with Andy Thompson up front.
So the opening salvoes had been fired, a variety of sailmakers at the sharp end of the pack, some using traditional laminates, others the Aeroweb glueing technique, further proof that the GP circuit is extremely competitive, not one manufacturer or technology dominant.
Day two’s forecast was not looking good from a week ahead of the event. The future is rarely told so accurately by the weather websites; however Sunday turned out to be as challenging for the fleet as was predicted. Patches of strong breeze intermingled with huge areas of calmed waters. Richard Instone and Shane McCarthy were the most affected by the windless stretches. No sooner had they got the first beat and reach sorted with a healthy lead, looking back both saw 39 rainbow spinnakers bearing down as they sat motionless, many avoiding eye-contact as the stricken boats were marooned, lacking any breeze, finally catching the tailend of the gust, all too late. There were however many who gained from these gusts; Andy Davies crewed by Andy Hateley used this as a catalyst to kickstart their weekend by sailing around the whole pack to draw in the new leaders of the race, World Champions Ian Dobson and Andy Tunnicliffe. Davies and Hateley with their HD Uberline were able to pass Dobson on the penultimate beat to take the bullet, Potts and Grey consistent as ever to take another top three.
With such a challenging breeze, PRO Tom Curtis gave the wind time to settle, flying the AP flag until 1.30pm, and with two back to back races planned, the fleet reluctantly went out to start race five. The breeze was a touch more stable, although very much still swinging in direction, which led to getting the beats and runs sorted being absolutely vital. Dobson and Tunnicliffe took this race adding Goachers to the list of sailmaker wins, ahead of Tom Gillard/Tom Storey, predictably the Potts/Grey boat again on the podium with third.
The fleet hung around for only five minutes before the PRO flew AP over A, much to the relief of those that knew he was signalling that no more races would be started, postponed ‘til Bank Holiday Monday when a much better breeze was forecast. Again it was Potts in the lead overnight but he knew a couple of bullets would have given his chances of taking the event a real boost.
A half ten start, three races back to back awaited the fleet on the Monday morning, the wind 90 degrees away from the predicted southerly, a tad stronger too with the odd gust touching a Beaufort four. Pitsford reservoir has a right angle kink in its plan, giving race officers a range of directions to get good courses in. Again the race team set cracking courses for the slightly reduced fleet, some of the gold sailors having to leave to prepare boats for the coming summer season.
Race six was led by Rich Instone/Jim Toothill early on, although they were knocked back to fifth by the end, the race being won by 'Taxi' ‘HD’ Davies taking the gun from Mike Senior and Chris White, Ross Kearney and Ed Bradburn sailing with PandBs getting their first sniff of the sharp end of the fleet with a third.
A massive windshift within 30 seconds of the start of race seven saw a very different set of faces rounding the first windward mark early on. Matt Thursfield and Sarah Froggatt led round Dave Burrows and Kate Billinge with Pete and Will Gardner just behind along the first reach, as those who went left up the beat got trapped by a starboard tack lift. Matt and Sarah were able to hang onto their advantage for most of the three laps, Taxi and Andy Hateley and the Senior/White boat pushing them around the race track. Senior squeezed past on the final short beat to take the win, Thursfield holding on to take second ahead of Taxi.
With one race to go, two discards to take, there were five pairs still in with a shout, the most likely three being Mike Senior, Simon Potts and Taxi Davies, although all five had their discards already 'in the bag'. It was Senior’s to lose, knowing a top three would have it, Potts and Taxi needing a race win, and other boats to help them push Senior/White down. With the wind continuing to swing, it was a close affair, Taxi doing all he could to get the bullet, Senior chasing him down, Potts just that touch too far behind to be challenging for that elusive race win. It was a question of whether Senior could claw his way back to the top three, or hope one his adversaries could pass Taxi to prevent him winning the event. Along the last run of the weekend, Taxi was able to read the slight change in the wind, preventing Dobson from passing, Senior unable to get through Ross Kearney. With the change in wind direction, the last short beat became a fetch, much to the despair of the chasing Senior, just missing out on third by that one place.
Eight amazing races, a range of sailmakers and hulls at the front, real tactical racing right the way through the fleet, 1/3 of the sailors entering with real aspirations of winning the event, others trying to steal their thunder, at times succeeding. The Inlands 2012 has been a great aperitif to the Worlds at Looe later in the year, Andy Davies and Andy Hateley proving they and their 'Uberlines' are in great form with only three months to go.
Further down the fleet, top silver went to Matt Thursfield and Sarah Froggatt (11th), lead bronze to Justin Smith crewed by Alison Norbury (23rd). Top Lady helm was Sarah Collingwood crewed by Nic Booth (15th); Top Youth boat was sailed by Sam Blocksidge with Connie Hicklin up front (16th).
Andy Davies thanked Northampton SC for a fantastic three day weekend of sailing, acknowledging the commitment of the club as a whole for hosting the event, PRO Tom Curtis with his team on the water running an excellent, efficient series. The next events on the Elite Sails / SP Boats Grand Prix are both on 19th/20th May, one up at Largs for the Scottish Areas, the other down at Brightlingsea for the Southerns.
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