If Lance Armstrong gets back on his bike and wins the Tour De France next year, he will be proving something that was shown to the UK Etchells fleet this weekend. Some people are born to do certain things in life. In Armstrong’s case its riding a bike, but in Stuart Childerly’s case it is sailing boats.
After a years lay off, Childerly, previously double Etchell World Champion and now sailing with Robert Elliott and Sam Richmond, stepped back into the Etchells class and added the UK National Championship title to his already bulging sailing CV, only two weeks after winning the Irish Etchells Championships.
Things looked easy for Childerly when, after the obligatory general recall and 1 minute rule enforced re-start, he simply sailed away from the fleet in the 1st race. A south easterly gradient wind with a sea breeze on top it gave great racing for the fleet of 19 boats, 13 to 17 knots of wind and bright sunshine all day. Childerly didn’t look as fast as he had been when he was double world champion but his Solent knowledge and tactical awareness enabled him to pick his way to the front of the fleet, whereupon he simply sailed away to win comfortably.
The other contenders were in the mix, Andy Beadsworth - having put together a last minute program with Julia Bailey - led at the start but eventually lost out to Graham Bailey by 1 second at the downwind finish. Robert Tyrwritt Drake, fresh from his strong Cowes Week showing sailed beautifully through the fleet from a poor first beat to get 4th. As fast as he was going up the fleet however, Ante Razmilovic and Laurence Mead were heading the other way and this gave Childerly a jump on some of the other runners.
The wind increased for the next race and Ante Razmilovic switched on his speed boosters to lead the fleet from start to finish and win by 30 seconds, an eternity in a super close fleet like the Etchells where a few seconds often separated boats at the finish. Graham Bailey slotted in another second place to lead the series with a 2,2 score line, although his battle to secure the place proved the tightness of the racing as Bailey beat Childerly by only 2 seconds. Mead took 4th with David Franks in 'Elvis' taking 5th, despite getting holed at the last leeward mark which put him out of the rest of the days sailing.
For Race 3 the breeze was at its best, a lot more stable than it had been in the morning and Razmilovic gave everyone another lesson in boat speed by starting mid-line and quickly rolling the boats to leeward of him. Mead stated to windward of the fleet and rolled the bunch under him, but as the port layline approached Razmilovic had slipped to leeward a few boat lengths but far enough forward to tack and cross Mead by 2 boat lengths from where there would be no catching him. Mead held 2nd all the way round and with Childerly in the pack it looked like a reversal for the team on 'Bedrock'.
Childerly flashed out another 'Armstrong moment' however to snatch 2nd on the last beat. While the rest of the fleet battled up the left hand side of the course, Childerly, who was in about 6th at the time, had the confidence to hold onto a port tack lift and wait for a shift back to the right, which, when it came, carried him past Mead and into a series lead. Graham Bailey was 5th, just behind his wife Julia sailing with Andy Beadsworth, who, in his role as co-skipper was now doing bow on the downwind legs , with Julia on the helm, and Simon Fry in the middle trimming.
Led by Bob Milner, the race team slotted race 4 onto the end of the first days activities as the forecast was less then inspiring for the rest of the weekend and Razmilovic, with Mike Wolfs from Canada in the middle and Stuart Flynn on bow took command of the day with yet another bullet. Childerly was closer this time, 18 seconds adrift but he never really threatened Razmilovic.
Mead took another 3rd to also have a decent set of results but his series got a lot tougher when he returned ashore to find that he had infringed the 1 minute rule that was put in place after the general recall and was given a 20% penalty, pushing his recoded score to 7th from 3rd.
The Irish contingent put themselves on the scoreboard with Stephen Quinn recoding a 4th and Anthony Shanks adding a 6th to his first race 5th place. 5 boats crossed the finish line in the 13 seconds separating Andrew Cooper in 5th from Italian visitor Marco Cimarosti in 10th. So at the end of day 1 Childerly was leading, assuming there were no discards, but after dropping his first race 7th Razmilovic was in a commanding position with 3 bullets. Graham Bailey was in attendance with 2,2,5 scorecard but Mead needed to come out flying on Saturday morning to have any chance as he put a 4,3,7 on the results sheet on day 1.
Saturday morning dawned light and sunny. The forecast was for a light air weekend and this was it. After a postponement on the shore the fleet sailed out to the start line to find a relatively slack tide and 5 to 7 knots of south easterly breeze. The race team set a course that made the most of a protected position behind the Bramble bank and fired the start guns.
Getting a good start was essential and both Razmilovic and Childerly were in trouble early. Mead had a good start along with Stephen Quinn and Ian Law. Law led up the first beat from the right, Mead and Quinn coming in from the left. Mead managed to tack under the starboard tackers and lead around the top mark with Childerly in mid fleet and Razmilovic buried. Mead led down the first run before finding Law sailing up to him as the leeward mark approached.
Childerly had pulled another tactical masterstroke by keeping hard right down the first run and coming up to 3rd, and that only just behind the leading two. As Mead struggled to get round the mark against the tide he hit the mark and with Law as the outside boat being pushed wide Childerly sailed into the resulting gap and into the lead.
David Franks, back on the water after some speedy overnight boat building by the team from David Heritages yard and Stephen Quinn were also fighting for top 3 positions. Mead did his 360 penalty but managed to get back into the fight and tacked inside Franks and Quinn at the top mark, and with Ian Law losing his way down the last run Mead finished 2nd, with David Franks / Graham Sunderland and Phil Smith in 3rd.
Race 6 kicked off with a still light but stable 6 to 7 knots of breeze. Mead aced this one by taking the pin and using his established light air speed to tack across the fleet to lead comfortably and was never headed. Razmilovic and Childerly were once again in the pack and the series looked to be opening up. Anthony Shanks moved up the leader board with a good second and Graham Bailey returned to form with a 3rd.
Childerly wasn’t able to pull this one out of the bag and scored a 15th which, assuming there were two more races as planned would be an albatross around his neck. Razmilovic got back to a good 5th and the fleet headed ashore after two demanding but solid light air races, with all to play for.
A great class dinner was held at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club overnight on Saturday but the dire wind forecast for the weekend came horribly to light on Sunday morning with a thick mist hanging over the Solent and not a breath of wind to be seen.
Despite the race team making every effort to find breeze to run the final two races it became clear that this was a non-starter and the fleet were stood down at 12:30 with Stuart Childerly, Robert Elliott and Sam Richmond being crowned 2008 British National Champions, comfortably ahead of Ante Razmilovic who took 2nd and Laurence Mead / Phil Lawrence and Andrew Yates who took third. Graham Bailey / David Heritage and Matt Byham were fourth and Irish visitors Anthony Shanks / Ian Dobson and Frank Norton were 5th overall.
The Cowes Etchells fleet has a two-weekend Autumn Series in October wit