The National 12 Gill Series 2011 took some time to plan and organize but, has delivered in spades, something for everyone. This event will mark the 75th Anniversary of the formation of the National 12 Class.
The event's programme included conventional fleet racing for the third instalment of the series. There was a Crews’ Race, the Midland Area Junior Trophy, a family treasure hunt race and the grand finale on Monday, the Grand Pursuit race.
With an equally ambitious social programme and a gathering of past and present Twelve sailors from throughout the generations and the history of the class, both the social and the sporting stamina of the participants was to be fully tested over three days at Pitsford.
Fine and breezy was the weather order of the day for Saturday – sailable but definitely challenging for the more modern boats, though perhaps a knot or two too much for some of the more fragile clinker and vintage boats with their wooden masts who chose to sit out the early rounds and save their powder for later battles.
The wind was only to increase after launching until a large squall during the first race caused general carnage. Steve and Joanne Sallis, revelling in the conditions, made the early running and were one of only a small handful of boats to navigate the gybe mark cleanly before it became a well-populated graveyard.
As the leaders screamed down the next reach, by now battling on the edge of control, Sallis was gradually overhauled by Jon Ibbotson and Charlotte Stewart who held the lead to the finish. Tom Stewart and Nicky Bass took second after a long tussle, with Stevie and Joanne taking third.
A lull in the wind between racing tempted out a few more players into some pleasant looking sunny conditions, but the respite was short lived as the wind returned with a vengeance. The same three boats again dominated, as many in the fleet chose to take time out to practice their capsize recovery techniques. Tom and Nicky led from start to finish with Sallis and Ibbotson constantly swapping positions throughout the race, until the latter finally prevailed.
Fatigue and the strong breeze unfortunately took their toll on the Midland Area Junior Trophy entrants, and the event played out as an entertaining (at least for the spectators) and eventful third round match-race series between Nick Copsey / Naomi Bilton and Tom White / Chris Troth, with Tom and Chris taking the trophy.
Sunday dawned with even more breeze, which rather put the kibosh on the Crews’ Race. In the Gill Series racing, Tom and Nicky took the early lead from Jon and Charlotte and these two had a close and exciting race all the way around until, having secured the upper hand, a foolhardy attempt at a gybe in some of the windiest conditions of the weekend saw Jon and Charlotte swim.
Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne took second place, with Graham finally having recovered his National 12 sea legs after a recent flirtation with nice stable keelboats caused much swimming on Saturday. Jon and Char dripped in in third place.
Over lunch the wind continued to build until the reservoir was mainly hidden by white spray. With a 50 knot gust recorded, nobody complained when Ian Castle, the PRO, decided the fleet should stay ashore for the rest of the afternoon – except the juniors who had been planning their treasure hunt race tactics for weeks.
However the organisers had planned for all eventualities.
To replace the curtailed sailing programme there was a dinghy park scavenger hunt for the juniors, a photo shoot of the many assembled Burton Cup winners (spanning from Michael Goffe, winner at Weymouth in 1949 through to the current holders, Graham and Zoe, who also won at Weymouth 61 years later) and a spectacular Concours d’Elegance for the vintage and clinker boats.
So the overall Gill Series provided some very interesting results. Whilst the modern winged-rudder boats took the first four places, three of the next four boats were much older designs, including two from the late 1970s and one from the mid 1980s.
In some very challenging conditions where one might have expected that the extra power and the self-draining qualities of the modern boats would have given them an overwhelming advantage;
the scoreboard showed that even apparently out-of-date boats remain very competitive for many years and that technology can’t provide a substitute for a helm and crew’s strong racing pedigree and a dose of good seamanship.
Each of the boats and most of the crew had previously held podium positions, if not the actual trophies, in both the Burton Cup and the Silver National (National Championship) and some had been multiple winners.
Monday morning came a little too early for some of those who had enjoyed the hospitality at the 75th Anniversary Gala dinner. However, the rather more benign wind conditions tempted many more of the fleet onto the water for the Grand Pursuit.
The splendidly restored 75 year old N1 'Gypsy' led the fleet off on a two hour long tour of the far corners of Pitsford Reservoir, followed over the next 21 minutes by a superb cross section of different designs covering the history of the class - clinker boats, four plankers, the groundbreaking smooth-skinned 'Punkarella', modern double bottomed boats and finally the latest winged-rudder Paradigms and Dead Cat Bounces. With a bit more breeze than the handicappers had expected it looked like the weather might favour the more modern designs until a front came through, bringing with it big changes of wind strength and direction.
This gave the fleet a classic test in the variable conditions which many Twelve sailors enjoy. Nigel Waller, who had started an ambitious total renovation/rebuild/refit job on the 74 year old N326 'Rose Marie' only a week before, crewed by Sophie Mackley, proved themselves to be masters of the conditions and, with an hour to go, had built up a commanding lead which they held to the finish.
The first four boats were pretty close, with the clinker built N2266 'Triarda' of Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne holding off the challenge of the closing 4 plankers of Tom White and Millie Dixie in N2765 'Le Shed' and John and Mark Sears in N2957 'Punkawallah'. Gill Series Overall Results
1. N3526 Tom Stewart and Nicky Bass
2. N3528 Jon Ibbotson and Charlotte Stewart
3. N3531 Steve and Joanne Sallis
4. N3532 Gavin Willis and Rosie White
5. N3251 Paul Pelling and Ian Simkins
6. N3530 Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne
7. N3012 Graham and Julia Bailey
8. N2957 John and Mark Sears
Gill Family 1. N3531 Steve and Joanne Sallis
Gill Admirals Cup 1. N3251 Paul Pelling and Ian Simkins
Gill Junior 1. N3411 Nick Copsey and Naomi Bilton
Midland Area Junior Champion: Tom White and Chris Troth Grand Pursuit
1. N326 Nigel Waller and Sophie Mackley
2. N2266 Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne
3. N2765 Tom White and Milly Dixie
4. N2957 John and Mark Sears
5. N3012 Graham and Julia Bailey
6. N3513 Christian Day and Sophie Richards
7. N3526 Tom Stewart and Nicola Bass
8. N3107 Ian and Nicole Norman
National 12 website