The 62nd Leander R class National Championships were staged on Lyttelton Harbour in Christchurch, in early March.
This year’s event was marked by two major factors - decidedly average weather and the continuing development of the hydro foiling boats. The weather aside, the hydrofoils have seen a distinct splitting of the fleet, with 3 of this year’s fleet committing to the foils while the rest opted for more conventional methods.
All the talk for this year’s Leander centred on how the highly experienced team of Sean Milner and Dan Leech sailing in the L3 with conventional foils would fare against 2010 champion Paul Roe back with his regular crew Jess Hix sailing the hydrofoil equipped 'The Virtual'. Paul has put considerable effort into developing the hydrofoils and has achieved a remarkable level of reliability along with at times unmatched speed. The interest among of all being how the foils would perform across a range of sailing conditions in a championship format.
The fleet consisted of 15 boats, the foilers being More FM (Steve Macintosh and Tony Park),
Merde (Dave Pairman and Steve Fortune) and The Virtual (Paul Roe and Jess Hix) while the conventional fleet was made up of a good mix of quality boats with more than a few sporting new livery for the event.
Day One brought sharply into focus the other factor of this year’s event - the weather, with a powerful 40kt Southerly hitting with a vengeance early on Thursday. The morning was filled with all the usual sail measuring and posturing, with the underlying relief amongst all the crews they didn’t have to attempt a launch into the nicely sized breakers now hitting the slip way.
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Day Two, in a complete contrast to Day One eventually saw an early afternoon North East breeze of 6-10kt set in. After all the standing around however, it was enough and the crews were all keen t to start the contest in earnest. In an effort to claw back lost time, Race Officer Ross May scheduled four back – to –back races with a wary eye on wind levels should they decide to drop out all together.
From the outset Milner and Leech stamped their dominance on the competition, once again
showing all why they have been the most prolific pairing of recent years. The 4 races were a procession of wins for L3 showing a distinct performance advantage, brought home in the final race for the day when after starting dead last, tangled with the start boat, and then proceeded to sail through the entire fleet and win.
The battle for the places behind were keenly fought - the most consistent being Kevin
Holland and Doug Gale on Massive Attack (another boat off the Leech designed L3 mold) gaining two second places in races 2 and 3. Of the foilers, the best on the day were Steve Macintosh and Tony Park in More FM, demonstrating remarkable speed up wind in pressure that negated the ability to foil to windward. Finishing distances between second and eighth were usually within 30 seconds to a minute with some fantastic racing between Chemical Weapon (James Collett and Nick James) Subwoofer (Aaron Jefferies and Matt Bancroft), More FM and L2 (Tim Allan
and Paul Patrick).
By the end of the day, the event was - unforeseen disasters aside, very much decided with Milner and Leech having a firm grasp on on the main trophy one race short of a contest.
True to form, the weather on Day Three saw the return of the Southerly with 35-40kts forecast to hit around midday. The Race Officer decided that this should give enough time to get at least one race away, so with a high degree of trepidation the crews set about rigging in an attempt to make the start line. The breeze quickly built and within 5 minutes of the start the race course was littered with upside down R class skiffs as the Southerly varying between 21 & 45 kts wrecked havoc everywhere.
Off the start line the highly experienced team of Paul and Mark Macintosh showed their class in the
borrowed Signature Homes. Giving the younger guys a in the fleet a lesson in how to sail in a breeze.
It was a sight to been seen as they set their kite at the top mark and set off on their first downwind
leg. Unfortunately the rig wasn’t as resilient, parting company with the boat half way down the run,
creating one of the lasting impressions of the competition.
The drama continued further back in the fleet as L3 broke its vang just before the start, leaving Sean
and Dan to carry out makeshift repairs in difficult conditions, however finished the race to shore up their position at the head of the leader board.
Merde showed remarkable reliability and Dave Pairman and Steve Fortune considerable gumption to complete the race on hydro foils, when most of the conventional fleet were in retreat to the safety of the slipway.
Carnage aside, the race was completed so a series was in the bag. By the end of the day the standings were:
1st L3 - Sean Milner and Dan Leech
2nd Massive Attack - Kevin Holland and Doug Gale
3rd More FM - Steve Macintosh and Tony Parks
Day Four rolled around and it was decided to get another race in as the Southerly continued to build to a challenging but sailable 20 - 26kts. The first beat was extremely close fought , with The Virtual, L3, Signature Homes and Subwoofer going around the top mark in quick succession. It was shaping up as the anticipated showdown between L3 and The Virtual, until Paul and Jess executed one of the more spectacular dismounts of the contest, nose down with both foils high and dry!
At the bottom mark L3 was still leading, but for the first time in the contest was closely followed by
Signature Homes and Subwoofer. The final beat saw L3 hold its advantage and lead to the finish, winning once again the coveted Leander trophy for 2012. Behind, the guys on Subwoofer surprised everyone, including themselves, to pip Signature Homes on the final gybe to the finish - claiming second place and propelling them into third place overall. Massive Attack did enough to secure a second place overall for the regatta and will undoubtedly be back in 2013 aiming for the top spot.
Special mention should be made of Malcom Snowdon and Ellen Palmer on Custard Square, who have probably set some sort of R-Class record for the oldest boat to lead at the top mark - their Dacron sails showing a clean set of heals to the high tech fleet in Race Three of the second day. Also deserving of mention was James Collett whose manly beard and retro 80’s headband set a new level of style for the contest.
Final Standing for the Leander trophy 2012:
1st L3 Sean Milner and Dan Leech
2nd Massive Attack Kevin Holland and Doug Gale
3rd Subwoofer Aaron Jefferies and Matt Bancroft
by Aaron Jeffries
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5:18 PM Sun 18 Mar 2012GMT
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