The SLAM Moth Grand Prix series 2011 took place over the weekend of June 18-19th as part of Thorpe Bay Yacht Club's annual regatta.
Being just three weeks ahead of the National Championships at Stokes Bay, the aim of racing on the tidal waters of the Thames estuary was to allow sailors the chance to test and dial in their settings for sailing fast in a short chop sea state ahead of the upcoming championships.
However on the Saturday, whilst the fleet began rigging and waiting patiently for the water to come in over the long sand flats, no-one had planned for the Greek gods Aeolus, Poseidon and Zeus to suddenly appear and randomly thrash about wildly like they were bulldogs chewing wasps.
Race One started in a rising 22 knot breeze, which freshened to 28 knots by arrival at the windward mark and as the fleet began the bear away so the battle commenced. Jason Russell (Tere), Chris Rashley (Royal London Yacht Club), Phil Oligario (Atomik), and Mike Lennon (Hyde Sails), were first round, and the first to savor the short, steep, rolling chop that had kicked up in an increasingly gusting wind. Even with ride heights and wands being adjusted down, the whole fleet were cannon-balled out of their boats as one-by-one they all went down the mine at speed. With some boats recording 25kt boat speeds on their Speedpucks, some sailors were at times landing eight feet ahead of their boats.
With the wind building against an incoming tide, and massive squalls under heavy rain showers, racing turned to survival, and the fleet switched from able high performance racers into the cast of the ‘Poseidon Adventure’, as for ages everyone remained inverted wondering which way was up, as well as how to get downwind to the safety of the beach.
Impervious of the peril, Chris Rashley with dogged determination, fought professionally to finish the now one lap race. Richie Lovering (Musto /Hyde) was first to get back to shore, well over an hour after the start, and had a smile on his face like he’d won the lottery, and very nearly kissed the beach had he not remembered it was in fact Essex!
Some notable sailors were less fortunate, as a 45 kt rain squall with hail and lightning struck. Mike Lennon and Mike Cooke (Aardvark Technologies) came off worse with broken rigs, whilst Ben Paton eventually landed half a mile down the coast. Yet the attentiveness and camaraderie of the Thorpe Bay rescue crews, and many of the regatta sailors standing in the shore break, did a stirling job of reminding us all that regardless of the conditions everyone digs deep to help everyone else safely ashore.
Despite being battered and wounded many gently eased into the evening social and barbecue before turning in, wondering what the weather gods would serve up on Sunday.
To everyone's relief Sunday dawned clear with a fresh yet sailable breeze, although once again as the dark clouds began to gather, a fair bit of trepidation seemed to creep in. For the first race, only Chris Rashley go to the start line on time in a breeze that had eased to 18kts.
Yet for the second race he was joined by an eager although now depleted fleet. By the windward mark the breeze had risen to 22 kts, with gusts of 25-28 kts at times. Mike Lennon, Chris, and Jason were all charging hard, with Mark Dell, Simon Reynolds and Phil Oligario in the next pack. Chris took the win ahead of Jason, after Mike uncharacteristically got sucked towards Davey Jones locker a couple of times.
Starting later in the afternoon, the final race of the day kicked off with less starters, yet in the most relaxing of breeze and sea states of the whole weekend, which saw the Moths screaming around in more familiar style. Having already secured three bullets, Chris chose to sit it out. Jason Russell went on to win, with Phil Oligario stealing second from Mark Dell.
To say the event was memorable is an understatement, and with the extreme conditions could be cited as the most insane the Moths have endured for some time. Chris Rashley showed he had the mental balls of steel to take the event overall, showing his determination and skill, and putting a notable marker down that he will be chasing down the Nationals title hard at Stokes. Jason Russell took away a deserved second overall, followed by Phil Oligario who took third on countback after a results correction having tied with Mark Dell on points.
The generous hospitality of Thorpe Bay YC, who gave free entry, parking, and camping to competitors, was really appreciated by the fleet, who whilst getting some decent racing in at times, drove away questioning if The Only Way Is Essex!
Grand Prix podium:-
1 Chris Rashley, Stokes Bay (Ninja / KA10c)
2 Jason Russell, Hayling Island SC (Mach2 / KA10b)
3 Phil Oligario, Stokes Bay (Ninjario / KA10b)
The event was topped out with some great and well deserved prizes courtesy of SLAM.
UK International Moth website