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A Class Cat TT at the Stokes Bay Cat Open

by Gordon Upton 4 Sep 2018 08:45 PDT 1-2 September 2018
A Class cats during the Stokes Bay Cat Open © Dawn Bawden

They couldn't have picked a better weekend; Wall to wall sunshine, with not a cloud to be seen, breezes a little above forecast, lots of people walking, running or just watching along the promenade, what was not to like?

Crews were seen talking to passers by and the occasional dad was overheard explaining to their kids that some of these boats are made from the same stuff that Formula One cars use. It was a great advert for sailing in general and Cat sailing in particular.

The Stokes Bay event is always one of the most enjoyable in the calendar. A friendly club, well run and organized events with a cheap bar and good food. However, this year saw just 7 'A' Cats turn out to race in the end. There should have been more, but a couple removed themselves from the event in rather interesting ways. BACCA President, Struan Wallace was fortunate to escape injury but had his boat totally destroyed, and I mean 'totally destroyed' without a single part remaining usable other than a couple of blocks and a few screws, when he was rammed into by a white van at 70mph, whilst he was asleep in a layby in his camper on the A1 at 2:45 in the morning. Then Ben Mancini, who to be fair had at least arrived at the venue, then nearly brained himself when his trailer jockey wheel collapsed and the mast landed on his head, sending him to the local A&E for stiches. It would now appear that you should wear your WIP helmets at all times from now on, even in bed.

Three Rutland boats, a couple from Clacton and one from Instow joined in with a Stokes Bay boat, the only one from their fleet to venture out. The event was also the Hurricane Nationals, of which some 25 or so turned up. A few Unicorns and a bunch of Shearwaters with their usual associated camp followers. The result was about 50 cats on the water.

As the Hurricanes had been there for a day already, their start was earlier. The other fleets were arranged to join in at their third race of the Saturday. The wind was up at about 15+kts then, and had been for most of the morning, so the first race was one for those who like the fruiter end. It was also wind against the tide. The Classics and Foilers were all in the Fast Handicap fleet, so had to contend with Unicorns, and F18s. With the sun out, it was classic Champagne sailing... if Champagne had lumps in it.

The first race started and all headed for the calmer water closer inshore, before tacking across to the right for the top mark. There was also a lift as the shore approached. The mark set on the edge of the shipping channel and the trip became progressively more bouncy the nearer you got to it. However, the 'A' Cat is designed superbly to cope with this, and the wave piercing bows do tend to work as advertised. You just have to remember to foot off a little to maintain your speed in the up one, through one wave rhythm. Downhill, inshore was favorite. Smoother water and slower adverse tidal flow before you crossed back to the bottom marks. However, those who braved the rougher stuff by going to the right on the next uphill part found the tidal flow had gained them dozens of extra boat-lengths at the top mark. As expected the foilers finished in the lead with Local Hero Dave Roberts 2015 DNA showing the way to Rutland's Mike Bawden on his ex Bundy Exploder Ad3. Another Rutland sailor, Gordon Upton (2012 DNA), was the first classic ahead of Clacton's Pete Boxer (Tool). Three class newbies of Clacton's Dan Brezinski, (Tool), Instow's Sam Heaton (2014 DNA Foiling) and Rutland's Francis Marshall (Bim X7R).

It usually takes a race or two for regular lake sailors to realize there are tides to play with at sea rather than gusts and shifts. The steadiness of the wind and the sustained length of the gusts do come as a pleasant surprise allowing you to do things you often can't do for long on lakes. Doing 3 min long 'Wild Things' downwind, for example, on a Classic boat is a real joy.

On the next race, the Hurricanes had all gone back for slipway beers having done their work for the day, leaving the course clearer. By then the wind had dropped down to 9-10 kts, and the tide was on the turn. This obviously means that the lighter wind sailing and setup specialists start to come to the party more and all the advantages of the heavyweights evaporate like spilt acetone. The second and third races followed the same pattern – head inshore then tack across for the top mark. Only this time the inshore was less beneficial downhill as there was more pressure further offshore. The two foilers of Dave and Mike showed the way downhill as it was still just about foilable. Back in the Classic fleet, Pete slowly edged ahead of Gordon on the downwind sections where their respective bodyweight differentials became more defined. A little farther back, Dan held off Francis to get 4th. And Sam went for a swim in race 3.

Stokes Bay usually has good ents in the evening. This time, a local trio, the Velvet Doonicans, played superb blues, Americana and bluegrass tunes. Only Knopfler was missing.

Sunday was another lovely day and there was a Fun Run along the prom so more people about again. This time we all started at 10;30 am. The wind was a little up on the latter races of the day before, but the earlier start time meant that the tide was playing a more significant effect, pushing you up the course. So, right side upwind, left side downwind, at least for the Classics. The foilers being less affected by the tide downwind, as long as they can stay on their foils, tended go for where the pressure was slightly greater more off the shore.

Race 4 got off to a clean start for most. But remember that tide and the lake sailor bit? Gordon, pushing the line across the front of the fleet Glenn Ashby style, aiming for the pin but misjudged the tide with an F18 and it turned out to be OCS. Both thought they were in so carried on. Most boats tacked reasonably early to get across to the faster tide with it's accompanying lumpiness. The leaders tacked early and layed the mark. Those who tacked slightly later found it to be a pretty good technique, as they could sail freer into the mark and power through/over the waves better, carrying more speed in. This time, most tended to gybe back earlier as the pressure was better a little off the shore. Dave and Mike foiled away into the distance. However, when the rest arrived at the bottom, we were greeted by Dave on his boat, showing signs of grief and distress. The boat had mounted the big bottom mark and was steadfastly refusing to get off. The tide was pushing him onto it, but he was still pointing into wind and effectively sailing backwards at 3 kts unable to do anything other than screaming at some passing Shearwaters advising them to round further away, as he could see his rudders disappearing in a collision if one took it too tight. Our main worry was that he may be sailing off with the mark and we'd all have to catch him up first before we could all round it. Such fun.

In the end, he got off it somehow and had a DNF. Mike finished first, Pete was second as Gordon was OSC.

Race 5 had a general recall as we were all pushed over the line and almost right on the gun, in the middle of the fleet, a loud ping was heard and a Dart 15 saw his rig disappear over the side. He was recovered and the second start got everyone away and right head on into the Hurricane fleet, who were by now just getting down to the bottom mark. These things seem barely under control at the best of times, so shouting provocative things like Windward Boat is pretty pointless, as one would destroy an 'A' Cat just like Struan's white van man. Best just to run away instead as they are not in your race anyhow, so a few wiser souls decided to bang in a quick tack to get out into the faster water on the right. A good plan it transpired.

All went as the previous race with the same tactics. But the tactic of all but one boat finishing a lap early wasn't such a good one. The confusion arose when, seeing boats ahead crossing the finish line and stop seemed to encourage the leaders of the 'A' Cat fleet to stop too. All except Dave who had rounded the mark before the Hurricanes finished. I put it down to the lead boats of the pack forgetting the recall and getting enmeshed in the Hurricane fleet as normal, finished when they all did thus getting us a mass DNF. Lessons learned? Na, we'll probably do it again.

Last race, same pattern only the wind had dropped a knot or two at the bottom half of the course. Dave and Mike foiled off at the top mark as per usual, with Dave winning the series with straight bullets in all but his buoy mounting race. Pete and Gordon battled it out at the front of the Classic fleet, Gordon winning uphill in the windy bits, Pete winning downhill in the quieter bits. Dan watching from a discrete distance further back. In the end Pete won, being on the inside at the final top mark and keeping the position all that leg to win and clinch the Classic series. And as ever, the best wind is always found on the sail back into the beach.

Finally we had great racing in a lovely venue with great people. We learned not to be scared by massive dredgers chugging through the race area. We saw how high an 'A Cat can fly when launched off from the wake of a speeding Gin Palace driven by a man no little situational awareness and a orange wife. The newer guys always learn lots, so that's why you should come to these events, as you never go home knowing less than when you arrived. Many thanks to Stokes Bay for another great event.

Many thanks to Dawn Bawden for the photos.

Overall Results:

PosSail NoTypeHelmClubR1R2R3R4R5 R6Pts
124FoilingDave RobertsSBSC111(DNC)115
2111FoilingMike BawdenRutland 2221(DNF)29
31963ClassicPeter BoxerClacton 4332(DNF)315
44ClassicGordon UptonRutland 344(OCS)DNF423
530ClassicDaniel BrzezinskiClacton 5553(DNF)523
622ClassicFrancis MarshallRutland 7764(DNF)DNF32
725FoilingSam HeatonNorth Devon 667(DNC)DNC633

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