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ITCA GBR NS4 Coastal Championships at Poole Yacht Club

by Hari Clark 22 May 22:29 PDT 18-19 May 2024
Tom Semmens on his way to event win during the ITCA GBR NS4 Coastal Championships at Poole Yacht Club © Will Hellyer

The NS4 coastal championships saw 115 Topper sailors (85 x 5.3s, 28 x 4.2s, and 2 x 6.4s) travelling from all corners of the UK to Poole Harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world (second only to Sydney's in size).

All received a warm welcome by Historic Poole Yacht Club, with its bespoke carpeting, excellent catering, and 'no hats' policy. On arrival, Topper sailors were treated to a slick but friendly level of organisation, including regimental trailer parking, a multitude of water hoses, and ample changing spaces. Topper Russ from Topper International was also on-hand to work his 'Topper magic' on any boats needing repairs or replacements, though in the mostly pleasant Poole weather he presumably had more time for an occasional strong cup of tea than at last year's coastal NS4 venue of Whitstable.

The forecasts for very light winds from the Northeast on Saturday, strengthening to a good breeze on Sunday, were (just for a change) not totally wrong. So the 11:15 am launch time came and went, with the brightly coloured windsock refusing to do more than twitch and wiggle to tease the sailors, who waited patiently, playing cards, kicking footballs, and wandering on the seaside rocks. By mid-afternoon the decisive PRO, Ross Ryan, sent out the 5.3 fleet followed by the 4.2s.

All experienced the 'in-line' tallying to gain access to the launching beach, where friendly parent helpers in waders or rolled-up trousers helped boats to enter the water. The sailing area was the top triangle, opposite Poole Yacht club and south of the main (big boat) channel, with the 5.3s (and 6.4s) slightly closer to the club and the 4.2s nearer Brownsea Island.

Three races were completed by all of the toppers on day 1, with 4.2s finishing earliest. Race 1 in the 4.2s was all down to boat speed and a good start, which was what Sam Mason and Finlay Rhodes did best, coming first and second respectively. Race 2 featured many 4.2s not checking the bias and tide, and there was much crowding around the committee boat end. Jonathan Shields seized this opportunity, and won the race by miles leaving Hari Clark a distant second. However, in race 3 Hari finished the day with a first place followed by Finlay, to leave Hari leading overnight tied on points with Sam Mason, and Henry Cruse in third.

In the 5.3s, there were many recalls and then the tide started to turn, favouring the right side of the course. However, the tide was less of a factor than anticipated, and adaptable race plans and finding the 'puffs' were the key skills needed. Thomas Semmens clearly had these skills, and made his presence felt - with two 'bullets' in the first two races and a second place in the third and final race, leaving him the overnight leader.

Also having a great day, Kat Gunn had a first place in race 1, followed by two third places, putting her in second place overnight. Current National Champion, Jessica Powell, was slightly below her normal high standards with a fourth and third in the first and second races - but finished strongly with a win in race 3 to place her third at the end of the day, level on points with Felix Harle.

Day 2

In a very overcast start to the day, coaches Robin and Kate noticed boats piling-up at the committee-boat end of the 5.3's first race, though there was no advantage to this strategy - the winning formula being stringing together gusts and tacking on shifts. Thomas mastered these skills with another first, with Felix adding a second to his consistently sound set of results so far. In race 5, Thomas gained his fourth bullet, making him uncatchable and sealing his win with one race in hand. Meanwhile, Harry Mills added a first to his tally, placing him into firm contention for second place overall.

Finally in race 6, with second places for Thomas and Harry, and firsts for Felix and Zac Chappell, the final 5.3 results were revealed: a well-deserved first place for Thomas Semmens, followed by Harry Mills in second, and Felix Harle in third. Well done Thomas!

In the 6.4s, Louis Voss added three first places to his three points from day 1 to give him a clean win ahead of his only 6.4 challenger, Erica Bishop.

Meanwhile, in the 4.2s, the race management team worked hard to finish all five remaining scheduled races, completing the eight-race series, and so providing the 4.2 sailors with two discards. Day 2 saw the 4.2s going out first and coming in last, well after the 5.3s. The day was dominated by a very close battle between Hari Clark and Sam Mason. In race 4, the wind picked-up, and owing to an oscillating direction the right side of the beat had the bias. Sam noticed this and went right early, creating a large gap between him and the fleet. However, Henry made a big comeback at the very end giving him the win and Sam second place.

Race 5 was port biased, which only two boats noticed - Hendricks Long and Hari. Hendricks did a port flyer and crossed the fleet, whilst Hari continued going left, crossing the fleet later and securing another win by a very considerable distance.

Solid results from Sam in race 6 and 7 put him in the lead going into the final race, which started with seconds to spare before the 2:30 pm deadline. The last race was port biased again, which a lot of the top fleet picked up. Tom Smith got a great start and banged left, crossing the fleet by miles. Unfortunately, Tom forgot about the reach mark until someone told him he'd missed it. By this time Hari had caught-up, followed by Phileas Rousselle, and all three were close together downwind. However, Tom followed by Hari pulled away and were neck and neck, but an early gybe by Tom allowed Hari to secure his third first place, giving him the overall 4.2 win. Sam was close behind in second overall, just one point behind, with Henry finishing in a well-deserved third place overall.

A massive thank you to Poole Yacht Club for making everyone so welcome, all the volunteers for their help running the event so smoothly, and especially to the class sponsors for their continued support, Harken, Optimum Time, Rooster and Topper!

NS5 is the next and final event of the 2023-24 NS series on 29-30 June at Derwent Reservoir. This is in the beautiful location of Consett, County Durham - not to be confused with the equally picturesque Derwent Water in Cumbria! Hopefully I will see you there (at Derwent Reservoir, not Derwent Water that is).

Overall Results: (PDF format)

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