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Gelert wins first British 5.5 Metre Championship for half a century

by Robert Deaves 5 Jun 05:07 PDT 1-4 June 2024

Some of the finest names in British yachting took part in the first 5.5 Metre British National Championship for around 50 years, held at the Royal Yacht Squadron, in Cowes, from 1-4 June. A small fleet of boats from three nations completed 10 races in a range of conditions from 5 to 27 knots.

Gelert (GBR 40, James Howells, Andy Beadsworth, Simon Fry) took the title win from New Moon III (BAH 25, Mark Holowesko, Christoph Burger, Peter Vlasov), who won the 2018 World Championship on the same course areas, with The Jean Genie (GBR 43, Peter Morton, Andrew Palfrey, Ruairidh Scott) in third.

The championship opened on Saturday, 1 June, with two races in winds up to 27 knots and two emphatic wins from The Jean Genie, which was tailor made to perform in those conditions. Sunday brought much lighter conditions and snakes and ladders in the Solent tide with most boats having a turn at the front, but a solid performance from Gelert with a 1,1,2 moved them into the lead, which she never relinquished during the rest of the regatta.

Lighter conditions continued on Monday, and with a brief change of crew, New Moon III (Christoph Burger, Charlie Cumbley, Peter Vlasov) took three race wins. They led the first two races from start to finish, and in the final race overtook early leader Girls on Film (GBR 41, Louise Morton, Sam Haines, Andrew Mills) on the final downwind. Otto (NOR 69, Bent Christian Wilhelmsen, Lasse Berthelsen, Herve Cunningham) took third place three times with the fleet tightly packed for most races.

Charlie Cumbley was suitably impressed for his first foray in a 5.5 Metre "It's kind of what I expected, I think. They are cool little boats and when you get yourself in the right mode, chopping along, momentum is pretty important in that light stuff. Just kind simplify the manoeuvres in that light stuff, which I guess is similar to when it gets windy.

"If the opportunity comes along I'd love to do some more."

The final day promised stronger wind, and though this only arrived at the end of the second race it was enough for The Jean Genie to showed her legs and they romped away for two race wins. In the first race The Jean Genie took the lead from Girls on Film after Peter Morton tacked repeatedly in front of his wife on the second upwind to push them back and take the lead. Gelert only needed one race to secure the title.

James Howells, helm on Gelert commented, "It's only the second time I have sailed a 5.5 Metre, both generously loaned by Peter Morton. It's fantastic racing in the Solent and I think the committee did a fantastic job to get 10 good race in across tide, very impressive and close racing.

"All the boats are a littler bit different but each one has their strengths, but really happy to win with a great team with Andy and Simon, both fantastic sailors who are pretty handy in keelboats, so they made it pretty easy for me, so great fun."

Was he surprised to win? "Yes, a number of these sailors spend a lot of time sailing a 5.5, and they are an interesting, tweaky boat to sail so I think we were quite surprised to win, but very pleased.

"I will be back for sure; we'd love to do more. It's a cracking class, the people are really friendly and welcoming and it's been an enjoyable regatta."

At a rough guess the last British 5.5 Metre Championship was held in the 1960s in Poole. At the time, the driving force in the class was Robin Aisher, who passed away in 2023. His daughter Sally was in Cowes and was delighted to present to prizes to the winning crews to complete the circle.

Over the four days, the Royal Yacht Squadron put on a slick display of race management on the water and perfect hospitality on shore. The club is bidding for the 2026 World Championship, so it may not be too long before a large fleet of 5.5 Metres is once again gracing the waters of the Solent.

More photos on flickr here.

Overall Results:

PosSail NoBoat NameOwner / SkipperClubR1R2R3R4R5R6R7R8R9R10Pts
1GBR 40GelertJames HowellsRoyal Southern Yacht ClubDNS21122242RET22
2BAH 25New Moon IIIMark HoloweskoNassau Yacht ClubDNCDNS5311114325
3GBR 43The Jean GeniePeter MortonRYS112555551126
4GBR 41Girls on FilmLouise MortonRORC234244423226
5NOR 68OTTOBent Christian WilhelmsenKNSDNSDNC3433335434

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