There wasn’t much sun to greet the sailors on the damp Sunday morning of the first chapter in the iconic Blithfield Barrel racing series. That didn’t really matter as there was plenty of wind!
With a day that never saw the south westerly wind dip below 16 knots and top out at 34 knots, it was definitely one for thrills and spills. With 27 boats from across the Portsmouth Yardstick taking to the water for the first race, including two boats manned by Blithfield Juniors, all raced away with a clean start at first ask. A course zig-zagging across the Reservoir gave 3 beats and plenty of downwind work. The race was initially dominated by a tussle between the Merlin of Andy Davis and Chris White and the home team Osprey of Richard and Mark Hartley, both of whom pulled away from the rest of the fleet by lap 2. Team Hartley eventually managed to put in some serious distance to build up a lead before disaster struck during a squall and put them over whilst under spinnaker. Andy and Chris shot through and maintained their lead thereafter.
With much thanks to the foresight of the Galley Team for having chosen home-made soup, rolls and cake as the ideal restorative for lunch, a smaller fleet of 20 returned to the water for the 1400 race. The wind had obeyed its forecast and moved round to the west. A different course was used to keep exploiting the whole of the water putting in some additional high speed reaches. The wind started at 16, gusting 24 knots and then moved up a gear to 23 knots with one gust of 34. Again a clean start was had with Andy and Chris showing their heels to the rest of the fleet. With some decent waves coming down the long fetch that is typical of Blithfield in a westerly, and some punishing gusts, there were plenty of capsizes, particularly under spinnaker. This spread the fleet out considerably although the Phantoms managed to keep fairly closely bunched together. However, the safety crews were rarely needed to assist, with most sailors sorting themselves out. Unsurprisingly, fatigue and gear failure saw a few retirements. And just when they thought it was all over, nature showed impeccable timing by making an already challenging return to shore just a little more sporty with a 37 knot onshore gust. Some great anticipation by fellow competitors and the Blithfield junior sailors saw all the boats trapped onto their trolleys without too much drama, albeit some sailors’ pulses wouldn’t necessarily agree with that assessment.
Overall winners of Round 1 were a very impressive Andy Davis and Chris White from South Staffs SC in their Merlin (also with line honours in both races), Andy Couch from Blithfield was second in his Finn and Matt Biggs and Ben Hollis from Bartley SC were third in their Merlin. Thanks to Hartleys for their generosity in providing some spot prizes to make some more winners in the fleet.
The next Round is on 10th December 2023. For details, see https://www.blithfield.org.uk/event-details/blithfield-barrel-2023-2024-2023-12-10-10-00
More photo's available (credit D. Pawlak), see
Report credit: Alastair N C Reid