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Blithfield Barrel - Round 4, 11th February 2024

When the mist cleared a gentle westerly of 8-12 knots greeted 26 boats for the final round of the 2023-24 Blithfield Barrel. This wind direction makes for the longest legs at this venue. The selected course was one that needed writing down rather than simply memorised and wove several tight reaches as well as runs and two beats into it.

The first race was a clean start at 1200 and saw the southerly shore give most advantage on the beat before the downwind legs started to allow the spinnaker boats to spread their wings. There was considerable pressure variability and watching for the wind was critical, not least if flying an asymmetric spinnaker. As the run went down the centre axis of the Reservoir, there was much weaving back and forth with efficient gybing key to maintaining tactical advantage, not least amongst the Merlin fleet. With the Osprey, VxOne, Javelin and Merlins leading, there were, nevertheless, battles all over the course with similar boat pairings, including 5 GP14s and 3 Supernovas amongst them.

Most of the fleet remained together throughout and line honours went to the Osprey of Rob Burdekin and Ali Raynard, despite a near disaster at the penultimate mark. Corrected time saw Mike Senior and Ollie Goodhead as winners in the GP14, with Steve McCarthy and Gareth Thomas in their GP second and Jonathan Swain in the Solo third.  

A hot pasta lunch was, as usual, suitably restorative and the second race was smartly underway without recourse to the Black Flag, at 1400. The wind direction was broadly still westerly but with northerly hints so the same course was selected, not least as it had achieved unanimous praise during the break.

The wind was now around 10 knots but despite this, the VXOne of Peter Slater and Paul Sennet gained a particularly clear start, chose the southern shore and powered away to show their heels to the Osprey and Javelin. However, John Greenwood in the Finn and some of the slower handicap boats selected the northern side of the reservoir which ultimately proved to have the higher pressure, propelling him to be second round the windward mark. These gains proved transient as the fleet then significantly stretched out during the first lap. Frustratingly for the tail end of the fleet, the wind dropped to around 6 knots on the last leg, further increasing the separation. Whilst Peter Slater took line honours, the winners on handicap were Mike Senior and Ollie Goodhead with John Greenwood second and Matt Biggs and Ben Hollis in their Merlin, third. All sailors remained dry and the Safety Boats had little to do but watch a very colourful sight.

Throughout the series the lead double-handers stood out for their snappy and accurate evolutions and watching the aggressive, efficient, tacking and gybing of Mike Senior and Ollie Goodhead was a joy to watch and a serious target for others to emulate. Consequently it was little surprise that the overall winners of the Blithfield Barrel 2023-24 were Mike and Ollie.  Adam Froggat was second in his Phantom and John Greenwood third. For the organisers it was rewarding to hear feedback suggesting that the competitive racing was very much enjoyed by all, regardless of levels of experience.

Put the 2024-25 Blithfield Barrel in your sailing events calendar for the end of this year!

Report & photo credit: Alastair Reid.

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