Blithfield Sailing Club has a long history of hosting successful Osprey Open Meetings and so it continued in 2023 with the 70th Anniversary "Osprey Final Fling" over the weekend of 14th/15th October 2023.
As is now tradition, many of the fleet arrived at Blithfield on Friday afternoon/evening to rig and prepare early for the weekend racing. Well, that's what they say! The more likely draw to arrive early is based around Peter Slater's legendary Friday night curry (not your normal "fodder" Terry). This coupled with their appetite to consume sufficient quantities of Holden's finest Black County Real Ale such that the trauma of negotiating the inevitable congestion on the M6 en-route, is a distant memory!
With more sailors arriving on Saturday morning, a strong fleet of 18 Ospreys planned to launch from the beach for the start of Race 1 in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, numbers were one down in Race 1 due to Kenny Brown and Mark Mawhinney (1383) forgetting that if you pull one end of a rope its generally linked to the other. This resulted in losing the tail of a halyard somewhere inside their mast. There wasn't enough time to rethread the thing before the start, so Mark stayed nice and warm in the clubhouse for an extra hour or so, while Kenny was outside making up for his misdemeanour. For those on the water, indications were that the wind gods had been kind, with a healthy Westerly Force 4/5 blowing down the reservoir from the causeway. This enabled the Race Officer to set a course with two long beats, reaches of varying angles and a run to test the sailors' tactical skills. On shore spectators were slightly miffed though as he hadn't managed to set a gybe mark in in front of the club house. It became evident however, that this was not entirely necessary as plenty of entertainment would be forthcoming later in the day!
Race 1 got under way cleanly at first attempt. Perhaps the curry and beer from the previous night were hanging heavy on some, as there wasn't exactly a rush to get over the start line! However, Alex and Nick Willis (1291) were clearly wide awake as they used the port line bias effectively to cross almost all the fleet on port. They led at the windward mark, closely followed by Peter Gray and Geoff Edwards (1206). These two continued to sail away from the fleet during the first lap, with Richard and Mark Hartley leading the main pack in 3rd. The breeze continued to blow strongly testing the crews and gear. Several Ospreys came ashore with broken bits of gear including a boom, spinnaker pole, and shackle/strop. Luckily, the Race Officer had scheduled lunch after Race 1, with Races 2 & 3 back-to-back providing an opportunity to fix broken bits before going back on the water. As is the way in the Osprey fleet, all were soon offered spares from other Osprey sailors, which enabled everyone to get back out on the water for the next race.
On the final beat of Race 1 Peter and Geoff manged to squeeze past Alex and Nick, and so it stayed until the finish with Peter/Geoff (1206) in 1st, Alex/Nick (1291). With Richard and Mark Hartley (1381) retiring, Roger and Jamie Blake (1382) finished 3rd.
After everyone had been refuelled by the ladies in the Blithfield Galley, and fixed broken parts all 18 Ospreys arrived at the start area for Race 2. The Race Officer (Geoff Wright) hadn't been overly generous with the length of the start line which incentivised all 18 helms to be "up there" early. This resulted in the inevitable first general recall of the weekend. The generosity of the Race Officer in keeping the Black Flag down below was surprisingly rewarded with much improved behaviour and the fleet got away cleanly at the second attempt. Terry Curtis and Peter Greig (1234) shot out from the centre of the line, headed hard left and led at the windward mark, followed by a closely packed fleet. The wind moderated slightly during the downwind legs, leading to frequent changing of positions. By the time the fleet had reached the top mark for a second time Terry and Pete (1234) were still out in front with a healthy lead, followed by Ken Brown and Mark Mawhinney (1383) in 2nd and Steve Leney and Paul Keeling (1368) in 3rd.
Then the entertainment began! In the distance the sky was, well, a little dark! With almost no warning a squall consisting of rain and hail, was upon the fleet, just whilst they were negotiating the downwind legs with kites up. The deluge was accompanied by gusts reaching 42mph. The rescue team reported 11 Osprey hulls on their side as the gusts ploughed through the fleet. One such unfortunate pair were Kenny and Mark in (1383), who capsized directly in front of the clubhouse. Kenny must have thought that the shore team were missing the entertainment of a gybe mark because every time his crew tried to swim back to the boat, after becoming separated, Kenny attempted to right his Osprey, with kicker still on, and so sail slightly further away from Mark. This happened 3 or 4 times before Mark gave up. Finally, Kenny managed to get the boat upright and release the kicker before sailing back to safely collect his crew Bob, aka Mark! Fortunately, all 11 crews who were flattened by the gusts were able to right themselves and continue to race once the short-lived chaos had passed through. Those who managed to stay with their hulls facing the right way up finished well ahead, with Terry and Peter (1234) in 1st, Roger and Jamie (1382) in 2nd and the home boat of Tom Chadfield and Peter Slater (1345) in 3rd.
The wind had moderated substantially to Force 2 by the start of Race 3 with the fleet managing to get away cleanly on the first attempt. So, no Black Flags had been required on day 1. Alex and Nick (1291) were at it again though, and looked set to start on port, but this time they met a raft of starboard boats and were forced to tack just before the start, only just managing to squeeze in without hitting the pin. The fleet split on the first beat with the left generally seeming to pay. At the first windward mark, Richard and Mark Hartley (1381) led with Peter and Geoff (1206) 2nd and Tom and Peter (1345) 3rd. In contrast to the first two races of the day, crews were now struggling to keep kites flying on the broader downwind legs, leading to the fleet bunching up. Alex and Nick (1291) were now the wrong side of a raft of Ospreys coming into the leeward mark. No amount of shouting or cajoling was going to persuade them to move over, so sadly they were forced to sail the wrong side of the mark and go back to undo their misdemeanour. They headed back up the next beat in last place! By the second lap the wind was filling in again and crews were back out wiring with the fleet again spread across the reservoir. Winners of Race 3 were Richard/Mark (1383) who clearly had some light weather speed, Peter/Geoff (1206) in 2nd and Terry/Peter (1234) in 3rd.
After securing boats for the night, everyone settled into the clubhouse for the evening to regale their stories of the squall whilst enjoying the famous Blithfield hospitality. A Hog Roast with all the trimmings, a plethora of puddings followed by cheese and biscuits ensured no one went to bed hungry. Two firkins of Black Country real ale were squeezed dry before everyone retired to get some well-earned shut eye.
After three races, overall placings left Peter Gray/Geoff Edwards (1206) in 1st, Terry Curtis/Peter Gregg (1234) in 2nd and Roger/Jamie Blake (1382) in 3rd. There was still everything to play for on Sunday with two races still to sail.
The forecast for Sunday had not been particularly promising, however sailors awoke to clear blue skies and more breeze than forecast (a steady NW Force 2).
The start of Race 4 was scheduled for 10am with the Race Officer duly attempting to get things under way on time. Although he had been more generous with the length of start line set than the previous day, the fleet decided to be slightly over enthusiastic, or perhaps they were just pushing their luck! This led to the first General Recall of the day and an immediate and decisive reaction from the Race Officer. Such subordination and lack of acknowledgment of his generosity was only ever going to end one way. And so it was, the Black Flag was revealed in all its glory. Unsurprisingly, this concentrated minds, and everyone showed much greater respect on the second attempt. The fleet split straightaway from the start with most crews out on the wire. Those who went hard right seemed to come off best this time with Peter/Geoff (1206) leading, Richard/Mark (1381) in 2nd and Rob Shaw/Ian Little (1349) showing some early pace in 3rd. By the second lap 1206 and 1381 had pulled away from the rest of the fleet to have a healthy lead with Peter/Geoff just in front. However, on the final beat Richard and Mark (1381) managed to sail over Peter and Geoff to take the lead which they held onto until the finish. Terry and Peter (1234) took 3rd.
So, going into Race 5 it was between Peter/Geoff (1206) and Terry/Peter (1234) for the overall win. Those who had a results sheet calculated that Terry/Peter needed to finish ahead of Peter/Geoff with one boat between them.
The breeze had eased off again for the start returning to a gentle force 2. The first attempt at a start resulted in a General Recall again so there was no hesitation by Geoff Wright in giving his Back Flag a second airing! As expected, this had the desired effect, away they went cleanly. All eyes were on 1206 and 1234. At the windward mark, Richard (Basher) Marshall/Arthur Butler (1373) led the way, followed by local boat Ian McDonald/Jon Gibbons (1331) in 2nd and Richard/Mark Hartley (1381) in 3rd. Where were 1206 and 1234? Was some match racing going on, and if so, why?
The answer was coming. By the time the fleet reached the top of the second beat Richard/Arthur (1373) were leading, Terry/Peter (1234) had climbed to 2nd and Peter/Geoff (1206) were 4th. There was the required one boat between them (from Terry's perspective). Blimey this was exiting from a neutral perspective! The boat sitting between them was the home team of Steve Leney/Paul Keeling (1368) in 3rd. On the downwind legs placings were set to change though. At the leeward mark Terry/Peter (1234) had done all they could to win and now led, but who was in 2nd, yes Peter/Geoff (1206) with Richard/Mark (1381) in 3rd. Then just before the finish Richard/Mark (1381) squeezed past first 1206 and then 1234 to take the lead and win Race 5. Basher/Arthur who had shown such promise finished 5th.
Congratulations to Peter Gray and Geoff Edwards winners of the Osprey Final Fling 2023. In addition to the weekend presentations, the Osprey Travellers Series Wilkinson Sword Trophy was awarded to Alex and Nick Willis - Well done both!
Thanks goes to Richard & Mark Hartley for donating prizes and wine on Saturday evening which was accompanied by one of Richard's rousing motivational speeches (hip hip)!
Until next year!
Report by: Nick Broomhall
Photo credit: David Pawlak - more photo's on the website gallery.