Irish crews are to the fore - inlcuding a new crew combination at the Dragon Edinburgh cup – the British national championships – in Abersoch this week. Irish National champion (and Royal St.George YC Commodore) Martin Byrne lies second overall sailing with last week's VDLR regatta chief Adam Winkelmann. One point behind Byrne is the defending Edinburgh Cup Champion Klaus Diederichs, who this week is sailing with a brand new crew of Olympic Star keelboat pairing, Peter O'Leary and David Burrows.
Unexpectedly good sailing weather and two hotly contested races opened the 2011 Cup, supported by Aberdeen Asset Management, in Abersoch yesterday. The forecast had been for beautiful sunshine but very light airs and the 43 crews from Australia, Japan, Russia, Ireland and the UK went afloat in a fickle 2-3 knot breeze with little expectation of good racing. It took several hours to happen, but fortunately the weather gods eventually smiled on the fleet and at around 2pm the wind began to fill in from the north, quickly building to 16-18 knots and more.
Two cut and thrust races were completed in the sparkling conditions and by the end of the day Russia's Mikhail Muratov, sailing Murka 8 with Valentin Uvarkin and Vladimir Krutskikh had taken the overall lead with a second place in the opening race and a win in race two. Muratov's nearest rival tonight is current Irish National Champion Martin Byrne, racing Jaguar with Adam Winkleman and Pedro Andrade, who won the opening race and went on to finish sixth in race two. Just one point behind Byrne in third overall is defending Edinburgh Cup Champion Klaus Diederichs, who this week is sailing with a brand new crew of Peter O'Leary and Dave Burrows, better known as one of the top Olympic Star teams having finished second at this year's Baccardi Cup. Fourth place overall is currently a tie between Russia's Olga White sailing Murka 7 with Martin Leifelt and Vadim Statsenko, and Gavia Wilkinson-Cox of Cowes sailing Jerboa with Martin Payne and Lars Wegener.
In the Corinthian Division, for which only non-professional crews compete, Burnham's Mark and Mandy Wade racing Avalanche with Andrew Norden lead the fleet and also hold sixth place in the overall standings. Three points behind the Wades is Simon Brien aboard Kin from Cultra, Northern Ireland, sailing with his brother Mark and David Gomes, who also make the overall top ten at eighth place. Just three points separate places three to five in the Corinthian division, which are held by Ireland's Richard Goodbody sailing Diva, Rob Campbell from Burnham sailing Ganador and Owen Pay from Cowes sailing Nijord.
It was a good day all round for the Corinthian teams who certainly gave the pros plenty to think about. The prize for best performance in a single race by a Corinthian boat undoubtedly goes to Owen Pay and his crew of Jon Mortimer and Steve Richardson for their impressive third place in race two. They got a cracking start and put together a controlled first beat to round the weather mark in third place hot on the heels of Julia Bailey and Mikhail Muratov. Despite being under constant attack from both Klaus Diederichs and Martin Byrne, Pay and his team kept their heads and not only successfully defended their position all the way to the finish but at times also put significant pressure on the leading pair.
The Dragon is very much an equal opportunities class and not only are female helms no longer a novelty, but they are now regularly beating the boys at their own game at international level. In race two Julia Bailey of Cowes sailing Aimee with husband Graham Bailey and David Heritage came off the line like a scalded cat and sailed a near perfect beat to round the weather mark in first place neck and neck with Mikhail Muratov. From here on in a dogfight of epic proportions developed with neither boat giving an inch. The two boats rounded every mark neck and neck and were almost constantly overlapped. Bailey threw everything but the kitchen sink at Muratov on the final beat, but she also had to work extremely hard to keep the chasing Owen Pay at bay. The boats traded tacks all the way into the finish but whilst she held off Pay it enabled Muratov to take victory on the line. A slightly disappointing eighteenth place in race one means that Bailey now lies in seventh place overall and she is joined in the top ten by two more top female helms, Olga White and Gavia Wilkinson-Cox, who share equal points after the opening day and find themselves battling it out for fourth place overall.
Abersoch and the South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club are proving to be most enthusiastic and generous hosts for this event and many of the competitors have remarked that whilst the racing is as cut and thrust as any on offer, the atmosphere surrounding the regatta is wonderfully relaxed and harks back to a bygone era. Perhaps it's because the boats are on swinging moorings and the crews are ferried out and back by club launches, perhaps it's the impressive way in which the club members and the local Abersoch Dragon Fleet have clearly pulled together to run the event on an entirely voluntary basis, perhaps it's the incredible hospitality and helpfulness being shown to all competitors, or perhaps it's just that there is something a little bit magical about Abersoch with its majestic mountain backdrop, sandy beaches and unique micro-climate, but what ever it is the Dragon fleet like it and want more please!
And more they can have as racing continues until Saturday 16 July with up to five more races scheduled. The forecast for the coming three days is for moderate to strong winds. Two races are scheduled for Thursday and Friday and a single race is scheduled for Saturday.
Additonal reporting from the Int. Dragon Class