Following Storm Etienne 21 crews arrived at Royal North for Day 6 of Belfast's Frosty Series, and were glad to see that there were no pieces of RS400 lying on the ground writes Sam Pickering. Even better, it was a warmish Sunday afternoon with a pleasant 10-12 knots blowing from the South West. A well-earned rest for crews who had been battered by several weeks of windy Sunday’s.
As ever, the race officer was keen to get back to the bar, so Race 1 began at 1.30pm sharp. A short line made it crucial to get a nice spot on the front row, and there were a couple that decided to stray too far and had to find their way back following an individual recall; one of these being Barry McCartin & Andrew Penney. Despite this they showed good pace upwind and were back in contention by the windward mark with Sam Pickering & Josh Porter managing to get around with a very small lead. Paul McLaughlin & Owen McKinley were also close by, just slightly ahead of the ever-present pack of boats waiting to swallow up and spit out anyone who dare make a mistake. There was little change the next time the fleet reached the windward mark, but a faltering breeze made the last run incredibly tricky. Sam was almost immediately swallowed by the pack after gybing too early, with Liam Donnelly suffering a similar fate. This left Barry & Paul to fight it out for the win. Barry eventually managed to clinch the victory. His win was almost as impressive as Rob Hastings recovering from a technical fault and a subsequent (very!) late start to recover to 6th place. Just imagine if he had been anywhere near the line! Bob Espey & Richard McCullough managed to fight off the rest of the bunch to round out the top three.
The second race saw somewhat of an anomaly for this series. A boat leading from start to finish. Although the highly desired committee boat end was won by Shaun Ritson, the inevitable jostling between boats slowed everyone near the packed out committee boat end. This allowed Tom Purdon & Rory Fekkes to shoot out from the middle of the line and go on to demonstrate good speed and astute fleet management to never look threatened in 1st place. This added another new race winner to the tally for the series, which now stands at eight. This time Chris Penney & Jess Rutherford managed to use good downwind speed to break free slightly to take 2nd place, with ‘Mr Consistent’ Barry taking 3rd spot. Ryan Wilson also put in a solid shift on the tiller, his best performance in Race 2, in order to demonstrate that crews can do it too.
The breeze built slightly towards the end of the second race, and after a tiny rest the crews started the 3rd race fully hiked out. Chris & Jess punched out from the line and rounded the top mark 1st, and with Jess completing all of Chris’ calm requests in a blink, they took off downwind in a nice gust. Sam & Josh had worked out which was the pointy end again and rounded 2nd, predictably followed by Barry & Andrew who were finding it hard to avoid being near the front. Peter Kennedy & Stephen Kane were on the prowl waiting to pounce. Unfortunately for them, the top three didn’t want to mess each other around, sailed their own races and kept up the speed to set up a three-way dual at the final leeward gate. Barry finally made a mistake by selecting the wrong side of the gate, which left Sam and Chris at the favoured right-hand mark. A slight overlap was enough to allow Sam to sneak round and go on to take the win, followed by Chris and then Barry.
As an Englishman who has recently moved to Northern Ireland to live and sail, the author would like to take this opportunity to thank the Irish 400 fleet for being so welcoming. I would also like to implore those back in Britain who are undecided about next years nationals to get off the fence and book your ferries now. You will not be disappointed! It is not very often you get to sail on such a fabulous stretch of water only 15 minutes from a capital city full of great activities for your support crew or you if your week starts going downhill. Of course, there will be Guinness to help with that too!