The SB20 UK Nationals were hosted by the Royal Southern Yacht Club in Hamble-le-Rice from 21st – 23rd July. The racecourse in the Solent used for the event is the same racecourse expected to be used for the upcoming SB20 World Championships to be sailed out of the Royal Yacht Squadron from 28th August to 1st September 2017, so plenty of teams were there to get a preview of the venue prior to the Worlds. There were visiting boats from across the UK and further afield including Australia, Belgium, Oman, Russia and Ireland. The sole Irish entry was Royal St George Yacht Club’s Sin Bin sailed by Michael O’Connor, Owen Laverty and Ed Cook.
Throughout the weekend, conditions were quite “lively”, with winds often above 20 knots and sometimes gusting closer to the 30 knot mark. Race one on Friday was raced in perhaps some of the windiest conditions of the weekend, with the south easterly wind close to the UK class 25 knot cut-off limit for starting a race. The fleet did manage to get away after one general recall (which was to be a feature of the weekend) with former national champions Forelle Estates (Joe Lleywellyn, Nigel Wakefield and Jeremy Vigus) getting a jump on the fleet up the first beat. After a relatively poor start and a position in the early twenties, Sin Bin’s tactician Owen Laverty noticed that the fleet were overstanding in the tide on the starboard layline into the weather mark and a great call by Owen to tack below the layline resulted in a substantial gain for Sin Bin, getting them around the mark in the low teens and still in with a shout. The wind started to howl so once around the weather mark, the teams hoisted their kites, locked themselves in, said a little prayer and hurtled at speed down the run at 15+ knots, dodging broaching competitors and weaving in and around boats that had fallen off the plane.
There were big gains to be made by the boats that could keep the speed up and the boats under the mast through the gybes and at the first leeward mark, after a herculean effort by Ed Cook to expertly drop the kite in an unreasonably short space of time, Sin Bin had picked up several more places and rounded in seventh place, just behind the Russian team of Kirill Frolov. This Russian team finished fifth in the 2015 World Championships in Lake Garda so further advancement was likely to be challenging! A left handed shift and more favourable tide meant that the second beat was a drag race out to the right side of the course and thanks in no small part to Edwin Brennan’s expert boat preparation in the lead up to the event, Sin Bin were able to find another gear and sailed through the Russian team and another competitor to round the weather mark in fifth. The wind was still up and as an indicator of how “lively” it was getting, race leader Joe Lleywellyn broached out at the spreader mark allowing the Australian team of Porco Rosso (Elliot Noye et al) overtake them on the drag race to the finish. Scott Graham and the team on Chill Pill+ took third place. For their part, Sin Bin managed to overtake the fourth place boat in the final downwind leg into the finish snatching fourth place and a “counter” ahead of the Russian MST team of Vasily Grigoriev. The OOD decided to call an early halt to proceedings and the battered fleet returned to shore to fight another day.
Day two was less windy with a south-westerly breeze of 14-20 knots blowing down the Solent still making for some very exciting close finishes. Joe Lleywellyn kept his form from day one and scored a 3,1,2,2 scoreline that put him on 10 points for the event with a day to go. Former World champion Jerry Hill, from the host club Royal Southern YC started his march up the leader board and scored two firsts on day two, bringing him up to second overall on 19 points. Sin Bin had another decent day and scored an 11, 3, 5, 11 to lie in fourth place overall after day two, tied on 34 points with third placed Sweaty Betty. However, the discard only kicked in after six races so a number of competitors including the Australian team of Porco Rosso (counting a 39 point DNF) and former national champions Xcellent (John Pollard et al) (counting a 20 point ZFP) were likely to come straight back into the reckoning once the discard had been applied.
Day three started in a light westerly breeze that was due to build throughout the morning. A number of competitors were caught out getting out to the start line in the strong tides. Several boats including the event leader Forelle Estates, third placed Sweaty Betty and fourth placed Sin Bin were several minutes late for the start of the first race, despite having left the dock over an hour before the scheduled start time. Unfortunately for them, this race was the only race all weekend in memory not to have a recall! This threw the score board somewhat into disarray and the top ten boats were closely bunched with two races to sail. After counting a 10th in race 6 (the first race of the day), Joe Lleywellyn showed his class and bounced back with a second in race 7 in a freshening breeze to effectively snatch the title with a race to spare. Jerry Hill scored a 3,8,4 on the last day to keep hold of second place. The Australian team led by Elliot Noye scored a consistent 6,5,7 to climb back up the leader board and take third place on 33 points. John Pollard had a storming final day, scoring a 1,1,2 to climb up to fourth place overall on 37 points. Sin Bin bounced back after their late start and 21st in the first race of the day with two third places in the last two races to claim a 21,3,3 scoreline on the final day that would position them in fifth place overall on 40 points.