Well it was July after all so it should have been expected that the first day of the Byte National Championships should be cancelled because of inclement weather! The wind howled and the rain lashed as the 32 entrants looked out at the boats securely tied down on the foreshore at WPNSA.
Luckily the 2017 Byte Nationals had been scheduled as a three day event and the forecast for Saturday and Sunday showed the weather looking considerably better, still windy but at least sailable. The new schedule proposed four races back to back on Saturday with three races on Sunday both days having early starts.
On Saturday morning boats were rigged with sailors anxiously looking out into the harbour and ready to go when an announcement came over the public address, "Start delayed by 30 minutes due to lack of wind on the course!" The irony of this message did not go unnoticed!
Eventually the fleet did launch and it was an impressive sight as the 32 Bytes trailed across the harbour towards the committee boat. The wind began to build as promised until by the start of the first race it was suitably brisk.
The course was set as a triangle sausage with suitably long legs to test competitor fitness! Included in the fleet were five of the smaller C1 rigged boats sailing with their own Portsmouth Yardstick, a fact which was to prove significant later. Louis Saunders (Combs) tussled with Stuart Moore (Weston) on the start line but regained the lead on the second beat and was first home in race one followed by Stuart with Rick Whitehouse (Combs) sailing his C1 rig in third.
The wind was now beginning to build and a few of the less experienced sailors peeled off and aimed for the Academy and shelter.
In race two with increasing wind strength the C1 boats could match the C11s upwind and some of them rounded the windward mark ahead of some significant helms in the larger rigged boats. However the bigger sails of the C11's blasted them down wind. Louis crossed first in race two but the actual winner was Rick who was close behind him in his C1. Third was teenager Christian Conlan (Bowmoor) sailing very well and showing maturity beyond his tender years!
Louis took race three by a considerable margin beating Rick in to second place and Emma Pearson (Weston), who is a newcomer to the class formally being an experienced Europe sailor, in third.
After this race a massive squall came through and the race officer held the start waiting for an improvement in visibility. Competitors took advantage of this to collect food and drink from the support rib, not an easy task in such a heavy chop!
Louis played the shifts up the middle of the beat this time avoiding the problems of choosing the wrong side, he won race four by a considerable margin this time with Christian taking a well deserved second and Rick in third.
At the end of the day after being out for some five hours Louis was leading on 3 points with Rick on 6 then Stuart, Emma and Christian all on 12. Things were looking good for Louis but the places were all still to play for.
The fleet, now very tired celebrated a great day of sailing with an enthusiastically devoured barbeque and restorative drinks....soft ones for the younger sailors!
Day two dawned with more sun but much the same wind and sea conditions. This time Louis took the wrong side of the first beat and was only 6th at the windward mark. Charlie Sansom (Bowmoor) took full advantage of this and sailed a magnificent race to win holding Louis off on the last stages of the final run. Rick was again in in third.
Race six saw Louis win again having led from the start but teenager Tom Cooke (Bowmoor) blasted his way into second place with Stuart taking third. At the start of this race experienced Kevin Moore (Weston) took a perfectly exploited port end flyer and crossed the fleet into the lead. I include a photograph of this impressive feat! Unfortunately the lighter sailors dealt with him down wind and beat him into seventh place.
Now the final race which was won by Louis in impressive style from Rick and then Stuart. These had been two very tiring days but all seven races scheduled for three days had been fitted into two. Conditions had been hard but not impossible for a very mixed gender fleet. Louis Saunders nationals win, his fourth, had been emphatic but the performances of the younger sailors was amazing to say the least. Christian Conlan for his consistency, Charlie Sanson for his win and Matt Banbrook as the youngest competitor.
Richard Whitehouse took second and fastest C1 rig boat using skill and cunning in line with his many years of experience! Stuart Moore third with his speed and determination. Emma Pearson was fourth and fastest lady in her C1 rigged boat. Louis and Rick both from Combs SC have dominated the class for the last few years proving the efficacy of 'boat on boat' training. Nothing is certain however and both are aware of the competition snapping at their heels.
Because the Byte is suitable for sailors of lighter weight it suits young people, ladies and lighter men. Off the water there is a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. You don't see many Finn sailors playing on skate boards!
The racing proved the virtues of the C1 rig making the boat manageable for lighter crews in heavier winds. Application of its PY is however somewhat controversial and is an issue to be resolved.
The race management at WPNSA was amazing and all the staff friendly and helpful. The services accorded to us were as if it was a major world championship. Thank you to everybody.
Speaking of World Championships the Byte World Championships takes place again at WPNSA in a year's time and judging by the performances on show last weekend it could be an exiting event!