Photos by Steve Cayley
With the forecast for the 2nd annual Paignton SC Christmas Cracker pursuit race showing winds of 20-30 knots, only 43 out of the 52 pre-entries decided to brave it. This was still an impressive turnout and a significant increase on last year. With the conditions expected to be marginal on safety grounds, the Race Officer sent a mark laying boat out to the race area in the morning to monitor conditions. They reported back significantly lower wind speeds than predicted but everyone expected it to build significantly. A short race course was laid close to the shore to provide more protection for the fleet, and make the task for the safety boats easier.
The RS Teras were the first boats away – starting in ‘negative time’ before start 0 at 12:00. They were shortly followed by the Toppers who were the second largest fleet and one of the most competitive. This was proved almost immediately as two competitors were just too keen at the start and were OCS. Even as subsequent starts were getting underway, all of the safety boats had their work cut out as large squalls cut through the course causing multitudes of capsizes, retirements and breakages. Before long, a significant number of boats had made their way back to the harbour, with four boats tied off the back of the committee boat!
At 12:37, the largest class, the Blazes, got underway. However, with the wind still increasing, it was looking more and more likely that the more traditional semi-displacements classes would have an advantage over the newer, lighter skiffs due to their superior stability, seakeeping and reliability characteristics. After the Ospreys started 10 minutes after the Blazes, they quickly started cutting their way through the fleet and looked like they might be the boats to beat. The final boat to get away – an International Moth – started closer in time to the finish than to the Topper start!
As the race progressed, the conditions took their toll on more and more boats with breakages, retirements and dramatic capsizes! The safety boats certainly had their work cut out. The Ospreys continued to battle their way though the order, whilst at the same time fighting each other. Up front, the Topper of Toby Bloomfield was still looking strong being only one of two in his class not to have been over the line, retired or had a breakage. He was being pressed hard not only by the quick Ospreys but also several Lasers and an Aero.
With the reduced size course for safety reasons it was hard to tell who was in front on the water as everyone was on different laps. The finish order was recorded by a RIB but it was up to TracAce to determine the final positions. In the end, British Youth Squad member Ben Flower took the victory in his Laser, followed by father and son pairing of Ben and Simon Hawkes in their Osprey. Ellie Hutchings finished an impressive third in her Radial, picking up the first female prize and the Allen Performance award. Equally as impressive was Toby Bloomfield – first junior, first Topper and sixth overall. Only 29 boats made it to the end of the race, with three of those being OCS.
A huge well done to all of the competitors who even braved the strong conditions. Thank you to all of the volunteers who made this event possible, and series organisers Sailing Southwest. Thanks also to event sponsor Bay’s Brewery, and series sponsors Allen, GJW Direct, Gul, Admiral Trailers and TracAce. The next event is in Porthpean on Saturday 15th December.
With two wins from three races, Ben Flower now leads the SSW Winter Series 2018-19, but with 7 more races to come, it is all to play for!
For Full Results, Series Standings and more, head to the series webpage