Held Saturday 2nd March 2019
This year the Channel Chop was held in fine conditions, a warm southwesterly F3 breeze with the odd F5 gusts greeted the 20 dinghies that took part in the 140 minute pursuit race. This was Race 7 in the Sailing Southwest Winter Series.
A large course was set on the tide, with the fleet disappearing out of site as after an inshore lap they headed off towards Avonmouth and around the Firefly shipping buoy, before returning back to the bay for spectators to see.
The screen showed Dru Townsend in her Topper quickly build a big lead as she rounded the the 2nd buoy, and she was back across the start line before much of the fleet had been sent on their way.
The first boats away were the Mirror of Steve & Hannah Brooks and Dru Townsend in her Topper. As the second lap started and the fleet headed off towards Firefly buoy, spectators lost sight of the action, but with TracAce GPS tracking system on board each boat, spectators could watch the race unfold live on the big screen in the clubhouse.
A good crowd of spectators gathered on the clubhouse balcony to watch the Europe, Solo, OK, Redwing, 2 Lasers (including current SSW Winter Series leader Ben Flower), RS Aero 7, RS Vision, 2 Blazes, Contender and RS300 make their way to mark one, pretty much in formation as their various starts rolled around. The Fireball of locals Anthony & James Willcocks was next away, leaving just 5 Ospreys in the start area.
As the Ospreys formed up for their start, a ripple of excitement began to build among the onlookers, it was going to be a fun race. Series contenders Nemo & Simon Hawkes were once again expected to be contenders, but they would have their work cut out keeping up with the 'Osprey Ace' DJ Edwards who was helming alongside the ever successful Mike Greig from Mount's Bay SC.
Indeed it was Edwards and Greig who led the Ospreys around the first mark, leaving the Hawkes to fight it out in the pack. Meanwhile, Ben Flower in his Laser and the OK of Gavin Poulloin were making up good ground, passing the Brooks' Mirror and now chasing down the Solo of Steve Pascoe with tremendous speed. Jon Gill in his Europe was holding a good pace in 2nd as was Dru in 1st, both having a pretty lonely start to the Channel Chop as they worked to make their early starts pay off.
By the end of their first lap, the Ospreys had reeled in the RS300 of Ben Ballard and they were on the heels of the Willcocks' Fireball and the Contender of Nick Noble. Dru was still most of a lap ahead, but Ben Flower had moved past Gavin and Steve into 3rd place behind Jon.
That would quickly change again though as one by one the leaders made the turn at the Northern most end of the course, and started to fight their way against the tide towards Battery Point and into the bay. Dru attempted a course close to shore to minimise the tidal pull, but with lighter winds she struggled to make any headway in her Topper. Jon and Ben led the rest of the fleet on a less extreme course and this paid off in a huge way.
Ben now led the race with an hour to go. The question was could he hold on, and thus cement his place at the top of the SSW Winter Series leaderboard, or would the marauding fleet of Ospreys (and a Fireball) catch him?
As they rounded Newcombe on their 3rd lap, Ben was still leading Jon, but the fast boats were gaining with every minute. DJ & Mike were still leading the Osprey fleet, with the Hawkes' hanging onto their coat tails. The Willcocks brothers too were putting up a stern fight against the leading Ospreys, holding the marginally faster boats in their wake for as long as possible.
It took another half a lap for DJ & Mike to catch Ben, but with 20mins of the race to run, the leading Osprey scythed past the laser right in front of the packed balcony of spectators. The Hawkes' had finally got past the stubborn locals in their Fireball and moved into 3rd, whilst Nick Noble in the Contender continued to have a strong race, keeping the remaining Osprey fleet at bay as he reeled in Jon Gill to move into 5th place.
15 minutes remaining and it looked like DJ & Mike's race to loose... which they did! A dramatic capsize brought an 'Oooh' from the onlookers as they watched DJ and Mike take an untimely swim. Ben Flower and the Hawkes' pair didn't require a second invitation, with both boats flying past the stricken Osprey.
Ben Flower is a tenacious character, and with just a single point separating him from the Hawkes' in the series standings, he wasn't going to give his lead up lightly. He fought as hard as he could as they made their way back up to Newcombe buoy, but it was to no avail as the Hawkes' significantly faster boat brushed past him.
The Hawkes continued on around the course stretching out their lead, but Ben was still under threat as the final minutes ticked away. The Fireball and Contender were chasing hard, but would they have enough time to sneak past?
With just seconds to go, the Willcocks' made their move, tacking over Ben and Nick. The hooter sounded, and everyone looked to the big screen where TracAce showed the three boats within meters of each other. This one would have to be called by the support boat on the water with them!
Soon word filtered back. The Willcocks' Fireball had taken 2nd place by a nose from Nick Noble in the Contender. Ben Flower took a well earned 4th place, whilst Emma Stevenson and Tim Bowden in their Osprey finished 5th. DJ Edwards and Mike Greig unfortunately retired after their capsize.
It was certainly an exciting finish, with all the thrills and spills you'd hope for in a pursuit race. Congratulations to Nemo and Simon Hawkes who picked up their 2nd Series win here to move into 1st place overall. Ben Flower holds onto 2nd in the Series. Dru Townsend took the junior prize and DJ Edwards and Mike Greig were awarded the Allen Sailing Endeavour award for their fine performance for 2hrs and 5minutes of the 2hr20 pursuit race!
For more photos, full results, series standings and more, take a look at www.sailingsw.co.uk/ssw-winter-series and to watch the replay back, head to www.tracace.co.uk/events/races/map/?raceID=81
1st Ben (Nemo) & Simon Hawkes Osprey 1356 Castle Cove SC
2nd Anthony & James Willcocks Fireball 14928 Portishead Y&SC
3rd Nick Noble Contender 2618 Bristol Corinthian YC
4th Ben Flower Laser 17 Hayling Island SC
5th Emma Stevenson and Tim Bowden Osprey 1362 Weymoth SC
First Junior: Dru Townsend Topper 46919 Portishead Y&SC
Furthest traveled DJ Edwards & Mike Greig Osprey 1116 Mounts Bay SC
Once back in the clubhouse we were all able to review the race replay via the GPS tracking system on the big screen, now available online through www.sailingsw.co.uk/sw-series, whilst drinking tea and eating home made cakes made by club members of Portishead Y&SC.
Thanks to all those at the club that may the day a great success, and weren't we glad that the adverse weather forecast predicted, had now moved out to the Sunday.
Full results and photos are available on www.sailingsw.co.uk/sw-series
Colin Jarvis Portishead Y&SC (OOD)