The SSW Winter Series is done and dusted for another year, and it's fair to say, 2018-19 certainly delivered its share of thrills and spills. This year's series was sponsored by Allen Sailing, GJW Direct Insurance, Admiral Trailers and Gul Watersports - our thanks to them and all of our host clubs and their volunteers for making the series such a successful event that continues to grow and prosper.
It all started back in October, with the Wrecker Pursuit at NDYC. The tricky conditions caught out many, but it was Ben Flower in his laser who took a close win ahead of Ian Horlock in the Contender. The Osprey of Nemo and Simon didn't make the start due to a breakage, but Ian Mairs & Abi Campbell (RS500) and Stacey Bray (D-Zero) managed to mix it up with the locals, finishing 5th and 6th respectively.
Round 2 was the Penzance Pirate, which threw up some lumpy swells for the sailors to contend with. Chris Hampe (Int. Canoe) handled the waves brilliantly to beat the locals, whilst Ben Flower come home 5th, just ahead of the Hawkes' in 6th - this wasn't the strongest of starts for the Osprey, but this is a long series, affording them plenty of time to claw their way back up the leaderboard.
Onto the 3rd race of the series, and our first trip to South Devon for Paignton SC's Christmas Cracker. This was a wild one, with strong gusts threatening the race from the get go. Ben Flower thrived in the conditions, reeling off laps faster that we could count! The Hawkes' worked hard to catch him, but Flower held them off once more. Flower 1st, Hawkes' 2nd.
The winter winds continued to grow throughout December, which sadly ended our chance to visit Cornwall once more for the introduction of the Porthpean Pursuit. So the Christmas break left Ben Flower on top of the standings with 2 wins, Hawkes were 2nd, the Cornishmen Colin Stephens & Mike Greig (Osprey) lay in 3rd, and Stacey Bray in his D-Zero was 4th.
We were back in business for R5 with the Sutton Bingham Icicle in January. Ben Flower and Stacey Bray didn't travel to this one, opening the door for others to improve on their positions. The Hawkes' didn't require a second invitation, storming to a win despite the best efforts of a strong local fleet. This race saw the introduction of local man Chris Jones (RS Aero 7) to the series. He recorded a good 7th place finish.
Next up was a trip to Roadford Lake for the Rocket. All the series contenders made the trip to this crucial 6th race in the series. The lake looked tranquil all morning, but that was only half the story. Mighty gusts roared through at regular intervals, challenging every sailor to the maximum. Terry Curtis and Peter Grieg (Osprey) held off Ian Horlock to win the race, but many eyes were watching the Flower/Hawkes battle once more. The Osprey had given Flower a sniff after a badly timed capsize in the closing minutes, but ultimately the faster boat prevailed, taking 3rd. The Willcocks twins from Portishead (Fireball) put themselves in the mix, just pipping Ben Flower to take 4th.
The Series leaderboard was as tight as you could imagine at this point. Flower still held the top spot by a single point over the Hawkes' - 2 and 3 points respectively. Ian Horlock sat in 3rd place on 4 points, with Curtis and Peter Grieg just a single point (5) behind him in 4th. Chris Hampe was in 5th place, all of 2 points behind Curtis and Grieg (7) and with just 8 points on the board, Colin Stephens and Mike Greig were far from out of it too! Greg Bartlett was 7th, Bray 8th, Chris Jones was 9th and Noah Rees (last year's Junior winner) rounded out the top 10. I'll also note, Chris Dyer (Blaze) was sitting in 11th after a couple of decent races, but as yet, nothing too special.
So, onto round 7 and the Channel Chop at Portishead YSC. A proper sea goer's race that was likely to favour the bigger Osprey. And so it turned out, with the grateful Hawkes' nipping a win in the final minutes of the race after an untimely capsize from the race leaders DJ Edwards & Mike Greig (Osprey). The local Willcocks' took 2nd in the Fireball, whilst Ben Flower could only hold onto 4th, putting his chances of a series win in serious jeopardy. The ever consistent Chris Jones put in another 8th place, keeping him in contention.
Round 8 was the Starcross Steamer, but once more the storms battered the SW, leaving race organisers to cancel the Steamer for the first time in its long history.
We moved quickly onto Wimbleball Lake a week later, for the Exmoor Beastie. A good fleet of K1's turned up for this race in the most beautiful sunshine. The gentle but shifting breezes seemed to suit these small keel boats as Andrew Snell took 1st and Jeff Vander and Gordon Keyworth finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Only Peter Barton (RS Aero 9) could get amongst them, finishing 2nd. Further down the fleet, Chris Dyer picked up 6th place, and Chris Jones 9th. The Hawkes' could only muster a 10th place, which would surely be discarded. Flower needed a result here, but sadly couldn't make the race.
The SSW Winter Series finale would once more take place at Royal Torbay YC with the Torbay Tornado. Flower was once more unable to attend, making this race a victory lap for the incoming champions, Nemo and Simon Hawkes. Once more we were greeted with beautiful sunshine and light breezes. A fleet of 5 blazes took to the water in this one, including Chris Dyer. It was very tight between Dyer and Chris Jones in the points standings and they both had a chance to knock Stacey Bray out of 3rd place. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be for Jones who was late to the start and unable to make up ground, leaving him back in 10th.
In the Tornado, first Izzy Cramp (Byte) and then Charles Gillmore (RS Aero 7) led the race for a long time. Series regulars Eric Evans and Karen Raymont in their beautiful Redwing held off the marauding Blaze's in 3rd place for much of the race but eventually Chris Dyer and Andrew Chorlton found a way through, with Chris taking the race lead. The Hawkes' were not finished yet however, and they battled their way through the fleet to get to the front with 30mins remaining on the clock. Even the Hawkes' couldn't match the pace achieved by the B14 of series sponsor Tony Blackmore (of Admiral Trailers) and Charlotte Cooper. They set off last but big sails in light winds was a dynamite formula and they were gaining all the time on Chris Dyer's Blaze and the Osprey.
The B14 passed the helpless Chris Dyer with just minutes to go, but time ran out in their hunt for the Osprey, leaving them in 2nd place. The final race win went to the new SSW Winter Series Champions, Nemo and Simon Hawkes. The Hawkes' competed in all 8 races of the series, picking up an impressive 3 race wins and a 2nd place. Ben Flower takes 2nd place in his Laser after 2 race wins and a 4th and 5th place. The really impressive 3rd place from Chris Dyer in the Tornado leap-frogged him above Chris Jones (5th) and Stacey Bray (4th), to claim 3rd place overall. Eric and Karen finished 6th in the race - their best result yet - getting them up to 6th place in the series, just ahead of another regular contender, the Merlin Rocket of David and Ros Downs who picked up 9th place in the Tornado.
Congratulations to the Hawkes' from Castle Cove SC on their Series victory. We can't wait to see what happens next season!
Thanks once again to our series sponsors, Allen Sailing, GJW Direct Insurance, Admiral Trailers & Gul Watersports, each of the host clubs and their volunteers and of course to each of the competitors who make the SSW Winter Series such a fun, competitive and exciting series of pursuit races!