Sixteen SB20s battled it out off Ireland’s Eye last weekend in a hotly contested Eastern Championships. With 0-6 knt winds forecast for the weekend, PRO Paddy Judge and his HYC team did an excellent job getting six fair, high quality races completed over the two days.
Race 1 on Saturday saw the fleet head off from a in a patchy 6 knot easterly breeze. The holes were treacherous and highly localised and if you were unfortunate enough to find one, you could easily lose several boat lengths on a competitor mere boat lengths away from you. The boats that tacked off early and headed towards the island on the right hand side of the course fared best with Sacre Bleu rounding just ahead of Ridgefence and Sin Bin in a close third. Finding clear air and picking the right shifts and puffs downwind were of paramount importance and Ridgefence and Sacre Bleu called it to perfection extending their lead over the fleet down the run. Also making a charge to the front were the teams aboard Sharkbait and Alert Packaging. At the finish, Ridgefence had managed to overtake Sacre Bleu with Sharkbait completing the podium places.
With a dying wind forecast, PRO Paddy Judge very wisely chose to keep things moving along swiftly and once all the fleet had finished, the marks were re-laid and the fleet were quickly back into a starting sequence for Race 2. Defending champion Lia stole the biased pin end and tore away from the line like a scalded cat. However, with the wind forecast to veer all day and the right side of the course being favoured up to that point, there were soon anxious glances over their shoulders looking for an opportunity to get back across to the right and consolidate their lead on the fleet. By the time that they did manage to get across, things had evened out somewhat and there was the usual melee at the windward mark with no quarter asked or given. Again, the ability to find clear air and pick the right shifts and laylines downwind resulted in large gains and Alert Packaging picked their way down the run beautifully to lead at the leeward mark from an overlapped Sin Bin and Ridgefence. The three lead boats battled it out over the next lap and at the finish it was Sin Bin in first from Ridgefence in second and Alert Packaging in third.
After a short break, the race team decided to get Race 3 off and running. Sacre Bleu showed a return to form and stormed into a healthy lead that they would not relinquish. Alert Packaging were relishing the light air conditions and added a solid second place to their already impressive 4, 3 scoreline from races one and two. Meanwhile, Bango with a new crew on board for the first event of the season seemed to have got the hang of things sailing together and sailed exquisitely to grab a very creditable third place, showing their nerve to keep the chasing pack at bay up the last short beat to finish.
At the end of day 1, the boats returned to shore mentally exhausted for the second half of the Munster match, pints and chats in the bar of the always hospitable Howth Yacht Club. It was very tight at the top of the scoreboard with Sacre Bleu (2,5,1) on 8 points leading from Alert Packaging in second (4,3,2) on 9 points. Ridgefence (1,2,8) and Sin Bin (6,1,4) were a further two points back on 11 points, with Sharkbait (3,4,6) on 13 points in fifth with a 7 point cushion on defending champion Lia (5,6,9) on 20 points in sixth. With more breeze forecast on Sunday and a discard to kick in after race 4, it was all still to play for on day 2.
Day 2 dawned without a zephyr showing on the water. With the forecast being for the wind to veer and build, the race committee signaled a brief postponement on shore and patiently waited for the wind to fill in. The wind (what little of it there was) shifted around from the north west to the east and began to build as promised so the race committee dropped the AP and made their way out to the race course in a 5 knot easterly. The course for Race 4 was set and the fleet were in sequence until a large right hand shift 1 minute before the start meant that the race committee abandoned the start sequence and again signaled a short postponement to allow them time to reset the marks and provide an even course. Once the course was re-laid, the fleet got away and again it was Colin Galavan and his crew on Sacre Bleu that showed a clean pair of heels to the fleet, taking their second gun of the weekend. This time, it was Sharkbait doing the chasing on behalf of the pack with Sin Bin taking third. Ridgefence were most unfortunate to be involved in a collision at the first top mark which threw them somewhat and they could only manage ninth in race 4. After the discard was applied, the team on Sacre Bleu were on an impressive 4 points overall (counting a 1,1,2) and had extended their lead to four points over Sin Bin and five points over Alert Packaging and Sharkbait.
As always in SB20 racing, you can’t count your chickens and Race 5 threw in a curve ball to make for a spectacular interesting finale. Race 5 got off at the second time of asking under U-flag and saw Timber boss the pin end of the line before making their way out to the better breeze on the left side of the course followed closely by Sin Bin on their hip. Series leader Sacre Bleu were for the first time a little line shy and were forced to tack onto port shortly after the start and head out to the less favoured right hand side of the course. At the weather mark, Timber led from Sin Bin with Sharkbait in a close third. One by one, the boats gradually peeled off onto port gybe to get out of the adverse current on the right hand side of the run. At the leeward mark, the three lead boats converged with Timber and Sharkbait coming in on starboard gybe and Sin Bin coming in on port gybe. All three of the lead boats rounded together with Timber on the inside, Sin Bin on the outside and Sharkbait the filling in the sandwich. The three lead boats battled hard around the next lap and in the end it was Sin Bin that took the gun from Sharkbait with Timber just pipped for third place by a charging Ridgefence. Another notable result was the newly formed team on Binn Eadair bagging a fifth place in Race 5. They certainly didn’t take long to get the hang of things!
So, after five races and going into the sixth and final race, Sacre Bleu and Sin Bin were tied on 9 points with Sharkbait in third on 11 points and Ridgefence by no means out of it on 14 points. Any of these four boats had a realistic shot at the title and it was all to play for. By now, the breeze had increased to an oscillating 10 knot breeze from the south east. Again, there was a pin end bias on the line and with a favourable tide (going upwind) and more breeze on the left side of the course, competition for a place on the front row was vicious. Timber once again took the pin with Ridgefence drag racing with them up the beat, with Ridgefence leading Timber around the top mark. Race six also saw a welcome return to form of 2016 Western Champions venuesworld.com and recent Spring Warmer victors Two Men and their Monkey both boats picking their way skilfully up the beat to be in contention at the weather mark.
As Ridgefence extended their lead all the way to the finish for their second win of the regatta, followed by Two Men and their Monkey in second and venuesworld.com in third, there was nothing more that Ridgefence could do other than see how the other three contenders behind them fared and see how the final points tallied up. Astern, the other three contenders for the title were in a tightly knit bunch. Going up the first half of the final beat, as the boats crossed tacks there was no more than three boat lengths separating Sacre Bleu, Sin Bin and Sharkbait, with Sharkbait leading the bunch and Sacre Bleu battling at the back of the trio. On the second half of the beat, both Sacre Bleu and Sharkbait tacked towards the right hand side of the course while Sin Bin split looking for pressure on the left hand side of the course. The pressure stayed steadier on the left and Sin Bin rounded the last weather mark in 5th one place and a few boat lengths ahead of Sharkbait with Sacrebleu a few places further back. Unfortunately for Sacre Bleu, they couldn’t make up the ground on the run and their race was effectively run. It was down to Sharkbait and Sin Bin to fight it out around the last few hundred metres. By the leeward mark, both boats had caught up with Timber (who were previously in fourth) so there was still hope for Sharkbait of putting Timber between them and Sin Bin in an effort to clinch the series. In the end, Sin Bin just held on to take fourth from Sharkbait in fifth, with Sacre Bleu finishing race 6 in eighth.
Overall, Sin Bin won the Eastern Championships with 13 points from Ridgefence in second on 15 points. Sacre Bleu took third place on countback from Sharkbait, both on 16 points. The winner of the Silver fleet was Timber.
Next up is the Northern Championships in the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, Bangor on 27th/28th May.