Hosted jointly by the enthusiastic Lymington J/80 fleet, the Royal Lymington Yacht Club and supported by the Lymington Town Sailing Club, this year’s J/80 Nationals could be summed up by misquoting the most famous Briton… Never was so much packed into so little (time) by so few (organisers).
Having dispensed with the analogies, it is correct to highlight the fact that in just three days PRO Roger Wilson and his team ran 9 near-perfect races, in winds from 0-30kt, tides from 0-4kt, using two very different race areas set 7nm apart. Meanwhile, on shore, competitors and guests enjoyed a genuinely ‘rammed’ social programme with well-organised and supported functions every evening. To further help things along, organisers and event sponsors sorted out three days of sunshine to accompany the complete range of sailing conditions.
Day one saw the 25-boat fleet head into Christchurch Bay for three testing races, which passed successfully as the wind ranged from 1-16kt knot and shifted around much of the compass. ‘Nimble but successful’ would best describe the race committee’s efforts to run fair courses as the playing field tipped back and forth. At the end of the day’s three races local boats were in the ascendant, Oly Dunford’s Purple Haze steered by Simon Shaw topping the table from Chris and Hannah Neve’s No Regrets and ‘young’ Ray Mitchell and a team of real youngsters on Checkmate.
Mitchell’s youthful team would go on to have an exceptional regatta, only interrupted when their boat was badly damaged by a port-tack rival in the strong breezes of day 2… God bless redress.
Day two brought the breeze and lots of it with four fast races in the Western Solent. By now the two favourites had found their feet, multiple J/80 champion Kevin Sproul’s team scoring 2,1,1,1 and regular J/80 performer John Powell on Betty ending the day with 1,2,3,2.
As well as Checkmate’s earlier crash, there was some off-piste action for Fiducial crew Al Newton – builder of Iain Percy’s gold medal winning Star boats – who achieved some nice air when flying overboard during a rather too speedy gybe. While ‘Flipper’s’ crewmates struggled to dowse the kite and turn around Chris Kirkman’s crew on Jane eventually picked up the (moderately) grateful casualty.
The final day was a race officer’s nightmare, but that evening Roger Wilson and his race team were still smiling having completed two good races, now back in Christchurch Bay, almost pulling off one more before the morning’s zephyrs faded completely. Wilson’s patience was rewarded two hours later when the sea breeze finally filled in, with a race win for No Regrets and (more) grey hair for Kevin Sproul, shut out at the start but fighting back to 8th to take the overall win by 4pt from John Powell and Betty.
With Sproul taking his 5th national J/80 title and Powell a worthy runner-up, the family Neve – top local boat – slotted in to 3rd overall.
The Corinthian prize duly went to Ray Mitchell in 5th… plus merriment for the scorers who spotted some rather too illustrious T-shirts among the amateur entries!
Kevin Sproul’s polished victory aside, a big prize would also have been appropriate for those behind such an excellent event, Jim White and James Harrison, plus the Royal Lymington’s now legendary administrator Kirsty: just hours before the ‘gala’ dinner the club’s two chefs walked out – for good. Rather than do what most normal folk would have done, order up 150 Chinese takeaways, Kirsty and a tiny team, with nicely chaotic local support, cooked and served 100 covers exactly as planned. Who wants a grumpy chef anyway?
Last but not least, as well as convincing superstar umpire John Doerr to interrupt his global schedule for a weekend of local entertainment, White and Harrison had arm-twisted enough sponsorship for this regatta to run an America’s Cup. So on their behalf, thank you to those who dug deep… Skyscanner, Amis Productions*, Nick Cox Chandlers with Helly Hansen, Seahorse Magazine, Berthon, Lymington Yacht Charters, North Sails, Rum Jungle, Marston Brewery, Go Ape adventures and Garmin.
* The very slick Amis Productions video of the event can be viewed here https://youtu.be/KMU6eo12CxM