A gentle breeze and slight drizzle greeted the 38 Contenders who rolled up to Rutland Water over the weekend of 24/25 Oct for their climax to a busy season, the Inland Championships. However by the time they took to the water the breeze had started to build and the rain had stopped.
The first race got away cleanly with Simon Mussel making it to the windward mark first, closely followed by the usual suspects including Matt Aston, Stuart Jones and Gary Langdown. The beat had done nothing to split up the main fleet and a broader than expected first reach didn’t help matters, resulting in a busy first gybe mark and big gains by those who went low. By the bottom of the second trapezing reach things had started to shake down a bit with the front group pulling away. Mussel maintained his lead to the finish with Jones taking second and Aston third.
Race 2 got away with the breeze around 15 knots and continuing to build, but not without the classic inland holes and shifts. The pin end starters seemed to get the best of it, tacking onto a nice lift for the layline. Langdown rounded first followed by a bunch including Mussel, Jones, Ben Holden, Nick Grace and John Browett. By the bottom of the second reach this front bunch were still all pretty close but with Mussel pushing hard to get the advantage he took a swim and disappeared out of contention. By the windward mark the breeze had built to around 20 knots and Holden, loving these conditions had started to stamp his authority. By the beginning of the next beat the breeze had really started to kick in with gusts of 25knts plus which where accompanied by a shift favouring the right side of the course. Grace, Stuart Backhouse and Stacey Bray where all able to take advantage of this and moved up to second, third and fourth respectively, Holden just managing to hold onto his lead. The next 2 downhill legs to the finish were Contender sailing at its best, fast and furious with the recently dethroned leading bunch keen to make up lost distance. Holden crossed first, followed by Grace with Jones on his transom. Bray held fourth with Aston 5th.
The breeze way now officially honking so the fleet made for a lee shore inlet while the Race Team wrestled with the course. All too soon it was time to venture back out for race 3. Another clean start saw a battle of the Titians develop between heavy wind heroes Mussel and Holden as they disappeared off up the first beat in a plumb of spay, leaving the mere mortals to fight over the lesser positions. At the windward mark it was Mussel followed by Holden, Langdown and Nick Noble. By the leeward mark Grace and Jones where pressing Noble, with Jones just slipping into 4th .The next beat saw Neil Ferguson make a move up to 6th with Grace struggling to keep on the pace upwind and Noble regaining 3rd from Jones. By the top of the last lap the first 3 places where established as Mussel, Holden and Noble, finishing in that order. Jones rounded 4th but was robbed on the line by a charging Aston, desperate to make up for a poor start.
With racing over for the day it was time to retire ashore for beer and grub at the local pub. With even more breeze forecast for tomorrow many a competitor was seen scoffing large mixed grills washed down with copious amount of beer in an attempt to bulk up for the next days showdown.
Sure enough the following morning we were greeted by even more wind and a certain reluctance amongst the fleet to go afloat. With several vicious wipe outs on the way down to the start area we knew we were in for a treat. The race got away first time in gusting 30 knots and again the left side seem to favour. With some of the fleet over standing the layline it was Aston who arrived at the windward mark first, only to fluff the tack and capsize right on the mark. This made a closely following Grace and an irate Mussel overshoot the mark, allowing Holden to find space from nowhere and round 1st. On the reach both Grace and Mussel overhauled Holden but Mussel was hit by a massive gust as he prepared to gybe and wiped out to windward. Once round the gybe mark Grace, who was suffering from the shock of not only surviving the gybe but also finding himself leading, sailed the second reach like a nancy boy allowing Holden and Noble through. By the top of the next beat Ferguson had stormed up to 3rd with Jones 4th and Browett 5th. At the bottom of the run Grace had closed back in and rounded behind Jones, only to have Jones capsize on the tack and let him through. The first 3 were now well established as Holden, Noble and Ferguson, finishing in that order. With Jones taking another swim on the beat, this left Browett and Grace to bicker over 4th. In the event it was Grace who took 4th from Browett, with a rather damp and bemused Jones crossing in 6th. Credit must go out to all who finished the race the race in what was by then quite extreme conditions, with particular admiration for Bray, the only one with the nerve to “2 foot” the final reach.
With the wind now blowing stupid knots the race officer called it a day and it was time for the long hard beat back to the club, with many competitors passing the time trying to remember if the discard had kicked in. It hadn’t but that make no difference to Holden who took the well deserved title of Inland Champion either way.