The 2009 Radial Nationals was hosted by Paignton Sailing Club from July 26-31. Like last year it was an extremely close championship with the title only being decided on the last race. For the 97 competitors it was a hard week which was not only wet and windy but with the breeze coming on the land every day, shifty too. Numbers were slightly down as the Europeans had finished only the week before. The Nationals were held the same time as the Women’s Worlds and the week before the Men and Youth Worlds, all in Japan.
The format of the event was four days of round robin with the fleet split into three groups, followed by two days of finals. With such small fleets (just over 30 boats) Principal Race Officer was able to get virtually every race underway without a general recall which is practically unheard of in a Laser fleet, although admittedly he did use the Black flag on every start!
Day one and the first start was for Green group. Eight times Radial National Champion Steve Cockerill laid down his challenge, crossing last year’s winner Jon Emmett and then loose covering him. Cockerill had the edge in upwind pace and although Emmett closed the gap downwind Cockerill took the race comfortably, and indeed with Cockerill repeated the exercise in race two with another show of great upwind pace in the strong southerly breeze.
Also enjoying the conditions was top student Richard Talbot in the blue group. He also scored two first places, being chased home by top Irish man Andy Byrne who was in second on both occasions.
Lastly there was the Red group. With the fleets doing alternate courses (first start Outer loop trapezoid, second start Inner loop, third start Outer loop) the fleets never really met. However young Jack Wetherell who is still a Junior and definitely a name to look out for in the future was catching the blue fleet in both races to start the regatta with a perfect scoreline of two firsts. Robbie Urwin, fresh back from the Europeans was second in both races.
Day two and Emmett remained in the first start. A huge left shift came through at start time and promoted Steve Harper into what looked like an unassailable lead. However Emmett closed the gap downwind to be third at the end of the run, moving into the lead up the beat. However the wind then went back right, with Ian Fitzgerald and Tom Weekes passing Emmett and Harper. Emmett managed to pass Weekes on the final run but had to settle for second with Fitzgerald well clear. Harper was extremely unlucky to be pushed into fourth. However for the second race of the day Emmett made no mistakes, getting into the left hand shift first to score his first bullet from Talbot.
In the blue fleet Wetherell was also on the right side of the big left shift if only for a few minutes. Jon Currie chased him home.
In the second race Wetherell made his only mistake of the round robin having to settle for third when the wind once again went from westerly to south westerly and increased up to around thirty knots. The race was won by Richard Keates from James Hamer.
In the final group Cockerill, having watched the previous two starts made no mistakes to tighten his grip on the Championship with two race wins, both by a healthy margin. Olly Porter and Richard Cumpsty took the second spots.
Day three Cockerill was first on the start, crossing the fleet immediately after start time. He never looked back, scoring a comfortable couple of firsts, pushing Talbot into second on both occasions.
Likewise Wetherell in the second start scored a couple of bullets, and with the discard now kicking in he stayed tied with Cockerill on points for the Championship. Andy Byrne once again had a day of two second places.
Meanwhile Emmett failed the intelligence test: having got the timing wrong he sheeted in on the one minute, and realising his mistake he quickly returned to the right side of the line, but it was too late, Ken Falcon had his number… In the actual race Emmett pulled through after a mediocre start to win the race, but was obviously disqualified, giving the race to Keates from Christian Townrow. However for the second race Emmett managed to start correctly taking the win and pushing Keates into second.
Day four and there were some scary forecasts floating about; the wind was once again from the south with big gusts and the average rain fall for July trying to come in one day. Only one race could be sailed in the end with the fleets launched one at a time after a delayed start. However like every day the fleet was still ashore by two-ish, thanks to having a separate start and finishing boat, meaning there was no delay in getting the fleets away as soon as they were at the starting area.
There were no surprises when Race seven was won by Cockerill, Wetherell and Emmett (with runners up Talbot, Keates and Craig Williamson). Going into the final series things were extremely close with Cockerill and Wetherell on a perfect score of six points chased by Emmett on nine and Talbot ten. With the fleet now split into Gold, Silver and Bronze (top third, middle third and bottom third) the racing was only going to get harder in the Gold fleet!
Race one of the finals had the wind moderating and from the west saw Emmett on the right and Cockerill on the left. When they came together Cockerill had the edge but only just. Emmett chased hard and Cockerill could not pull away. Emmett eventually passed him on the right down the final run. However Cockerill went left, picked up more pressure and moved ahead again. Emmett moved back to the left to get the pressure but went too far, sailing out of it, allowing Cockerill to extend to a more comfortable lead that he held to the finish. Wetherell had a disappointing race with an eleventh and with only one discard allowed in the final series this piled on the pressure.
Race two and Emmett was left of Cockerill and passed in front. However Nigel Heath from Canada and Talbot were further left and round the top mark in first and second, but by the bottom mark Emmett was in the lead from Talbot, and Cockerill had pulled up from second. Emmett put in a quick hitch to cover the fleet and then went left, but it was not enough and when the right shift came in Emmett, Talbot and Cockerill were passed by ten boats from the right with Townrow taking the race from Dan Ellis. Emmett having pulled through to fourth was just boat lengths from the leaders at the finish but Talbot and Cockerill scored eleventh and sixteen respectively, using up their discard. Wetherell suffered even worse with a twenty fifth, severely damaging his Championship hopes.
The final day’s races saw the wind return to the south as it had been the first day but with a more moderate breeze. Emmett started second from the pin with Cockerill further up the line. Emmett held on going left until the first big shift whilst Cockerill took a more conservative approach going right early with the fleet. When the shift came in it promoted Emmett to the lead but he ran out of pressure near the top mark and was crossed by Porter and Townrow from the right. Down the run Emmett moved into the lead and extended it for the win from Porter and Townrow. The race for the Championship was going on further behind with Talbot in sixth and Cockerill in seventh.
Going into the final race Emmett led Cockerill for the first time in the regatta with twelve points to fourteen, but a race win or a second for Cockerill with Emmett finishing fourth or worse meant that he could still take the title. Emmett was discarding a fourth and Cockerill a sixteenth, so if Emmett sailed Cockerill to third or worse the event was his.
At start time Emmett found Cockerill and sat underneath him on port as the fleet lined up. With a few seconds to go Cockerill started trying to look for a gap. Both Cockerill and Emmett found space late and started poorly but the race was general recalled with three boats sent home for an early shower.
Once again Emmett found Cockerill but was unable to hold him. Both lined up mid fleet with Cockerill underneath Emmett and unable to tack. Emmett tacked on the first shift of the line and worked the middle of the beat whereas Cockerill went left. The leaders Keates, Keates (Ann Richards’ Mum), and Clarke all came from the right with Emmett rounding fourth and Cockerill ninth. By the bottom mark it was Emmett from Keates (Richard) and Clarke, and this was the order to the finish, giving Emmett both the race and the Championship. Cockerill pulled through to fifth to secure second from Talbot.
The beauty of racing in three fleets is even if you are not right at the front of the overall stands you have a chance to win races and your fleet during the finals. Jamie Watts sailed an excellent final series in the Blue fleet never finishing worse than fifth to take the division. Richard Major hang onto second despite a disappointing last race with David Williams taking third place beating James Hammer on tie-breaker and Billy Miness by a single point, amazingly close after an eleven race series!
Finally the Bronze fleet had a clear winner with Chris Wheeler who scored 1,1,2,5 on the final two days to take the fleet comfortably although once again it was close behind for the final podium places with Luke Barlow second and Jon Evans beating Max Williams on tie breaker for third spot.