For the third time this season a Hong Kong team is leading the way in a major Solent Etchells regatta, this time the Gertrude Cup run by the Royal Thames Yacht Club.
This invitational series sees competitors being provided with a fully rigged Etchells with almost new and equally matched sails so that it provides an incredibly level playing field for the international teams.
The Hong Kong team is led by James Badenach with Martin Wrigley, Christian Thompson, James Peters making up the four man team. On Saturday evening the Hong Kong team were tied on points with the US youth squad led by Connor Needham / Jimmy Kennedy / Hannah Polster and Brooks Daley who in fact carried the leaders red spinnaker into Sundays racing by dint of a tie-break having won the second race on Saturday. These two teams shared first and second places between them on a day of solid 18 to 23 knot winds. The only other team to show at the front were the Royal Yacht Squadron team led by Bruce Huber, crewed by Edmund Peel and Angus Hemmings. They took third in both races so the top three were well locked in. This is a long, 13 race series over five days however so there was all to play for on Sunday.
The day started off brightly and the fleet were off for race number three on time at 10:30 in what became a quickly increasing breeze. Many of the boats were set up for lighter breezes (it was no more than 8k knots at the start) but by the start of the second lap in race one of the day it was already gusting 15 kn. Throughout the day the wind built until it was in the early 20s by the end of the day and the threatened rain storms were looming over Southampton.
The first race of the day also saw a stormy start for the Hong Kong team who had a very small start line incident which led to them doing circles on the first beat. This didn’t seem to stop them too much as they recovered to second place just ahead of the US youth team and Hong Kong took the series lead. Stars of the first race on Sunday morning however were the Grieg City Academy team with their Solent tactician Matt Reid ably assisting them.
With the tide just on the turn this race was mostly about the shifts and Matt Reid called the top half of the beat perfectly to come in from the right hand side and lead. From there the team with Montel Fagan-Jordan helming, Camillo Orobio in the middle and Shabazz Patterson on the bow sailed imperiously to the finish line and the sound of the winning gun. This team, who are training for the Fastnet race in ten days-time had never sailed Etchells before this year and although they had a few weeks practice in the spring, including winning one of the spring training regattas, they haven’t had a chance to compete since, so their win was an excellent statement of how fast they have learnt to compete in the boat and how composed they have been under race pressure. The Huber / Hemings / Peel team were the victims of a big crash at the top mark and had to retire.
Thanks to excellent work by the on the water repair team, Principal Race Officer Phil Lawrence and his team were able to get race four away promptly and with the tide just starting to ebb the left was considerably more popular. The Royal Yacht Squadron team led by Bruce Huber bounced back strongly and, sailing a replacement boat, they led all the way round. There was no stopping the Hong Kong team however who came home second to gain another point on Connor Needham and his American youth team who came in third. After four races the Hong Kong team had only firsts and seconds while the American team had everything in the top three. Other than the Yacht Squadron team from Cowes everybody else was struggling to stay in touch but the Royal London Youth Academy Team (who says the Etchells is an old man’s boat by the way?) of Ted Blowers, Oli Aldridge, Will Birch-Tomlinson and Will Bedford (son of Solent Legend David Bedford) did put two fourths on the scoreboard to make their mark.
Race five got underway with a bit of committee boat bias. The Maltese team led by David Anastasi (Maya Podesta / Christoph Podesta / Kane Seychell) had a good clean lane from the windward end and with excellent speed they led most of the way round. They showed solid boat handling and good enough speed to stay away from the chasing pack until about 100 m from the end when they had jib halyard problems which meant they lost the bullet right on the finish line by half a boat length to the fast finishing Hong Kong team. Montel Fagan–Jordan and Matt Reed led the Greig City Academy to another great result finishing third in race five, having come off the pin and blasted left to get into the best of the now stronger ebb tide. This gave them third on the day and moved them up to fourth overall in the standings and closed the points gap to Bruce Huber’s team who had an uncharacteristic eight in race five. A really outstanding effort from Montel and the team.
James Badenach and his team from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club therefore finished Sunday – and the first five races of the regatta – counting one, one, two, two, two for a three point lead over Connor Needham (USA Youth Team) and the overall leaders Red Spinnaker for race day three on Monday.
Other than the top three the rest of the fleet (including teams from Nigeria, Australia and a second USA Youth Team) are all highly competitive. Despite being in the top three overall the RYS team were unable to do better than eighth in the last race as half a dozen boats all finished within 40 seconds of each other. Other than the weather competitors are being treated to an outstanding regatta with very close racing and fabulous after racing food & drink back on the dock. It has been commented on by more than one wet, tired sailor that the sandwiches, cakes and truly amazing pavlova in the regatta marquee is well worth the battle round the Solent in the rain!
The forecast for Monday is a slightly lighter NW’ly which will be a different challenge. Tuesday looks light while for the last day on Wednesday the long-range forecast suggests another stonking SW’ly to round out the racing. The Solent is never a dull place to race!
by Laurence Mead