The SB20 fleet converged on Strangford Lough Yacht Club last weekend for their second regional event of the year, the Northern Championships. The forecast was for sunshine and 15 to 25 knots of breeze all weekend so plenty of thrills and spills were expected and the venue certainly didn’t disappoint.
Race 1 on Saturday saw a general recall at the first time of asking with the fleet a little enthusiastic to get started. The OOD went straight to black flag as promised and immediately put manners on the fleet. A more line-shy bunch started cleanly at the second time of asking. The fleet split evenly right and left up the first beat and by the weather mark Ridgeway (Peter Kennedy, David Cheyne and Stevie Kane), Bad Kilcullen (Stefan Hyde, Jerry Dowling and Jimmy Downling) and Sin Bin (Michael O’Connor, Davey Taylor and Ed Cook) came out just ahead of the chasing pack. The kites went up and the boats blasted down the run on a white-knuckle ride at speeds of up to 17 knots. At the second weather mark, Sin Bin led from Rideway and Bad Kilcullen with the Howth Yacht Club crew of Binn Eadair Racing (Cillian Dickson, Sam O’Byrne, Gordon Stirling and Diana Kissane) chasing hard. Another wild run ensued with Ridgeway and Binn Eadair Racing taking full advantage of a gust down the right side of the run to move up to first and second places respectively. A feature of the racing this year is that it is incredibly close with mere boatlengths separating the finishers in most races. At the finish, it was Ridgeway by half a length from Binn Eadair Racing with Sin Bin a further half boatlength behind in third.
Race 2 again saw Bad Kilcullen, Ridegeway and Sin Bin lead the fleet around the course and in the end Sin Bin took the gun from Bad Kilcullen in second and Ridgeway in third. By Race 3, the bodies were beginning to hurt a bit and fatigue was rapidly setting in – this was turning into a battle of wills as the wind continued to blow hard. Race 3 was won by Sin Bin with Binn Eadair Racing second, the pair separated by no more than a boatlength at the last weather mark and enjoying a rollercoaster ride including a gybing duel down the last run to the finish. Race 3 saw a welcome return to the podium by KnowHowDo (formerly Dinghy Supplies crewed by Daragh Sheridan, Shane Murphy and John Phelan), eeking out a third place to add to their consistent 4, 5 finishes in races 1 and 2. Race 3 also saw a welcome return to form by Outlaw (Gavin Pollard, Trevor Darcy et al) who led around the first weather mark in their first SB20 event in nearly two years, showing the newbies how to do it! By the end of Day 1, Sin Bin (5pts) led from Binn Eadair Racing (11pts) with KnowHowDo (12pts) in third place just ahead of Ridgeway and Bad Kilcullen (13pts).
The fleet retired to the welcoming surrounds of Strangford Lough Yacht Club where the crews enjoyed some apres sail pints before a wonderful dinner in the club. The SB20 fleet were joined by some local members from other classes who came to see what all the fuss was about. The fun continued long into the night until the sailors eventually went to bed to nurse their weary bodies in anticipation of more wind on Sunday.
Day 2 dawned with a slight easing of the breeze, down to 8 to 12 knots, gusting up to 18 knots at times. The first race of the day saw Binn Eadair Racing take a convincing win from Bad Kilcullen in second and Ridgeway in third. The overnight leaders Sin Bin could only manage a 9th and with the discard kicking in after four races, the leaderboard tightened up with Binn Eadair Racing and Sin Bin now tied for the lead on 5 points each with Ridgeway in third on 7 points with Bad Kilcullen only a further point back on 8 points, so it was all to play for.
In Race 5, Binn Eadair Racing came hot out of the blocks and led the fleet around the first weather mark with Ridgeway, Sin Bin and Bad Kilcullen all outside the top five and with a lot of work to do. By now, the runs were getting a bit patchier and shiftier with boats alternating between planing and soaking modes so there were big gains and losses to be made and opportunities to catch up. By the leeward mark, Binn Eadair had held onto their lead with KnowHowDo in second and Sin Bin creeping up into third place. Up the second beat, a favourable right hand shift allowed Sin Bin to overtake KnowHowDo and they trailed Binn Eadair Racing by less than 10 boat lengths at the weather mark. After the second placed boat rounded the spreader mark on the last run, the two leaders both quickly gybed onto port and Sin Bin in second were able to take advantage of getting a gust earlier and overtook Binn Eadair down the run to lead in to the finish, with Binn Eadair racing second and KnowHowDo third. Bad Kilcullen recovered to finish fifth but this would not allow them to overtake Binn Eadair overall. Ridgeway were for once unable to recover and could only manage a ninth. A notable result in this race was Carpe Diem (Richard Hayes, Colin Galavan and Hazel Rea) who sailed their shiny new tub into a very creditable fourth place finish (to add to consistent 5th, 6th and 7th place finishes in other races).
So with five races down, it was effectively down to Binn Eadair Racing and Sin Bin in a final race shoot off for the title. Both boats started poorly and quickly bailed out right up the first beat. Up ahead, local favorites Sharkbait (Darren Martin, Simon Murray and Roger Pannell) led around the weather mark closely pursued by Bad Kilcullen and Ridgeway. A big left shift up the first beat resulted in the two series leaders being well down the pack in 7th and 8th going around the first weather mark with Sin Bin just ahead of Binn Eadair Racing. Again, the wind became a little patchy down the run with large gains and losses to be made. Venuesworld (Ger Dempsey, Rory Groves and Chris Nolan) manoeuvred their way into first place ahead of Sharkbait and Bad Kilcullen while behind them Sin Bin had pulled up into fifth place with Binn Eadair Racing in sixth. There was a split at the leeward gate between Sin Bin and Binn Eadair with Binn Eadair getting more pressure at the start of the final beat out towards the right hand side of the course, overtaking Sin Bin in the process. Up the final beat, the boats out left including Venuesworld and Ridgeway suffered in lighter breeze while Sharkbait, Bad Kilcullen, Binn Eadair and Sin Bin out right made solid gains. In the last 50 metres to the weather mark, a slight wind shift allowed Sin Bin to pull just ahead of Binn Eadair Racing once more, a lead which they kept to the end of the race. At the finish, Bad Kilcullen held on to their lead and won with Sin Bin pipping Sharkbait for second place on the finish line. Overall, Sin Bin (8 pts) won from Binn Eadair (11 pts) with Bad Kilcullen (14 pts) completing the podium in third.
A special word of mention must go to the organisers, Roger Pannell, Simon Murray, Darren Martin and Peter Kennedy and the members of Strangford Lough Yacht Club who did a magnificent job organizing the event, making it memorable occasion for all the competitors. We are sure that Strangford Lough will be a regular spot on the SB20 calendar in the future.
Next up for the fleet is the Irish National Championships in the National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire from 29th June to 1st July. The national fleet are expected to be bolstered by competitors from the Ukraine, Russia and the UK as preparations for the SB20 European Championships held in the Royal Irish Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire from 28th August to 1st September 2018 hot up.