The weekend of 3rd & 4th September saw 18 Finn Sailors from across the country converge on the Dee estuary at West Kirby Sailing Club for the 2016 UK Masters Championship, combined with the Northern Area Championship. With an ambitious 12 races planned, the weekend promised to be gruelling but fascinating experience with combination of sea and marine lake sailing on the programme.

With an inconsistent forecast in the run up to the championship and but the promise of some rain and potentially big winds. Competitors begun to arrive in glorious sunny and warm conditions of Friday afternoon. However, Saturday morning brought a strong southerly breeze and showers at first as the competitors hauled their Finns across the West Kirby mud towards the advancing tide for a first start at 11:45.

Principal race officer Adam Whittle took the fleet out to deep water in the main channel and faced a challenge setting the course with a gusty force 5 from the south against a strong flood tide. Whittle stamped his authority early indicating at the briefing that any General Recalls would be followed immediately with the Black Flag – therefore maximising race time.

Despite the current ripping across the line, the 15 sailors who braved the conditions started cleanly at the first attempt in race 1 with Flag ‘Oscar’ firmly displayed. The short, sharp chop made for some difficult sailing conditions, but it was Warsash’s Martin Hughes mastered them early to take the first bullet closely followed by Allen Burrell and John Greenwood.

With the wind now showing signs of moderating and starting to veer towards the south west, the increasingly shifty conditions made for some tactical upwind sailing. Under 23 Squad sailor Cameron Tweedle established a commanding lead early on, demonstrating great skill downwind in negotiating the confused sea state. John Greenwood continued his good form from the previous race but had to settle for 2nd to the youngest sailor in the fleet (and by some margin), with Mengeham’s Michael De Courcy rounding off the top three.

Race 3 saw the wind moderate further to a shifty 15 knots and it was Allen Burrell who took the extreme right hand side of the course to win in the now rapidly ebbing tide hotly pursued by Cameron Tweedle. Mengeham Rythe sailor Julian Smith, who took the 2014 West Kirby Nationals, proved that he was intent on staying in touch with the leaders finishing in third.

The sailors returned ashore for lunch, as the tide rapidly receded and the sailing area became land once again. With heavier showers and a seemingly dropping breeze (contrary to the forecast), sailors began preparing for an afternoon of lighter wind sailing on the marine lake.

Following an initial briefing the fleet launched into West Kirby’s amphitheatre of sailing for two ‘sprint’ races. The marine lake is widely known as the venue for Team Racing’s premier event – the Wilson Trophy but now it was a fleet of Finns taking no prisoners. The locals strolling the promenade and walls of the lake are no strangers to colourful fleets of Fireflies but the spectacle of 18 Finns reaching along the length of the lake planning flat out provided an altogether different and more impressive sight for the public. The wind had veered all the way to west and gusting 30-35kts at times, providing no respite for the already weary fin sailors.

With the wind now across the lake races 4 and 5 were about strength endurance and speed. The reaching starts became a test of starting technique, close-reaching and, unfortunately for some, gybing! This allowed some sailors lower down the standings to either post improved results. Huddled groups of spectators were delighted by the dramatic capsizes and close quarters combat at the windward spreader mark. However, the top of the leaderboard was now looking set, Cameron Tweedle powering away for a further two bullets and Allen Burrell, John Greenwood and Julian Smith sharing the minor positions in both races to keep in touch.

After a fine evening of great food and plenty of liquid refreshments in the clubhouse, Sunday morning brought another grey start and yet more wind. This time from the north-north west but still a gusty 25 knots prevailed. The scheduled on lake start of 09:30 was postponed to 11:30 on the estuary as the frantic lake sailing was abandoned in favour of three, one hour races. This would make up an 8 race series giving the sailors two discards. At the top of the fleet, all was to play for with Allen Burrell leading the Masters but second to Cameron Tweedle overall for the Northerns who was only 3 points ahead. John Greenwood was not far behind in third and in a position to challenge both was Julian Smith hot on their heels.

After a short wait for the sea to arrive, and for the wind to moderate, the fleet launched on the Dee estuary again to round off proceedings with only thirteen sailors ventured out. A steady force 4 had settled in from the north making for great sea conditions, especially for some downwind surfing in some much welcomed sunshine. Many struggled to find the starboard lay-line in the ripping flood tide leading to some place changes and chaotic scenes at the windward mark in races 6 and 7. Race 6 saw local boy John Mackie post his best result of the championship coming through the fleet from a good start to finish 3rd.

Despite Allen Burrell’s best efforts, Cameron Tweedle continued his dominance in securing the Northern Championship by posting a further three first places. Returning behind the line in race 8, and believing himself to be on the course side at the start (OCS), Cameron Tweedle still rounded the windward mark in fourth and then schooled the masters fleet in downwind sailing to power through to win showing an almost unstoppable pace.

Allen Burrell, however was not slowing and had a consistent three races posting second place to Cameron Tweedle in each ensuring he would be taking home the Master’s Trophy. John Greenwood managed to work his way through the fleet in a couple of races holding onto third overall and the Masters runner-up slot. Julian Smith let John Greenwood slip away after a capsize downwind in race 6 and then struggling to find the pace in the final two races finishing in 5th.

Once ashore, the concluding prize giving was very generously sponsored by Suntouched Sailboats who donated some fantastic prizes to the event, gratefully received by the sailors through the fleet and by the prize winners:

1st Overall & Northern Area Champion Cameron Tweedle

2nd Overall & UK Masters Champion Allen Burrell

3rd Overall John Greenwood

1st Master John Mackie

1st Grand Master Allen Burrell

1st Great Grand Master Richard Philips

Thanks are due to the army of West Kirby members who volunteered their time and resources to the event in running the beach party, galley and safety boats. Principal race officer. Adam Whittle and his team did a fantastic job in maximising the racing and the time on the water and setting some quality courses in challenging conditions. Ashore, Catherine Hartley headed up the organising team bringing all the elements together to ensure a warm welcome was extended to the visiting sailors, closely assisted by Rear-Commodore and Finn Grand Master Jean-Louis Simmons.

Overall, a fine weekend of sailing was had by all. The growing fleet of West Kirby Finns were delighted that so many made the effort to travel from the extremities of the country to attend the championship, the Finn’s second foray to the Wirral. The home fleet look forward to welcoming the class next year for more quality racing showcasing the Finn class to more prospective local Finnsters!

Full results here.

Report by Sam McDougall GBR 693

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