The British Finn Masters Championship attracted some of the best single-handed talent in the UK, with at least three world champions and over five national champions spread amongst the 26-boat fleet. Keyhaven Yacht Club hosted the event over the 6-7th May Coronation weekend and ran an excellent series of races across a wide range of wind and tidal conditions.
Saturday morning’s forecast was for rain and a SW of 15-18 knots with gusts to 25, which made for somewhat damp boat rigging! Undaunted, PRO Nigel Walbank, (himself a successful ex-Finn racer) sent the fleet out to the race course on time for three back-to-back races in the relatively protected waters inside Hurst Spit.
The championship was held on the anniversary of the tragic passing of Richard Blowman at the same event and venue. Keyhaven Commodore Andy Ash-Vie requested that the fleet fly a black ribbon from the masthead in memory of Richard, whose boat has now been purchased by the class after a fantastic fundraising effort by the members, and is now available for would-be Finnsters to try the boat – already resulting in one new convert.
The first race was started against the flood with the Oscar pumping flag flying and saw Martin Hughes (Warsash SC) battling at the front of the fleet with Nick Craig Burghfield SC) and the only Open (non-Master) competitor James Downer (Gurnard SC). Nick showed his experience to soon take the lead and the downwind pumping energy of Jim Downer carried him past Hughes who finished a very creditable third.
The second race saw the spring tide swiftly turn and build rapidly as the Solent waters exited via the Hurst Narrows, speeding up the upwind leg of the windward/leeward course and extending the four edgy runs, which were positioned dead downwind, offering a tactical choice of which side to take and when to gybe. The steep chop caused a few challenges for the faint-hearted but didn’t really deliver great surfing conditions. Nick Craig once again marked his return to the Finn class with another faultless performance, this time followed closely by Martin Hughes, ahead of Jim Downer and Lawrence Crispin (Stone SC)
By the third race energy levels were seriously depleted, as the gusty South Westerly peaked at 23 knots and the lumpy sea made the beats exhausting and the runs heart-racing for those that attempted to pump one-to-one. Multi-class champion Nick Craig proved his dominance in the conditions again, despite not being up to full Finn fighting weight. Fitness was now showing through, with Jim Downer claiming second ahead of the consistent Crispin in third and Hughes in 4th. An exhausted but exhilarated fleet returned safely to shore for a long lie down and a quick Coronation catch-up.
Sunday was a completely different story with sun and light winds forecast. At the briefing, Nigel Walbank confidently predicted the conditions for the day: a 6/8 knot breeze would arrive in time for the first start at 11.00, the tide would then turn for the second race and a sea breeze kick in for the finale. Right on cue, the light SW breeze materialised, providing a tactical choice of starting at the Committee boat and seeking out the weaker tide on the right or striking out for the mid-Solent and the possibility of more pressure. The first beat saw some of Saturday’s leaders anchored in mid-fleet whilst some of the lighter-weight sailors clearly enjoyed the conditions. 2022 Masters Champion John Greenwood (West Kirby SC) recovered from a below-par first day to lead, from Lawrence Crispin who was keen to test the light airs speed of his new Dutch built TT 2 Finn. John Heyes (Warsash SC) managed to overhaul both Crispin and Greenwood on the last run, taking the left-hand gate before the short beat to the finish. However, a major right-hand shift at the other gate saw both Greenwood and Crispin fetch the line in one, whilst Heyes was left to tack and trail in third. Nick Craig recovered well from mid-fleet to 5th, just behind another recent returnee, Tim Carver (Warsash SC) in 4th.
As the PRO predicted, the second race started just after high tide, but the speed of change and strength of the new ebb tide caught many out. With a slightly pin-favoured start, half the fleet started at that end, expecting a stronger tide to be building to carry them upwind. However, local knowledge dictated that the tide turns first inshore, despite the shallower waters, so those on the right all arrived at the windward mark first. John Greenwood again took the lead, this time in front of Martin Hughes, proving he could make his Fantastica Finn go well in the light, although the wind was now a solid 8 knots, making for comfortable hiking conditions upwind. The tide strengthened considerably, catching many out if they didn’t tack early enough before the windward mark lay line.
Sited at the western end of the Solent, Keyhaven benefits from the first of the sea breeze, which in this early season weather often doesn’t extend much further up the Solent. So as the line was adjusted for the slightly shifted wind, the sea breeze arrived at a perfect 12 knots, giving the fleet a final opportunity to surf downwind as Oscar was raised. Lawrence Crispin recovered from a back spasm that put him out of the previous race to claim a clear win, ahead of Jim Downer, who had uncharacteristically struggled in the previous two races, ahead of Nick Craig in 4th.
Across the two days, Nick Craig was the clear winner with three first in the heavier conditions, proof that with a soft mast you don’t need to be a heavyweight gorilla to sail a Finn in 20 knots! Lawrence Crispin took the runner-up spot by a point from Jim Downer, (who won the Open category,) ahead of John Greenwood as the third Master.
Photos by Alex Pepper.
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