The Ronstan British Finn National Championships took place over the 6-8 July, ably hosted by Christchurch Sailing Club, with racing out in Christchurch Bay. The championships attracted over 50 entries, from afar afield as Australia, South Africa, Germany, France and even Scotland!
Day 1 of the championships greeted the sailors with sunny skies and a decent 15-knot SW wind, providing optimal racing conditions. The first race of the day was characterised by a lumpy sea and relatively small wind shifts, making it hard to call which side of the beat to play. Allen Burrell (Thorpe Bay SC), making a return to competition after shoulder replacement surgery, got it right, leading around the windward mark of the two lap windward/leeward course, chased hard by defending champion Cameron Tweedle, (WPNSA) pumping furiously downwind as the Oscar flag permitting free pumping was flying all day. Third was multi-class champion Nick Craig (Burghfield SC), hot foot back from the previous week’s OK Worlds, followed by the evergreen John Greenwood (West Kirby SC).
Thursday’s second race saw the breeze drop slightly to around 12 knots and the tide turn, flowing strongly westwards at the windward mark, allowing the lightweight helms a fair crack and intensifying the competition. This time youth dominated over experience, with BFA U23 squad graduate Cameron Tweedle taking the win, from Nick Craig, (Master) and James Downer, (Open, Gurnard SC). Lawrence Crispin (Stone SC) in his new TT2 Finn claimed the fourth spot, pushing the experienced Greenwood and Burrell into 5th and 6th positions. Throughout the day, the organisers shared updates and highlights on the class Instagram account, allowing fans and Finn enthusiasts to stay connected with all the action on the water.
On Friday the sailors faced several obstacles, including recalled starts, shortened courses, and unpredictable wind conditions. Despite these challenges, three races were successfully completed.
The first race was started in a little over 5 knots, which then failed to develop as the Race Officer expected, so the race was shortened at the end of the first run, as the fleet crept painfully over the finish line. Nick Craig ably demonstrated his light airs skills to take the win from John Greenwood and James Downer, who chalked up his second consecutive third place. A long delay then followed, whilst the developing sea breeze battled with the gradient SW, the two cancelling each other out whilst promising Cumulonimbus clouds were making slow progress over the coast. After an hour or so, the sea breeze dominated enough to allow the course to be re-set and race 4 started in 7-8 knots.
The fleet split from the startline, some putting their faith in the left side and the hope of extra pressure as they headed out towards the Needles. Tim Tavinor (GBR 9) led the charge to the left, rounding first and making a welcome return to UK Finn racing, after founding Devoti Boats and then building Finns at Petticrows, from Jim Downer. Crispin and Greenwood followed but there wasn’t much in it as others steamed in from the right. Cameron Tweedle fought back to third, ahead of the consistent Jim Downer in 4th, Tim Tavinor scoring his best result in 5th. The racing was incredibly close, with intense battles occurring at the windward mark each lap. In the third race, the leaders demonstrated their skills by breaking away from the pack on the first downwind leg and gradually extending with each subsequent leg.
The breeze increased further to a healthy 8-10 knots for the final race of the day, providing champagne sailing for all the fleet in the hot sun and developing waves. Lawrence Crispin, firmly in the zone, repeated his trick taking a second win of the day from Tweedle, Craig and Greenwood, leaving the overnight points very close and all to play for on the final day. Cameron Tweedle led with 8 points from Nick Craig with 9 points, Crispin with 11, Greenwood with 12, Downer with 16 and Burrell 18. Just 10 points separated the top 6, underlining how competitive the fleet British Finn fleet is today and the high level of talent it continues to attract, whilst still providing great fun and enjoyment for all the 50 sailors in the fleet.
After a demanding day on the water, the sailors gathered for a great championship dinner in the clubhouse, enjoying a well-deserved break before the next day’s activities. It was great to chat with the international visitors, Bob Buchanan, (AUS 6) who brought his OK Dinghy and Finn to the UK to compete in both the OK Worlds and the Finn Nationals, whilst World Sailing Vice-President Philip Baum (RSA 51) borrowed a boat to fit in a return visit to the British Nationals at Christchurch, having enjoyed it so much in 2016.
Saturday’s forecast was not promising, with a gray sky and the hint of rain to come, again delaying the formation of the hoped for sea breeze. After a postponement ashore, the fleet sailed out through the picturesque Christchurch harbour and onto the great race track that is Christchurch Bay. A few tentative starts were cancelled as the fitful breeze struggled to develop, but the weather didn’t deter a noisy powerboat race go thundering across the bay to Poole.
Eventually the cloud cleared and the sun brought a building sea breeze, allowing a final 3 lap course to be set before the time limit for racing expired. Those at the pin end of the long line were convinced there was a 20 degree bias in their favour, whilst those by the Committee boat were similarly convinced that their end was best, hinting at a split in the breeze across the course.
Greenwood won the pin and headed off to the left, but was surprised to only narrowly round ahead of those steaming in from the right, who either found stronger pressure or tidal assistance out on the right. Allen Burrell showed great speed to pull through to second, but Nick Craig found his route up the middle right left him with a lot to do to retain his second overall slot, only managing to salvage a 5th despite his great pace and experience. Cameron Tweedle similarly had some work to do, but when the Oscar pumping flag went up on the second lap and the Finns enjoyed the great surfing conditions as the wind topped 12 knots, he showed is downwind technique honed from the international circuit, pulling up to 3rd at the downwind finish.
Others clearly enjoying the conditions included the event organiser Simon Percival, who threw off the shackles of organisation to score his best result with a fourth, cementing a 7th overall in his elderly and well-travelled Finn – proof you don’t need a new boat to be competitive in the Finn Class. Similarly, International Class Executive Director Robert Deaves finally found time to get back in his classic boat for the first time in 4 years and was delighted to finish in 11th spot. Albacore sailor Phil Smith enjoyed his first races in a Finn, sailing the Richard Blowman class loan boat, Finn-spiration, and promises to be back for more.
Sadly, for ex Laser World Champion Lawrence Crispin, his sixth place dropped him to 4th in the final standings, as John Greenwood’s under pressure win leapfrogged him up to second, just 2 points astern of Cameron’s 11 point winning score.
Back ashore after the fleet was again efficiently recovered by the helpful shore team, the sailors enjoyed a generous prizegiving. Everyone received a great prize from sponsors Ronstan and Intego Pro, as well as the prestigious class perpetual silver trophies for the race winners, inscribed with the names of British Finn illuminati, Law, Howlett, Percy, Simpson, Ainslie, Scott and many others who have gone on to even greater success.
It was great to read all the positive WhatsApp messages from all levels in the fleet, many racing their first-ever Finn Nationals, who had all enjoyed the mix of competitive racing at a very welcoming venue, with a great race track and a perfect mix of socials and sailing. Free beers after the racing provided a great opportunity to unwind and swap stories after the racing, and for Finn newbies to gain advice from the old hands-on tips and techniques.
Cameron Tweedle thanked the Christchurch club and their army of willing volunteers for a great event, paid homage to the excellence and camaraderie within the UK Finn fleet and looked forward to defending his title again in 2024 at Hayling Island.
An after-party followed on Saturday evening, featuring a live band and some impressive dance moves from the remaining Finn sailors that stayed the course, rounding off a fantastic three days of fun-packed racing.
Photos by Lotte Johnson and Gareth James
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