Paradise found! Firefly South West Champs just the remedy needed after lockdown.

Nigel and Emily in 3007 TipTopToo

The annual rush to the sun used to be all about old-style VW Campervans spending a lot of time on the M5 and A30 hard shoulder talking to the RAC. This year however it was 31 Fireflies who braved the bank holiday traffic and made the annual pilgrimage to paradise for the South Western Championships at Restronguet SC. The only time spent on the hard shoulder was by a past class chairman who spent three hours persuading the police that their Firefly double stacker was secure! The lengths we go to to get to the mecca for Fireflies! 

The weather that greeted the fleet was, as usual, perfect with glorious wall-to-wall sunshine and great breeze – what else would you expect from the best venue in the world! As the generously spaced visitor boat park began to fill up, everyone was full of praise for Restronguet SC having managed to put on an event that actually felt normal despite the social distancing measures in place. It was great to see everyone again after so long! 

Each year this event seems to attract more and more of the front end of the Nationals fleet, and this year was no different. The riders and runners included several Nationals top three positions. Racing was going to be close and intense!  

A leisurely first start gave plenty of time for admiring the work on the boats which had undergone lockdown refits and discussing Angus Cook’s “Bimble or Bollocks” thread on the Facebook group: would the fleet’s lockdown obsession with soft shackles (great tutorial from Marlow Ropes in last Spring’s bulletin) end in calamity! But of course the most hotly debated topic was Ethel, Guy and Frances Davison’s now Facebook famous sheep –  when would she lamb? Would it be a world record? The whole fleet were on tenderhooks waiting to hear! 

Day One

In sublime F2-3, racing commenced at midday. The variable breeze, ebb tide and enthusiastic fleet tried hard to test Henry Metcalf’s (PRO) and Patrick Clark’s patience on the committee launch. After so long in lockdown, the fleet were raring to go and it took several general recalls to get the first race off. Eventually, the black appeared and 31 Fireflies shot away. Early leader Dom and daughter Izzy Johnson showed us all their new transom on a sparkling MkIV conversion of  F3154 “Gemini Too” (ex-John Tagg)

Both sides of the beat seemed to pay with Guy “Notorious OAP” Davison and Amy Bowden in ‘3318’ Lynestra and Nigel Wakefield and Emily Saunderson in F3007 ‘TipTopToo’  in close pursuit. Three rounds in testing conditions, shifts, tide and variable pressure allowed plenty of scope for position changes and Guy and Amy found benefit on the left side on the second beat edging in front of early leader Dom and Izzy, which they narrowly held to the finish.

The second start was a quicker affair, much to the fleet’s pleasure. Wind strength and direction held, tide under the fleet increased. A tight start commenced. Class Chairman Chris Kameen and Jenny Johnson in F3937 “Smutty” (another boat fresh from lockdown refit), the defending South Western Champions Jamie and Jo McEwen in F3615 ‘Skirmish’ and Stuart “The Hud” Hudson and son Robbie “SonofHud” Hudson in F3850 ‘Fursty Ferret’ all looked to be early chargers. Again Guy and Amy were able to quickly tack to port from the middle of the line, and at once looked good again, this time taking a left of centre line to the windward mark. 

Very close racing ensued!  On the second beat boats came in from both sides, as can be the case on the east shore under St Just. Chris and Jenny being chased hard by brother Paul Kameen crewed ably by his son Ludo in F2018 ‘Biscuit Buffalo’. On leg five, the run, the leaders edged too far down tide causing several gybes and a slow run into the mark allowing Guy and Amy on a transit to edge closer.  Now it was anyone’s race with shifts, pressure changes and tide all confounding the fleet. The Notorious OAP  found a good route and made a charge to the front which they held to the finish. Chris and Jenny took second, and the McEwen’s third.

By now after several restarts it was late afternoon. The fleet was a little weary, so was the wind. As Race 3 started the breeze had more or less vanished.  The first beat was challenging to say the least!  Ed Smith and Izzy Bretherton in F2803 ‘Grendel’ and Steve and Arthur Greaves in F1867 ‘Cumulus’ showed patience, cunning and zeal, with Nigel and Emily and Dom and Izzy looking equally good. Guy and Amy were stuck in the early twenties and frankly down the pan (Some say he’d peaked too soon, others years too late. Guy said he needed his afternoon nap!!!) Team Hud was also on a charge and certainly looked threatening to the leaders. The fickle wind played havoc with competitors’ nerves and happily for some led to a shortened course.  Yes you guessed it, Stuart and Robbie made it look easy and took line honours in a masterful performance. Nigel and Emily banked a second and Dom and Izzy a third.

So at the end of Day 1’s racing, Guy and Amy were overnight leaders leaving the fleet pondering what was Guy taking (Steroids?  glucose tabs? Phyllosan fortifies the over 40’s….) or if he was just using the sheep to distract us. Nigel and Emily and Dom and Izzy had both made strong starts and were both very much in the running too. Anything could and was happening on the course. All to play for over the two remaining days in the next four races!

Normally Saturday night is curry night but COVID restrictions forced bubbles to go their separate ways in search of food and booze. Planned trips to the Pandora Inn were aborted when the perennial Firefly favourite ran out of food and Tribute! Fortunately the Lemon Arms had no such issues, although there were mutterings of sacrilege for going a day early! 

Day Two

An unusually lively fleet arrived on Sunday to a sunny fresh easterly. Nigel and Emily were on a mission in the first race. They won the pin, worked the left and lead at the first mark. Stuart and Robbie Hudson and then Dom and Izzy used superior downwind speed to overtake on the reaches. The insanely close racing continued for three shifty laps, always far from processional. Nigel and Emily prevailed on the all important final leg, followed by the Hudsons. Locals Dave and Betty Sincock F973 ‘Spiderling’ pipped the Johnsons to third.

In the fifth race Dom and Izzy took on Nigel and Emily at the pin. At start time both boats were gybing out and taking transoms. With neither side of the beat being favoured most boats arrived at the top mark in a 20 second window. It was another family affair at the front as Chris Kameen and Jenny Johnson lead from Chris’s brother Paul and his son Ludo. Nigel and Emily recovered from their starting debacle to finish third. The Hudsons taking fourth with Jamie and Jo McEwen fifth. Ashore Chris was equally excited to have beaten his brother as he was that he and Jenny had taken their maiden win since teaming up for the 2018 Nationals. 

With a first and a third Nigel Wakefield and Emily Saunderson leapfrogged into the overnight lead.

After a breezy day there weren’t a lot of takers for the Chichester-Smith single-handed Championship. The drama of the race came from the “Barry Battle Royale” between Sarah Hickman sailing F3713 ‘Barry Girl’ and partner and helm Ben Pym who’d borrowed Fursty Ferret from Hud. In the end Sarah emerged victorious, crossing the line in second behind local Darren Williams in F3193 ‘Magic’. Angus Cook in F3695 ‘Officer Dibble’ took third despite dodgy splicing leaving him with only bungee holding his toestraps on.

Sunday night in true Firefly style we managed to still have a party without actually having a party. The traditional Lemon Arms takeover not possible, an impromptu series of socially distanced BBQs was quickly organised on the beach in front of the club. Highlights included the dads producing an extremely large kettle BBQ they could all stand around tongs at the ready swapping barbecue tips in the most stereotypically dad way possible, the appearance of seals and the news at the end of the evening that Ethel the sheep had finally given birth to two lambs! 

Day Three

There were a few sore heads from the evening’s socially-distanced revelries as the fleet drifted into the boat park for Sunday’s racing. But the prospect of glorious sunshine and another fresh Easterly was enough to revive even the most committed wine drinker (you know who you are!). Most were surprised (a few relieved) to see ex-chairman Ed Smith. He had SUP’ed across Falmouth estuary in the dark the night before to get to his accommodation.

On the water, Race 6 got off with only one general recall. The left unexpectedly – unless, of course, you’re the legendary Phil and Jilly Slater – payed on the first leg. A couple of the younger members of the fleet had followed the super speedy seniors up the beat and seized the opportunity to make their move on the leaders. Ben Pym and Sarah Hickman tried to sneak in to the leading pack but were firmly denied by Guy and Amy, the resultant tank-slapper leaving them with turns. With the two boats slowed in front of them Ben Green and Fi Edwards in F1522 ‘Pandemonic’ were forced to gybe round to avoid colliding with them and Nigel and Emily and were spat out of the back of the very close fleet. 

Dom and Izzy Johnson took the win followed by Dave and Betty Sincock, Ed Smith and Izzy Bretherton and Ben Lumby and Liz Evans in F2659 ‘Kong’. 

Henry Metcalf’s and Patrick Clarke weren’t taking any chances after one aborted start in Race 7 and the race started under black flag. Angus Cook and crew and Matt and Will Mason in F3181 ‘Top Dolly’ fell victim to the black and bobbed back home early – unluckily for Will who had bet his daughter Polly that he’d pack up her boat if she beat him in a race!

At the first mark, locals Sophia Cracknell and dad Alan Hulbert in F2502 ‘Cyclone’ rounded ahead by several boat lengths to some riotous whooping and cheering from the other Restronguet boats.

The race that followed saw lots of place changing but in the end, it finished as it started with line honours all about the locals. Darren Williams and Verity Slater  in F3193 ‘Magic’ took the win in a close battle over Ben and Liz. Then Nigel and Emily took third followed by Jamie and Jo and Guy and Amy. Early leaders Sophia and Alan came home in sixth.

Following a pasty lunch and some packing up it was time for the socially distanced prizegiving on the Club lawn. There was some surprise that Peter and Dawn Langdon had managed to stick to their Firefly retirement this time. Of course the multiple Championship winning pair were still a welcome presence manning the tally board – unless you were Ben Pym who got a telling off for forgetting to tally! After thanks to the galley, the race team, safety boats and the posse of retired Firefly sailors manning the tally board the prizes were dished out..

A strong final race performance meant the close battle of the Helmswomen went to Sophia Cracknell from Restronguet SC who was accompanied by her adorable future crew to collect her glassware. Amy Morris and Gilly Phillips from Hayling Island SC were second, Lucy Boreham and Rachel Crebbin from Chichister third and Polly Mason and Maddy Greaves from Burghfield SC fourth.

Top of the Junior Helms was Matt Mason from Burghfield SC who was playing in the sea when his name was announced and came up with a soggy entourage to collect his prize. 

Then it was on to the main prizes.Third place to Dom and Izzy Johnson from Chipstead SC who beat Stuart and Robbie Hudson on countback to take the final step on the (imaginary due to COVID) podium. Second place went to Guy Davison and Amy Bowden from Llangorse. This left birthday boy Nigel Wakefield and crew Emily Saunderson from Spinnaker SC to lift the trophy

In his acceptance speech Nigel praised Restronguet SC and gave a shout-out to Phil (and Jill) Slater before leading the assembled Firefly sailors in a chorus of cheers for the club members who’d helped make the event a success and of course his crew Emily. 

The whole Fleet parted, eager for the next two events at Rickmansworth and South Staffs and the 75th Anniversary National Championship in August.