The fleet arrived at a sunny, relaxed, picturesque and sheltered Itchenor Sailing Club for the revived Itchenor Burgee two-day open. Despite clashes with the Birkett, Round the Island Race and the biggest Summer Sail Week week nine Fireflies still managed to make the trip to Itchenor – perhaps tempted by the debut sail of the brand new Ovington Firefly!
The fleet were joined by six of our friends from the Lark class.
On first glance, the as-yet-unnamed first new Ovington-built Firefly F4400 wasn’t much different to the Old Rondars but when you looked closer Ovington’s attention to detail and the benefits of the new vacuum bagged production were instantly evident. Of particular note to the recent graduates were the sturdier gunwales and thwarts, the all-new Allen rudder stock and the use of bolts instead of screws!
Veteran pairing Nigel Wakefield and Emily Saunderson were first afloat – taking the Ovington for her maiden splash. The relaxed mood ashore changed when we took to the water. The cheer and bonhomie became a sense of impending doom as we turned the corner to an onslaught of rough water and sea spray. It was a day for the adult combinations, so special mention to juniors who braved the venom.
First Firefly casualty was F1522 ‘Pandemonic’ sailed by Class Chairman Ben Green and Fi Edwards which had a soft shackle go bang as they powered up off the slipway. Aided by a rescue boat they were able to fit a spare and get on their way.
Race 1 started in breezey and choppy conditions. Most of the fleet hugged the committee boat end to avoid a capsized Lark while latecomers Ben and Fi had no option but to go for the port tack start. Tom Kosteletos and Hugh Tomkins in Hugh’s new boat F???? ‘Firefly’ still managed to get “Larked” and opted to wait out the race.
The first beat was a showcase for Alex Baxter and Ella Vincent (third in Lyme Regis did you know) in F2246 ‘Scruffy’ who demonstrated blistering speed to round the windward mark clear ahead. Guy Davison and Sally Wakefield in F3318 ‘Lynestra’ demonstrated the big breeze mastery that saw them dominate in 2017 and 2018.
Behind them, Nigel and Emily hadn’t quite found their groove in the new Ovi and had their first coming together at the mark as they clipped the rig of Ben and Fi. There were laughs and cries of “Just testing!” as the two boats took off side by side down the reach.
As the fleet got to the end of the final beat a Lark, sadly lost its rig. Gideon and Iona Sherwood in F2525 ‘Hookey’ lost their balance trying to avoid them on the run and ended up taking a swim.
Alex and Ella sped to victory in front of Nigel and Emily and Guy and Sally. Behind them the battle for fourth was close – an over-keen gybe in an attempt to get past Jono Pank crewed by 12-yr-old Thomas Knight in F1954 ‘Pogie’ nearly spelled soggy disaster for Ben and Fi. This allowed Mark and Beatrice Tait in F498 ‘Dido’ and George Yeoman and Oscar Stephens in F2594 ‘Bloodhound’ back through to a commendable 5th and 6th.
Guy and Sally fell foul of a rogue gust and were very OCS. By the time they could fight their way back downwind, the fleet was halfway up the beat.
The ballistic gusts and short choppy waves made sailing hard going. Even the grown-up boats were starting to feel the burn. By the third lap, the Larks were too scared to put up their Spinnakers – cowards! The Firefly crews were still showing their mettle with an impressive display of heavy weather jibsticking – especially from the youngest crews.
At the penultimate mark, Nigel and Emily led comfortably from Jono and Thomas with George and Oscar and Ben and Fi scrapping for third. Guy and Sally had managed to pull away from Hugh and Tom, Mark and Bea and Gideon and Iona and battle their way back up into touching distance with the leading pack. They took off screaming down the final reach in hot pursuit. This very quickly changed meaning as Lynestra quite literally took off out of the water in what can only be described as the most spectacular capsize the fleet has seen in some time accompanied by synchronised girly screams.
Hugh and Tom narrowly managed to survive another savage gust and clung on to finish 5th. Mark and Bea weren’t quite as lucky and were forced to retire whilst Iona Sherwood coaxed her Dad Gideon to sixth.
As the day progressed the wind further increased and the tide started to rip. The channel was getting narrower and shallower, boats were starting to fail and capsizes were becoming more common. The conditions were so fruity that even Chairman Ben was reported to have pulled on some Cunningham – a control that was previously thought to be decorative on Pandemonic.
The fleet stayed tightly bunched this time, with a lot of place changing behind the new Ovi which took the lead early. With the water fast disappearing and a lot of out-of-control Larks to avoid Nigel and Emily performed what was described as a “Heroic granny tack” and headed for the penultimate mark. Jono and Thomas came storming in behind them to take second with George and Oscar able to hold on to third.
Behind them, there was an intense gybing battle between Alex and Ella, Ben and Fi and Hugh and Tom for 4th. Ben and Fi were able to capitalise on their weight advantage to take a more ambitious line and started to gain rapidly on the leading boats only to pull up sharply having hit something with their rudder. The injured boat cautiously made their way back downwind towards the club with their broken blade. Alex and Ella claimed the 4th and Hugh and Tom came home 5th.
Alex and Nigel fancied another go-round but after three races and the wind now at 30 knots, the race officer had seen enough and called it a day. The Ovington Firefly acquitted itself well on its first outing with a scoreline of 2,1,1 and a day one win. Alex and Ella’s 1st, OCS in race 2 and 4th in race 3 gave them second overall and Jono and Thomas’s strong day with an improving 4th, 3rd and 2nd scoreline left them a well-deserved third.
Guy and Sally arrived back to shore under tow in remarkably good spirits considering they had snapped their mast and broken their boom – lucky we have an awesome new builder who’s committed to keeping spars in stock and a great insurance partner to make it happen!
Oscar Stephens got the best slipway welcome – having done especially well in helping George Yeoman finish all the races.
The select group of Fireflies were greeted by 15 knots which was a comfortable relief after Saturday’s menacing gusts. The fleet was back to the tactical racing we’re more accustomed to. The course was set further around the bay near Thorney Island.
The first three positions were shared by the same three boats in all three races. Guy Davison and Sally Wakefield used the new Ovington (Please insert your own comment here about the youngest boat and oldest helm). The boat went well under their seasoned eyes and they finished 3rd overall.
Jono Pank and Thomas had impressive downwind speed and scored on improving 3,2,1 to finish second overall. Nigel Wakefield and Emily Saunderson had dashed back to Southampton to pick up their usual ship, F3007 ‘TipTopToo’ and scored 1,1,2 to take the event.
Unfortunately, Alex Baxter and Ella Vincent’s main halyard had shrunk overnight, so they missed the first race but came back strongly with two 4ths. That was just enough for them to beat their trailer buddies Tom Kosteletos and Hugh Tomkins with a 4th and 5th. Ben Sherwood took over from his sister and talked his Dad Gideon around the course for a second day to finish sixth overall.
A massive thank you Itchenor Sailing Club for hosting the event and awarding the historic Itchenor Burgee Trophy. Also, a big thank you to Ben Sherwood for presenting the prizes.
1st Tip Top Too, Nigel Wakefield and Emily Saunderson, Netley Sailing Club
2nd Pogie, Jono Pank and Thomas, Imperial Poona YC
3rd The new Ovington, Guy Davison and Sally Wakefield, Llangorse Sailing Club