A gentle North to North Easterly breeze greeted the 13 mixed-handicap competitors for Clevedon Sailing Club’s annual John Ashley long-distance race. The course tests the crews’ abilities far out into the channel, where the tidal stream is greater, and even more so in light winds. Apart from needing boat speed; good timing, applying local tide knowledge and sometimes a dose of luck are what each crew is striving for. None such for Warren-Cox’s single-handed attempt in a Mirror, unfortunately suffering gear failure on the slip.
The wind direction meant race officer Sarah Hotchkiss set a windward first leg to Avon Buoy, the familiar green shipping channel marker opposite Walton Castle. The next two legs would be downwind; via Clevedon Buoy, the black and yellow cardinal mark about 2 miles out from Clevedon and then to the finish of the 7 mile course in the bay.
The Clevedon start line in this wind direction needs precise timing so that tide does not carry you over before the start gun. This fate befell the Willcocks twins’ 29xx and the Wayfarer of Turner/Turner/Elliott. Both had to return so as to start and thread their way through a beleaguered second wave of starters, who had suffered bad air and poor positioning and were still struggling to get going. Even before the end of the pier had been reached, the fleet had been split into two distinct groups, an initially subtle but later painfully felt gap. The ‘lucky’ early wave now cashed in on the last bit of breeze, to get most of the way around the counter-tide legs of the course before it became very light. This left the second wave between Avon and Clevedon buoys with much less pressure and sailing against the more swiftly moving current with some boats eventually going backwards.
Among the front-runners were Elliott/Fairhurst in an RS200, who had started impeccably, now finished fourth. Credit to the two visiting crews from Portishead YSC; a family affair, with twins Anthony and James taking first place and parents Andrea and Andy the second in a Fireball. The twins recovered their position, despite effectively starting later with the second wave . Third place went to the ever-consistent Martin Gibson in a Laser, whose well-judged start line position meant he was in with the very much advantaged head starters.