We had five Otters competing at the RS Feva Nationals over the Bank Holiday weekend, James and Kathryn Hutton-Penman, crewed respectively by Tom and Matt Jayasekara and Arthur Brown, crewed by BSC sailor Niamh Davies. The event was hosted by the Royal Torbay Yacht Club at Torquay.
Conditions over the weekend were a real test. The practice race on Saturday was sailed in relatively light winds but a huge swell which resulted in seasickness retirements, Sunday in 25+ knots of wind, Monday in almost nothing (and when there was wind it was shifting all cover the place) and the Tuesday in 15 – 20 knots, torrential rain and poor visibility.
The Feva fleet has no age limit so children as young as nine compete against adults for the same prizes; it makes for some interesting helm crew mixes! The general level of sailing at the front is now as good as any other youth fleet with the top Oppie sailors competing against Laser and 29er sailors (coming back because they enjoy the fun). The fleet is relaxed (first guns go off at 12:55 allowing for the teenage lay ins) and with almost 110 boats attending, there was plenty to fight for and plenty of competition.
Our three teams were certainly some of the smallest and lightest, not helpful given that two of the four days it was blowing very hard. The second day offered three races to qualify for Gold and Silver fleet, conditions were really harsh with constant 20 – 25 knots and gusts of 30 knots but all qualified for gold fleet with James and Tom picking up a 1st place in the first race of the day (having won the practice race the day before).
Day Two was horrible for our sea sailors. In the first race Kathryn and Matt were in the top ten at the windward mark only to be hit by a huge shift which resulted in them ending up almost last. However “every cloud has a silver lining” because Arthur and Niamh were on the right side of the shift and scored a brilliant seventh. After the second day James and Tom were lying in sixth, Arthur and Niamh had pulled themselves up to about 35th but poor Kathryn and Matt had dropped from 35th to 45th after really suffering.
The final day dawned (to some degree) with the winds blowing hard again and torrential rain so only Gold fleet was sent out initially. Three more races were sailed but Arthur and Niamh and Kathryn and Matt struggled in the windy conditions and downhill sailing with spinnakers. In the final count both ended up finishing in the lower quartile of Gold fleet but given the conditions, their ages and their lack of weight I think this was a very good performance. James and Tom were fighting it at the front and finished in seventh but were right up with the south coast sailors on points, the 8eighth placed boat having almost double their final score. They sailed eight races in total, the boys scored seven top ten finishes including a 1st, 2nd and 4th.
Other Burnham Sailing club boats did equally well with Chay and Sterling Taylor finishing in an unfortunate 10th, a broken jib halyard and a start line incident resulted in them having to retire from two races which pushed them back, and Flynn Davies and his crew finished 11th.
Next stop after our local open is the Inlands (where there is a rumour that an old timer may be crewing one of the boats) and then the Worlds – our three boats are in good shape and the children are learning all the time.