The expanding Europe class were really looking forward to an Inland champs at the beginning of October, after nearly all our events were cancelled due to coronavirus. Sadly with just one month to go, the host club cancelled, and it looked like the event would be another victim of COVID-19. However, we were incredibly grateful when Haversham Sailing Club stepped up to the mark and ran a fantastic Inland Championships for us, just one week later than expected.
Even at such short notice and with the challenges of regional restrictions, we had a great turnout of eighteen Europe sailors, who converged from all corners of the land to this delightful lake near Milton Keynes. The Europe fleet is very diverse in age and gender, but many are good friends, and it was great to meet up with mates again after so long. We were also delighted to welcome five sailors who had not previously attended a Europe event!
The first race started with a good breeze and gentle autumn sun, but various members of the fleet were somewhat confused about the start line. Ellie Clark and Hamish Morley thought they were in hot contention for the front of the peloton, only to be called back mid-race and told they had never started. They wisely chose to sit on the bank, eating sausage rolls while the race played out. Other sailors, still remembering how to sail, forgot the windward gate and had to double back on the upwind leg. At the finish, it was a convincing win for Steve Cockerill, who showed his mastery of gusts and shifts. Back in the Europe again for the first time in years, he also hadn't forgotten his 11,000 hours of Europe training from the '80s. Behind him was Alex Scoles, a long-time OK sailor, keen to try his hand in the Europe, rather than put on some pounds. John Tweedle, sometime Finn sailor who has lost the pounds, thought he had sailed a blinder to finish third, only to find he was OCS, handing third place to Tim Laws. Annabel Jones Laurie and Adam Catlow did well to push hard near the front of the fleet too. Kathryn Walker-Green was going really well in a borrowed boat until she had to do turns on a reedy leeward shore.
By race two the breeze had built a little but became gustier with stormy skies. Barry, the cheerful race officer, clearly thought we needed a new challenge and added buoy 9 to make a tight slalom course. As Barry well knew, buoy 9 was also set in a black hole of windlessness, that would push our puddle-sailing skills to the limit. A gusty reach along the length of the lake was followed by a challenging slalom in front of the clubhouse. At times boats seemed only to be powered by a flukey wind in the top third of their sails. Boats at the front of the fleet were rewarded for smooth sailing, beautiful tacks and keeping their eyes out for any clues to the vagaries of the wind. Tim Laws and Malcolm Morley managed to keep Steve Cockerill behind them for some of the race, but in the end, Steve took the win, with Tim and Malcolm behind him in 2nd and 3rd. It was Jon Tweedle's race of the day, finishing 4th without being OCS.
Race three again saw a challenging slalom around one end of the lake with some nice long reaches and a beat at the breezier end. Buoy 9 still featured and remained sitting in a wind shadow that challenged everyone. George Crammond managed to capsize, whilst gybing around mark 4. Still, he did an incredible job of fighting back to finish second behind Steve Cockerill. Joe Penhaul Smith finished a close third.
The final race of the day was by far the closest with Tim Laws and Steve Cockerill match-racing the last legs of the race. Tim Laws actually managed to overtake Steve at one point for at least 10 seconds, or 5 or maybe just 3, but he did overtake! There was also some excitement at one of the gybe marks with Hamish Morley nearly capsizing and Alex Scoles looking for a gap that was never there. Steve Cockerill finished first again with Tim Laws second and George Crammond third.
Steve Cockerill was a decisive winner of the event but won hearts in the fleet for passing on tips and coaching between racing. His smoothness in the boat was great to watch, and he has inspired those just behind him to push harder. It's also worth mentioning that Steve won hearts amongst some of the spectators for his beautiful baby-pink boat.
The boats of the Europe fleet are as diverse as the sailors, with three boats sporting older rigs, Steve Whitby was the first of those in 8th, to win the "tin rig trophy". Also worthy of a mention was Luke Lazell, with his beautiful wooden boat, built by Gerry Ledger.
It was great to see new faces in the fleet with some strong placings from them. It was notable that Staunton Harold SC had two boats in the top four with George Crammond and Joe Penhaul Smith. Perhaps they could have done even better had they not kept luffing each other?
Most of us drove back home through thunderstorms, grateful to have enjoyed a great day racing. We all have fine memories of Haversham. Thanks Barry and all the race team, you made it a brilliant event!