Twenty Europe sailors gathered at Oxford Sailing Club, Farmoor Reservoir, for the last event of the season, a chance to catch up with fellow Europe sailors and see who could bag the honour of becoming the 2019 Inlands Champion.
On Saturday the fleet launched in sunshine and 10 knots, with the anticipation of the O flag to allow pumping. Sharing with the Finn class (we just pipped them on numbers) the Finns started first and set off on a trapezoid course. Looking up the race course it was starting to look obvious that it was going to be shifty.
The O flag went up, came down and went back up again throughout the day, meaning the sailors needed to keep sharp to ensure they didn't fall foul of pumping illegally.
Chris Gill made the best of the 1st two races, taking the win both times, a close fight for 2nd to 8th saw some close racing with Emma Pearson & Lucy Boreham taking 2nd & 3rd in Race 1 and Richard Eagleton & Tim Laws those slots in race 2.
Race 3 saw Jon Tweedle & Tim getting out of the blocks best, leading around the top mark with a busy chasing pack. Jon's local knowledge, which appeared to include hugging the shoreline downwind (avoiding the tide was the general consensus) paid off with him extending his lead on round 2 to take the win comfortably, with Tim in 2nd. The battle for 3rd went down to the wire, with the race officer unable to split Lucy & Emma after a tacking match to the line sharing 3rd place. The wind was very up and down as well as shifty, causing a few to take a close look at their boats underside, but the race team did a great job to get the 3 races in the sunshine.
The fleet retired to shore, to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine, a contingent set up camp at the local campsite and walked back to the club for dinner, a few beers and a quiz.
What a difference a day makes! Sunday bought dark clouds, rain and the wind in a totally different direction. Race 4 got under way after a general recall. It soon became obvious that the wind was moving right, so after 1 lap the race was shortened with Emma taking the win followed by Chris & Richard, with Steve Whitby in 4th, showing fantastic speed in the light conditions in his recently dug out of the hedge 1980's boat - proving that an older boat in the right hands can be quick.
A short pause to reset the course, allowing Malcolm Morley to tuck into his Apple with peanut butter dip (is that really a thing?!) and race 5 got under way in no less tricky conditions. Emma & Chris had a close battle with Steve taking third.
It was all down to the final race for who would take the glory, with Emma & Chris both having 2 wins apiece. Tim executed a perfect port hand flyer off the line, but boy was it tricky up that first leg. Chris snuck away, with 6 boats following in close contention. The reservoir took on the appearance of a mirror as everyone tried to find any puff of wind to fill the sail. Chris maintained his lead to take the series, Lucy just snuck round mark 4 into 2nd and Pete Bell took a well deserved 3rd, having been well up in the pack for most of the races all weekend.
With the rain finally easing the fleet packed away and enjoyed the lucky dip prize giving with everyone walking away with something. Three lucky sailors getting a 15% discount from Alejandro @ Sailtech.
With 3 wins Chris Gill took overall honours, Emma Pearson 2nd, Tim Laws 3rd and 1st Master. Richard Eagleton in 6th was the leading Grand Master and Dan Osborne in 12th 1st Junior.
Five adventurous UK sailors made their way across the channel to Ostend, Belgium to participate in what is perhaps the least-known best Europe class event in Europe, the legendary Open Belgium Championship.
With a huge diversity in the fleet, men and women from six nations across a wide range of ages and ability, the event caters for all. There were French sailors who looked like they had been sailing Europes for decades and local Belgium and German youngsters with enough bravery to push hard downwind in the steep rolling waves that the North Sea Coast line provided.
The individuality of the masts and sails to suit sailors of all sizes helps to level the playing field and the little Europe revels in the big waves. Our Brit abroad, Graham Hutchings, had organised some training for the Friday; after unloading the boats in the morning, local Belgium Class Coach Nicolas D'Hordt talked through a few basics and was keen to launch. As soon as we had launched it became apparent that this was going to be interesting! With a building breeze and big rolling waves, this was very different to the usual Solent chop / inland lakes most of the UK sailors were used to. Short upwind legs, focusing on keeping the boat flat and tacking was followed by downwind runs, with most taking a swim or two whilst trying to work out how to manage the waves. Everyone called it a day after an hour and retired to the bar for a debrief and general chat of what to expect over the weekend.
Saturday dawned with bright skies, a stiff breeze and those waves still very present, the fleet of 75 boats launched and after a slight delay in setting the course attempted to get under way. An inevitable general recall or two saw race 1 get under way under the U flag, which caught a few of the favourites out. The U flag was much present for the whole of the event, with so many boats and quite a strong tide this was accepted by all with good grace.
The breeze and waves built during the day, with a number of the fleet making the decision to go ashore either after race 1 or 2. Each with their own story to tell on the size of the rogue wave that caught them out, or the huge gust that literally knocked them flat. By race 3 the reduced fleet started in the windiest conditions, but a sudden downpour flattened the sea and behind it came a much lighter swinging breeze. The final beat proved decisive for many sailors with multiple places to be gained or lost.
The race committee called it a day after three races and the sailors returned to the shore and enjoyed dinner together in the Royal North Sea Yacht Club, a great opportunity to talk to fellow sailors form different nationalities. Tim Laws and Malcom Morley led the UK charge overnight, with both getting into the top 20, with Graham Hutchings (sailing under his Belgium nationality) making it into the top 15.
Day 2 dawned with what looked like less breeze, however an hour postponement was necessary due to the sea state, with big rollers coming into the harbour meaning launching was not safe. Once the waves had calmed down sufficiently the fleet launched into what initially seemed lighter wind and calmer seas, however both the breeze and waves picked up quickly and the 1st race started in similar conditions to day 1. The main take out from race 1 is the big rolling waves for some great downwind surfing.
There were more casualties of the U Flag in race 2, with Tim Laws being amongst those too eager to start. The breeze went lighter during the race but the waves remained, allowing those with the skill to make the most of the pumping rule for some fantastic downwind surfing, failure to get this right meant rapid loss of places.
The third and final race of the day was in trickier conditions with the breeze swinging right and a strong tide kicking in and changing direction during the race, the race committee rapidly changed the course, but a number of sailors missed the signals and were caught out on the wrong side of the shifts and the course.
With a discard kicking in on day 2, unfortunately the British places fell, however both Malcom and Tim made it into the top 30 in 28th and 29th places respectively, George Crammond coming in a very credible 39th especially as the sea state had very little in common with his usual sailing waters at Staunton Harold.
At the front of the fleet a close battle had played out all weekend, with the win finally going to Stijn van Hoye taking it from Jasper Simoens with Killian Vermeersch in a close third making it a Belgium 1,2,3. Best placed non-Belgium went to French sailor Olivier Lalance in fourth.
It was impressive to see the leaders and how they managed the big seas both upwind and downwind, revelling in the surfing conditions and showcasing the versatility of the Europe.
Five tired but happy UK sailors packed up their boats and made the journey back across to the UK, in time for work and school on Monday morning. From the South Coast the trip is just 5 hours and with the warm welcome and fantastic sailing this is an event the class will go back to and hopefully with a bigger UK contingent in 2020.
The weekend of the 21/22nd September sees the final event of the UK Europe calendar for 2019 with the Inland championships, with 20+ boats intending to attend this will be the last chance to sail together as a fleet this year.
28th - Malcolm Morley
29th - Tim Laws
39th - George Crammond
63rd - Lucy Boreham
66th - Ellie Clarke
Full Results HERE