Marconi Helm of the Year 2021
Six competitors arrived at the sailing club on Saturday 25th September to compete in the Helm of the Year competition. Each year, the winningest helm from the spring/summer points series for the Fast Cats, Medium Cats, Sprint 15s, Solo, Handicap and Short Course fleets are pitted against each other in a series of short races. Its just like Sail GP – but in Picos – the craft of choice because none of the participants regularly race a Pico so it levels the playing field. After each race, competitors swap boats – so no-one is advantaged or disadvantaged by the individual calibre of the racing vessels.
The forecast was for light 5 knot breezes all day – so Race Officers Beth and Bryan Spencer set a short triangle course from the race box.
In Race One, with only light winds and the strong tide trying to carry them over the start line – the competitors were all cautiously keeping clear of the line. Daniel Sturm (Fast Cat) picked the perfect place on the start line, laying the first mark in one tack, followed by Martin Baker (Solo) and Rob Clay (Medium Cat). Jenny Ball (Sprint 15), Dave Russell (Handicap) and Karen Corley (Short Course) started further out in the favourable tide but putting the extra tack into the mark cost them valuable time. A slow run across the tide to G mark saw Jenny make up some ground and round the mark at the same time as Martin and Rob. But the final fetch across the river to a temporary mark proved decisive in picking the right line to get across the channel without getting carried the wrong side of the turning mark. Daniel held on to his lead – followed by Martin, Rob, Jenny, Dave and Karen.
Boats duly swapped round – the fleet headed out for Race 2. The wind had shifted slightly further West – so D mark was the favourable end of the line, although in less favourable tide. Rob Clay was just over the line so had to re-cross. This time, Jenny had the straight line to the first mark and rounded first with Daniel and Dave in close pursuit. The tide was running stronger now making it an even longer “crab” route to G mark. Jenny rounded first, Dave in second and the other four boats all reached G mark together. Jenny managed to get round the next mark first, a breath of wind carried Rob and then Dave round the mark to finish second and third – Rob having done a great recovery on being over the line at the start. In fading breeze, Daniel, Karen and Martin found themselves trying to run against the strongest part of the tide to try and round the mark – with both Daniel and Karen ending up touching the mark. The wind then fell away altogether and with no prospect of the remaining fleet rounding the mark, the Race Officer allocated placings based on their relative positions.
In view of the millpond conditions – which were not in the forecast – the fleet came ashore for lunch and hoped the wind would make a return. But it was not to be and at 2pm, the fleet called it a day and arranged to meet up again on Sunday 10th October after club racing to complete the remaining four races.
We mustered a full line up for part two with just one substitution – Pete Richardson took over as Medium Cat Fleet rep as Rob Clay was not able to make it. By the afternoon, a gentle breeze had filled in along with some sunshine – making for very pleasant if unexciting conditions to race in Picos and for the spectators to watch. Beth and Bryan Spencer were Race Officers again and Nigel James and Lee Garton volunteered for the RIB.
The very strong spring tide had caused A mark – the usual outer distance mark – to drift eastwards but conveniently, this was well placed to be a mark of the course instead. Nigel and Lee then spent most of the afternoon trying to lay a temporary outer distance mark, which kept wandering because of the tide. For race one, the tide was still flooding and favourable for the first mark, M. Dave Russell found himself just over the line at the start – whilst some of the others had held back due to the tide and found themselves a little way from the line. Martin Baker had the best start but found himself outside of Jenny Ball at M mark, closely pursued by Pete Richardson. The next mark was G and the fleet had to head across towards Osea Island to get out of the worst of the tide before tacking over to lay the mark. Jenny rounded first with Pete Richardson not far behind and at the end of two laps, they held those positions – not bad given Pete had never sailed a Pico before! Meanwhile, Dave had recovered well from his start and came in fourth place, just behind Daniel Sturm.
Race Two started as the tide was just on the turn. It was still favourable to start at the outer distance mark with Martin, Jenny and Daniel all vying for that end. Daniel rounded M mark first followed by Jenny, Martin and Peter. Daniel began to pull away on the beat to G and had a decent lead when rounding the mark. Once on the run to A mark, however, Jenny was finally able to lift the very tightfitting dagger board to free a large lump of weed. The gap began to close and when Daniel paused briefly because he thought the race would finish at the end of lap one, Jenny was able to overtake on the way to M for the second time. Jenny went on to take the win with Daniel second and Karen Corley taking a very well deserved third place.
The final race started with the ebb tide in full flow and the fleet decamped down to the inner distance mark end of the line. The majority of the fleet took the diagonal line out to M mark but Daniel stayed inshore out of the tide before cutting across the tide at 90 degrees. This paid off and Daniel rounded M mark a few boat lengths ahead of the rest of the fleet – a position he held on to at G mark with Jenny in close pursuit. On the downwind leg, Jenny gybed early as the ebb tide was quickly pushing the fleet down from A mark and was able to round the mark on the inside and pull out in front. Meanwhile, Karen and Dave were hot on Daniel’s heels. The Race Officer shortened the race at M Mark by which time Daniel had held off Dave but Karen had got through to take an excellent second place.
On the basis of the scores, the lateness of the day and everyone being hungry for Sam’s roast dinner in the galley – the fleet decided not to sail the sixth race. After the five races – Jenny was Helm of the Year, with Daniel second and Rob/Pete in third place. A big thank you to Beth for running the series with Bryan and to the RIB crews on both days. And a big thank you to the six competitors for making it such a fun event on the water!
Words and photo: Jenny Ball