2015 SAFFA National Championships

S A Flying Fifteen Association National Championships

Hosted by Royal Natal Yacht Club, Durban

I know that I am not alone in having a tender and weary body this stunning Monday morning – a crowd of us spent the last 2 days offshore in the Flying Fifteen National Championships, and it was a proper workout.

Before touching on those details, I have to mention the excitement I am greeted with every time I walk into the boat-park – there are more and more Finns appearing and it is expected that January will see 6 or 7 of these classic dinghies competing in Club racing. All the boats are old, and are changing hands dirt-cheap – between R1,500 to R3,000 – so, for anyone who feels it is too difficult to secure a regular crew and is looking for a very affordable way to enjoy yacht racing against like-minded fun loving folk, get hold of a Finn, and chat to either Cyril Foley or Keith Gregory.  Don’t be surprised if local class rules dictate that an on-board cooler box of beer becomes mandatory equipment!

Another very positive vibe is that we anticipate having 5 Flying Fifteens being towed to Midmar for the Open Dinghy Regatta being run from 27 to 30 December (being an FF sailor I am obviously biased, but there will be other dinghies going up from Durban too).

Despite being one of the most professionally and timeously prepared regattas in quite some time, the FF Nationals faced numerous challenges, and sadly just failed to qualify for S A Sailing official recognition. The event was originally scheduled to include the Dart KZN Provincials, and as time passed by a number of Hobie sailors indicated interest in including an “Open Cat” fleet. The Darts suffered hugely with the SAS Youth Nationals declaring the Dart as the nominated catamaran class, and accordingly a number of boats were redirected from Durban to Wriggleswade in the Eastern Cape. The only two entries accordingly chose to withdraw from the regatta, and with the Hobies focussing on their beach-to-beach race, the Flying Fifteens had the entire Indian Ocean to themselves.

The regatta was scheduled to run over 3 days – Wednesday 16 December (a public holiday), Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th December. Due to a number of reasons several of the regular sailors had commitments on some of the days that they could not avoid, and entries were slow coming in. Adding to the consternation, Windguru was predicting very challenging conditions for the Wednesday, but with the weekend looking promising.

Wednesday morning was witness to several FF sailors discovering the dangers of non-maintenance on launching cradle wheel bearings, but fortunately for them race officer Rob Bell took the wise decision to abandon racing for the day while the wind was wavering between 22 to 27 knots – it steadied later on at 30 knots! Nonetheless, 2 boats still launched from PYC – Vince Tiedt and Jim Rushton took Faithful out for a burn and to test out all the recent upgrades, while CJ Milln and Iggy Terblanche took out Freyja, which been very kindly been lent to them by Gregg Hurter. An hour or two later there were 4 very wet and exhilarated sailors back on shore, and only minor damage for Vince to attend to.

We needed to get 10 boats finishing in at least 2 races in order to qualify for SAS recognition – we had 10 entries, but sadly only 8 boats sailed on Saturday, and 9 sailed on Sunday – with the defending champions on Ffoxxoff not being able to sail on the last day. Consistent with the wind prediction, we launched into a light to moderate south-easter, but which steadily clocked around toward the south-west, and as is usual with such a breeze, picked up in strength as the day progressed.

From the outset the pattern was established – in race 1 perennial champions Patrick Harris and Jeremy Kriek on Ffigjam led around the first mark, and held their lead to the finish line. Only Ffoxxoff was close enough to pose a threat, while the wiley old fox and multiple-past-National Champ Mike Wright took third place on Bad Influence. Mike comes out of sailing retirement for this event every year and proves that he still has what it takes – as usual, he had Mike Surgesson handling the sharp end.

Race 2 was pretty much a repeat of the first, with all boats achieving the same finishing positions – Estelle Buys and myself 4th; Freyja in 5th; 6th was Chris Kloppenborg using the opportunity to issue instructions to his potential father-in-law Chris Sutton, on Ffenominal (leading Classic boat); Deejay Latha and Lucky Phakathi on Financial Fling took 7th; while Vince and Jim retired from the second race and went home to repair their broken main halyard.

The start of the 3rd race saw Ffigjam cut very close to the committee boat transom on the start, so close in fact that Jeremy caught the corner of the transom with his ribs – adding insult to injury, before the pain could subside they had to do their 360 penalty. With this opening Ffoxxoff got out in front and was first at the top mark. The course was the old triangle-sausage-triangle, and with the freshening breeze it was quite a handful flying the spinnaker on the reaches, and at times it proved quicker to sail under main and jib only. Before the race was half done Ffigjam had got into the lead and started pulling away. We had a good race and were delighted with a third – it made a welcome change from watching Bad Influence’s transom. I was further grateful that there was no “L” flag flying – with the wind steadily between 18 to 25 knots we were all experiencing aches and pains in places that we had forgotten that we still had.

Sunday saw the wind doing the opposite of the previous day – starting as a fresh south-wester, but moderating as it swung to the east. Campbell Alexander and Richard Bate joined us on Ffullerene, while Craig Campbell and Dave came out on Firefly. Races 4 and 5 followed pretty much the same recipe as the previous day, with Ffullerene doing the chasing as Ffoxxoff had done. I was in a very comfortable third place until I missed a few windshifts on the third beat, and suddenly found myself behind both Bad Influence, and Freyja – CJ and Iggy had found the trick in getting the boat to go, and caught the right shifts on the final beat to take third ahead of the two Mikes.

Race 5 was not great for us – we found ourselves battling mid-fleet from the start, but slowly emerged from the pack with Freyja and Bad Influence chasing each other up ahead. If my memory serves me correctly, it was on the first tight reach that CJ managed to fall overboard and earn himself the Clots Cap for the day. On the last beat we made up considerable ground, but it was just not enough – the Mikes took third behind Ffigjam and Ffullerene, while Freyja and ourselves crossed the finish line pretty much alongside each other – the results sheet showed that CJ hung in to beat us by 2 seconds.

The final race saw a windshift come through enabling Chris on Ffenominal to make a clear start on port at the pin, and cross the fleet. It was Bad Influence however who were leading at the weather mark, with Ffigjam not far behind, while Estelle and I had a solid third place, which we managed to hold on to all the way to the finish. Up front though, it was Ffigjam doing the usual routine of passing all-comers, and then stretching the lead. Just as they did in the Provincials earlier this year, Patrick and Jeremy finished the nationals with a perfect score of firsts, proving that they are very deserving champions. Mike and Mike saw Bad Influence into second overall, while Estelle and I were delighted with our third overall on Ffothermucker.

CJ and Iggy thoroughly enjoyed their time in the Ffleet, and the hope is that we might see the Milln family becoming owners and regular competitors in the Flying Fifteen fleet. Chris and Chris were deserving winners in the Classic fleet.

Many thanks to Race Officer Rob Bell, and the many people who helped on bridge, safety boats, and the behind the scenes admin – it was a thoroughly enjoyable regatta. See you on the water!