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By Stuart Jones

 

Well I say Contenders but there was just me, which at least made my start very clear.

 

Every year I look out of the window on the morning of the Bloody Mary and make my decision as to whether I'm going to put myself through it all. There needs to be at least a force 3 for a Contender to have a chance of a decent result, not that I’m against being beaten. Like anyone that sails I lose more races than I ever win, but that’s how our sport works.

 

This year was looking good, so I was out of the house, boat packed up at Datchet and in the gates at Queen Mary by 10ish. Early for me, but by the time the cars parked I’m towards the back of the boat park, with a sea of boats to the launching ramps. The QM helpers were great at directing traffic, placing boats in the boat park, jigsaw like, and keeping things moving as much as is possible, with 300 plus boats and their cars.

 

Once rigged, I enter, look at the recorded briefing, find my start time, eat some food and chat to a few familiar faces, check my watch and wonder where the time has gone.

 

I used the shower room, which hadn’t been found by many, as a changing room. By the time I left even it was rammed. I strapped my self into many layers of largely Rooster clothing, (what else), as the temperature was in low single figures and didn’t feel cold all day. I was quite busy mind you…..

 

To the water. Queuing and not moving, with 100 metres of boats between me and the launching gave the feeling that I might not make start 36 after all. No problem though as again the QM helpers made sure that boats got in and off as quickly as possible. I needn’t have worried as I arrived in the start area in time to see the RS200s have a general recall and most not knowing it. Having a clear line I started on port but having to weave through a few starboard Merlins lining up for the next start made things trickier than it should have been.

 

The short first beat was only just trapezing and the 30 Merlins a minute behind looked awfully close. Still I got past my first victim, an RS300, who must have been really impressed by my appalling first tack just in front of him.

 

A dribbly dead run with a bank of Merlin and Fireball spinnakers getting closer had me wondering about forecasts and whether to ever to believe them.

 

Some tighter legs, a bit of beating and a touch more wind, all be it gusty, made me think that things could be worse. I was by now overtaking a few bunches of leaning out boats but the first Merlin had just squeezed past me to disappear off once the kit was up. That’s it then, I won’t be seeing them again, I thought and I didn’t. A couple of nice tight reaches, almost the full length of the lake, the wind up to a 4 and they were well behind me again.

 

So first lap done and I’m now getting into groups of considerably slower boats, which is nice for me but no doubt unnerving for them knowing that it’s all likely to be backwards. Another half lap gone and with still an hour to go I can see the leaders off in the distance. I know I must be able to catch them, but what about behind. At this point I can’t see anything coming up, but I know full well that there will be boats going twice my speed and more. The wind is still up and the long close reaches and clear wind see me catching up quickly. By the end of the reaches I’m second chasing down a Solo on the short dead run, which I just about reel in at the end of the leg. I trapeze off down the next leg to give myself what looks like a healthy lead, polishing off my best prize giving speech as I go. The general public is saved though, as whoosh, there go a few Moths past me which I barely saw coming. A 49er skips past me up a beat with a gaggle of RS800s not far behind but one of the many finishing lines appeared in time. I watch the RSs peel off to go in behind me but I’ve no idea whether I’ve gone through the line before the gun, so I carry on to the next line where 10 minutes later I drift across explaining that I may have already finished.

 

Then it’s back to life ashore. Getting to the concrete, getting the boat out and back to where I left all the rest of the gear. Finding that my trailer base has been moved etc etc. Everything eventually gets sorted and I change using a towel by the boat not wanting to queue for the showers.

 

So a long day ends with a pint at the prize giving and fifth place for me. Out of 300 plus starters I’m more than pleased with that. Not as windy as I would have liked but I think the course more than made up for it.

 

The QM helpers are still there, in by now, dark and freezing conditions, unpicking the jigsaw of boats and cars. You can’t run these events without the volunteers and they did a great job.

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