🏆 Steve Pooley - 2015 Unicorn National Champion
The 2015 Unicorn Nationals were held between the 3rd and 7th August at Stone Sailing Club on the Blackwater. The forecast was for lots of wind in the early part of the week with stronger gusts, which with the strong tidal streams would to lead to some very lumpy water. The later part of the week was forecast to have reducing wind strengths. Scott Greengrass had just finished building a new boat and had brought it to the nationals although there were still some minor fitting adjustments to be made. Gary Piper, last year's champion, had sold his championship winning boat but was able to borrow it to sail this year. Julius Mach had just put together a pair of Dotan rudders and was going to be using them for the first time, perhaps not wanting to have damaged them before the Nationals. Such is the care and preparation that is taken before participation in the nationals. Steve Pooley had sorted out his boat which was so innovative last year and was clearly going to be a more serious contender to take away Gary Piper's crown.
The morning race on Monday in was held in marginal conditions with strong gusts causing many of the other boats taking part in Stone week to capsize and in the case of one Squib sink. Four Unicorns signed on to venture out onto a triangle and sausage course. Steve Pooley launched but Mach could not get his Unicorn to reliably stay on the trolley after hoisting the sail just before a gust arrived and promptly lowered the sail. Bob Dorks had made a sensible decision not to sail and instead helped by holding Peter Toft's boat down while he raised his sail after the gust had passed over prior to also launching. Gary Piper then launched but was late to the start line. Pooley led from Toft from the start to the finish despite losing out a little on the first downwind leg. Piper was the first to retire as he was carrying a back injury and in addition did not want to risk damaging a borrowed boat. Toft on passing the clubhouse after the triangle also retired leaving Pooley to sail the sausage leg to the finish.
After the recovery of three abandoned boats (Phantom, Pico and Topper) and lunch, the afternoon Unicorn race in slightly more wind was contested just by Pooley and Mach who finished in that order. Pooley managing a spectacular nose dive with rudders out of the water whilst going upwind but avoiding a capsize. It was pleasing to note the competence / sense of the Unicorn sailors that only those who felt able to cope with the conditions ventured out and that no Unicorns capsized. An unpretentious group of musicians kept everyone entertained in the evening whilst the wind continued unabated.
Tuesday's conditions turned out to be worse than Monday's with even stronger winds and gusts. The decision was taken early on that the Unicorns would postpone their races to the Wednesday optional day when the winds were forecast to be more favourable (lighter). A few boats taking part in Stone week ventured out but with those who struggled on Monday making a decision to stay on shore the fleets were much depleted and despite many capsizes most of the boats that started managed to finish. The number of non starters meant that the majority of competitors had enough energy to enjoy the evening's barn dance.
Wednesday was meant to be a rest day with optional long distance and pursuit races provided as part of Stone Week. The Unicorns were not able to participate as they caught up with the races postponed from Tuesday. Additional entertainment was provided by the salvage vessel sent out to find the sunken Squib (without success). David Taylor who had been unavoidably detained at work was able to join in and was glad that Tuesday had been blown off as if all eight races were sailed he would be able to discard both DNCs from Monday. However the forecast for Friday was barely any wind and if correct would mean less than eight races would be sailed and only one discard allowed. The racing took place in almost ideal conditions as the winds had abated and the tide times ensured the tidal stream was less severe. Mach took the lead early in the first race on Wednesday only to discover that his windward progress was significantly inferior to that of the other Unicorns. Gary Piper swept into the lead and held that position whilst Pooley and Mach disputed second place with Mach just managing to come out on top. Further back Dorks and Toft continued their long rivalry with Dorks coming out ahead. The second race of the day and fourth overall started a little earlier than had been expected (lack of reading the information board?) with a fetch to the first mark. The order at the first mark was Pooley, Piper, Mach, Toft. Nothing changed throughout the race and that was therefore the finishing order. Dorks missed out this race as he was still eating his lunch. Minor repairs and adjustments were made to some Unicorns which meant missing out for those involved in the all-in rounders match but not the barbecue supper which completed the daylight activities, followed shortly afterwards by silly games with four teams competing watched by less extrovert spectators. Mach managed to find himself on the winning team despite contributing little to the team's success.
Thursday produced a little more wind than Wednesday but still much less than the wilds of Monday and Tuesday. Mach was pleased to discover that having extended his forestay by about three inches and taken up the resulting slack on the shrouds his pointing ability was much improved. However fortunately for the other competitors his exceptional downwind speed was somewhat reduced. This was the day when almost everyone was in the lead at some point during the races, the impact of the tidal streams meaning it was possible to lose considerable ground if misjudged. Whoever was in the lead at any time was watched by the following pack who took advantage of any errors. The first race resulted in the finishing order being Piper, Pooley, Mach and Toft whilst the second race order was Piper, Mach, Toft, Pooley. This meant that Piper and Pooley were separated by just a single point in the overall positions with all to sail for on the final day. Mach was third but would need to win both races and hope that other results went his way to be in contention. The Thursday night band played enthusiastically and entertained until well past midnight.
Friday came with a light breeze, stronger than forecast and there was hope that at least one race would be sailed. In the end thanks to a quick turn round both races were held although the dying breeze affected results in the final race. The first race started with a beat with the tide. Mach was sailing in the wrong direction at the starting signal in an attempt to stay the right side of the line but was able to recover and was first round the windward mark followed very closely by the rest of the fleet as the long run against the tide commenced. For much of the time it was unclear who had the lead. Piper chose to go close to the North shore and had to raise his rudders to clear the sand spits. Mach opted to sail just in the deeper water avoiding the sand spits whereas Toft, Dorks and Pooley opted for the slightly stronger breeze further out. Mach rounded the leeward mark ahead of Piper and then Pooley. This order meant Mach could catch Pooley on points but still leave Pooley ahead on tie break. However Pooley slipped past Piper to take second place in the race which was shortened to one lap after a duration of nearly one hour. This left Piper needing to win the last race and for Pooley to both take part and finish third or worse for Piper to win the championship.
The final race was on the same course as the previous with the last of the ebb tide causing three boats to be over the line at the start. Two boats came back but disastrously for Piper, he did not realise he was over being behind the other two. Mach again exploited the tidal conditions well and led around the windward mark with Piper very close behind. Fortunately Piper went to windward of Mach enabling the latter to gybe into the now flood tide. Toft and then Pooley managed to exploit the tide and wind well to get past Piper and close on Mach. Mach just managed to stay ahead to the leeward mark leaving Toft and Pooley to battle it out with a gaggle of Squibs which had arrived at the mark at the same time. Mach opted to cross the tide early and take the north shore route and was followed by Toft who went much further inshore to avoid the tide whereas Mach went looking for the wind albeit in slightly more adverse tide. The other Unicorns took the south shore route. As the wind died Mach's choice proved the be the better one as the others had to battle across the tide to the penultimate mark and tack round it going against the tide whereas Mach could sail further along the shore to give himself an easy rounding and win. Second was Piper followed by Dorks who had opted for the north shore and outwitted the others in the difficult approach and rounding of the penultimate mark. Toft having sailed into a hole on the north shore finished sixth behind fourth placed Pooley and fifth placed Taylor. Piper subsequently discovered he was OCS at the start. Had he not been so he would have won the championship on tie break but as it was he finished third overall. Having packed the boats away it was time for the end of championship dinner where Piper was able to take some consolation knowing that Pooley was going to have to make the speech.
Congratulations go to Steve Pooley, 10points, (Queensmead SC) the 2015 UK National Champion, winning 3 out of 8 races. His innovatively rigged boat using a GP mylar sail was expertly sailed in the windy conditions and despite a knee injury hampering his movements was sailed well enough to hold on to win overall. Julius Mach 11 points and two race wins, (Netley SC) sailing with a dacron GP sail was second and Gary Piper, 12 points and three race wins using a CAWS sail was third. 4Th was Peter Toft, 24points, 5th was David Taylor, 36 points and 6th was Bob Dorks 41 points. .
Scott Greengrass won the Unicorn capsize trophy for the only capsize of the week.
Unfortunately it could not be presented as it had not been recovered in time from the previous winner.