Phantom National Championships – Phifty Phantastic Years.

Phantom Nationals Start Line

Celebrating their fiftieth birthday at Stone Sailing Club on the Blackwater Estuary in Essex on 17th to 19th September was always likely to attract a good entry and the Class Association was delighted with the final entry of 76 boats.

Competitors had started to congregate at the club on Thursday and many must have wondered whether the Indian Summer forecast was going to prove a mixed blessing as they looked across a mirror flat Blackwater Estuary.  

The forecast did look like light winds would predominate with a distinct swing in the direction being predicted over the three days.  The usual conversations also took place over fancied runners and riders with past multiple Champion Andy Couch known to have a significant diary clash due to his brothers wedding on the Sunday.  Not wanting to miss the event Andy did attend but could only race on Friday and Saturday.  The planned programme of races with two on Friday, possibly four of Saturday and two on Sunday meant that with two discards competitors could attend over the two days and complete a series.

Friday dawned with a tranquil scene over the river and the competitors enjoyed the late summer sun as they rigged after a 10:30 race briefing and welcome from Club Commodore Duncan Ayre and Principal Race Officer Wendy Robinson.  By the finish of the briefing it became clear that the breeze had obligingly filled in and launching commenced.

Race 1 was over a sausage / triangle course with the tide starting to ebb and a windward mark to the North West of the race area.  The start line was slightly biased but adequate to cope with the large entry as 73 boats took part in the racing.

One thing that became immediately clear was that a good start in the large fleet was going to be essential and proving that this didn’t necessarily mean being on the line at the gun but being in the right part of the line was Chairman Phil Longley who arrived at the line after the starting gun but crossed the committee boat end of the line and tacked toward the North shore.  He subsequently delighted his father and former Phantom sailor Sam Longley who was manning a Safety boat at the windward mark and had the pleasure of seeing Phil round it in first place. 

Phil was to finish eighth whilst the race win was taken by Simon Hawkes from Castle Cove ahead of Andy Couch and newcomer to the class Charlie Chandler of Bowmoor.  The rest of the fleet learned some essential lessons during the course of the race as the tide built and many underestimated the allowance for tidal influence required to cleanly round the windward mark.  Similar issues arose at the leeward mark as several groups of boats found themselves discussing the racing rules and social etiquette. 

Race 2 was sailed over the same course and saw the fleet closely rounding the windward mark. The ensuing battles over the downwind leg saw major gains made as the breeze filed in from the South shore. It was easy to lose many places as the wind seemed to fade over the centre of the course and maintaining pressure was essential. 

At the end of the race it was Andy Couch who took the gun ahead of Chris Turner (MD of class builder Ovington Boats) and Blaze sailor Ben Harden of principle class sponsors Allen sailing a borrowed boat in third place.

The class had got the first day out of the way and enjoyed an excellent evening meal in Covid safe conditions in the clubs open marquee.  The forecast for the next day was for slightly more wind and a later tide meant that the lessons learnt that day were going to need a little amendment for the next day.

Sponsors Seabrook Developments had arranged for a Champagne breakfast for all competitors and the fleet were thus prepared for an earlier start to the days racing with the first start planned for 10:30.  Things were clearly being taken seriously as several competitors took the Orange juice option or slid their glasses of champagne under the table.

Scheduling for Saturdays racing had make provision for four races but in the event a full days racing saw three races completed over the two alternate course formats.

The sun had come out and the breeze had as forecast swung round more to the North in a South Easterly/Easterly direction resulting in a race course across the river with the later high water meaning that the first race had flooding tidal conditions, whilst the two subsequent races were sailed over the ebb.  The wind strength grew throughout the day with a sea breeze developing.

These conditions were always going to cause issues for PRO Wendy Robinson and her team on the committee boat.  The start line required a significant port bias in order to encourage the fleet to spread out and get away. A windward / leeward course option was also selected.

After a general recall the fleet managed to get away for Race 3 with the port end looking favoured and a big lift noted on nearing the windward mark.  Boats closing from the starboard lay line were also doing well and once again the fleet was closely grouped on the subsequent rounding and run.  The fleet did however spread out as the race progressed and the increased breeze clearly suited Ian Stone from Maidenhead who had found an extra gear and managed to put poorer results from Friday behind him. 

Andy Couch was ever consistent and had battled Ian around the course to take second place.  Another newcomer to the fleet in a new boat was Matt Velamail from Beaver Sailing club who was delighted with a third place in his new boat.

Race 4 again saw a competitive fleet pushing the start line but eventually racing got underway with the hoisting of the dreaded black flag helping a little to get proceedings underway.

By now the breeze had built further and the sailors were now beginning to change gear with full on hiking, raking of rigs for the lighter helms and kickers getting a bit more action than previously.

Needing to score well in the two days racing that he could attend Andy Couch was disappointed to find himself battling it out in the fleet to score an eighteenth place in this race and this was to prove a pivotal point in his Championship challenge.

A delighted John Nuttal from Tenby took a well deserved win having made a major effort to attend the championships.  Another newcomer to the fleet Charlie Chandler of Bowmoor sailing an early Ovington built boat took second place ahead of Martin Watts of Netley in a brand new boat.  If ever the longevity of the modern Phantom was doubted the proof was now clear that a well sailed epoxy boat was capable of great things.

The final race of the day was sailed in just the conditions in which a Phantom comes to life, with a slight chop building and a stronger sea breeze kicking in.  Again the fleet struggled a little with the line bias required to accommodate the prevailing conditions but eventually set off across the width of the Blackwater to the windward mark which had been moved further downriver.  The course had again reverted to the Sausage / Triangle format which again meant close attention was required on the offwind legs to avoid being sailed over or losing out at leeward marks.

Clearly enjoying the increase in the wind strength Andy finished the day and his Championship challenge with a first place ahead of Ian Scott with Harry Bridon in third place. 

By now it was clear that fitting in a fourth race was going to be difficult and the fleet were thus treated to a glorious reach back upriver to return to the club.  It is testimony to the fun that sailing a reach in a Phantom provides that a weary fleet were seen to pull kickers back on and to start hiking again on weary legs simply to enjoy the ride in a very satisfying and fast sail back to the club.

Saturday evenings social event was a formal 1970’s themed dinner with canapes, cocktails and a Happy Hour with discounted spiced rum. The fleet had been asked to dress for the event and some had made great efforts to relive their youth and party.  In fact some were so good that it took an effort to recognise each other.  “Titch” Wayling for example had grown an Afro and was now looking down on most others by dint of his white platform shoes.  The best applause was however reserved for the appearance of the Blue Brother otherwise known as Simon Hawkes and Paul Birkbeck.   The evenings entertainment was provided by Stone Club member Keith “Skip” Atkins on guitar who followed the themed evening with some great music that brought the sailors on to the dance floor.  He was performing to raise funds for a local hospice and sailors were generous in their support.

The only downside to the evening came with the publishing of the race results.  The toll of OCS decisions and DSQ’s under the Black Flag rule saw many revising their championship aspirations.  Now many were looking for a better starting technique on the last days racing and hoping that the two scheduled races would be completed in order to allow two discards to be applied.  Not least of these must have been Andy Couch who was at that time speeding back North having done all that he could to put a series together.  Perhaps unknowing at that time he had at least achieved results in all the races that he had completed.

The combined effect of a heavy party night and a seriousness about the need to claim good results in the final days racing meant that a slightly subdued fleet again headed out to the race course for another early start. 

The weather looked like another change was in the air.  The sun of the previous days had gone being obscured by a light mist and grey sky.  The wind had again headed a little further North and eased from the previous day.  Course setting again looked tricky and once more a heavily biased line was set.  The course selection reverted to a Sausage / Triangle configuration.

As the flooding tide would now be a major influence the bias was essential but as the sixth race got underway it was quickly evident that East Coast representative and local hero Bob Portway had nailed a pin end start and led the fleet around the windward mark with a good lead.  Those that know Bob well are aware that in these conditions it is inadvisable to let him get a clear run at the course and so it was as he steadily built up an unassailable lead to finish comfortably ahead of Martin Watts.  Participants in the last Championships which took place at  Lee on Solent in 2019 would recall that Bob had similarly shown the fleet his speed in these conditions in the penultimate race at that event as well.  This was no “flash in the pan”.

Third place went top Jim Hopton of Shustoke sailing club sailing another new boat – a beautiful epoxy / wood veneer decked deep cockpit boat by James Jarvey with the standard Ovington hull moulding. Having celebrated a landmark birthday over the weekend this seemed particularly fitting – and again those with a long memory could recall him winning a race at an earlier Championship held at Stone in his first appearance in the class.

The final race of the Championship was now looking in somewhat in doubt after a recall and a fading wind.  The fleet languished patiently in the knowledge that the cut off time for the last race was 1pm.  Would the race actually take place?  The tide was set to turn at around 1pm and the breeze was dying.

With literally minutes to spare the breeze came back and the starting sequence got underway with five minutes to spare.  The full programme of races was going to be completed and two discards would therefore apply.  Had Andy Couch done it with a score of 24 points? 

In a repeat performance Bob Portway again sped off the pin end and battled his way to a second race win ahead of another East Coast hero and former class Champion Lawrence Crispin.

Lawrence had borrowed Paul Beasley’s rocket ship “Miss Whiplash” for the event and was fresh from a second place at the Finn Inlands.  He was always in contention with four top ten placings.

Third place was taken by yet another newcomer to the class Andy Weatherspoon from Derwent Reservoir sailing club.

With the days racing completed it was a tired but happy fleet that headed back to shore to allow the calculations to be completed. 

By any reckoning there were four maybe five helms in with a shout but it was a slightly surprised but delighted Ian Stone that took the Championship from Andy Couch with a single point advantage.  In third place was Charlie Chandler on the same points total as Andy but losing the place on countback.  Crispin was a point behind in fourth whilst Martin Watts finished a further point adrift in fifth.

The class had been delighted that Moira Nash, the daughter of designer Brian Taylor and her family were attending the event. Also representing the family of Paul Wright the co-designer of the boat back in 1971 she had presented the class with a new trophy on behalf of the designers wives to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the class. The trophy was to be the awarded to the best placed helm who had completed all races and this was fittingly won by Dean Sexton of local club Maylandsea Bay.  He was coincidently sailing a classic wooden boat and it seems likely that the designers would have approved of this.  He also collected the trophy for first classic Phantom as a consequence.

So finished an excellent Championship that had hugely benefited from the support of principle sponsors and local marine fittings company Allen who donated many prizes and £20 vouchers. Vicky’s Embroidery had supplied every competitor with a souvenir anniversary logo embroidered toiletries bag (which even included the much needed headache pills) and a 3D Phantom fridge magnet.  Seabrook Developments had provided the Saturday breakfast, whilst another local company Impamark had again supplied class trophies.  Additional prizes were given by class builders Ovington Boats and in keeping with class tradition every competitor subsequently went home with a prize and the applause of their fellow competitors ringing in their ears.

At the Saturday night AGM Class Secretary John Wayling announced the future venues for the next five years – with the next venue for 2022 being a particular class favourite – Lyme Regis Sailing Club in glorious Dorset.

Trophy Winners

1456 Andy Couch Blithfield Sailing Club – Two score trophy

1312 Lawrence Crispin Stone Sailing Club – Half Ton Cup

1334 Bob Portway – Three score trophy

1461 Graham Dale-Jones – Over 70 trophy

949 Dean Saxton Maylandsea Bay Sailing Club – Classics and Designers wives trophy

Report written by: Chris Roberts

Photography by:

Full Results:

1280Maidenhead SCIan Stone-29-1216241064231
1456Blithfield SCAndy Couch212181(77 DNC)(77 DNC)178242
1270Bowmoor SCCharlie Chandler37-192(69 DNF)57112243
1312Stone SCLawrence Crispin-13-1345410251254
1481Netley SCMartin Watts12-3163(77 DSQ)25136285
1458Ogston SCHarry Bridon951043-11(77 DNC)119316
1233Burnham SCBen Harden4311-13(77 DSQ)86122327
1488Beaver SCMatt Velamail(77 DNC)8315177(77 DSQ)204508
1334Royal Harwich YCBob Portway(69 OCS)1626(77 DSQ)1011200549
1472Castle Cove SCSimon Hawkes1915218(77 DNC)(77 DNC)2085410
1485Northampton SCRob Cook14217145(63 DNF)(77 DNC)2016111
1419DRSCAndy Weatherspoon-60101812(77 DSQ)1931996212
1391Lymington Town SCNigel King19-43141019-2241316613
1385Northampton SCJohn Wayling5259-286-34211286614
1492Shustoke SCJim Hopton2219177(77 DSQ)3(77 DNC)2226815
1490Stone SCNeil Fulcher714-4916(69 DNF)23111897116
1395Creeksea SCChris Roberts1511(77 DSQ)20(77 DSQ)16172337917
1464Stone SCTerry Crook1035-38-3618991558118
1266Waveney & Oulton Broad SCBen Falat-3128-508271281648319
1484Castle Cove SCPaul Birbeck23232111(77 DSQ)-31152019320
1451Tenby SCJohn Nuttall3345817-46(77 DSQ)2179421
1440Northampton SCMike Webster18171325(77 DSQ)21(77 DSQ)2489422
1443Stone SCPhil Longley82435-38256(77 DNC)2139823
1337Northampton SCRichard Nurse-47-33332616141418310324
1278East Lothian SCJon Shaw-5020272413-452019910425
1392Broadwater SCLee Riddell28-4022172118(77 DSQ)22310626
1467Draycote SCNorman Bryd645(77 DSQ)(77 DSQ)1577 DSQ26110727
1245Broadstairs SCPaddy Denby1118254026-51(77 DNC)24812028
1491Downs SCChris Shelton26-38312722-351619512229
1455Royal Windermere YCMatt Nield-39-42293014371320412330
1446Castle Cove SCRichard Cumberbach271544319(77 DNC)(77 DNC)28012631
1342Lee on Solent SCMark Spruce-5627(77 DSQ)3912361225912632
1359Chasewater SCPaul Lester242934-5715-402522412733
1447Carsington SCRichard Sims163240-522325(77 DSQ)26513634
1273Creeksea SCBill Taylor37-581629(77 DSQ)391827413935
1430Broadstairs SCTim Denby3622-39342426(77 DNC)25814236
404Creeksea SCHamish Bettany35-53-372232322423514537
1487Castle Cove SCNick Orman306289(77 DSQ)(77 DNC)77 DNC30415038
1448Bowmoor SCTom Whittingham25-47-413741202723815039
1275Lee on Solent SCChris Yelland38-5030441128(77 DSQ)27815140
1469Shustoke SCChris Biglin1744234920(77 DNC)(77 DNC)30715341
1159Chase SCJosh Hyland20512432(77 DSQ)30(77 DSQ)31115742
1164Dabchicks SCJames Sparks42-612033(77 DSQ)412329715943
1321WOBYCGarry Fuller32521235(77 DSQ)38(77 DSQ)32316944
1420Minnis Bay SCClive Morley51-5648-5331132627816945
1465Lee on Solent SCGordon Kingston-Minnis46-67431938-492829017446
1470Lyme Regis SCJack Young-572632462943(77 DNC)31017647
1468Maidenhead SCTim Platt49373623(69 DNF)33(77 DSQ)32417848
1377Broadwater SCJeremy Deacon21465243(77 DSQ)17(77 DSQ)33317949
1483Lyme Regis SCAndy Robinson(69 OCS)3053422829(77 DNC)32818250
1204Creeksea SCOlly Moon-5948-555033273130318951
1461Creeksea SCGraham Dale-Jones44-604255(77 DSQ)243433619952
1386Island Barn SCNick Mason53-6547-6136423233621053
1269Guernsey YCAndrew Hunt4054454530(77 DNC)(77 DNC)36821454
1297Waveney & Oulton Broad SCNicholas Crickmore55-64-594837552234021755
949Maylandsea Bay SCDean Saxton5249-54-6435542933721956
1309Stone SCMike Stone-61345151(77 DSQ)563036022257
1224SWSCYossi Galiko(77 DNC)(77 DNC)635839441937722358
1381Lyme Regis SCDave Guthrie4841564140-57(77 DNC)36022659
1404Creeksea SCEric Howe34394660(77 DSQ)52(77 DNC)38523160
1318Broadwarer SCDave Patrick54575747(77 DSQ)53(77 DSQ)42226861
952RYAMike Blunt(77 DNC)(77 DNC)656543603642326962
1482Lyme Regis SCChris Turner452(77 DSQ)69 DNF(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC42427063
1045Maylandsea YCSimon Evance58-696454(77 DSQ)593541627064
1441Broadstairs SCStewart Jarvis-665560633461(77 DNC)41627365
1183Broadwater SCSteve Swinchatt-636362564250(77 DNC)41327366
1203Chase SCColin Spence656272 DNF(77 DNC)(77 DSQ)483343428067
1347Shustoke SCBrian Webley62665862(77 DSQ)47(77 DNC)44929568
1406Bowmoor SCOlly Hopkins4336(77 DSQ)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC46431069
1254Shoreham SCDavid Sellar67686159(77 DSQ)58(77 DSQ)46731370
1460Sussex YCSteve Popple4171 DNF(77 DNC)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC49734371
1140Burton SCStephen Mason645972 DNF(77 DNC)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC50334972
1437Chasewater SCStuart Green69 DNF(77 DNC)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC53137773
1184Creeksea SCIan Simons(77 DNC)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC53938574
1424RYASimon Clarke(77 DNC)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC53938574
1466Lymington Town SCHenry Ayres(77 DNC)(77 DNC)77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC77 DNC53938574