Allen Contender Open at Highcliffe Sailing Club

contender dinghy's at highcliffe

Over the weekend of 25th and 26th June, 18 Contenders entered the sixth leg of the Allen Travellers Series at Highcliffe Sailing Club, a venue that has hosted many a great Contender event over the years.  The weather forecast promised mostly blue skies and no shortage of breeze from the Southwest, which also meant there would be some decent waves to play with.

Having heard the reputation of the Contender fleet for jumping the gun on occasion, the Race Officer made clear his intentions by hoisting the “I” Flag for the very first start! Which by and large worked well, with no general recalls all weekend and few individual ones either.

The Contender fleet launched into a steady 18-22Kts wind from the SSW, which maintained throughout the first day. With three races due to be sailed, it was going to be a strenuous afternoon. 

Race 1 started without incident with local hero Simon Mussell getting the best of the start and roaring into the lead up the first beat, followed by Ed Presley and a chasing pack.  The first reach was a high octane trapezing one, with some big waves to slide off, resulting in some early swims including for local sailor Gary Langdown whose boat launched into the air off a wave and jettisoned poor Gaz into the brine shortly before the wing mark!  The second reach back towards shore offered some excellent surfing opportunities, particularly for those taking advantage of the pumping (as much as you like!) flag flown from the Committee Boat all day. Simon stretched his lead to the end of the race, followed home by Ed and Richard Batten, another local Highcliffe lad in third.

Race 2 started with some pin-end bias on the start line and witnessed a well-timed port tack flyer from Duncan Ward, who used the clean air and favoured side of the course to lead around the windward mark from Simon Mussell and Nick Noble.  The positions stayed the same and tightly bunched throughout the race until the last lap when Simon looked like he might sneak into the lead by tacking on a tight lay line but ultimately couldn’t quite get around the windward mark without a couple of extra tacks (followed by a fair bit of self-chastisement, audible from quite a distance!) which allowed Duncan to sail off to the finish unchallenged,  with Simon holding onto second and Nick third.

The wind abated slightly for race 3 and saw normality in these conditions resume with Simon Mussell winning the start at the pin end and gaining an early lead over local rival Richard Batten.  These two stretched out their lead during the first couple of rounds, with Richard finally managing to get around the course with no capsizes, mark hits, or other untimely incidents!  Simon held off Richard until the line, with Ed Presley working himself up to a good third place by the end. 

A tired fleet returned to base for some well-earned liquid refreshment and a mountain of Pizzas supplied by the excellent catering team of Highcliffe SC.

The conditions for Sunday looked marginal with gusts of 25 knots showing on the club anemometer, so whilst the sailors enjoyed their breakfast in the clubhouse, the Race Officer was despatched for a recce of conditions in the bay. He reported back the fleet should set afloat for two short course races along the coastline.  Some of the fleet decided to pass up the offer and headed home, others feigned illness (mentioning no names Nick Noble), or boat maintenance issues. A few hardy souls headed out to make the most of the stiff breeze and rolling waves in Christchurch bay, exactly what Contenders were designed for surely!

Race 4 started with a similar pattern with Simon Mussell relishing the conditions, charging off into an early lead.  As the fleet tacked over to port towards the coast, it soon became apparent the inshore course whilst sensible for the conditions,  took the fleet through the Sunday morning windsurf and kiteboarding crowd,  who were enjoying the lively conditions but were sailing and or foiling at very different angles to the Contender fleet,  fortunately, each sailing genre managed to avoid the other but some hand waving and hailing (polite version: get out of the way please!) were necessary at times.  The first trapezing reach in 25kts brought some entertaining moments with Richard Batten the first to demonstrate his swallow diving skills off the aft tank.  With a 1.5m swell running the gybe mark and second reach offered further opportunities to test the water temperature.  Simon sailed impeccably, pulling away throughout the race to stretch his lead until the end, with Ed Presley holding onto an excellent second place from a fast recovering Richard Batten.

The final race offered a tricky start with a short and biased start line. Ed Presley and Richard Batten went for the pin end a few seconds early and had to loop back through the start line, which put paid to their chances in the race.  As usual Simon Mussell got away to a clean start, heading up the beat into the lead, this time followed by a much improved Gary Langdown, who had suffered a mediocre weekend by his standards up until this point, Duncan Ward was close behind in third.  With the wind still blowing hard and the fleet tiring somewhat after two days of heavy air sailing, the race stretched out a bit and the positions remained unchanged until the end.

With four race wins out of five, Simon Mussell showed what a master he is in these conditions and easily took the overall honours. The remaining podium places were much tighter with Ed Presley taking second from Richard Batten, with Duncan Ward picking up the report writing slot in fourth.

Highcliffe SC must be congratulated for putting on an excellent event; the race committee, rescue crews, catering staff and all other helpers made it a most enjoyable weekend. 

The Allen Travellers series goes next to Weston Sailing Club on 16th and 17th July.

Photo Credit: Sarah Desjonqueres