Mike Lyons ghosted to victory in his Blaze singlehander to win the inaugural Oxford Blue, the fourth event to take place in this season’s GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series.
For a first-time event, 115 entries was an impressive turnout. No doubt most competitors were fearing a windy outing, hoping for a less breezy gap in the storms that have been battering the UK in recent weeks. Well they got their wish, and then some, as the wind disappeared almost completely. The schedule was for three 40-minute races around a square course on Farmoor Reservoir, but the lack of breeze meant only two races took place.
Even so, the racing was immensely competitive across the huge range of different dinghies entered. There were 8 different classes in the top 10, with duplication only in the Blazes and Scorpions, and there were 19 classes in the top 25. A sign that the Great Lakes handicapping system used in this Series is producing fairer racing than seen in the past.
You always need luck to win on handicap, as the winner acknowledged. Asked whether he had been lucky or good, Lyons replied modestly: “I like to believe the latter, but I think I was lucky as well!” The key to his success, he said, was getting good starts. “Last week at the Grafham Grand Prix I had the worst two starts I can remember, sailing the Icon which was what I normally race in this Series. But my crew is in hospital this week so I couldn't sail the Icon and came along with the Blaze which I normally race in the summer. I was determined to have two decent starts. I just went for a gap in both races and got away with it.
“You need a bit of luck sometimes and I pushed a bit harder and I wasn't black flagged which was even better. I'm booked into a couple of other events. Waiting to see when my crew gets better, and hope to be back in the Icon but might do next weekend’s Bloody Mary in my Blaze again.”
Lyons took two 3rd places, a consistency unmatched by any other. In the first race he finished behind Nick Craig’s Devoti D-1 and the Merlin Rocket of Matt Biggs and John Hackett. In the second race, Lyons came in behind former SailJuice Winter Series winners Peter Gray and Rachael Rhodes Gray in their Scorpion, and fellow Blaze sailor Martin Saveker. In the overall results, scores of 8,4 put the Scorpion of Pete Mitchell and Simon Forbes in 2nd overall with Craig’s D-1 in 3rd place. The ever consistent SailJuice Winter Series competitor, Michael Sims was 4th overall in his Solo. Of the many different classes competing, two lesser-spotted boats were the National 18X, which Oliver Houseman sailed to 8th overall, and Bob Sharp’s Rooster 8.1 which came 34th.
Multiple Endeavour Trophy winner Nick Craig was disappointed with the lack of breeze but appreciated the competition: “I’ve had better days sailing, but enjoyed it - always good to get out racing. The first race went alright, I just got around the windward mark in the top 5, got some clear wind, had a good race until the end when the wind shut off. I drifted into the finish which cost a bit of time.”
For the start of the second race, the sailors briefly enjoyed the opportunity to hike or trapeze, as Craig commented: The second race was lovely sailing for 10 or 15 minutes, but again the wind shut off. A lot of people were trailing across the line half an hour later, which was unfortunate for them. But that's handicap racing, some days you luck in, other days you luck out. But this is a great new event, friendly people, and lovely to have hot food when we got ashore.”
Many sailors reflected Craig’s gratitude to the volunteer team at Farmoor, from the race officer who was celebrating his 60th birthday on board a cold and damp committee boat, to the team who waded into the chill waters to launch and recover competitors’ boats, trolleys at the ready.
After the Datchet Flyer in December, this was the second event in the Series to use GPS tracking provided by the SailRacer team, who also co-organised the Oxford Blue with the Farmoor team. You can watch the tracking back here:
Following the success of this inaugural event, the team at Farmoor are already enthusing about holding the Oxford Blue this time next year. Meanwhile the roadshow of the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series moves on to the Bloody Mary, the world’s most famous sailing pursuit race. Online entry closes at 11.59pm this Wednesday, 8 January 2014.
© Paul Williamson
Oxford Blue: Top 3
1. Mike Lyons (Burghfield), Blaze
2. Pete Mitchell & Simon Forbes, Scorpion
3. Nick Craig (Frensham Ponds), Devoti D-1
For full results from the Oxford Blue, go here:
There is a SailRacer photo gallery of the Oxford Blue here: