Midland SC success at Coppet Week 2023

Coppet Week 2023 by Chris Martin

Those members on the WhatsApp group will have seen several messages about Coppet Week over the last few days. Coppet week is a Sailing regatta with very relaxed atmosphere held at Saundersfoot SC in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Competitors range from world champions to almost total beginners and the boats from Teras to International Canoes. The race is an hour a day, usually around high tide. The boats are kept on the beach and there are a plethora of pubs, restaurants, ice cream huts all within easy walking distance. There is accommodation for all budgets, again within easy reach on foot. Race format varies, but the days of the old style harbour wall start regardless of wind direction seem to be past – MSC might have had an input in this when one of our members tried to start on a beat vs 75 boats trying to start on a run. I’d love to know where he thought the mark was! The last few years have seen committee boat starts similar to our own club racing.

Midland SC has had representation at the week for many years, but it really started to become a club “thing” in the early noughties. I think my first week was 2003 crewing for Richard Dee. The club has had a number of successes, Rich Adams has won the week twice, Richard Dee also twice, Rob Kennaugh and Andrew Prosser won in 2019 and I went into this week with two previous wins under my belt with Chris Gould and Matt Smith in the front.

Post covid hangover and Rob and Andrew’s victory year being remembered largely for the wrong reasons have led to a drop off in turnout but Rich Adams attended both events held since and this year we took two boats in the form of my Merlin – crewed by Josh Oates – and Rob Kennaugh’s RS 300 with Rich attending as cheerleader following a shoulder operation. Exercise in the form of lifting a glass clearly part of the physio plan.

Day 1)

A fairly feisty north easterly wind carried us from the campsite to the beach. To me it didn’t seem that strong, but it was clearly gusty and the “new” Bell Woodworking built GP14 that Lyndon Beasley found in a garage last year was clearly being tested at full power though it did make it back and didn’t sink! The high pressure system giving us the nice weather held the tide back and the start was delayed until the committee boat could exit the harbour. Once out things got underway quickly, we made a reasonable committee boat end start and managed to prevent the Osprey of Tenby SC’s Dan Jackson sailing over us. They tacked off and we followed a few seconds later as I thought the wind would lift us into the windward mark on starboard, which it did this time but oddly never again all race – maybe due to the tide turning. Dave Griffiths from Saundersfoot in an Osprey took an early lead before taking to the water at the gybe mark allowing Blithfield’s Gareth Caldwell and Jon Gibbons through also in an Osprey. We spent a good chunk of the race battling with Dan Jackson and then veterans Keith Macdonald and Andy Brittain in yet another Osprey. At the finish we knew it was going to be tight as we timed Gareth and Jon at 3 mins ahead of us. They beat us by one second. We beat third place – a Blaze – by 3 seconds. We adjourned to The Chemist (pub) for a well earned prescription.

Day 2)

Again a feisty easterly wind took us to the beach. Saunsdersfoot is an east facing bay and this direction can be very tricky to launch from. Again there was a slight delay and with the wind forecast to drop this became significant. This time the line was pin biased and that’s where we went from, somehow avoiding being OCS and also the outbreak of carnage as boats too low failed to cross the line and tacked onto port. We tacked into clear air and rounded the mark in second place behind an Osprey (I think it was Dan Jackson) and hoisted spinnaker only for the outer jacket on the pole launch line to shred rendering the spinnaker useless on starboard. This was something of a disadvantage and we were quickly reeled in by the boats behind. We still had the kite on port but this leg was more of a run. The wind steadily dropped as the race went on, but the swell remained significant. The race was won by a Blaze with Osprey legend Oscar Chess crewed by wife Lisa in second and another Blaze in third. Rob Kennaugh came in a much improved 8th pipping us into 9th. The loss of the kite was significant but I’m not sure we would have won the race. Back to the Chemist for debrief, repairs being left till the following day as all the tools were at the campsite. Villa beating Brighton and qualifying for European football along with several pints after dinner with the Chase mob made for a good evening.

Day 3)

Less wind forecast and an even later start. Repairs meant no lie in and we arrived early at the beach. Unfortunately the fid that I’d put in my sailing bag that was safe in the clubhouse was safer than it was ever intended to be as some pillock had locked the outer door with the key rather than using the code. Hair pins do make a substitute but it’s very fiddly! New launch lines were installed on both sides in plenty of time despite the setback. We launched as soon as tallys were released. There was just enough wind to sit on the side and a residual swell from the day before. Again the line was pin biased and again we got away cleanly. Rob was called OCS and went back. For us this race went very smoothly with no issues. I can’t remember what we did really, we spent almost the whole race surrounded by Ospreys (Collective noun for a group of Ospreys is an Inconvenience) who couldn’t break clear in the lighter wind. However multiple International Canoe champion (And Coppet Week winner) Robin Wood was out today and remined upright unlike Sunday winning the race by miles. We settled for second place with locals Dave Griffith and Maurice Clarke in an Osprey taking third. Rob recovered well to finish 24th – it was a very long way back! The inconsistency of the very front of the fleet elevated us – unexpectedly – into first overall. Obviously this called for several prescriptions. And It was quiz night at the club. For anyone who ever wondered what the Pembrokeshire Dangler is, it’s not our Rear Commodore. Team Midland/Chase came 4th.

Day 4)

Lighter winds again and a yet later scheduled start time. Steve Turner from Chase had a thirst on the night before and the lie in was appreciated. The wind was not kind to the race officers who possibly made their job harder than they needed to by going for a trapezoid course rather than the usual triangle. The first start was never going to work after a recall due to a large windshift. A course reset and second attempt was also done by a further windshift this time necessitating an upping of anchor and wholesale reset with the race being run almost at Tenby (Ironic as every championship I’ve done at Tenby we’ve ended up virtually in Saundersfoot!). We started at the pin, despite having strong feelings about the right hand side of the course. We were in another inconvenience of Ospreys and finding clear air was difficult. The course that took so long to set was set perfectly with good reaches and a run. Locals Alex and Rupert (Aged 6!!) Farr won the race in an RS200 with Dan Jackson breaking clear in his Osprey to take 2nd. We were third, and this left us still at the head of the leaderboard. Beer at the campsite was the order of the night.

Day 5)

Final race of the series and an early start. The assessment was that Dan Jackson from Tenby and Dave and Maurice from Saundersfoot were the threats. Both ideally needed to win which was unlikely with Robin out in his Canoe with medium winds and flat-water. Dave and Maurice were forced to count an average points having been on duty the day before. Dan had been very consistent all series with all results in the top 5. All the Blazes were counting a result in double figures and couldn’t catch us. Robin was counting a DNS. We needed top 5 to be secure so it was not a day for risks. We started at the committee boat despite a hint of pin bias, partly to be sure where the line was and partly because despite the slight bias the right side of the course looked good and the tide was starting to flood. We cleared out a Blaze who was just behind us off the line and tacked onto port. A quick look behind saw the Ospreys all heading out to sea from the pin end – exactly what we wanted to see. A couple of tacks later we rounded in the midst of the Osprey fleet, slightly worryingly led by Dave and Maurice but Dan and his crew were behind us and the Canoe was pulling away. Lap two saw us still very much in touch but battling again with the Ospreys of Dan Jackson and Keith Macdonald. Luckily Keith went left up the beat and had to try to do it all again downwind. Mike and Pam Murray went further right than anyone and made a huge gain, we went just right of centre again playing things safe. Dan went the same way as us and was pulling away but too little too late. Somewhat predictably the race was won by Robin Wood in his canoe. Dave and Maurice sailed well to take second and another Osprey in the form of Oscar Chess and wife Lisa came in third with us 4th. This was enough for us to take the series by 2.3 pts from Dave Griffith and Maurice Clark, Dan Jacksons full house of top 5 results only being good enough for third overall.

Day 6 – The Pursuit Race

This race no longer forms part of the main series but is a bit of fun on the last day. About 30 of the fleet of 53 came out to play, the early start putting off those who had taken a few too many prescriptions the night before. We launched and tried our spinnaker, which we had changed for the last race in anticipation of tighter reaches as the one we had been using was getting very tired. The halyard came undone and we had a problem. We contemplated sailing to the beach but as we set off the AP flag postponing the race came down. This necessitated a capsize to retrieve the halyard and someone was going to get wet. Task completed we struggled badly to empty the boat and started the race still ¼ full but the wind was increasing. If the course on Wednesday was large this one was truly gigantic the windward mark being a full mile from the line and probably 1.75 from the leeward mark – much larger than a championship course. The mark was just off Monkstone point with associated wind and tidal eddies making things interesting. The GP14 of Neil Davies and Michelle Evans from Chase was going well and along with the Solo of Alisdair James from Grafham – another long time competitor. We were empty by the windward mark but the Ospreys were now hot on our heels and holding them off was simply not going to happen. The fleet in front of us sailed very high on the first reach – probably couldn’t see the mark – we sailed low and made large gains. So did several Ospreys. We eventually overhauled the Solo and GP14 on the beat, but three Ospreys took us and that’s how things stayed.

So ended the week. My first Coppet since 2019 and while things have changed around the place its largely the same people and the same welcome. It would be good to get more of the club there next year and hopefully continue the club’s dominance both in the results and on the beach and at the bar. There is far more to the week than just the racing, but it needs people to make it happen.