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Hartley Boats Blaze National Championships 2024 Race report

Updated: Jul 1

by Andy Wilson (Blaze 811).

The pre-entries list featured some big names from the Blaze world including several former National champions, regional champions and some new faces who, judging by early-season form, had a challenge to offer at the front of the fleet.

The forecasts up to two weeks out had been characteristically unstable showing anywhere between 40kts and next-to-nothing on various days, but the final week saw the forecasts settle into what was eventually to come to pass - the wind starting with a hearty high-twenties for Friday and dropping over the three days of racing.

A long drive for many terminated over the final brow, revealing the satisfying waterscape we’d be enjoying over the course of the extended weekend. Arrival on Thursday pm was rewarded with a large, cleared carpark conveniently sited between clubhouse and sea, offering ample rigging space and access to the excellent PYC facilities. Thursday evening was a jolly, informal assemblage blessed with the happy reuniting of most of the fleet, as well as providing opportunity to welcome the new blood to the family. With local B&B’s populated and tents and boats rigged we were set for the weekend. Race Day 1 – Friday

Friday’s start was relaxed for those of us who’d been on-site enjoying a precursory exploration of the bar offerings the night before. A sympathetic 11am briefing reduced pre-race panic for most. The anticipation of the racing had been building along with the morning wind and we knew we had a handful of a day ahead. Briefing by the RO, Chris Banner, was followed by the first award of the weekend - the Blaze Class D**k-of-the-day – aptly presented by Class joker and new committee member, Lee Marriott to Hartley Boats representative, Eden Hyland (2019 National Champion) for… let’s just say ‘beer-related malfunction’ the previous night. Eden received the renowned pink flamingo race bib to a chorus of good-natured cheers, and he sportingly donned the outfit knowing he’d not be easily missed on the water.

The race area, a 20 minute beat/reach west of the Pembrokeshire YC beach was a large bay near Sandy Haven, bordered by an aesthetically confused view of pretty green-capped, red-rock shoreline, an oil refinery, and the neat circular Stack Rock fort to the south east. The wind and water boded pleasingly fit for an exciting Blaze National Championship.

Three races were programmed for the day and the journey to the race area had provided a glimpse of what was in store, with the potential for a further build in wind into the afternoon.

Under the Blaze Class banner dancing energetically from the upper mast of the committee boat 48 Blazes lined up - a grand spectacle by any measure.

There was an awkward chop but the wind was consistent enough, if a little challenging for some mid- and rear-fleeters. Definitely a day for heavyweights to take advantage of last night’s fish and chips. A longish choppy beat fed in to a Blaze-favoured trapezoidal course presenting two nicely-set reaches and a hairy, bow-consuming run if you weren’t paying attention.

Nick Ripley, a well-decorated heavyweight, took the first race ahead of Fire Champion and PYC Commodore, Christian Smart. 2022 and 2023 Nationals winner, Ben Harden finished 3rd, ahead of ex-Finn sailor and first-time-Nationals contender, Alan Harris-Guererro in 4th.

In Race 2, Ben had asserted his customary 1st place, with Class Chairman and 2024 Easterns champ, Charlie Matthews coming in 2nd – all the more impressive for his self-proclaimed poverty in heavy weather results. The unmissable, pink-clad Eden was 3rd, sailing on an old-school tin mast, demonstrating the still worthy credentials of the cheaper rig option. Chris Smart came through in 4th.

The tiredness was beginning to show on the fleet with several retirements and the slightly depleted numbers crossed the start line for Race 3 into an upper-twenties wind and an unrelenting sea-state. The retirement numbers increased slightly through the race leaving a hardy 29 boats to cross at the blue flag. However, the familiar faces of Ben, Eden and Christian showed their class again finishing in respective order. The reach back to the club was equally as exciting as the racing itself and due to the higher tide rendering direct passage under the oil pipes unfeasible, the journey was jollied by a roundabout sightseeing tour of the oil refinery.

All boats back ashore and accounted for, we were met at the clubhouse by a spectacular array of homemade cakes, along with free tea and coffee to repair the cramps and depleted reserves – the perfect welcome home after a gruelling day for everyone.

Once showered and dressed, the evening refuelling was well-served by provision of a substantial BBQ spread. And the beers commenced, of course. Friday night was games night which revolved around teams chosen (notionally) at random, competing at pool, darts and snap. The recording of results – informal as it was – was less important than the amusement of watching our Class mates grapple with unfamiliar tasks. Competitors drifted home gradually as the entertainment gave in to tired bodies, but a familiar cohort of younger sailors remained to take advantage of the well-priced, well-stocked bar.


Race Day 2 – Saturday

Saturday’s morning sun was accompanied by a hangover-friendly 10-12kts of westerly wind as the bacon rolls sailed swiftly off the outdoor BBQ - a very pleasant start to the day, marred only by the bracing reacquaintance with damp and chilly wetsuits. Eden kept hold of the pink flamingo race bib due to erroneous adoption of games night darts rules.

The looping refinery route to the race area was taken in the high-but-ebbing tide and the swell had dissipated. While there was still enough puff in the air to keep the Class Standard fluttering on the committee boat mast, the near-universal relief at the more forgiving conditions was evident. Today was a day for showing more finesse than brute force. 4 races were on the programme for the day.

After 3 general recalls, Race 4 got underway with the fleet spread evenly and safely behind the line. There were no surprises at the front with a third bullet for Ben, another 2nd for Christian and a second top 3 for Charlie. Eden still showing promise in the light came through 4th.

The Race 5 win was taken by Christian with Charlie in 2nd. Douglas Clow, having acquired podium spots in each of his 4 Class events in 2024 and demonstrating he can compete at the very highest level secured a superb 3rd. Ben was relegated to 4th.

Taking his first Class Championships race win in Race 6, Alan Harris-Guererro finally earned his inevitable top honours, finishing ahead of a neat-sailing Alex Cory and Charlie respectively. Habitual Youth Champion, Will Gould, was 4th over the line.

In the final race of the day, the wind had shifted on the gun which forced the fleet immediately on to the port tack off (or before) the start of Race 7. Taking the race thereafter in his stride, Ben reasserted himself at the front for his third bullet of the event. Alex Cory, consolidated his lighter-wind achievements by posting his 2nd 2nd ahead of Charlie and Will.

It was a long day on the water to fit the 4 x 45min races in – interspersed with some breaks for necessary course realignment - but we enjoyed a relaxed direct return to the clubhouse under the oil pipes, buoyed by the thought of the tea and cakes awaiting devourment. Once again, the PYC cake fairies delivered. The Blaze Class Association AGM was scheduled for early evening and this proceeded efficiently and with good engagement from the fleet. The BCA committee are delighted to welcome some new hands on deck, which provides well for the announced plans for amplification of its community outreach and the roll-out of a roadmap for Class expansion. We look to the future of the class with genuine excitement and positivity.

With the formalities out of the way, we could set about relieving the bar of its remaining stocks and scoff the preordered Chicken Curry (or veg Lasagne for the self-flagellating minority). The curry was big and beautiful and paired perfectly with the Atlantic Pale Ale on sale. Saturday night was fancy dress night and the dressing up was engaged with an enthusiasm equal to that of the sailing. Through the course of the night we were treated to visitation by (amongst others) an inflatable turd, a revealing morph-suited Power Ranger, a sailor boy, a devil, Bananaman, a vampire and more…

Throwing caution to Sunday’s forecast lack of wind (and with a definite possibility of race cancellation) the fleet wholeheartedly embraced the carnival vibe and the discovery of the ‘Baby Guiness’ (Kahlua and Baileys) was a revelation – perhaps to blame for the hijinks of derigging and hiding of Ben’s boat and hoisting his wetsuit to the tip of the club flagpole. The youngsters (and plenty of the not-so-young) partied into the night making the most of the dance floor with a varied musical selection from the house DJ.

Day 3 – Sunday

After a warmish night, the sun rose in a windless sky and, sure enough, it was decided by fleet, PYC and RO agreement, that racing was to be cancelled. So, the scores on the doors up to Race 7 stood, with one discard. Final Prize positions were:

1st - Ben Harden 2nd – Christian Smart 3rd - Charlie Matthews 4th - Alan Harris-Guererro 5th - Alex Cory Full race results here.

1st Youth – Will Gould 1st Master – Christian Smart 1st Grand Master – Douglas Clow 1st Great Grand Master – Peter Barlow John Abbot Mid-fleet – Keith Gilmore Endeavour – Howell Davies The top 10 winners received a beautifully-crafted trophy, provided by PYC members Chris Holman and Denzil. A well-deserved, special mention to Rory Clow – the only U18 at the event – who, in a borrowed boat and in his first Class event, did fantastically well on both days, finishing top Polyester (Mk1/Mk2) boat overall. Rory received the coveted Neil Pride Kit bag for his achievement. Bravo Rory!

PYC is a fantastic venue for a Class event - both the facilities and the water - and the whole, massive PYC team have done an exemplary job of organisation and execution of the Blaze National Championships 2024 with smiles and laughter aplenty for competitors and organisers alike. Blaze Class Association extends a massive thank you to lead organiser and PYC Commodore, Christian Smart and his organising team, RO Chris Banner and his committee boat team, the well-drilled and busy safety boat team, the patient and industrious trolley-dollies, the talented cake-makers, the professional-quality catering team, the tolerant and accommodating bar team and all the other behind-the-scenes volunteers I may have forgotten. Also, a huge thanks to Hartley Boats for their generous support in prizes and early-bird entries subsidy. What has been highlighted over the course of the weekend is the range of ages and crew weights that are able to be competitive in all conditions in the Blaze. The Blaze has proven itself a powerful and fun, yet forgiving boat, suitable for all.

The event polo-shirts were a popular wear over the weekend, with kind sponsorship from Stitchprint and still available to buy.





Image credits: Petru Balau Sports Photography and Andrew Langford.

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1 Comment

Brilliant report Andy, thank you

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