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SeaSure Blaze Nationals 2023 report

By Charlie Matthews

Picture: Will Gould - 1st Youth Photographer: Chris Hughes Photography

The SeaSure Blaze Nationals took place across the long-weekend of 9th-11th June at Warsash Sailing Club, with a Class-record 71 boats entering for the event. With 3 days of good breeze and sunshine, some vibrant social laid-on by the club, and backed by generous sponsorship from SeaSure, it was a recipe for an excellent weekend.

For the sailing, the key theme of the weekend appeared to be trying to navigate the highly shifty breeze (particularly when it came from on shore) and the Rubik's Cube that is the Solent tide, along with the brilliantly varied conditions (windy Friday, medium Saturday, lighter Sunday). Additionally, the Blaze fleet really has bolstered its assemblage of excellent sailors, including a previous Musto Skiff World Champion in Dan Henderson and a Supernova National Champion in Alex Horlock, so it was going to be interesting to see how they fared against back-to-back National Champion, Ben Harden, making a return to the fleet in pursuit of his third successive crown.

On Friday, competitors woke to brilliant sunshine and an excellent 15-20 knot North Easterly breeze. This meant competitors could enjoy a nice reach out to the course to blow away any cobwebs. The race officer, Peter Knight, set the Blaze fleet their favoured Trapezoid course, which allows the Blaze to stretch its legs on exhilarating reaches, while still enjoying the tactical downwind further around the course.

Race 1 - Nervous energy and enthusiasm aplenty from the fleet at the first start, resulting in a general recall. The tide was also making itself felt, driving the fleet over the line at this point. With the U flag raised, the second start got away cleanly. Dan Henderson, with an early demonstration of intent through the medium chop up the beat, rounded the windward first, with Josh Hyland, Ben Harden and Tye Wichard in close pursuit. Through the next few legs Dan managed to hold and extend his lead with Josh Hyland looking to close the gap. However, on the second lap after rounding the first gybe mark they appeared to forget the course and started aiming for the wrong mark. This meant by the second gybe mark, with Dan & Josh smarting from their error, the fleet had bunched right in on the leaders. Through the last reach and beat to the finish, Dan held his lead to cross first, while Ben stole-in for second, and Josh placed third.

Race 2 saw a delay as the race officer re-jigged the course to factor-in the change in tide and wind direction. This suited Class Chairman, Richard, who took an early lead, ahead of the chasing pack of Ben, Julian Owens, Christian Smart and Tye. Richard gallantly held the lead until the first run, at which point Ben found his top gear to take control. Ben extended his lead through the race to secure his first win of the event. Tye, Richard and Julian bruised it out behind, with Julian and Richard eventually moving ahead of Tye to claim second and third respectively.

Race 3 will stand out for one competitor more than any of the others; Nick Milton came into the Nationals, content to make the top 15 - a rather modest position considering his blistering upwind speed when the breeze is up. This upwind speed allowed him to storm into a lead and distance himself across laps 1 & 2 while the gnashing pack of Ben Harden, Alex Horlock, Dan Henderson and Lee Marriott clashed for places behind. However, disaster struck for Nick, as he headed up the final beat. An unfortunate boat malfunction resulted in a capsize that allowed Ben, Alex and Dan through - places they held to the finish. It should be noted that despite the issue with his boat Nick still managed a 20th place finish.

On return ashore, the fleet was treated to a welcome spread of tea and cake, courtesy of SeaSure. After a cool-down shower, the fleet reconvened over a meal of top-notch pies and beers, while enjoying the well-rehearsed harmonies of the talented Solent Shanty Bouys.

Day 2 threatened to be lighter than forecast, but a shift in breeze to a Southerly yielded a decent 12-15 knots. There was also a change of course to the Reverse P, another Blaze favourite, which presents a longer downwind leg for further tactical battles.

Race 4 had a huge pin-end bias due to a big shift before the start. This meant that sailors stuck to the pin-end immediately tacked and then overstood the windward mark. Dan Henderson led around the windward, followed by Aberdeen-based contender, Ian Pittendreigh, and chased-down by Ben and Tye. Race positions seesawed up next beat until Ben eventually pulled away. On the final beat, Tye nipped-in ahead of Ian to take second. Crucially at this point, it also transpired that Dan was OCS which gave Ben a further advantage in the Championship.

Race 5, and despite the windward mark being moved, the pin-end bias on the line remained, something Dan once again took advantage of as he fought to get his championship back on track. Dan took the lead around the windward ahead of Tye, Alex Horlock and Malcy Hutchings and sailed a flawless race to take the win as Ben battled his way back through the fleet to score fifth.

Race 6 saw a couple of new faces leading the fleet around the windward mark. Nick Ripley rounded ahead of Lee Marriott in the first lap, followed by Josh Hyland and Ian P. Nick and Lee were sailing well with Josh hot on their heels. Ben had also worked his way through the fleet and was chasing hard. By the final rounding of the windward, Nick still led followed by Lee, and as Josh rounded the windward trying to tuck-in ahead of Ben and Ian, he took an unfortunate swim. While Ian was detouring to avoid the waterbound Josh, Ben navigated skillfully through, clear to hunt down Nick and Lee. The challengers, were unable to hold-off the rapacious Ben over the next few legs and he persevered to salvage the race victory, thereby cementing top honours for his third consecutive Championship.

Sailors once again sweated back to Warsash for more tea and cake, followed by the Blaze Class AGM – the final edition to be fronted by outgoing Class Chairman, Richard Botting. The fleet thanked him emphatically for his sterling job over the last six years - record fleet numbers over the past few years are testament to his hardworking dedication to the Class. His welcoming nature, charisma and infectious enthusiasm will be missed at the head of the table. He’ll be a hard act to follow!

Richard Hartley, owner of Hartley Boats - the current builder of the Class - then gave an entertaining presentation in which he outlined his vision for the class to field 100 boats in the Nationals next year!

After a hearty dinner, paid for by the event sponsors, SeaSure, the merriment continued into the evening, jollied-along by a medley of well-known tunes provided by the amusingly-titled local band, Trigger’s Broom – unsurprisingly, staging a revised, but equally enjoyable, line-up from last year.

Ben, having already claimed his Championship victory, was able to let loose at the bar, endeavouring with characteristic energy to intoxicate the remaining competitors.

Day 3 was certainly one the lighter-weight helms were relishing, with just enough breeze for competitors to be up on the racks. The wind was a Northerly 8-10 knots and saw a return to the Trapezoid course.

Race 7, and this time the committee boat was the place to be with the tide exerting its influence. Up the first leg, Dan demonstrated his lighter-wind expertise as he led the race, with Alex Horlock and Christian Smart close behind. The downwind legs were tense and nervy affairs, and it was important to join the dots across the downwind pressure. The second beat was a proper chessboard as the frontrunners looked to nail the shifts and gain the advantage. Dan rounded just ahead of Christian while Ben followed in third and with Alex never losing contact. Dan held his lead, and on the final beat to the finish Alex sailed neatly to take a well-earned second place followed by Christian in third.

Race 8 was again about a committee boat start. Getting on to the right-hand side of the course was the smart action, tacking near the shore and taking advantage of a lift all the way to the windward mark. Dan and Ben once again led the way and showed good pace up the first beat. Ben rounded first, closely followed by Dan, with Alex and Charlie Matthews close behind, ready to pounce during the downwind legs. Once again, it was a tense affair around the following laps. The leader’s places held through to the next lap until on the next downwind leg, and just before the second gybe mark, a massive shift blew through taking the frontrunners from a dead-run to a reach. The wind then shut off at the front, and filled-in at the rear, tightening the gaps. As Ben, Dan, Alex and Charlie rounded the second gybe mark, Christian closed-in and it looked to be anyone’s race. However, the wind-gods blew on the frontrunners pushing Ben, Dan and Alex across the line respectively, to close-out the championship on the water.

So, ended a fantastic championship and another well-deserved title for Ben, pushed all the way by Dan, Alex and Tye. Emphatic thanks to SeaSure for providing such fantastic sponsorship, to Hartley Boats for backing the class with such energy, to Bob Cowan for organising on behalf of Warsash Sailing Club, to Peter Knight, the challenged-but-always-in-control Race Officer, and to the army of generous volunteers, without whom these sort of events couldn’t happen.

Also, a note of gratitude from the Blaze Class for the unwavering support of

Blaze Final Results: 1st – Ben Harden 2nd – Dan Henderson 3rd – Alex Horlock 4th – Tye Wichard 5th – Christian Smart

Fire Final Results: 1st – Simon Beddows 2nd – Dave Entwistle

3rd - Robbie Smart

Ladies and Youth 1st Lady – Alex Porteous 1st Youth – Will Gould Other Presentations: 1st Master – Christian Smart 1st Grandmaster – Malcy Hutchins 1st Great Grandmaster – Pete Barlow 1st Polyester Boat – Alex Horlock John Abbot Mid-fleet – James O’leary Endeavor – Chas Coghill

Full Blaze results here.

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Andy Wilson
Andy Wilson
Jun 18, 2023

Great event.

And great report, Charlie.


James Brown
James Brown
Jun 18, 2023

Cracking event, already looking forward to next year.

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