Medallists and one design champions lined up to show they are still on top of the game when they competed in the Itchenor Sailing Club’s Solent Sunbeam invitational.
The elegant and amazingly nimble Sunbeams were put through their paces by the likes of Mike MacIntyre, Olympic gold medal winner in the Star class in 1988, showing he hasn’t lost his edge by gaining second place in both of the day’s two races.
Two International 14 champions also dominated the top of the fleet. Douglas Pattison, winner of the prized Prince of Wales Cup, took the big race of the day while Archie Massey, four-times Int 14 World Champion, earned the day’s overall top position with a first and third.
Uniquely for a class which first appeared over 90 years ago, each Sunbeam competes on a level playing field, regardless of age. Little Lady was the yacht steered by Massey and the oldest in Saturday’s racing fleet.
Built of wood when she was launched in 1924, she was full of surprises when he steered her to that win in the morning’s ‘Blue Flight’ fleet and a third place in the combined fleet of 22 yachts later in the day.
Yet the most recent, Molly, steered by John Tremlett, was constructed using the greatly more cost effective GRP, and took to the water only this year.
The class is enjoying an incredible resurgence thanks to the new low-cost low-maintenance yachts. There is none of the old-new class split suffered by other regenerated classes, as proven beyond doubt by Little Lady.
The competitors had gathered in the courtyard at the picturesque Itchenor Sailing Club to look forward to a day of top level racing in the entrance of Chichester Harbour but initially windless conditions meant a postponement of an hour and a half. However, as a fivepnot breeze crept in, principal race officer Roger Wickens took the 22-boat fleet out on to the race course, and at midday was able to send the star-packed classic one design class up the first of two windward leeward courses of various leg lengths.
Each yacht was helmed by a distinguished sailor and crewed by his or her choice of crew plus the owner or representative, who was often handy in providing navigation and tidal information along the shores of the harbour.
The first race was divided into two flights, blue and yellow, of 11 boats each, enabling the guest owners and crews to test the boats initially under less pressure on a short line.
John Greenland, a top helm in Swans, Commodore’s Cup and the Farr 45s, gained a win in the yellow fleet. His success was no fluke – he also came fourth in the second full fleet race.
“We had a great day,” said MacIntyre. “We found a few ways to make the boat go fast but I can’t give away any secrets! My wife Caroline’s spinnaker trimming, though, added to our boat speed.”
Another guest helm, author and journalist Sue Pelling said “It was my first time on a Solent Sunbeam. The boats are lovely to steer, so responsive!”
Pattison reported: “The wind increased for the second race and we had some great competition. I’m not sure it was my International 14 experience that helped me win, but my navigator Graham Colbourne’s local knowledge certainly made a difference.”
Other veterans showed they haven’t lost their edge. Ossie Stewart, Olympic bronze Soling medallist in 1992, went hard aground for a good ten minutes up the first beat in race one but his incredible skill put him back in the race when he still managed not to be in last place at the finish.
Silver medallist Mark Covell, dinghy champion Mark Rushall, half-ton winner Nigel Biggs, keelboat champion Graham Bailey and many more well known faces were all giving the stiff competition a run for its money.
The Solent Sunbeam class, whose yachts are almost all in immaculate and optimised condition, is resident at Itchenor Sailing Club, where all the Solent boats, active throughout the 20th century, were finally gathered together into their one-design fleet in 1966. The fleet annually attends Cowes Week.