31 December 2023

Somehow a weather window in among the chaos of Storm Gerritt made it possible for the 41st edition of the Grafham Grand Prix, sponsored by Gill, to go ahead.

Taking place on 30 December, the forecast leading up to the day looked ominous.  However as the weekend drew closer it looked increasingly likely there would be a window of sailable weather on the day.

Overall entry, at 136, was up on last year, and included some 43 boats from the home club. The competitors were split over three fleets: Fast, Medium, and Slow, taking full advantage of Grafham Water’s 1600 acres.  Format was three back-to-back handicap races.

Competitors arrived bright and early for an 1100 start.  The wind on the day started at a benign 10 to 15 knots, and the rain was holding off: ideal sailing conditions, although there would be a sting in the tail later in the afternoon.


Fast Fleet

The Fast Fleet, with 27 entries sailed an upwind/ downwind course at the western end of the Lake.  The fleet contained a wide range of multihulls and asymmetric monohulls.  Winner of the first race was Will Smith in his Nacra 16, followed by a trio of Musto Skiffs.  Sam Pascoe improved on his first race 2nd place to win both the second and third races, followed in Race 2 by Dan Vincent, also in a Musto Skiff, and in Race 3 by Will Smith.  So overall honours went to Pascoe, discarding a 2nd place, with Smith 2nd and Vincent 3rd.


Medium Fleet

The Medium Fleet, with 55 entries, sailed in the middle of the Lake offering the best views to spectators watching from the top floor of the Clubhouse.  The fleet contained a wide range of single- and doublehanders with a good number of keelboats: nine Flying Fifteens and a solitary K1.  In the first race, George Smith in an RS600 was a convincing winner, from Stuart Jones in his Contender and then a 470 sailed by serial winner Tom Gillard crewed by Arran Holman who just two days earlier had helmed a 420 to victory at the Yorkshire Dales Brass Monkey. 

The second race was closer, but George Smith was again the winner, with Gillard/Holman and Stuart Jones swapping places to be second and third respectively.  Smith’s RS600 therefore, with two firsts, had the overall event wrapped up by the end of Race 2.  Race 3 was won by Ben McGrane and James Ross in a Flying Fifteen, benefitting from the increasing wind, with Rob Henderson and Chris Gould second in their RS200 and George Smith third.  So, overall, behind Smith in first place were Gillard/Holman (2nd) and Jones (3rd).


Slow Fleet

In the Slow Fleet there were 54 entries.  There was a strong contingent of ILCAs (7s and 6s) in the fleet with a comprehensive mix of other classes, predominantly singlehanders, including four Challengers.  Racing was at the eastern end of the Lake near the dam, and 48 boats came to the line for race 1.  After an even start, the boats that emerged at the front were the ILCA 7s of Alastair Brown and Ben Flower. They were chased hard by Oli Davenport (Solo), Nick Craig (OK) and Luke Fisher (Vareo).  Brown held on to take the win with Flower close behind.

As the fleet lined up for race 2 a localised squall blew in with swirling gusts of 27-35 kts which took out a good portion of the fleet.  Alex Hovden’s Challenger was up on one hull, but he saved it and sailed on. The race started whilst the safety fleet quickly got to grips with the groups of inverted boats. As the leaders reached mark 1, the wind dropped back to 12 kts. Alastair Brown and Ben Flower again appeared at the front, along with the flying Barnum GP14.  Alastair took the win, with Jasper and Fergus Barnum 2nd, and Ben Flower 3rd.  All four Challengers did a fantastic job and survived the carnage.

A shift prior to Race 3 required a rapid course reset, and as the sequence began the breeze became more variable in direction. The race started with a touch of starboard bias. Nick Craig held pole position at the committee boat and firmly held out 10 boats before flying off the line. Others went for the other end and made good use of the clear wind.  Luke Fisher, Nick Craig, Ben Flower and Alastair Brown battled throughout the race, and this time Luke Fisher took the honours with Nick Craig 2nd and Ben Flower 3rd.  Overall, the podium read Alastair Brown (ILCA 7), Ben Flower (ILCA 7), and Luke Fisher (RS Vareo).  The leading Challenger was Graham Hall, and Alex Hovden was awarded the perseverance prize.

And so the conclusion of another successful Grafham Grand Prix, an idea initiated by Peter Waghorn MBE, who died last year just short of his 90th birthday.  Peter was a member of Grafham for over 40 years and made an immense contribution to the Club, including serving as Commodore. 

Thanks to the Race Officers Dave Williams (Fast), Eric Joyce (Medium), and Nigel Denchfield (Slow) for laying on some excellent racing and also to the many others helping, volunteers and staff (over 40 in total), without whom this event would not be possible.

Report written by Grafham Water Sailing Club/ Andy Rice






Next Saturday the Series moves on to London with the GJW Direct Bloody Mary on 6 January 2024...




The following events are in the Seldén SailJuice Winter Series 2023/24:


Fernhurst Books Draycote Dash, Draycote Water Sailing Club

18 & 19 November 2023


Datchet Flyer, Datchet Water Sailing Club

9 & 10 December 2023


Yorkshire Dales Brass Monkey, Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club

27 December 2023


Gill Grafham Grand Prix, Grafham Water Sailing Club

30 December 2023


GJW Direct Bloody Mary, Queen Mary Sailing Club

6 January 2024


King George Gallop, King George Sailing Club

20 January 2024


John Merricks Tiger Trophy, Rutland Sailing Club 

3 & 4 February 2024

Oxford Blue, Oxford Sailing Club 

17 February 2024


Prizegiving at RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show, Farnborough

24 February 2024


You can find out more about the Series here: www.SailJuiceSeries.com