CLARENCE River Sailing Club sailors were given an early Christmas present on Saturday with near perfect conditions prevailing for their final event of 2012.
A fine and warm summer afternoon with a 10-knot northeasterly breeze plus with a healthy fleet of 20 highly competitive boats was everything crews could wish for and a great day's sailing was enjoyed by all.
In keeping with tradition, the club staged its annual Commodore's Day handicap start.
With excellent trophies on offer and a tough handicapping system in place, competition was tight, resulting in close finishes and fast times.
Unlike conventional races where all boats start together and results are calculated after the finish, handicap starts do the reverse.
Boats start according to their handicap and yardstick rating with slower ones getting away first, followed later by their faster rivals.
As handicaps are already factored in, the first boat across the finish line is the winner.
This format is very popular as everyone knows their standing in the fleet at all times.
To take advantage of the plentiful breeze a long course was set with the top mark off Fry Street followed by a downwind run to the Services Club, a reach to the Convent and finally second run to Susan Island.
Three laps were sailed with a separate upstream variation for the catamarans as some of the larger cats are unable to fit under the bridge.
The breeze gradually strengthened in the earlier stages of the race, allowing the backmarkers to make some solid gains but as it began to fade towards the finish they struggled to keep up the momentum, giving the early starters a good advantage.
In the NS14 division, frontrunner Paul Smyth couldn't believe his luck when he was allocated a start time of 6 minutes.
Giving him a head start of another 6 minutes on his closest rival and full 12 minutes on backmarker Dennis Boyd.
Smyth capitalised on his fortune by sailing hard in clear air and crossed the line with an easy first place.
Starting on 17 minutes, Stuart Hancock put in a stellar performance and came in second.
Adapting quickly to the changing wind strengths, Hancock gradually worked his way through the fleet and while unable to close the gap on Smyth, reduced it to less than 3 minutes.
Next across was Dennis Boyd who also put in a great performance but struggled with his large handicap.
Karl Cooksley took out the honours in the Laser division.
Despite the burden of a 19-minute handicap, Cooksley made rapid gains in the first upwind leg and was soon level with the fleet leaders.
He then proceeded to out-manoeuvre his rivals by tacking onto some very favourable wind shifts and despite a very near capsize, crossed the line with a margin of just over a minute.
Mid fleet starter Brian Wright left the blocks on 15 minutes and quickly reined in his opponents.
Leading for much of the second lap and always in contention, Wright sailed nicely and took out a well-deserved second place.
Similar to the NS14s, third place went to backmarker Steve Russell who did very well to come back from a 20-minute handicap.
Hobie 18 skipper Bill Holton proved too strong in the catamaran division.
Sailing off 15 minutes, Holton sailed consistently throughout the race and despite strong opposition from Neale Carter (Paper Tiger) and Greg Lee (Mosquito), enjoyed his first victory of the season.
Sailing single-handed this week, Lee surprised himself by not only keeping his demanding craft under control in the breezy conditions but also coming second.
Carter was next across the line after making an assertive comeback from a 15-minute penalty.
In the junior Bic division, brothers Zac and Sam Young got the better of their archrival Jack Hancock.
Enjoying a 5-minute advantage, both sailed fast and decisively, taking first and second places respectively.
A very determined Grace Young put in an astounding effort and completed her first race in a very respectable time.
Sailing has now finished for 2012 but will resume on January 5.
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