Approaching Mumbles Bay on Thursday July 18 we could see fourteen Bytes away across the water with the late afternoon sun shining on their sails. A perfect sailing afternoon, however this balmy situation was not to continue. The sailors came ashore looking pleased with their two test races and coaching laid on by Mumbles Yacht Club.

Byte National Championship at Mumbles - photo © John Saunders

But there were decisions to be made and forecasts studied with care because for some of the lighter sailors there was a choice of using the small C1 or larger C2 rigs for the weekend. The problem being that the forecast looked windy and a choice of rig, once declared, had to be used for the whole three day regatta. This choice was obvious for some younger, very light or less experienced competitors but two of the previous champions, Emma Pearson, Stokes Bay and Rick Whitehouse, Combs had some serious head scratching to do. In the end Emma elected to use the bigger C2 rig whilst Rick went for C1.

There were two races planned for Friday and 24 boats were rigged on the sea front in an unpleasant, cloudy drizzle. Mist obscured the racecourse out in the bay where apparently it was very windy with substantial waves and poor visibility. Sensibly the start was delayed but eventually it was deemed safe and 24 boats streamed out into the bay accompanied by several safety ribs and their crews, Mumbles YC took absolutely no chances and provided first class safety cover.

When some of the younger less experienced sailors cleared the shelter of the land and felt the true force of the wind they sensibly turned back and who could blame them? The race proved very difficult with a strong wind off the sea complicated by fierce little gusts which whizzed round Mumbles Bay and a horrible sea state which caught out many sailors including Louis Saunders, Combs SC, who while leading the race capsized and inverted at the gybe letting Rick Whitehouse, Matt Banbrook, Bowmoor, and Emma Pearson through.

Rick gybed but Matt and Emma wore round for safety's sake! Louis set off in pursuit catching Matt and Emma but not club mate Rick who went on to win! It was beginning to look as though Rick's choice of C1 rig was a good one! Shortly after this the race officer took note of the 35 knot wind on the race course and called it a day. Competitors sailed happy but weary back to the club. So, race one was a victory for evergreen Rick Whitehouse, Followed home by Louis Saunders and Teenager Matt Banbrook, Bowmoor SC.

Saturday dawned with similarly gloomy weather and the officer proposed increasing the number of races from three to four to get the event back on track, so an early start was needed. Once again the boats trailed off into the distance and out of sight. For race 2 conditions were not much improved from the previous day with the fleet being bounced over the line for a general re-call, but after re-start Louis, not withstanding another capsize, led from start to finish. Amazingly Emma despite her diminutive stature and C2 rig chased him home in second. Matt showed great composure for one so young and finished in third. Rick was back in fourth.

Wind was still strong for race three and Louis, now in his stride won by a considerable margin. Matt used his slight weight advantage and considerable ability to come in second while Rick was third.

A similar situation prevailed for race four. after another general re-call it was another win for Louis, Matt second and Rick third. Conditions were no better with big waves rolling into the bay and the same strong difficult wind.

Race five saw Matt port tack off the line in a daring move and establish a good lead by the mark, rounding in front of Emma, Zoe Bazen, Bowmoor SC and Louis who then battled past Emma and Zoe catching Matt on the last run. They were side by side but Louis gybed early and accelerated ahead crossing the line several lengths in front. Zoe and Emma fought it out in spectacular style with lots of spray with Zoe just pipping Emma on the line.

Louis now looked invincible with four first and one second but with two races to go on the Sunday other places were up for grabs. The forecast promised a slackening wind which woud be good for lightweight Emma fighting her C2 rig but a problem for Rick and his C1 who had banked on the windy conditions remaining.

Late on Saturday afternoon the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful evening which was just as well as a BBQ had been planned on the sailing club roof terrace with a splendid view out over Mumbles bay. Hartley Boats who build the Byte class had generously donated two sails to be raffled amongst the sailors. Emma Pearson had been sitting with Victoria Theaker, Combs SC and as 2018 National Champion she was asked to draw the raffle. She duly put her hand in and drew Victoria! Victoria in turn drew the next ticket and drew Emma! There was surprise and delight all round!

Sunday morning dawned gloomy but dry and although it was windless on shore it was a different matter out in the bay. Rick made a good start in the still heavy conditions and was first to the windward mark. However the wind began to slacken putting Rick with his C1 rig at a disadvantage. Consequently Rick fell back leaving Louis once again with the win, Matt in second and Emma third. Rick came home in fourth.

For the last race the wind dropped considerably and the sea flattened off. After yet another general re-call Louis won for the sixth time and Emma at last not fighting heavy conditions was second. Huw Nunn, Bowmoor, who is another lightweight sailor came through for third.

Byte National Championship at Mumbles - photo © John Saunders

It had been an exciting and interesting weekend. There is no doubt that Louis Saunders in winning his fifth national championship dominated the event in conditions that suited him perfectly. Matt Banbrook at only 14 showed considerable skill and maturity to finish second but is sadly leaving the class as he reaches the upper end of the weight scale.

Emma Pearson, last years National Champion was remarkable in third place being so compact of build and fighting her C2 rig all the way.

Rick Whitehouse was fourth, what can we say about Rick? A "seasoned veteran"? Three times Champion and the only competitor to take a race off Louis at this event.

But it would be wrong to just look at the front runners since all the entrants young and old showed bravery and enthusiasm in competing under such difficult circumstances. Everyone kept smiling, on water disputes were resolved in a respectable way and the whole event was conducted in an atmosphere of good humoured fun.

Hartley Boats were extremely generous in donating two sails as prizes and in taking over manufacture of this cracking dynamic little boat a few years ago. The Byte class is unique in that it suits male and female, young and old. It is a sophisticated boat for the lighter sailor.

Mumbles Yacht Club were simply superb in their organisation, race management and safety cover. Mumbles members were particularly helpful to me when taking photographs on the water and when I suffered a camera malfunction. It was another superb National Championship under trying conditions but the sun shone for the social bits and everyone drove home happy!

Next event is at Combs SC on September 7-8. Combs is a picturesque inland club in the Peak District - home to Louis Saunders, Rick Whitehouse and five other Bytes. Close racing is guaranteed!

Overall Results:

Pos Boat Sail No Helm Club R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 Pts
1st   3573 Louis Saunders Combs SC 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 5
2nd CII 3584 Matthew Banbrook Bowmoor Sailing Club 3 3 2 2 2 2 4 11
3rd Shrimp 3078 Emma Pearson Stokes Bay Sailing Club 8 2 5 3 4 3 2 14
4th Backbytea 3693 Richard Whitehouse Combs SC 1 4 3 4 6 4 14 16
5th Byte C2 3588 Zoe Bazen Bowmoor Sailing Club 4 13 4 6 3 7 5 22
6th C2 3606 Huw Nunn Bowmoor Sailing Club 7 11 9 5 5 5 3 25
7th Midge 3127 Izzy Cramp Paignton Sailing Club 5 5 7 7 11 10 13 34
8th Byte CII 3703 Emma Robertson Swarkestone Sailing Club 12 6 10 8 9 6 9 38
9th Byte C11 2957 Teresa Doran Bowmoor Sailing Club 13 7 12 12 7 9 6 41
10th CII 1473 Will Morris Bowmoor Sailing Club 6 12 8 11 8 11 11 44
11th C2 3613 Lucy Haydon Bowmoor Sailing Club 11 14 11 10 12 8 8 48
12th Thowra 3616 Charlotte Hitchmough Bowmoor Sailing Club (DNF) 17 13 14 10 14 7 58
13th C1 1640 Rhys Walker Bowmoor Sailing Club 9 9 15 (RET) 13 17 17 63
14th Toothless 428 Victoria Theaker Combs Sailing Club 14 16 16 13 14 13 10 64
15th CI 3559 Toby Banbrook Bowmoor Sailing Club 10 10 14 (DNC) (DNC) 15 16 65
16th A Kind Of Magic 2950 Kirsten Glen Parkstone YC/Spinnaker SC (DNC) 8 6 9 (DNF) DNC DNC 73
17th Chomp 3561 Sam Fewings Bowmoor Sailing Club (DNC) 18 17 15 15 18 18 83
18th C1 3130 Jamie Fewings Bowmoor Sailing Club (DNC) (DNC) DNC DNC DNC 12 12 99
19th Byte C11 485 Caroline Doran Bowmoor Sailing Club (DNC) (DNC) DNC DNC DNC 16 15 106
20th One Happy Buoy 3132 Callum Combe Bowmoor Sailing Club (DNF) 15 (DNC) DNF DNC DNC DNC 115
21st lardybyte 493 Julius Mach Netley SC (DNC) (DNC) DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC 125
21st lytebyte 3565 Clare Mach Weston SC (DNC) (DNC) DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC 125
21st WeeByte 1241 Matthew Bonnar Himley Hall Sailing Club (DNF) (DNC) DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC 125
21st Invictus 3 3698 David Lucas Himley Hall Sailing Club (DNF) (DNC) DNC DNC DNC DNC DNC 125