Vernon Stratton Memorial Regatta
A fleet of 46 Illusion keelboats, helmed by some of Britain's best sailors, took part in a truly Olympic celebration in recognition of Vernon Stratton's life-long contribution to sailing, including an involvement with the Olympic Games that spanned almost 40 years.
The huge fleet competed in two races, followed by a sail past on a sunny spring day, with a light Force 1-2 breeze that flicked between west and north. The first start saw a general recall, with a tightly packed bunch of boats at the pin end of the start prematurely pushed over the line.
At the restart the fleet got away cleanly, but in the light airs there were plenty of pitfalls to avoid. It was two local sailors – Mark Downer and Graham Sunderland – that were best at reading the tricky conditions, taking first and second respectively. The next boat across the line was visitor Roger Wickens, who was sailing an Illusion for the first time since the early days of the class and proved local knowledge wasn't a pre-requisite for a good result in this competitive fleet.
With the wind now predominately in the north, although continuing to flick back toward the west, the course was reset for the second race, with the start near the clubhouse and the windward mark outside the harbour. Many excellent sailors, including Raymond Simonds, Colin Simonds and Harold Cudmore, opted for the right-hand side of the course, short-tacking close to the Bembridge shore to gain relief from the incoming tide.
They might have been right, had the boats that started at the opposite end of the line not found a favourable wind shift and stronger breeze a couple of minutes after the start. Having clearly read the difficult conditions to perfection, Sunderland and Downer were among this group and went on to finish first and third respectively. Rudy Jurg finished second, leaving him tied on nine points overall with Ian Southworth.
The racing was followed by a sail past the club and guests of honour on board commodore Philip Bown's launch, including Vernon's widow Pepe. With the club dressed in full colours and the Olympic flag flying, a three-canon salute marked the start of the sail past. Spectators on shore numbered into the hundreds, including three Olympic Gold Medallists spanning 40 years of the Games – Rodney Pattisson, Iain MacDonald-Smith, and Sarah Gosling.
The sail past represented a diversity of ages, from contemporaries of Vernon to young children who joined their parents for the occasion. Among them, were four-year-old Ruby Sunderland and Sarah Gosling's 16-month-old son Leo, both possibly taking the first steps towards their own Olympic careers.
The regular fleet racing programme resumed the following day, with racing outside the harbour in a north-westerly wind that softened from five knots at the start to an almost glassy calm. Raymond Simonds took an early lead and held it to the finish, with Graham Sunderland second and Rupert Holmes third. With no sign of the wind returning, race officer Mike Samuelson abandoned the next two races.
"Today is a tribute to an Olympic sailor and manager who has been an inspiration to many, many people – his presence will be felt for a long time to come.
"Thanks to his great vision and stubborn cajoling of so many people to try Illusion sailing we have the most vibrant of fleets here, with an energy that will go on for generations."
– Bruce Huber, Illusion class commodore
"Vernon would have loved this, with all the activity and so many people involved. He was always active and organising things."
– Pepe Stratton
"My story with Vernon goes back a long way. Like many other people here, Vernon went out of his way to get me involved with the Illusion class – it's very touching to see so many faces from the early days here..."
– Graham Sunderland, first winner, Vernon Stratton Memorial Trophy
Thanks to the many people involved in organising the event, both ashore and afloat, including: Jo and Mark Downer, Serena Gosling, Pepe Stratton, Mike Saumelson, Philip Bown and many others.
Overall results Vernon Stratton memorial regatta:
Report by Rupert Holmes
Photos by Ben Wood
Click here for more photos.