It was Bonfire Night as 20 hardy Blokarters made their way to Pembrey Country Park to prepare for the final B Race of 2021. This event was originally scheduled to take place on the weekend of Oct 2nd & 3rd, however had to be rescheduled at late notice when the Battle on the Beach cycle event was lined up for the same weekend.
With representatives from Weston Blokart Club, TI Shredders, East Coast Blokarters, travelling from as far afield as Scotland, Falmouth, and Essex, it was a good turnout so late in the year, particularly given the last-minute rescheduling. As is always the case a keen eye was kept on the weather forecast as the weekend approached; the one thing that seemed certain, there was going to be plenty of wind – there could indeed be fireworks. What better way to prepare for a weekend of strong wind Blokarting than to go for a curry! About half the fleet met at the Naz Rasoi Indian Restaurant. The food was very good and given the size of the portions, several pilots were wishing that they had registered earlier in the day, rather than waiting for Saturday morning.
Saturday arrived very damp and overcast, what’s more the trees canopies were swaying in the breeze – we had wind. The one downside of sailing at Pembrey is the distance from where the pilots were camped, to the beach race area. It’s a long walk, too long to return for a different sail or a spare to repair a failure. Hence, all your kit, including sails, spares, tools must be taken with you. Even with a 4×4 and a flatbed trailer, several trips were required to transport all the karts, spares, pilots and kit; not to mention the timing trailer, to the race area. On the beach the wind was onshore about 30 mph, meaning that there was little shelter from the prevailing conditions. As the designated race area was beyond a rocky outcrop about half a mile from the beach access point, it was decided to locate the pit area in the lee of the rocks, which provided some shelter from the wind, rain and spray.
With the wind being directly onshore (SW) the Race Officer (RO) Ed Delahaye set an “Americas Cup” style racecourse across the beach, with windward and leeward gates to pass through. Viewed through a clean, dry visor, the windward gate was clear on the horizon if the flags were vertical. Unfortunately, nothing was clean, dry or vertical for very long in the prevailing conditions. The leeward gate was towards the tideline approaching the sand dunes, see schematic 1. All pilots assembled for the race briefing to be advised of the course, reminded of the rules of sailing and the start procedure.
The formalities having been completed; it was time to go racing. Most pilots opted for the 3m2 sail, with a smaller number going with the 2m2. One brave soul, Steve Cooke, opted for a 4m2, an easier decision if it’s the smallest sail you’ve got! It’s fair to say that the fleet were very line-shy for race 1, with karts still well spread out along the beach as Wally counted down to zero. The first kart eventually crossed the line a couple of seconds after zero, with the remainder following at timid intervals after that. This worked well for the one pilot, Adrian Chalkley (K120), who decided to start on port tack. Whether Roger Jackson (K31) was aware that Adrian would be crossing him at speed, only they will know (see link below). It was clear that as the pilots tuned in to the conditions, the pre-starts would become more intense, consequently the RO ruled out port tack starts after the first race, due to the potential for accidents.
As the tide ebbed, it was being pushed back up the beach by the strong onshore wind. This meant that the racing surface was extremely wet, with a film of surface water throughout and getting deeper the closer one got to the windward gate. Most pilots now have some idea what it must be like during a wet race in Formula 1; albeit F1 has the advantage that they’re all going in the same direction and have brakes. Negotiating the windward gate was especially
tricky. The downwind leg didn’t have a significant bias, therefore karts were arriving on both port and starboard tacks and leaving downwind on port and starboard gybes. Meeting someone coming out of the murk towards you was a regular occurrence, which all pilots handled well, with no accidents to report.
Due to the inclement conditions, it wasn’t a day for sitting around and watching others. So, all fleets raced together. A total of 5 races were successfully completed, with only one being red flagged, this due to a capsized kart in the windward gate. Pleased to report that it was only Steve Cooke’s pride that was hurt; rumor has it that Steve might be in the market for a 3m2 sail. All credit to Steve for managing with a 4m2 sail as well as he did. The conditions continued to deteriorate as the day went on, with visibility and light gradually decreasing. By early afternoon, what was already difficult had become potentially hazardous. Therefore, after 5 races, with many pilots suffering from the cold, wet and dodgy conditions, the RO called a halt to racing. Apart from Steve, there were a couple of other minor casualties. Nick Trollope’s goggles were lost in race 3 and Gareth Jones was forced to retire with a puncture. Nick also retired from race 4 with eye sockets full of sand. As the pilots happily squelched and dripped their way back to their respective accommodations, they were looking forward to another day’s racing on Pembrey sands – this time with the prospect of getting wet not soaked.
Sunday arrived with blue sky and wind, meteorologically speaking, much better than Saturday. The wind had veered to westerly and dropped to around 15mph. The beach was much drier as the both the wind speed and direction were more favorable, see link 2. The pilots were anticipating another great day of racing.
An upwind / downwind course was set diagonally across the beach, as shown in Schematic 2. Given the far more favorable conditions, the fleet was keen to get going following the pre race briefing. Like Saturday, it was a single fleet, with the major benefit that it was possible to see both the other competitors and the marks at the same time. Whilst the conditions were considerably better, there was still a split on sail choice, with many 4m2 and 5.5m2 sails out. After race 1 most pilots opted for 5.5m2 with only the lightest sticking with the 4m2. Initially the wind was reasonably constant, and several races were run back-to-back in the favorable conditions. As morning stretched into afternoon the wind became shiftier with both changes in direction and lulls. The latter led to karts being temporarily stranded on the soft and sticky surface. With 7 races completed, making 12 in in total, the RO called a halt to the racing.
Twelve races allowed for 3 discards, hence a fair reflection of everyone’s performance over two days with very different conditions. There was a lot of close racing over the 2 days, with many local tussles. However, the standout performers were Chris Moor and Dave Hare, who both managed clean sweeps in their respective categories. For several it was their first visit to Pembrey, for one couple however, it wasn’t only their first visit to Pembrey, it was their first B Race; a real baptism of fire for Steve and Louise Wier. Well-done to both for very creditable performances in very challenging conditions.
Whilst thanks go to all the pilots that attended this event, and the BLSA committee for organising the event, the biggest and most heartfelt thanks go to Ed and Sharon for both their officiating and transporting all the karts and equipment to and from the beach on both days.
Nigel Owen – K140