Eleven boats entered the 2023 Impala Nationals superbly hosted by Hamble River Sailing Club from the 21 to 23 July and sponsored by Spinlock and Dart Sails. Racing was held in the central Solent, the spiritual home of this evergreen 28 foot cruiser/racer designed by the legendary David Thomas way back in 1977 but still active today with strong fleets in the Solent, Plymouth, and Strangford Lough.
In the days running up to the event there was a certain amount of trepidation showing from organisers and competitors alike, with the early forecast indicating rather blustery wind over tide conditions in prospect. Day 2 of the event also coincided with the largest ever Fastnet start which presented a special ‘geographical’ challenge to HRSC’s legendary race officer Kathy Smalley, in charge of making sure the 9 race ‘traditional’ programme went off smoothly.
Competitors travelled from as far afield as the Humber, Liverpool, as well as more local clubs including the Royal Lymington and Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club.
Day 1 of the event started meekly with 2 morning races held in sub 10 knot conditions and bright sunshine. Imptish (Smith, Tullet, Morgan) laid down an early marker sneaking victory in race 1 with Checkmate (William McMillan) winning race 2 and an early lead overall after coming 2nd in race 2. Furthest travelled Menace (Phil Nickells) had a handy 3rd and 2nd showing light wind expertise and a knack of finding Solent Marks. Lymington boys Hound Dog (Paul Harrison) and local HRSC members Vlad the Impala (Dessent), easily the best named boat, both took a 3rd. Elsewhere in the fleet Polly (Meakins, Cudmore) were 4th in both races, perhaps keeping their powder dry for later.
By the afternoon of day 1 the breeze had arrived and the Solent had developed white horses. With a mean of 15 knots and gusts building into the early 20s genoa choice became critical. Imptish managed to hold onto their number 1 long enough (whilst watching the £20 pound notes fall off the leech!) to snatch Race 3 from Polly’s claws. In Race 4 it became a battle of the numbers 2s with Polly finally hitting the front, hotly chased by Imptish, with Checkmate 3rd.
The exhausted crews returned to the Hamble River and arrived ashore to find the Rum punch lined up on the HRSC bar. Luckily an enormous fish and chip order arrived just in time to save everyone’s souls (and appetites). The majority of the bar chat was all about the fruity forecast for Day 2, a conversation repeated in drinking venues all over the village as the mighty Fastnet fleet enjoyed a last night of onshore calm.
Early on Day 2 all eyes were on the event WhatsApp group as the fleet waited for PRO Kathy to declare her intentions. With driving rain due at midday, along with a tide change, she decided to go for 2 quick morning races in order to get all ashore before the Fastnet fleet got going. By the time the fleet arrived at the start area it was 20 knots in the lulls so definitely number 3 weather for the whole fleet with some boats even putting a reef in the main, a most unusual sight in the class. In the windy weather Polly was on fire, running away with both of the day’s races. Checkmate was 2nd twice, and Imptish scored two thirds. The fleet ran for home, as the orange storm sail clad Fastnet fleet headed the other way, to spend a lovely afternoon and evening in the warmth and dry of the RAFYC bar. Later on a tasty BBQ was served (indoors!) to 70 hungry sailors.
With the final 3 races scheduled on day 3 the overall title was finely balanced between Polly, Imptish, and Checkmate. Checkmate had previously won 3 consecutive Nationals between 2017 and 2019 but neither Polly or Imptish had ever tasted overall victory. Fortunately the rain had gone but as the fleet left the river it was clear the wind hadn’t. It was still very much ‘breeze on’. In race 7 Polly looked to have it sewn up but an early gybe by Imptish at the top of the final run followed by some vigorous surfing just gave her the edge at the finish by a margin of under a boat length. Polly got her revenge in race 2 with a runaway victory with Checkmate staying in the mix with a 2nd. Whilst attempting to drop kites after the finish a couple of boats appeared to take a close look at the depth contours of the Meon shore but luckily all ended well.
At the start of the 9th and final race three boats could still win overall after an incredibly close series. Checkmate took the lead from the start with Imptish grinding her way up into second despite giving bowgirl Daisy a somewhat damp ducking at one of the leeward marks. Polly were struggling mid fleet for much of the race but a superhuman hiking effort from the crew pulled them up to third place on the final beat, and that was just enough to take the 2023 Nationals by a single point. Imptish finished equal on points with Checkmate but on countback came 2nd having won one more race.
Competitors retired to the HRSC clubhouse for the prizegiving which was accompanied by tea and cake and free drinks (funded by the Impala Class) for the wonderful HRSC volunteers without whom the event would not have happened. HRSC Commodore Serena Alexander served the drinks and then presented the prizes. An absolutely delighted Team Polly took to the stage to finally (after 32 years of ownership by various members of the same family!) take the National title and get their names engraved on the beautiful half model trophy. A just reward after decades of support for the class.
Thanks go to the organisers and all the crews, as well as to the event sponsors: Spinlock and Dart Sails and Covers.
The date and venue for next year’s Nationals will be announced very soon. Keep an eye on the class website https://www.impala28.co.uk/ for all the details.
Unusually, there are a couple of boats for sale at the moment: get in touch if you would like to join in the fun for some affordable, exciting, close one-design racing! There are competitive fleets in the Solent, Plymouth and Strangford Lough, and Impalas are hard to beat under IRC as well.