Bembridge Illusions on hold – but will be back!

Bembridge Illusions’ Winter Series of sailing races had to be curtailed because of the current restrictions. Here, club official Mike Samuelson gives an insight into how the popular racing began, and reviews the season.

The Illusion is a 12-foot scaled version of the British 12 Metre Class yacht Lionheart designed by Olympic bronze medallist Jo Richards and Neil Graham in the early 1980s, to not only look like her but also to react in the same way so as to give match racing practice for the crew of the America’s Cup challenger.

These performance single-handed keelboats boats offer superb racing for sailors of all weights and ages, and have been known to race in Bembridge Harbour in winds in excess of 30 knots as well as in blinding blizzards!

Boats are equipped with a standard main, roller furling genoa and spinnaker, plus running rigging. In the United Kingdom, there are active fleets at Bembridge Sailing Club, West Kirby Sailing Club (Wirral), Aldenham Sailing Club (Herts) and most recently at Middle Nene SC (East Midlands). Illusions can also be found in Scotland, Canada and the United States.

With 350lbs of lead to keep the boats upright, Illusions are sufficiently robust to be sailed through the winter months inside and when conditions allow, outside Bembridge Harbour. The Bembridge fleet’s season starts in early October and normally finishes at the end of April.

Following their initial design in 1981, the first open meeting was held in January, 1983 for the Bembridge Icebreaker, a beautiful painting of the Class by Cavendish Morton. Regattas normally consist of six races over a weekend; the courses are generally upwind/downwind legs with each race lasting for about 25 minutes, normally 3 rounds. Regatta reports are posted on Yachts & Yachting on-line.

Entry is open to all and racing is invariably extremely close and competitive. The largest entry to date was for the 2012 Stratton Memorial Regatta when there were over 45 starters on the line. There are two loaner boats which are available to hire on a daily basis for a small fee.

In addition to fleet racing, there is an annual Inter Club Team Racing Championships in late November or early December with eight, two-boat teams. The first day is a round robin with each team racing against the others and the second day normally has the top four competing in the semi-finals and finals. This season’s Championships were over the weekend of November 16 and 17 with husband and wife team Mark and Jo Downer beating Graham and Julia Bailey by inches in the fifth and final race.

The annual invitation Match Racing Championships takes place in late January/early February; now in its 22nd year and with 16 competitors split into two groups for the first day’s round robin and second days finals, the Race Officers have their work cut out with nearly 90 races over the two days.

This season’s Championship was over the weekend of January 25 and 26 and saw one of the closest results for many years with Bruce Huber beating Mark Downer 3-2 in the final.

The inaugural National Championships were sailed in very windy conditions in early February, 2005. The 2019-2020 Championships were programmed for March 28 and 29 2020 but have been postponed to early October because of Covid-19.

The Bembridge Fleet’s Admiral is Robin Ebsworth; the Commodore is Bruce Huber and the Class Captain is Mark Downer.