Super-fit Benn Smith authors a new chapter in Long Distance Comet Race
While the prediction of a close-fought battle for the right to the 78th Edward Cross Long Distance Comet Race title proved false, the assertion that there were several viable challengers to defending champion Stevie Dickinson’s were more than verified, as Benn Smith and cousin Christian Ebbin extinguished the field with display of speed, strategy and tactical genius today.
In what turned out to be a drag race to the finish once out of the confines of St George’s Harbour, through Town Cut and around Fort St Catherine, Smith and Ebbin showed there to be more than a little something to being young, vibrant and strong, while also practised and infused with knowledge from an old head.
Smith, the son of world-class sailor and former champion Malcolm Smith, demonstrated that he had learnt his lessons well, his display of speed and awareness making it a one-horse race once beyond Ferry Reach.
The duo of Smith and Ebbin crossed the line more than three minutes in front of second-placed Dale Brangman, with Dickinson third, Maxwell Curtis fourth and early leader Scott Fox fifth.
With winds of favouring a beam reach, Smith and Ebbin, among the lighter crews, were tailor-made for the day’s conditions.
The junior Smith readily claimed bragging rights over his father, noting how his victory came much earlier in life than did his dad’s.
“I won it younger, so I think I’ve got the bragging rights,” said Smith, a broad grin cascading his face. “It was great. It was good to do it with my family.
“We were feeling a little bit unsure early as to whether we could catch him [Fox], but we slowly reeled him in and it was great to win it.”
In training for an attempt to qualify for the Olympics in the Laser class, Smith credited his work in the single-manned craft for positioning him to challenge for the top spot over the longer distance.
“I think it definitely contributed,” he said. “Scott Fox was saying that he couldn’t keep up because he’s not fit enough. So definitely, because we could hike the boat flat through the waves, our fitness and training made a difference and played to our advantage in the end.
“At the start he [Fox] had a pretty good lead, so our first goal was to get around the second boat and then try to reel in the lead boat. Once I saw that we were catching up on him pretty quick, I didn’t think there was anything he could do to stop us getting around him.
“We were just surfing, getting up on a plane and surfing waves. We did that very well and I think that’s where our speed came from; we were pretty much always planing.”
As for Fox, the early leader, he admitted how fitness played a part, as he and his crew struggled along North Shore, despite having emerged from Town Cut and rounded Fort St Catherine with a decisive lead over the fleet.
“The race went exactly to plan getting out of St George’s Cut and it worked to perfection,” said Fox, four times a runner-up in the event. “I just knew what everybody was going to do and I just told my crew that we were going to go to the far side, the south side of the channel and get a clear breeze line and we’re going to beat everybody out. So said, so done.
“I made it first to Fort St Catherine, but unfortunately, they don’t give out prizes for being first to Fort St. Catherine and coming up North Shore, I just couldn’t stay in the groove. My crew was cold and I just ran out of breeze [energy] and we faded back to fifth. But it was an exciting race and I enjoyed coming out of St George’s Cut.”
Even as he rarely gave cause for concern to Smith, Brangman, too, showed well in all phases, as he was second out of St George’s before briefly falling to third as Smith overhauled both he and Fox.
Brangman realised early that the race would be for second, thus his move to consolidate the position as Smith surfed away.
“Me, Benn and Stevie were pretty much together in the beginning, and as we went through the Cut it was a real free-for-all and pretty tricky getting through,” said Brangman, also the runner-up a year ago. “Once we got through, Benn went on the inside of me, he had a lot of speed, so I tried to stick with him and reel in Scott, which we did.
“It’s a long race, so it was a matter of keeping working and working. We caught Scott near Tynes Bay and battled side-by-side, but Benn had checked out; he had speed all day.
“I was all the while trying to consolidate second place because I didn’t want Stevie or Max [Maxwell Curtis] to catch me up.
“Overall, it was a good race. It was fast and I can’t really complain; I’m happy about it.”
Dickinson, the 21-times champion, was more than willing to yield to youth on the day, but not quite ready to concede that his days were numbered.
“I getting too old for this stuff right here,” said Dickinson, with a chuckle. “Benn has been training in Lasers and he’s super fit.
“Those guys being, maybe, 20 pounds lighter definitely made a difference, but you have to give credit to them; they worked the boat and sailed away from us.
“It was all bundled up in the Channel and the one that got out first would have a big lead, which was Scotty. But I knew that if Benn was close because he’s such a fantastic Laser sailor, and it was a reach, he was going to work the death out of that boat and we just didn’t have the energy. He just checked out.
“My strategy was to get out of the Channel first and if I was able to get out first, I think I could have challenged him for a little while, but I don’t think I would have been able to hold on.”
1, Benn Smith
2, Dale Brangman
3, Stevie Dickinson
4, Maxwell Curtis
5, Scott Fox
6, Allen Frith
7, Rudy Bailey
8, Gladwin Lambert
9, Quinton Simons
10, Lorenzo Lambert
11, Zaniko Hendrickson
12, Antoine Wingood
13 Jakai Washington