The first two weekends of September traditionally see the Youth and Women’s Match Racing Championships held in light winds in glorious sunshine in Portland Harbour.
The Youth event was held on the weekend of 2-3 September and the Women’s on the 9-10 September, but that is where tradition stopped.
The Youth Match Racing Championship saw ten teams entered making it the largest in recent years. The sailors gathered at RYA Portland House the evening before for supper and an informal briefing on all things match racing with the chief umpire, Greg Eaton, and the familiar face of Match Racing coach, Peter Aitken. As they took to the water on Saturday morning it was indeed light winds and sunshine. PRO Richard Stevens did his best to squeeze in two flights before the breeze shut down and the sailors went ashore to relax and wait for the new breeze.
It wasn’t long before the sea breeze had started to build and racing was underway again. Early races showed Matt Whitfield, having recently returned from the Governor’s Cup and the Youth Match Racing Worlds, leading the way with Matt Venables, last years’ champion, also on form losing only to Alaric Bates who was helming at his first match racing event. There was lots of tight racing through the day and as the sun started to draw low the sailors headed ashore. By the end of the day Matt Venables and Matt Whitfield were tied on five wins each, Venables leading by nature of having beaten Whitfield in their match. The middle placed teams were still very tight on points after 12 flights and it was going to require at least one more flight to determine who the quarter finalists would be.
Sunday dawned as a different day and the sailors headed out to a grey and rainy Portland Harbour. Racing got underway but with reefed down mainsails to make boat handling easier and the final Round Robin race was concluded in record time. The quarter finals got underway with Matt Venables taking on Ted Blowers, and Matt Whitfield against Alaric Bates. Both Matches were closely fought but Venables and Whitfield both progressed through 2-0. In the second group of quarter finals Dan Venables faced Octavia Owen, while Quentin Bes-Green was up against Murray Hampshire. Both quarters were again won 2-0 but this time it was the lower ranked teams from the round robin that prevailed and Octavia Owen and Murray Hampshire both secured their spots in the semi-finals.
With the breeze building into the high twenties throughout the day the playoff matches were cancelled and two of the boats sent ashore so that only the top four remained afloat. Matt Venables went 1-0 to Murray Hampshire but fought his way back to take Semi-Final 1 2-1 while Matt Whitfield beat Octavia Owen 2-0 to take the other spot in the final. Owen and her team then went on to take the first race of the petit-final but in a reversal of fortunes Murray Hampshire went on to take the next two races and third place overall. Whitfield and Venables fought hard in the final and racing was close the whole way round but Whitfield’s experience was enough to see him steal the Youth Match Racing crown from Venables 2-0.
The following weekend saw seven teams vying for the title of Women’s Match Racing Champions, some new to the discipline and others returning from last year or many years before.
After the morning’s briefing the sailors headed out in to dark and breezy Portland Harbour. The wind was up so reefs were in but kites were still in play so everyone’s boat handling was put to the test. Racing was close and the pre-starts intense as no one wanted to give up even the smallest advantage. By the end of the day the sun had come out and PRO Richard Kingsnorth had squeezed in 10 flights, completing the first round robin and making good headway on the second. With the scores added up Jemima Lawson just had her head above the others having won all her matches in the first round robin but Liz Judson and Octavia Owen were pushing hard as well as the Scottish team helmed by Ali Morrish who were rapidly improving after a mistake early on saw them hit the outer distance mark.
The sailors returned to Portland House for the new tradition of debrief and cocktails, and a great discussion about what improvements each team could make the next day.
The Sunday was always going to be a tough day with the wind forecast to build to 30+ knots everyone headed afloat to see if racing was possible. Flight 11 got underway without kites and the intensity of the racing showed no let up. It was not long, however, before the wind had built to the mid 20’s and racing was abandoned after flight 12 and everyone headed for the safety of Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
After quickly hauling the Elliotts out of the water the sailors gathered in the Academy for a quick prize giving. The extra couple of races had been enough to see Liz Judson squeeze into first place for the weekend, with Octavia Owen and Ali Morrish taking second and third respectively, Ali narrowly beating Jemima Lawson on a tie break. The sailors thanked the officials for a great event and started their journeys home.
A big thanks from the RYA goes to all the volunteers who make these events happen. Richard Stevens and Richard Kingsnorth for heading the committee boats with Jane Kingsnorth and Bas Edmonds helping them out. Greg Eaton and Liz Procter as chief umpires aided by Chris Lindsay, Nigel Vick, Colin Hall, Alford Baldey, Steve Procter, Neil Marshall, Nick Rusbridge and Nick Martindale. Thanks also to Peter Aitken for his great coaching and always happy smile whatever the weather) as well as the teams at Portland House and WPNSA.