Over 380 young sailors will face a royal audience at the 2017 RYA Youth National Championships, which will get underway at Hayling Island Sailing Club on Monday (10 April).
The Youth Nationals is the premier event on the youth racing calendar spanning five days of competition. The best youth sailors from across the country will be vying to represent Britain on an international stage as well as for a UK Youth Squad place. While the front of the fleet will have be aiming for Championship glory, others will be stepping into a new class and putting their winter training into practice.
HRH The Princess Royal, President of the RYA, will be attending the penultimate day of the regatta on Thursday 13 April.
Defending champions and 2016 Youth World representatives, Isabel Davies and Gemma Keers go into the event as favourites in the girls’ fleet.
Davies and Keers will start the event feeling poised for success after winning the Spring Championships in next week’s playground of Hayling Island. This follows the Itchenor duo being crowned Inland Champions as they dominate the 420 World and European Selection Series, with the upcoming Youth Nationals being the third and final event.
Despite this, for Davies, the Youth Nationals is not just about the racing: “It’s a sociable event with loads of classes so it’s good to see everyone and the sailing is always of a very high standard.
“We’ve been training at Itchenor along with my sister, Katie, and had a few events so far this year where we’ve been looking at areas to improve,” said Davies.
Sister Katie, along with crew Midge Watkins, will be battling it on the 420 course and Isabel Davies knows they won’t be far behind: “My sister will definitely be tough competition, Katie and Midge are really good when it’s windy so we’ll have to watch out if the forecast picks up.”
Her sister won’t be the only completion admits Davies: “The girls are really strong in the fleet at the moment, Hatty Morsley and Pippa Cropley, and Vita Heathcote and Milly Boyle will all give us a run for our money.”
“It’ll be hard event, but we’re hoping to maintain consistency and not use our discard too early in the regatta. We’re definitely hoping for an event win, well that’s the plan,” concluded a determined Davies.
Targeting a championship challenge are Hatty Morsley-Pippa Cropley who walked away with the bronze medal in 2016. The duo won gold at the EUROSAF Youth Europeans last summer and more recently finished second at the 420 Spring Championships to lie second in the 420 Selection Series.
Looking to familiarise themselves with the venue, Morsley commented: “Pippa and I have been training lots and looking at the tides so we know as much about the race course as possible. After training at HISC and with an event last weekend, we know the place quite well.”
Like their rivals, Morsley-Cropley will aiming to stay consistent and get top three results as they aim for the podium, but Morsley knows the event will be tight: “The racing is so competitive at the moment with all the team places on offer.
“Izi [Isabel Davies] and Gemma will be our main rivals, but gold is what we want,” declares Morsley. “I’m feeling confident and nervous at the same time.”
Young guns Vita Heathcote and Milly Boyle made their mark on the 420 fleet in 2016 in their first season in the boat. Now with more experience under their belts, Heathcote-Boyle will also be gunning for a strong week.
Also aiming to defend his Youth National Champion title is Alex Smallwood. Smallwood pairs up with new crew Ross Thompson as they take on the 420 fleet for the 2017 edition. The pair are looking to be on form following a string of top results at recent 420 events.
Training most weekends along with fitness during the week Crew Thompson feels prepared and has his sights set on the top prize: “We’re aiming to be first boys and to qualify for the Europeans in the summer.”
“Niamh Harper and Tom Wallwork will definitely be a challenge in the open fleet,” admits Thompson.
Loch Tummel’s Niamh Harper and Tom Wallwork finished fifth at last weekend’s Spring Championships.
Nick Robins (HISC) and Billy Vennis-Ozanne (Stokes Bay SC) will be going for gold at their first Youth Nationals together. The pair have already shown that they are ones to watch after taking Inland Championship glory in November and last month won the Pwllheli Grand Prix in style taking the bullet in every race.
Local sailor Robins, runner-up at the 2016 edition with crew Jake Todd, will be aiming to upgrade his silver to a gold when racing gets underway next week.
“We haven’t raced against everyone in the 29er fleet for a little while,” said Robins. “Billy and I have been sailing together since the end of last year but this will be our first Youths. We’ve been training lots and trying to go to as many events as possible.
“Hayling is often a choppy venue and we will need to remain consistent as it’s a long event, making sure we don’t make too many mistakes.”
Declaring the pair mean business, Robins added: “Billy and I are aiming for the podium, but also we want to work on general racing strategy.”
However, James Hammett and James Eales are going to make sure it’s not all plain sailing for their rivals.
Fellow HISC 29er helm Hammett is looking forward to some big fleet racing over a long event which will be good practice for the summer. The pair have also attended two internationals recently and they believe this will set them up well.
“There’s a lot of good competition,” explains Hammett. “When the fleet is split into gold and silver, it’s going to be a very competitive final series. We’ve been consistently near the top over the last few months, but we want to learn from the event too.”
Confidence is high adds Hammett: “Although it’ll be a physically tough week with three or four races per day, I’m confident we’ll deal with it.”
Providing new competition in the 29er fleet will be Max Clapp and Ross Banham. Having missed out on a 2015 medal in the 420, the pair are back together in a new class ready to take on the fleet.
In the girls’ fleet, Bella Fellows and Anna Sturrock pair up for their first Youth Nationals together. With Sturrock having transitioned from a Radial, and Bella continuing as 29er helm, the duo have already shown their promise finishing as first girls at the Pwllheli event.
The pair are looking forward to the week: “We want to have fun and enjoy the regatta, there aren’t many events like it and it always has a good atmosphere.”
“Although we did the class nationals last year, this will be the first big event where we’ve done some training and had a proper build up to it,” says medal contender Sturrock. “There are good boats in the girls’ fleet, so the racing should be tight.”
Courtney Bilbrough and Hanna Brant return for their second Youth Nationals together. Securing the bronze last year means they will also be aiming to top the leaderboard as they take on rivals Freya Black-Orla Mitchell and Hattie Rogers-Eve Townsend.
Fifteen boats will compete in the catamaran handicap fleet with competitors racing in the Nacra 15 and Spitfire. Seasoned multihull sailors as well as those transitioning from other junior and youth classes complete the double-handed line up.
It will be a family affair on the multihull course with no less than four sets of siblings vying for Championship glory. With all the 2016 podium pairings having moved on to their next challenge or changing crews, it is all to play for in the multihull fleet.
Will Heritage, who won silver with sister, Sophie, last year, has now paired up with Helm Theo Williams. Williams and Heritage will be one of four crews sailing the Nacra 15.
Sibling rivalry will be rife as Theo’s sisters, Charlotte and Jasmine, pair up and join their brother on the startline. The Johnson sisters, Lotte and Becki, are one of the most experienced crews in the field competing at their fourth Youth Nationals in the Spitfire.
Continuing the family rivalry are the Luxton and Hamel siblings. Flynn Luxton sailing with crew Charlie Hamel, and Annabel Luxton with helm Ben Harris will battle in out on catamaran course. Meanwhile Charlie's sister, Alex, along with Ben McElroy will join them. Weston Sailing Club’s Chloe and William Stuart complete the final brother sister act at their debut Youth Nationals.
RYA Double-handed Pathway Manager Roy McCubbin added: “I am very excited to be getting out on the water next week to watch what will no doubt be some close racing amongst all of the fleets.
“Whilst there are many sailors attending the regatta for the second, third or even fourth time, we are also looking forward to welcoming some new faces. The sailors have been training hard over the winter and for most this is a key event on their calendars."
Previews to follow on the top competition in the Laser Radial, Laser Standard, RS:X, Techno 7.8.
Event registration and equipment inspection opens on Saturday 7 April and racing starts for all classes on Monday 10 April through to Friday 14 April at HISC.
For further information please visit the RYA Youth National Championships website. You can follow the event build up and see the action unfold on the British Youth Sailing Team Facebook page, on Twitter at @RYAyouthracing and Instagram @BritishYouthSailing. Share your preparations and comments with us using #RYAYouths.