Youth teams taking part in the first-ever Hyde Sails Under-19 Match Racing Championship at Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy took their battle for the podium down to the wire across a weekend of mixed conditions and close competition.
The title was claimed by Will Caiger, Tom Baulkwill and India Trenowden from Sevenoaks School in Kent after a five-race final saw them making a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down to win three races in a row for championship victory, with the team of Barty Gray, Adela Wilson and Harrison Procter from Cokethorpe School in Oxfordshire putting on the pressure to the end with an impressive performance to finish second overall.
The semi-finals were settled in equally dramatic style with the Snettisham Beach SC team of Eva Miller, Amelia Eaton and Matt Lloyd losing the first race against ILCA sailors Edward Baker, Tom Mitchell and Coco Barrett, but then recovering to win the next two for the third spot on the podium.
The RYA British Keelboat Sailing coached event (26-27 June 2021) saw seven teams competing for honours in Elliott 6Ms. Light and shifty winds on day one were ideal for learning the boats and tactics. Wet and windy conditions followed on day two before the breeze eased off towards the end to make for an interesting finals and knock-out series.
Launched to bridge the gap for youth sailors more familiar with dinghy racing, for many participants it was the first time they had skippered or crewed keelboats or taken part in match racing, and six mentors were on hand to jump in and out of the competing boats.
Eight teams had been due to take part but one was unable to make it after two sailors were sent home from school to self isolate due to Covid-19 restrictions. Race officer David Campbell-James, who presented the prizes, was able to run a double round robin followed by knock out stages and finals on day two, providing lots of short races and opportunities for learning.
Teamwork and determination
For the winning team – helmed by Will with Tom in the middle on main and India on bow – it was their first ever keelboat and match racing event, with all three more used to team racing in Fireflies. Summing up their event, Will said: “Having the mentors on call and in our boat was really helpful, especially on our first day with the basics of how the boat worked, as we had never sailed with a symmetric kite before, and team work is even more important in a keelboat so you really have to distribute the roles and communicate effectively.
“It was a real down to the wire final. We were a little bit nervous and Tom fell out of the boat just after the start of the first race and the other team won that one and then the second race. We were two nil down which was a tricky place to come back from but we fought our way back and won the last three in a row. We really enjoyed taking part. The Elliotts are really fast, really good racing boats to sail, and we loved the event as an introduction not only to keelboats but also to match racing.”
The lighter conditions of day one suited the Snettisham Beach team, who were sailing 30kg under weight but also managed to hold on in the breezy conditions of day two and continued to sail well as the wind eased for the final part of the series. All aged 16, the three friends in this team grew up sailing Toppers together and had likewise never raced keelboats or tried match racing before.
At the helm was Eva, who now sails ILCA 4s and is looking forward to taking the knowledge gained back to her fleet racing and to future match racing events. She said: “I really enjoyed the event and how the races were quite short. We definitely improved on our tactics and we learnt so much. We made the overall decisions but the mentors did suggest what they might do or what might be fast and because they swapped in and out after every race it was really good to have a different perspective each time. It was mostly with the pre-start that they helped us with tactics. The starts were quite intense and very different to fleet racing but good fun.”
Asked for a key takeaway from the weekend, Eva added: “Probably just not to give up because we definitely thought we were out of the last race but ended up winning it. We were behind off the line and managed to catch up and get the lead downwind and to finish the event in third was amazing!”
Mentoring the next generation
Jack Fenwick, RYA Keelboat Sailing Development Manager, said: “Having the mentors able to help the sailors made a huge difference and they were key to the success of the whole weekend because it’s a very steep learning curve, moving young sailors into something so different to what they’re used to, and it meant that even those who were not winning were still learning and enjoying it.
“We had some pretty great races and I’m really happy that we had lots of youth sailors who had a great time doing something they never thought they’d be able to do, I’m genuinely thrilled.”
Among the mentors were experienced match racing sailors and keelboat coaches Patrick Bray, Sophie Otter and Ted Blowers, who commented: “It was an enjoyable experience to teach others and pass on the sport to sailors who haven’t necessarily tried match racing. My favourite match was the final because it comes to the point where the result is riding on that one race - it’s basically the weekend decider in a matter of 20 minutes - and you can tell everyone is really keen to win and trying their hardest. It brings out the best of their ability under pressure and it was great to see the excitement on their faces when they did well.”
Patrick said: “I think everyone improved over the weekend considerably, not only tactically but also the boat handling got far better. It was good to be on the water and getting new perspectives for us in terms of sailors doing a different role and hopefully we were able to impart something useful.”
Sophie added: “Everyone progressed a lot from the standard on Saturday morning to the races we were seeing at the end of Sunday. I think it was valuable for them to have mentors because we could talk them through situations just after they’d happened and we really saw a lot of match racing on the Sunday which was quite impressive, especially from people who haven’t match raced before, so I think there’s great potential for the future of British match racing.”
The U-19 title winners have now qualified to take part in the National Match Racing Championship Grand Final in RS21s at Queen Mary SC in October 2021.
The next event in the RYA Match Racing series will be the sell-out weekend in 707s at Royal Corinthian YC, Burnham, 10-11 July, followed by two events in Elliotts at WPNSA in September, with entries now open for the Harken Youth Championships and Marlow Ropes Women's Championships.
To find out more about RYA Match Racing and all upcoming events, visit www.ryamatchracing.co.uk