A Royal Thames Yacht Club Academy team emerged victorious at the 2023 British Keelboat League final after three full-on days of close-fought competition.
Twelve teams battled it out at Royal Southern YC in the club’s fleet of J70 keelboats over the weekend (29 September-1 October) in the central Solent.
An incredibly high standard following this year’s qualifying rounds across the country saw teams going from zero to hero and back again with small gains and errors making the difference between a first or last place in each race.
The conditions on the Friday were the windiest of the weekend after the breeze filled in from quite light to 15-20 knots by the end of the day. Marconi SC set the pace with six race wins in a row – but the rest of the fleet was hot on their heels and learning fast.
BKL 2023 Coordinator Peter Ward said: “The starts were where races could be won or lost and it was noticeable that all the boats were coming to the line at the same time. This alone was a good indicator of the strength and depth of the competition and it just got closer and closer as the sailing went on over the three days.
“It was extremely competitive and any one of eight or nine teams potentially could have won overall, and by the end of the last day there was hardly any distance between the top five, with Royal Thames YC Academy on 90 points and Royal Northern & Clyde YC on 82 points in fifth.
“One small error of judgement or mistake with sail handling would have reshuffled the top five. Definitely one of the most competitive BKL finals ever!”
All of the teams sailed 20 to 22 races each and with short courses and quick turnarounds, tide and tactical awareness backed up by sharp teamwork and communication on board were essential.
Second overall and first youth team was Solent University SC – Linus Rindsfuser, Tom Chapman, Szymon Matyjaszczuk, Jesper van der Harst – with Marconi SC’s David Nickalls, Dan Nickalls, Hannah Bard and Jack Wardell clinching the third spot on the podium.
At the prizegiving, Royal Southern YC Rear Commodore Fred Ward presented the trophies and announced the teams which have now qualified to compete in Europe with the 2024 SAILING Champions League.
Confirmed teams looking forward to representing their clubs in Europe are Royal Thames YC Academy, Solent University SC, Marconi SC and the Royal Northern & Clyde YC team of Hamish Taylor, Alison Morrish, Daka Fadipe and Ewan Wilson.
Additionally, the Lymington Town SC Ladies team - George Havers, Shelley McCafferty, Frances Daubeny, Sarah Jarman, Jo Styles, Katherine van Someren - will be competing at the SAILING Champions League women’s event in Berlin at the end of May 2024.
Competitors at the BKL final also included the Team Chichester group of friends, Lloyds YC, West Hoe SC, Blind Sailing UK, Royal Hospital School, Strathclyde University and Royal Lymington YC.
It is the third time Royal Thames YC has won the #rockupandrace inter-club championship in the eight years it has been running, with this year’s victory going to the RTYC Academy team of Tommy Darling, Lainey Terkelson, Cossie Lewis, Dom Lewis and Patrick Rigby.
Dom Lewis of the winning team said: “Marconi SC won six races in a row so we thought they might have actually got an unassailable lead on the first day. We were less consistent on the Friday and Saturday - I think we had a couple of race wins and were lying fourth overall, then the results were pretty tight on the Saturday night, and we had a good day on Sunday.
“We got eight wins but also two last places across 21 races. It was a really high standard of competition. We were fortunate to bounce upwards on the last day and string some good results together but even then those races were close. There was not a lot in it. There were a couple of close ducks, race calls that were made, that probably made all the difference in the end.
“Generally what gave us the edge was that it was important to be leading around the leeward mark because if you were then probably 80% of the time you went on to win the race, so to that end we really worked on coming out of the windward mark low, soaking inside the other boats to control the gybe back to the mark. Another element was our starting strategy on the final day was really strong.”
Team member Cossie had to miss the Sunday so it was an opportunity for the team to reconsider who did what, including Dom switching from helm to main, and Tommy from kite to helm, with the three-day event enabling teams to swap roles on board to work out their best fit.
“Basically our whole team changed around for Sunday, which we thought would work, albeit not quite as well as it did,” said Dom. “Also what was working well from the first two days which we kept on to the last day was we had the person on jib and bow calling the wind and laylines, the person on main would call the other boats and the helm would make decisions. It was important to have good communication about how to manage the fleet on a short course, and we kept that throughout the weekend. But it was really close - anyone could have won!”
Royal Southern YC and the club’s team of volunteers, supported by kSail, pulled out all the stops to run an efficient and enjoyable event with 42 races in total, with teams socialising and sharing their experiences and tips on support boats when it was not their turn to compete.
As the skipper of hotel boat Avalanche, Louise Walker, summed up - it was a fantastic weekend with two memorable takeaways: firstly the non-stop race committee activity with barely time for a breath on the radio and secondly the “relaxed curiosity and deep chats between teams” in between the racing: “Our change RIBS and hotel boats really mixed it all up - new sailing friendships and contacts made through a great exchange of sailing stories - bringing together team racers, youth sailors, club sailors, Olympic aspirants, ex Olympians, offshore and short-handed. Inspired.”