Skipper Sophie Otter and her team claimed victory at the RYA Marlow Ropes Women’s Match Racing Championship at Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy.
A popular fixture on the match racing calendar, this year’s sell-out event saw 10 teams battling it out over the weekend (16-17 September 2023) with close racing throughout.
The race committee smashed through 14 flights on the first day in a breeze of 10-15 knots which softened towards the end, with teams working the Elliott 6m keelboats hard to maximise speed.
The results did not reflect just how close the teams were as they came over the finish line, often at the same time or overlapped. Chief umpire Jack Fenwick noted this was all the more impressive as a number of teams were attending their first match racing event but “learning quickly by doing”.
Topping the leaderboard overnight were Otter Racing and Juliette Kennedy, who each had a 100% win rate. Other star performances came from Cossie Lewis of the Royal Thames YC Academy and Ella Ashworth’s team of friends, both new to helming match racing and doing well with great teamwork and a willingness to give it a go.
Another standout was Ruby Sunderland, at her first match racing event, whose team only won two of their nine races but showed great poise and signs of promise for the future, with instinctive sailing and reactions to the various situations at hand.
Most races were tight with lots of place changing and the day concluded with sailors joining the umpires for the traditional ‘Pimm’s debrief’. Jack said: “The umpire team went over various scenarios and tips about how to sail the boats, with a good discussion about how best to use the rules, and the competitors enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to learn throughout the event.”
On the Sunday, overnight thunderstorms had cleared so the fleet rigged up and made an early 8am start but quickly returned to shore when lightning re-appeared over Chesil Beach.
Event direct Jess Beecher said: “We headed in for the next hour and a half while the worst of the weather went over us, then went back out into torrential rain and a steady 20-25 knots of breeze. Boats were reefed and all teams were handling the conditions well.”
Finishing off the round robin, with one flight remaining, there were still some places to be made or lost. Ella Ashworth won her final match to finish the round robin in fourth, with Cossie Lewis third.
A playoff between the two undefeated top teams saw Otter landing two penalties at the start after getting hooked on the committee boat but undeterred, Otter pushed hard and kept the race close enough to attack down the run, taking the lead from Kennedy and with it the final win of the round robin series.
Plans for a repechage were abandoned after losing time to the thunderstorm so the fleet switched to a ‘Queen of the Hill’ format for 5th to 10th - whereby the winner stays on - to ensure racing continued for everyone alongside the semi-finals for the top teams.
Tenth-placed Alice Senior’s team from the RYA’s 49er FX ‘Crew for Gold’ programme managed to take their first race win of the weekend in a match against Alicia Biggs’ team to move up to 9th.
With one boat then reporting damage which could not be fixed, this series could not continue, but the semi-finals went ahead as planned: Otter controlled Ashworth to win 2-0 and claim a place in the finals. In the other semi, Cossie Lewis came through 2-0 against Kennedy.
The petit final then saw Kennedy’s team seal third overall with a 2-0 win over Ashworth.
In the final, the experience of Otter Racing shone through and saw the team taking the first two race wins from Kennedy, controlling from start to finish. The third race was a much tighter affair, with just millimetres between the teams at the first leeward mark; Otter’s team just managed to dive inside to take the lead, then held on to make it 3-0 for the overall win.
For skipper Sophie Otter and her crew of Amy Sparks, Hebe Hemming and Hatty Ward, it felt good to finally lay claim to the national title. As Sophie summed up: “We are super happy to take the win after feeling close to it the last few years. This event we tried really hard to strip things back to basics, keep it simple and enjoy ourselves. I think removing any pressure and focusing on the process really helped us to relax and perform during the event.”