Eighteen teams representing 16 clubs gathered in the Solent this weekend to fight it out to be crowned British Keelboat League champion – with hosts Royal Thames YC being crowned kings.

Each club attending the final had earned their place through one of the qualifiers held over the last year. With club honour at stake each team was going to give it their all and so they took advantage of the offer by the host club, the Royal Thames Yacht Club, to get in a quick training session in their J/70s on the Friday morning. They wouldn’t have long to get to grips with the boats but every second in training would count as races would be won or lost by inches.

With training complete Angus Prentice, Captain of Racing at RTYC, welcomed the competing clubs to the event before handing over to Principle Race Officer Keith Sammons and Chief Umpire Jon Napier to explain the plan for the day.  

Briefing done and the excited teams headed afloat, eager to see how they would fare against the other clubs.   The racing got underway and the first race went to Hayling Island Sailing Club, continuing their undefeated streak in BKL racing and making a clear statement of intent, Edinburgh University SC took the second place spot with Royal Dee YC taking third.  

HISC continued their winning ways in race 2 with Royal Corinthian YC chasing them home in second. With HISC not in Race 3 the clubs were keen to make their mark and West Hoe SC sailed to victory, just ahead of Ullswater YC.  

As the afternoon continued there were wins for the Wessex Exiles, Royal Yacht Squadron, Royal Thames YC, Royal Ocean RC, Edinburgh University SC and the Royal Corinthian YC, in fact only HISC had managed more than one win with three on the scorecard at the end of the day.  

Those three wins would place Hayling Island SC at the top of the leader board overnight with an average score three quarters of a place ahead of both Royal Thames YC and Royal Ocean RC who were tied with an average score of third place.  

The teams came ashore and were greeted to a drinks reception by the hosts, Royal Thames YC, and lots of chats were had about where places had been won and lost. With the social engagement complete teams headed home to work on their strategy for the next day’s racing.   While Friday had seen perfect conditions on the Solent with a solid breeze and sunshine, Saturday was not keen to provide the same.  

The teams were towed back down to Osborne Bay to patiently wait for the forecast breeze to arrive. It took a while but eventually enough breeze arrived for racing to get underway. Challenging would be the polite term for the conditions on the day with building tide and patchy breeze it was hard to stay at the front and place changes were common throughout.  

By the end of the day Keith and his team had squeezed in an impressive 11 races, both Royal Thames YC teams had made the best of the conditions with three wins each, Ullswater YC had managed two wins in the tricky conditions with Royal Ocean RC, Royal Dee YC and Edinburgh University SC taking the other race wins.  

As the racing ended for the day, Royal Thames YC now held first and third place overall with Hayling Island SC separating the two teams. Wessex Exiles had slipped in to fourth place with Royal Dee and Edinburgh University SC both on a charge towards the top of the leader board.  

A fantastic barbeque was laid on by the Royal Thames for the sailors in the evening and there was a great buzz among them as they traded hints and tips from the day’s racing.  

As the sailors headed out for the final day of racing it was tight at the top and everyone knew that with 15 races on the schedule it could go anyone’s way. Everyone was piling on the pressure and by half way through the final day there was no way to predict who the top three would be let alone who would win.  

In race 32 the pressure was so intense that five boats were over the line early and no one was prepared to return in case it was not them. Overnight leaders Royal Thames YC (2) had finished their racing by race 30 and while they were technically in the lead, Hayling Island SC, Wessex Exiles, Royal Yacht Squadron, Edinburgh University and the other Royal Thames YC team could all still take first place.  

Race 31 saw the British University Sailing Association team take the win ahead of Hayling Island SC making it now harder for them to take the overall win but still achievable. Wessex Exiles threw away their chance of victory in race 32 counting an OCS in their score line.  

A sixth place in race 33 meant that Royal Thames YC (1) could now longer beat their fellow club team or the Wessex Exiles and with Hayling Island SC taking third in the same race they were now also ahead of the RTYC (1) team and victory was assured for RTYC (2). A second place in race 35 for the Royal Yacht Squadron meant even if they won race 36 they could no longer finish better than fifth, they did go on to win the final race.  

With the final race complete, Royal Thames YC (2) had taken the win three points ahead of second place.   Second place had to be decided on a tie break of who had the most second places (both teams had equal wins) with the Wessex Exiles coming out on top over Hayling Island SC. Another tie was broken to confirm Royal Thames YC (1) in fourth place ahead of the Royal Yacht Squadron.  

Final order of the day was for a quick pack up at Shepards Wharf Marina and prize giving where Royal Thames Yacht Club where Angus Prentice applauded all of the clubs who had taken part in the event as it was they who made it the success that it was. Prizes were once again generously donated by British Keelboat League sponsors Bainbridge International, Selden Mast and Banks Sails.   

The winning team from the Royal Thames Yacht Club of Henry Arnold, Ed Bayliss, Nick Cooney and Matt Moseley also lifted the Theodore Pimm trophy.    

After the prize giving, winning skipper Arnold said: “It was classic British conditions: tide, light winds, strong winds and in the end every team found themselves at the front and back at some point. It came down to minimising mistakes and somehow we managed to do that. Saturday was particularly tough but Keith and the team did a great job running fair races in the conditions and I think we all kept the umpires entertained.   

“We would really like to thank all the clubs that hosted events throughout the year and the RYA for all support they have provided, we look forward to next year and really hope to see more clubs joining the league.”

Photos by Sportography