The weekend of January 11 and 12 saw the long running Winter Match Racing series kick off in big breeze at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy. 

High winds were forecast for most of the weekend so it was some trepidation that the eight teams headed out in to Portland Harbour in winds of around 30 knots but it wasn’t long before racing was underway. 

The first flight saw early wins for Alex Whitfield, James Clapham and Sophie Taylor. Racing was tight around the track as no spinnakers meant the boats stayed close down the runs and there was plenty of luffing battles and opportunities to overtake for the duration.

Four flights were completed fairly quickly with Sophie Taylor winning three of four races looking like the on form team. With the start sequence underway for flight five a squall of around 40 knots blew across the course so as soon as the races were complete the teams were sent ashore for a break.

With little chance of the wind subsiding racing was abandoned for the day with Ted Blowers and Tom Hough undefeated (2-0 each) and Sophie Taylor just behind 4-1. The traditional post supper debrief was brought forward so that teams could discuss the issues and learning points of the day with the coach and the umpire team. A lively discussion continued through supper and mutterings of mark-room could be heard around the Cove House Inn as the chat went on in to the evening. 

While initial forecasts for Sunday had promised blue skies and a gentle breeze the teams were once again greeted by 30 knots of breeze, at least the sun was out though. Fully practised in the conditions though the sailors eagerly made their way out to get racing underway again.

Tom Hough and Ted blowers continued their winning ways in the first flight of the day and the next flight saw them go head to head with Hough coming out on top. His celebrations were short lived, however, as he suffered his first loss to Thomas Goodman in the very next flight.

Two more flights were completed and at the end of the round robin Hough and Blowers were tied on six wins each, Hough taking first place due to winning their match, Goodman’s victory in the last race of the Round Robin over Alex Whitfield pushed him over the top and in to third place with Sophie Taylor taking the last semi-final spot. With one team having withdrawn the bottom three teams were given a ladder to race where they could climb from 7th to 5th.

Alex Whitfield kept Max Todd in seventh place winning the first race of the ladder and gaining a chance to battle Sophie Otter for fifth place. It was not to be however and Sophie maintained her fifth place finish. In the Semi-finals Tom Hough was up against Sophie Taylor and Ted Blowers was racing against Thomas Goodman.

Blowers and Hough took the first wins of the semis and while Blowers secured his place in the final 2-0 Taylor was not up for sailing in the petit final and fought back with two straight wins to earn her place in the final. Goodman and Hough had a sudden death match to decide who would take place and in a reversal of their result from the round robin Hough took a well-earned win. In the final Blowers took the first win controlling the race from start to finish.

Race two looked like Taylor might be fighting her way back as she took the lead half way through the race. With a strong luff towards the end of the second run it looked like Sophie would level the score but an uncharacteristic mistake saw her drop her kite too early which allowed Blowers to sneak past and take the win. 

Jack Fenwick, RYA Keelboat Development Manager, said: “With high winds forecast there was no certainty we would race this weekend but it was great that we were able to give the sailors the chance to race in such strong winds as its not often you get to race in 30+ knots of breeze.

"I was really impressed not only with how they coped with the conditions but also that the level of the racing was so high with teams still chasing after any advantage they could.” 

After the prize giving Blowers, who will be representing GBR at the upcoming Youth Match Racing World Championships in Auckland, NZ, said: “Our weekend was good. We were one of the lighter teams so it was good to go out and test ourselves in the heavier breeze. The racing was of a good standard, we only lost one race but all of the races were close so it was good to start the year with a win and hopefully we will continue that in to Winter Match Racing 2 and beyond.” 

The next winter match racing event will be on February 8 and 9 with more details available from www.ryamatchracing.co.uk.