Lining up for the Wilson Trophy
One of international team racing’s most historic competitions, the Wilson Trophy sets sail on Friday 11th May the three day event hosted by West Kirby Sailing Club. With 30 teams competing on the Wirral peninsula for this year’s British Open Team Racing Championship, the form going into the event is anything but certain.
This year marks the 63th occasion the Wilson Trophy has been held with racing taking place as usual between three boat teams sailing Fireflies on West Kirby’s Marine Lake, a man-made lake rebuilt in 1986. Perhaps the original example of stadium sailing, now being adopted in the Olympic Games and even the America’s Cup, a grandstand is set up around Marine Lake allowing spectators, well into their 1000s over the duration of the event, to get a bird’s eye view of the action taking place on the water.
The Wilson Trophy uses the ‘Swiss league system’ before entering its knock-out stages. This is an on-going league system where after an initial ranking, teams move up and down the leagues according to their most recent results. The cumulative results from each round determine which teams will race which in the following round. These are followed by quarter and semi-finals before the grand finale rounds off the event on the Sunday afternoon.
With 30 three boat teams, there is a huge quantity of racing to get through in two and a half days, and this requires the competition to take place at a furious pace. In 2011 a total of 320 races were held with each team sailing 21 races before even getting to the knock-out rounds. For this reason races are kept short, lasting typically just six to eight minutes, sailed around an S-shaped course on Marine Lake.
Among the crews taking part are the cream of team racing talent, including two teams from the USA and three from Ireland. The benchmark could well be the West Kirby Hawks, runners-up of the Wilson Trophy for the last two years, winners of the UK Nationals three times and winners of the ISAF Team Racing World Championship in Ireland last September. However since the Worlds two of their six strong line-up has since changed, with Toby Lewis and Mat Findlay replacing Dom Johnson and Deborah Steele.
West Kirby Hawks’ Andrew Cornah is competing in his 14th Wilson Trophy, having sailed it every year since he was 17. “It is a fantastic event, the best team racing event on the planet,” he says. “But I grew up in West Kirby so I grew up knowing all about it. It is quite a mythical thing.”
As to the Hawks’ new recruits, in Toby Lewis they have a three time winner of the Endeavour Trophy champion of champions event. “He is a bit of a super crew,” admits Cornah. And this should certainly help in their quest to recover the Wilson Trophy. “We have been in the final for the last three years, and losing the last two years we are quite hungry to go and win it back,” he adds.
Other teams likely to be in contention are the two from the Royal Thames Yacht Club - Red and Vultures – who have been consistently finished in the top three for the last couple of years. Perennial visitors from the USA are the Woonsocket Rockets, who regularly make the quarter and semi-finals of the Wilson Trophy, with sailors who finished second and third at last year’s Worlds. Also capable of getting to the top of the leaderboard are the Cambridge Tabby Cats and Spinnaker Jedi, recent winners of the UKTRA RYA National Team Racing Championships at Bough Beach.
With ex-Hawks helm Dom Johnson returning to his original team, New Forest Pirates, it is also possible that they will see a return to their glory years when they enjoyed back-to-back victories in the Wilson Trophy over 2002-3.
Racing at the Wilson Trophy starts at 1300 on Friday, 11th May.