Windy Wilson Trophy sets sail tomorrow
West Kirby Sailing Club’s Wilson Trophy fires up at 1300 tomorrow, Friday 11th May, with 30 teams competing for the British Open Team Racing Championship title. The event is set to be a windy one, the forecast showing gusts of up to 18 knots on Friday, building into the 20s on Sunday afternoon.
The majority of teams competing at the 63rd Wilson Trophy this year are from the UK, but three come from Ireland and two have made the journey across from the USA for the three day long event.
From Guilford, Connecticut, Colin Gordon is one of the helms in the team Wise Old Men and this year will be sailing his 16th Wilson Trophy. The Wise Old Men typically come from a group of 20 based on the US east coast between New York City and Boston, but this year is more an Anglo-American mix including helms John Greenland and West Kirby’s own Jamie Marston.
Wise Old Men occasionally reach the quarters or semi-finals, but have yet to make it to the finals. Of their prospects at this year’s Wilson Trophy, Gordon advises: “We will use our ‘old man’ guile and wile to occasionally pick off the unsuspecting youngster, but we’ll see how we do...”
So what is the attraction of the Wilson Trophy that is bringing him back to West Kirby for a 16th time? “It is that perfect combination of the best dinghy team racing in the world, the best umpires in the world, the best race management in the world – the envelope of good team racing and good race management is always led by this regatta and this club. The advancements and the innovations made at this regatta filter across the pond and around the world to racing regattas over the subsequent years – it is always where it evolves.
“And the social side is outstanding - because I have been coming for a long time, it is great way to see a bunch of friends at the same,” says Gordon, who lived in the UK for three years during the 1990s. “It is a great trip for US team racers. We just don’t have anything like it.”
Another long term competitor at the Wilson Trophy is Debs Steele, a retired army Colonel, who first competed when she was a junior subaltern for the Army team in the late 1980s. She has since sailed at the event with the Combined Services, Spinnaker, RYA 1, New Forest Pirates and West Kirby Hawks. She is a five time winner, most recently with the Hawks in 2009 and runner-up last year.
However after the Hawks won the World Team Racing Championship in Ireland last year, Steele and her helm Dom Johnson retired from the all-conquering Hawks. “My helm Dom Johnson needed some family time, so our time was limited for training and competing,” Steele explains.
This year she returns to the Wilson Trophy with New Forest Pirates and admits that this will be the first time she has ever competed at the event with no training beforehand. “I think it will be fun, and if we can string some decent results together in the early stages I expect our team performance to improve exponentially over the three days. The special thing about our team is that all of the helms are from the old New Forest Pirates team [twice winners previously and runners-up once]. So we sailed together pretty successfully in the past - and we are all friends.
“The Wilson is simply the best team racing event in the World. It has superb facilities, evenly matched flights of boats, a brilliant and hard-working shore back-up team, excellent administration and utterly fantastic racing within an ingenious Swiss League programme and to cap it, probably some of the best team racing umpires in the world. In addition, the social scene is cool and the Saturday evening Wilson dinner has to be attended to be fully appreciated.”
But the Wilson Trophy is not only for seasoned competitors. Team racing is a popular pastime for university sailing clubs and at least eight teams competing at the Wilson Trophy represent universities.
For example Ed Morris has competed in the Wilson Trophy four times previously, twice for Spinnaker and then representing Southampton and Durham universities. This year he is competing with a BUSA (British Universities Sailing Association) team, who he admits haven’t sailed together before but includes individuals who have done well previously with their respective university teams.
“The Wilson Trophy is simply the Best Team Racing there is,” Morris enthuses. “This is for a variety of reasons: Firstly the venue is brilliant, with reliable breeze and the feeling of being on the sea without the pain that tides and currents cause in team racing. On top of this, the whole event is a master class in organisation; the Race committee is first class being both friendly, but fair and proper - and always starts with ruthless efficiency at 0757!
“Furthermore the event has the best umpire team of any event in the world, assembled from across the globe. Knowing that every race is fully umpired is amazing and you know that you will get consistency from the umpires. The flights of boats are always perfectly matched and of good quality. Off the water, the club lays on a fantastic social program that makes the event even more enjoyable.
“I think this combination of great sailing and socializing means that the best teams want to come and win the coveted Wilson Trophy which only serves to make it a better regatta.
“Finally it is worth remembering the whole membership of WKSC who work so hard during the event; from rigging and de-rigging, to the helping with the socials and finally most crucially hosting teams. By keeping the members closely involved, it gives the event a really special local feel that is often missing from the large international sailing events.”