Four way tie for first
Strong breezes were the order of the day at the 2013 British Open Team Racing Championship for the Wilson Trophy, which began today at 1300 on West Kirby’s Marine Lake. Racing on day one of the three-day event concluded at 1700; with 73 races completed, four of the 34 teams entered were left tied for first place, claiming four out of four wins each.
Three of those four teams are representing the host club, West Kirby Sailing Club; amongst them the defending Trophy champions, West Kirby Hawks, alongside West Kirby Sailing Club Team and Hilbre Highlanders. RF Hoosiers completes the line-up of leaders.
The British Sailing Team, which includes 2012 Olympic silver medallists, Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, admitted they got off to a shaky start, at this their first team racing event. But after losing their first race to seasoned team racers, Rutland Raiders, they bounced back to win the next three.
Stuart Bithell said: “Our first race was a baptism of fire! It was very hectic, against a good team. But our results improved after that – we’ve had to become quick learners – and we have really enjoyed it so far.”
Stuart’s dad, Les Bithell, made the journey from Hollingworth Sailing Club to watch today’s action. Les is himself a past winner of the Wilson Trophy, which was first run in 1949. He says: “It’s great to see some old faces around, and everyone is enjoying themselves as much as ever. The races seem a lot shorter than they used to be!”
RYA Performance Director and Racing Manager John Derbyshire was also at West Kirby today to observe the event. He said: “The Wilson Trophy is the spiritual home of team racing. This is an incredible event to witness and see first-hand. The organisation is immense. It is not often that you see such a high standard of sailing taking place so close to spectators. It’s really slick, and there is a great atmosphere; not only amongst the competitors but also amongst the organisers and umpires; there’s a real sense of engagement between everyone.”
Teams from New York Yacht Club and Rhode Island have also made the journey to take part in this year’s event, together with three teams from Ireland. At the end of racing today, both American teams and the Irish youth team from Schull found themselves in a good position, having dropped just one race each. Oxford, Royal Thames Yacht Club and two teams from Itchenor Sailing Club also finished the day with three out of four wins, having successfully mastered the high winds of this afternoon.
But with gusts of up to 30 knots, the lively conditions caused challenges for some teams, and there were a number of dramatic capsizes throughout the day. Race officials made the call early on to sail the six-flights of equally-matched Fireflies with cut-down mainsails. Volunteer organisers from West Kirby Sailing Club were quick to react when a few minor breakages occurred, ensuring racing ran almost continuously throughout the afternoon.
Event director, Chris Riley, said: “Overall we are pleased with how the first day has gone; the racing has run seamlessly. We’ve had great feedback from the competitors so far, everyone is having a ball. Ultimately the windy conditions today favour the heavier crews, but lighter winds are forecast for tomorrow and Sunday, and over the three days the strongest teams will come to the top of the table.”
Local university team, Liverpool University, who train regularly at West Kirby Sailing Club, was one of the teams finding the fresh conditions difficult to contend with, having lost all four of their matches today. Team member, Milly Putney commented:: “The conditions are a bit wet and cold but we are having a lovely time and our team has great morale. We have had some really fun races and some very close matches; we beat one of the Olympic sailors earlier – it was just a shame his team-mates were in front of us!”
With lighter winds and sunshine predicted for tomorrow, the organisers are hoping to complete approximately 150 races. With free grandstand seating and live commentary, spectators watching from the lake wall can look forward to another thrilling day of top level team racing action, as over 200 sailors from across the UK, America and Ireland take to the water, with the first starts scheduled for 0800.