British Keelboat Academy prepare for their first onslaught

Young hotshots will sail two boats in the RORC Easter Challenge

Tuesday March 30th 2010, Author: Ellie Williamson, Location: United Kingdom

26 of the British Keelboat Academy’s top young racing prospects are gearing up for their inaugural regatta as part of the new Academy. Having trained hard together for the past four months the sailors will be unleashing their skills against some of the UK’s best keelboat sailors as they compete at the season’s opening inshore regatta, the RORC Easter Challenge which will run this weekend (2-4 April) on the Solent.

Both Development and National Squad sailors will be taking to the water over the three day event which for the first time in almost ten years will see British America’s Cup team, Team Origin compete alongside some of the UK’s most highly regarded keelboat sailors for what is sure to be a fascinating three days of competition.

As well as offering a great first experience of a top class regatta to many of the Academy sailors, the event also offers in-race world class coaching with the event organisers relaxing the ‘outside assistance’ rule and drafting in coaching legend Jim Saltonstall and his team to offer their invaluable input to competitors.

BKA Head Coach Luke McCarthy said: “This is a great regatta to open our season with and the sailors are really looking forward to competing for the first time rather than just training. Being a coaching event it fits with the BKA’s aims of creating a solid learning environment ensuring sailors will be in the best position possible to get the most out of the event and move their sailing on.”

Two Development Squad crews of five sailors, helmed by ex-multihull Youth Worlds gold medallist 21-year-old Tom Phipps, and bright young match racing star 18-year-old Mark Lees, will be racing UKSA loaned J80’s in the IRC class three fleet. As a mixed class the J80s will be sailing in a tricky fleet going head-to-head with boats considerably bigger than them. A good start will be essential if they are to be in with a chance of posting a good result.

With some impressive dinghy racing experience behind them Phipps’ crew are no stranger to competition however keelboat racing requires a different skill set to dinghy racing which the squad have been working on developing over the winter.

Phipps explains: “We’ve been concentrating hard on getting our manoeuvres right which has required a lot of team work – quite a different skill to sailing on your own or with just one other crew. Starts require a lot more planning, judging timings and speed to make sure you end up at the right place at exactly the right time.”

The more experienced National Squad sailors will be sailing the event in the TP52 John Merricks II, kindly loaned by the John Merricks Sailing Trust, rubbing shoulders with Skandia Team GBR star Ben Ainslie as the triple Olympic gold medallist helms Charles Dunstone’s TP52 Rio for Team Origin. The 17 strong crew will be lead by 23-year-old helm Tom Smedley a former European 29er champion who has been hard at work preparing the boat for the regatta season along with the squad.

Smedley commented: “We’re really excited about competing in our first regatta together especially as we’ll have the opportunity to race alongside Team Origin. Lots of the guys on the boat would love to be involved in America’s Cup sailing in the future so racing against sailors of this calibre is really special.

He continued: “Being in the National squad we’ve all got a bit of experience racing on the TP52 from a variety of events so we’ve been working really hard on fine tuning our manoeuvres and making sure we’re working together effectively as a new team. We’ve also worked really hard on the boat over the winter including re-spraying the deck, working on the sails to establish the best sail wardrobe we can and in the last few weekends making sure the rig is setup correctly.”

Strong winds are forecast for the weekend and all three crews are set to be tested to their limits at the event. However with Saltonstall and his team on the water the Academy sailors will enjoy some unique learning opportunities sure to catapult their sailing forward a level.

McCarthy concluded; “The Easter Challenge for us is a great way to start the season and I know that all the BKA sailors will get loads out of it to take into the season ahead, both for the J80 and ‘John Merricks II campaigns. We’re really grateful for the continued support of the John Merricks sailing trust along with our other in-kind sponsors for their support, without which we would not be able to provide the training and racing opportunities for these aspiring young sailors.”

The BKA is actively looking for additional funding to help support an even more effective programme of training and events for the rest of the year and beyond.

J80 Crew

Helm - Tom Phipps
Main/tactics - Lizzy Foreman
Trim - Matt Reid
Pit - Kirsty Matthews
Bow - Matt Haslam
Helm - Mark Lees
Main/tactics - Toby Yeabsley
Trim - TBC
Pit - Marina Brassington
Bow - Nikki Curwen

TP52 Crew

Helm- Tom Smedley
Nav - Aaron Cooper
Tactics - Guy Filmore
Backstay/strat - TBC
Main - Chris Noble
Caddy - James Brown
Trim1 - Jo Coad
Trim2 - Sally Olsen
Grind1 - Linford Rees
Grind2 - Tom Forrester-Coles
Pit1 - Becky Scott
Pit2 - Luke McCarthy
Float - Rachel Scarfe
Sewer - TBC
Mast - Hamish MacDonald
Mid bow - Phil Miller
Bow - Chris Dorey

BKA’s partners include B&G, Wild Graphics, Hamble Yacht Services Harken, Henri Lloyd, North Sails, Ocean Safety, Premium Liferafts and RORC. For more information about the Academy and how you can help with fundraising visit

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