British victory after 10 years
Andy Cornah and his fellow skippers Ben Field, Mark Lees and Jon Pinner - all members of the Royal Thames Yacht Club team racing squad - reversed more than a decade of American domination in the British-American Cup with an emphatic performance on Queen Mary Water, West London to take the oldest prize in keelboat team racing by 7 wins to 2.
The British-American Cup, originally donated by the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club in 1922 as an International Challenge match in Six Metres has been held bi-ennially ever since but was last won by the British in 1999. In 2008 yet another American win brought the Fourth Series of the Cup to an end after 16 matches. Rather than see the competition die Royal Thames challenged the USA to a Fifth series and put up a new British-American Cup. Although the guardians of the contest have always been yacht clubs (in the USA Seawanhaka, in Britain a number of Clubs) the competition is by tradition open, with selection trials held in both countries.
Selection trials for this year's event were held in April and since then Cornah and his team, determined not to preside over yet another British defeat, have practised together assiduously. Most international team racing is three-on-three over short courses with races lasting about 12 minutes; the BA Cup is unusual in calling for teams of four boats a side, sailed over longer courses and with races lasting 40 minutes. The tournament allows for up to 13 of such races, spread over three days, with the match going to the first team to win 7 races.
Racing for the First Match of the Fifth Series began on Friday 29 October with four races sailed. The British opened well with a straightforward win, then fought off a determined American challenge to win more narrowly. In the third race all but two of the eight boats racing were over the line at the start but the British were slower to respond to the recall (with Cornah failing to respond at all) leaving the Americans the yachting equivalent of an open goal. The Yanks needed no second bidding. Stung, the British came back strongly to lead after Day 1 by three races to one.
Day 2 saw more close racing and the signs of an American resurgence. They narrowly lost the first two races, then in the third managed by excellent and aggressive team racing to turn what looked at mark two to be a solid and unbreakable British 1-2-3 combination into an Amercian 1-2-3 win. In race four although Cornah for Britain led the race America held a solid 2-3-4-5 position at every mark until the last one. The 14 points thus scored would have been enough to give America their third win - but at that final tuning mark Cornah turned-in a true 'Captain's Innings' blocking and slowing all four US boats to allow his team mates to catch-up, re-engage and eventually convert their losing 1-6-7-8 placings into a winning 1-2-3-7.
This is a competition that has often seen the British start well then fade while the Americans dig deep, find new resolve and shift up a gear to pull the fat from the fire - it happened in 2008 in the USA, in 2007 and in 2003 in UK waters - so no British supporters risked so much as a smile as the boats lined up for the first race of a possible five today. No one smiled when the Brits went round mark one in positions 1-2-3-7 (13 points) with the Americans 4-5-6-8 (23 points - lowest score wins). No one smiled when the Brits held that 1-2-3 while Ben Field, in the 7th-place British boat, ran such effective interference on the American boats that the gap between them and the leaders widened further. No one smiled as the Brits rounded the final mark still 1-2-3 - the order in which. at last, they crossed the finish line. Then everyone smiled. Well, everyone British, that is.