Wilson Trophy 2016
The Wilson Trophy is the pinnacle of the UK team racing scene. It is the one event that people want to win, maybe even more so than the Nationals, which has led the "British Open Championship" to be a draw to the top UK and International teams alike. Every year 30 teams descend on the West Kirby Marine Lake to take part in this truly epic event.
The teams arrived on the Friday morning in time for a midday start using a "Swiss League" system which computer generates your next match up depending on the number of wins you have. This will continue through the weekend until Sunday lunch time when the cut will be made and the top 8 teams will progress to the quarter finals. Having won the UK National Championships only a month earlier, we felt quietly confident of a chance of progressing through to the final, however this event is a bit of a monster. Due to the 2 round lag in the computer system, you can find yourself racing harder teams even though you have lost, which means that other teams may be racing easier teams even though they have won the last couple. This has coined a phrase, a hash tag and an all round mentality for the Wilson, #timingthebounce. This relates to teams that may be on the edge of quarters making sure that they have started winning at the right time to be into the quarters without having to beat the harder teams to make it. Since the system is used to make the racing more even across the board, this can relate to any team outside the top 2 normally. Not only do you have 2.5 days of intense team racing and the Swiss League to contend with, there is also the famous Wilson Dinner on the Saturday night, the downfall of many a potential champion, with over night leaders expected to take drinking penalties in front of all their competitors and speeches that can be used to point out the less talented moves of the day. With over 100 races happening per day a number of people can be found on the receiving end, which all in all personifies the spirit in which the event takes places; competitive and fun.
Friday was a really warm, sunny day with a North Easterly which lifted and swirled over the buildings making it nearly impossible to run a fair race, however the well drilled WK team took it in their stride and, whilst it was shifty, it was nearly always a fair race with both teams getting their chances. We were sailing with the majority of our Birdham Bandits team (Myself & Sophie Ormsby, Tim Saxton & Holly Scott and Toby Lewis) with the exception of Owain Matthews who stepped in for Sam Littlejohn, and we were representing Royal Dee YC. We managed to hit the ground running and only lost one race to the American team "Days of Thunder" in which we got caught up with the race in front whilst leading in a 2-3-4 and the US team capitalised and converted us through to take a 1-2. Friday night was an opportunity to enjoy the great West Kirby view over the Dee whilst catching up with old mates who we hadn't seen for a while.
Saturday saw the first warning signal go as promised at 7:57, and we started with a chilly shifting Northerly which swung round to a North-westerly allowing the wind to become more predictable and therefore the racing became much tighter. We started well with wins against a number of good teams in a fairly comfortable manner, but as the day went on we started to get punished for not getting into 1st place around the top mark. In team racing, of any kind, if you are in first place around the top mark (even if your team mates are in 5th & 6th) the race is still well and truly on, it is always easier to attack from in front. We came up against old rivals and local heroes, the West Kirby Hawks, who showed us exactly that, beating us comfortably causing a little blip in our results and frustration of not being able to back our speed was starting to put pressure on us which boiled over into another loss, this time to SMVC. This ended up with our team executing the cardinal sin of team racing, a black flag from the umpires for dissent. I am in no way the calmest person on the water, I find it easy to get over excited doing the sport that I love so much, but a line has to be drawn and without the umpires the racing would arguably not be possible so we were rightly deducted half a race win for our comments, apologies were made and accepted after but we had to control ourselves better, and had definitely marked ourselves in their books. We finished the day without too much more drama, winning the last couple and sat in 4th overnight.
The dinner was held after sailing with all the teams being joined by their local hosts who put the sailors up over the weekend and often come to cheers them on during racing. The speeches were excellent and prizes were given to the over night leaders, the West Kirby Hawks, in the form of beer and also the Joyce Evans Memorial trophy to Isobel Walker for the most distinguished crew on and off the water. It was followed by live music and plenty of dancing and antics most of which were remembered.
Sunday morning saw us on the water for the first race at 7:57, which would have been a struggle on a work day let alone a Sunday morning! Either way, we managed to get a winning start against Royal Thames and O & C Society, however we were still not firing on all cylinders and it was starting to get closer to the cut. We took another loss against Wessex after some poor starting let them sail away from us and then again to WK Hawks and we were getting dangerously close to the edge of qualifying especially with the -0.5 race win, we needed to turn it on for the last few races. We had a slightly easier race against Serpentine with only one of their boats getting off the line, but then we found the self destruct button against Royal Forth Hoosiers putting us in 9th after the deduction with one race to go. We had a regroup before going out for our final race, and the message was simple, go back to basics, rely on pace, get off the line and back ourselves to get ahead of our pairs and we rounded the top mark in a 1-2-3 and Soph and I gapped our team into a huge 1-2, slowing the other team from 3rd as much as possible, guaranteeing us a place in the quarters.
We were matched up in the Quarter finals against Royal Forth Hoosiers, previous winners of the Wilson, and we knew we had to continue on our route from the last race. It was nearly as simple as that race, which saw Soph and I lead from the pin getting into first by the top mark and allowing Tim & Holly to gap the last Hoosier boat into a huge 6th place. Owain & Toby fought their way through the other two Hoosier boats in an epic tacking battle to take 2nd, all thanks to the gap that Tim & Holly had made. Race 2 started in a similar fashion with Soph and I launched off the pin and converting Tim & Holly into 2 up the first beat which we held all the way to the finish.....till nearly the finish. A shift had allowed one of the Hoosier boats back into the race up the last beat and whilst covered he managed to cause enough confusion that our team got a spin on the finish after a 'room to tack' call that was last-ditch at best, and the Hoosiers went to work making it count and managed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. This meant it went to a decider and off the line a collision ended with 2 of our boats pushed over the line and one of the Hoosier boats doing penalty turns, but the damage was done and the other 2 Hoosier boats sailed into a 1-2 which we could not break down. And just like that, our promising knock out stage was over, a truly gutting experience to have been so close but that is yacht racing, and that is knock out stages, like the England football team in nearly every major championship.
We have had a great season as a team, winning both the 2 Boat and 3 Boat UK Team Racing Championships and, with the Wilson out standing, it gives us something to push hard for next year. I cannot wait for it to come round again, but over the summer there are other things to be occupied with. The i14 Nationals are at Hayling in June and then the RS200 Nationals at Mounts Bay in August. We are heading to the States with the Royal Thames to take part in the Morgan Cup at the NYYC, 3 boat team racing in Sonars, racing with Sam LJ as one of the other helms. I am also doing Cowes Week in an XOD and St Tropez les Voiles in a Swan 42 preparing for the NYYC Invitational next year. Lots going on, thanks to Steve and the Rooster team for their on going support!