If Friday at the Wilson Trophy was the ‘great flood’, then Saturday was the ‘gale’ that slowly through the afternoon abated and, with the sun breaking through, transformed West Kirby’s Marine Lake into the Cote d’Azur, albeit a chillier Wirral version.
After nine hours of racing with an hour long break, the 2015 Wilson Trophy has sailed 224 races. Going into the final day, the stand-out crews – much to the delight of the locals – are those of the reigning World Champions, West Kirby Hawks, currently on 13 wins from 15 races, two more than their nearest rivals.
Racing fired up at 08:30 this morning and with the wind a solid 20 knots, occasionally gusting to more than 25, boat handling was at a premium. The Fireflys were sailing with their cut-down sails, but even so, crews struggled in the conditions and there were several capsizes and even two broken masts, requiring West Kirby Sailing Club’s ‘Beach Party’ to leap into action. With the wind dropping below 20 knots after lunch the Fireflys returned to their full sail plan – a good call by the race management team, with the wind diminishing to less than 10 knots as the afternoon progressed.
Nipping at the heels of West Kirby Hawks are the 2013 Wilson Trophy winners, Wessex Exempt. As they are not racing together as often as they used to, Team leader Ben Ainsworth says they are pleasantly surprised to be lying second. “We were expecting to be a bit lower – I reckon we could drop races to any of the top 10, maybe more.”
According to Ainsworth, their success is due to the valuable lessons learned after bombing here in 2014: “Last year we took it a bit seriously – we didn’t enjoy the Wilson Dinner as much as we should have and didn’t do very well. This year we are trying the opposite approach and it is going MUCH better.”
Wessex Exempt is in good shape going into tonight’s Wilson Dinner, following ‘the Pinner Cup’, an private grudge match with arch-rivals Southampton Male Voice Choir, which Ainsworth’s team won this afternoon. “The Male Voice Choir now have to buy us a bottle of port, which we have to drink tonight,” he explains.
Ainsworth added that they enjoyed the breezier conditions today. “We are one of those teams that is good at team racing and not so good at boat handling –whereas the Royal Dee is good at boat handling and the Hawks are really good at all of it.”
The Royal Dee Yacht Club team includes some powerful crew such as Team GBR’s leading Nacra 17 helmsman Ben Saxton and ‘super crew’ Toby Lewis – appropriate given that the club celebrates its 200th birthday this year.
Saxton is no strange to the Wilson Trophy having competed in it at least eight times previously . “It is good fun, good socially – it is a nice, well organised event that all the good people come to. We are currently scraping it out between fifth and 10th place because the depth is so good. And you learn stuff. Today I got a call I didn’t understand about tacking for water and the umpire explained it to me.”
Saxton believes that diversity helps his sailing while team racing in particular involves his boat-on-boat tactics, even though returning to the Firefly from the Olympic catamaran has played havoc with his time on distance…
It was perhaps the Royal Dee’s competent boat handling this morning that elevated them into fifth place overall. “It has been quite drama-free – quite a left hand track so we keep coming off the pin and sailing free,” said Saxton.
While there are teams at the Wilson Trophy representing Ireland, the furthest travelled is the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club team from Connecticut, USA. They took part in last year but felt they hadn’t shown their best. Team leader Graham Landy explains: “The venue is special – there is nothing like the Marine Lake in the States. Plus you get so many races that it is worth it to travel across. Last year we didn’t feel we got the full ‘Wilson Trophy experience’ – we were 12th and we lost our lost seven races in a row.”
Going into the final day, the US team is currently lying in fourth place after a resounding finish to the day following a slow start. “We might have been a little ‘tired’ from last night,” admitted Landy.
The relentless ‘Swiss League’ format of racing, designed to ensure teams of similar calibre are constantly pitted against one another, continues until around midday tomorrow, when the top teams progress to quarter-finals, semis and ultimately the Final to determine the winner of the 2015 Wilson Trophy.
more info ……………..wilsontrophy.co.uk