West Kirby Sailing Club press release issued on 10/05/2015
Team racing’s annual pinnacle, the Wilson Trophy, came to a close this afternoon with a worthy victor in West Kirby Hawks. The third and last day of racing on the Wirral seaside town’s Marine Lake, overlooking the River Dee and with Wales as a backdrop, was roundly won by the local favourites, who beat Wessex Exempt 3-1 in the Final.
For the last day of the Wilson Trophy, the wind had swung into the south, blowing out of the River Dee estuary, starting in 15 knots gusting to 18, then veering and dropping to below 10, for the final rounds. The Swiss League qualifiers ended after 22 rounds, before moving into best of three Quarter Finals and Semis and best of five Finals. These truly showcased team racing at its very highest level, with spectators lining the shallow banks of the Marine Lake providing a soundtrack of gasps, whoops, hollas and outcrys as the titans of the sport slogged it out.
West Kirby Hawks hasn’t won the Wilson Trophy since 2012, but the team is the reigning World Champion, following their victory in Schull, Ireland in 2011. In fact this year is the first time since Schull, that the World Championship winning line-up of Andrew Cornah, Ben Field, Dom Johnson, Hamish Walker, Tom Foster, Debs Steele have regrouped. The reason for ‘getting the band back together’ is the team’s desire to defend its title this year at the ISAF Team Racing World Championship due to be held on Rutland Water in July.
“The Wilson is the pinnacle of team racing, because there are so many fantastic teams here pitting it out,” explains West Kirby Hawks leader Dom Johnson, who flew in from Singapore especially for the event. Here he was reunited with his crew, Debs Steele, one of the most capped Wilson Trophy competitors of all time, having sailed it 23 times and been in the final 12 times. “If you look at any of the top eight teams, any one of them can perform and take races off the other.”
Saying that, West Kirby Hawks finished the Swiss League qualifiers having only been beaten in three after 22 races. In fact throughout this Wilson Trophy they only suffered four defeats. However, as Johnson pointed out, their races “weren’t walkovers. They were gritty races where we were having to do conversions and come-backs. There weren’t too many 1-2-3 sail-aways. The conditions were part of that, because it was quite changeable, but that was great for us in terms of progression and practice.”
The Finals also saw a number of incidents, including a major one which Johnson (fourth from the right above) admitted he may have caused, as he explained: “Mark 3 at the bottom of the run can often be a ‘point of congestion’ in team racing. In one race we felt in control with a 2-3-4, which is a winning combination, and there was a slight boat handling error on my part: I was trying to gybe across, spun out slightly in a puff and crashed into my team mate and also the opposition boat that was trying to do a mark trap. So I caused a bit of mayhem.” That was in the only race of the Final in which the Hawks suffered a defeat.
Some eminent sailors failed to make the grade. One of the most promising teams, from the Royal Dee Yacht Club, led by Team GBR Nacra 17 sailor Ben Saxton, ended up being knocked out in the Semi-Finals, a repeat of their performance here last year. Sailing with Saxton was ‘super crew’ Toby Lewis. “One of the reasons we have done okay is that we are all fast sailors and boat speed is important because it makes your tactics a lot easier if you are quick,” observed Lewis for whom this was his seven Wilson Trophy. “They are all very good sailors here – it is a challenge.”
London 2012 Olympic 470 silver medallist Stuart Bithell was racing as part of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy team: “It has been a brilliant Wilson Trophy for us – I think we’ve had the most wins we’ve ever had, even though we didn’t make the Quarters. In fact we were quite up and down – we’d have a really good run and then we’d start racing better teams and it became trickier…” While this is only his third time at the Wilson Trophy with the WPNSA team, Bithell originally raced the Wilson a nipper, when he represented his original club, Hollingworth Lake, near Rochdale.
In summary, West Kirby Sailing Club Commodore Phil Shepherd commented: “It has been a fantastic weekend – everything went well. The boats held together very nicely and the number of races, the speed of turn-arounds speaks for itself. The quality of the competitors was also amazing. This is certainly the most competitive Wilson Trophy I have ever witnessed.”
And in case you are wondering, the total number of races run by PRO Adam Whittle and his team at this year’s Wilson Trophy was…324.