by Andrew Cornah on 23 May 2017
The Blueoak Estates Wilson Trophy, held at West Kirby Sailing Club, is widely regarded as the premier dinghy team racing event in the world, as well as being recognised as the British Open Team Racing Championship.
The 68th edition, held over the 5th/7th May, was considered by all involved to be one of the best ever. 30 teams, including three from the US and one from Ireland, competed in a Swiss League round robin format for the first stage, which would see the top 8 teams progress to the knockout stages in front of the grandstand on Sunday afternoon.
Friday and Saturday were not the usual West Kirby conditions with the wind instead coming off the land and producing some very challenging and shifty conditions. Saturday night saw the formidable Wilson dinner take place with this year’s guest speaker, Ben Saxton, swapping Olympic catamarans for the thrills and spills of Firefly team racing. GJW Direct presented their annual Outstanding Achievement award to umpire Richard Thompson for his long term support of the Wilson and his services to team racing, including his Chairmanship of the UK Team Racing Association.
Sunday really delivered – the wind filled in from the north and with sun all day (it’s always sunny in West Kirby) it really was champagne sailing. Stage one finished after an incredible 330 races with each team racing 22 times. The competitiveness of all teams really showed with just 3 race wins separating the team in 6th with the team in 25th place in the Swiss league.
This is when the magic of the Wilson really kicks in; the sailors who haven’t made it through to the quarter finals line the grandstand and the shore, with live commentary on the races that are taking place just meters away on the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ that is West Kirby marine lake. The knockout stages produced some amazing races; in quarter final 1, number 1 seeds Birdham Bandits defeated Northern Clydes, a team which included Olympic silver medallists Luke Patience and Stu Bithell; Royal Thames Blue saw off SMVC, Wessex Exempt dispatched the remaining American team ‘Days of Thunder’ and defending champions West Kirby Hawks narrowly overcame traditional rivals Spinnaker. In the semi- finals Birdham kept up their momentum defeating 2013 winners Wessex Exempt in 2 straight races. The 2nd semi pitched local favourites and four time winners West Kirby Hawks against a young Royal Thames Blue team who had impressed everyone over the event. Over the best of 3 it was the youngsters who prevailed over experience, showing great boat speed and team work to win 2-1.
The final was, as Wilson finals often are, epic and went the full distance of 5 races with the Birdham Bandits, representing Itchenor Sailing Club who were winners of the first ever Wilson way back in 1949, coming from 2-1 down to claim the much coveted Wilson Trophy. The Birdham Bandits sailors were: George Yeoman, Tim Saxton, Sam Littlejohn, Holly Scott, Toby Lewis & Sophie Ormsby.
The under 21 trophy was won by Old Waynfleet representing Oxford Sailing Club.
As the teams of club volunteers and visiting umpires relaxed with some well-earned refreshments, conversation soon turned to the plans for the 70th Wilson which will soon be here in 2019. It will be difficult to beat an event like this year’s Wilson but the dream is to make the 70th an epic celebration of the event, the sailors past and present and team racing in general. WKSC would welcome ideas on how to make the 70th Wilson really special.