It was done. The sailing sub had pre-selected the 12 most competitive sailors in the club that might be able to represent Marconi in a series of very long race days of, physically and mentally challenging keelboat races.
The prize was clear. Increased profile for the club, involvement in a format of racing that we’d very little experience in, a great experience for the 12 selected sailors and the opportunity to learn from the events that we were to organise and be involved in, that would inform our decisions about how we develop club racing and our racers in future years.
April: We were off. Not having keelboats other than cruisers available to us, Ian Caruth, owner of Robber 3e Sundance, offered his boat to match up against the clubs own Robber, Ned Kelly. Hearing of our plans, Charlie Ball of North Fambridge yacht club made a very difficult 8 hour passage from Crouch to Blackwater, so that his Robber Raffles could also be used in the selection races between our 12 sailors that would determine the team to represent Marconi in the British Keelboat League.
Replicating the format of the BKL, John Burgoyne and Sally ran a day of 15 minute, windward / leeward races that saw the 12 sailors swapping boats until a winning team was identified. The onboard coach / selectors which included Dave Onyons, experienced racer on Ned Kelly and the other owners, Ian and Charlie, selecting the 5th member to join the winning team that would progress to the regional leg at the Royal Corinthian in June.
Our sponsors were now onboard, Billericay Heating, TCS Chandlery and Dinghy Rope provided support for our team to prepare themselves for the competition.
May: Tristan Walker – Hutt (helm), Tom Clayton, Bryan Spencer, Jack Collis and Luke Lazell embarked on a series of training sails on 707’s on the Crouch as they prepared. When it came to race weekend their training paid off. Quickest out of the blocks they made their mark in the first 3 races, but the more experienced teams from the Royal Thames YC and Queen Mary’s SC, soon got up to speed with the 707’s and targeted Marconi in pre starts and 1st beats, forcing penalties using there better application of the racing rules. Mental note 1 made.
June: Our team didn’t go unnoticed. Their commitment to the event, boat handling skills, 4th position and the exemplary way that they represented the club, resulted in them receiving an invite to the next leg to be held in Cowes organised by the Royal Yacht Squadron.
July: Training continued. Key Yachting, the distributor of the J70 yacht in the UK, provided Marconi with a training boat for a day from their base at Hamble point. Charlie Marchant coached the Marconi team, which now included club commodore Michaela Dowley as Tristan had to drop out because of other commitments. J70 training was followed by three evenings of match racing during the clubs cadet week, where teams of challengers put our BKL to the test in our Robber 3e’s.
August: Off to Cowes. The Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS). What a fantastic weekend. Not just because of the close fought fleet racing in J70’s in Osborne Bay, but the very warm welcome that was provided by the staff and officers of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the super professional way that the event was run on the water. Not only did they relax their dress code to invite our team for dinner (not quite as relaxed as Luke’s Board shorts), but they provided a tour of the Castle. Surrounded by Ainslie’s Americas Cup challenge trophies, and ship fittings from King George V’s yacht Britannia, and the library of ‘First Editions’ lodged by the members, the clubs team of catering apprentices served a fantastic supper. ‘And those showers after the sailing were just the most luxurious surroundings you can imagine’, reported Bryan who was in there for quite a long time.
The competition at the Royal Yacht Squadron leg was strong. Not much time difference between first and last boat on the water, but the university teams both from the UK and the USA who were well practised in team racing, where noticeably towards the head of the fleet in many of the races. Mental note 2 made. Our Marconi team, now helmed by Michaela, consistently finished in the mid to lower half of the fleet, but things were much closer than their position might suggest with just a few boat lengths between positions.
September: Next an invite to the final. This time organised by the Royal Thames Yacht Club, who like the RYS, have a fleet of J70’s dry sailed from Shepards Wharf in Cowes.
Once again the event was run like clockwork, with the well practiced race officer team from the Royal Thames supported by Jack Fenwick, RYA keelboat development manager and his team of umpires buzzing around the fleet in their ribs. Three days of racing in warm and sunny conditions saw the Marconi team change things around a bit as they searched to build on what they’d learned last time out. Both Bryan and then Jack spent a day on the helm, adding to the experience that we were building within the team as our crew swapped roles.
Itchener Sailing Club came out champions, lead by Ben Saxton, Nacra 17 Olympian and just back from an 8th position in the J70 Worlds. Itchenor were worthy winners and the only team that at times could put distance between their boat and the rest of the fleet. Marconi finished in 15th position, a solid performance for our team and as they came off the water on completion of their campaign, wide smiles on their faces, Jack Collis was heard to say ‘I nearly had him, there was less than a bowsprit between all 3 boats in that race, I nearly had him.’ Such was the spirit and friendly competition in this hottly contested championship which now sees Itchenor to represent Britain in the European Champions League in 2018.
What an experience the BKL had been in 2017, but no sooner were our team back in Essex, our thoughts began to turn to the 2018 event and the first leg of that was to be the Youth leg of the competition in October 2017.
October: The sailing sub made a selection, sent off the entry and secured a place in the event to be run at the Royal Southern YC in Hamble. Again the J70 is to be the fleet boat, so Jack Collis was selected to take what he’d learned into the team that is made up of David and Dan Nickalls and Jack Wardell as we start the next phase of our keelboat race team development.
Keelboat racing is not just a team sport for those in the boat. Our Marconi teams success, and it has undoubtably been a success, depended on the support and actions of many others within our club. The selection event challengers, race officers, Robber 3e owners, rib drivers, mark layers, match race challengers, bag carriers and child minders. All of you made this happen and our sailing teams recognise this and thank you for it.
Many thanks also to Keyachting and our sponsors, TCS Chandlery, Dinghy Rope and Billericay Heating.
A quote from our Commodore Michaela Dowley…
‘The keelboat league has given MSC the opportunity to develop an area of racing that was pretty much non-existent before. By holding training sessions and selection races this programme of sailing throughout the year has brought sailors from all the different fleets in the club together. Plenty of members have shown an interest in the exciting format of racing and it’s something we plan to grow in the future.’