The finest teams from every corner of the United Kingdom battled it out this weekend at the British Keelboat League 2019 Finals. 88 sailors, making up 22 teams, from 22 different British based club were tearing up the racecourse at Queen Mary Reservoir. Royal Thames Yacht Club hosted the British Keelboat League Finals with their usual professional flair and PRO Keith Sammons and his team absolutely smashed through the races scheduled.
After a busy registration on Friday morning, teams had the opportunity to get out on the water for some training in the supplied RS21’s before they got down to the racing. Conditions were really challenging with the gradient breeze fluctuating between 5 and 25 knots and with the biggest gusts piling down the lake at 35 knots, teams had to be on their toes. Darker clouds were bringing in the punchier breeze, with favoured sides of the beat flicking between laps. Choosing the right mode downwind was essential, with sailors making massive gains by catching gusts or simply soaking down to the mark dependant on the breeze. Consistency was key with Ullswater Yacht Club and The University of Bristol leading overnight. Teams who carried OCS scores or had a pin-down or two with their kites were lower down the field but after 11 races it was very much still all the play for on day 2.
Sailors arrived on Saturday morning to find the gradient breeze consistently higher but with fewer fluctuations and lower top gusts, therefore the feeling amongst the sailors was that it would be a slightly easier day on the water. The breeze stayed between 15-25 knots all day but the gusts were still punchy enough to lay a few unprepared RS21s on their side downwind. Teams worked hard to keep their boat speed up in the changing conditions and hunted for pressure across the course.
After another packed day of racing and 32 races in the bag, sailors quickly piled out of the club to travel into central London for the British Keelboat League Gala Dinner, hosted at the distinguished Royal Thames Yacht Club. Suits and dresses at the ready the teams looked forward to an evening of great food and great chat. Big wipeouts, epic starts, punchy port tack approaches and one team doing so many turns the umpire had arm ache – there were plenty of stories to share.
Glasses of bubbly were handed to teams on arrival at the Royal Thames Yacht Club and Rear Commodore of Sailing, Jennifer Woods from RTYC made a lovely introduction before the teams tucked into some fabulous food. With the drinks flowing and the forecast looking fresh to frightening first thing on Sunday morning, PRO Keith Sammons made the popular decision to postpone racing for an hour on Sunday morning. Cheers from competitors could be heard throughout the club when he shared the news, with many of them taking the opportunity to have a slightly later night than originally planned.
Teams arrived at Queen Mary Reservoir on Sunday morning to another breeze filled racecourse, but with the biggest breeze already blown through early that morning conditions mirrored Saturdays offerings. The Race Committee was absolutely on it and headed out on the water to kick start the final day of racing but some teams in the first flight were not as punctual and they were seen running down to the change over ribs under a lot of pressure to make the start!
Racing under way, it was another day of snakes and ladders, with pressure scattered across the course it was all about keeping boat speed up through the lulls and knowing where the fleet was around you. With crews becoming more confident with handling the RS21s, decision making was starting to get punchier, with close calls whilst ducking and at windward marks. Many teams fell foul of rule 18.3 and red flags were regularly being raised by jurors. Downwind saw teams mixing between kites and two sails dependant on what had been displayed at the committee boat that start. Trying to keep a clear air on your tail whilst two sail sailing and working down low with the gusts when the kites were flying seemed to be getting teams ahead. Eight RS21s rounding the leeward mark within 15 seconds of each other was a common feature, with quick clean drops and tidy exits from the mark being key to allow teams to have options up the second beat.
With 5 races to go, there was no clear winner. It was going to go down to the absolute wire with the top five teams; Royal Thames Yacht Club, University of Bristol Sailing Club, Haversham Sailing Club, Ullswater Yacht Club and Grafham Sailing Club. With the conditions building up from 20knots and the gusts getting more feisty, teams needed to ensure their last couple of races were low risk so that they could post some consistent scores.
With two 4th places and an OCS, Bristol University bowed out gracefully from the top three and they were clinched by Royal Thames Yacht Club who finished the series with a 3rd, 2nd and 1st for fourth place. With a 6th place two races before the close of play, it looked like Ullswater could be knocked out the top three but they finished the series with a first place which bagged them third overall. Nail-biting to the finish, Haversham Sailing Club were still in with a chance to win in the last two races if they posted two first places but sadly they didn’t get close and with Grafham Sailing Club posting a 2nd and a 1st they were untouchable.
“This is the closest final I’ve ever seen in all my time with the British Keelboat League. It went right down to the wire, in some of the toughest conditions we’ve raced in and teams controlled the RS21s in a really confined space. I’m looking forward to seeing the teams return to compete in the league next year” Jack Fenwick, RYA Keelboat Manager.
Royal Thames Yacht Club delivered an eloquent a punctual prize giving, with thanks given to PRO Keith Sammons and his awesome team, the umpires, change over rib drivers, Queen Mary Sailing Club, RS Sailing and all the sponsors involved in the league; A-Plan, GJW Direct, PA Consulting, Kingfisher Yacht Ropes, Epropulsion, MDL Marinas, Hyde Sails, PFK, Bainbridge International, Draper Tools and Rooster.
Special mentions were given to sailors who had earned themselves the title of ‘tool of the day’, they walked away a little red-faced but with a snazzy Draper Tool kit. Ullswater Yacht Club, Haversham Sailing Club and the 2019 Final champions Grafham Sailing Club all came forward to receive their prizes. The young team from Grafham Sailing Club gave a short speech thanking the Royal Thames Yacht Club and all the people who had made the event happen.
1 Grafham Water Sailing Club
2 Haversham Sailing Club
3 Ullswater Yacht Club
4 Royal Thames Yacht Club
5 University of Bristol Sailing Club
6 Royal Windermere Yacht Club
7 Newcastle University Alumni
8 Royal Corinthian Yacht Club
9 Budworth Sailing Club
10 Bournemouth University Sailing Club
11 Oban Sailing Club
12 Royal Torbay Yacht Club
13 Waveney & Oulton Broad Yacht Club
14 Royal Southern Yacht Club
15 Wessex Sailing Club (Exiles)
16 Lymington Town Sailing Club
17 West Hoe Sailing Club
18 Dundee University Sailing Club
19 Royal Western Yacht Club of England
20 Carsington Sailing Club
21 Royal Lymington Yacht Club
22 GBR Blind Sailing
by Lynn Billowes