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GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series review: Winter Hard, Summer Easy

by Andy Rice, SailJuice 17 Mar 2017 17:51 GMT 17 March 2017

Why is it that some of the country's best dinghy sailors bother to race in the GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series? After all, who cares about handicap racing compared with the one-design championships of the summer? There's no arguing the weather is better in the warm half of the year, but for a growing number of sailors the pull of winter handicap events is proving irresistible.

Matt Mee is a former Fireball World Champion and a former member of the Olympic squad when he campaigned a 470 before deciding to get a proper job. Now he races an RS200 with his girlfriend Emma Norris. They sailed a very consistent set of races to win the eighth edition of the GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series.

Over the years the Series has consistently attracted the highest calibre sailors such as Nick Craig, the all-time Endeavour Champion record holder who won this winter circuit two seasons ago in a Merlin Rocket. In fact most of the Series winners over the past eight years have won major championships at some point in their careers.

Craig makes no bones about the fact that he wasn't that bothered about winning the Series in itself. For the multiple champion, it was all about keeping his eye in over the winter with some tight, tactical racing. It's a different type of racing compared with one-design competition where the game is all about beating the opposition on the water, maybe giving away time and distance to defend a lead. In handicap racing you're up against the clock, so the tactics are different. It's about keeping clear air, keeping the boat moving and avoiding the pinch points around the course. Avoiding the congestion zone.

Does that make the winter handicap racing scene irrelevant to being successful on a one-design racing circuit during the summer, when maybe the courses are straightforward windward/leewards? Not at all, if you believe the view of some sports psychologists. Cross training helps broaden your skills and prepares you better to cope with the unexpected. Why would you want to practise tight-reaching if your championships are only ever contested on windward-leeward courses? Well, what about if the wind changes direction? In an overpowered singlehanded asymmetric dinghy like the Musto Skiff, this can turn the boat into a real handful, but for regulars on the GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series like Ben Schooling (this year's runner-up) he's been practising that move all throughout the off-season. On those days during a class championship when the wind turns and you find yourself below the layline for the gate, Schooling knows what to do.

Training and honing your skills might be one reason why you might want to race in the Series, but for most it's a simple matter of it being good fun. "I've made so many friends from other classes that I'd never normally meet," says Russ Clark who with wife Penny won the last event in their RS400 at the Oxford Blue. "It's great to remind yourself of what else is out there in the dinghy world, to see boats you might never otherwise see, like the National 18." Some are even finding that they're starting to enjoy the organised chaos and traffic jams of a big handicap fleet compared with the more predictable ebb and flow of one-design racing. The racing is hectic, there's still a large dose of luck required for success, but getting in amongst a whole array of boats that might range in speed from the Topper through to a foiling Moth is an experience that can start to get addictive.

With 10 different classes in the top 10 overall, and quite often nine or 10 different types of boat finishing in the top order of individual events, it's possible to win in pretty much any kind of boat. That's all thanks to the members of the Great Lakes handicapping group chaired by Andrew Craig from Queen Mary Sailing Club. Where past winters have tended to be windy and played in favour of the trapeze boats like Fireballs and 505s, the lighter winds of this recent winter have seen some of the hiking boats come to the fore, such as the RS200 and RS400.

What next winter will bring we will have to wait and see, but the format for the ninth edition of the GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series will be very similar, with the same seven events on the roster starting with the Fernhurst Books Draycote Dash in November.

These events couldn't happen without the selfless support of numerous volunteers, from race officers to boat drivers to car park attendants, cooks, number crunchers and many more. Thanks to them and the clubs that put on seven of the best events of the winter.

A Thousand Competitors in 89 types of boat

The GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series attracts sailors from all parts of the country, and from many different levels in the sport. It's not just about the big names at the front of the fleet, it's about a celebration of the diversity of dinghy racing in the UK. Over the 2016/17 season, a total of 1012 competitors representing 89 different classes competed in the Series.

We celebrated the success of many different category winners at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show in London at the beginning of March. Watch the video here...

Aside from the overall winners there were many other category winners....

Allen Rankings

The Allen rankings calculates the improvements in relative corrected times of each sailor to the front of the fleet in each race. At the Oxford Blue, Paul Robson in his RS Aero 7 showed the best improvement across the all three races. For the overall and final rankings Craig Williamson held onto top spot, with Nick Craven (RS Aero 7) and Nigel Austin (D-Zero) tying in second overall.

Dinghy Rope Top Class

Defending champions the Laser class have been pushed hard for the 2016/17 by the RS200s, regularly trading places at the top of the Dinghy Rope rankings. With the leader board based on the best three results from class across every race. With a good showing at Oxford, the RS200s managed to close the gap on the Lasers to 0.4% but not sufficient to overhaul the defending champions. So for the second time running the Laser class is declared the top class.

Trident Top Club

After taking the top spot at the penultimate round of the 2016/17 GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series, Datchet Water Sailing Club managed to hold on to first place to be crowned Trident Top Club Champions.

Harken Youth and Juniors

With a big RS Aero turnout at Oxford it was not surprising that the class dominated the Harken rankings, taking seven of the top 10 places. Liam Willis, who also won the RS Aero Winter Championships, took top spot, joined by fellow RS Aero sailors, Tim Hire and Caitlin Atkin in second and third respectively. In the final overall Harken rankings, George Coles (Laser), topped the leader-board, with Eleanor Craig (Radial) 2nd, and Tim Hire (RS Aero 7) third and top Junior.

SpeedSix Challenge

Based on the best sustained speed achieved as recorded by the SailRacer trackers, both on an actual and adjusted basis. The final event was held at Oxford, and saw regular speedster Ben Schooling (Musto Skiff) post the highest actual speed and best combined adjusted speeds across all three races. Local RS600 sailor, Dan Robins posted the best adjusted speed of the day. For the overall rankings based on adjusted speeds, the B14 of Mark Barnes and Charlotte Jones won the SpeedSix Challenge from Ralph and Sophie Singleton (RS800), with the Comet Trio of Alex and Bob Horlock completing the podium.

GUL Top Lady

The 2016/17 GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series saw a duel between defending champion Eleanor Craig (Radial) and Ann Jackson (Enterprise) for the second year running. For the 2016/17 Series, Ann managed to go one better to take top spot, pushing Eleanor into second. Val Milllward (Challenger) finishing third overall.

GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series photos

Tim Olin has taken 1,200+ fantastic pictures from the Winter Series, now you can buy prints and canvas of your favourite moments. Search by sailor, sail number, class and event.


Relive all the action from the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series with the SailRacer round-up videos.

The Events

The following regattas constituted the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series 2016/2017:

Draycote Dash, Draycote Water Sailing Club
Saturday 19 & Sunday 20 November 2016

Datchet Flyer, Datchet Water Sailing Club
Saturday 10 & Sunday 11 December 2016

Brass Monkey, Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club
Tuesday 27 December 2016

Grafham Grand Prix, Grafham Water Sailing Club
Monday 2 January 2017

Bloody Mary, Queen Mary Sailing Club
Saturday 7 January 2017

John Merricks Tiger Trophy, Rutland Sailing Club
Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 February 2017

Oxford Blue, Oxford Sailing Club
Saturday 18 February 2017

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