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British University Fleet Racing Championships 2017

by Tony Mapplebeck 17 Nov 2017 07:12 GMT 4-5 November 2017

Bournemouth, Plymouth & Southampton take Fleet Trophies, Exeter women & Southampton men are Team Champions

A record entry for the annual BUCS Fleet Racing Championships - over 230 student sailors from 25 universities - competed at Draycote Water SC over the first weekend of November. The British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) and British University Sailing Association (BUSA) annual Fleet Racing Championships were hosted by the University of Warwick Sailing Club.

Racing was in four fleets: Fast and Slow Handicap, Laser and Firefly, the latter being popular as a university sailing club's own boats can be used. Many sailors use their own boats in the other fleets, or beg, borrow and charter. There was a spread of experience and skill across all the fleets. The 'Fleets' is the first national event of the academic year and has a wide range of competitors - from freshers to postgrad. research students, from club sailors and those who came through the RYA youth system to RYA Olympic squaddies.

For many serious team racers and keelboat sailors – disciplines that take up much of the student time-on-the-water each season - this event combines a weekend of competitive fleet racing early in the year with an opportunity for clubs to do some team-building and bonding that will underpin subsequent progress in competition through the year.

In addition to the individual boat competing with the objective of medalling in its Fleet, there is a strong inter-university, competitive edge, with the top four boats in each fleet earning "BUCS points" – to the financial advantage of their university athletics unions – and University Men's and Women's team titles at stake.

The racing was managed over two courses, with some transfer of fleets between them to make best use of the time, conditions and resources. The Principal Race Officer, John Fothergill, summed up the weekend's racing:
"The winds held up for the weekend at 10 to 15 knots with some gusts in the twenties. The nor'westerly direction on Saturday was ideal for Draycote Water and enabled us to get four of the six races in. On Sunday, the wind veered about 45 degrees right during the morning requiring some rapid relaying of courses. The "fast" fleet was dominated by a dozen RS200s which were outclassed by the 29ers with their much lower PY number. The fleets were usually well behaved and even the Lasers only required the occasional use of the black flag. For some reason the Firefly Class Association had organised their Inlands at Rutland on the same weekend, but that didn't stop over 60 Fireflys taking part at Draycote. Some capsizes in the gusts - notably RS200 no. 1391 [Joanna Kalderon & Charlie Darling - Southampton] which drifted over the finish line the wrong way up in the last race."

His colleague, Tom Rusbridge, added:
"From my platform of the SB20, the racing looked great, and there were some really decent close finishes across all fleets (given that at some stage I ran at least a race for all of them!). We were also lucky with the wind - pretty stable from where I was, so some cracking starting too... including only one general recall for me all weekend."

The Fast Handicap Champions were Crispin Beaumont & Oli Aldridge of Southampton in a 29er, with a 10-point lead over the six races. Their teammates, Gus Dixon & James Leetch, also in a 29er, were 5 points ahead of Will Taylor & Harry Odling of Plymouth in an RS200. Only a point behind, Jessie Main & Emma Hattersley (Exeter) in a 29er and Joanna Kalderon & Charlie Darling (Southampton) in an RS200 were on equal points, with the Exeter team taking 4th overall. Crispin Beaumont commented:
"It was a very fun weekend of racing and socialising. The event was very well run, but a bit cold at times, which led to me resorting to my new dry suit which proceeded to stop me from breathing. Suffocating aside, I would definitely do it again next year as it is a good way of meeting old friends and introducing freshers to uni sailing."

There was a battle of the GP14s and the 420s at the top of the Slow Handicap fleet, and the GPs had it. With three race wins and a 5.5-point lead, Nicholas Devereux & Sam Clarke (Plymouth) claimed the title, wresting it from last year's champions, Matthew Lulham-Robinson & Ellen Devereux (Bath); was sibling rivalry a motivating factor? Jenny Smallwood & Paddy Jefferies (Manchester) in their 420 were 3 points behind the Bath team, but led the other 420 - Maximillion Farmer & Emily Mitchell of Southampton Solent – by 5.5 points. Nick Devereux said:
"The event was my first fleet nationals, and I really enjoyed competing against the top sailors from every uni. The Slow fleet was competitive with 4 different races winners over the 6-race series. The wind strength helped the GP14s as the faster plaining boats, such as the Fireball and 420, couldn't plain upwind, allowing us to keep up. Plymouth weren't expecting to do as well as we did, and the entire team were happy with silvers in both the team categories."

The leading all-female boat in the Slow Handicap was a Graduate, sailed by Ellie Daynes & Isabell Waterfall of Plymouth. Izzy spoke about their experience, as well as the 2nd places which both the Plymouth women and men achieved in the respective Team championships:
Ellie and I were really pleased with the result considering we don't sail together usually and have never set foot in a Grad before! However, we came a very respectful 5th, even with Ellie slowing down in the last race to retrieve me for the water after I missed the toe-straps in a rather enthusiastic roll tack! After Fleets, I think we'll start sailing together more frequently; it seems we make a good team. This year I thought the event was great - the sailing was of a very high standard, especially the Slow Handicap - having the Devereaux's battle it out! It was fantastic to see such a range of different boats, from us in the Graduate to the Fireball, GPs and Larks! The races were run so smoothly and, even though it was a tad nippy between, in no time you were back to the racing.

At an event like Fleets, off the water it is always nice to connect with other uni's and see familiar faces from previous events, and, of course, make new friends (even if they are dressed as characters from the UK's most popular wizarding franchise).

As far as Plymouth results go, we are over-the-moon with a 1st in Slow, 3rd Fast and then 2nd in both the men's and women's team - we certainly have some strong sailors. We're hoping to come back next year to defend (or even beat) our titles! On behalf of Plymouth, a huge thanks to Warwick and the rest of the BUSA team for yet another fantastic event!

The massive, 63-boat Firefly fleet saw Matt Whitfield & Bobby Hewitt of Southampton take the title by 7 points from Giles Kuzyk & George Zavos (Birmingham). Then, Peter Ballantine & Tom Daggitt (Southampton) were tied on points with Harry Hampson & Toby Morsley (Cardiff), who were placed 4th on countback. BUSA men's Captain, Matt Whitfield commented:
"I thought Fleets were much smoother this year with a year's experience under the belts of Warwick and Draycote. The race course allowed for lots of short, sharp races, with busy roundings in a huge 64-boat fleet, making for really tight and competitive racing all weekend (admittedly the lake wouldn't allow for a larger course, but I enjoy the short courses better).

As always with so many faces that I have known since I was 8, the social side is really cool and the nights out where it's all sailors are always great. There are many friends I have known for years in Oppies and Lasers, who have always been the best young sailors in the country, making the Firefly a greatly competitive class, with 20 people able to win a race and the top 10 capable of winning overall.

Obviously, Wessex are delighted (we think we have 74 BUCS points) and retaining the Men's Trophy is a great honour. Our house is pleased as I live with Crispin (winner in the 29er). The laser fleet was top class this year with 2 best sailors so good job I wasn't in that fleet this year!! Would not have retained the title.

....I am excited for the other events this year where we can test our skills again and win!"

The story in the Laser fleet was also about some very close sailing. With 3 wins and a 6-point lead, Anthony Parke of Bournemouth University took the title. Daniel Whiteley (Bristol) and Jack Cookson (Southampton) tied on points in 2nd and 3rd, while Lewis Smith of Edinburgh was just 1.5 points behind, with a 7-point lead over the next boat. Anthony Parke said:
"I was looking for a very competitive Fleets, racing against some of the best sailors on the circuit. Having been away for a while, I had just been beaten by Cookson and Whiteley at the recent Laser Qualifier and being 'off the pace', so it was good that the conditions at the Fleets favoured the very tactical, rather than speed.

I was also looking forward to helping Bournemouth, and this was the Sailing Society's best BUCS result. Phoebe (Connellan & Genevieve Anderson) in the RS200 and Will (Birchall), the other Laser achieved particularly strong results.

The social side was brilliant for all the classes. It was particularly good to see people getting back into sailing at uni. Personally, I was quite pleased to do as well won just 3 – 4 hours sleep over the whole weekend, not hitting the sack until 5 or 6am!

The top Radial sailor was Anya Haji-Michael, who concluded:
"Turning up to Draycote SC on a windy and very cold Saturday morning wouldn't seem like an enjoyable start to a weekend. However, I speak for all the sailors when I say that the weekend was definitely one of the most memorable and enjoyable sailing events I have done.

The highlights of the weekend for me were getting to see my friends from other universities that I sailed with at junior and youth level again, the quality racing, particularly in the Laser fleet, resulting in some highly competitive and tricky races and, finally, the off-the-water, with everyone extremely friendly and up for some wild and slightly messy socials on Friday and Saturday nights.

I already can't wait for next year's competition, and we're all looking forward to trying to defend our Ladies Team Gold again next year!"

The second Radial was Durham fresher, Jackie Truhol, who commented:
"I was excited for my first BUSA event, and it didn't disappoint - good conditions, a quality fleet and well-run racing were the order of the weekend. It was fun to see some old friends from Hong Kong and from the UK Laser circuit at this event as well. The shifty conditions made for interesting racing, despite the simple windward-leeward course - the favoured side changed on almost every leg and reminded me of Hong Kong's own winds. I'm happy with my own performance at this event, but especially happy about my team's result - Durham's girls team came 4th, narrowly missing out on a top-3 finish in our first girls' team event! I'm looking forward to the next BUCS championship and more racing to come this year."

Those placed fourth in each fleet could take some consolation from the fact that they each earned 4 BUCS points to take home to their Athletic/Sports Unions, with the medallists each taking a proportionately larger stashes too.

But, the Fleets was also about the rivalry between university sailing clubs. In addition to the BUCS points for the leaders in each Fleet, there is a strong motivation to send full teams (a minimum of three boats) – for the last two years, either all-male or all-female – with the aim of winning the two Team Championships, or, at least, coming away with a slice of the significant BUCS-points available. It has been evident that this year a further step had been taken in this process, with three more Women's teams entering, bringing their total to ten, while the Men were up by two, with sixteen full teams.

The Women's Trophy was won for a second year running by Exeter, ahead of Plymouth and Southampton. Exeter's Captain, Jess Hammett was really pleased: "I'm extremely proud and delighted that Exeter have retained the Women's title at Fleets three years running! The girls worked very hard to retain the title, and it was truly well deserved. Obviously, huge congratulations to the boys too, who gained great results in the Firefly and Handicap fleets.

Although sailing up in Warwick is definitely that bit colder than down in Exeter, the event was enjoyed by all of the team, and the standard of racing seems to get higher and higher each year.

As for the socials, I'm sure everyone can agree they're always great fun, and it's so nice to catch up with old friends from other universities around the country - even if it does leave us a bit fragile and tired for racing in the morning!

Personally, I think it is a brilliant event to kickstart the year with, especially for the freshers as fleet racing is what they're used to, but they are also able to meet sailors they'll be racing against in the coming year. Wishing all my luck to the Exeter teams this coming year - here's to another great year of sailing!"

Nottingham decided to send a full Women's team to this year's Fleets, and they shot into the team leader-board, taking fifth place. Their leading boat was a Lark, sailed by Evangeline Howarth & Hannah Thompson. Evie, Nottingham's Racing Captain last year, spoke about the experience:
It was a great weekend, and we were very happy with the results, especially considering we hadn't really raced in a Lark before! We decided to send an all-women's team as we have some experienced fleet racing female helms and crews this year and thought we'd be in with a better chance at getting BUCS points this way too! It was a great weekend's racing and very punctual starts and finishing too. The conditions were quite breezy to begin with which we were a little nervous about, but the whole team had got into it by the end of the weekend, loving the tactical side of the long beats and runs.

For us, it was a big learning curve as my crew, Hannah, had never flown a symmetric spinnaker before - something she was really great at by the end, and we got it up on every run on the last day! As we both usually crew, it took some time for us to assert ourselves at the starts, but, by the second day, we had cracked this too!

Iona [Smith, Nottingham's Commodore this year] in the Laser was in a very competitive fleet with some exceptional sailors, but she still held her own. And the girls, Rachel [Grayson] and Alice [Semenenko], who were in the Firefly, had some boat troubles on the first day meaning they didn't do as well as hoped, but pulled through on the second day once these were fixed.

We're very happy we got the opportunity to send an all-women's team as it was a very supportive atmosphere, within and outside the team, and it gave us the chance to really prove ourselves.

We decided to send an all-women's team as we have some experienced fleet racing female helms and crews this year and thought we'd be in with a better chance at getting BUCS points this way too!

The Men's Team Trophy was retained by the University of Southampton, with an impressive score-line across its top three boats of only 4. Plymouth improved their ranking from 3rd last year to 2nd overall, and Bristol returned to the Fleet Championships with a full men's team to romp through into 3rd place this year. Southampton's Commodore, Gus Dixon said:
"From a commodore point of view, I couldn't be happier with the result. To have 21 sailors at the event was great for the club, showing we continue to be a large part of the university sailing circuit, not just in terms of numbers, but also in the ability that many of those sailors have. We are all incredibly happy with the number of medals and points we came away with and hope that it is the start of a good year to come.

For me it was a very enjoyable weekend. I hadn't sailed a 29er for about 2 years, so it was nice to have a little blast and, somehow, we managed to come second, despite some rather questionable boat handling!"

All information about the event is to be found on the BUSA Championship page at

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