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'The Rockets' take on keelboat racing at the Dubarry Women's Open Keelboat Championship

by Andrea Downham 12 Jun 05:23 BST 2-3 June 2018
Stunning racing conditions on Sunday at the Dubarry Women's Open Keelboat Championship © B. Malas

On Saturday 2nd June, six female Merlin Rocket sailors assembled on the pontoon outside the Royal Southern Yacht Club, having entered themselves in the Dubarry Womens Open Keelboat Championships.

The event, in its 10th year, would see over 170 women on the water, sailing 20 boats split into 2 fleets. With the very kind loan of J80 'Wildcat III', the team were excited to get on the water and go racing together.

We had all the essentials for the weekend ahead; team hoodies and t-shirts, essential boat snacks, fully leaded cool box, tonnes of suncream, a luxury bucket and random dinghy kit.

Once out of the estuary, the sails were hoisted and we got down to the serious business of who was in control of what. With limited rig tweaking to do and few control lines, the team were all looking around for a bit of string to hold on to for comfort.

The two team members with the most 'big boat' experience were placed at either end of the boat to keep the 'holiday yachters' in check, Lucy Burn took the helm, with Louise Johnson on the foredeck. The formidable team of the 'Taylor Sisters' Pippa Kilsby and Jen Dodds teamed up to manage the headsail and the kite. At 6.5 times the sail area of a Merlin Rocket kite, this was going to need some big guns to manage in a breeze! Andrea Downham was assigned mainsail trim and Rachel Jackson took on the role of emergency kicker control, tack line and kite packer.

With a lovely building breeze we put in some practice maneuvers. The team were all pretty comfortable moving around the boat as a J80 is only 30cm wider than the Merlin Rocket and has significantly fewer obstacles to trip over.

The course was set and radioed out to the competitors; this in itself required some concentration and excellent eyesight to locate the race marks amongst the various bouys in the Solent. There was a lot of discussion about tides and sea breeze and we set out a plan for the race ahead, it became clear that as a team we knew a lot about tactics, we just needed to apply it to a bigger boat. Sailing in a mixed fleet also required consideration of avoiding the huge wind shadows from our larger competitors.

The fleet were very civilised on the start line. The tide opened up a lovely gap for us at the committee boat end and we were off first time, without a general recall or black flag in sight! The breeze was fairly constant and we worked on managing the tide to pick our way up the beats of the windward-leward course., finishing 2nd to Cressida Robson's J109 'Jybe Talkin'.

The start of Race 2 was a little bit more fruity; we were being held out of the start line. The team were all calling to bail out and tack off, but Lucy held her cool and showed she knew exactly where her bow was, pulling off an impressive bear away into a perfect gap to rescue our start from complete disaster. We kept our heads and came away with a 5th.

Once bitten twice shy, the team were more safe with their third start. The course this time had a tighter reach out to a gybe mark to run down to the finish. Pippa and Jen's teamwork ensured the kite was well controlled throughout, keeping us in front of the chasing J80 of Josie Gliddon and securing a race win.

Back ashore on the beer terrace we toasted our results; we were leading IRC Class 2 on equal points with our fellow J80 Boisterous, and Chimp (Berret Half Ton) one point behind.

Sunday dawned sunny and windless. We were grateful for our engine to get us out to the start line, where we drifted in the sunshine and hoped the wind would fill in enough to avoid a snakes and ladders race. The race officer Cathy Smalley and her team did a great job keeping us all up to date with their thoughts and waited for a reliable breeze to set in. A short windward-leeward course was set, using inflatables.

We made use of our dinghy experience to roll tack and trim the boat in the lighter airs, helping us to win race 4. A challenging final beat in race 5 saw us lose some time which was difficult to recover in the downwind leg to the finish, but with a 4th place we had secured the Class 2 win. With racing over for the event, we returned to shore to wait and for the overall championship results, which are calculated using some magic and a scientific calculator.

IRC Class 1 winners Marie-Claude Heys and Becky Walford's J112e Davanti Dream Team won the overall championship with a clean score sheet. Wildcat III came in 2nd overall, with Josie Gliddon's J80 Boisterous in 3rd.

The Women's Open Keelboat Championships is a fantastic event with a lot of work put in behind the scenes to ensure it runs smoothly. The racing is tight and competitive, but a lot of fun at the same time. The event provided us with a great opportunity to transition into a larger boat, to sail with friends who we are so often competing against. We learned loads from each other and are already looking to secure the Wildcat III for next year (hint hint).

Thank you to the hosts Hamble River Sailing Club, Dubarry for their support of the event, Andy Ash Vie for lending us Wildcat III and Ocean Yacht Systems for our team tops. Congratulations Davanti Dream Team, we'll see you next year!

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