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Team Racing Companion by Chris Atkins
Team Racing Companion by Chris Atkins

Student Match Racing Championships 2019 at the WPNSA

by Jack Fenwick 14 Apr 15:21 BST 4-7 April 2019

Matt Whitfield (Southampton) successfully defends his 2018 title from Murray Hampshire (Exeter) in a dramatic sudden-death last race of five.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA), in conjunction with British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), and the British Universities Sailing Association (BUSA), held the Student Match Racing Championship on Portland Harbour, supported by RYA Match Racing sponsors, Harken UK, Marlow Ropes and GripTec by Moody Decking. The weekend started on Thursday 4th April with training for the teams run out of Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy. The sixteen teams representing fifteen Universities then assembled at RYA Portland House for registration and supper, before an early meeting with the Race Management and Umpire teams, followed by three days of intensive sailing.

Day one, forecast for strong winds and rain, only the rain materialised at first. The boats that had been reefed to leave the dock were quickly un-reefed after only one flight so as not to delay the racing too much. Shaking the reefs was enough to poke the wind gods and, fairly quickly, we had 20 knots across the course to keep the spinnakers in the bags and the sailors entertained in the pre-starts. While the wind was up and down all day, it was never down long enough to get the spinnakers out of the bag, as teams got used to the boats and their fellow competitors.

As is the way in Match Racing, the top ranked teams always face off against the lowest ranked teams, and, on the whole, racing went to the form book, Southampton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Plymouth & Exeter all headed ashore after their first races undefeated, with Newcastle dropping only one race. As the day progressed PRO, Mike Johnson, was aiming to get 16 flights on the board by the end of the day, one more than last year's record of 15 flights. All was looking good for a record-breaking day until just after four o'clock when the wind thought it was time we went ashore and hit the fleet with a 30-knot gust. With only 14 flights in the bag the sailors headed ashore to pack up and head to RYA Portland House for a warm shower and tasty supper.

Day two could not have been more different, 16-20 knots of breeze and glorious sunshine. The sailors made the most of the conditions with full sails and spinnakers the order of the day to test the skills of all involved. The racing intensified throughout the day as the sailors began to meet those with similar experience, and the umpire team led by Greg Eaton, was being kept busy with flags flying all over the place. Generally, racing carried on to form, save for Bristol being beaten by Manchester and Plymouth being taken down by Newcastle.

With the record of 16 flights firmly in Mike's sights, racing continued apace as all other sailors on Portland Harbour headed ashore for the day. With everyone enjoying the glorious conditions so much, racing carried on past six o'clock and a mammoth 19 flights had been completed. At the close of the day Southampton, Edinburgh, & Exeter still remained undefeated, but, with the top six still to meet, the coveted quarter final places were far from secure. The teams headed back to Portland House and rumour has some even ventured to a local hostelry to continue their post-race debriefs in detail.

Day three and there were still seven flights to complete the round robin to determine who would make the semi-finals. Races were fought nip and tuck the whole way around the race course, and it was not uncommon for teams to be offloading penalties and overtaking just before the finish line. Indeed, Southampton nearly broke their winning streak against Exeter 2 when they were called over at the start but fought back to overtake by inches at the finish line. Another team was so eager to get across the line ahead of their opponent that the pumped their mainsheet one too many times and saw their race win disappear when they were penalised.

The final five flights would see the top six ranked teams face off against each other. Southampton continued their winning streak, taking the first point from Exeter's score line which in turn took a point from Bristol. Edinburgh succumbed to Southampton, Bristol and Exeter, but, with one flight of the Round Robin to go, had done enough to guarantee 4th place in the Qualifiers. Indeed, the results were such that the final flight would have no bearing on the seeding for the semi-finals, so racing proceeded without that final flight.

The semi-finals would see Edinburgh challenging Southampton and Bristol up against Exeter. In both, first to two wins competitions, the favourites proved too much for their opponents and Southampton and Exeter progressed to the finals 2-0.

The real action of the day would come in the battles for the top three places. The petit final was another first to two-point playoff and with both Bristol and Edinburgh keen to get their hands on the BUCS medals they levelled the score at one race each. A tough final race saw Bristol take the win and with it third place.

In the final Exeter handed Southampton their first defeat of the competition in race 1. Undeterred Southampton fought back in the second race to level the score. Things were looking good for Southampton in the third as they were set to be close behind Exeter at the windward mark - they had been experts at overtaking all weekend - but a last minute dial down from Exeter saw Southampton handed a penalty which they had to complete straight away; this allowed Exeter to sail clear and take their second win of the final.

Southampton levelled the score again in the fourth race to set up a sudden death last race. The race was hard fought the entire way throughout, but close was not enough as Southampton had picked up a penalty and had to find a way to get rid of it before they could finish. They managed to get underneath Exeter on the final run and push them all the way downwind beyond the finish line. As they had now sailed far enough from the line Southampton dropped their spinnaker and beat back to the finish line where they could take their penalty around the finish mark and taken the final win, and, with it, successfully defended their 2018 title.

The teams quickly headed ashore to get the boats out and get hold of their shiny new BUCS medals. With so many teams still in the competition on the final day, it was great to see so many of them had stayed around to see who would win and cheer them all on at the prize giving.

Retaining his title from 2018, Matt Whitfield (Southampton) said: "The Match Racing Championship was a lot of fun - great sailing conditions, sunny, lovely people, and very happy to have won". Murray Hampshire (Exeter) added: "Really great few days racing in glamour conditions, finishing with a really tight final against Southampton. Gutted to lose, but happy to bring back second for Exeter."

Overall Results:

PosUniversityBibHelmCrewCrewBUCS points
1SouthamptonAMatt WhitfieldWill Birch‑TomlinsonMorgan Dibb20
2ExeterFMurray HampshireJack HanslopeEmma Hattersley14
3BristolBJoe BurnsDavid HawElla Bennett10
4EdinburghCMiles JonesBrendan LynchNiamh Harper7
5PlymouthETed BlowersRoss MackleyEllie Harding5
6ManchesterIJames MorsonPhilip AldhousJenny Smallwood3
7NewcastleGGeorge HaynesJosh DawsonAna Paterson2
8LeedsLMatthew LloydLawrence HerbertImogen Bellfield1
9St AndrewsHBalázs GecseAlex CarterEmily Hill 
10StrathclydeDSophie TaylorChloe WhittonJake Miller 
11LoughboroughMAbby WestWill BedfordHamish Eckstein 
12ExeterJSophie OtterFreddie Liardet Rob Giardelli 
13BathPMerrick StanleyAlex WhitfieldEsmé Shepherd 
14SolentKChristian HulßRobert KerleyNicole Ames 
15LeedsNJames AllisonSamay MellorJess Hodge 
16BangorOHarry BowermanRussell VernonMolly Nixon 

News throughout the event and many videos of the races were posted on the RYA Match Racing FB group and on British Keelboat Sailing Facebook group

All official Notices and documentation are posted on the BUSA Match Racing Championship page.

More Nigel Vick photos can be found at photos.app.goo.gl/jMq9BVPLwvakKbCq8

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