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Rooster International Topper World Championship at Medemblik, The Netherlands

by John Heyes 2 Aug 07:20 BST 22-26 July 2019
Rooster Topper Worlds at Medemblik © Peter Newton

209 Topper sailors from 12 nations gathered in Medemblik, The Netherlands for the 26th edition of the International Topper World Championships.

Travelling from afar as China, India, South Africa, Turkey as well as Europe, the proven championship venue was a perfect location for this truly international event. Renowned as the 'friendly class', the Topper has endured as the ideal pathway boat for youngsters and has never been so popular as it is today.

Day one of the Rooster International Topper World Championship served up a perfect combination of sun, 15-20 knots of wind and short, testing waves for the sailors. Race officer Remco de Goedeven set a square line for the first start of the regatta - sending the 4.2 fleet off on the shorter version of the trapezoid course. For Swiss sailor Salina Schwoerer, it was her first ever race in the Topper but she showed great timing and boat handling as she popped out first at the pin end. However, as the breeze flicked right, it was those boats at the committee boat end - next to the smart Dutch motor yacht, that benefited most. At the top mark, it was Charlotte Cooper (GBR) who lead the fleet from Jiahan Chen (CHN) who had the best start on the right and Haolun Xia (CHN).

Downwind the sailors surfed the short Ijeelsmeer waves, using their experience to spot the best waves to ride. Get it right and a quick pump of the sheet saw them surf ahead - get it wrong or have the weight too far forward and the bow dipped and did a great impression of a submarine diving!

By the finish, it was a China 1, 2, 3 - Yushuo Liao (CHN) took the gun, followed by Jihan Chen (CHN) with Haolun Xia (CHN) in third.

Next up for their turn on a longer startline was the yellow and white flights of the 5.3 fleet.

Again, it was the committee boat end of the line that paid off as the south westerly breeze flicked right in the testing gusts of up to 22 knots.

Tom Mitchell (GBR) was quick out of the blocks with the best mid line start, but at the windward mark it was Ed Baker (GBR) who rounded first, followed closely by Freddie Howarth (GBR) and Oliver Wilcox (GBR). As the fleet enjoyed a high-speed planning reach across the top of the trapezoid course to mark two, the gusts topped out at 22 knots and hiking ability was at a premium!

On the second upwind the classic Ijsselmeer breeze flicked back to the left, allowing Tom Mitchell to work the shifts on that side and work his way to the front of the fleet, taking the gun from Freddie Howarth.

During the red and blue flight start the wind backed to the left and the alert sailors quickly picked up on it and charged down to the pin end, causing an inevitable general recall. Race Officer Remco swiftly re-balanced the line and the second 5.3 fleet was cleanly away at the second attempt. At the top mark it was Ben Purrier (GBR) with a handsome lead from the left-hand side of the course, but coming in tight on the port lay line he had to squeeze hard to make the mark and as he bore off his boom just touched the buoy. A quickly executed penalty turn did him no harm and he held his lead for the rest of the race.

As the rest of the bunch rounded, those with nerves of steel and great boat handling came in on port, throwing in a quick tack into the tiniest of gaps to avoid the huge stack-up on the starboard lay line that saw many sailors reaching in way above the mark. At the finish it was Ben Purrier, from Leo Wilkinson and James Deaton (GBR).

As the clouds cleared and sun beat down it was pure champagne sailing. Each fleet enjoyed three testing but hugely enjoyable races. As the boats headed for the harbour it was a tired but happy bunch of sailors that arrived back at the dock with great stories of screaming reaches and downwind battles but most with big happy smiles. First home was the 4.2 fleet, with Yusho Liao (CHN) topping the scoreboard with an impressive 1,4,1, closely followed by Charlotte Dobson (GBR) and Sam Grayton (GBR)

For Nicolas Perrault Rocheleau (CAN) it was his first Topper Worlds and his excitement in sailing in a much bigger fleet than usual at his home club in Montreal plus meeting sailors from all around the globe was uncontainable. Quickly finding his feet, his scores steadily improved through the day with a 16, 10, 9.

Once ashore and suitably refuelled with a pasta snack, the sailors enjoyed an inspiring talk from Annie Lush on her journey from Topper Sailor to Olympian and Volvo Round the World Race sailor, that both enthused and terrified!

Tuesday - the turn of the lighter weights...

Tuesday's forecast proved accurate, with the Race Officer wisely keeping the sailors ashore in the 28-degree heat, until a north easterly 8 knot breeze allowed a course to be set at 4pm. The 4.2 fleet and the first two flights of the 5.3 fleets got good races in with the sailors all sitting up by the mast, reducing their boat's waterline and searching for the best of the breeze. This was a day for the lighter weight sailors to shine, enjoying their weight advantage as they pressurised the bigger sailors on the downwind legs.

Proving that you don't need a new boat to be successful in the Topper, Bjorn Handley (GBR) stood out well on the water in his vintage blue decked boat in the 4.2's, rounding in the top four and working his way up to second by the finish. He went one better in the second race - taking the bullet to round off a great day.

After a couple of general recalls in the 5.3 fleet as the wind shifted left, it was Neil O'Leary (IRL) in the red & white flights who worked the light, puffy shifts the best to finish ahead of Aoife Murphy (IRL) and the consistent Yikang Su.

The second 5.3 start for the remaining yellow & blue flights suffered a 40-degree shift on the second upwind leg that saw those at the back suddenly elevated to the front. One delighted sailor shouted with glee to his mates at the windward mark, 'I was right at the back and now I'm tenth.' The race officer wisely abandoned the race and managed to re-sail it in the glorious evening sun and in contrast to the first day it was the turn of many of the lighter weight sailors to shine.

Cillian Foster (IRL) from the Royal Cork YC started at the pin end and built up a huge lead by the final upwind leg to record his first ever World's race win. 'It's a great feeling,' he commented on coming ashore. He reasoned that as it paid left in the first, abandoned race it would continue that direction in the re-start. With results from the windy first day in the 20's his results proved the wide competitive weight range the Topper accommodates. Chuffed with his result, he had already SnapChatted his mates in Cork with the news, that rounded out a great day for the Irish team, with three podium spots.

Also making a couple of great port end starts was Kazunori Shinka (JPN). Now in his 70's Kazunori has endured major cancer surgery but he was desperate to sail once again in the Topper Worlds. With the support of his son Ken, he made the long journey and achieved his dream that has been driving his recovery.

That evening, some of the sailors took part in a Sustainability workshop, hosted by Leesa Carter-Jones, CEO of the Captain Planet Foundation, who are working with World Sailing to deliver the 'Ocean Heroes' programme. Leesa highlighted the state of plastics in our ocean and the frightening statistic that there will be soon be more plastic than fish in the planet's Oceans. With numerous examples, Leesa explained to the young sailors that it is their future at stake and they are the best placed to take the lead and persuade adults and corporations to stop polluting planet and fuelling climate change. Concerned sailors then made a pledge as to what action they would take to reduce plastic usage in their club or community and recorded it on film.

Shifty Wednesday...

After a slight delay ashore, Wednesday's race 6 for the 4.2's got off in 6-8 Knots with the breeze at 110 degrees. The 4.2 fleet again started proceedings and a tough tactical battle ensued as sailors chased the shifty breeze. Whilst a couple of shifts to the right attracted some to that side of the course, it was generally the left side that delivered the greater pressure and brought a new winner to the fore, Rían Collins (IRL), breaking the previous domination of Yushuo Liao (CHN), who finished 2nd. Having mastered the conditions, Rían followed it up with a 6th place in the second and final race of the day. Also relishing the lighter conditions was Bjorn Handley, who bought his 2006 boat in second, ahead of Yichen Cai (CHN).

The white and blue flights of the 5.3 fleets got off after a general recall but most of the fleet still headed out to the left in search of the best of the breeze. Cillian Foster, liking the taste of his first Worlds race win the previous day went back for more, plus seconds! With three back-to-back wins Cillian rocketed up the standings to finish the qualification series in 13th spot.

Meanwhile, the yellow and red flights got off to a clear start in decent 8 knot breeze, evenly spread along the line, indicating the divergence of opinion as to the best route upwind. Dan Meadowcroft (GBR) played the shifts well up the middle left to round first, ahead of Yikang Su and Chuyi Zhang - both highly experienced in light airs sailing. On the second upwind of the trapezoid course the breeze built to 10 knots and Meadowcroft showed his mastery of the shifts to extended his lead to 400m, taking the gun from Su and Charlie Hopkinson (GBR) in third.

The wind, suppressed by the 30-degree temperature came in pulses - compressing the fleets on the downwinds. When the breeze dropped the lighter sailors put pressure on the larger leaders ahead, further compounded by a strengthening wind coming up from astern to further test the nerves! Those few tempted to add a little extra speed by rocking their bodies to fan the sail were swiftly flagged by the International Jury, but in the main the fleet was impressively was impressively well behaved.

The final 5.3 races of the day were held in the remains of the day's 7-8 knot breeze, with sailors sitting up forward by the mast, scouting for the best of the wind. In the white & red flights, Chris Marsh (GBR) showed great boat handling skills, pirouetting round in the small space by the Committee boat, protecting his starting spot before tacking off to the right on the gun. At the first mark it was Leo Wikinson (GBR) who rounded first, just ahead of Neil O'Leary (IRL), James Deaton (GBR) and Ali Holborn (GBR). Many of the packed mid fleet struggled to make the mark due to a noticeable current running downwind. One port tacker had to bail out twice when faced with a wall of starboard tackers rounding the mark and to compound his misery was then forced onto the buoy.

As the evening breeze faded Race Officer Remco wisely shortened the race at mark 2. Leo Wilkinson had extended to record his first win of the series by a considerable margin and Deaton had squeezed past 0'Leary to score his best result of the qualifying series.

Every day and evening, Russ Dent of Topper International was kept busy mending boats, giving advice or providing new fittings to grateful sailors. A vital service to customers, Russ's attendance and huge knowledge of everything Topper was much appreciated and commented upon by the parents. Often it was more the Dads who were keenest to update their child's boat with the latest piece of kit!

Ashore after a long and testing day, the sailors were all keen to unwind and the Midweek BBQ and Nations party was the perfect antidote. All the Nations were invited to bring a taste of their country with typical national dishes and treats - which proved extremely popular!

MC 'Rog' Proctor then invited each team to the stage to showcase some great acts. It was great to witness the youngsters' instinctive participation, joining the performers on stage in a wonderful display of huge collective enjoyment and the power of sailing to bring people together. The winners were judged to be the USA team from Hawaii with their Hula dance that got all the other sailors joining in.

Thursday finals...

Thursday's finals series kicked off after a couple of recalls for the 5.3's - now divided into gold, silver and bronze fleets, in a light 5-6 knots north easterly with temperatures up to 35 degrees. At the first downwind gate Antonio Pascali (GBR) had carved out a good lead, ahead of Tim Evans (GBR), Leo Wilkinson and Sam Shackle (GBR) but at the finish it was Tim Evans who grabbed the win from Wilkinson with Shackle in third.

The silver and bronze fleets sailed together, with the breeze dropping out further during their slow crawl upwind. Nevertheless, Dru Townsend (GBR) pulled off a great mid-line start to get a huge jump on her competitors off the line and went on to record her best result of the week - 7th. Mark Ripley (GBR) took the silver fleet win whilst Kazunori Shinka (JPN) showed that age and major surgery is no barrier to Topper sailing as he crossed in first place.

As the breeze continued to falter the race officer wisely sent the fleet ashore to await the expected afternoon sea breeze. A further attempt was held to re-start racing at 4pm, but sailing was soon abandoned after the wind dropped below 5 knots on the first upwind.

It was noticeable that once the sailors got ashore and after debriefs with their coaches and chats with parents, protest forms started to flow into the Jury, requesting the day's one race be thrown out as the wind had occasionally dropped below 5 knots and some of the front runners were counting heavy scores. With no minimum windspeed set in the SI's the Jury deemed the race to stand, adding a little more pressure to for the final day on both the sailors to get a good score and the race team to squeeze in enough race to allow a discard!

Final day...

The record temperature finally broke overnight, with a dramatic thunder and lightning storm that whipped up a strong breeze that only served to set the scene for Friday's final showdown. As the sailors arrived blurry eyed for an 8.00 am briefing, it was soon evident that the overnight winds had left a short, steep chop on the shallow water of the Ijsselmeer that was to prove the dominating story of the day. So much so that the 4.2 fleet was unable to make much headway out of the harbour and had to be sent back in whilst the waves moderated.

However, racing was soon under way in a 12-14 knot breeze and with swift turnarounds Race Officer Remco was able to fit in 3 races for all three fleets before the 2.00 pm cut-off.

The 4.2 fleet saw a new race winner - Jiahan Chen (CHN) claimed his first bullet of the series and after a 5th in the second followed it up with another win in the final race to leapfrog team mate Yinting Chen to the bronze medal. Meanwhile, despite a 14th in the breezy first race, Bjorn Handley found the lighter 6-8 knots in the final two races more to his liking and slotted home two solid second places to cement his silver medal and a well deserved place on the podium, alongside the highly consistent Yushuo Liao. Liao demonstrated great race management to keep close to his rivals with a 2, 3 scoreline and was maybe able to relax a little in the final heat that saw him finish in a relaxed 13th spot.

In the 5.3 gold fleet, overall leader Leo Wilkinson trailed his rival Yikang Su of China for most of the race in the 12-14 knot breeze, until at the final mark 5 he was able to grab an overlap on Su that provided the inside berth and clear wind to just pass the top Chinese on the short reach to the line. Oliver Wilcox (GBR) followed up in third and Toby Bloomfield (GBR) sailed a blinder to score his best result of the week in 4th.

The short chop was still causing trouble for many sailors trying to get off the line. Tom Campbell later commented, 'It was challenging and choppy - hard to keep a lane off the line with the waves and wash from boats. 'The difficult chop created by the overnight wind was a common theme for sailors, but Charlie Hopkinson (GBR) was chuffed to have mastered it in the second race of the day for the gold fleet. 'It was really good. I went left on the second beat and manged to get past the leader with better speed'. Asked what he had learnt from the day his answer was, 'How to sail in chop. You have to keep the speed up by sailing a bit freer and steering more for the bigger waves.'

By the warning gun for the final race, the race officer jokingly commented that the silver and bronze fleet was ready to go home. With several recalls the final black flag start saw many go back to the harbour early, including Ryan Davies (GBR) of the bronze fleet. We don't know if Ryan is good at maths, but luckily he could just afford to drop the BFD score to still win the bonze fleet by just 4 points from Tamzen Lim of the USA, who took full advantage of Ryan's absence to record her first Worlds race win and silver medal, ahead of Joe O'Sullivan (IRL) in bronze.

In the Silver fleet, Mark Ripley (GBR) secured the top slot with a 5,1,4, just piping Caoimhe Byrne (IRL) who kept her nerve to post a remarkably consistent 8,9,8 in the shifty, fading breeze. Dan Holborn (GBR) had a tight race with Hongbo Xia (CHN) to take the final race win from Xia, securing himself third place in the bronze fleet.

The clear winner and the new World Champion in the Topper 5.3 gold fleet was Leo Wilkinson, (GBR) with a great performance across the wide range of conditions Medemblik served up. Leo has spent four years in the Topper class training for this moment and his win by a 23 point margin underlined his dominance.

Kate Robertson (GBR) claimed the silver medal in the last race from Yikang Su (CHN), who had been firmly in second all week - with a second place in the final race to match Su's net points and take the silver medal on count back.

Kate commented, 'I was happy with my consistency during the Gold Fleet racing and going into the final race I knew I was in a much better position in the standings than I had hoped. I decided to stick with my previous tactics and not take big risks. I had a good start and good boat speed. I felt I mastered the waves well on Friday and this got me into first around the first lap of the course. Unfortunately I was wasn't able to maintain this due to the dying wind on the last leg, although second was still a great result. Coming off the water I knew I was first female, but had no idea how well I had done overall until the results were published.'

Speaking about the week she said,'I really enjoyed the week in Holland. The Topper Class is so friendly, it is a great social event as well as fair, competitive sailing. It feels amazing to have come second and to be the first female sailor.'

At the prize giving the sailors and spectators were treated to a showing of the week's highlights video from filmmaker Phil Williams, who had managed to capture not only a lot of the action, but also the thoughts, emotions and words of many of the competitors.

Finally, the attention moved to the podium for the medal ceremony. Yushuo Liao of Vanhang Sailing from China was the crowned World Champion in the Topper 4.2 fleet, with runner up Bjorn Handley of Queen Mary SC (GBR) in silver and Jiahan Chen of Vanhang Sailing, China awarded the bronze.

Lastly, Leo Wilkinson was awarded the hefty Topper 5.3 World Champion trophy and took his place atop the podium, with Kate Robertson awarded the silver medal and International Cup for first female, and Yikang Su the bronze.

A massive thank you to the Medemblik Regatta Center and RYC Hollandia for hosting a highly professional championship plus sponsors Rooster, Topper International, Travel Counsellors, Harken, Rain & Sun, Optimum Time, Sacqua, Proctor + Stevenson and Sally Bassett for their vital and generous support.

Full results can be found here.

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