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Budworth Isolation Virtual Regatta

by Zoe Morris 6 May 20:26 BST
eSailing © Virtual Regatta

When the global Coronavirus pandemic put paid to their usual start to the season, a group of over 40 Laser, Snipe, Solo, GP14 and RS200 sailors put their fleet allegiances aside to battle head to head for a prestigious new trophy. The first, and hopefully last, Budworth Isolation Virtual Regatta took place over three Sundays in April, culminating in a playoff on 3rd May to decide the club's nominee for the RYA Regional Spring e-championship. Demand was so high that competition had to take place in two flights each week, with up to 20 sailors at a time taking to the virtual water.

The series appealed to a wide cross-section of club members, from teens to veterans with half a century of sailing experience, and it soon became clear that in order to succeed you needed a niche combination of skills, including knowledge of sailing rules, computer gaming prowess and, perhaps most critically of all, a stable internet connection. Whole households took part with husbands and wives, and parents and children vying for top billing, and every effort was made to split these into different flights to help preserve bandwidth - just one of the 21st century allowances you don't need to consider normally when down at the Mere. A Zoom call running alongside the series allowed racers to chat with each other both before and during the race, and reflect in the virtual bar afterwards, though due to the juniors taking part every effort was made to reign in the infamous "mouth of the sailor" on these calls!

The virtual nature of the competition provided some novice sailors with the opportunity to practice their skills and attempt new manoeuvres without fear of reprimand. Even some of the more established sailors in the group were able to put years of good seamanship behind them and embrace the foibles of online racing where a few seconds penalty can be a small price to pay for accidentally or otherwise ramming another's boat in order to gain prime position at the windward mark. The Woodwind GRP and 1st Mark would have been doing a roaring trade had these been real hulls.

As the series progressed, sailors reflected on what they had learnt. For those used to double-handed boats, sailing without the back up of a crew was a new experience, though the self-launching spinnakers which flew perfectly every time were much coveted by many, and certainly made it easier to single-hand the boats on the downwind legs. Debates raged over the use of Auto VMG and other helps. Some chose to prioritise lay lines while others favoured the ability to get that perfect start thanks to time at the line. A dedicated few spent many hours on the app in the week between races, trying to gain as many green tokens as possible from practice races, to cover all eventualities, while others preferred a purist approach of reading the wind through the wind-socks and darker patches on the water and reacting accordingly.

Competition was intense, with the top positions fiercely contested. After 12 rounds of racing (with 3 discards), Chris Smallwood was crowned the worthy winner with a stellar performance that included five 1st place finishes, and received the newly crafted Budworth Isolation Virtual Regatta Trophy.

In second place was Charlie Whittaker hot from his, err, 2nd place at the RS200 eSprints) and 3rd was Nick Devereux. Chris' run of 8 race wins over the Sunday and Wednesday series was impressive and gave him the rightful podium topping position.

Some exceptional performances from Mr. Finley Waterhouse, our youngest competitor coming in leading our Silver fleet in 14th and Alex Cleaver being awarded the bronze fleet prize. We thank Texecom,the UK's premier provider of intruder alarm solutions for their sponsorship of the prizes - A prize pot of £50 of 1st Mark vouchers was shared amongst the winners.

However Chris didn't have it all his own way, when we met on the 3rd May for the 5 race (3 to count) Club eChampionships that followed, the top qualifiers from the series battled it out with Nick Devereux emerging as overall winner, with Charlie Whitaker err 2nd (again!) and Chris Smallwood 3rd. Nick will be moving on to represent Budworth at the RYA regional eChampionships later in May. A worthy representative of the club, Nick is no stranger to competing on the national stage, and we have great hopes for him in the next leg!

Budworth are continuing their eRacing journey on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons for the duration of the lock down, and with a regular turn out of over 35 boats, it is proving very popular.

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