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Blockbuster UK WASZP Nationals - Banham takes the win

by Marc Ablett 28 Jun 14:36 BST 23-26 June 2022
UK WASZP Nationals 2022 © James Tomlinson

With over 50 boats on the start line in big breeze, the WASZP UK Nationals delivered some spectacular foiling racing!

The swarm was hosted by Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on the world-class foiling waters of Portland Harbour for four days of one-design, high-speed action.

The first day of the competition was dedicated to the Slalom tournament, which comprises of a series of short, downwind races in a knockout-style format. With just enough breeze to get all the heats and finals away, it was Welshman Zac Blomeley that came out on top to take the Slalom victory. Hattie Rogers sealed the women's Slalom title.

The Slalom day would be the end of the lighter breeze, with a solid forecast of 15+ knots for the three championship days.

Four races were sailed on day one of the championship in the increasing breeze. Familiar faces in the fleet were battling at the front. Ross Banham, fresh from silver at the Europeans, and Nick Zeltner of Switzerland have been at war since the start of the year with the pair joint on points at the top of the world rankings! British Sailing Team ILCA sailor Sam Whaley, the 2021 national champion, was also fighting at the front in defence of his title. The trio traded blows but it was Banham who led after day one.

By the fourth race, conditions became pretty fruity with 20+ knots of wind and a tricky Portland harbour chop to contend with. Across the fleet, sailors valiantly soldiered on with good support and rallied for the less experienced sailors. Special prizes from class sponsor Rooster were awarded to Alice Senior, nominated by the race committee, for perseverance with a smile whilst super-masters Stuart Swan and Bruce Allan was recognised with Rooster goodies for defying their ages on the water!

At the end of the day, Ross Banham led a fleet-wide debrief to share his tips from the day so that others in the fleet could take some ideas away ahead of the windy forecast for the next two days.

On day two of the championship, the race team compressed the course and ordered a higher number of laps to avoid the choppiness sailors had experienced on the previous day. This allowed a much more manageable day of sailing for the fleet, despite the average wind being higher. The sun shone down on the leaders as they raced around the course at speeds of up to 25 knots! This time, Zeltner bounced back against his rivals with three race wins out of four!

Banham did enough to hold the overall lead, whilst Whaley suffered a nasty collision with Dutch sailor Eliott Savelon that saw him miss two races as he rushed back to shore to make some emergency repairs. Whaley did make it back on the water to score a 2 and an 8, keeping him in the fight.

WASZP Class Manager Martin Evans made a late charge in the final race, leading around all three laps only to be pipped by Banham moments from the finish! By now, Hattie Rogers had opened a commanding lead in the women's division, but the battles for the age groups were tight!

On the morning of the final day, the sailors woke to 25-30 knots on the wind instruments! The AP was promptly displayed and the sailors sheltered in the clubhouse waiting for the wind to moderate. They waited, and waited, and waited...and eventually, the wind dipped to an average of 20-22 knots, so the AP came down with enough time to run an electric couple of races! Even for the heavyweights, it was a day of hanging on and keeping the boat under control. Damage limitation seemed a popular strategy, with only necessary manoeuvres executed.

The battle between Banham and Zeltner came to the wire, with places switching on the last downwind of the last race. Zeltner was leading overall and would cement his victory if he could overtake Whaley. Equally, he could lose the title if Banham gained a spot by overtaking Martin Evans. Whaley successfully kept Zeltner at bay, but the same could not be said for Evans with Banham! Banham just soaked inside enough to command the final gybe and take Evans, earning him the national title and edging him into the world number one spot! Zeltner couldn't have done any more by this time and would have to relinquish his lead on the global rankings. No doubt the rivalry will be revisited at the WASZP Games in Garda in a couple of weeks!

Hattie Rogers took the women's title for the second year running ahead of newcomer to the fleet, Bella Fellows. Ewan Wilson claimed the Junior division whilst Andy Bridgman took the Apprentice title one place ahead of Martin Evans. Christian Smart won the Masters' category and Geoff Carveth won the super-masters. All prize winners enjoyed a share of the generous Rooster prize pot!

Of course, the WASZP class is not all about performance and there was plenty to be celebrated up and down the fleet. Recognition was given to those who had completed their first ever lap, first foiling gybes, best social media contribution and a host of other humorous happenings from the week. The social calendar included 5-a-side football and volleyball, a championship dinner and plenty of off-the-cuff meets at local bars!

The UK fleet has plenty left on the calendar for 2022, with a number of GP events all over the country and an end of season championship in the autumn. Internationally, the WASZP class is about it deliver a record-breaking International Games in Garda with over 160 boats on the entry list!

Watch video highlights here

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