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Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Minus 40 Match Racing at Stone Sailing Club

by Ben Harden 7 Jun 2023 10:59 BST 3-4 June 2023

I think most sailors can probably say they have not had much experience at match racing, and as the format for one of our sports biggest and most well-known competition - The America's Cup - it's surprising more of us haven't given it a go. So, when Stone Sailing Club sent out invitations to their inaugural match racing event for under 40's, to be sailed in 2000's, and with the chance to race an Olympic Gold & Silver medallist, I jumped at the opportunity.

So, on Friday the 2nd June the 15 invited teams headed to Stone Sailing Club for an evening of pre-match talk where would find out our seeding and how the weekend would be run. The evening started with a quick show and tell from Olympic Gold & Silver medallist, Stuart Bithell, who apparently has never done any match racing before... Come to warm up on the likes of us amateurs it would seem.

Race Officer, Karl Terkelsen, gave us all an excellent run down of how to draw phallic objects on the white board. Sorry, I mean windward-leeward courses! Before we were issued with our seedings and correlating bibs. We could now see who we would be up against in the first round. Good luck to everyone in the Red League, especially Oliver Boosey and Abbie Clark, who would have the honours of easing Stu and Tom into match racing!

The format was simple(ish) - The fifteen teams were split into three leagues of five which would create the round robin to be sailed throughout the day on Saturday. The winner of each round robin would qualify for the Semi-finals on Sunday. As four boats would be needed and with only three leagues, the rest of the competitors who hadn't qualified would be reseeded and face a knockout "sudden death" race on Sunday. The final winner being the 4th boat into the semi's. The semi's would then be a first to two-points show down with the winner qualifying for the final. The final would repeat the first to two-point show down and then the winner would take home the brand new Minus 40 Match Racing trophy!

So, Saturday morning and the weather was full glamour. 15knts, sunshine and flat water (until the afternoon!). RYA umpire Mike Butterfield gave us a quick rule's briefing. Which was extremely helpful as most teams had never done any match racing before! We then headed down to the beach to be presented, like rockstars, with a fleet of ready-to-go 2000's. Kindly offered and rigged up by Stone Sailing Club members.

For those of us in the first few races, we headed out from the beach, nerves high, but ready to do battle.

It was apparent from the first few matches that it might take a couple of goes to get the hang of this. The penalties came flying out from the umpire ribs left, right and centre over the course of the first few matches, with people not getting the hang of the start sequence and starting area rules.

However, most of the competitors had the chance to watch from the on-water hotel boat and could quickly pick up where the first teams had gone a cropper. The level was soon raised, and we had some serious racing on our hands!

A special shoutout here has to go to a few different people. Firstly - Matt Kimber and his daughter, youngest sailor Ruby Welch (8 years old) who gave Stuart Bithell and Tom Pygall a good run for their money. Ruby's unorthodox tactic of throwing chocolate eclairs at Stu (apparently, he really loves them) was working extremely well as the two teams battled it out pre-start with neither able to land a penalty on the other. It was only a few seconds before the start when Matt and Ruby tapped the pin end buoy that it went downhill.

Secondly - Geoff Kimber, and the team of helpers who all day did a fantastic job of getting the sailors to and from the shore to their correct 2000 in plenty of time. The organisation by both the race officer team and the rest of the shore crew was slicker than a slick thing!

By mid-day the 3 leagues had already been won, with Red league being won by Stuart Bithell and Tom Pygall. Green league won by myself (Ben Harden) and Lucy Ellery. Orange league - which I must say, the sailors in their orange bibs made it look like they should be on the M25 fixing pot holes - was won by Lucy and Lainey Terkelsen.

The rest of the day was then a battle for seeding for Sunday's knockout round. However, by mid-day the tide had started to turn, it was now blowing 18-20 knts, with the strong Blackwater tide running against. It's fair to say, the sailors had heaps on. So the racing for many became a bit more about survival than trying to dial down to win a penalty.

By 5PM the sailors were off the water and into the bar for a well earnt lamb tagine, beer (or two) and an evening of fun with live music by The Journey Man. There might have even been a tequila or three at the bar. "Rough is fast" as they say.

Sunday morning - again glamour! 12-15knts, sunshine and flat water. The Blackwater really was showing off it is best side. For us lucky finalists, we got a bit of a later start whilst the knockout rounds kicked off. You could tell the tempo had raised a level in the first few starts as the teams fought hard to stay in the competition. Interestingly, the lowest seed entry for the weekend - Daniel Stone and William Ayre (who haven't stepped foot in a boat for many years) made it through to the Semi's. A chance to take on big Stu and super crew Tom.

However, the glory didn't last long. Stu managed to stick two quickly successive penalties on Daniel, then followed an OCS, which led to the boys being black flagged from the race and with it the hopes of beating an Olympian quickly sank to the bottom of the Blackwater.

Semi-final 2, Lucy and I faced the Terkelsen sisters. They smashed it on day one, winning all their races. So, we were excited for this one knowing we would need our A-game. The coin toss fortunately went our way, and we won starboard entry for the start, a big advantage when it comes to match racing. The girls battled us hard, nearly landing a couple of penalties on us. It was only in the 10 seconds to the start that we got a hook on them, forcing them to crash tack, which unfortunately for the girls ended in a capsize due to the windward jib sheet not realising.

Race two, and the girls on starboard entry with everything to play for. They came out blazing with aggression and led us over near to the beach so all the spectators could watch more closely as they proceeded to have us running scared. With no penalties between us in the pre-start and a pretty even start it came down to upwind speed. Fortunately for Lucy and I, the wind had picked up and the tide started to turn, so the sea state was building. We managed to pull away upwind and eventually away into the final.

Now, there's not many sports where you can compete as an amateur against the very best professional athletes (do athletes drink tequila shots and dark and stormy's?) but this is where Lucy and I found ourselves. You've got to love sailing for moments like this.

Stu and Tom kicked off the finals by winning the toss and getting starboard entry. What then proceeded was a lot of shouting "protest" as we battled it out to stick a penalty on each other. No luck, green flags each time. I knew if it was a speed contest upwind Stu would nail us, and that's exactly what happened.

The second race, however, is where it got exciting. Again, the pre-start saw lots of hooks, dial up's and dial downs. All to no avail. There was one moment I was running scared and used a moored boat as an obstacle to hide behind. But eventually we got away and proceeded to cross tacks upwind. Stu and Tom rounded the windward mark first with us a boat length behind and close enough to cover downwind. A few luffing matches downwind until eventually Lucy and I surfed up the inside of Stu and Tom for mark room. We were in the lead! "hike your tits off" I said to lucy as the adrenaline was pumping as we headed upwind for the last time in a now very choppy sea state.

We crossed a couple of boat lengths ahead of Stu and Tom as we sailed across the course to get onto the port lay line. One more tack to go and one that we needed to nail. We didn't. Stu comes back at us on Starboard at the mark. I think were crossing. We weren't. Penalty awarded to us, as Stu and Tom tack inside us and bare away around the mark. Unfortunately, we couldn't catch up to try and offset the penalty. So, 2-0 Stu and Tom. Ahh well, we will get them next year!

A special thanks must go to all of the club members at Stone Sailing Club who organised and hosted such a fantastic weekend of racing. I can understand why not many of us get the chance to take part in match racing, there is a lot of work in organising an event like this. But the Stone team pulled off an amazing weekend.

Overall Results:

Youngest Helm - Brandon Barker 15 years old
Youngest Crew - Ruby Welch 8 years old
4th Place - Dan Stone & William Ayre
3rd Place - Lucy and Lainey Terkelsen
2nd Place - Ben Harden & Lucy Ellery
1st Place - Stuart Bithell & Tom Pygall

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