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Topper Technology International Topper World Championship at the Royal Cork Yacht Club

by John Heyes 10 Aug 2023 07:34 BST 22-28 July 2023

258 sailors from 10 nations across the globe travelled to the Royal Cork Yacht Club, in the scenic village of Crosshaven, County Cork, Ireland, for the Topper Technology International Topper World Championships 2023.

With 198 boats in the Topper 5.3 fleet and 60 in the smaller rig Topper 4.2 class this made Cork 2023 the almost the greatest ever entry for a Topper Worlds, underlining the growing popularity of this youth pathway class and highlighting its recent growth in Ireland. The 55 strong team from China arrived 2 weeks before the championships to acclimatise themselves to the venue and learn about tides that they had little experience of at home. They were soon joined on the water by sailors from Australia, Hong Kong, Malta, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, UK and Ireland, all training together in picturesque Cork Harbour over the weekend before racing commenced on Monday 24th July.

The 2023 Topper Technology International Topper World Championships were officially opened on Sunday evening by the Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, Kieran O'Connell and the Deputy Major of Cork County Council, Audrey Buckley - herself a parent of one of the competitors. The traditional international team's parade was slightly delayed by a heavy shower, but as soon as it passed the Carrigaline Pipe Band struck up and led the throng of flag-waving competitors along the shore to the impressive Crosshaven House.

There the sailors and families were all welcomed by the ITCA World Commodore, Bill Brassington and Simon Coveney TD, the Irish Government Minister and a keen Cork sailor himself, who praised the Topper and said it was in fact the first boat he raced as a youngster and thanked all the international sailors for travelling to Cork and making it the second highest entry ever in the 28 years of International Topper World Championships. The Class Association then presented prints of the Topper to Audrey Buckley and Simon Coveney and thanked them and event sponsor Jenny Reynolds of Topper Technology, for their warm welcome on behalf of all the sailors.

On Monday morning near perfect conditions greeted the sailors for the first day of racing. After the heavy showers of Sunday evening, the sun made a welcome return, accompanied by a northerly westerly breeze that varied from 5 - 12 knots throughout the day.

Race 1 for the Topper 5.3 fleet, split into coloured flights with two starts, got away smoothly in 9-12 knots, which then dropped towards the windward mark for the yellow and blue flights race. First to round, coming from the right-hand side of the beat, was Cameron McDaid, (GBR, Largs SC), with a 30m lead ahead of the bunch, from which from Gemma Brady, (IRL, National YC & LDYC), reached over the top of the cluster ahead on the leg to Mark 2, and into second place. Cameron's lead was worn down on the second upwind of the trapezoid course, as Sam Brown, (GBR, Burghfield SC) climbed to second, and Gemma Brady held on well to take 4th.

In the red/white flight race, Caoimhe Corkery (IRL, 424, Royal Cork YC) used her local knowledge of the harbour to her advantage to claim the win, as the tide built against the sailors upwind, making it slow going as the wind dropped at the windward mark to 5 knots.

In Race 2, the wind was back to 12 knots, in the yellow & Red flight race Will Brown, (GBR, Island Barn SC) rounded first, ahead of IRL Conor Kelly and Ian Ma, (HKG), but at the finish Craig O'Neill (IRL) from the host club had overhauled the leaders to take the win from Brown and Ian Ma, (HKG), finishing in that order.

At the end of Monday's opening 3 races, the top slots in the 5.3 fleets were all filled by Irish sailors, with Craig O'Neill from the host club having the best of the day with a very consistent 3,1,2 score line, ahead of Caoimhe Corkery on 19 points after she slipped to 17th in the third race and tied on points with Connor Kelly in 3rd. Over on the Topper 4.2 course, Rory Whyte, (IRL) nailed the day with an impressive 2,1,1, score, leading the 60-boat fleet from Shirley Ma, (CHN, Vanhang Sailing) and Victor Montgomery (GBR).

Tuesday dawned with bright skies and a gentle breeze building from the south west, the completely opposite direction from the previous day. After the morning briefing and traditional spot-prize-giving with eagerly awaited goodies from Ronstan and Rooster, the 4.2 fleet launched first and were towed out to their more distant race course, beyond Spike Island.

With the wind in the opposite direction, the tide was now under the fleet on the startline, resulting in a general recall for the Topper 4.2 first start. After the re-start for the green flight, it was local sailor Rian O Neill from RCYC who rounded first, closely followed by Alegra Schwoerer (SUI) and Rui Chang (CHN), underlining the truly international make-up of the fleet. Alegra and her family live aboard their yacht, the TOP to TOP climate expedition ship, based in the Norwegian Arctic for the last two years. Four of the family of six are racing in the Topper Worlds, after setting sail in their floating home down from the Lofoten Islands in an effort to get to Crosshaven - that's dedication for you!

Race 5 Orange flight, IRL 479 Andrew O'Neill was first round the windward mark followed closely by Royal Cork clubmate Rory Whyte (IRL 706) and CHN 831, Che Liu. On the second upwind, O'Neill held his lead in the building breeze, as Che Liu muscled passed Rory Whyte to take the runner-up spot on the line.

Meanwhile, over on the 5.3 course, race 5 for the white and blue flights started with a black flag in a 6 knots southerly. On the first leg the Irish team led with IRL 493 Leo O'Doherty and IRL 455 Isha Duggan holding the first two places followed by CHN 864 Wenwei Fu.

Wednesday's forecast was for grey, wet weather with NE winds up to 20 knots and proved pretty accurate. As a result of the forecast and the distant location of the 4.2 race course, the decision was taken to cancel the Topper 4.2 fleet for the day and race the first of the Topper 5.3 Finals series on the closer Curlane bank course. The 5.3 fleet, now split into the Gold, Silver and Bronze fleets headed out to the harbour in a building 13 knot north easterly.

The Gold fleet of 98 boats kicked off with a general recall as the strong tide pushed boats along and over the line. PRO Con Murphy went straight to the black flag with the wind down to 9 knots as a rain shower deadened the breeze. After the start, 75% of the fleet tacked to the right in an effort to stay up-tide, whilst those going left found themselves pointing at mark 2 of the reaching leg and struggled to get back against the current to the windward mark. After the second loop of the trapezoid course, it was IRL 406, Riona McMorrow Moriarty that led through the downwind gate, just ahead of GBR 114 Alex Jones and CHN 841 Shiyin Niu, making it a 1 & 3 for the girls, followed by a tight bunch of boats all finishing together, giving the spotters on the finish boat a tough time recording the results.

In the Silver and Bronze fleet start, MLT 800, Daniel Agius from Vikings SC showed the benefit of all his warm weather training back home in Malta, but he was caught on the top reach by IRL 737 Joseph Robinson, as the top three enjoyed a close battle for the remainder of the race, with Sam Roche, IRL 470 eventually taking the gun, ahead of Robinson, and Daniel Agius with a very satisfying third. The tides in Cork have proved a new challenge for sailors from China and Malta, who usually sail on waters that don't move beneath them!

By the start of race 2, the gold fleet had all picked up on the tidal situation and were tightly bunched at the Committee boat, looking to tack right as soon as possible. The Silver and Bronze fleet needed a black flag start, resulting in a big mid-line sag. CHN 845, Lehan Wang was first around the windward mark, ahead of GBR 183, Isla Todd, IRL 441, Feargal Quinn and CHN 861, Yike Luo. On the final run the Jury boat was closely watching the leaders for any rule 42 breaches as the sailors squeezed every ounce of boatspeed out of their Toppers. At the final gate for the gold fleet it was IRL 406 Riona McMorrow Moriarty ahead, closely followed by CHN 841, Shiyin Niu and IRL 410, Luke Simpson.

Thursday's forecast promised sun, 19 degrees and a 10 knot SW breeze and as the fleet launched it was looking like the prediction was going to be accurate, but sadly a thermal breeze was building in conflict with the gradient, the two cancelling each other out and shifting radically in direction between the two conflicting air masses.

After a long delay on the Topper 4.2 course, Race Officer Richard Leonard managed to get a race off in 6 knots, which was won by Rory Whyte, IRL 706, from fellow countryman Andrew O'Neill, IRL 479. In the orange flight it was a battle between the two leading Chinese sailors, with Jiayu He from Beijing Sailing Center taking the win from Che Liu of Vanhang Sailing, (CHN831)

Over on the Curlane Bank course, where the Topper 5.3 fleet were subject to a strong current, the first start possible at 3pm resulted in a general recall, despite the black flag flying, as the over-zealous sailors pressed the line. The second start got away cleanly in a 6-7 knot breeze. As the Gold fleet passed through the gate to the finish it was IRL 410, Luke Simpson from County Antrim Yacht Club taking the gun from Caoimhe Corkery, IRL 424 from the host club, ahead of club mate Craig O'Neill, IRL 419

In the Silver fleet, Fred Buckley (GBR 082) from Yorkshire Dales SC sealed the win from Max Swan, (IRL 486) whose previous best result in the Silver fleet was a 19th, so Max was well pleased with his result, just head of China's Haoyu Zheng, (CHN 835) in third.

Friday was finals day for both fleets. Expectation and tension was intensified at the morning briefing when the Gold, Silver and Bronze Rooster podium bibs were handed out to the leaders in each of the fleets... would they get to keep them by the end of the day!? The forecast was for a SW breeze, building to a fruity 22 knots by mid-afternoon, so PRO Con Murphy launched the 258 boat Toppers early, for an 11.00 a first start.

The 5.3 Gold and Silver fleets got away in 15/16 knots breeze gusting up to 22, with a bumpy sea. The right-hand side of the beat proved favourite, with IRL 420, Emily Macafee from Ballyholme YC rounding mark 1 first, closely tailed by GBR 574, Rory Clow and China's Ruoque Su. Clow maintained the pressure throughout the remainder of the race in some testing conditions that saw the wind shift to 230 degrees on the run, favouring the left-hand gate as the breeze temporarily dropped to 9 knots. Rory Clow from Island Barn SC claimed his first win, ahead of Su and the consistent Alex Jones in the gold vest, who had worked his way up from 6th at the first mark.

Over on the 4.2 course, the now split gold and silver fleets started their first finals series race under the U flag and in a steady 15 knots wind. In their second start of the day, first to appear at the windward mark was local lad Andrew O'Neill, from club mate Rory Whyte in the yellow leader's race bib. Whyte did well to recover his composure after the first race when he was slowed by catching his mainsheet around the rudder and was additionally classified OCS. He returned to the fray with added grit and determination, clocking up a second and first in the remaining races of the day, discarding the OCS to finish 6 points clear to claim the gold medal from fellow RCYC member Andrew O'Neill and Che Liu from Vanhang Sailing in the bronze medal position, just three points behind O'Neill.

The pressure may well have been getting to the other yellow vest out on the water, overnight leader Alex Jones, (GBR 114) of Parkstone SC, who began the day with a healthy 8 point lead over his nearest rival, China's Ruoque Su. Alex opened the Friday scoring with a third, behind both Su and Rory Clow, but suffered a blip in form in the eighth race - a 9th and his worst result of the Finals series. The ninth place was in fact enough to win the championships with a race to spare, but to prove his worthiness as a world champion Jones rounded off the event with a 3rd, so discarding his 9th place - enough to win the World Championships by a 10 point margin. Even more impressively, every one of his 9 final series results were within the top ten - a great feat of consistency not bettered by any of the 198 competitors in his class.

Both World Champions were carried aloft in their boats as they came ashore, a now familiar Topper Worlds tradition, to great applause from parents, coaches and fellow competitors alike.

Once the results were all confirmed, a lavish prize-giving ceremony commenced, kick-started by a generous prize draw to win three Honda 6 outboards, organised by Jenny Reynolds of title sponsor Topper Technology. Prizes were spread well down each of the fleets, with the winners walking away with a variety of goodies, from Ronstan Clear Start watches, drybags and ratchet blocks to Rooster dry Robes, buoyancy aids and sailing holdalls, as well as bespoke fused glass Topper sail trophies and medals for the podium winners.

Jessica Powell, (GBR 611) of Draycote Water SC, pulled out all the stops on the final day to record an impressive 4, 1, 2 scoreline to pull up from 6th to 4th overall, just off the Topper 5.3 podium. However, she was rewarded with the First Junior Trophy, ahead of 18th placed Jasper Focardi Dolling. Jessica is certainly a rising star and was just one of four girls in the top ten of the 5.3 Gold fleet - strong proof that the International Topper class is truly delivering a unique and gender equal playing field for both young male and female athletes. With a 46% female entry across the two classes, the top girl's results show an equal representative spread throughout the fleet.

After all the presentations and thanks to all the host club's great team of volunteers, the Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club declared the Topper Technology, International Topper World Championships closed, and the 2024 Worlds confirmed as being hosted by the Federación De Vela Region De Murcia, (FVRM) at Los Alcazares on the Mar Menor in Spain - we look forward to seeing you there!

Overall Results:

Photos & video by Phill Williams & Sandra Agius Darmanin.

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