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The 2023 Setley Cup

by Luke McEwen 26 Dec 2023 21:40 GMT 26 December 2023

Astonishingly, between weeks-worth of wet and windy weather, Boxing Day at Setley Pond in the New Forest dawned calm and sunny for the 40th anniversary Setley Cup model sailing yacht race.

A record turnout of kids clutching their home-made boats queued to register for racing, collect their sail numbers and take stock of the competition. The boats ranged from the classic plastic bottles taped together, through to Lymington Junior School projects and right up to 3D-printed beauties with carbon fibre rigs and hydrofoils.

40 years ago Jonathan Rogers heard that Luke McEwen had persuaded his dad Tom to make him a model sailing boat, so of course a race was inevitable. From such small acorns oaks do grow and the small boys and girls of those early years, several of whom went on to win National, European and Olympic medals, are now parents of equally enthusiastic children who feel that the Boxing Day Setley Cup is of greater importance than any mere ocean race. It was nice to see many new faces too, from as far away as Warsash and even Rwanda. Previous Setley Cup competitors who have recently outgrown the class came back to join the race team, rowing the rescue boat, running registration and spotting whose boat had reached the finish line first.

The rules are very simple: boats are not more than 66cm long, without stored power (no radio control or rockets allowed) and must be launched by a child. There is a sail area limit too but it's more to tempt the overambitious into making much too large a rig. Many of the world's top yacht designers have had a go at winning the Setley Cup (for monohulls) and the Seahorse Trophy (for multihulls), but none have lifted these coveted prizes. More often than not the winning boat is built by a keen teenager or parent who's worked out the formula for success - generally being able to sail in a straight line while all around are losing their way in the turbulent winds on Setley Pond, exacerbated by a good crowd of spectators standing upwind of the start. The other secret, as in most aspects of life, is preparation. Usually that means a bit of practice and fine-tuning before Christmas but this year's must-have feature was long wellies for walking from the start line to collect your boat at the finish, as the recent rains had topped up the pond until it overflowed across the car park.

Taking stock of the feeble zephyrs blowing across the pond from any direction between west and northeast, the race team set a short course across the narrow bit of the pond, from right to left as you look out from the car park. Competitors were divided into flights of 12 boats, sailing 2 heats each and then a final race for the top 12 in each class. Going into the Monohull finals Jonny Rogers' boat Bear had two firsts from the heats, but a great performance from the 2014 champion Joanna MacAlister's Elephant stole the Setley Cup by a single point. In the Multihulls it was even closer: Dirk Rogers' Danger Cat had two firsts in the heats but William McEwen's Death Star clinched the Seahorse Trophy on a tie-break by winning the final race.

Thanks to all the volunteers for running the event, to Forestry England and the Solent Radio Controlled Model Yacht Club for permission to use the pond, and to all the competitors and parents for coming along and having fun. Happy New Year and see you all in 2024!


PositionSail numberBoat nameSailor
Setley Cup for Monohulls
1st104ElephantJoanna MacAlister
2nd111BearJonny Rogers
3rd34AnnieDigby Werry‑Eusterbrook
4th15HMS SassieSaskia Walder‑Kilgour
5th13Silver BulletSylvia McEwen
6th43KrakenElliot Sutcliffe
=7th99StealthBen McEwen
=7th106Black BettyOtis Moore
9th118JaguarBrodie Podger
10th718Blue RocketLeo Hart
11th116Fruit SaladRory Stock
12th370ButterdishRebecca Wharmby
Seahorse Trophy for Multihulls
1st33Death StarWilliam McEwen
2nd69Danger CatDirk Rogers
3rd49Blue DragonRory Bubb
4th19Fixer UpperOlivia MacAlister
5th32DudeRafferty Walder‑Kilgour
6th140Wind Blower UnicornAlice Cherry
7th27Silver Swan IIBarney Bulkeley
8th50White DragonBilly Bubb
9th31KayaKaya Carrington
10th42KiwiJasmine Akester
11th107BertamiBertie & Amaryllis Thomas
12th60ChutneyCaitlin Garrison

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