Fifteen teams battled for honours over a competitive weekend of close racing at the BSDRA British Schools Keelboat Championship at London’s Queen Mary Sailing Club.
Using a British Keelboat League format of short course fleet racing, the teams completed a full schedule of 30 races sailing RS21s as the event made a welcome return over the weekend of 6 – 7 November for its third edition after missing a year due to the Covid pandemic.
For many of the competitors it was their first experience of racing keelboats and with 12 – 14 knot winds and gusts in the high 20s across both days, the breezy conditions provided boat handling challenges, adrenalin-fuelled downwinds and big smiles.
Two competitors accidentally went swimming and decisions about when and where to fly a spinnaker – or leave it in the boat – were a factor in teams going from zero to hero and vice versa, depending on their ability to manage the teamwork and sheet loads involved.
With seven teams on the startline at a time and races lasting around 11 minutes, each team completed 14 races and consistency across the series was to prove key in the overall results.
Emerging victorious was Royal Hospital School’s Pink Team, comprising sixth formers Boris Hirsch, Paddy Moriarty, James Deaton and Ben Woodcock, who as one of the older teams competing brought their experience to the event and added strength for effective sail trimming.
Demonstrating good teamwork and low-risk tactics, including judicious use of the spinnaker, their scoreline included a string of podium finishes enabling them to claim the title.
James Deaton, skipper of the Royal Hospital School’s winning team, said: “It was a great experience trying out a new type of boat within a competitive yet fun environment!”
Second overall after making a comeback from seventh overnight was Royal Hospital School Blue with Reading Sailing Club third. Traditionally organised as a one-day championship by the BSDRA (British Schools Dinghy Racing Association), this year’s #rockupandrace event enabled teams to develop their racing skills over two days and was opened up to school age teams beyond the association. Along with Reading SC, also competing for the first time was a NSSA Derbyshire Youth Sailing team.
The availability of a fleet of race-ready RS21s also helped to make the event accessible and a record 22 teams had registered their interest to take part when entries opened, with schools keen to take the opportunity for their young sailors to try keelboats and broaden their sailing skills.
Ed Sibson, Director of Sailing at Royal Hospital School and a committee member of BSDRA, said: “It’s a fantastic event for the students to be able to experience a different kind of sailing.
“It was great to get so many races in and to get first and second overall as a school. There was some really great sailing by every team over the event but our pink team were able to string together a series of podium finishes and even if they didn’t get a good start were able to consolidate.
“They were probably a bit more conservative than some of the teams, particularly with the spinnaker, so that meant they were quite low risk and got some benefits from that quite frequently. So it was that consistency along with quite a few race wins that helped them stay on top overall.”
Race Officials Academy
The event was managed by the RYA Race Officials Academy, a structured training programme for aspiring race officials aged 18-35, which provided around 10 volunteers who covered all the duties involved ranging from event director and race officer to mark layers and umpires.
Event Director Lorna Graham said: “It was a good opportunity to demonstrate our skills. We had a very successful event and one comment from a teacher was they are used to high level professional events and we delivered that standard.”
Organisers noted that having the Race Officials Academy involved provided mutual benefits for both BSDRA and the academy, and was also appreciated by the competitors, who had younger than usual race officials who they were better able to relate to.
Summing up the event, Lorna added: “Most of those taking part had never really sailed keelboats before and after around 30 minutes of familiarisation in the boats they then went straight into lots of racing with coaching support from parents and their team managers.
“Everyone progressed a lot. It’s usually a one day event and this year for the first time it was a two day format which gave them a second day to put into practice what they’d learnt.
“We could definitely see the improvement in boat handling over the weekend. With spinnakers up on day one there was lots of broaching but then on day two we would see 6 out of 7 boats with kites up and all were under control. We could see their confidence growing and there were lots of smiles as they went over the finish line.”
BSDRA also thanked Queen Mary SC for hosting the event, JDX Consulting for the prizes and Keith Sammons and KSail for supporting the administration.
Full results can be found here.