Thirty fleets were invited, thirty boats turned up and thirty boats were on the start line for the Endeavour Championship, the most prestigious race in the dinghy sailing world, to find the 'Champion of Champions'. Held at the RCYC, Burnham on Crouch, senior Race Officer Kim Allen obviously had both the regatta and the weather under his control from the start, as the fleet set out in sunshine and a steady breeze.
For the third year running, the entire fleet of Xenons was supplied by Topper, backed up by their staff of advisors and technicians. These boats have proved ideal in the Crouch; in moderate conditions both light-weight and heavier crews can coax them to perform well. The weekend has now stretched into a three-day event as Topper deliver the fleet in time for a day of familiarisation and practice on the Friday, run by Adam Bowers, an Olympic Coach with his own unique style of training.
It was an early start on the Saturday after breakfast in the RCYC dining room with panoramic views over the estuary where battle was about to commence. The entire fleet slipped quietly down river on the ebbing tide with a southerly breeze to the mouth of the Roach where Phoebe, the Committee boat and Tolerance of Guernsey, on watch at the pin-end, were already setting up the start line.
The first race of the event started with one competitor OCS at the start although several boats thought it prudent to restart just in case! Start discipline, however, was excellent throughout the event. Ian Dobson (GP14) and Andy Tunnicliffe had this race sewn up from the beginning as they went into the lead and remained secure throughout the race. Tim Gratton (Feva) and Chris Taylor possibly the youngest competitors, were doubtless surprised to find themselves in second place for the first two laps but could not keep up the pace and slipped to finish in sixth place. Roger Gilbert (RS200) crewed by Jane Willan made a disastrous start and finished the first lap in 21st position. Although they doggedly improved to finish in 11th place, a position they would obviously discard, Gilbert's challenge to win the event after the last two years as runner up was effectively over.
After finishing in fifth position in the first race, Nick Craig (B14) and Toby Lewis found their form and never looked back for the rest of the event. They started at the weather end of the line and led the fleet for the entire race, finishing a minute ahead of Peter Barton (Cherub) and Olivier Vidal who had a private battle with Graham Camm (National 12) and Zoe Ballantyne to finish second. Gilbert (RS200) and Dobson (GP14) were consistent in fourth and fifth places throughout the race. There was a break for lunch and a chance to wave to the helicopter, provided by English Braids, a major sponsor, resulting in some stunning hotographs .
This champion fleet showed its experience with a well disciplined, clear start and a chance for Gilbert to redeem himself. The RS200 and Tim Sadler (Enterprise) crewed by Richard Sault, were first round the windward mark and although there was some slippage, there was time for Gilbert to regain the lead to take the gun with the B14 and the Enterprise behind him. There were plenty of minor skirmishes with mini races between the back markers in a four lap race which took the winning boat 55:37mins to complete.
David Wade (Fireball) crewed by Ben McGrane, led Craig at the first windward mark and was a clear 30 seconds ahead at the end of the first lap. However, the real fight was taking place behind the two leaders as the RS200, then Mike Hart, crewed by Duncan West in the Hornet, the Enterprise and the GP14 clocked the same times as they completed the first lap. The Fireball led for most of the race but Craig was looking for an opportunity and seized it to snatch another first place and Wade had to be content with a second. Camm (National 12) improved from 5th at the end of the first lap to take third place with Gilbert finishing fourth.
Old hands at this event would remember that Race Officer Allen likes to cram five races into the first day, especially as he knew of the light airs forecast for the Sunday. However, it takes stamina to set the mind clear and ignore the fatigue as the flags are hoisted for the fifth race of the day. Craig and Sadler battled it out for the first two places with constant changes before Craig claimed his third win of the day, whilst John Pink (49er) and Rick Peacock, Barton/Vidal and Gilbert/Willan stayed steadily in 3rd, 4th and 5th places respectively.
As the committee boats up anchored and made for the bar, the competitors had time to reflect as they made their way back to the clubhouse in glorious sunshine. After five races with four to count, Craig and Lewis were in a strong position with a score of five points. Gilbert and Willan had achieved second position but totalled only 14 points with Camm and Dobson close behind, each with a score of 17. There was a mountain to climb if Craig was to be challenged rather like the Corinthian ramp with the tide at its lowest point on the fleet's return!
After an excellent dinner Commodore Paul Noonan was able to remind the competitors of the Endeavour story and the reason for the Championship being so called. In the America's Cup race in 1934 the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club provided the amateur crew for the 12 metre 'Endeavour' after a dispute with the professional crew who consequently went on strike. When Beecher Moore, the youngest of that amateur crew, and Robin Judah were considering creating a race for dinghy champions, it seemed appropriate to link the two events together so that the 1934 Endeavour Race would be remembered. Beecher Moore presented the silver model as the trophy and the first Endeavour Championship took place in 1961.
Breakfast was taken overlooking a river shrouded in mist and it seemed that the Race Officer had read the forecasts correctly. He made a bold decision to launch in poor visibility and the fleet needed to be escorted to the race area. But the decision paid off and Race Six started at 12:05 with a solitary seal as witness in just over 5 knots of breeze. Olly Porter (Laser 4.7) and Ben Harden arrived first at the windward mark, followed by Camm/Ballantyne, Craig/Lewis, and Sadler/Sault but Gilbert/Willan were also in the picture.
At the finish Craig had gained the lead with Gilbert in second, the Laser Team now in third, the Europe (Chris and John Gill) in fourth, the Enterprise in fifth and Steve Cockerill (Streaker) and Keri Harris in sixth. Unfortunately, they were the only finishers as the wind had faded away and the rest of the fleet was being swept northwards by the tide. With so few boats finishing that last race, and any notion of further racing abandoned, the results were greatly changed as with only one discard allowed, most of the competitors had to discard Race Six!
The Endeavour Prizegiving is always a splendid finale to the event. Musto provided two cheques of £500, one for the John Merricks Trust to assist young aspiring sailors and the other as a prize for the Endeavour Champion of 2008, Nick Craig. Nick spoke warmly of the event, commending the efforts of his crew, Toby Lewis, who had been the winning crew in 2007 and praising the organisation of the Royal Corinthian and the expertise with which Kim Allen's Race Team laid the courses. He recognised the round-the-year work of Edwin Buckley who masterminded the event as well as the Corinthian Members who gave it their support.
His final praise was reserved for this year's sponsors, Topper, English Braids, Seldon, Musto, Noble Marine; it is their support that makes the Endeavour Championship an event worthy of its name and one which all ambitious sailors seek to attend. In particular he praised the Xenon, which appears to be the perfect boat for the event and a fair challenge to the competitors. "But the best bit", he said, "is that I just hand my boat back to Topper who pack it away for me and I don't even have to tow it home!
This year's event was remarkable for some new young faces amongst the competitors, who occasionally found themselves at the front of the pack. The only female helm, Emma Barry (Mirror) finished in 21st place, despite her diminutive size and never having sailed with her crew before. The Feva, Cadet and Laser 4.7 crews were all first-timers and Olly Porter, a solo Laser sailor, snatched up Ben Harden, a local lad, aged fourteen, to crew for him. Perhaps Ben's local knowledge enabled them to feature amongst the few finishers in the last race, a creditable third! This is an event where experience counts: some of the older competitors have participated a dozen times so it's a wonderful opportunity for the youngsters to take part.
The Endeavour Championships 2008 finished with promises and hopes from the competitors to meet again in 2009. Nick Craig, four times winner already, needs another win to equal the achievement of Mike Holmes, five times winner in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1990 and 1995. What a record! However, Craig is young and that record could be beaten...