The Neilson GBR Cadet World Team selection series was completed this weekend at the spiritual home of the Cadet, the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club.
The Saturday morning welcome and briefing for the fleet was held in glorious sunshine and a light breeze that drifted gently across the dinghy park. As PRO Arky Wainwright spoke to the fleet, the skies behind him were becoming dark and threatening. Just as the fleet prepared to launch, with nerves and tension heightened for this crucial last selector, the first clap of thunder in the distance struck menacingly.
Forced into a lengthy delay to ensure that the storm had passed, the fleet were finally launched for the long sail up to the mouth of the Roach. The forecast wind was now beginning to build, and as the fleet reached the start area the wind over spring tide began to pick up a turbulent chop. This was about to become a challenging days racing.
With race one under way, the fleet headed east into the current with a strong lee bow lifting them up toward the windward mark. A few sailors forced to the right quickly over-stood the windward mark, but those who timed the approach correctly held the lead. The high speed battle on the first reach was tight, with Cara Bland and Innes Green leading from Megan Fergusson and Ollie Mears, Bettine Harris and Sam Goult and Hattie and Hamish Collingridge. As they sped down the second reach, a huge launch passed in front of them at speed, Cara and Innes flew over the wake so quickly that they left the water but survived, Bettine and Sam were nearly wiped out; shocked they decided to stow the kite. It was really blowing now, with 28 knots recorded on the committee boat the less experienced were beginning to struggle in the wind, tide and waves.
The third beat became a battle between Megan and Ollie, and Bettine and Sam. With Cara and Innes dropping back and Hattie and Hamish capsizing on the run and coming up in a complete tangled mess, the fight to the finish remained between those two. Surviving the carnage and showing why he was in last years team, Ryan Wilkinson crewed by World Champion sister Toni, chased the leaders.
At the finish, Bettine and Sam pipped Megan and Ollie to take the win, the two boats clear leaders from Ryan and Toni 3rd, and in 4th a superb performance from Emily Spiers and Rosie Voyantzis. Faye Chatterton and Amelia Mayhew took 5th from Rebecca Videlo and Yasmin Sfaxi in 6th.
The second race was delayed whilst the fleet was pieced back together and returned to the start.
With the race underway Ryan and Toni lead coming in from the middle of the course, with Megan and Ollie, Lia Fletcher and Olivia Gowland, Bettine and Sam, Cally Terkleson and Phoebe Barr and Rebecca and Yasmin vying for top spot. Cara and Innes were pulled out of the race at the mark to score an OCS.
With plenty of place changing the lead was handed from one to another in one of the most exciting battles of the series. Joining in at the front were Kate White and Rhona Enkel and, recovering from a 1st race wipe out, Amy and Ben Goult. At the finish it was the fist pump of Ryan that signalled a hard fought for win, with Megan and Ollie 2nd and Bettine and Sam 3rd. Kate and Rhona took 4th with Hattie and Hamish in 5th.
Those first 5 passed a windward mark that was just showing signs of the spring tide beginning to change, and as that change happened the ferocious pace of the outgoing tide set in, in a manner that foretold of the struggles to come.
With the tide now racing out to sea at up to 4 knots, what was a "go left up tide" race course had to be re-set. Barely able to keep the committee boat on station such was the strength of the onrushing water, the expertise of the RCYC race staff came to the fore. As the start was signalled the fleet headed off across the river. The boats at the committee boat end tacked immediately and just about lee bowed the oncoming tide whilst those on the pin looked to be crossing the tide to the south shore. It was obvious from the outset that this was going to be a very long beat. Bettine and Sam showed good pace and a slight height advantage over their rivals and edged ever higher into the tide and up and over Ryan and Toni, and Megan and Ollie. At the windward mark Bettine and Sam, and Megan and Ollie had a substantial lead from Ryan and Toni in 3rd. Rounding into lap 2 Megan and Ollie had begun to catch Bettine and Ryan and Toni in turn were being chased hard by Hazel Whittle and Anna Horackova. Hazel and Anna's position was remarkable as they had started the race capsized, but with incredible determination they had worked their way back and pipped Ryan for 3rd on the finish line minutes after Bettine and Sam had been beaten to the finish by Megan and Ollie.
With the fleet ashore tears were shed as tales of woe, destruction and disaster filled the dinghy park. Some of the top 7 placed sailors, those who would be selected for the team, had had a disastrous day. Cara and Innes who were so dominant in the series ended the day with an OCS, 8th and 10th, but were safe as their series score was so good. Emily and Rosie had a bad day too after a 4th place first race with a DNF and a 15th, as did Amy and Ben carrying a DNF and 17. Megan and Ollie and Bettine and Sam had cemented their places in the team with an excellent days sailing, whilst Ryan and Toni's performance had pushed them into contention.
After a night of spreadsheets and calculations, Sunday dawned with glorious sun but without any wind. With the spring tide still running strongly, the PRO finally called the series to an end at 1pm, 20 seconds before the sea breeze pushed the many brightly coloured spinnakers of the Burnham One Designs down the river past the club. The decision proved to be correct as the sea breeze lasted no more than an hour. The dedicated Cadet committee scoring gurus, MT Targett and Kylie Bradshaw, checked and rechecked the rules and the scores and finally the prize giving and team announcement was ready.
Winning the Bronze fleet with a 2nd, 1st, 1st, were Matteo Mancini and Gabriel Hill from Fishers Green from RCYC's own Nick Matthews and Amelia Hague. These two teams sailed superbly given that this was one of the most difficult events witnessed in a long while. Kudos too goes to George Rashbrook and Ollie Benne from RCYC who braved the conditions, stayed out on the water, and finished the toughest race 3.
So the final selector for the Neilson GBR World Cadet team, the Clemenson Nautilus went to Megan Fergusson and Ollie Mears by a point from Bettine Harris and Sam Goult, and in 3rd, Ryan and Toni Wilkinson.
And finally to the nail biting announcement of the team; first on the team sheet were Cara Bland and Innes Green (Waldringfield SC) whose early dominance was so impressive; second Megan Fergusson and Ollie Mears (Frensham Pond SC) and third Bettine Harris and Sam Goult (Bristol Corinthians, Waldringfield SC and Frensham Pond) who completed an impressive and consistent series with only 5 results outside the top 10 between them in the 15 races.
Next, Hattie and Hamish Collingridge (Waldringfield SC) who's slightly erratic performance had sparks of the speed potential that they showed in Argentina last year.
5th place went to last years team members Ryan and Toni Wilkinson (Frensham Pond SC), giving Toni the chance to retain her World Champion crew title after last years victory with Jamie Harris.
In 6th place Emily Spiers and Rosie Voyantzis (Frensham Pond SC) who's excellent series has been rewarded with her chance to represent her country again after crewing for her sister Izzy at last year's worlds.
And so to 7th, and the final team place. With some hearts pounding Cadet Chairman Doug Targett announced the final selection. Amy and Ben Goult (Frensham Pond) had that well deserved place in the Neilson GBR Cadet Worlds team. To huge applause and with the biggest smiles Amy and Ben took to the stage to accept their place. In the end they held a 20 point lead over next placed Faye Chatterton and Amelia Mayhew (in their 1st year of helming), and Finbarr Wormwell and George Little, who were both so close and showed huge promise and potential for next year.
The 51st International Cadet World Championship takes place in Bruinisse, Holland on Lake Grevelingen in August. This Neilson GBR Worlds Cadet team is going to be a strong one, with 4 sailors from last year's team, and 2 bright stars stepping up from Worlds team crews to helms, there is a lot of talent and experience in this years selection. We wish them the best of luck.
Finally I would like to add a huge thank you to all at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club who yet again were excellent hosts and to Roger Mant for braving the elements with his camera to record the event.