Red hot racing on Endeavour opening day

»«Saturday 14th October 2017

With three wins in the bag after today’s Endeavour Trophy opening five races, Ben Saxton and Toby Lewis (reigning Endeavour champions) lead the Endeavour Trophy Championship by just one point from Nick Craig and Holly Scott (D-One) writes Sue Pelling.

In perfect sunny conditions and wind averaging out at 15kts, the 30-strong Endeavour fleet of champions from the most popular and competitive racing classes, was put to the test with five back-to-back races in challenging tidal conditions on the River Crouch.

Olympic Nacra 17 sailor Saxton, and Lewis his super-talented crewman, in their 10-year-old RS200, started the eight-race Endeavour Series where they left off last year by notching up three straight wins in the opening races.

In a fairly strong ebbing tide and committee boat biased start line, the first race got underway in a good working breeze that made for some exciting downwind planning conditions. Saxon and Lewis slotted into the front rank immediately and at the top mark led the race by over a minute. Craig and Scott worked hard but had to settle for second.

Saxton and Lewis repeated their performance in the next two races, but in race four Craig (six-time Endeavour champion) and Scott were back on form and performed exceptionally well on downwind legs. By the second leeward mark they led the race by over 20 seconds.

Christian Birrell and Rob Henderson (470) who were lying second suffered an OCS in that race, which left Roger and Jane Gilbert (International 14) in second place, while Saxton and Lewis finished fourth. The Gilberts, who finished the day with 17 points, in third place overall are definitely going to be a team to watch in the final showdown tomorrow.

Another win for Craig and Scott in the fifth race of the day, and a second for Saxton and Lewis after a race-long battle with Ben Palmer and Amy Seabright (RS200), means there is now just one point between the two favourites.

Commenting on his impressive performance, Saxton said: “We had a fun day and we are really enjoying being back on the River competing here at the Endeavour. It is fantastic to have someone like Toby in the front of the boat.

“We came out the ‘blocks’ fast in the first three races but picked the wrong side of the beat by accident in the next, which wasn’t the best move. We did a good comeback in the last race so we are really happy. Also really happy it is now a lot more open. We have come here to race and that is what we are getting, that’s for sure.”

Second placed Craig added: “Really pleased. It was the usual really hard Endeavour competition, really hard racing, really hard starts and every inch counts upwind. Upwind we just lost a lane on one occasion when we were ahead and we found ourselves in 15th round the windward mark, just like that. It is so tough. Thankfully we had good downwind speed, which is down to good crew work from Holly. Ben [Saxton] is flying though. He has an edge upwind and downwind, which makes it quite hard to beat really.”

The standard of racing was, not surprisingly, top class throughout with the strong youth contingent performing well. Local champions Ben Hutton-Penman and Lucy Hewitson (RS Feva) suffered with gear failure in the first race but from there on they managed to gain some good consistent results in the middle of the fleet, which leaves them in 17th overall.

The brother and sister duo, Bettine (14) and Jamie Harris (Cadets) improved as the day progressed and are lying in 21st place: “Although we came mid fleet every race we are really pleased because we feel as though we are learning a lot. I am really enjoying it and we are looking forward to some more good racing tomorrow. It is tough and we are tired but it is such an experience to be here again.”

With such a close points margin, and the forecast showing more wind, the stage is well and truly set for an exciting grand finale in the concluding three races tomorrow.

Sue Pelling