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March 10, 2023 5 min read

Leo Yates Topper National Winter Championships NS2

The time had come, the first major event of 2023, 140 Toppers arrived at Weymouth, all in the same boat, each with the same chance of winning.

On Saturday morning, after a hectic registration and briefing, the fleet launched into a light but a stable north easterly breeze. The fleet all began their pre-start checks, tuning runs, strategy practice and talking with friends to refine their strategies further.

The event was flighted into 4 flights (where 2 different flights would race together in 2 starts, and the order would change for every race to ensure that everyone would race everyone). I was in Yellow Fleet, First Start. No one to look ahead at. Just me, the water and 60 other boats wanting to cross the line before me.

The starting gun goes, and we are all off. I started at the starboard end and straight away was half a boat length in front. I thought I saw some more wind on the left hand side of the course and was hoping to get wind to bend around Nothe Fort to get me to the mark in a good position. Everything was going to plan until I begin my final approach to the mark, I look at my compass and its 30 degrees lower than expected. This is not good, I thought. I then had to endure a painful few minutes of watching 20 boats overtake me into the first mark. However, I then pulled an excellent recovery on the second upwind and following 2 downwinds to get back into 7th across the line (net 14th). Not the start I was hoping for.

Race 2 had come around and I was trying to learn from the previous race, except I started at the wrong end of the line which put me 5 boat lengths down immediately. I just about recovered it back towards the front by the quarter way point. Then I threw it away by going to the wrong side again, meaning I was 25th to the mark. Then after a brief refocus, I put on one of the best upwinds of my life to recover to 8th place at the finish. 2 bad races, unable to discard them both, time to buck up my ideas. I was already 12 points off the lead.

Race 3. The fleet was so close to the line, all I could hear was the committee boat saying “317 2 metres, 611 closing fast, 685 bang on at pin” nether the less I still pulled an ok start and took my sailing right back to basics and just stayed on the lifted tack the whole way upwind. Surprisingly, it turned out that I got to the mark first. It wasn’t all easy going, on the downwind the wind dropped so surfing wasn’t possible meaning Jake Davies caught all the way up to the back of me, hence I had a hard fight for the lead on my hands, with someone much smaller and lighter than me. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold on to his raw speed. I was second, but, I saw a patch of wind forming on the right hand side, so I sailed out to it and then took back the lead barley and held on to the line, finishing in 1st place. This was more like it, 3 more races of that please.

Overnight I was 6th, much below my expectations going into the event, but my win in race 3 gave my hope that I could come back. After 3 races I was 5 points behind the leader when a discard was applied. So, after looking at the results, I figured out that I would need 3 races on Sunday to have a clear shot at winning unless something unusual happened.

Day 2

Sunday came and it was 2 knots (kts), we had a 3 hour postponement, 3 races simply were not on the cards. Oh well, I thought, let’s just see how well I can do, there’s no point dwelling on the past.

We sailed out in a light 5 kts westerly breeze, however early on I realised that was a significant variation in the wind across the course which was very different to what we were all expecting with the prevailing wind direction.

Race 4. I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. I went for the very best start I could and within 3 seconds of the start, I was already a boat length ahead! I went into my “fleet management strategies” and made it to the top mark in first place and from there just extended my lead until the finish line.

Leo Yates Topper Leading Race 4

Race 5 was the last race, going into it, we all knew the points and what we each needed to do to win. For me, that meant I had to do 4 things A - come 1st or 2nd, B – beat Jess Powell, C – beat Rory Clow by at least 4 places, and D – beat Kat Gunn by at least 4 places. However, I knew that this was very much in the realm of possibility if I play my cards right.

Race 5 begun, I got an alright start but more importantly, I had successfully ensured that I was clear ahead of all my close competitors. I then preceded with a recovery leg where I made it into 1st by the top mark. When the whole fleet came round the mark I was in a winning position with all 4 requirements being fulfilled. However by the 3rd mark the position had changed for the worse and Rory was only 3 places behind me meaning that he would get the event win by 1 point.

The places stayed this way, mark 4, mark 5 and still rounding the final mark. I was not winning. I was leading the race and had done all I could and I would finish the race having tried my best.....

Then I looked back 30 seconds after crossing the finish line to see Rory doing a double tack and losing 4th place to Sam Brown. This gave me the event win on countback, the 4th requirement was fulfilled. Though I was uncertain of this until the official results had been fully published, I did it!! I took my hardest win to date with a recovery from a less-than-optimal first day.

Thanks to all the volunteers, competitors, parents and especially my dad and Sailing Chandlery, without whose support these events would be much harder.

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