Flying 15 Worlds: A new World Champion with a race to spare

Day 1, 2011 World Flying Fifteen Championships, Hayling Island
Napier Sailing Club member, Graeme Robinson reports from the Flying Fifteen Worlds in Hayling Island:

Dear All

Last night, the new Flying Fifteen World Champions, Graham Vials and Chris Turner were honoured at the prizegiving hosted by the Hayling Island Sailing Club. After winning Race 9 earlier in the afternoon they had the luxury of sitting out the final race of the series sailed off the south coast of England, having already secured the title with a race to spare.

Graham and Chris dedicated their victory to their mentor Tony Lee from the Derwent Sailing Club in northeast England. Tony, for many years a great contributor to the Flying Fifteen Class, died just a fortnight ago and was farewelled last Thursday, on the day before the World Championships began. At the prizeging, Flying Fifteen International Commodore Greg Wells announced the awarding of Uffa Fox Gold Medals to both Tony (posthumously) and his wife Brenda, who has also been heavily involved for many years in Class administration and he will present those special honours to Brenda in recognition of their great contributions to our Class.

Runners-up in the World Championships were local crew, 1988 Star Class Olympic Gold medallist Mike McIntyre and his daughter Gemma. They had received news yesterday that their younger daughter Eilith had taken out 6th place in the 470 Class Junior World Championships at Medemblik in the Netherlands, so there is much to celebrate for that family.

Emphasising their strength in the Flying Fifteen Class, British crews almost entirely dominated the overall results, filling fourteen of the top twenty places on the scoresheet. Only the Australian 2009 World Champions Grant Alderson and Dean McAullay (8th) prevented their clean sweep of the top ten places. It is small wonder that the locals are so good, because in local competition there are at least half a dozen World and European Champions racing here every weekend year-round and then there are regional regattas with upwards of 60-70 boats competing at a series of events throughout the year. One Irish and five Australian crews finished in the top twenty, then James Sandall and I were next overseas crew in 22nd place overall. Yesterday, we struggled in the solid 15 knot southerly winds and very lumpy seas in the two races that were sailed to complete the full schedule of six flights and four final races.

But, we also contributed to our own demise by taking a gamble that didn't pay off in Race 9, when we tried to make a late inside tack close to the top mark and earned a penalty. The two turns of the boat saw us dumped down from 13th to the mid-forties, such was the closeness of the racing and we had to work very hard to recover a few places to finish 35th, a score that we had to count after our poor showing in the second race of the finals series the day before. In the final race, we got the perfect pin start (again - that was a feature of our sailing here, with several similar good beginnings), only to be progressively run over by the bigger and more powerful crews as the wind and seas built.

However, our 25th place in Race 10 wasn't too bad and we can reflect on some very good moments during the World Championships. We had a string of very good starts, some legs where we picked up many places, several races where we made it into the top ten at the finish line and of course our win in Flight 1 of the World Championship, which no-one can take away from us - James in his very first race at a Flying Fifteen World Championship and me in my eleventh attempt over 25 years. We learnt many lessons, about staying out of trouble, taking small gains and making every place count. But, having regard for our non-existent build-up due to circumstances at home, our lack of sailing together (we have now had almost twice as many races here as we had before leaving New Zealand), my almost total non-sailing lead-in over our past summer, our low ranking from the 2011 New Zealand National Championships and the very high quality of the fleet here, I think we didn't do too badly.

The four New Zealand crews all finished the series in the Gold Fleet. Aucklanders Ben Lowe & Kate Gilbert were 30th, just ahead of Murray Gilbert and Jonathan Burgess in 31st, while the Nelson crew of John Leydon and Sandra Williams were 44th. We are all very grateful for the support that we have received from the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which delivered our container in perfect condition to Hayling Island. Now, it is time for us to pack up and get our four Flying Fifteens and gear back into the container ready for shipping home. Our sailors are heading homewards over the next few days. I could be sailing this weekend in a regatta on Christchurch Bay, but instead am taking a break before returning home for a couple of days and then it is back southwards to our own beleaguered Christchurch for another tour of duty. So many of my Flying Fifteen friends have asked me to pass on their sympathies and support to everyone there.

Regards from Hayling Island
Graeme